Friday, May 19, 2017

Looking back on my first thousand

This seems like a fine time for me to reminisce about the history of this blog. Initially I didn't have much to share on the blog outside of advertising my Marvel Comics publications; I never felt comfortable talking about what went on behind-the-scenes there - and I still don't. The blog has no particular focus - it's about comics, primarily - films, secondarily - old-time radio, tertiarily - and whatever else beyond that.

But thanks to my friend Colin Smith I became inspired to write about comics on a more meaningful level and more fully discuss what I found enjoyable about the medium; my essay "Why Do I Like Super Heroes?" is probably the best of those. I am also proud of my opinionated editorial "The Quality of Mercy." Probably the two most important works on this blog are my first "Unearthed" entry, a review of All-Star Comics #62, which began my occasional forays into comic book back issues; the other being my long list of creator credits for the 2012 Avengers movie, which began my regular feature on crediting the people who developed ideas seen in super hero films.

I've written many decent essays about comics history; the best of them ran through topics such as the shape of Dr. Strange's eyes, adaptations of John Dickson Carr in Suspense comics, a defense of Steve Ditko's Speedball, exposing the many art swipes in Ross Saakel's Captain Wonder, a multi-part feature "The Troubles of X-Factor", another multi-part feature looking back at Roy Thomas & Howard Chaykin's Star Wars, a multi-part feature on Captain America & Iron Man's hostility, and examining the sources which inspired Iron Fist.

Beyond that I was very pleased to write an article expressing my fascination with the character of Karamaneh, a look at episodes of the Jack Benny Program without Jack Benny, comparing Chaplin to Gandhi and my Star Wars Episode I anecdote.

This blog will continue to be what it is; views have increased steadily in the last year and while comments are scarce, I'd happily keep blogging into oblivion regardless of the impact it has; it's been a fine release of various tensions inside me over the years. Thank you for indulging me.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

What is funny? (1,000th post!)

Do you like to laugh? Sure, we all do. When people discuss what makes them laugh the word "subjective" tends to appear, as though comedy were the most subjective of all forms of entertainment. We don't all agree on what is sad, frightening or thrilling either, but comedy is the whipping boy. Perhaps this is because if you don't believe that, say, a ghost story is scary you might still be entertained by it in some other way; but when comedy is not funny it is considered less than worthless.

I have come to realize I am a particularly prickly person where comedy is concerned. I like what I like; I don't put much effort into discovering new comedies, whereas I do place some effort into exploring new horror stories, adventure stories, etc. I have seen maybe 1.5 episodes of Saturday Night Live; I've never gone to a live comedy show; I haven't watched sitcoms for a decade; I very seldom watch comedy films in the cinema.

Recently I was browsing Netflix to find something to watch - I wanted something light and enjoyable, so I browsed through comedy. I couldn't find anything that I thought I would enjoy except for those shows I had seen before. That got me thinking: what about all the things I do like? What do they have in common? Come with me and we'll see.

Self-Deprecation

I've mentioned before that when I first became interested in old-time radio I listened for the science fiction/horror shows and skipped over the comedies, believing they would be old-fashioned and unfunny. And yet, I soon found one program which made me laugh: The Jack Benny Program. Jack Benny was a comic who knew his limitations - he couldn't master snappy patter. Thus, Jack's character was the schmuck instead of the wit; Jack's program constantly featured his supporting characters puncturing his ego, frequently to observe he was not as handsome, smart, funny or likeable as he believed himself to be - and I laughed because it seemed as though it were true and Jack deserved to be humiliated.

The wonderful, intangible part of Jack's routine was that his audience knew he was putting on an act, that "Jack Benny" was a false persona, yet he didn't break character (even Jack's ad-libs were very much on-point). I have found few other comedians so willing to put themselves down; to some extent, this is also what I enjoy about Robert Benchley's articles and short films; he would project an image of a dignified, urbane gentleman, but really he was another schmuck.

The Non Sequitur

How best to describe it... I like the snappy, witty remark, particularly when it is in stark contrast to the other party's statement ("the stooge"), and especially when it's surprising, totally unexpected; "non sequitur" seems to be the term which best describes it. I enjoy how authors such as P. G. Wodehouse & Damon Runyon would subvert genre expectations through clever dialogue and situations. I see this humour in my love for Groucho Marx's retorts:

This kind of humour tends to be heavily sarcastic or sardonic. The first party has come to play chess, but the second party arrives to play tennis - with a pogo stick - and demands the first party explain why he isn't similarly prepared. I was late in discovering Mystery Science Theater 3000, but its format of witty remarks and put-downs mixed with affectionate chiding truly spoke to me.

I've since come to learn, however, that one should not abuse their "witty" humour in public as it quickly becomes intolerable to friends. I've also learned how my idol Alfred Hitchcock used such remarks to disguise his own shyness; these remarks are basically a form of self-defense.

Satire

Over time I've learned I have low tolerance for the all-encompassing statement. I am the one who picks holes in every broad remark, noting the exceptions to each and every rule. I am similarly quick to note the cliches which infuse popular culture and when a masterpiece of satire appears - say, Stan Freberg, Cerebus, Monty Python, the Tick, Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker, Batton Lash - I nod in approval. The object being satirized need not be obvious; some of Bob & Ray's satire is best enjoyed when you are aware of their target (listen to at least one episode of Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy before listening to one of their "Jack Headstrong, the All-American American" skits) and yet, even in this instance, a parody of a children's science show which I'm not familiar with, I recognize they were satirizing a particular format and style of programming; the satire is specific in its target but broad in its humour:

I've never read a Nancy Drew book in my life, but Kate Beaton has had great fun writing her own comics based on the covers of Nancy Drew novels:

Edgar Wright is perhaps the best currently-working film satirist, mocking the sitcom (Spaced), zombie genre (Shaun of the Dead) and crime story (Hot Fuzz).

Returning to self-deprecation, some satirists would satirize themselves; witness Edgar Allan Poe and his connected stories "How to Write a Blackwood's Article" & "A Predicament," or Michael Kupperman sending up the entire genre of comics:

Self-deprecation works well with satire - however, I'm not confident that simply doing the opposite of the source material is sufficiently funny. "Dracula, but stupid" is not a solid basis for a film. Great satire digs deeper than the surface and exposes the tired tropes and cliches behind the entire genre; it's Poe making fun of morality tales in "Never Bet the Devil Your Head"; it's Stan Freberg making fun of lawn mower commercials while selling lawn mowers; it's Bob and Ray selling you a suit that will not only save you money, but make you money!

Laugh, won't you?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Now on Comixology: Marvel Westerns: Outlaw Files

As of today, Comixology is selling digital copies of one of the first comic books I served on as head writer: Marvel Westerns: Outlaw Files, a book released as part of the 2006 'Marvel Westerns' month-long event. Here's their promotional blurb:
Masked men, lawmen, dudes, owlhoots and vigilantes! From the battle of the Alamo to the dusty streets of Tombstone, the men and women of the West that was are finally unearthed in this scrapbook of memories from the personal collection of the modern-day Phantom Rider! Featuring entries on the Black Rider, Tex Dawson, Gunhawk, Kid Colt, the Masked Raider, the Outlaw Kid, the Phantom Rider, the Rawhide Kid, the Steam Rider, the Two-Gun Kid and more!

Buy the book here for $1.99!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Looking back at Superman: The Animated Series

I had begun the 1990s as a devoted fan of Marvel Comics, but by the mid-90s my interest in Marvel waned, and with it comics themselves. Around that time I began paying more attention to the animated television program Batman: The Animated Series. Although Batman was a character who I'd never particularly liked in comics and I was well out of reading DC titles I gradually came to admire the lush, stylish animation and the depth of storytelling on that series.

I was fortunate enough to flip over to the WB in time to see the premiere of Superman: The Animated Series, a program which I didn't realize had even been in the pipeline until I saw it on the screen. As opposed to Batman, Superman was indeed a character who I'd enjoyed in the comics and I was pleased to see the same creators who had led Batman (chiefly Bruce Timm) were bringing that same level of craft to the program.

During Superman's second season the program became The New Batman Superman Adventures as Batman moved from Fox to WB with brand-new episodes. The problem, however, was that I never knew when new episodes of either program would air and the merged title was now appearing 6 times a week on WB's schedule (Saturdays was often a 1.5 hour timeslot!). Various episode of both series slipped past me, until finally I went to college in '98 and didn't see the remaining episodes; Superman: The Animated Series aired its last new episode in 2000.

Recently I bought a DVD collection of the entire Superman: The Animated Series and it was somewhat revealing to see the episodes together in order. I feel that the show started off with a very strong first season, but the remaining years carried a lot of flab. Tim Daly voiced a fine, likeable Superman; Dana Delaney was a joy as a feisty, smart-mouthed Lois Lane; the other supporting characters were very recognizable, but tended to keep to the background (has anyone ever written a terrific Perry White story? if so, I haven't read it).

I think the problem with Superman: The Animated Series is its villains. Don't get me wrong, Clancy Brown is perfectly cast as Lex Luthor and Luthor's characterization (based on the Byrne-Wolfman interpretation) was spot-on; Corey Burton was great (perhaps underutilized?) as Brainiac and their concept of Brainiac being quasi-responsible for the destruction of Krypton was actually a pretty good revision of Superman's history; Malcolm McDowell had a fine voice for Metallo, though the villain only had a couple of good stories - as the creators noted, a villain who carries Kryptonite in his chest can end fights against Superman far too quickly.

But then there's the rest; I mean, they did their best with Parasite, I guess. The creators had done such a fine job making the villains on Batman: The Animated Series compelling that it's strange to see how many villains on Superman misfire. Of course, the creators didn't think too highly of Superman's comic book rogue's gallery; according to Bruce Timm:

"Once you get past them [Luthor, Brainiac, Metallo, Parasite] suddenly you're in the realm of 50 year old guys who are a little overweight, wearing business suits."

There are other Superman villains from the comics who turned up on the show - Mr. Mxyzptlk was terrifically funny in his first episode; Bizarro was a great mixture of humour and pathos; Titano was... well, a giant ape (too bad they skipped on the Kryptonite vision, it's the most interesting thing about the comics version). Maxima was, for some reason, renovated into a joke character and Kirby homage, to the extent that she didn't resemble her comics counterpart much at all beyond wanting to mate with Superman. They used Phantom Zone villains but avoided General Zod for some reason (did they think he was overexposed?).

But as to those overweight guys in business suits, Toyman was completely renovated into (as the creators noted) a veritable Batman villain (it's surprising he never teamed up with their Mad Hatter or Baby Doll). The other Superman foes of that type (Prankster, Puzzler) were nowhere to be seen; the type of villains Timm was referring to were primarily cerebral threats to Superman, and as they had remarked before how difficult it was to write Riddler stories on Batman, it's no surprise they wanted to avoid similar characters.

And thus, they brought in Intergang and Darkseid from Kirby's Fourth World stories. That wasn't a bad idea at all - Darkseid debuted in an issue of Jimmy Olsen, to be sure; Superman was part of Kirby's original Fourth World stories and they kept pretty closely-aligned to his universe over the decades.

There were also original villains: Livewire, Volcana and Luminus. None of them are much to write home about - Luminus was somewhat interesting as the idea of Superman battling holograms was a different type of threat... Volcana's story was a weird X-Men/Men in Black homage that didn't catch fire (applause, please). Livewire might've worked if she weren't exceptionally and deliberately irritating; she was an attempt at giving Superman a wise-aleck foe similar to the Harley Quinn character developed on Batman but she was seldom funny and never sympathetic, the two qualities which made Quinn succeed.

And then there are the guest stars. Batman seldom dipped its toes in guest stars during its Fox run - there's Zatanna in one episode... pretty much it. Yet in the first season, the Superman creators brought in Lobo for a two-parter (Lobo was a very popular character in comics at the time). Then season 2 brings in the Flash with his foe Weather Wizad; soon after there's Dr. Fate and his foe Karkull; season 3 has the Legion of Super Heroes; Green Lantern (with his foe Sinestro); Aquaman; plus five episodes given over to Batman and his foes.

The guest appearances start coming closer together in the final season, but more than that, I suddenly realized how little Lex Luthor was seen in that season; through season 1 and most of season 2 Luthor was seldom absent, appearing even in episodes where he wasn't the threat (such as the season 2 episode "Target").

So, is Superman's rogue's gallery really all that shallow? I suppose of those villains they didn't use on the show there is Terra Man, the Kryptonite Man, the Atomic Skull, Silver Banshee, the Ultra-Humanite, Master Jailer... but there were also episodes of Superman which didn't rely upon a great super-villain, namely two of my favourites: first, "The Prometheon," a story where the threat is a giant alien which is drawn towards heat - in that episode, the alien is simply a great problem which needs to be solved rather than beaten in a fight (the alien also has no dialogue); the second, "The Late Mr. Kent," a brilliant script in which Clark Kent is believed dead and Superman has to solve his 'murder.' Similarly, Batman featured plenty of great episodes which didn't depend on the hero's rogue's gallery: "P.O.V."; "The Forgotten"; "I Am the Night."

I find Superman loses steam quickly; that first season still holds up pretty well; a friend of mine considers the entire program simply "a test run for Justice League." If you've never delved into the DC animated universe programs I would certainly recommened you start with Batman - it's the best; Superman might be the least among those shows but there are enough strong episodes to redeem investing your time in the program. Uh... maybe skip most of season 3 except for "Knight Time," "Unity" and "Legacy," though.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"Did that thought go through your head?" Rolling Blackouts review

"The only thing I'm looking for in this story is that dynamism of someone engaging with something and then changing as a result."

It was just over a decade ago that I discovered comics journalism existed; having been brought up primarily on a diet of super hero comics, I was still finding my feet with the wider comics arena. Reading Joe Sacco gave me an appetite for comics journalism and I've sampled what little there is when it appears. This brings me to Sarah Glidden's recent graphic novel Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, published by Drawn & Quarterly. I had previously bought and enjoyed Glidden's prior graphic novel How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, so this newer book was something I anticipated delving into. I actually discovered Rolling Blackouts on the shelves because I instantly recognized Glidden's style on the cover and was excited to see a new book by her!

Set in 2010, Rolling Blackouts is a recount of Glidden joining two journalists and a former U.S. Marine named Dan as they underwent a journey into Iraq's Kurdish territory, then to see Iraqi refugees in Syria. As her first true outing as a comics journalist, Glidden is superb at capturing people's personalities through her simple facial expressions and in the simple Herge-meets-watercolours art making up her backgrounds; How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less certainly prepared her for this challenge and she meets it well; the accounts of refugees telling their stories are quite captivating.

Yet there's another story going on here, a story which one of the journalists - Glidden's friend Sarah Stuteville - attempts to tell through the person of Dan, who is an old friend of hers from her teenage years. Dan was against the Iraq War, yet wound up serving in Iraq in 2007 because, as he puts it: "I thought the war should never have happened, but I want to support the cause, even if I thought it was wrong, by contributing a guy with a clear head, I guess." Dan is interviewed by Stuteville at various points throughout the book and these soon become the most tense moments of the book - because Stuteville is constantly seeking to tug on the reins of Dan's story.

Dan seems extremely level-headed, very relaxed even when discussing his time in Iraq: "But my memories of Iraq mostly are of laughing hysterically and being with friends," he states. He repeatedly insists that he has coped well with what happened to him in Iraq: "It's just a luck of the draw thing. Fifty-two cards in a deck, somebody's gonna get pulled out. I was lucky to stay in the deck and be safe." His personal philosophies, by contrast, come from what seems to be a grim assessment of human nature: "Life will go on whether it sucks or not. I guess I see things kind of harshly. I don't see this perfect utopian world where people will all get an equal share."

To this, add his old friend Stuteville. She is convinced there's more to Dan than what he presents in their interviews and continually attempts to draw him out - but he refuses to be led. When Dan isn't around Stuteville confides to the others her own thoughts on what Dan has shared: "I think there's a key incident here that might unlock some of this," she insists. "We have to crack his code!" Although quite aware of what she's doing, Stuteville presses on, despite acknowledging "Frankly, we've kind of heard Dan's story before."

Glidden, being less emotionally invested in Dan and Stuteville's relationship, seems to see the wider picture: "He might not feel guilty at all," she says of Dan 2/3rds of the way through, despite both journalists' belief otherwise. In fact, early on Dan states that what bothers him the most about returning to Iraq is "the narrative people are expecting me to tell." Yet Stuteville doesn't seem to catch that. She also makes Dan upset around that same time when he asks her not to tell people he was in the military, to which she rejoins: "I don't see why you think we should deceive people!" She doesn't seem to believe Dan deserves any agency in the telling of his story.

Instead, Stuteville grows increasingly frustrated by Dan. "To me, the story of Dan is in the things he asserts that aren't true." At times she begins to detect how her frank speeches about the Iraq War are driving Dan away from her, causing her to reflect how they "need to be more careful about what we talk about in front of Dan." And so, Stuteville becomes the most fascinating character in the book - the reporter who has already made up a story in their head and is trying to get the subject to put it into words - only for the subject to be unwilling.

After drawing Dan's attention to two earlier quotes of his which didn't agree with each other, Stuteville goes on to state, "I didn't even ask you if you felt responsible or guilty. I've never asked you that." Glidden inserts herself into the background here, possibly because Glidden is questioning the validity of Stuteville's remark; although Stuteville never asks Dan whether he feels guilty, she does ask him why his sense of guilt "doesn't necessarily extend to what happened to the Iraqis." In this and other conversations Glidden draws Stuteville with expressive furrows on her brow or pleading eyes as she spars with Dan; this particular conversation ends with Stuteville's recording device losing the interview, which causes Stuteville to storm off in anger. It's clear that she's emotionally too close to Dan to objectively tell his story (assuming the story is even there).

Stuteville sums up her "conspiracy" against Dan by explaining how she feels journalism is meant to challenge and change others; when Dan appears unchanged by what he sees in Iraq & Syria, she internalizes this as her failure as a journalist. "Nothing is different," she states of Dan. "If anything [he's] become less honest," concurs Stuteville's collaborator Alex. Yet the idea of life's journey containing these sort of easily-identifiable stop signs seems fallacious to me; some of the moments which changed my own life didn't impact me until a month or more after they'd passed. I often feel I'm only observing my life drift by, not directing it.

So, Dan never undergoes the change which would have satisfied Stuteville. Yet, the book Rolling Blackouts doesn't suffer for this; I'm very much of the philosophy that life is not a novel with its denouements & climaxes. I appreciate the fact that real people are full of contradictions, self-justifications and hypocrisy. But then, I'm not a journalist or a storyteller - simply an observer.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A brief look at Batman's golden age

Some time ago my friend Colin Smith wrote two excellent blog posts about the early days of Batman, as seen in the trade paperback Batman Chronicles Volume One (collecting Detective Comics #27-38 & Batman #1) by Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, Sheldon Moldoff and Bob Kane. You can read those essays here and here.

Colin's impetus in writing those posts was to comment upon the widely-held perception of Batman's early days within comics fandom and the reality he found within the trade paperback. As Colin notes, fandom has come to believe the early days of Batman were more violent and dark, representing the ideal version of Batman, the one who Frank Miller and others firmly reestablished. In those circles of fandom, the accepted wisdom was that the arrival of Robin in Detective Comics #38 lightened Batman up, clearing away the darkness of those early tales. That belief is hogwash, but comforting hogwash to those nostalgic fans.

In those early tales we can see much of what we know about Batman hadn't been figured out. The Batcave is nowhere to be seen, there is no Alfred and Wayne Manor is out-of-focus. Batman had no origin when he first appeared, with the iconic tale not appearing until his seventh adventure (Detective Comics #33). He wore short gloves in his first appearance, then went gloveless in the second (so much for protecting his identity!). In Detective Comics #28 we see his cableline (a silk rope) has to be thrown as a lariat; he won't begin using batarangs until issue #31 and doesn't attach his line to a batarang until #32. His first aircraft (the Batgyro) appears in #31. The shape and size of the ears on his mask are in constant flux in his early appearances but are mostly standardized by #33. It's also well-known that in those days his origin didn't include swearing a code against guns; the early Batman wielded firearms and he took the lives of several of his foes.

Yet even then, some elements of Batman were figured out sooner than you'd suppose - the yellow utility belt is right there at the outset. The arrival of Robin doesn't change much either - Detective Comics #38 was followed by Batman #1, featuring the first two Joker stories. The Joker is a cold-blooded killer who uses his rictus-inducing venom from the begining and Robin is present for it all; that issue also includes Batman's fight with the Monster Men, a story which notably demonstrates Batman was still using firearms after Robin and still killing opponents (as when he strangles a Monster Man to death).

Yet there's other notable moments in those tales. Colin noted in his posts how Batman was quite far from Grant Morrison's "can beat anyone with enough prep time" ubermensch; in these tales, Batman is almost never prepared, instead flinging himself into situations where he's repeatedly beaten over the head. As Colin notes, Batman seems to be more of an adrenaline junkie than a cerebral detective/scientist.

There are two different stories in this volume in which Batman is shot (Detective Comics #29 & 33); weirdly, both times he's shot in the left breast. The first time it happens because he stops to interrogate two henchmen while a third surprises him; even though Batman's gun is in his hand, the third henchman still gets the drop on him (since this is pre-Alfred, Bruce has to visit his family doctor to have his wound stitched up). The second time, he's about to destroy the villain's dirigible by hacking it up with an axe (one supposes he'd be a few hours on that job) when the villain enters the room from behind him and shoots him in the back. Poor butterfly. He reveals he was wearing a bulletproof vest, yet leaves a large puddle of blood and has to be patched up again.

Was Batman a terrifying creature of the night pre-Robin? Not especially. We contemporary readers have been indoctrinated with the idea that Bruce dresses up as a bat because criminals find it frightening. Not so much in the 1930s - in fact, in Detective Comics #34 when he sneaks into an underground lair he's greeted by an unafraid henchman declaring "A drunk! Probably from a bal masque. Get his wallet." This is the ideal Batman? The one who is targeted for mugging by petty criminals?

Batman's also a little lacking in terms of courage, I'm sorry to say. In issue #31 we suddenly learn Bruce Wayne has a fiancee - Julie Madison. Julie is hypnotized by the Monk, a werewolf who wants to make Julie a member of his pack. Julie is on a boat to Hungary, but Batman tails after her in his batgyro to ensure she's safe. Soon after Batman lands on the boat to comfort Julie, the Monk appears and uses his hypnosis on Batman. Barely able to respond, Batman manages to throw a batarang at the Monk, then climbs back up to the batgyro and resumes following the boat from the air. In other words, he left Julie alone on the boat with the Monk so he could spirit her away to his lair. Smooth move, detective.

Perhaps the best example of Batman at his thickest is Detective Comics #37, one which Colin rightly roasted. This story opens with Batman stopping his batmobile outside a house to ask for directions. Yes, you heard right, Batman got lost. As he walks up to the house he hears a scream. Bursting in he sees three men torturing a fourth man who is bound to a chair. Batman attacks the armed gunmen, defeating them, but when he unties the fourth man the fourth man hits Batman over the head then murders the first three men, leaving Batman there so he'll be accused of killing them. The killer mentions a Mr. Turg which, on a hunch, leads Bruce Wayne to scout a grocery store owned by a Mr. Turg. Sure enough, the store is a criminal front being used by the killer. So Bruce exits the shop, changes into his Batman costume, reenters the shop and punches the shopkeeper in the face: "I'm not buying anything this time!"

Great plan, detective: let the criminal know you're the same person who was just inside the shop purchasing items from him. Apparently the concept of a secret identity was a little theoretical at this point in time.

Perhaps a very important part of the legend of Batman was never to be found in the pages of the comics - it was inside our untrustworthy collective memory.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 creator credits

We now live in a wondrous world where 1990s Jim Valentino creations appear in top-grossing motion pictures!

Links to all of my creator credit lists found here!

Stan Lee: co-creator of the Watchers, extraterrestrials who observe the transpirings about the universe without interference (Fantastic Four #13, 1963); of the Kree, an extraterrestrial race of conquerors (Fantastic Four #64, 1967); of Him, a gold-skinned artificial being who emerges from a coccoon (Fantastic Four #66, 1967); of Berhert, an alien world (Incredible Hulk #111, 1969); of the Frost Giants, creatures from the Nine Worlds (Journey into Mystery #97, 1963); of the Sneepers, an extraterrestrial species (Tales of Suspense #49, 1964); of Groot, an immense tree-like being from Planet X (Tales to Astonish #13, 1960); of Kraglin, an extraterrestrial criminal (Tales to Astonish #46, 1963); of Ego, the living planet, a massive creature in the form of a planet with a face etched upon its surface; Ego destroying all other life within a galaxy (Thor #132, 1966); Ego having complete control over the environment on his surface, manufacturing bodies and tentacles for himself (Thor #133, 1966)

Jack Kirby: creator of the Celestials, immense intergalactic cosmic creatures (Eternals #1, 1976); co-creator of the Watchers, extraterrestrials who observe the transpirings about the universe without interference (Fantastic Four #13, 1963); of the Kree, an extraterrestrial race of conquerors (Fantastic Four #64, 1967); of Him, a gold-skinned artificial being who emerges from a coccoon (Fantastic Four #66, 1967); of the Frost Giants, creatures from the Nine Worlds (Journey into Mystery#97, 1963); of Groot, an immense tree-like being from Planet X (Tales to Astonish #13, 1960); of Ego, the living planet, a massive creature in the form of a planet with a face etched upon its surface; Ego destroying all other life within a galaxy (Thor #132, 1966); Ego having complete control over the environment on his surface, manufacturing bodies and tentacles for himself (Thor #133, 1966)

Jim Starlin: creator of Gamora turning against Thanos (Avengers Annual#7, 1977); of cosmic awareness, the ability to sense life on a celestial scale, representing by stars appearing on the user's face (Captain Marvel #29, 1973); of Gamora, a dangerous green-skinned woman who wields knives (Strange Tales #180, 1975); of Gamora's name (Strange Tales #181, 1975); of Gamora adopted by Thanos; Gamora operating as Thanos' assassin (Warlock #10, 1975); co-creator of Drax motivated by the deaths of his wife Yvette and daughter (Captain Marvel #32, 1974); of Drax the Destroyer, a green-skinned man with great power and singular focus on hunting his enemies to their deaths; Thanos, a death-worshipping intergalactic warlord who inflicts genocide (Iron Man #55, 1973); of the Infinity Gems, six all-powerful stones (Thanos Quest #1, 1990)

Keith Giffen: co-creator of Star-Lord teamed-up with Mantis, Groot and Rocket Raccoon; Groot and Rocket Raccoon's friendship; Star-Lord's helmet with full faceplate, red goggles and breathing unit; Star-Lord favouring twin guns; Rocket favouring heavy artillery (Annihilation: Conquest - Star-Lord #1, 2007); of Groot's ability to regrow himself from a single piece (Annihilation: Conquest - Star-Lord #3, 2007); of Drax's redesign with red body tattoos (Drax the Destroyer #3, 2006); of Drax wearing only pants; Drax preferring knives as weapons (Drax the Destroyer #4, 2006); of Rocket Raccoon, an anthropomorphic adventurous raccoon (Marvel Preview #7, 1976)

Gene Colan: co-creator of the Kree depicted with blue skin (Captain Marvel #1, 1968); of Howard the Duck wearing pants (Howard the Duck #2, 1979); of Yondu, one of the Guardians of the Galaxy, a blue-skinned extraterrestrial with a red fin on his head; Yondu's yaka arrow, which is controlled by whistling; of Martinex, a space-faring hero with crystalline-skin, ally of Yondu; of Charlie-27, a space-faring hero with superhuman strength, ally of Yondu; a team of heroes based in space called the Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel Super-Heroes#18, 1969)

Sal Buscema: co-creator of Grandmaster, a cosmic being (Avengers #69, 1969); of Stakar Ogord, a space-faring hero, ally of Yondu (Defenders #27, 1975); of Aleta Ogord, Stakar's wife, a space-faring hero, ally of Yondu; of Stakar's real name (Defenders #29, 1975); of Rocket Racccoon as a swashbuckling hero clad in green with the moniker "Rocket" (Incredible Hulk #271, 1982); of Brahl, an extraterrestrial criminal and enemy of the Guardians of the Galaxy (Thor Annual #6, 1977)

Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning: co-creators of Groot's vocabulary limited to little more than "I am Groot" (Annihilation: Conquest#2, 2008); of Gamora, Drax, Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Mantis and Groot banded together as the Guardians of the Galaxy; Rocket as the team's tactician (Guardians of the Galaxy #1, 2008); of Groot's iterations of "I am Groot" having multiple meanings (Guardians of the Galaxy #17, 2009); of Cosmo, a Soviet dog in spacesuit (Nova #8, 2008)

Arnold Drake: co-creator of Yondu, one of the Guardians of the Galaxy, a blue-skinned extraterrestrial with a red fin on his head; Yondu's yaka arrow, which is controlled by whistling; of Martinex, a space-faring hero with crystalline-skin, ally of Yondu; of Charlie-27, a space-faring hero with superhuman strength, ally of Yondu; a team of heroes based in space called the Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel Super-Heroes#18, 1969)

Bill Mantlo: co-creator of Howard the Duck wearing pants (Howard the Duck #2, 1979); of Rocket Racccoon as a swashbuckling hero clad in green with the moniker "Rocket" (Incredible Hulk #271, 1982); of Contraxians, an extraterrestrial species (Jack of Hearts #1, 1984); of Contraxia, homeworld of the Contraxians (Jack of Hearts #2, 1984); of Rocket Raccoon, an anthropomorphic adventurous raccoon (Marvel Preview #7, 1976)

Timothy Green II: co-creator of Star-Lord teamed-up with Mantis, Groot and Rocket Raccoon; Groot and Rocket Raccoon's friendship; Star-Lord's helmet with full faceplate, red goggles and breathing unit; Star-Lord favouring twin guns; Rocket favouring heavy artillery (Annihilation: Conquest - Star-Lord #1, 2007); of Groot's ability to regrow himself from a single piece (Annihilation: Conquest - Star-Lord #3, 2007)

Steve Englehart: co-creator of Mantis, a heroic Asian woman with empathic powers (Avengers #112, 1973); of Star-Lord, alias Peter Quill, a half-alien man orphaned at a young age who becomes a space-adventuring gun-wielding hero while searching for his origins; Meredith Quill, Peter's mother whose death leads him to discover his origins (Marvel Preview #4, 1976)

Mike Friedrich: co-creator of Drax motivated by the deaths of his wife Yvette and daughter (Captain Marvel #32, 1974); of Drax the Destroyer, a green-skinned man with great power and singular focus on hunting his enemies to their deaths; Thanos, a death-worshipping intergalactic warlord who inflicts genocide (Iron Man #55, 1973)

Jim Valentino: creator of Taserface, an extraterrestrial criminal and enemy of the Guardians of the Galaxy (Guardians of the Galaxy #1, 1990); of Mainframe, a computerized intelligence, ally of Yondu (Guardians of the Galaxy #5, 1990); of Krugarr, one of the Lem species, an ally of Yondu (Guardians of the Galaxy Annual #1, 1991)

Steve Gerber: co-creator of Stakar Ogord, a space-faring hero, ally of Yondu (Defenders #27, 1975); of Aleta Ogord, Stakar's wife, a space-faring hero, ally of Yondu; of Stakar's real name (Defenders #29, 1975); of Howard the Duck, an anthropomorphic sardonic duck (Fear #19, 1973)

Steve Gan: co-creator of Star-Lord, alias Peter Quill, a half-alien man orphaned at a young age who becomes a space-adventuring gun-wielding hero while searching for his origins; Meredith Quill, Peter's mother whose death leads him to discover his origins (Marvel Preview #4, 1976)

Roger Stern: co-creator of Nebula, a blue-skinned villainous space pirate (Avengers #257, 1985); of Nebula related to Thanos; Nebula as an enemy of Xandar (Avengers #260, 1985); of Brahl, an extraterrestrial criminal and enemy of the Guardians of the Galaxy (Thor Annual #6, 1977)

Roy Thomas: co-creator of Grandmaster, a cosmic being (Avengers #69, 1969); of the Kree depicted with blue skin (Captain Marvel #1, 1968); of the Soul Gem, from which the Infinty Gems were derived; of Him's alias Adam Warlock (Marvel Premiere #1, 1970)

Keith Pollard: co-creator of the A'askavarii, an extraterrestrial race (Black Goliath #5, 1976); of the Xandarians, an alien race very similar to humans (Fantastic Four#204, 1979); of Xandar, homeworld of the Xandarians (Fantastic Four #205, 1979)

Mark Gruenwald: creator of Yondu Odonta's surname (Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition #5, 1986); co-creator of Her, the intended mate of Adam Warlock (Marvel Two-in-One #61, 1980)

Mitch Breitweiser: co-creator of Drax's redesign with red body tattoos (Drax the Destroyer #3, 2006); co-creator of Drax wearing only pants; Drax preferring knives as weapons (Drax the Destroyer #4, 2006)

Paul Pelletier: co-creator of Gamora, Drax, Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Mantis and Groot banded together as the Guardians of the Galaxy; Rocket as the team's tactician (Guardians of the Galaxy #1, 2008)

Chris Claremont: co-creator of the A'askavarii, an extraterrestrial race (Black Goliath #5, 1976); of Ayesha, an alias of Her, bearing an imperious identity (Fantastic Four #11, 1998)

John Buscema: co-creator of Nebula, a blue-skinned villainous space pirate (Avengers #257, 1985); of Nebula related to Thanos; Nebula as an enemy of Xandar (Avengers #260, 1985)

Marv Wolfman: co-creator of the Xandarians, an alien race very similar to humans (Fantastic Four #204, 1979); of Xandar, homeworld of the Xandarians (Fantastic Four #205, 1979)

Don Heck: co-creator of Mantis, a heroic Asian woman with empathic powers (Avengers #112, 1973); of Kraglin, an extraterrestrial criminal (Tales to Astonish #46, 1963)

George Freeman: co-creator of Contraxians, an extraterrestrial species (Jack of Hearts #1, 1984); of Contraxia, homeworld of the Contraxians (Jack of Hearts #2, 1984)

Doug Moench: co-creator of the extraterrestrial species the Krylorians (Rampaging Hulk #1, 1977); of the Lem, an extraterrestrial race (Shogun Warriors #19, 1980)

Gil Kane: co-creator of the Soul Gem, from which the Infinty Gems were derived; of Him's alias Adam Warlock (Marvel Premiere #1, 1970)

Len Wein: co-creator of Brahl, an extraterrestrial criminal and enemy of the Guardians of the Galaxy (Thor Annual #6, 1977)

Brad Walker: co-creator of Groot's iterations of "I am Groot" having multiple meanings (Guardians of the Galaxy #17, 2009)

Salvador Larroca: co-creator of Ayesha, an alias of Her, bearing an imperious identity (Fantastic Four #11, 1998)

Tom Raney: co-creator of Groot's vocabulary limited to little more than "I am Groot" (Annihilation: Conquest #2, 2008)

John Byrne: creator of heroes carrying a bomb into Ego's brain in order to destroy him (Fantastic Four #235, 1981)

Walter Simonson: co-creator of the extraterrestrial species the Krylorians (Rampaging HulK #1, 1977)

Larry Lieber: co-creator of the Sneepers, an extraterrestrial species (Tales of Suspense #49, 1964)

Jerry Bingham: co-creator of Her, the intended mate of Adam Warlock (Marvel Two-in-One #61, 1980)

H.E. Huntley: co-creator of Kraglin, an extraterrestrial criminal (Tales to Astonish #46, 1963)

Simon Furman: co-creator of Tullk, an extraterrestrial criminal (Annihilation: Ronan #1, 2006)

Val Mayerik: co-creator of Howard the Duck, an anthropomorphic sardonic duck (Fear #19, 1973)

Jorge Lucas: co-creator of Tullk, an extraterrestrial criminal (Annihilation: Ronan #1, 2006)

Herb Trimpe: co-creator of Berhert, an alien world (Incredible Hulk #111, 1969); of the Lem, an extraterrestrial race (Shogun Warriors #19, 1980)

M.C. Wyman: co-creator of Nebula's body reinforced with cybernetics (Silver Surfer #72, 1992)

Ron Marz: co-creator of Nebula's body reinforced with cybernetics (Silver Surfer #72, 1992)

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

Wellinton Alves: co-creator of Cosmo, a Soviet dog in spacesuit (Nova #8, 2008)

Kurt Busiek: co-creator of Ego's spores regrowing him on other worlds, including Earth (Maximum Security #1, 2001)

Jerry Ordway: co-creator of Ego's spores regrowing him on other worlds, including Earth (Maximum Security #1, 2001)

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The state of free comics, 2017

I've been taking advantage of the annual Free Comic Book Day each year since it began but not every year yields fine results. Many publishers use the event as an opportunity to push promotional material (usually a brief fragment of a story) rather than printing something which truly stands on its own. Ideally, every book on Free Comic Book Day should be an engaging story which stands on its own yet is representative of other works (more from that series or more by that author).

This year I snagged 10 books so let's approach this as a top 10 list, starting with the best:

New England Comics: The Tick

The Tick has become the most reliable of all the FCBD offerings. This time there are two stories by Jeff McClelland & Duane Redhead. In the first, the Tick realizes he's never celebrated a birthday; in the second, the Tick witnesses a political debate drawn from the headlines (to give you a clue, one candidate vows to build a prison and get super-villains to pay for it). It's clever, funny, and truly all-ages.

Humanoids: The Incal

I've been remiss about getting into European comics and certainly Alejandro Jodorowsky & Moebius' Incal is one of those titles everyone nods respectfully at. This free book features the first three chapters of The Incal and it features the kind of awe-inspiring futuristic cityscapes I expect from Moebius and weird sex perversions I expect from Jodorowsky, plus a cosmic whatsit and... y'know, I have this feeling that when I do read all of The Incal I'll groan, "So that's what The Fifth Element was ripping off!"

Drawn & Quarterly: Hostage & Poppies of Iraq

I'm already a fan of Guy Delisle so a free preview of his most recent book Hostage is most welcome and the second feature, an excerpt from Poppies of Iraq by Brigittte Findakly & Lewis Trondheim also impressed. Both are non-fiction works, the first about a man held hostage in Chechnya, the second an autobiography of a woman who grew up in Iraq during the 1960s. I will definitely seek the full versions out in the future.

Epicenter Comics: Tex: Patagonia
<|P>I'm not exactly a fan of the western genre but I had a suspicion that Tex would feature some decent artwork. Sure enough, it turns out that Pasquale Frisenda is a masterful artist reminiscent of Al Williamson and this (another European work) is the opening pages of a full graphic novel. I notice that there are a lot of Tex graphic novels and I'm a little afraid of falling down a sinkhole of more and more of them, but it's good to know that if I ever need something new to read, Tex is out there and it's very handsomely made.

Lion Forge: Catalyst Prime: The Event

After years of silence, Christopher Priest is suddenly everywhere! He's an architect of this new super hero shared universe which Lion Forge is selling, though I don't know if he's writing any of the actual titles. This one-shot (drawn by Marco Turini) explains where Lion Forge's superhumans' powers came from and it's a lot like other shared universe start-ups like the New Universe or Milestone where virtually everyone got their powers in the same place. The story itself is actually satisfying, as it gives barely a glimpse into each of the people who will be protagonists of Lion Forge's super hero line but the antagonist - who is not established as such until the closing pages - is brought to life very sharply and seems to fit the mold of other Priest masterminds. If Priest were writing any of the titles, I'd definitely buy them; as is, I'll consider it.

Dark Horse Comics: Avatar & Briggs Land

So I'm that guy, that guy who liked Avatar. Back when it came out I was very busy writing for Marvel and didn't have time to see what the movie fan websites were saying, but in recent years there are certainly a lot of thinkpieces stating it's either overrated or was never any good to begin with. Yet it's the highest grossing film of all time? Who else liked it? I only went three times, it didn't raise the roof on my cash.

But despite my love for the film I am uncertain about Avatar as a franchise. I'd be fine if James Cameron just quit while he's ahead - I fear a sequel would rehash the first film. How weird that now, of all times, we have an Avatar comic. Written by Sherri L. Smith and drawn by Canada's own Doug Wheatley, it's a story set between the scenes of the film, showing more detail of the part where Jake Sully tames the Turok. It's okay, but I imagine if you (like evidently 99% of the populace) disliked the movie you won't find anything to like here.

Marvel Comics: Guardians of the Galaxy & The Defenders

I quit working for Marvel before Gerry Duggan came on the scene but his name has popped up a lot due to his work on Deadpool. To promote him taking over Guardians of the Galaxy, timed to the release of the new movie, Duggan and artist Aaron Kuder contribute a brief story here about the Guardians breaking out of a prison and stealing a ship and acting a lot like their film counterparts. However, unlike Duggan's predecessor, he appears to have done his research as the story includes the Nova Corps and the Fraternity of Raptors, tying things back to when Andy Lanning & Dan Abnett revitalized the Guardians of the Galaxy brand. Outgoing Guardians writer Brian Michael Bendis also contributes a story promoting he and artist David Marquez's new Defenders book, featuring the same foursome who will be appearing as the Defenders on Marvel's Netflix show and utilizing a Netflix villain as their antagonist. I suppose the hope is that fans of the film & TV versions of these characters will pick up this freebee and want to try the print version. Good luck, would-be fans; take it from one who knows, so far as getting into comics today it s the best of times, it is the worst of times.

Youneek Studios: Malika: Warrior Queen

I grabbed this because of my fascination with Africa. It's from a new comic book company trying to develop properties which feature black protagonists. This one is about a female African warrior queen, by writer Roye Okupe and drawn by Chima Kalu. I'm not really the audience for this work but the full graphic novel version of Malika is probably going to be a good one for school library's (or my instutition's education library).

Fantagraphics: World's Greatest Cartoonists

You really get a bang for your $0 here as this is a massive 60 page tome with tons of creators who publish their works through Fantagraphics. I feel at times too much of Fantagraphics is avant-garde and impenetrable. Here, at least, there are a handful of contributions with hooks I could understand. Ed Piskor's autobiography Mudfish seems particularly interesting and I will keep it in mind.

Chapterhouse: Captain Canuck: Year One #1

Oh, Canada. You would think with a "Year One" in the title that this would be a great jumping-on point but nope; just reading the recap of the new Captain Canuck's origin on the first page is a dizzying task, then you spend a great deal of time being confused as he's not a super hero yet but is instead serving in Afghanistan... and his bosses are all corrupt, I guess? They're a private military force of some kind? And I spent so much time not know who anyone was (soldiers can be hard to tell apart) or which of them was supposed to be the hero. Like, the hero is narrating but I would become confused as to which person on the page was supposed to be him. This is not a bad comic, but it is not told (courtesy of writers Jay Baruchel & Kalman Andrasofszky with artist Marcus To) in a way which is welcoming to first-time readers. Whose bright idea was it to make the free, promotional Captain Canuck comic one where he never puts on the costume he's wearing on the cover?

COMICS! One day a year, they're free.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The sheer stupendous star power that is... Michael Hoskin?

With the Calgary comic expo arriving in a few days Global News visited the University to view our exhibit on pulp fiction and chat about how the pulps led to comics. As the library's foremost expert on comic books, they drafted me in. The resulting piece is only 2 minutes long and I'm afraid my sound bites were disproportionately featured. Sorry, colleagues! Yikes, that voice. I sound like a total hoser, eh?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The 2017 Inkwell Awards ballot is currently open!

For many years I have been proud to serve as a member of the nominations committee to the Inkwell Awards, a comic book award created by inkers for inkers. It seems as though more and more artists are opting to render the inking on their book themselves rather than employing a separate person as their inker (either from preference or financial necessity). For this reason, it is all the more important to honour the field of inking and those inkers whose embellishments enhance the work of the pencilers they uplift.

For that reason, I strongly encourage you to vote in the 2017 ballot at the Inkwell Awards website! The more people who get involved and identify their favourite inkers, the better the feedback to the community of inking professionals in the comic book industry. Go vote now!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Iron Fist (season 1) creator credits

...Wow. That was a waste.

Anyway, yet another Marvel Netflix series has dropped so here's whose ideas contributed to Iron Fist. Don't blame them.

My other Marvel creator credit lists are found here.

Roy Thomas: co-creator of Luke Cage, a hero with unbreakable skin (Hero for Hire #1, 1972); Iron Fist, alias Daniel Rand, orphaned at the age of ten and raised in the city of K'un-Lun, where he trained in the martial arts to become their greatest warrior, passing every test and trial before him until gaining the power to channel his chi into his fist, making it superhumanly powerful; Iron Fist called a "living weapon"; Wendell Rand and Heather Rand, Daniel's parents who perished nearby K'un-Lun; Harold Meachum, Wendell's business partner who betrayed him and had Wendell and Heather killed; K'un-Lun, a hidden city found in the Himalayas which exists within another dimension and only connects to Earth at intervals spaced years apart (Marvel Premiere #15, 1974); of Daniel Rand fighting the dragon Shou-Lao the Undying, an immortal dragon, and received a dragon-shaped brand on his chest from the dragon along with the power of the Iron Fist; Lei Kung the Thunderer, Daniel's K'un-Lun mentor in the martial arts; of the Thunderer's insignia; of Daniel leaving K'un-Lun to return to New York and seek his parents' killer, Harold Meachum; of Scythe, an assassin who battles Iron Fist (Marvel Premiere #16, 1974)

Chris Claremont: co-creator of Colleen Wing as a Daughter of the Dragon (Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #32, 1977); of Davos, a resident of K'un-Lun; of the Steel Serpent brand (Iron Fist #1, 1975); of Daniel Rand being disliked in K'un-Lun as an outsider (Iron Fist #2, 1975); of Davos working with Joy Meachum (Iron Fist #3, 1976); of Iron Fist's power to heal injuries using his chi; Iron Fist using meditation to recover his strength (Iron Fist #4, 1976); of Jeryn Hogarth serving Wendell Rand in the past (Iron Fist #6, 1976); of Colleen Wing following the path of bushido and wielding a katana (Iron Fist #7, 1976); of Jeryn Hogarth, a lawyer who works for Daniel Rand (Marvel Premiere #24, 1975); of Davos as Lei Kung's son (Marvel Team-Up #63, 1977); of Davos training alongside Daniel Rand to become the Iron Fist; of the Iron Fist as a title which many have held over the centuries (Marvel Team-Up #64, 1977)

Larry Hama: co-creator of Daniel Rand fighting the dragon Shou-Lao the Undying, an immortal dragon, and received a dragon-shaped brand on his chest from the dragon along with the power of the Iron Fist; Lei Kung the Thunderer, Daniel's K'un-Lun mentor in the martial arts; of the Thunderer's insignia; of Daniel leaving K'un-Lun to return to New York and seek his parents' killer, Harold Meachum; of Scythe, an assassin who battles Iron Fist (Marvel Premiere #16, 1974); of Harold Meachum suffering from ill health after killing Iron Fist's parents; of Joy Meachum, Harold's daughter; of Iron Fist battling ninjas (Marvel Premiere #18, 1974); of Ward Meachum, a relative of Harold and Joy who bears a grudge against Iron Fist and hires men to attack him; of Colleen Wing, a Japanese woman, ally and sometimes love interest of Iron Fist (Marvel Premiere #19, 1974)

John Byrne: co-creator of Davos, a resident of K'un-Lun; of the Steel Serpent brand (Iron Fist #1, 1975); of Daniel Rand being disliked in K'un-Lun as an outsider (Iron Fist #2, 1975); of Davos working with Joy Meachum (Iron Fist #3, 1976); of Iron Fist's power to heal injuries using his chi; Iron Fist using meditation to recover his strength (Iron Fist #4, 1976); of Jeryn Hogarth serving Wendell Rand in the past (Iron Fist #6, 1976); of Colleen Wing following the path of bushido and wielding a katana (Iron Fist #7, 1976); of Davos as Lei Kung's son (Marvel Team-Up #63, 1977); of Davos training alongside Daniel Rand to become the Iron Fist; of the Iron Fist as a title which many have held over the centuries (Marvel Team-Up #64, 1977)

Gil Kane: co-creator of Iron Fist, alias Daniel Rand, orphaned at the age of ten and raised in the city of K'un-Lun, where he trained in the martial arts to become their greatest warrior, passing every test and trial before him until gaining the power to channel his chi into his fist, making it superhumanly powerful; Iron Fist called a "living weapon"; Wendell Rand and Heather Rand, Daniel's parents who perished nearby K'un-Lun; Harold Meachum, Wendell's business partner who betrayed him and had Wendell and Heather killed; K'un-Lun, a hidden city found in the Himalayas which exists within another dimension and only connects to Earth at intervals spaced years apart (Marvel Premiere #15, 1974)

Matt Fraction: co-creator of Crane Mother, a mystical entity connected to K'un-Lun (Immortal Iron Fist #4, 2007); of K'un-Lun as one of the capital cities of Heaven (Immortal Iron Fist #5, 2007); of the Iron Fist called an Immortal Weapon (Immortal Iron Fist #7, 2007); of Iron Fist being sent into a tournament against various martial artists, including The Bride of Nine Spiders (Immortal Iron Fist #8, 2007); of Daniel Rand teaching at a dojo (Immortal Iron Fist #16, 2008)

Len Wein: co-creator of Daniel Rand fighting the dragon Shou-Lao the Undying, an immortal dragon, and received a dragon-shaped brand on his chest from the dragon along with the power of the Iron Fist; Lei Kung the Thunderer, Daniel's K'un-Lun mentor in the martial arts; of the Thunderer's insignia; of Daniel leaving K'un-Lun to return to New York and seek his parents' killer, Harold Meachum; of Scythe, an assassin who battles Iron Fist (Marvel Premiere #16, 1974)

Doug Moench: co-creator of Harold Meachum suffering from ill health after killing Iron Fist's parents; of Joy Meachum, Harold's daughter; of Iron Fist battling ninjas (Marvel Premiere #18, 1974); of Ward Meachum, a relative of Harold and Joy who bears a grudge against Iron Fist and hires men to attack him; of Colleen Wing, a Japanese woman, ally and sometimes love interest of Iron Fist (Marvel Premiere #19, 1974)

Ed Brubaker: co-creator of Crane Mother, a mystical entity connected to K'un-Lun (Immortal Iron Fist #4, 2007); of K'un-Lun as one of the capital cities of Heaven (Immortal Iron Fist #5, 2007); of the Iron Fist called an Immortal Weapon (Immortal Iron Fist #7, 2007); of Iron Fist being sent into a tournament against various martial artists, including The Bride of Nine Spiders (Immortal Iron Fist #8, 2007)

David Aja: co-creator of Crane Mother, a mystical entity connected to K'un-Lun (Immortal Iron Fist #4, 2007); of K'un-Lun as one of the capital cities of Heaven (Immortal Iron Fist #5, 2007); of Iron Fist being sent into a tournament against various martial artists, including The Bride of Nine Spiders (Immortal Iron Fist #8, 2007); of Daniel Rand teaching at a dojo (Immortal Iron Fist #16, 2008)

Stan Lee: co-creator of Daredevil, a costumed crimefighter; of Karen Page (Daredevil #1, 1964); of the Hulk, a monstrous super hero (Incredible Hulk #1, 1962); of the Hulk having green skin (Incredible Hulk #2, 1962); of Stark Industries, Tony Stark's technology company (Tales of Suspense #45, 1963)

Bill Everett: co-creator of Daredevil, a costumed crimefighter (Daredevil #1, 1964); creator of the white male orphan raised in a Himalayan city and trained to become a great warrior through many trials, then returning to the world outside to use his mystical gifts (Amazing-Man Comics #5, 1939)

Sal Buscema: co-creator of Dr. Paul Edmonds, a psychiatrist who assesses the mental status of a super hero (Avengers #227, 1983); of Roxxon Energy, a ruthless criminal corporation (Captain America #180, 1974); of the exclamation "Sweet Christmas" as an epithet (Defenders #24, 1975)

Frank Miller: creator of the Hand, a clan of evil ninjas who battle Daredevil (Daredevil #174, 1981); of the Hand's ability to mystically resurrect fallen warriors (Daredevil #187, 1982)

Travel Foreman: co-creator of the Iron Fist called an Immortal Weapon (Immortal Iron Fist #7, 2007); of Zhou Cheng, a martial artist who fights Iron Fist (Immortal Iron Fist #17, 2009)

Jason Henderson: co-creator of Colleen Wing as a member of the Hand (Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #1, 2010); of Colleen leaving the Hand (Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #3, 2010)

Ivan Rodriguez: co-creator of Colleen Wing as a member of the Hand (Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #1, 2010); of Colleen leaving the Hand (Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow #3, 2010)

Brian Michael Bendis: co-creator of Jessica Jones, an alcoholic private detective (Alias #1, 2001); the Night Nurse, a medic who treats superhumans (Daredevil #58, 2004)

Archie Goodwin: co-creator of Luke Cage, a hero with unbreakable skin (Hero for Hire #1, 1972); Claire Temple, a physician who knows Luke Cage (Hero for Hire #2, 1972)

George Tuska: co-creator of Luke Cage, a hero with unbreakable skin (Hero for Hire #1, 1972); Claire Temple, a physician who knows Luke Cage (Hero for Hire #2, 1972)

Jack Kirby: co-creator of the Hulk, a monstrous super hero (Incredible Hulk #1, 1962); of the Hulk having green skin (Incredible Hulk #2, 1962)

Roger Stern: co-creator of Dr. Paul Edmonds, a psychiatrist who assesses the mental status of a super hero (Avengers #227, 1983)

Dan Brereton: co-creator of the Singing Spider, an instrument of death used by the Bride of Nine Spiders (Immortal Weapons #2, 2009)

Cullen Bunn: co-creator of the Singing Spider, an instrument of death used by the Bride of Nine Spiders (Immortal Weapons #2, 2009)

Jay Faerber: co-creator of Iron Fist battling the Hand; of the Hand seeking to control Iron Fist's power (New Warriors #7, 2000)

Jamal Igle: co-creator of Iron Fist battling the Hand; of the Hand seeking to control Iron Fist's power (New Warriors #7, 2000)

Duane Swierczynski: co-creator of Zhou Cheng, a martial artist who fights Iron Fist (Immortal Iron Fist #17, 2009)

Russ Heath: co-creator of Zhou Cheng, a martial artist who fights Iron Fist (Immortal Iron Fist #17, 2009)

Pat Broderick: co-creator of Jeryn Hogarth, a lawyer who works for Daniel Rand (Marvel Premiere #24, 1975)

Steve Englehart: co-creator of Roxxon Energy, a ruthless criminal corporation (Captain America #180, 1974)

Robert Bernstein: co-creator of Stark Industries, Tony Stark's technology company (Tales of Suspense #45, 1963)

Marshall Rogers: co-creator of Colleen Wing as a Daughter of the Dragon (Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #32, 1977)

Jimmy Palmiotti: co-creator of Colleen Wing wearing a white jumpsuit (Daughters of the Dragon #1, 2006)

Alex Maleev: co-creator of the Night Nurse, a medic who treats superhumans (Daredevil #58, 2004)

Don Heck: co-creator of Stark Industries, Tony Stark's technology company (Tales of Suspense #45, 1963)

Justin Gray: co-creator of Colleen Wing wearing a white jumpsuit (Daughters of the Dragon #1, 2006)

Khari Evans: co-creator of Colleen Wing wearing a white jumpsuit (Daughters of the Dragon #1, 2006)

Michael Gaydos: co-creator of Jessica Jones, an alcoholic private detective (Alias #1, 2001)

John Romita: co-creator of Luke Cage, a hero with unbreakable skin (Hero for Hire #1, 1972)

Steve Gerber: co-creator of the exclamation "Sweet Christmas" as an epithet (Defenders #24, 1975)

Marco Checchetto: co-creator of Bakuto, a member of the Hand (Daredevil #505, 2010)

Antony Johnston: co-creator of Bakuto, a member of the Hand (Daredevil #505, 2010)

Andy Diggle: co-creator of Bakuto, a member of the Hand (Daredevil #505, 2010)

Win Mortimer: co-creator of Night Nurse (Night Nurse #1, 1972)

Jean Thomas: co-creator of Night Nurse (Night Nurse #1, 1972)

Monday, March 13, 2017

Iron Fist, Shangri-La, Amazing-Man, Kung Fu and the Mighty Whitey

With the debut of Netflix's Iron Fist television show nearly upon us, many people in and about the internet have been commenting on matters of race in the Iron Fist saga - that is, that the hero is, in the comics and on the show, a white guy who gained his powers from an Asian culture.

So, let's begin our history lesson - but first, we'll have to step way back and do some pop culture history.

#1: The Fabled Lost City

There is a tradition in fiction of lost civilizations, places which are kept out of reach of modern man. These places may be hidden in a distant jungle, in an underground cavern, atop a high mountain, on the bottom of the ocean or the surface of the moon. Iron Fist's homeland, K'un-Lun, is such a place; it is a city which lies within an alternate dimension and can only be accessed through a portal found in the Himalayan mountains. And so, before we can start talking about K'un-Lun as an appropriation of Asian culture, we have to acknowledge it's actually an appropriation of western culture which could be said to have been appropriated from Asian culture. Er... or something like that.

British author James Hilton wrote Lost Horizon in 1933. It tells of a fantastic city called Shangri-La which is virtually hidden in the Himalayas and unknown to the world at large. Shangri-La is a paradise of knowledge and is used in the novel (and 1937 film adaptation) as an escape from the punishing realities of contemporary times - the idea that even if western civilization perished in World War II, humanity's knowledge would be maintained in the yet-peaceful land of Shangri-La. The only truly fantastical element in the novel is that people in Shangri-La have extraordinarily-long lifespans but outside the city's borders age rapidly. And so, K'un-Lun is likewise a remote Himalayan retreat which, nevertheless, boasts a surprising understanding of the western world - Lost Horizon was an extremely popular book in its day and was remade as a (terrible) film in 1973, a year before Iron Fist's debut. Yet Hilton had himself based Shangri-La upon a pre-existing city in Asian lore: Shambhala, a Tibetan kingdom which was likewise a repository of knowledge ruled by the wise and just. But K'un-Lun owes a debt to more than simply James Hilton and Shambhala.

I suppose we also have to talk about the 1947 musical Brigadoon by the American Alan Jay Lerner. It's the story of a Scottish village which appears for only one day every 100 years. Similarly, K'un-Lun appears on Earth only once every 10 years. It feels as though one of the reasons K'un-Lun had that restriction was because the initial creators (Roy Thomas & Gil Kane) didn't believe Iron Fist would ever be returning there after his origin. Besides Brigadoon, you can see many ideas from Scottish/Irish/English folktales about fairies in the concept of a place which is sometimes there, sometimes not and where time does not necessarily pass at the same rate.

#2: The Hero Who Journeys to the East

The super hero genre owes a tremendous debt to the pulp magazine hero the Shadow, who directly inspired many of the earliest comic book heroes. In the radio version of the Shadow, he bore "the hypnotic power to cloud men's minds so that they cannot see him," which was a secret he learned "many years ago in the Orient." Well, that set off a mawkish band of imitators. According to the resources of my friend Jess Nevins, some early comic book heroes whose origins consisted of brushing up against the mysticism of "the Orient" (usually Tibet) includes: Thin Man, the Vision, Howard Thurston, the Green Lama, Wonder Man, Thun Dohr, the Human Meteor, Illuso, the Flame, Gun Master and Commando Ranger. But, most significantly, there was Amazing-Man.

Amazing-Man was created by Bill Everett and published by Centaur starting in 1939's Amazing-Man Comics #5. In that comic, we were first introduced to John Aman, an orphan who was selected for his "superb physical structure" and brought to the Council of Seven in Tibet. Said Council was comprised of men in hoods not unlike those of Iron Fist's uncle Yu-Ti (and one of the Council is a heavy, much like Yu-Ti). The Council gifted Aman with "kindness, tolerance and bravery" and set him through a barrage of tests where he had to be strong as an elephant, quick as a cobra, survive being stabbed with throwing knives and prove himself adept at various languages. Following this, one council member injected Aman with a serum which permitted him to become invisible while generating a green mist around his body (hence his other alias, "The Green Mist").

Roy Thomas, being quite the fanboy, deliberately cribbed many details from Amazing-Man's origin for Iron Fist. At the time, the old hero-goes-to-the-mysterious-east origin was mostly neglected, although the 1960s had included a few notable heroes in that mould such as Doctor Strange, Doctor Droom (later Doctor Druid) and Deadman. You might be surprised to hear that Batman was not one of these heroes at the time; it wasn't until a fill-in story written in 1989 by Christopher Priest that Batman's origin was altered to include a trip to Tibet - a detail which would subsequently become quite visible in the 2005 film Batman Begins.

#3: The Martial Arts

Next up, we have to talk about the martial arts film phenomenon. By 1974 it was a big business, coming one year after Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon, which became a major point of reference for martial arts films in popular culture. More than that, there was the television program Kung Fu starring the not-at-all-Asian actor David Carradine. Kung Fu brought the martial arts craze into living rooms across the USA, including those of Marvel Comics' creators. Steve Englehart & Jim Starlin lobbied Roy Thomas to obtain the license for Kung Fu but Thomas noted the series was owned by Warner Bros., owners of their rivals DC Comics; instead, in late 1973 they debuted the new Marvel series Master of Kung Fu featuring as protagonist Shang-Chi, whose personality and ethos were roughly based on that of Kung Fu's Kwai Chang Caine.

Gil Kane said that Iron Fist came about after he saw his first kung fu movie. He was instantly jazzed about creating a kung fu comic book series himself and this led to him joining with Roy Thomas. Therefore, we can trace the lineage of Iron Fist thusly: Kung fu movies -> Amazing-Man -> Lost Horizon -> Shambhala.

However, Iron Fist faltered somewhat shortly out of the gate. Kane was interested enough in the martial arts to draw the first issue, then he jumped off. Larry Hama stepped in for four issues as the new artist, while Len Wein and Doug Moench became the writers. Tony Isabella & Arvell Jones covered only three issues, then after two issues by Chris Claremont & Pat Broderick, John Byrne took Broderick's place and the Claremont-Byrne team became the longest-lasting Iron Fist creative by a country mile.

Due to the immense upheaval, Iron Fist didn't quite gel as a series until the Claremont-Byrne days. The initial storyline dealt with Iron Fist's origin, then his quest for vengeance against his father's killer. Isabella & Jones shook up the concept a little by introducing the idea that K'un-Lun could be reached at other intervals through magic, setting the stage for many of Iron Fist's return visits to the extent that K'un-Lun's supposed disconnection from Earth would become largely forgotten.

#4: Iron Fist's Race

"But Mike," you say, "this is all very interesting and well-researched but you're dancing around the real issue: Iron Fist is just another Mighty Whitey." I appreciate the compliment, but I do prefer "Michael." I won't argue the point of Iron Fist being a Mighty Whitey; like many of those to whom the trope applies, he's a white guy who travels to some remote place inhabited by non-whites, then proceeds to be better at whatever it is the locals specialize in than any of them. Sure enough, Daniel Rand is raised in K'un-Lun from approximately ages 9-19 and succeeds at every trial placed before him (just like Amazing-Man), claiming the power of Iron Fist.

Yet if you had asked me about Danny's race 10 years ago, I would have told you he's half-Asian. And 10 years ago I wrote for The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, so that would have been a rather authoritative declaration.

Here, let's go back to Danny's origin again; what is often overlooked in the origin story is that Danny's father originated in K'un-Lun. As narration in Marvel Premiere #15 puts it: " Even as a child, you knew your father had always been an enigma to everyone! Appearing out of nowhere, nearly a decade before -- becoming an instant entrepreneur, with mysterious funds" Then in Marvel Premiere #16, K'un-Lun's ruler Yu-Ti, the August Personage of Jade, reveals Danny's father Wendell was his brother - making Yu-Ti Danny's uncle. Therefore, Danny's lineage is half-K'un-Lun! That seems pretty conclusive, huh? Danny's 50% Asian, which mitigates all that 'Mighty Whitey' stuff. Danny's full name would even be given as "Daniel Rand-K'ai" on occcasion (usually in the OHOTMU). It seems as though Iron Fist's creators intended for Danny Rand to be half-Asian!

Of course, Gil Kane didn't drawn Wendell Rand to look Asian. You could chalk that up to an art error if you really wanted to. Later, in Power Man & Iron Fist #75 (1981), Jo Duffy suggested Wendell had been adopted into Yu-Ti's family but it didn't catch on, nor did it make sense based on anything previously established about Yu-Ti. But, unfortunately, Ed Brubaker & Matt Fraction's Immortal Iron Fist undid these little-explored fine details. Immortal Iron Fist kinda makes the 'Mighty Whitey' thing even worse by introducing Orson Randall, the previous Iron Fist, who was also a white guy who wound up in K'un-Lun. For a character who died within six issues he's actually got a backstory which is just as convoluted as Danny's. Brubaker & Fraction did at least introduce the idea of K'un-Lun possessing various sister cities which each had their own champion or "immortal weapon;" most of those immortal weapons were Asian guys (one of them was Amazing-Man, who had fallen into the public domain).

So it was that in Immortal Iron Fist Annual #1 (2007), Brubaker & Fraction established Wendell Rand as an All-American orphan kid who met Orson Randall and through him, eventually went to K'un-Lun and became a citizen. So, there was a perfectly acceptable means to firmly establish Iron Fist as one of Marvel's most prominent Asian heroes, but they went the opposite direction. Thanks for ruining it, white guys.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Unearthed: The Batman Chronicles #5

Today has been International Women's Day and I hope your day was... womanly...?

To that end, leave us take a look back one of comicdom's greatest female characters and a beloved woman comic writer; neither one is with us today, yet the legend lives on.

Alan Moore originally didn't intend for his Batman: The Killing Joke one-shot to be part of DC Comics' continuity, much less for it to be considered one of the definitive works in the Batman mythos - yet, it certainly has been since its publication in 1988. Even then, the comic elicited a strong reaction over the scene in which Barbara Gordon was shot by the Joker. It brought an end to her career as the costumed hero Batgirl. At the time, DC were certainly determined to pare Batman down to the status of a loner as he'd likewise lose his sidekick Robin (only Nightwing was spared as he wasn't considered a Batman character then, but was instead a Teen Titans character). Many fans felt the offhanded way in which Batgirl's career ended was unworthy of her.

Among those fans were John Ostrander and his wife Kim Yale. In the pages of Suicide Squad they introduced a mysterious computer hacker named Oracle who began assisting the Squad and, over the course of about two years, was finally revealed as the wheelchair-bound Barbara Gordon. This new identity proved a clever one as in the 1990s the internet's usage spiked dramatically, making Oracle's mastery of computers all the more relevant. She was soon welcomed back into the Batman family as an indispensable ally, led her own team the Birds of Prey and joined the Justice League! Pretty gratifying for a character who could have easily been kicked to the curb. Through it all, she remained a heroine despite her circumstances which helped inspire many fans who were themselves dealing with one form of disability or another.

And then in the 21st century DC Comics went, "Whoa! Look at my navel! Why have I never realized how amazing this navel is? Check it out, everyone!" And so, Babs went back to being Batgirl. Pity. But I'm not here to talk to you about that; in 1996, Ostrander & Yale finally gave Babs a proper origin story to detail how she went from the hospital in Killing Joke to becoming the mistress of information. It's called "Oracle: Year One - Born of Hope" and appeared in The Batman Chronicles #5, an anthology comic with various creators offering tales about Batman characters. This was one of three stories in that issue. The cover above was drawn by Howard Victor Chaykin & Tommy Lee Edwards, while the story itself was drawn by Brian Stelfreeze and Karl Story.

The story opens with Barbara in the hospital shortly after The Killing Joke. Batman visits Babs, but she's not particularly happy to see him. You see, Batman knew all of her secrets as Batgirl but had never told her he was Bruce Wayne and there was some lasting resentment between them due to this (something which also came up in Ostrander & Yale's Suicide Squad). Babs sums up what the Joker did thusly:

"Shooting me... kidnapping my Dad... it was all just a way to get to you. Do you understand how humiliating, how demeaning, that is? My life has no importance save in relation to you! Even as Batgirl, I was perceived just as some weaker version of you!"

The Killing Joke ended with Batman and the Joker laughing together. Babs remarks: "I heard how you two stood there, laughing over some private joke. Tell me -- was it me?" Batman exits the hospital. "Good. I hope I've hurt him." Babs states. When she finally leaves the hospital with her father her first attempt to enter her Dad's car is shown in great detail as it takes more than a page for the task to be done, Babs' first taste of how complicated her new life will be. Of the next six months she concludes: "Worst of all was the fear I felt -- of being physically helpless, unable to defend myself, of having no sense of self, of feeling that I meant nothing, that my life was now over." She also worried that if her father died in the line of duty she would be left to live on charity.

Deciding to revisit her old investigative skills Babs puts together a computer lab with some financial aid from the Wayne Foundation (and thus, Batman secretly repays part of his debt to her). With her computers, Babs becomes engrossed with the internet. One day, her father mentions the trouble the department is having with a computer-based felon called Interface (a villain from Ostrander & Yale's Manhunter) who has the metahuman ability to link herself to computers. Babs tries to use the internet to dig up information on Interface but is noticed by the villain, who catches up to Babs one day in the street and shoves her wheelchair in front of a car. Babs survives, but now finds she has the determination to see this investigation through to the end.

Returning to the internet, Babs looks for someone to teach her a new form of self-defense to avoid another episode like the one with Interface. Batman, using his identity of Matches Malone, directs Babs to Richard Dragon, the 1970s DC martial arts hero. Dragon teaches Babs how to fight using the escrima method, learning how to wield twin batons as weapons. One night, Babs has a dream in which she appears as Batgirl and confronts the oracle at Delphi; the oracle turns out to be Babs as well and this gives her the idea for her new identity. Now disguised as Oracle, she contacts Interface and sets a viral trap in Interface's own computer so that when she attempts to link to it it causes Interface to be caught in an unending loop. To win her freedom from Oracle, Interface agrees to admit all of her crimes to the police.

The story ends with Babs taking again to the streets, now more confidant than before. "I am no longer a distaff impersonation of someone else. I'm me -- more me than I have ever been. My life is my own. I embrace it, and the light, with a deep, continuing joy."

One year later, Kim Yale died of breast cancer. She is still survived by her husband, John Ostrander.