Saturday, March 31, 2018

On Comixology: Heroic Age: Super Heroes

When Marvel ran its 2010 'Heroic Age' branding initiative I was given the task of writing three tie-in books. I chose to write them from the perspective of Steve Rogers and I thought it would be interesting to attempt to quantify a character's heroism, inventing some new stats for that purpose. Anyway, at least I put in some effort.
Enter the Heroic Age! In the aftermath of SIEGE, Steve Rogers assesses the state of Earth's heroes in this extravaganza of character files! From old friends like Thor to newcomers such as Reptil, Steve asks this question: what makes them heroes? Find out how he really feels, and see how your favorite hero ranks in this ultimate countdown!

Check it out at Comixology!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday thoughts

I think it's possible that I have been to church on every Good Friday of my life, before I could have even been aware of the service. Sermons delivered on Good Friday are, as a rule, laser-focused on Christ's crucifixion. Why wouldn't they be? But consequently, there are some aspects of in the story of Christ's passion which I haven't heard taught to me in church and which still have avenues worth exploring.

Recently a friend directed me to a very interesting fact about Barabbas, the man who was granted freedom by the crowds in place of Jesus. Barabbas' full name was Jesus Barabbas, but most translations have simply given it as 'Barabbas' for the sake of simplicity. The significance of his name is that 'Barabbas' roughly translates to 'Son of the Father.' So, when Pontius Pilate asks the crowd which one they would have freed, he is essentially asking them two choose between two Jesuses who are both a 'Son of the Father.' Pilate must have chosen Barabbas as a bad joke. Note how Pilate's address to the crowd is one of mockery; when he says (as in Mark 15:9) “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” he didn't actually believe Jesus bore that title, nor did he think the Jews believed that. The entire affair where he addresses the crowd is a bit of political theater, the sort of bread & circuses which entertained Romans.

It's also telling, of course, how Barabbas differs from Jesus Christ. Barabbas, we're told, took part in an armed revolt and was jailed over it. We know from the Gospels that Jesus' disciples frequently hoped Jesus would usher in his kingdom through violence, that he would overthrow the Romans through his power. Essentially, Barabbas was the kind of person the disciples thought they wanted. The Jews, without intending to, chose for themselves a saviour according to the world's understanding of power. And are we so different today? Do we not judge one's might based on their physical conquests (which are seen) rather than their spiritual victories (which are unseen)?

I wish you well on this Good Friday and trust you are looking forward to Easter Sunday with anticipation.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Starlin's Thanos, part 6 of 10: They Bite

Need to catch up? Part 1: The Mad Titan and the Cosmic Cube; Part 2: Chaos Meets the True Neutral; Part 3: Laid to Rest; Part 4: The Gloves Are On; Part 5: The Power Glove

The Infinity War was and is a mess.

Joined again with Ron Lim (and inks by Starlin's old mate Al Milgrom), 1992's Infinity War attempted to escalate what Starlin had done in The Infinity Gauntlet. More tie-ins! More heroes! More subplots! It's amazing that The Infinity War reads as well as it does; the best that can be said for it is that it was a very well-coordinated event.

Dipping into his back catalogue, Starlin brought back Adam Warlock's other self the Magus, revealing that Adam had unwittingly driven all good and evil from himself, causing those abstract qualities to take on physical form (as they do in the Marvel Universe). The reborn Magus builds an army of evil duplicates of Earth's heroes (where they came from was buried in a Quasar tie-in) and wields five Cosmic Cubes - but he's willing to settle for more. In fact, the Magus would dearly appreciate it if Adam would give him the Infinity Gems. Fortunately, Thanos is here to save the universe!

The other saving grace of The Infinity War is, thankfully, Thanos. When Thanos begins to sense the Magus' threat he returns to his familiar costume and seeks out Adam's Infinity Watch for assistance. Meanwhile, the Magus' evil duplicates are replacing a few of their counterparts.

The evil duplicates ('doppelgangers') are the most visible problem with The Infinity War: they're not interesting. Tasked with designing 50+ new evil doubles, Ron Lim reduced most of the evil doubles into images that were basically the same as the heroes, only with sharp teeth. Some of the doubles (Spider-Man, Daredevil, Invisible Woman) went on to cause trouble in comics long after the crossover was done. But they're evil; they have no nuance and barely any dialogue. Added to this, many of the tie-ins showed the same dull fight of the heroes at Four Freedoms Plaza battling their doubles. As in The Infinity Gauntlet, characters who weren't Starlin's pets have very little of consequence to do, with only Quasar's tie-ins containing any significant developments.

It's the surprise heroism of Thanos which elevates the event. Thanos begins by simply being intellectually curious about the Magus' plans, but when he realizes the cosmic threat, he takes steps to stop him. This is basically how Thanos will be characterized in every Starlin story to come (and Keith Giffen's).

It's just a shame those evil doubles are so lame.

Still, at the same time Starlin wrote a wonderful Thanos solo story for the 1992 Marvel Holiday Special. In this brief tale (illustrated by Ron Lim & Terry Austin), Thanos is reminded of how he raised Gamora from childhood and recalls how she saved him from an assassin - at the same time, revealing to Thanos she would never be the ruthless assassin he hoped for. This story actually has some credit coming to it for the way Thanos is treated as Gamora's father in the current Marvel films.

Next Tuesday: The Holiest War.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Now on Comixology: Secret War: From the Files of Nick Fury

So, this was a companion piece to Brian Michael Bendis' Secret War mini-series. I think it was commissioned when the mini ran late. Mike Raicht wrote the book, but there were various errors in the text and our team of writers became involved to help fix them; we rewrote a few of the entries entirely. This also marked the first of the "from the files..." books which our team produced parallel to our Official Handbook titles.
The secrets behind the war, as seen through the eyes of the spy game's elder statesman! SECRET WAR: FROM THE FILES OF NICK FURY is an essential companion to the limited-series mega-event, revealing stunning details of the darkest chapter in Marvel Universe history! How did S.H.I.E.L.D Director Nick Fury choose his ragtag team of misunderstood heroes? Which A-listers didn't make the cut, and why? Who does Fury consider the most dangerous villain in the Marvel Universe? The answers will surprise and shock you! This volume includes HANDBOOK-style bios of all the key participants in Fury's Secret War - Spider-Man, Captain America, Luke Cage, Daredevil, Wolverine, the Black Widow and many more - annotated by Fury himself! Plus: more of the transcripts, case files and other apocrypha seen in SECRET WAR!

Now on sale at Comixology!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Starlin's Thanos, part 5 of 10: The Power Glove

Need to catch up? Part 1: The Mad Titan and the Cosmic Cube; Part 2: Chaos Meets the True Neutral; Part 3: Laid to Rest; Part 4: The Gloves Are On

And just like that, Thanos was everywhere.

Once a figure designated for Jim Starlin's use, The Infinity Gauntlet event and 6-issue mini-series made Thanos a top Marvel villain. But at the same time, Starlin was deconstructing Thanos into a character who would never serve as a menace in a story like The Infinity Gauntlet again.

In retrospect, it's remarkable that a plot which had been running in a low-profile series like Silver Surfer could rise up and become a major publishing event, earning a reputation as one of the best Marvel super hero crossovers ever told. Aside from Steve Englehart referencing the Cosmic Cube saga in an issue of Avengers, Starlin's Thanos epics seemed to exist in their own world, only barely infringing on the larger Marvel Universe. No longer.

Through the course of The Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos attempts to use his newfound omnipotence to finally win Death's affections back, first by fulfilling his promise to her and eliminating 50% of all life in the universe (with a snap of his fingers). The remaining heroes, led by a resurrected Adam Warlock, attempt to stop Thanos, but even after he willingly reduces his power level, he easily mops the floor with them. Finally, Thanos loses the Infinity Gems to Nebula, who undoes all of Thanos' mischief.

In the midst of this, it becomes clear that Thanos' earlier defeats occurred because on a subconscious level, Thanos did not truly desire ultimate victory. And so, Captain Mar-Vell and Spider-Man were each permitted a chance to thwart him. In The Infinity Gauntlet, the Vision notes this quirk of Thanos' personality early on and during Thanos' fight with the heroes he almost loses while battling Captain America - until he realizes he was about to surrender and instantly rallies.

Now that this subtext has become the text of Thanos, Thanos is instantly a much more difficult character to write. Creators other than Starlin frequently want to replay another Infinity Gauntlet-type story - but now that Thanos knows he doesn't truly want ultimate power, why even bother telling another story that goes through the motions?

Some fans find Starlin's characterization of Thanos insulting; after all, Starlin has revealed that his pet creation can only be beaten if he wants to. It sounds like a schoolyard mentality. But then, following The Infinity Gauntlet Starlin wasn't particularly interested in having Thanos square off against the heroes for another curb stomp; now that Thanos realized he didn't actually want true power, he was free to find a new destiny. Infinity Gauntlet ends with Adam Warlock wielding the gems while Thanos has abandoned his old costume and taken up existence as a farmer - but Starlin had new ideas for the character.

The Infinity Gauntlet was drawn by George Perez and Ron Lim (when Perez failed to make deadlines), inks by Tom Christopher, Joe Rubinstein and Bruce Solotoff. Among the comics who tied into the event were Mark Gruenwald & Greg Capullo's Quasar, Terry Kavanagh & David Ross' Cloak and Dagger, Roy Thomas, Danni Thomas & Dan Lawlis' Doctor Strange, Peter David & Dale Keown's Incredible Hulk, and Ron Marz's Silver Surfer. Starlin had given up writing duties on Silver Surfer for the sake of The Infinity Gauntlet (bringing Ron Lim with him), but Ron Marz quickly proved to be sympatico to Starlin's concept of Marvel cosmic tales, and the characterization of Thanos in particular. Marz would frequently aid Starlin's tales in the years to come and remains one of two Marvel writers to touch Thanos whose work Starlin seems to approve of (Keith Giffen being the other).

The number of tie-ins for The Infinity Gauntlet was modest, but Marvel wasn't blind to the sales success the event had been; next time - and yes, there had to be a next time - the tie-ins would escalate. But for the moment, Starlin was writing Warlock and the Infinity Watch, a new series teaming Adam, Gamora, Pip, Drax and Moondragon as the guardians of the Infinity Gems. And who took the sixth gem? Starlin kept that secret for about two years...

Next Thursday: They Bite.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Why so tense?

Present participle:

Past participle:

Past tense:

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Starlin's Thanos, part 4 of 10: The Gloves Are on

Need to catch up? Part 1: The Mad Titan and the Cosmic Cube; Part 2: Chaos Meets the True Neutral; Part 3: Laid to Rest

In 1987, writer Steve Englehart launched the Silver Surfer into a new ongoing series, one which finally placed the cosmic hero into cosmic surroundings, pitting him in the midst of a new Kree-Skrull War and repeated clashes with the Elders of the Universe. In the course of the series, the Elders obtained the six Soul Gems which had lain dormant since Thanos' death.

When Jim Starlin arrived as the new writer of Silver Surfer in 1990, Englehart's use of the Soul Gems was like a blessing to him. Joining with artist Ron Lim (inks by Joe Rubinstein & Tom Christopher), Starlin wasted no time in bringing his pet character back: in issue #34, Death herself raises Thanos from the dead to correct a cosmic balance - that is, there is too much life in the universe. Thanos' mission is to deplete the universe's population by 50%.

The Silver Surfer proved a capable foe for Thanos, he being a stolid, honorable man like Mar-vell and Adam Warlock had been in earlier Starlin epics. The comparisons between the Surfer and Adam Warlock grew all the more during issues #40-43, during which Thanos faked his death and lured the Surfer to the bureaucratic Dynamo City for the reading of his will. The frustrations the Surfer found in Dynamo City recalled the kangaroo court the Universal Church of Truth ran in Starlin's Warlock.

Thanos spent issue #35 calmly explaining his rationale behind universal genocide, it being his contention that there is simply too much life to properly sustain itself. This was the first time Starlin attemted to grant Thanos a point of view, rather than simply lusting after destruction for Death's favour. These stories also saw the introduction of Thanos' floating chair, which would become a staple, and his teleportation technology which was first used in Warlock became a standard part of his equipment.

At the same time they were creating Silver Surfer, Jim Starlin and Ron Lim (with inker John Beatty) created Thanos Quest, a two-part prestige format comic book which marked the first time Thanos took a starring role. In order to fulfill his mission from Death, Thanos sets after the Soul Gems to obtain omnipotent power. Thanos easily fights his way through the Elders of the Universe and adopts the gems, renaming them 'Infinity Gems.' Ergo, Thanos' gauntlet is now the 'Infinity Gauntlet.'

It should be said, the Infinity Gauntlet is just Thanos' glove. The glove existed decades before the famous Infinity Gauntlet story. And yet, in decades to come many revisits of the Infinity Gems have involved Thanos' glove, for no good reason other than it being the form the six were wielded in previously.

Starlin brought his reliable Drax the Destroyer back from the dead, once again sent by Kronos to hunt Thanos. However, Starlin took advantage of the means by which Drax died to alter him; because Moondragon had killed Drax psychically, his new body has suffered tremendous brain damage, leaving him fairly, well -- stupid. In the course of this lengthy arc which ran from Silver Surfer #34-50 (then continued in Infinity Gauntlet), the Surfer and Drax were briefly drawn into Adam's Soul Gem by Thanos. Within the gem, the Surfer and Drax met Adam, Gamora, Pip and the others Adam had absorbed.

I should also mention that Nebula - the granddaughter of Thanos whom Roger Stern created after Thanos' death - suffered somewhat under Starlin's hands. Starlin was (and is) very protective of Thanos and wasted little time in pitting Thanos against Nebula, with Thanos pointing out how incredulous it is to think that a man who devoted his life to death would ever create life. Starlin's slight against Nebula was the first of many course-corrections Starlin would make.

The storyline Starlin had been creating in Silver Surfer proved to hold so much potential it grew beyond the scop of just one book...

Next Tuesday: The Power Glove.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Annihilation: Nova Corps Files is on Comixology!

Comixology has added yet another of my old Marvel projects to their site. This time it's Annihilation: Nova Corps Files, a 'files' format book which I headed up after my friend Anthony Flamini passed on it. This came out at the launch of the Annihilation comics event of 2006 which was ultimately one of the best comic book events I'd ever seen. I was very pleased to have been involved here (and with Annihilation Saga & War of Kings Saga).
Get caught up on all of the players in the Annihilation event - just in time for this month's ANNIHILATION #1! Featuring Annihilus, Nova, Ronan, the Silver Surfer, the Super-Skrull, Thanos and more - all from the Xandarian Worldmind files of the Nova Corps!

The digital version sells for $1.99 at Comixology!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Starlin's Thanos, part 3 of 10: Laid to Rest

Need to catch up? Part 1: The Mad Titan and the Cosmic Cube; Part 2: Chaos Meets the True Neutral

There was a time - within my own lifetime - when the fictional universes published by Marvel and DC Comics seemed to be moving along a slow but steady path of progress. It had begun during the Silver Age when characters would move beyond their original status quos: Peter Parker graduated high school; Reed Richards and Sue Storm were wed; Tony Stark received heart surgery. This also applied to characters who died or retired - many deaths and retirements were intended to be permanent; after all, there was no want for lack of new characters to take an old one's place.

It was also an age where certain creators were provincial over how their creations were used and it was considered a good thing to respect those creators' wishes - that you should not write Elektra unless Frank Miller approved, nor should you write Thanos without Jim Starlin's consent. It was in this age that young people who had grown up as fans of the Silver Age Marvel Comics were ascending to positions of power and influence over the line of comics, people such as Jim Shooter and Mark Gruenwald. There was an increasing attempt to pin down how the Marvel Universe fit together, what it's laws were. There was also a zealousness (particularly for Gruenwald) to "tidy up" the Marvel Universe, to eliminate characters and places which seemed extraneous to the universe's primary protagonists.

For instance, in a series of back-ups found in What If, Mark Gruenwald & Ralph Macchio rewrote the backstory of the Titans, changing them from descendants of the Greco-Roman gods into a branch of the Eternals (the Eternals were created by Jack Kirby in 1977, years after Thanos and the Titans). I don't know what Starlin made of this retcon - fortunately, there's no good reason to bring up the Titans' origins, not unless the Eternals of Earth are involved.

It was in 1977 that Jim Starlin began to wind down what he had created for Marvel. It began as simply an effort to clean up his unresolved plots from Warlock, but through the events of Avengers Annual #7 & Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 (written & drawn by Starlin, inked by Joe Rubinstein), he wrote Adam Warlock, Gamora, Pip the Troll and Thanos out of the Marvel Universe. Proving he could be a gracious collaborator with Marvel's other writers, Starlin fashioned this two-part epic from an idea which Bill Mantlo & John Byrne introduced in Marvel Team=Up #55 - that there were other Soul Gems beyond the one Adam Warlock possessed. In this story, it is revealed there are six Soul Gems, all of which have been located by Thanos. Unable to steal Adam's gem, Thanos instead siphoned some of its power during the earlier battle with the Magus; siphoning from all six gems, Thanos places the combined power inside a massive synthetic gem, with which he intends to destroy all the stars in the galaxy so that Death (who spurned him at the end of the Cosmic Cube saga) will again love him.

The first part of the story stands on its own fairly well - Adam learns of Thanos' synthetic gem and the Avengers (plus Moondragon and Captain Marvel, who have prior links to Thanos) join forces with him. The second half is more awkward as Spider-Man and the Thing journey into space to aid the Avengers. Starlin attempted to suggest that Spider-Man had received his powers so that he would eventually be present to assist in Thanos' defeat, but clearly no one has ever bought into that - if there were a higher destiny for Spider-Man, it would surely appear in a story dealing with someone from his own rogue's gallery - and it would have to be the "last" Spider-Man story 'cause where do you go from there?

In the course of the two-parter, Gamora was beaten to the verge of death by Thanos and Pip was rendered comatose; Adam absorbed both into his Soul Gem. Warlock died after his battle with Thanos, meeting his past self in an exact replica of the scene in Warlock where Adam absorbed his future self's soul. Finally, Adam's spirit briefly emerged from the gem to turn Thanos into stone, a fittingly cruel state of affairs for a man who worshiped death.

In 1982, Starlin put his other Marvel cosmic hero to rest in the first Marvel Graphic Novel: The Death of Captain Marvel. In that story, Mar-Vell is revealed to have developed cancer from exposure to the nerve gas in Starlin's last issue. Mar-Vell dies an unglamorous death in his bed on Titan - but Thanos' spirit appears to Mar-Vell to challenge him to one last fight, believing his foe should have a heroic death. This appearance of Thanos points to where Starlin would take the character in the future - a sardonic ex-conqueror who bears some grudging admiration for his enemies.

And that was it - the end of Thanos! That same year, Marvel published a prestige limited series called Warlock which collected all of Starlin's Warlock stories, including the two-part finale in the annuals. In 1985, Marvel reprinted all of Starlin's Captain Marvel as The Life of Captain Marvel. The fact that Starlin's stories from the middle of the character's publishing history were considered "the life" of the hero said much about how highly Starlin's work was regarded and the Cosmic Cube epic has been reprinted more frequently than anything else in Mar-Vell's mostly-overlooked series.

Although Captain Marvel and Adam Warlock were gone, their names were still valuable IP to Marvel, who created new characters to fit the name - although neither had powers or origins in common with their predecessors. Roger Stern's Amazing Spider-Man saw a new female African-American Captain Marvel the same year Mar-Vell died and the new Warlock (along with his evil father Magus!) debuted in Chris Claremont's New Mutants in 1983. Marvel didn't overlook Drax the Destroyer either; although Starlin left Drax alive, someone clearly thought the character had no purpose in the Marvel Universe without Thanos, so he died in 1982 at the hands of his own daughter Moondragon (and writer Jim Shooter). However, Thanos' legacy was seen as something worth preserving as Roger Stern created the villain Nebula as Thanos' granddaughter, a new Avengers villain. Mar-Vell's cosmic mentor Eon went on to become mentor to Mark Gruenwald's Quasar (and Quasar inherited Mar-Vell's role as Protector of the Universe).

And Jim Starlin? All of his Marvel stories had been wrapped up. Starlin's focus shifted to his creator-owned property, Dreadstar. In time, he went to DC Comics to write another Darkseid-like villain with his creation Mongul, then finally Darkseid himself in Cosmic Odyssey and spent some time on Batman, where he created the KGBeast and killed off the Jason Todd version of Robin.

However, in 1990 Jim Starlin returned to Marvel Comics and his most famous creation was close behind...

Next Thursday: The Gloves Are on.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Starlin's Thanos, part 2 of 10: Chaos Meets the True Neutral

Coming in late? Part 1 is here.

With his run on Warlock, Jim Starlin defined Marvel Cosmic.

Not that Marvel comics pre-1975 had been absent tales of heroes journeying into space to combat alien empires or journeying into metaphysical realms to encounter omnipotent cosmic entities. Marvel had even published two ongoing titles starring extraterrestrial heroes: Silver Surfer and Captain Marvel; but both of those titles were set on Earth. Further, Adam Warlock had been around in comics since his first appearance in Fantastic Four back in 1967 and starred in his own series from 1972-1973 - but even in that title, Warlock was based on Counter-Earth, an exact duplicate of the Earth. Starlin took Adam into space, to encounter not only evil empires but everyday folks and alien bars; further, the metaphysical entities who had previously been seen only in Doctor Strange became cosmic staples, with Starlin introducing the In-Betweener, Master Order and Lord Chaos during his Warlock run.

Warlock had been cancelled but revived in 1975 with Jim Starlin as writer, artist & colourist (inking him were Al Milgrom & Steve Leialoha). Starlin's run began in the pages of Strange Tales (for some reason) from #178-181, then resuming the original title's numbering with issues #9-15. I'm primarily concerned with Thanos in this series, but there are many elements in Starlin's Warlock which reappear in stories to come.

As I said above, Adam Warlock had been appearing in Marvel comics for about nine years when Starlin arrived, but he found Warlock to be a fairly clean slate. As an artificial man, Warlock had the potential for a perspective unlike those of Marvel's human protagonists. Starlin encouraged Warlock's state of philosophizing (a tradition going back to Stan Lee's Silver Surfer) but also gave him an indecisiveness which made it hard to Warlock to know how best to combat his enemies - and, of course, Warlock's worst enemy was himself.

The Soul Gem had been lying on Warlock's forehead since the 1972 series began, but Starlin established it was capable of more than the bursts of energy he normally used it for - it could also draw out souls from people's bodies. The first time Warlock does this, the gem acts of its own volition to absorb the soul of a Black Knight from the Universal Church of Truth; the second time, Warlock himself chooses to absorb the soul of the Church's Judge Kray-Tor. Throughout, Warlock realizes the gem possesses powers he doesn't fully understand and has been subconsciously preventing himself from accessing; Starlin would later make a lot of hay from this idea.

Also present is the adversary for this tale, the Magus, who turns out to be Warlock's future self, sent back in time 5000 years to found his genocidal Universal Church of Truth. Warlock has to somehow prevent himself from becoming the Magus but the Magus knows his every move before it happens: enter Thanos!

It's truly in these tales that Thanos solidifies into the character Starlin would write for decades to come. Readers of Starlin's Captain Marvel knew Thanos was a villain (and in a cute two-pager, Captain Marvel himself explains to the readers of Warlock what Thanos' villainy looks like), but Warlock is completely ignorant of him. Thanos is opposed to the Magus and so allies himself with Warlock, using time travel to undo the Magus creation by sending Warlock to the moment of his death so he'll absorb his own soul, rather than mutate into the Magus. Thanos is seemingly heroic as he engages the Magus in combat to buy time for Warlock, but the Magus realizes his destiny is to prevent Thanos from unleashing genocide - that he was created to stop Thanos' plans; by defeating one evil, Adam unwittingly permits another to exist. The Magus is undone, but the Church remains in a different form.

In these tales, Thanos was accompanied by his chief assassin Gamora, the deadliest woman in the galaxy. Gamora never really received a chance to show how capable she was in this run of Warlock, but there were hints of a stronger character to come - especially when Thanos sent Gamora to spy on Warlock so that she wouldn't realize he was plotting universal genocide. There was also a subplot where Drax the Destroyer appeared and destroyed Gamora's shuttle while en route to combat Thanos but Starlin didn't follow up on it, what with Warlock's cancellation. Adam's supporting cast was further expanded with the loutish, big-mouthed thief Pip the Troll, who latched himself to Adam on his adventures.

This series of stories was the first time Thanos appeared in a non-antagonist role, and although he and Adam Warlock are often thought of as nemeses to each other, they've actually worked side-by-side more times than they've fought against one another. Here, Starlin demonstrated Thanos had goals beyond winning Death's favour or seeking ultimate power for himself. The idea of Thanos as an untrustworthy ally would be mined again and again.

Next Tuesday: Laid to rest.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Starlin's Thanos, part 1 of 10: The Mad Titan and the Cosmic Cube

Next month the motion picture Avengers: Infinity War will debut, featuring as its antagonist Thanos. Thanos is considered one of the best Marvel super-villians, not only because of the amount of sheer physical power he can wield against Marvel's heroes, but also because of the strong characterization behind him. Principally, Thanos is an author's pet - that is, he flourishes best under the pen of his original creator, writer/artist Jim Starlin. Few other writers even attempt to mimic Starlin's view of the character.

Over the next few weeks I'm going to be running a 10 part revisit of Starlin's work on Thanos with brief looks at what other authors did with the character during the period covered. We're at the beginning, which means we start with Thanos' first appearance: Iron Man #55 (1973), plotted & penciled by Starlin with a script by Mike Friedrich and inks by Mike Esposito.

On the face of it, audiences in 1973 would not have found Iron Man #55 a particularly remarkable comic; it was a fill-in issue and Starlin was still a young name in the industry. Further, although Iron Man had a solid reputation as one of Marvel's earliest Silver Age heroes, his series had fallen on hard times in '73 - there was even talk of merging his book with another low-seller, Daredevil. In comics of the day, there were many ambitious fill-in issues where the creators would try to insert their brand-new mythologies into the Marvel Universe; no one would think Drax, Thanos or Titan were destined to be among the most successful additions to the Marvel Universe of the 1970s - but that's how it turned out. Ofttimes it is less-visible comic books like Iron Man which are able to sneak something truly ambitious into the mainstream - so it was with Iron Man #55.

Thanos was not yet fully formed in his first appearance - most noticeably, his costume had blue gloves & boots and he bore shorts and bare arms - but the background was there: Thanos was introduced as "the mad Titan," born on the titular moon of Saturn to the wise old Mentor, but bearing a lust for war his father didn't share. Thanos is pursued by his implacable foe Drax the Destroyer and aided by his minions the Blood Brothers; further, Titan's moon-sized super-computer ISAAC puts in its first appearance. We also meet Titan's deity, Kronos, Mentor's omnipotent father, making him Thanos' grandfather. Although Kronos' personal connection to Thanos and cosmic might would suggest he'd be a major player in Starlin's tales, Kronos is consistently an impotent afterthought throughout his appearances; as will become clear when Starlin begins using other cosmic entities (Eternity, Living Tribunal), Starlin doesn't hold them in the highest esteem. As a fill-in story almost any super hero could have been summoned by Drax to deal with Thanos, but the use of Iron Man would prove helpful to Starlin later on as Iron Man was a very well-connected hero.

But the Thanos storyline finally found its home - and true critical praise - in the pages of Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel was a widely-disliked comic book at the time, as Marvel had only created the character so they could control a valuable trademark - while fans of Golden Age comics resented Marvel for pilfering the moniker of the beloved Fawcett Comics super hero. Many fan publications of the time held Captain Marvel in withering contempt, even after Roy Thomas & Gil Kane revamped the character into a red/blue costume with Rick Jones as his sidekick (Rick exchanging places with Mar-Vell as an homage to the Fawcett hero).

Starlin's first true Thanos epic involves the villain (now clad in his familiar blue costume with orange gloves/boots/fringes and eyes which glow from within his sockets) searching for the Cosmic Cube, an all-powerful device which had previously been a Captain America staple; Captain Marvel is involved because Rick Jones had been present in the Cube's previous appearance. Quickly, Mentor, Titan and ISAAC were reintroduced to Captain Marvel, with Mar-Vell's foe the Super-Skrull serving as a lieutenant to Thanos. In the course of battling Thanos, Mar-Vell becomes 'Protector of the Universe' by decree of the cosmic being Eon and he discovers Thanos' weakness - although Thanos claims otherwise, his power is linked to the Cosmic Cube itself.

Starlin's first Thanos epic ran from issues #25-33 of Captain Marvel and ultimately cast a large shadow over the character, to the point that Starlin is widely considered the definitive Captain Marvel creator, despite leaving after issue #34. Over the course of the series Starlin gained more control over the narrative, beginning with Mike Friedrich as scripter, until Starlin took full control of plotting & scripting as of issue #29; from then on, Starlin would plot & script his Thanos stories solo. Starlin was inked by Chic Stone, Dave Cockrum, Pablo Marcos, Dan Green, Al Milgrom & Klaus Janson. In the course of the story Starlin revamped the hero yet again, making minor alterations to Mar-Vell's costume, changing his hair from silver to blond and granting him the power of 'cosmic awareness'; the powers and costume which Starlin gave the hero would be the status quo authors would continue to revisit again and again in the decades which followed.

Comic books in 1973 did not crossover with the kind of frequency titles of today would. Even so, the Thanos epic was so strong it did get picked up in other titles while the main story was told in Captain Marvel. Over in Steve Gerber's Daredevil, Gerber connected the somewhat-shifty telepathic heroine Moondragon into Starlin's mythos with an origin flashback in Daredevil #105 (drawn by Starlin) revealing she had been raised from childhood on Titan by Mentor (causing a continuity hiccup when it was revealed Thanos killed Moondragon's parents - meaning he wasn't her peer in age). Starlin also drew Marvel Feature #12 with writer Mike Friedrich, featuring the Thing and Iron Man facing Thanos' agents the Blood Brothers (introduced in Iron Man #55). Finally, Steve Englehart tied into the epic in Avengers #125 (art by John Buscema & Dave Cockrum), a very natural crossover as Starlin was using the Avengers in the pages of Captain Marvel and the epic was big enough for the Avengers to battle Thanos' invading fleet between the panels of Starlin's tale.

At the time, there had been one one tale quite like Starlin's Thanos arc: the Kree-Skrull War storyline which Roy Thomas wrote in the Avengers (1971-1972). That epic had involved a massive line-up of Avengers, the Inhumans and Captain Marvel. Likewise, Starlin's Thanos epic teamed Captain Marvel with the Avengers, plus Drax, Moondragon, Mentor and Thanos' heroic brother Eros. Strangely, although Eros is Thanos' brother, he is always a side character to stories about Thanos. He would even join the Avengers in the 1980s, but Eros has never had the kind of popularity his brother enjoys.

Everything which is important to Starlin's crafting of Thanos can be found in the pages of the Captain Marvel epic: he worships Death itself, with Death appearing to him in the form of a beautiful woman; he is pursued by the dogged Drax the Destroyer, who is single-minded to the point of madness; Thanos seeks instruments of vast cosmic power so that he can control others and claim lives in the name of Death; Thanos is undone when he allows his foes access to the very thing which empowers him (in this case, the Cosmic Cube, which he abandons).

Starlin has admitted Thanos was inspired by Jack Kirby's DC villain Darkseid, who debuted three years earlier. Both beings worship death and destruction, both are physically large and imposing, both are prone to melodramatic soliloquies; as time goes on, Starlin's Thanos will become more distinctly unlike his inspiration.

Starlin remained on Captain Marvel only one issue past the Thanos epic for issue #34, in which Mar-Vell was exposed to nerve gas while battling the super-villain Nitro. Put a pin in that one, we'll speak more of it later.

At this point, the idea that Thanos subconsciously allowed himself to lose was nothing more than a subtext - but his defeat here would pave the way for the eventual revelation in Infinity Gauntlet that he did not actually want ultimate victory.

Next Thursday: Chaos meets the true neutral.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Jessica Jones season 2 creator credits

One day in the future, historians will look back on the age of television super hero programs and wonder why audiences of the early 21st century weren't interested in plotting. My full list of Marvel Cinematic Universe creator credits is found here.

Brian Michael Bendis: co-creator of Jessica Jones, a cynical, alcoholic, superhumanly strong private detective who runs Alias Investigations; Jessica Jones taking cases where she spies on cheating couples; Jessica having anal sex (Alias #1, 2001); of Malcolm, the nearest person Jessica has to a secretary (Alias #6, 2002); Jessica gaining her powers in a car accident which killed her parents and brother Phil (Alias #22, 2003); of Jessica having a past with Killgrave which left her with PTSD (Alias #24, 2003); of Killgrave as a rapist (Alias #25, 2003); of the Raft, a maximum security prison for superhuman criminals (New Avengers #1, 2005)

Michael Gaydos: co-creator of Jessica Jones, a cynical, alcoholic, superhumanly strong private detective who runs Alias Investigations; Jessica Jones taking cases where she spies on cheating couples; Jessica having anal sex (Alias #1, 2001); of Malcolm, the nearest person Jessica has to a secretary (Alias #6, 2002); Jessica gaining her powers in a car accident which killed her parents and brother Phil (Alias #22, 2003); of Jessica having a past with Killgrave which left her with PTSD (Alias #24, 2003); of Killgrave as a rapist (Alias #25, 2003)

Stan Lee: co-creator of the phrase "with great power comes great responsibility" (Amazing Fantasy #15, 1962); of Franklin "Foggy" Nelson, a lawyer (Daredevil #1, 1964); of Killgrave, a man dressed in purple who can control the actions of others through the sound of his voice (Daredevil #4, 1964); of the Ringmaster, an expert hypnotist (Incredible Hulk #3, 1962); of Miklos Koslov, a man from eastern Europe (Strange Tales #83, 1961)

Steve Englehart: co-creator of Patsy Walker wanting to be a hero (Amazing Adventures #15, 1972); of Patsy Walker being capable in a fight; of Patsy's mother Dorothy (Avengers #141, 1975); of Patsy Walker gaining superhuman athletic powers (Avengers #144, 1976)

Michael Fleisher: co-creator of Jessica Drew's occupation as detective (Spider-Woman #21, 1979); of Dr. Karl Malus, a criminal scientist who experiments on both willing and unwilling subjects to grant them superhuman abilities (Spider-Woman #30, 1980)

David Mazzuchelli: co-creator of Nuke, a government-sponsored soldier who takes red, white and blue drugs to increase his adrenaline and reduce pain (Daredevil #232, 1986); of Nuke's real name Simpson (Daredevil #233, 1986)

Frank Miller: co-creator of Nuke, a government-sponsored soldier who takes red, white and blue drugs to increase his adrenaline and reduce pain (Daredevil #232, 1986); of Nuke's real name Simpson (Daredevil #233, 1986)

Al Avison: co-creator of the Whizzer, Robert, a young man with the power of superhuman speed who wears yellow; of Whizzer's mongoose; of Emil, an important person to Robert (USA Comics #1, 1941)

George Perez: co-creator of Patsy Walker being capable in a fight; of Patsy's mother Dorothy (Avengers #141, 1975); of Patsy Walker gaining superhuman athletic powers (Avengers #144, 1976)

Steve Leialoha: co-creator of Dr. Karl Malus, a criminal scientist who experiments on both willing and unwilling subjects to grant them superhuman abilities (Spider-Woman #30, 1980)

Mark Gruenwald: co-creator of Patsy Walker being a teenage celebrity (Defenders #89, 1980); of Ringmaster's real name Maynard Tiboldt (Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #9, 1983)

Jack Kirby: co-creator of the Ringmaster, an expert hypnotist (Incredible Hulk #3, 1962); of Miklos Koslov, a man from eastern Europe (Strange Tales #83, 1961)

Roy Thomas: co-creator of Turk Barrett, a gangster who fights Daredevil (Daredevil #69, 1970); of Daniel Rand, a young businessman (Marvel Premiere #15, 1974)

Joe Orlando: co-creator of Killgrave, a man dressed in purple who can control the actions of others through the sound of his voice (Daredevil #4, 1964)

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

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

Steve Ditko: co-creator of the phrase "with great power comes great responsibility" (Amazing Fantasy #15, 1962)

David Finch: co-creator of the Raft, a maximum security prison for superhuman criminals (New Avengers #1, 2005)

Sal Buscema: co-creator of Spider-Woman, heroine Jessica Jones is based upon (Marvel Spotlight #32, 1977)

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

Ruth Atkinson: co-creator of Patsy Walker, a red-headed young woman (Miss America #2, 1944)

Otto Binder: co-creator of Patsy Walker, a red-headed young woman (Miss America #2, 1944)

David Anthony Kraft: co-creator of Patsy Walker being a teenage celebrity (Defenders #89, 1980)

Carmine Infantino: co-creator of Spider-Woman's Jessica Drew identity (Spider-Woman #1, 1978)

Frank Springer: co-creator of Jessica Drew's occupation as detective (Spider-Woman #21, 1979)

Gil Kane: co-creator of Daniel Rand, a young businessman (Marvel Premiere #15, 1974)

Tom Sutton: co-creator of Patsy Walker wanting to be a hero (Amazing Adventures #15, 1972)

Bill Everett: co-creator of Franklin "Foggy" Nelson, a lawyer (Daredevil #1, 1964)

Steven Grant: co-creator of Patsy Walker being a teenage celebrity (Defenders #89, 1980)

Marv Wolfman: co-creator of Spider-Woman's Jessica Drew identity (Spider-Woman #1, 1978)

Ed Hannigan: co-creator of Patsy Walker being a teenage celebrity (Defenders #89, 1980)

Don Perlin: co-creator of Patsy Walker being a teenage celebrity (Defenders #89, 1980)

Mark Bagley: co-creator of Killgrave as a rapist (Alias #25, 2003)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Now on Comixology: Iron Manual Mark 3!

Comixology has recently added another of my Marvel projects to their site: why, it's Iron Manual Mark 3 from 2010! I was the head writer of this title, as I'd been on All-New Iron Manual. I felt like I'd already done the most important Iron Man characters in the previous book, but this gave me an opportunity to cover Iron Man's supporting cast from across the decades, which I relished. A copy of this comic was purchased by Robert Downey Jr., which was a thrill to see.
Activate the latest edition of the IRON MANUAL, purposed for experts and novices alike! Built around reliable parts including Iron Man and War Machine; engineered with new designs such as Rescue, Ezekiel Stane and Whiplash (Vanko); kit-bashed from the future with the Stark and Iron Man 2020; and refurbished to accommodate an infusion of Firebrand, Mandroids, LMDs, Masters of Silence, Anthem, Gremlin and more! It's all in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe format, featuring plenty of art by Mario Gully (Ant, KIDNAPPED)!

Iron Manual Mark 3 is only $1.99 at Comixology!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Now on Comixology: Civil War Files

Today Comixology added Civil War Files to their site. I was one of the book's writers way back in 2006 and in the 12 years since then it has been reprinted again and again thanks to the constantly-rebuilt Civil War trade paperbacks.
The legislation has been passed. The battle lines have been drawn. The opening shots have been fired. Now, as the controversial Super Hero Registration Act continues to divide America's superhuman community, Tony Stark - head of the President's Super Hero Task Force - has created the CIVIL WAR FILES, in-depth dossiers analyzing the potential threat posed by the nation's most prominent superhumans. What does Stark know about Captain America? Who is the new Ant-Man? Can the Commission for Superhuman Activities be trusted? The CIVIL WAR FILES is the U.S. government's primary source of superhuman intelligence!

Check it out for $1.99!