Golden Age Showcase #2: 711

Today we’re going to talk about one of the more interesting characters that didn’t survive the Golden Age of Comics, not because he was a template for a future superhero like the Blue Beetle or because he was too weird like the Vagabond but because he probably has one of the most interesting origin stories and motivations in all of comics

#711

2213191-e

Origin and career:

#711 debuted in Police Comics #1 in 1941 and was published by a company named Quality Comics.  He was never given his own series and spent his short career appearing in comics like the one below.

515191-4

He was originally known as District Attorney Daniel Dyce.  Now Dyce, in a coincidence that is the kind that could only be found in media like Golden Age Comics, had a friend who looked like an exact duplicate named Jacob Horn who just happened to be in prison.

711b

Jacob had a wife who was just about to give birth and, desperate to see his newborn child, Jacob convinces Daniel to take his place in prison so he can go be with his family, because that is how the justice system works apparently.  Unfortunately this happens.

711f

Jacob is killed and Daniel is now stuck in prison.  Desperate to clear his name Daniel forsakes all sane methods he could use to prove his innocence and manages to tunnel out of prison.  Instead of hightailing to Mexico or Canada Dyce decides to go back into prison and use his tunnel to become a costumed crime fighter by night.  He decides to call himself 711 in reference to his prisoner number and adopts a costume that has more similarities to the older pulp characters rather than modern superheroes.

711

While he had no special abilities other than being very good at fighting he did have an impressive calling card, a mirrored surface with black bars across it so the recipient could see himself behind bars.

711k

So what happened?

Prisoner #711 appeared in 15 issues with Quality Comics.  In his final appearance he was killed by a mobster named Oscar Jones.  It’s worth noting that, unlike the Vagabond I talked about last week, he was deemed a decent enough character to be given a definite end and a rather touching send off

711n

and he was replaced by a nearly identical hero called Destiny

download (16)

Business wise Prisoner 711 would never see another issue because his publisher, Quality Comics, was bought by DC comics in 1956.  While some of Quality’s most notable heroes like Plastic Man

48362

Would become relatively well known superheroes DC comics didn’t have the time for Prisoner 711.  He did make an appearance during a DC Millennium reprint although it was created to showcase Plastic Man’s first appearance.

 Before I go I’d just like to say that while #711’s origin and short lived career may seem a bit odd and fantastical I personally think the idea is a good one.  The idea that a hero has to break out of prison to go fight crime, and can use the prison grapevine for information, is something that I think could make a very intriguing story.  What’s more, if there is anyone out there who is likewise inspired, you could make a very strong case that the #711 concept and story is in the public domain so anyone could potentially use it.

Advertisements

The Primordial Soup: Terminator, Fate, and Tragedy

So this little movie is coming out in the United States this Wednesday.

Terminator-Genisys-T-800

The Terminator franchise is one of my favorite movie series ever and the reason I like it so much is because of one of it’s most important central themes: fate and destiny.  For those of you who don’t know (30 year old spoilers) the Terminator movies are about an evil computer program called Skynet that manages to wipe out most of humanity in a nuclear apocalypse.

Terminator 2 Atomic Bomb

Fortunately enough humans survive to form a resistance led by a charismatic leader named John Conner.

John_connor_scar

The humans wind up destroying Skynet, but not before the computer sends back one of their agents in an attempt to kill John Conner’s mother before he’s even born.  In response the human resistance sends one of their own soldiers back in time, a man named Kyle Reese to protect and help Sarah

Kyle_Reese

So begins a game of cat and mouse that spans decades.  For every robot assassin Skynet sends back the humans manage to counter and kill it spawning the tagline for Terminator 2: “The battle for tomorrow begins”.

The brilliance of Terminator, Judgement Day, and Rise of the Machines (no I’m not including Salvation and the Sarah Conner Chronicles) is that amid the robots, explosions, car chases, and futuristic warfare, all three movies play out like one of the oldest forms of drama in history: the Greek tragedy.

mask3

One of the most important themes of a Greek tragedy was the inevitability of a character’s fate.  According the Greeks your fate and destiny were controlled by three crones weaving the “threads of fate” that would determine your birth, life, and death.  They were unavoidable, unassailable, and inescapable.  Your fate was your fate and there was nothing you could do about it.

l_1aab37b16809a1f4e24bf1a8e54588f0

Now, we can see this play out throughout the first three Terminator films as the series progresses.  At first, Sarah Conner is unwilling to accept her role in this as the mother of the resistance.

SarahConnor-T1

At the end of the first movie she undergoes an moment of fatal realization, a moment the Greeks called anagorisis, where she realizes her fate is inevitable and proceeds to undergo a dramatic transformation into one of the most badass women in film for the second film.

2309065-t2sarahconnor2

Likewise John Conner undergoes a similar moment of anagorisis in the third film.

003TRM_Claire_Danes_022

After meeting his good friend the T-850 after the second movie, John remains an unwilling hero who refuses to believe that Skynet will destroy humanity after the events of the second film by stating “We stopped Judgement Day” prompting the chilling response “Judgement Day is inevitable”

Terminator3-07

It turns out that Conner’s fate is unavoidable and Judgement Day happens, and as the nukes start flying John accepts his fate, takes command of the last remnants of the human race, and magically transforms into Christian Bale.

TerminatorSalvation_Bale_2

But here’s where it gets interesting.  If you want the best example of how the Terminator movies exemplify the inescapably of fate you have to look at the entire franchise from the point of view of the villain that started it all: Skynet.  From the computer’s viewpoint the entire story is a rehash of one of the most famous Greek tragedies of all time and one of those books that most of you were probably forced to slog through in high school: Oedipus Rex.

MV5BMjEyMjMyNDg5OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTg2MjIyMQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_

Here’s a brief overview of the play.  Long ago in ancient Greece the king of Thebes named Laius receives a prophecy that his newborn son will kill him and take his throne.  Wishing to avoid this fate the king orders his wife Jocasta to kill the infant.  Jocasta doesn’t want to kill her son and orders a servant to do it, who then ignores his queen’s orders and leaves the infant out to die.  The baby is found, is adopted by another king and queen who name him Oedipus.  The boy eventually hears a prophecy stating that he will kill his father and sleep with his own mother and, in a move that defines every type of irony, decides to leave his adopted parents in an attempt to avoid his fate.  During his travels he meets Laius on the road to Thebes, an argument breaks out, and Oedipus kills Laius which fulfills the prophecy.  Traveling to Thebes he rescues the city from a creature called the Sphinx,

download (14)

In their joy the city makes Oedipus their king, which involves marrying their now widowed queen Jocasta, and Oedipus winds up having sex with his mom (eww).  Eventually Oedipus finds out and, not surprisingly, is rather upset which results in him gouging out his eyes and leaving the city ashamed.

d34b32f20689b71f096d0f7cdc6a8357

Now how does a play written thousands of years ago bear any similarity to a modern movie about a computer program that attempts to wipe out the human race?  They both wind up setting the very events into motion that lead to their downfall through the actions they take to prevent their downfall in the first place.

As I mentioned earlier in the article the humans send back Kyle Reese in the first film in an attempt to stop the Terminator from killing Sarah Conner before she can give birth to John.  However, it turns out that Sarah and Kyle fall in love, have sex, and Sarah becomes pregnant with John after the Terminator kills Kyle.

maxresdefault (2)

It’s a very tender moment but remember, it’s only thanks to Skynet sending the Terminator back in time that the humans send Kyle back.  If Skynet hadn’t attempted to prevent its destruction it would have not created the very conditions that would have led to its destruction in the first place.  And right about now your brain probably feels like this.

arts-graphics-2007_1179605a

Now once you’ve wrapped your mind around this you can see exactly why Skynet and Oedipus are similar.  Both of them attempt to escape their fate by changing it.

While Skynet is the tragic antagonist of the story the second movie attempted to do the same thing to the protagonists.  After Sarah turns the first Terminator into pulp with help from an industrial machine press

terminator1

Sarah and John discover that the parts from the first Terminator were collected by a company called Cyberdyne Systems, the company that would create Skynet and bring about Judgement Day.

download (15)

While I think it would have been deliciously ironic for the very event that brought about Skynet’s downfall to bring about it’s creation as well the second movie destroys that notion by eliminating Cyberdyne’s research in a fury of bullets and explosions

bscap0086

and turning any trace of Skynet and the evil machines into literal molten slag in a scene that made everyone who watched it burst into tears.

t2_mq_437

However, fate decides that free will and choice is utter horse crap and Skynet, which was developed as a piece of military software designed to prevent another virus from infecting every computer in existence (because THAT always works), destroys humanity in a nuclear apocalypse anyway.  After all, “Judgement Day is inevitable”.

hqdefault (1)

So that’s the ultimate lesson of the entire Terminator franchise: your fate is inevitable and there is absolutely nothing you can do to change it, just like the finest Greek tragedies Western literature has to offer.  However, don’t worry because while human kind is forced to bend to the will of fate it turns out that even evil soulless machines are as well, and any action that it takes to change the future will wind up either making things worse or become the cause of the events it originally set out to change.

Have fun watching Terminator: Genysis.

Crowdfunded comics that deserve your attention #1: Amiculus

Welcome to the inaugural post of a new blogs series “Crowdfunded comics that deserve your attention”.  It’s a weekly blog post about…crowdfunded comics that deserve a lot more attention then they are getting.  Every week I will select one comic series or graphic novel currently on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Patreon, or any other crowdfunding site and write about what it is, what I like about it, and why I think it deserves to be funded.

A couple of things to clear up before we start:

1. I am not being paid for this and these posts reflect my opinion and my opinion alone.  If, for whatever reason, I receive any form of compensation for any article I write I will make it expressly clear who is paying and why.

2. This series is for comics and graphic novels only.  This blog and website is dedicated to comics and this rule is simply in place to keep it all consistent.

3.  If you are reading things and are currently running a crowdfunding campaign for a comic book or graphic novel of your own creation please let me know!  Leave a polite request and a link to your campaign on my Twitter account @CambrianComics and I will take a look.  Please only leave one request, anyone caught spamming tweets or acting in a rude or disrespectful manner will be ignored.

With that said let’s move on to our first candidate: Amiculus Volume II: Flagellum Dei

Author’s note: if you want to check out the campaign first feel free to click here to go directly to the Kickstarter page.  If you would like a little more convincing, read on.  The same link will be a the bottom of the page below.

What is it?

Amiculus Vol. II is the second Kickstarter campaign by creator Travis Horseman and artist Giancarlo Caracuzzo.  Fresh off the success of their successfully funded Volume 1: Roma Aeterna, which is now available on Amazon,

download (13)

this writer and artist take us to a war torn ancient Rome at the twilight of the Western Roman Empire and ask the question: did Rome fall…or was it pushed?

Why I like it:

Amiculus is ancient historical fiction at its finest.  I know this because I donated the Kickstarter campaign for Volume I and I was not disappointed.  Travis Horseman crafts a tale of blood, betrayal, and unimaginable violence at the twilight of one of the greatest empires the world has ever known.  The comic follows the quest of the ancient historian Procopius of Caesarea as he seeks the last words of the boy emperor Romulus Augustulus, the last truly Roman ruler of the Western Roman Empire.

amiculus3

He finds a manuscript that takes him into the final days of the Roman Empire as the city that was once the jewel of the world is laid to siege by the barbarian general (and former Roman mercenary) Odoacer.

7789637_orig

Sadly, Rome is not prepared for this kind of fight.  The Emperor is a young boy, a weak leader who is controlled by his commanding and ambitious father Flavius Orestes,

Romulus

Orestes-600x463

And Odoacer seems to have help from a mysterious clocked figure that appears to know everything about the Roman defenses, a shrouded figure known only as…Amiculus.

amiculus2

The reason I’m talking about this is because this is the kind of story I love to read.  I am a rabid fan of ancient history and I can personally attest that every name, every date, and every location within Rome is accurate.  With the exception of Amiculus (if we don’t take SOME liberty with the events that happened we wouldn’t have a work of historical fiction) all the major players are there.

Also, the art work is top notch.  Caracuzzo is a veteran artist who has been drawing for over thirty years, and his dedication and skill show in this comic.  Here the artist gets to showcase an impressive eye for action and some of the most effective emotional displays I have ever seen.

Why you should donate:

Amiculus is a work of historical fiction, a field that comic books don’t really explore too often.  Granted there are plenty of western and fantasy comics that take their inspiration from history but this is different.  This is a story filled with real people, in real locations, making real history and you don’t need that much embellishment to make it exciting.

Still, if that isn’t enough to make you want to donate there is the practical side to consider.  I’ll be the first to admit that one of the big problems with crowdfunded comics is that the creators of successful funding campaigns sometimes have a bit of trouble delivering promised rewards on promised shipping dates.  That is not a problem here, the creative team has already created a successful campaign that has delivered on its promises (like I said before, I donated to their first campaign) and will do so again.

This comic is a work of art and storytelling that allows an excellent storyteller and an excellent artist to tell an epic, complex, and incredibly violent story about an epic, complex, and incredibly violent period of human history.

If you liked what you read and want to either learn more or donate, please feel free to check out the Kickstarter page here.  Thank you.

Golden Age Showcase #1: The Vagabond

The Golden Age of Comic Books was a period in comic book history that saw the American comic book come into its own as an art form and saw the introduction of what we would today call “superheroes”.  Although the exact start date can be debated most people agree that the Golden Age began with the publication of Action Comics #1 in June 1938, an anthology series featuring a strange new creation by two men named Jerry Seigel and Joel Shuster simply named “Superman”

Action_Comics_1

This superhero able to move “faster than a speeding bullet” became immensely popular and helped kick off the Golden Age of Comics and a boom in superhero titles.  Some of these new superheroes would go on to become industry giants.

220px-Detective_Comics_27

SensationComics

Some would start out as the creation of one comic book company and would later be either sold off, bought, or merged with one of the industry giants to become future comic book mega stars.

captain-america-comics-1

220px-Whiz2

And others would continue to survive as important characters but either undergo drastic changes to their character in later years or continue to survive without the iconic pop culture status of their peers.

blue-beetle-fox

All-American_Comics_16

But there were other superheroes, a lot of them actually, who didn’t survive past the Golden Age.  Whether it was because they didn’t have the staying power to survive the over saturation of the market (like I said, there were A LOT of superheroes) or because they fell victim to the forces of censorship and the Comics Code Authority (this is an article for another day but for now all you have to know is that the Comics Code Authority was a set of rules and censors that was put in place to “protect” children from obscene and violent images that could turn them into delinquents) there were hundreds of superheroes that had their own comic book series that simply vanished off the face of the earth.

This series is dedicated to those superheroes, the obscure and crazy heroes that only lasted a few issues and were probably created in a haze of some massive drinking binge or some other illicit substance.  So let’s start this series off with a little known “hero” created by Timely Comics (the company that would later become Marvel Comics in the 60’s) known only as

The Vagabond

vagabondtimely1

Origin and career:

The Vagabond was first introduced in the anthology series USA comics #2 in 1941.  This is the cover.

USAComics2

Despite the awesome insanity that must have gone into the conception of the comic and the character (“Hey Bob!  I have this great idea for a comic where we have a guy dressed up as a clown and he’s part of a comic where Hitler invades New York!” “BRILLIANT”) his backstory is surprisingly straightforward.  The Vagabond is the costumed identity of a police officer named Pat Murphy (there is a debate on whether or not he’s actually an FBI agent by the name of Walter Carstairs but we’ll go with this for now).  Fed up with the rise of crime in his home city of Middleton Pat decides that he needs to fight crime by hiding his face.

secret origins

The Vagabond has no superpowers other than his fists.  Basically he’s Batman, only instead of a rich playboy he’s a cop and instead of a dark and imposing bat he’s a hobo.  Although to be fair, when you’re a criminal facing off against this

TheVagabond

not even the Batman can match the sheer terror this face can inspire.

Despite his somewhat normal origin, the Vagabond’s short career was the kind of mad filled fever dream that can only be created when a writer is desperate to meet a deadline and sniffed a gallon of ether to meet his deadline (this probably didn’t happen but hey, writers are a crazy bunch).  While he didn’t do much other than beat up some goons in a bar his costume and identity demanded that he speak with a mock upper class accent and use words like “tally ho” and “yoinks” in his everyday speech.  Also, and I swear I am not making this up, in an attempt to protect his every day identity, he began to refer himself as “Chauncey Throttlebottom the Third”.  It is at this moment I’d like to re stress that this is from the same company that would later become Marvel Comics, a company that produced some of the greatest heroes the world has ever seen, and one of their first heroes went by the name “Throttlebottom”.

So what happened?

The Vagabond lasted only three issues, I guess the idea of a crime fighting bum just didn’t catch on too well, even with a name like “Throttlebottem” (will I ever get tired of saying that name?  NOPE!).  It is believed that Patrick had difficulty maintaining two separate identities and eventually adopted the hobo persona on a full time basis, exploring one of the most difficult and challenging aspects of being a costumed hero.  He did manage to make a guest appearance in a later issue of the Avengers where he helped fight back an army of Nazis (clowns fighting Nazis?  AAAAHHH!!) but for the most part he was simply too good for this world and faded into obscurity.

So that’s the first issue of our Golden Age showcase.  If you enjoyed this post please let us know in the comments, on Facebook, or Twitter (@CambrianComics) and if you have any requests or want to learn more about a particular Golden Age super hero do not hesitate to ask.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: Why I like the show so much

WARNING: SPOILERS.

So the fifth season of Game of Thrones has come to an end (yes I know it happened this Saturday bear with me) and this means we have reached the end of the blog series.  Oh, the series will still go on, there is still so much to talk about, it’s just that I want to save it for the next season and in the mean time I’d like to talk about something else.

I would like to close off this season of blog posts by talking about why I love the show so much.  I am a lover of history, I love reading about it, talking about it, and I was a History major in college.  One of my favorite books of all time is a epic work of historical nonfiction called “A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century” by historian Barbara Tuchman.

distantmirrorbc

The book is Tuchman’s account of the 14th century where she talks about everything from the 100 Years War, to the spread of the Black Plague, to peasant uprisings, and political intrigue.  Besides having a badass cover, that’s the white horseman of war leading an army of dead against the living, Tuchman’s book helps her portray the 14th Century as a dark parallel to early 20th century Europe suffering from the aftermath of the First World War (I should note that Tuchman’s most well known work is August 1914 where she talks about the prelude to WW1).  This book is really good and I highly recommend it.

The reason I bring this up is because history and fantasy, especially really good and well written history and fantasy, can help us understand the world we live in by drawing parallels to our society and filtering them through the fantastic and the epic.  I’ve spent the last couple of weeks showing the events, groups, and people that George R.R Martin has used as inspiration for his masterpiece but if we apply the same treatment to Game of Thrones that Tuchman applied to 14th century Europe a lot of interesting things start to appear.  For example:

One of the most powerful organizations in the Game of Thrones universe is the Iron Bank, able to change the fortunes of everyone from peasants to kings.  Does that seem so strange when our modern banks like Goldman Sachs and J.P Morgan have such a huge stake in our world today?  How many of us are tied to a bank because we wanted to buy a house or car or go to college?

Some of the most brutal and evil lords and rulers in Game of Thrones are currently, and formerly, some of the most effective and powerful rulers.

download (12)

TywinLannisterCP

It’s no secret that quite a few parts of our world are run by terrible people.

GTY_bashar_al_assad_balcony_tk_130829_16x9_992

7693_5243b76e40722

But when you consider the situations that led to their rise to power and the ability of these monsters to keep and hold on to their power their continued existence, while not very justifiable, can certainly be explained.

Speaking of leadership let’s talk about some of the “good” leaders.  While there are plenty of horrible people in power both in the show and in real life there are people in charge that are trying their best to do the right thing.

daenerys-targaryen-of-game-of-thrones

2014-10-12-obama

Sometimes it all works out and the good guys win but what a lot of leaders who start out with good intentions eventually learn is that it’s always a bit more complicated than it originally seemed and things can go wrong very quickly.

This is just a small sample of some of the parallels between the Game of Thrones universe and our own world.  We could go on for hours on subjects like money, torture, ethics, proper leadership, terrorism, environmentalism, and slavery but to do that would require a book’s worth of time and research.

Thank you for reading this blog and sticking with me for the fifth season of Game of Thrones.  We produce a comic strip about a family of supervillains (something completely different from this) for your enjoyment and I hope you’ll stick around in the future where we have plenty of fun and interesting topics lined up for you.

Valar Morghulis…see you next season.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The White Walkers

WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS FROM THE MOST RECENT SEASON FINALE IN THIS ARTICLE.

So since we talked about the dragons and how they’re representations of man’s ability to find more efficient ways of killing his fellow man I thought today we would dedicate our second to last post of the season to the other extreme: the White Walkers.

150601-king_a21be619c8508481d7c6b53a456ddc60.nbcnews-fp-1000-400

The White Walkers are a primal force of nature and right now they represent the greatest threat to ever confront the human race, a threat that humanity is woefully under equipped to handle at the moment, especially with the death of Jon Snow.

game-thrones-season-5-finale-jon-snow-leak

Deadly, extremely capable, and above all…patient the White Walkers are not only extremely capable warriors but able to raise an army of the dead which gives them a huge advantage.  While the humans grow weaker the Walkers can only grow stronger.

game-of-thrones-finale-white-walkers-army

Winter is coming, and if nothing is done to halt the Walker’s advance winter will stay for a very long time.

In today’s day and age we are somewhat obsessed with the weather.  Whether you believe it or not there aren’t that many people out there who aren’t aware of global warming.  But despite the endless debates and inaction going on today we do know that climate change is a thing that has happened.  We know this because the Little Ice Age was a thing and it had a huge impact on world history…mostly for the worse.

The Little Ice Age was a period in history of intense global cooling, which is a thing.  Starting just before 1300 the Earth experienced a dramatic drop in temperatures (I should note here that a “dramatic drop” in environmental science is only a couple of degrees) resulting in longer winters and shorter growing seasons.

300px-Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_Hunters_in_the_Snow_(Winter)_-_Google_Art_Project

The human race had been experiencing a period of remarkable growth during the time period Europeans call the High Middle Ages and while there was still quite a bit of violence and death in Europe, things were starting to calm down which led to increased economic and cultural growth under the rule of the Catholic Church.

download (11)

All of that would change with the Little Ice Age and the beginning of the 14th century.  Cooler temperatures led to shorter growing seasons and more frequent rain storms.  Shorter growing seasons meant less food to feed a large population and the results were devastating.  The world changed practically over night as humans devolved into violence and desperation, fighting over land and resources that could not support everyone.

FrenchKn

But all that pales in comparison to what came after the famine and warfare: a horrifying pestilence known as the Black Death.

The Black Death.  London was such a filty place at the time of the plague that nothing could be done to stop the disease.  The death cart seen in the background of the picture was in constant use.  Original artwork for illustration on p19 of Look and Learn issue no 763 (28 August 1976).

The Black Death was one of the most singular and deadly events to ever take place in human history.  We’ve all heard the stories about how the plague was brought to Europe from the East on trading ships and the combination of filthy streets and towns coupled with a lack of understanding of how disease worked allowed the plague to wipe out almost a third of Europe’s population.

5047

To a population that feared dropping dead in a heartbeat and watching as friends and family died all around them it must have seemed like the end of the world.  This led to some very fatalistic world views and gave birth to an artistic genre known as the Danse Macabre, the idea that death walks with everyone from the lowliest peasant to the most powerful lord.  You can see examples of the artwork everywhere, normal people going about their lives always accompanied by an emaciated waling skeleton that looks for all the world like some of the White Walkers and zombies from Game of Thrones.

totntainno1

Danse_macabre1

White_Walker_2x10

Wight01_2x10

It was the cold that brought plague and death to Medieval Europe, a long winter that lasted for decades and destroyed most of Europe…just like what the White Walkers threaten to do to Westeros if nobody stops them.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The Dragons

WARNING: SPOILERS!

So the season finale just happened and that means this is going to be the last week of Game of Thrones blog posts for the site.  I know there has been a lot of creepy, upsetting, and disturbing stuff on the show lately but there are plenty of people who can talk and discuss that kind of thing better than I can so instead we’re going to start our final week by talking about the dragons.

maxresdefault (1)

In keeping with the traditions of the show and the direction it seems to be heading (I was both impressed and terrified by Arya’s sadistic streak) the dragons are the very personifications of violence and power.  As the ancient weapon of the Targaryens the dragons are the Game of Thrones super weapon, an advantage that allowed Denarys and her ancestors to conquer half the known world with a comparatively smaller army.

350px-Drogon_in_Daznak's_Pit

The dragons don’t represent any particular person or place in history.  Instead they represent an idea and theme that rears its head from time to time throughout history.  In my opinion the dragons represent technology and how each technological leap brings about newer and more terrifying methods of destruction and violence.  Now this may sound like a very modern theme and it is, an all powerful beast capable of melting steel and killing thousands of people at a time sounds suspiciously like a modern nuclear weapon but the notion that new inventions can change the face of warfare for the worse goes back hundreds of years.

Many people have a notion that Medieval warfare was a noble endeavor filled with knights in shining armor, noble kings, and honorable combat.  It seems so noble because we the Middle Ages gave us the notion of chivalry: the knights code of conduct while engaging in battle and how to live and act in everyday life.

FCWAM

Sadly, the idea of chivalry couldn’t be farther from the reality of Medieval warfare.  Actual fighting was brutal, violent, and awful in ways that would make even Ramsey Bolton shutter (although out of all the characters in the show he probably had the right mindset for it) and nowhere was it more apparent with the start and evolution of the Hundred Years War.

The Hundred Years war was a series of long and complicated wars between the kingdoms of England and France over who ruled what and who owed allegiance to whom.  There have been countless books, plays, and movies about the conflict but one of the most interesting things was the role technology played in the war.

The war started out with the traditional concepts of chivalry and honorable combat intact, it was a dynastic dispute and thus would be fought honorably between two noble houses.  However, as the war went on things changed and technology began to play an important role in the fighting.

Much like their Norman ancestors utilizing the mounted knight the English were the first to unveil and utilize their super weapon: the longbow.

14th_century__english_longbow_man__by_stazjohnson-d6ayc2o

It may not look like much but this six foot piece of yew wood would revolutionize warfare.  Now an army made up of peasants and lowborn could go toe to toe with armored knights and win, and win they did.  Granted, utilizing the longbow took strength and skill which required extensive training from an early age (ever wonder why Robin Hood was so good with a bow and English?) but the English were able to utilize the bow to great extent.

Schlacht_von_Azincourt

However, that would pale in comparison to what came next.  With England winning battle after battle and the French nation on the brink of defeat they were saved by a young and possibly schizophrenic prophet girl named Joan of Arc.

joanofarc

After Joan helped light a fire under their buts the French were able to get their act together and begin to take back what they had lost.  Under the leadership of King Charles VII and Philip Duke of Burgundy the French restructured and remodeled their armies to defeat the English.  This saw the rise of a weapon more terrifying than the longbow and one that would change the face of warfare forever: gunpowder.

SiegeOfOrleans1429

Now while gunpowder had been in use for a long time, the Hundred Years War was the first time gunpowder weapons were used on a European battle field to great effect.  Like Denarys’ dragons they spat fire and death at their enemies and were able to completely destroy them, one of first (and definitely not the last) times a leap forward in technology helped man kill his fellow man more efficiently.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: Sellswords.

WARNING: SPOILERS!

It’s fair to say that most of the Game of Thrones universe is in some form of conflict on a pretty much constant basis, probably because warfare and fighting makes for a much more exciting read than learning about “Ivan the Peasant” and how much grain he produced during the harvest or “Bob the Accountant” and how he managed to wipe away his lord’s debts (although who knows, in the right hands that could make for an interesting story…).  Anyway, most of the Game of Thrones universe is embroiled in conflict and much of that fighting is either done by private armies of paid men at arms

gameofthroneslannistersword

conscripts

nights-watch-game-of-thrones21

or professional knights.

2237471-snapshot20120615011420

However, relying on any one of these types of soldiers for your army requires a couple of things: either a large prison population, a large treasury capable of paying and equipping a standing army, or enough land to give to a large number of knights that allow each of them to afford the training, armor, and horses according to their station.  These are three things that locations such of the Free Cities don’t have (they could rely on slave armies but history and the show has proven that it is usually a bad idea) so what do they do instead?  They rent armies in the form of mercenaries.

episode-28-04-1920

With all the petty little wars the Free Cities fight anyone who is capable of using a sword and has a band of like minded compatriots can make a fortune fighting for whatever side they choose.  Groups like the Second Sons (named so because traditionally the first son in any family usually inherits everything leaving the second son to make his fortune any way he can) have been around since the Doom of Valyria, finding enough work and pay to stay together for over 400 years.  Instead of being loyal to a specific lord or land these mercenary companies are simply loyal to whoever can pay them the most and once their services have been bought professional courtesy dictates that they remain loyal to the side writing their paychecks.  However, while some sellswords and mercenary companies have proven to be loyal soldiers and even good friends to many of the main characters.

ASOS_MW_14_03_26_ARTICLE_GAME_OF_THRONES_02

DaarioComparison

if they think your cause is hopeless and you don’t have a chance of victory they will leave you rather than be butchered.

capture8

Despite the notion that most of the fighting in the Medieval Ages was performed by noble knights in shining armor and a lord or king’s personal army of men at arms, Medieval and Renaissance warfare had a long and not so proud tradition of mercenaries willing to fight for the highest bidder.

Malpaga10

This painting with the rather garishly dressed group of men carrying large poleaxes is a painting of a Condottieri company, Medieval mercenaries for hire.  Like the Free Cities, the city states of Italy were not especially suited towards raising and maintaining a large standing army or large numbers of knights.  As a result, wealthy cities like Milan and Venice often resorted to paying “contractors” to fight their wars for them.  And like the many frequent wars between the Free Cities in the Game of Thrones books, there was plenty of business to go around.

Like the Second Sons the Condottieri held themselves to particular standards.  They would maintain their loyalty to their patron, as long as their patron kept paying them.  Also, quite a few mercenary captains were the distant relatives or bastards of wealthy families, people who were cut out of inheriting their family’s wealth and became soldiers of fortune to pay the bills.

Despite all the talk of honor in combat and loyalty that many of the character in Game of Thrones like to prattle on about at the end of the day the most important objective was victory over your opponent and mercenary companies provided a quick and easy way to bolster armies with experienced and skilled soldiers.  The importance of mercenary Condottieri in Renaissance warfare would also lead to the decline of the feudal lord and his knights and the rise of the professional army in European history.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The Free Cities continued

On Monday we talked about how the Free Cities of Essos.

Free_Cities

Bear a striking resemblance to the Italian city states of Renaissance Italy.

Renaissance-City-States-Map

Today we’re going to go into a bit more detail on each of the Free Cities and which real life city state they share the most in common with.  This means the format is going to be a little bit different where instead of devoting the first half of the article to the Game of Thrones topic and the second half to its historical counterpart we’re just going to give each city their own paragraph.  Also, there will be lots of overlapping and this entire article is based on my opinion only so if you disagree or think differently please leave a polite and detailed explanation in the comments below.  Anyway, here we go!

Volantis:

download (7)

Volantis is the southern most of the Free Cities and also has the closest ties to the Valyrian Freehold.  They attempted to rebuild the empire but were defeated by the combined efforts of the rest of the cities.  Their southern location and ties to the former empire make them similar to Renaissance Rome.

rome-on-the-tiber

Like Volantis Rome existed as a reminder of Italy’s once former glory as a united country.  As the seat of the Catholic Church Rome held quite a bit of power over Italy and the rest of Europe.  While Rome never reclaimed its place as the dominant Italian power it did play a major part in organizing several key alliances that kept Italy mostly free of encroaching European powers.

Braavos:

titan_of_braavos

Probably the most well known of the Free Cities Braavos is home to some of the most powerful organizations in the Game of Thrones universe.  The city was founded in secret by a collection of former Valyrian slaves and was hidden from the rest of the world until the Doom of Valyria where it established itself as a political and economic powerhouse.  After sailing under the legs of the Titan of Braavos there is so much you can do from seeking loans and money from the famed Iron Bank, hiring Braavosi sell swords, or if you’re really desperate hiring one of the Faceless Men to assassinate your target.

Stylistically Braavos is all over the place.  The Titan of Braavos is reminiscent of the Colossus of Rhodes, a giant statue that was commissioned to celebrate the defeat of the Hellenistic general Demetrius.

colossus

We’ve talked about how the Iron Bank and the Faceless Men are similar to the Medici bankers of Florence and the Assassins of the Nizari but the city’s foundation, location, and importance to the Game of Thrones universe make it similar to the real life city of Venice.

images (10)

Like Braavos, Venice was founded in response to the fall of the Valyrian/Roman Empire and the chaos that ensued.  The collection of refugees and fugitives that settled the marsh and swamps that would become Venice would eventually turn the city into one of the most powerful trading posts and naval powers in the world.

Qohor and Norvos:

I’m lumping these two cities together because both are known for producing weapons and a very distinct class divide.  Both these cities were founded by religious dissidents who disagreed with the Valyrian practice of religious freedom and grew to become their own separate states.  Norvos is most famous for its strange long axes

download (8)

while Qohor is known for its fine metal work, including being one of the only places that is still capable of re working Valyrian steel and for beating back the Dothraki with a group of 3,000 Unsullied.

350px-Battle_of_Qohor

While the religious overtones of the foundation of each city is similar to Rome (told you there would be some overlapping) each city’s martial tradition and skill at working metal makes them both strongly similar to the city state of Milan.

milan-half-day-sightseeing-tour-with-da-vinci-s-the-last-supper-in-milan-115133

Milan grew out of the fall of the Roman Empire to become one of the richest and most powerful city states in Italy (it still holds the position today as one of Italy’s economic powerhouses).  Interestingly enough one of Milan’s most famous exports was its armor, which was renown for its quality and strength.

met005

Milan also grew powerful with the influence and the patronage of the Sforza family, one of the great families of the Renaissance, who were most famous for being the patron and benefactor to the great Leonardo da Vinci.

Tyrosh, Lys, Myr, Pentos, and Lorath

I’m lumping the last five together because there isn’t that much information to go off of in the books or show.  Each of the cities have their own distinct product or specialty to contribute: Myr has the Red God, Lys has poisons, prostitutes, and pirates, Tyrosh sells cloth, Pentos has its location, and Lorath doesn’t really have anything.

Of the remaining five cities only Tyrosh and Lys stand out as the historical counterparts to Renaissance Florence and Genoa.  Florence began its rise as an Italian power by trading in cloth, a tactic that parallels Tyrosh and led the rise of the Medici family.

download (9)

Lys, and to a lesser extent Tyrosh and Lorath, are coastal and depend on maritime trade, fishing, and piracy for survival.  This parallels the rise and reign of Genoa as one of the great maritime powers of the Medieval Ages, a position that put them at odds with Venice on more than one occasion.

Nuremberg_chronicles_f_58v_1

And there you have it, a breakdown of each of the Nine Free Cities in Game of Thrones and their historical counterparts of Renaissance Italy.  I hope you find this article informative and educational.  If you disagree or have a different opinion on the locations and historical counterparts to each of the Free cities please leave it in a well worded and polite comment below.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: an Introduction to the Free Cities

Today we’re going to talk about one of the most violent and politically sensitive areas in the Game of Thrones universe, a place where history and modern culture collide and anything can be yours for a price: The Free Cities.

Free_Cities

The Free Cities are the various former colonies, cast offs, and trading posts of the Valyrian Empire and each of them either owe their existence to the Valyrians or in the case of cities like Braavos, sprang into existence because of Valyrian culture and policy.  After the Doom of Valyria the cities became dogs without a master and began to fight among themselves to see who would take the place of the former empire.  Of all the cities Volantis had one of the stronger claims since it was one of the first and oldest Valyrian colonies but the city’s efforts to rebuild the empire were foiled when they were unable to convince the Targaryens to join them.  After the initial fighting died down a bit, and after the invasion of Khal Temmo was beaten back by a band of Unsullied each of the cities realized that the Empire wasn’t coming back and settled into a pattern of trade, commerce, bickering over smaller plots of land, utilizing small armies of paid mercenaries to settle disputes, and paying off the Dothraki every now and then to prevent each city from being sacked.  While the Free Cities are no longer the dominant political power in the Game of Thrones universe their trade and occasional disputes make them an important part of the cultural and political landscape.

We’ve talked about the Doom of Valyria before in this series of articles and how it was remarkably similar to the series of migrations, invasions, and looting that causes the end of the Roman Empire.

EU19_126

This is important because after the fall of Rome the Italian Peninsula would wind up being divided in a fashion similar to the Free Cities of Game of Thrones.

Renaissance-City-States-Map

We’ll get into the details and specific politics of the Italian city states later (heck, we could have run an entire season’s worth of articles on the Free Cities and their historical counter parts if we wanted to) but for now all we need to understand is this: the fall of Rome as a central power destabilized the entire region and turned what was once a single empire into a squabbling collection of city states.

That’s not to say each of the states were completely powerless.  The Papal States became the center of Christian Europe while cities like Venice and Florence became economic powerhouses but the fact remained that Italy, like its fictional counterpart in the Free Cities, was divided into weakened tiny city states that still have an impact on politics to this day.