Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Family Portrait!

Here's a vintage presentation by Walt Simonson from 1982 of Darkseid and his sons Orion and Kalibak. This father and sons team look menacing in this image which evokes the majesty of the classic Kirby look without aping it. Simonson has been the most successful in revisiting the Fourth World since the "King" can no longer visit.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

World Of Fear!

I have been aghast at the execrable debate about whether it is appropriate for this republic to offer refuge to individuals young, small and of sundry stripes driven out of the perpetual war zone which once was Syria. To see elected officials display wanton cowardice and heaping the accusation of same on their constituents in order to justify yet one more targeted attempt to humble the jumped-up president they resent with every fiber of their beings is woeful indeed. And to offer these criticisms at a time when our leader is overseas, a time not too many years ago when national unity was the norm is even less patriotic. When that president then has the temerity to call them out on their fear-mongering, he of course is deemed to be behaving in a manner beneath his station. It's a classic no-win for Mr. Obama, damned for lassitude when he demurs criticizing his rivals and with callow brazenness when he speaks to them directly.

In my opinion, the drive for U.S. "boots on the ground" in Syria is spurred more by a military machine which is feeling the pinch of automatic budget cuts over the last several years, and sees a chance to bypass the usual process by using the grease of fear to get its way. Obama all too often has often been his own worst enemy, saying what he truly thinks in the moment and then having those words thrown back at him years later as if two years ago had much to do with today. His critics always seem to begin or end their remarks by savaging his leadership and then proceed to describe what they'd do which is almost always is what is mostly already being done. Only since Paris has the troops on the ground idea gotten traction (with the forthright but wrongheaded example of Lindsay Graham notwithstanding).  Has Obama been reluctant to go to war? Yes, but that's a refreshing change from leaders who seem to want to " bomb the shit out of" whomever they consider a threat, even innocents.

But to the issue at hand, I was at first puzzled why anyone objected to refugees (often mislabeled "migrants" to avoid the political deficiencies in the argument) in a land which is mostly built to house them. We are all of us descended from those who came to the new world seeking refuge and have historically embraced those who likewise seek such solace, at least idealistically. But these swarthy types are a bit too much for a white conservative populace who already feel outnumbered in a country they imagine should be mostly white and mostly Christian in perpetuity, a notion frustrated by the demanding march of demographics. The idea that America would blatantly turn away families is embarrassing for this particular citizen, that we would even for a moment entertain such notions as admitting only those of certain religious beliefs is staggering. That this tripe gets bandied about and not called the rank racism and callow jingoism it is also bewilders me.

Too many on the stump and in the media too have allowed Americans to feel justified in luxuriating in their baseless fears. To demonstrate reasoned caution is one thing, but to fear the remotest possibility of an exotic attack is a waste of time and emotion. Like tidal waves, tornadoes, and hurricanes, the threat of terrorism is now a part of the world, a part we can pay proper attention to, prepare reasoned responses to, but over which we have exceedingly limited control as individuals. As much as the news media, in their constant desire to drive up ratings wanted to equate the Paris attacks to 9-11 status it clearly has not been the case as the story already fades in the face of other events. It might be a 9-11 event for France, but the status of France is not the United States and so the impact worldwide is muted. The attacks are horrific crimes committed by beastly people bent on savage murder who must be discovered and punished, but there's no need for all people everywhere to cave in to fear, nor to sacrifice their rights in yet another stampede for the illusion of perfect safety. When folks get hysterical they often get slapped in the face, not told their hysteria is a proper reaction to circumstances. America needs a slap in the face.


America is a refuge from a savage world filled with desperate innocent people. We should welcome refugees with open arms, not foul language and intimidation, especially at Thanksgiving.  We have nothing to fear but fear itself -- a wise man who himself was president once said that.

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Fly Papers!

When Joe Simon reunited with is long time partner Jack Kirby to bring out some new "superheroes" for Archie Comics, the duo reached into the classic well of vintage origins to cobble together The Fly.

The story of The Fly begins in the Westwood Orphanage, one apparently from the heady days of Dickensian moral values where a gaggle of put-upon lads find strength in the indomitable spirit of Tommy Troy. The long story short, Tommy finds a cask which opens to reveal a mysterious trans-dimensional alien/sorceror who imbues the boy with the ability to transform into a full-grown man, one with magnificent powers, powers akin to those of a fly.

The Fly then wastes no time in foiling the schemes of Westwood's immoral caretaker and gangsters.

Tommy though finds himself farmed out so to speak to Ezra and Abigail March, a wretched old couple who use the boy as effective slave labor. It is within these comforts that the story of The Fly unfolds, the twin concerns of a young boy and a mighty hero seeking justice.

Far and away the tour de force of the issue is the double-page spread which introduces the costumed villain Spider Spry.

Spry supplies an adequate enemy for The Fly, but is in himself relatively unimpressive, only interesting in counterpoint. Enough of a villain, but little else.

The Fly (under that title) lasts a few more issues, but Simon and Kirby have less and less to do with its production. A sure product of the 60's The Fly seems a throwaway, but there's something in all that blend of superhero tropes that adds up to more than the sum of the parts. The Fly sticks.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Mad's Original Idiots!

Found these one day at the local comics shop and scooped them up. I own some of these stories more than a few times, but others I don't own at all. These are outstanding little collections brimming with the most chaotic of the artwork by Wally Wood, Will Elder, and Jack Davis produced for MAD's early formative years.

At first I was only going to get the Wally Wood volume then I found this slipcase for all three and just bit down hard on the bullet. I'm glad I did. I'm keeping them on the nightstand until I devour them all, proper bits of winter tinder.

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The Copy From 20,000 Fathoms!

Batman #104 from the early fall of 1956 sure sports a title and a monster which is weirdly familiar. Sheldon Moldoff produced this exotic and peculiar cover which reduces Batman and Robin to miniatures  in the face of a monstrous undersea threat.

Here's the splash page from "The Creature from 20,000 Fathoms" which was written by Bill Finger, one of Batman's co-creators though tragically you will not see his name anywhere on the pages of these comics. The artwork here is by Sheldon Moldoff on pencils and Charles Paris on inks.

Doubtless this story was inspired by The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, the movie which kicked off the wave of radioactive monster flicks when it was released in 1953.

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Nomad!

The saga of the original Nomad is a favorite of mine for certain. The notion that a stalwart like Captain America could quit his job as hero number one and walk away had been tried. But to do it for such an extended period was remarkable in the 1970's. Such things are so commonplace today they lack the potency this storyline mustered back then.

Cap has quit and that leaves it up to the Falcon to battle the threat of Lucifier, an alien who has been stranded in another dimension and who finds his way back to Earth by possessing the body of a street punk named Rafe. Later that power proves too much for one body and Aries of the Zodiac is found in jail and suddenly we have two Lucifiers to deal with.

Falcon battles his two new foes and eventually saves the day, though truth be told the villains seem pretty much to take themselves out as Lucifer's powers prove wildly unstable. With Cap retired the word is out and some strictly small timers think it might be cool to put on the red white and blue. In this issue a baseball hero tries it and promptly breaks his arm.

Steve Rogers has been retired and that makes his girlfriend Sharon Carter happy, but no one else much likes it including the Golden Archer. The Archer is in fact Hawkeye and he gives Cap the idea that just because he's not going to be Captain America, it doesn't mean he can't still be another superhero.

So the stage is set for the debut of the Nomad.

One of the fun things about this story are the methods Steve Rogers uses to develop his new identity, from his search for a name to his construction of a new costume, complete this time with a cape.

That cape offers up one of the best moments in comics when he ends up battling a reformed Serpent Squad.

 The next month features a Nomad surprise as he shows up briefly in The Avengers. 

In the next issue Nomad battles the Serpent Squad led by the nihilistic madwoman Viper (formerly Madame Hydra) and Krang from Atlantis who brings with him the Serpent Crown. It's wild ride and Sub-Mariner shows up too.

Then Nomad chases Viper and Cobra to Seattle where they battle for a final time, a battle no one really wins. This issue also saw the debut of artist Frank Robbins who takes over for regular Sal Buscema. While Sal's steady line is missed the energy Robbins brings to the page is heady indeed.

While Nomad has been battling the Serpents, Falcon has been breaking in a new partner, a kid named Roscoe who wanted desperately to be the new Cap. It ends tragically when the Red Skull turns up and murders Roscoe.

This tragic turn of events convinces Steve Rogers that he must return to the role of Cap and so Nomad is no more.

Falcon and Cap take the battle to the Red Skull (with guest art by Herb Trimpe) and the Skull's secrets slowly are revealed as he sets about to murder several people with a deadly red dust.

It turns out that the Falcon has been one of the Skull's longterm plots, first concocted and situated as to present as a perfect partner, Sam Wilson, who is revealed to really be small time crook "Snap" Wilson is under the mind control of the Skull and turns on Cap.

The story ends abruptly as the Skull is defeated, but the dilemma about Falcon is left rather open. Steve Englehart left the writing chores and this story more stops than ends. It's a shame that such a properly robust run should end so anti-climatically.

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Secret Empire!

There's no doubt that for this recovering "Marvel Zombie" one of the most potent events was when Captain America dropped out for a time when confronted with government corruption of the highest order. The "Secret Empire" storyline by Steve Englehart with sturdy Sal Buscema and Vince Colletta on the art chores was a barnstorming storyline that grabbed yours truly by the throat and rarely let go.

It begins when Cap becomes aware that the "Committee to Regain America's Principles" was running an ad campaign targeting him specifically and calling his loyalty to the nation into question. At the same time The Falcon is undergoing a crisis of competence and makes plans with The Black Panther to get more power so he will be a more worthy partner for Cap. The Tumbler, an old foe appears and then is murdered with Cap the prime suspect.

Cap's been set up by the Committee, its chairman a slimy ad type named Quentin Hardeman, and Moonstone a brand new "faux" superhero set up by the Committee to fill Cap's shoes when he's been smeared and eliminated from the scene.

Cap fights back and becomes a fugitive pretty much falling into the hands of the Committee. Meanwhile Falcon gets his wings.

Cap battles the minions of the Committee, specifically a bunch of losers dubbed "The Sanitation Crew".  Falcon and Panther fight a threat in the Panther's homeland before Sam Wilson returns to NYC with his best gal Leila along for the ride.

Cap and Falcon team up and go on the run heading to Nashville (since Moonstone appeared to like country music according to some of his dialogue -clearly a weak moment in the storytelling) and run smack dab into the Banshee from the pages of the X-Men. They find other X-Men too, specifically Professor X, Cyclops and Marvel Girl. It seems the others have been nabbed by the same group looking to smear Cap.

That group is the revived "Secret Empire" from the early days of Marvel. Following up on clues given by Professor X, Cap and the Falcon infiltrate the Empire's secret desert base.

There they battle several high-tech threats and discover that mutants have been kidnapped by the Secret Empire in order to use their might to power the Empire's equipment, equipment they plan to use to conquer the United States.

Cap, Falcon and the X-Men battle the threat as it heads to Washington, DC in a "flying saucer" powered by mutants, device designed to maximize the psychological threat to the populace. There the Empire issues its demands and tells the nation that its minions are planting bombs in cities across the country. But Cap is able to finally defeat Moonstone and confronts the Secret Empire's leader Number One who himself commits suicide. Number One's actual identity, though never really shown, rocks Cap to his core and he walks away from the battle a beaten man.

In the finale Cap reflects on his career and takes advice from friends and allies as he ponders what to do in the face of what he considers a fundamental betrayal to the entire country by the leader of the Secret Empire. The notion of such profound corruption at the highest levels of the United States government rocks Cap who by the story's end has decided he can no longer fulfill his role as a agent of the U.S. and calls it quits as the "Sentinel of Liberty". Cap quits!

But that's just the beginning as next time we meet the enigmatic Nomad.

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