Tuesday, September 23, 2014

BATMAN LEADS AN INTERESTING LIFE - BADMAN (WITH RIBBON THE BOY BLUNDER)

It's no Mad Magazine, but Topps' released a series of "Krazy Little Komics" back in the Sixties, parodying the major releases of Marvel and DC Comics (see also entries for The Flash and Wonder Woman). In some ways, they read like a Cliff's Notes versions of actual classic parodies of the same characters...

Here, a semi-abusive Badman and his teen sidekick skirt common crimefighting responsibilities so as to engage baddies like The Pelican, Catty-Woman and The Jokester. Why can they never come up with a good satirical variant on The Joker, anyway? Well, whatever the case, here they all are in their entirety!








Friday, September 19, 2014

DEFENDERS WEEK: HELLCAT IS A LITTLE BIT FORWARD

Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat of the Defenders, is a little bit forward

"What? Patsy, we're at the Humane Society. Those are hamsters."

Just a little.

She's being hit on by Jack of Hearts, a hero whose every cell is infused with deadly radiation
and will kill anyone he touches if he's not in his protective suit. What I'm saying is that hookup
isn't going to go far.

But she doesn't hold a candle to Captain Ultra.

"I mean my dick is a superhero too, in case you missed my innuendo."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

DEFENDERS WEEK : TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN FOES : TAPPING TOMMY


Despite being the red-headed stepchild among Marvel’s superteams, the Defenders still managed to rack up wins against some truly class-A villains, including the Headmen, the Walrus, Plantman, um, the guy who looked like a baboon, ah … well, okay, maybe they weren’t facing down Galactus on a regular basis, but you have to admit that The Defenders certainly fought bad guys. And among those bad guys, Tapping Tommy was definitely one of them!

An all-singing, all-dancing Maggia operative, dressed to the nines in top hat and tails, Tapping Tommy debuted by kidnapping Kyle Richmond (a.k.a. Defenders team leader and landlord for their upstate clubhouse Nighthawk) for cash ransom in Defenders vol.1 No.30 (December 1975, in a Bill Mantlo story delightfully titled “Gold Diggers of Fear!”).

While not exactly posing a world-class threat in his formal eveningwear and tap shoes, Tommy at least gets points for style. Punctuating his periodic threats with flourishes while explaining his master plan – hey, maybe this guy IS a Republic Serial Villain! – Tommy explains his background. Explaining his musical theatre modus operandi, he explains that his parents had been bootleggers during prohibition until they’d been snagged by the Feds. Adopted by a studio crew regular named  Hodges, Tommy scraped by as an extra during Hollywood’s golden age while his darling momma and poppa rotted in prison and eventually hooked up with Marvel’s ersatz organized crime family (of which he plans to reposition himself as leader).

Spoiler: They get him.
Tommy’s more than a pair of spats, though. Thanks to Hodge’s engineering skills, he’s got a sword-cane, exploding knock-out bombs in the crown of his top hat, and a passel of robots at his command, in two shapes: heavy industry models for Hulk-bustin’ and leggy, fully stacked lady robots for complicated show numbers/choreographed assassination attempts!

Tied to a Busy Berkely musical number set – OF DEATH – the Defenders endure abuse from swinging canes and robotic fists until they remember that they all have super-powers and the Hulk just headbutts Tommy into unconsciousness. They probably ought to make a note of that for future battles, maybe a little post-it note on Hulk’s forehead reading “Don’t forget – use powers to fight criminals” or something. Lord knows, they don’t want to get murdered by a criminal hula hooper or something.

DEFENDERS WEEK: ELF WITH A GUN

I will be perfectly honest with you: the sole reason I started Defenders Week - heck, the sole reason I went back and started reading The Defenders from the start in the first place - was because of Steve Gerber's classic nihilistic, existential theater of the absurd interlude drama, The Elf With A Gun Saga.

"Enough with the John Denver, Tom, don't make me call the elf."

Intermittently throughout his groundbreakingly awesome run on The Defenders, Gerber would draw attention away from the primary plot for a seemingly unconnected series of vignettes in which otherwise ordinary people caught in the midst of doing nothing spectacular were suddenly set upon by a homicidal mythical midget intent on shooting them down like wooden ducks on a fairway ...

Look for our secret midgety murder surprise inside every Native American chief...

The implication was, of course, that the Elf With A Gun was ultimately to somehow cross over into the primary Defenders storyline, and frankly wouldn't have seemed out of place considering that Gerber's other contributions included an evil possessed deer, a personality cult centered around a cosmic being masquerading as an abusive schlep, and about all the Jack Norriss you can handle.

Complicating matters, Charles had bet their return ticket money on 'I WON'T be killed by an Elf tonight' ...

In fact, the one occasion when the Elf got within some sort of proximity to the main story seemed to be teasing a confluence.

He wasn't even going to kill her until she insulted him like that.


Fantastically though ... IT NEVER DID. The Elf snuffed it suddenly (see below) in its final appearance.

The Satisfying Conclusion


A hundred issues after the Elf's debut, series writers J.M.DeMatteis and Peter Gillis revisited the idea with something approaching a conclusion. As an authority in the overwhelming epic that is the Elf With A Gun saga, I give it a thumbs-down. The original saga is the amazing story about a serial killer master-of-many-disguises elf and how he got smooshed by a truck, and I dare anyone to put a better coda on it than that.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

DEFENDERS WEEK: DEFENDER FOR A DAY



Although the Defenders, in their assorted incarnations, comprised one of Marvel’s longest-running teams (if we had to put a number to it, how about we describe it as “fourth”), they never really had their Galactus Moment. Under the pens of Engelhardt, Gerber and Kraft, Marvel’s premiere “non-team” had their share of memorable conflicts and long-running storylines, but it’s tricky to point at any one arc and declare it their “Days of Future Past” or “Kree-Skrull War,” a storyline which succinctly defines the scope of the team’s influence and defines the boundaries of their conflict.

Certainly the closest which The Defenders ever came was a three-issue arc running from issues 62 through 64 (August through October 1978) popularly recalled as the Defender For A Day saga (because in superhero comics, anything longer than twelve pages is an epic, anything that covers two issues is a saga, and a year’s worth of stories is known as “All that mankind has committed to its vast wealth of knowledge”).

"We've lost our indy cred!"
David Anthony Kraft helmed this spandex gangbang during a period where the Defenders had relocated to a country estate and effectively shrunk down to a quartet of members – Nighthawk, Hulk, Hellcat and Valkyrie (comprising what was at the time, by the way, the most gender-balanced superhero team pretty much in history. But they don’t get written down in the history books for that, they get in for the Hulk eating beans). The defining characteristic of the Defenders at this point had been its status as an informal assembly – unlike the Avengers, X-Men and Fantastic Four, which had distinct memberships and by-laws and meeting tables and mugs with their logo on it and everything (honestly, how often have you seen a superhero in a comic book drinking coffee from a mug with the team’s logo on it? Hundreds, right? You just never noticed til someone mentioned it).

By contrast, the Defenders were such a loose-knit group of dabbling do-gooders that they somehow allowed a beardo film student into their lives. “Dollar Bill” is a man who, these days, would have strong opinions about how misandry is real and a series of OK Cupid profile pictures that were nothing more than a photo of the outline of his dick in boxer-briefs, but in the late Seventies he was necessarily an eternal grad student. One of the invasive, self-obsessed Bill’s film projects involved a brief documentary of the Defenders’ exploits, broadcast on local television, which advertised that the Defenders accepted ALL members, just by dint of declaring yourself a member.

The end result of the broadcast was a passel of super-heroes showing up at Defenders HQ in upstate New York, eager to join up. The premise is fun enough, but right about the time the heroes show up, everything falls apart. For one thing, it’s a collection of pretty much every unaffiliated and lightly-affiliated superhero in the Marvel roster, no matter how obscure (Tagak the Tiger-Man), otherwise-committed (Ms.Marvel, Captain Marvel) or regionally challenged (At least two of them were supposed to be stationed in Los Angeles at the time).This isn’t even mentioning the heroes advertised on the cover who never showed up inside (Power Man and Spider-Woman, f’r instance).

While assorted heroes are goofing off on the ranch and trying to get into Hellcat’s pants, some villains get the idea to also declare themselves Defenders and begin a confusing crime spree in the city. A rebellious teen gets the same idea and steals a car and a couple purses along the way, but he’s white so the cops let him live. Those heroes who didn’t bail out early on gather together to round up all the baddies and it all works out in the end, but it’s a real roundabout way to get Son of Satan to join the team.

KAAAAASSMMATTCHHH

The hard part of Defender for a Day to work through is the gags. Promising to deliver laughs, it delivers a lot more strained attempts. Here’s a quick list of the three worst jokes in Defender for a Day:


  • Nova, Prowler, White Tiger and Quasar decide to “play cowboy” with Nighthawk’s stable of thoroughbred horses. When a bucking bronco throws Nova, he thinks “And to think this is happening to me – Richard RYDER!”
  • Havok, Black Goliath, Iron Fist, Polris, Stingray, Torpedo and Tagak decide that, as long as they’re there, they should jump the Hulk. “Pawn jumps the Queen!”  Then all the superheroes on horses collide with them. 
  • Valkyrie makes bad coffee.

I suppose it's also worth mentioning a bit where Captain Ultra gets pretty MRA on Hellcat's flirting ass, except while I think that was supposed to be funny it, y'know, most generously did not age well as a bit. Luckily, we don’t get The Falcon going off on airplane food or Iron Fist asking what’s up with the little things on the ends of shoelaces.

Defender for a Day is a tough slog, but it accomplishes something concrete by establishing the character of the team for many more incarnations as a group of really ill-suited roommates unwisely trying to share the same space. Which it may sound like I’m putting that premise down, but I’m not – if the Defenders are fantastic for anything, it’s imagining what the downtime in their big clubhouse must be like. Nighthawk trying to be “down” with Luke Cage’s music, the Red Guardian replacing all the furniture with leather fold-out couches, Iceman coming home drunk with Ghost Rider and having to help put out the fire when Johnny Blaze pisses himself in the night. “Doctor Strange, if your manservant and girlfriend are going to live here, they need to start chipping in for the utilities!” A bottle in the fridge labelled “Hulk’s Milk DO NOT DRINK (THIS MEANS YOU NAMOR)” Complaints about Andromeda leaving her metal breastplate hanging in the shower.

I mean, I’m on record as hoping that’s what their upcoming TV show would be like, but it strikes me as sadly unlikely.

Captain Ultra is real good at snaps, tho.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

DEFENDERS WEEK: THIS DEER IS EVIDENTLY EVIL!

Continuing the weeklong celebration of weirdness and delight that is the 1970s-era Defenders, please prepare yourself to meet ... the most evil deer in the world:

This deer is evidently evil.

Beginning in Defenders vol.1 No 31 (January 1975) and running through issue 35, writer Steve Gerber introduced a malicious, orphaned fawn possessed by the malevolent mind of the otherwise disembodied sorcerer Chandu of the notorious and hella goofy Headmen - a quartet of villains whose defining feature was that they each had a non-traditional head/body arrangement: A man's head on a gorilla body,a protoplasmic sphere on what appeared to be a silver-plated Las Vegas showgirl, and a big droopy head possibly full of oatmeal on an otherwise normal body. 

Originally intending to place his spirit into the body of Defenders leader Nighthawk, Chandu instead was sidetracked into the fawn, rescued in 31 by The Hulk with the battle cry "MEN KILLED BAMBI'S MOTHER!" Uh, not ALL men, Hulk.

While it all resolved for the best - Nighthawk became the brainwashed goon of an outer-space self-help group and Chandu got his head stapled to a Hefty bag full of eels and bird parts - readers were nonetheless treated to a gallery of an evidently evil deer preparing to wreak its vengeance upon our heroes over the course of six glorious months.

To wit:



THIS DEER IS SUPER-EVIL!

DEFENDERS WEEK 90 FROM THE 90s : PART FOUR


Dr.Strange
Mid-century Marvel preferred its scientists to its sorcerers, and late-century Marvel had invested more heavily in anti-heroes than abracadabra, so Doctor Strange has always inhabited a weird position of almost constant stasis within the company. As the Very Serious Nineties came around and competitor DC was emerging as a front-runner in an otherwise-neglected genre with what was effectively a horror-based line (at the time, anyway), so Marvel followed suit the best it could by shunting Doctor Strange out of his comfort zone and into Midnight Sons and Marvel Edge lines.

Now part of Marvel’s horror-themed sub-universe (along with Ghost Rider, Morbius the Living Vampire, and a mouthful of a comic titled Darkhold:Pages  From The Book of Sin), Doc dropped his Sorcerer Supreme tag and picked up the very hep, very 90s “Chaos Magic” while adopting a few sets of new togs. The first set was pretty much an over-drawn 90’s riff on his old Gene Colan-drawn fully masked outfit and wasn’t any uglier than any dozen other dumb outfits of the era, another was a sort-of anemic goth John Lennon look, and the last was a maternity blouse with a topographical map of a lasagna on the front. He also took to saying things like “The Doctor is most definitely … in” which is just the sleaziest thing to say, hands down.



The Secret Defenders
Despite an arguably successful run throughout the Seventies and Eighties – they never set the word on fire, but The Defenders was a comic-rack standard for almost 250 consecutive issues, which ain’t nothing to sneeze at – Marvel felt the best way to revive their second-string team of third-string characters was to keep them secret.

With Doctor Strange at the helm, the Secret Defenders returned as a rotating team of Marvel’s top-tier numbers-uppers, including Wolverine, the Punisher, Hulk, Spidey, and former Defenders Iceman and The Angel under a big banner reminding folks that they had once been X-Men. And then also Nomad, Sleepwalker and Thunderstrike, but whatever. Eventually, Dr.Strange handed the roster over to lesser mystic, chromedome and victim of a blasted Earth campaign/Warren Ellis scripted miniseries Dr.Druid who replaced the rotating team lineup with something called The Cognoscenti, which sort of makes it feel like Frasier Crane assembled his own super-team.



Fluorescent Green ink (Hulk)
Although four-color printing was increasingly a distant memory by the time the 90s had rolled around, a lot of hay was made about the addition of “fifth color”, typically a raspy fluorescent green or orange added in flat spots to help pop a central cover image. DC utilized it a few times with the Underworld Unleashed and Bloodlines events, but the most striking application in the 90s came with its use on the cover to The Incredible Hulk #377, early in 1991, which framed a monochrome Dale Keown Hulk against the flashy background. More striking than the bright contrast itself, of course, and leaving a much more significant impression is the ultimate fate of any other comic stored flat against that cover for more than a couple of years, which surely now has a weird green smudge effect on it from where the fluorescent  ink rubbed off.



Silver Surfer/Green Lantern
Marvel and DC crossovers had once been the stuff of fanboy dreams and rare treasury-edition comics so oversized that a man of an average height could use two of them laid side-by-side as a cheap mattress. By the Nineties, the crossovers had become so rote that even the most mildly relevant mash-ups could appeal to the formula, thus one of the poorer concept crossovers – matching Silver Surfer, who at the time was helming his most-successful solo run, with the new Green Lantern, whose comic was still in the process of being yelled at by diehard fans of the previous ringslinger.

Fitting the mandatory formula, one villain from universe A wandered over to universe B and in the classic one-in/one-out arrangement, someone went back, and in this way Terrax the Tamer and the Cyborg Superman got to be villains in a landmark exchange of intellectual properties the likes of which we’ll thankfully never see in a post-credits sequence in a Marvel Studios movie.



1963
Image celebrated itself relentlessly throughout the Nineties, and surely one of the celebrations during which they most loudly tooted their own horn was the acquisition of the skills of Alan Moore. Primarily, Moore was scripting Rob Liefeld’s Supreme and doing with that character pretty much the only thing you can do – disregard the bloviating about it being an “homage” to Superman, embrace the fact that it’s actually an open rip-off of Superman, and then write a bunch of stories completely deconstructing Superman.

Moore also brought with him the ambitious 1963 line, a densely-woven, tongue-in-cheek legitimate homage to the early Marvel Comics’ style, illustrated by an army of alt creators and Kubert School grads, complete with knowing nods to the Hulk and Dr.Strange (which is why this is getting covered during Defenders Week, y’see). Never lacking for ambition, Moore’s goal was the literally have the worlds of the upstart 1960s and the mainstream 1990s literally collide against a multiversal backdrop of indy and alt comic creations – who would win? Well, not to spoil anything, but the Nineties won by bringing out their most powerful weapon; the Image creators got mired in a series of internal scuffles and abandoned the project just before its completion. Hooray for modernity!

Monday, September 15, 2014

DEFENDERS WEEK: EVERYONE LOVES FORCING THEMSELVES ON VALKYRIE!

Welcome to Defenders Week on Gone&Forgotten, a celebration of Marvel's inspired and neurotic team of D-Listers, third-stringers, and orphaned heroes bereft of their own titles. Every day this week, you'll receive a re-blast of an old Defenders-centric piece, plus new articles about the non-team that anyone can join!

To start us off, let's remember that everyone loves forcing themselves on Valkyrie!

Valkyrie has the dubious honor of being Marvel’s first “liberated female” superhero, except that she actually was the Enchantress in a secret super magical disguise and was using women’s lib as a tool to trick the female Avengers into turning against their male partners. Baby steps there, folks.

Many a years later, Doctor Strange transferred the soul of a woman named Barbara Norriss – who had been trapped in an alien dimension and driven totally bazonkers – into the body of the Valkyriefor some reason, at which point Valkyrie became essentially the first new recruit of the Defenders.

Valkyrie was supposed to be a new vanguard of female character, was probably a transparent piss-take on Wonder Woman (Who, in the Seventies, was hovering in a nebulous position between celebration and scorn, being as Ms.Magazine had - either in a sense of camp or reclamation - had adopted her as a mascot but publisher DC was rendering her a palsied mess in her own book). While intended to be the model of the self-possessed Seventies’ woman,  mostly Valkyrie just got made out on by all her teammates when she wasn’t looking.

Unsurprisingly, the first guy to take advantage of Valkyrie was then-ex-Avenger Hawkeye, a genuine bro-ham whom you can imagine eats every meal at Hooters and still thinks rock hasn't topped Smashmouth.

I'll spare you the actual clinch, Hawkeye's last line is bad enough.

Naturally, Val ends up sort of liking the attention, because that’s … I dunno, irony? Base condescending tripe? Something?

Next up is teammate Nighthawk, who has to ruin a nice moment by reminding us all that he’s the privileged son of a billionaire and he can do whatever he wants.

If this seems threatening it's because it's assault.

Valkyrie starts to finally get sick of dudes cramming their tongues down her gullet like they’ve got worms on the end of ‘em and are angling for sturgeon in her abdomen. Problem is that, this time, the tonsil-hockey all-star in question is Barbara Norris’ (that’s Val’s braindead host body) estranged husband and full-time schmuck Jack.

Jack trying to get into Valkyrie’s pants turned into one of the single most annoying subplots in Defenders history – and this is the comic that brought you the elf with a gun (see a later entry) and an evil deer (ditto). Nick Fury eventually showed up to induct Jack into SHIELD, and then ideally shot him on the way back to that magic barbershop where SHIELD used to have their headquarters, and fed his body to the Hulk. I can dream.

There's no comic character I hate as much as I hate Jack Norriss.

Engelhardt was hilarious enough to acknowledge that his “Valkyrie trapped in a women’s prison” storyline was directly lifted from exploitative B-Movie dreck, and where would those films be without the warden trying to make it with the fresh meat?

Misandry is real!

Lastly, Valkyrie ends up hanging out with - as near as I can tell – an extra-nerdy film school dropout version of John Byrne and hanger-on Jim Shooter, meaning that she’s been so soured on all experience with men that she’s just giving up. This doesn’t stop the advances of exciting new villain LUNATIK, whose primary weapon is … LOVE.

"phlaghh!"

Now, see, the thing is, there might be more occasions of dudes getting in cheap tongue-locks on Valkyrie, but these are all the incidents from the issues I’ve read so far. Who else tried to slip her one, do you think – Hulk, Doctor Strange, Namorita? They’re all possibilities, because if I’ve learned anything from the Defenders it’s that … EVERYONE LOVES FORCING THEMSELVES ON VALKYRIE.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

TRULY GONE & FORGOTTEN : IRONJAW

"Oh, that's right, Rachel Ray did a $40 A Day:Best Eats in Town episode here that one time."

One of the intriguing questions to try to answer in regards to Atlas Comics (I should say “Atlas-Seaboard,” for clarity’s sake) involves trying to determine which one of their stable of weirdos and knockoffs was intended to be their flagship character. From the advertising, you can pick up a few likely candidates, including (but not limited to) unlikely choices like the horror-based Tarantula and Devilina, or the slightly Spider-Manly Tiger-Man. Just as likely, though, it may’ve been Ironjaw – the sister-humping, bear-murdering Conan knockoff that came with a built-in bottle opener.

IronJaw debuted at a special time in American history, when we as a culture seemed inordinately fascinated by half-naked and unwashed longhaired illiterates – or at least to judge by comics. Robert E.Howard’s Conan was enjoying a new lease on life via the four-color medium, and sword-and-sorcery comics were much in vogue. Given Atlas-Seaboard’s tendency to liberally swipe from multiple sources to make mulligatawny stew out of any handful of good ideas, naturally this would come together in a sort-of orthodontic Gor novel.

Or, more precisely,
"Post-Apocalyptic Futurely..."
Created by Michael Fleischer, Ironjaw was set in a distant, post-apocalyptic future where humanity had resorted to barbarism while the few remaining machines were regarded as spooky-ooky mystical god creatures and yet only occasionally even featured into the plot. Some gods, sheesh.

While Ironjaw’s world and unfortunate attitude towards women (keep reading) are fully the product of Fleischer, his origin comes by way of Gary Friedrich in his fourth – and final – issue. Originally a handsome young (and apparently steroid-popping) travelling minstrel, IronJaw (or, as he’s know these days, “RegularJaw”) makes it a habit to pal around with his local community’s barbarian horde. Unfortunately for him, however, the horde’s CEO becomes increasingly frustrated with the magnetic effect the minstrel is having on the women of the tribe, and becomes the target of the brutish leader’s wrath. I guess the horde’s leader was just the bass player or something.

In short order, the minstrel is mugged, roughed up, crucified and has his jaw cut off, which is still a punishment for busking without a license in seventeen states. Now called AbsentJaw, his legend spreads across th – no, hold it, I skipped ahead. Dying by inches, the jawless minstrel is rescued by a weird old witch who binds his traumatic wounds and, by way of healing him, grafts a hideous knife-toothed jaw to his head! Thanks ma’am!

Naturally, the minstrel responds the only way he could be expected to – he dies from shock. No, wait, actually he becomes a wandering cutthroat and warrior, selling his strong sword-arm for profit and demeaning all those whom he meets. Holding everyone "weaker" than himself in scorn, IronJaw muses on the infirmities of age ("Your father was too old … that is why he died running as a coward dies."), royalty ("To be a king is to be a toothless old woman!") and, of course, women.

"Well, now I hate it here again."
After all, having had every kindness in his life shown to him by women, the newly christened IronJaw naturally becomes … a he-man woman hater! In what might surely be an actual metaphor, once Ironjaw’s worldview changes from the pursuit of comfort and becomes allabout reaffirming his masculinity, it’s not his fellow men who suffer his wrath so much as it is absolutely every single woman he ever sees, meets or even suspects might exist. To Ironjaw, all women are stupid, pliable or evil. Observe the wit and wisdom of IronJaw’s Advice For The Lovelorn:

  •  "The fighter dies young who heeds the counsel of women.”
  •  "…you are a woman, and so you will tell, because women are unable to keep silent!"
  • "The women in this god-forsaken kingdom are the same as women everywhere! First they offer themselves to you on a platter, and then they … what's this?" (This last one he muses upon after attempting to rape his own sister, as a fine how-do-ya-do).


Lest you imagine that IronJaw’s girl-hatin’ frustrations are possibly satirical, a text feature provides a glimpse into the writer’s intent. "IronJaw,” it explains, “Unlike most other comic book characters, is a real human being. What he thinks, what he says, how he reacts are all gauged by what Mike (Fleischer) feels a real man, placed in that same situation, would do."

Which implies that, in a post-apocalyptic world, former musicians with crippling deformities would naturally be muscle-flexing, woman-hating, thick-headed buffoons.


In a Conan vein, IronJaw becomes King of a prosperous land only to abandon the crown because he disdains the life of luxury and ease. After all, that's what a real individual would do living in an apocalyptic wasteland where food is scarce, enemies are plentiful and one must kill or be killed to survive. Comfort, safety, food, shelter – who needs it? Just keep up a steady supply of women to berate and loathe and this guy’ll be just fine.

Oh yeah, I forgot, he's also secretly the son of the king. Who cares.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

GONE & FORGOTTEN REVISITED : THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN MARVEL



Marvel’s Silver Age space-faring hero Mar-Vell (of the Kree!) has managed to eke out an existence as the only member of what was once the inviolable trinity of dead superheroes; Jean Grey eventually struggled back to life (and then died again, and possibly came back to life and died again? I have trouble keeping track of this stuff) and even Bucky, once the gold standard of permanent comic book death, has not only returned but returned to loud and popular acclaim.

While Cap has managed to maintain his pole position in the cold, cold ground, the abundance of Marvel movie, television and cartoon properties currently under development seems to make it inevitable that he’ll undergo a revival. Captain Marvel, after all, never died in the Avengers movies, and if he shows up as a brand-new character in Avengers 15 or Guardians of the Galaxy 7 or the eighth Spider-Man reboot, a revival in the comic pages won’t be far behind.

The original (sort of) Captain Marvel is one of the company’s lesser luminaries, weighing in on the scale of characters who've had their own titles or feature slots somewhere behind Ghost Rider and the Sub-Mariner. He debuts in the tail-end of the Silver Age as a mish-mosh of prior superhero origins: As captain of an invading alien army bent of dominating Earth, he is overwhelmed by the great potential in the human race and turns on his masters (a la Silver Surfer). Changing his native name Mar-Vell (No relation to Kal-El, except the obviously intentional name-alike) to Captain Marvel (Becoming officially the third superhero at the fourth company to use that name), he becomes first Earth's protector and then protector of the Galaxy (a la Green Lantern) after the death of his girlfriend (a la everyone).

The expression on his face is all "What a
dick thing to say!"
Although handled pretty well - albeit largely as a lesser Silver Surfer and mostly for a handful of "relevant" science fiction stories in the seventies - he's pretty much a background character, until his untimely death promotes him to Marvel Comics' first spandex-suited saint.

Like most of Mar-Vell's better adventures, this story was written and drawn by Jim Starlin. A lot of folks love Starlin and brook no shit about him, and that includes me. What other creator, for instance, would have the awe-inspiring audacity to replace Jesus and Mary with a space-faring superhero and Grim Reaper in a reproduction of Michelangelo's Pieta? Jim Fucking Starlin, that's who!

The Death of Captain Marvel – the first of Marvel Comics’ line of Graphic Novels,during a period when the company was flexing its muscles into the burgeoning bookstore and direct markets –  is a retelling of the Captain’s lesser-read adventures, made particularly poignant by the good Captain having discovered that he's suffering incurable cancer. He got it from when an exploding super-villain made him stop up a leaking cannister of nerve gas with his bare hands, which is how most folks get it.

Again, it's largely a well-done story, with Cap's final hours being spent peacefully in the company of friends and family, although he DOES get to fight intergalactic space phantoms in heaven at the end. At one point, the heroes of Earth are recruited to find a cure for cancer. This is where the hilarity starts (if you don't count the cover, I suppose). First off, the damn heroes are left to explain why none of the super-geniuses in their midst ever thought of trying to cure cancer before. Their answer? They kind of don't have one.

"You don't understand! We're useless!"

So, lacking a good excuse, they take to the labs. At least until Cap dies, at which point they walk away and never try to find a cure for cancer ever again. I mean, why should they, Captain Marvel's dead, right? Right. Probably their time would be better served kicking Plant-Man’s ass again.

This scene kills me:

"Nega, please."

What kind of help do you imagine Thor's offering there? I mean, yes, I know his alter-ego is a doctor, but that’s his alter-ego – typically portrayed as a fully other, independent character. This is the God of Thunder, and I have it on good authority that his usual means of solving a heady conundrum is to drink all the oceans from a horn of plenty.

"Mayhaps I might smite yon cancer with mine mighty enchanted hammer, friend Beast!"

"No, Thor, cancer's ... cancer's too small to hit with a hammer, sorry."

"Mayhaps the elves of Diggendoggenheim may forge a TINY HAMMER with which to smite yon foul rot!"

"Look, your heart's in the right place, but really ..."

"I could strike the cancer with lightning! Or, oh wait, how about I drinks it under yon table! Arf arf arf!"

"You ... Listen, you already suggested that ..."

Surprisingly, the brain trust up there fails the hell out of curing cancer, and Marv dies, surrounded by his comrades and loved ones.



Hold it, hold it, back up. Who invited the Hulk to a funeral...?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

BATMAN LEADS AN INTERESTING LIFE - THE UNTOLD LEGEND OF THE BATMAN

Batman has upset his dinner of a sandwich, an apple, a glass of milk and a hex wrench.

Released in 1980, written by Len Wein and drawn by the unusual pairing of John Byrne and Jim Aparo (for, at least, the first issue), The Untold Legend of The Batman was the first miniseries which was released by DC Comics starring the Caped Crusader. In its dense and economical three issues, it also goes on to tell the story of the time Batman went crazy and tried to kill himself and why he shouldn’t be allowed to keep doing the stuff he does, if only for his own safety.

The story opens with Batman receiving a package in the mail, which how does that even happen? What’s the address, Wayne Manor Apt 1-B? P.O.Box Bats? Letters, postcards and packages addressed to “Batman” care of “Batcave” and dumped by postal workers in the same furnace where all the letters to Santa go?

Oh sure, criminals are the superstitious ones ...
Whatever the case, Batman opens a care package from a deranged maniac, revealing the tattered and torn-apart Bat-Costume once worn by his father one time in a Silver Age story and about a bazillion times in flashbacks. The Bat-Costume worn by Dr.Thomas Wayne (for a masquerade ball, although he finds the opportunity to bash some crooks while wearing it, thus presaging his son’s future career. We all become our parents, ultimately, I guess), while torn into a tangled and barely coherent mess, is a pretty good metaphor for the story unfolded in these pages, inasmuch as the point of The Untold Legend is to recount the salient plot points of Batman’s Silver Age backstory in a Bronze Age setting.

Batman’s origin is a pretty resilient thing, in part because it’s simple – a murderer orphans young Bruce Wayne, who uses the tragedy to focus his life as though through a laser, becoming the foremost national authority of dispensation of extralegal bat-shaped justice. As an origin, it can take a few additions without completely breaking apart at the joints, and likewise you can pick all the flesh off the skeleton and still leave a handsome skull, both of which sound like modus operandi for Batman villains. Unfortunately, what Untold Legend accomplishes is to line up all the forgettable Silver Age additions to the origin along the same length of twine, and the whole thing starts to snap under the weight. Also an M.O. of a Batman villain, that.

The premise of continuity and coherent mythos is an invention of the late Sixties and onward, and didn’t gel in comics for another decade or so, until the direct market made back issues, reprints and collections a reality. The Silver Age stories often weren’t written with the idea in mind that they might one day be collected and counted upon as immutable fact, they were written to fill pages. Very likely they were never meant to be milestones on a multi-decade journey, that was a product of marketing and fandom.

Batman's confidential street informants all have names like Muppets.

So, as recounted in Untold Legend, we learn that Batman’s origin was never as simple as a boy losing his parents to an act of mindless crime. In fact, what we learn is that the shooter was Joe Chill, a gunman hired by Lew Moxon, a crimeboss whose empire was toppled by the batsuited Dr.Thomas Wayne. Which is still kind of a straight line, if convenient, but it’s not so much that Batman’s origin seems unnecessarily overcomplicated.

No, that doesn’t happen until six pages in, where it’s revealed that young Bruce Wayne’s replacement maternal figure was his uncle Phillip’s housemaid Mrs.Chilton, in actuality the mother of the man who shot Bruce’s parents. Um. That’s preceded by the story, covered earlier, where Bruce Wayne dressed as and called himself Robin a good dozen years before adopting a kid sidekick, which comes complete with its own problems. There’s also cramming a lifetime of conflicting experiences into Alfred’s background, being a special forces soldier turned actor but coming from a long line of butlers just shows up in Bruce Wayne’s and Dick Grayson’s lives one day and won’t leave. Then becomes their most trusted ally.

All of the overcomplicating of the basic character is backdrop for a plot wherein someone with unprecedented access to the Batcave and its contents AND who has intimate knowledge of Batman’s secrets is threatening to destroy the Dark Knight Detective. Naturally, that person is … Bruce Wayne. Driven into a split personality by being an obsessive figure of weird justice, Batman discovers that his own civilian alter ego has formed a fragmentary personality in his mind and is trying to destroy Batman and everything he stands for (e.g. putting his face on his car, coin-collecting on an unprecedented scale, dressing in a scalloped rubber bathrobe and beating up hobos with belt chemicals, etc). Robin saves the day by dressing up as Batman’s dad and beating him insensate, which seems to put things to rights.

I’m not wrong in thinking maybe this should’ve been Batman’s last adventure maybe, am I? If there’s ever a time to hang up the tights, it’s when you unknowingly develop a subconscious criminal alter-ego intent on murdering you. The “Untold” part of “Untold Legend” is apparently his sealed psychiatric record.

Not pictured: Many of Batman's other greatest foes, like Black Cupid, The Mushroom, Rigor Mortician,
The Human Zeppelin, Sweettooth the Candy Pirate, Whistles McSawdust, The Dean of Crime and Mister Farts.


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