If you’re wondering why there is no normal Friday article this week it is because I’m at Boston Comic Con this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
The normal schedule will resume next week.
I was browsing Kickstarter and I found this anthology project:
The project is brought to us by Sean Fahey, founder of Blackjack Press whose previous work is another anthology series set in the Wild West called “Tall Tales from the Badlands”.
This current Kickstarter campaign was started to bring “Sagas of the Northmen” to print. The book has already been completed and the campaign has set a goal of $2500 to fund a large scale print run of the series.
Campaign link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/504462887/sagas-of-the-northmen-1?ref=category_newest
What is it?
“Sagas of the Northmen” is a collection of short comics about the lives and exploits of various characters set in the age of Vikings. There are stories of battle and unimaginable violence.
Royalty and politics,
and as the campaign video puts it “tales about seemingly normal men and women finding themselves in extraordinary situations”.
Why I like it.
I love history and I love the Vikings.
Now that would be enough for me to want to give this project all my money but the truth is that the Viking Age was something that was a lot more nuanced, complicated, and interesting than a bunch of giant bearded Scandinavians sailing into a town, torching the place, and stealing anything that wasn’t nailed to down.
The Viking Age was a time of great social and political turmoil in Europe. Nobody necessarily knew who was in charge and the continent was reeling from the collapse of the Roman Empire and the death of Charlemagne.
Into this morass of ever shifting political alliances and backstabbing petty lords sailed the Vikings, and they made their presence known throughout Europe.
Sure there was plenty of burning and pillaging.
and yes the Vikings were known for being brutal and savage to their enemies.
But the Vikings were also known for their affinity for trade,
They were effective and capable kings and administrators who ruled over what would become Ireland, England, Normandy, and Russia.
And they were also capable and daring explorers who ensured that their culture and warrior skills would be known far and wide from Constantinople (where they served as personal bodyguards to the Byzantine emperor himself)
To famously discovering North America a full four centuries before Christopher Columbus.
If you want an epic and violent yet nuanced look at one of the most exciting times in history, definitely consider donating to this book’s Kickstarter campaign.
Campaign link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/504462887/sagas-of-the-northmen-1?ref=category_newest
Today we are going to talk about Batman
Yes as a matter of fact, that Batman.
More specifically we’re going to take a look at the Golden Age Batman to see what his creators were originally doing with the character, the mythos, some of his most famous villains, and what if anything changed over the years.
Origin and career
With all due respect, if you don’t know Batman’s origin story than greetings alien visitor, welcome to Earth!
What’s a bit more interesting is the real life story of the hero. The first issue of “The Batman” appeared in May 1939, a little less than a year after the first appearance of Superman. He was created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger (side note: it should be noted that while Kane gets a lion’s share of the credit for Batman’s creation it has slowly come to light that Bill Finger was the man responsible for most of Batman’s iconography, supporting cast, and early stories and doesn’t get all the credit he rightly deserves) and was a hero who introduced a lot of firsts to the superhero genre.
He was the first hero to have a troubled origin and motivation for his actions.
and he was the first hero to have a kid sidekick in Robin, who appeared in April of 1940.
But what makes Golden Age Batman really interesting is just how dark and violent the original character was. Most people like to use Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns as the pinnacle of Batman as the dark and violent type,
But truth be told, the first Batman stories put Miller’s work to shame.
Before we delve into the character of Batman it’s worth looking into the characters that helped inspire him. Batman has his roots in pulp adventures and other action novels that were popular at the time. Looking at Batman throughout the ages it is easy to see the costumed heroics of the rich aristocrat from Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel
The swashbuckling heroics and black costume of the rich aristocrat turned defender of the innocent Zorro,
and the dark and often violent adventures of the radio serial heroes like the Shadow.
All of these influences would play a huge part in creating the Batman as a character and a pop culture icon, let’s take a look.
Let’s start with the character himself. Right from the start Batman was a wealthy socialite who could become a superhero mostly because he could afford to become one.
His equipment was pretty simple: some rope, a keen set of detective skills, his costume, and his utility belt. There was no Batcave, no detective lab, no Bat computer, and no Batmobile (although there was a Batplane). Instead he had a large black car with no roof, a confusing choice when considering it would leave him frightfully exposed to bullets.
The Golden Age Batman also had no qualms about killing people, apparently the creators realized that any rich kid who lost his parents would probably take their anger to the most logical extreme.
Batman had no qualms about letting his opponents die horrible deaths by either punching a man into a vat of acid and believing it was for the best,
kicking a man in such a way that he impales himself on someone else’s sword.
or straight up machine gunning two men driving in a truck because he believed it was “worth it”.
And while the Batplane has always been armed one thing always remained constant, Batman’s refusal to use guns.
Just kidding! The original Batman had no qualms against using guns and would routinely break out the firearms against would be criminals. Naturally this put him at odds with the police who had orders to arrest, or even shoot, Batman on sight.
With Batman being something of a cold blooded murderer himself it would make sense that many of his longest lasting villains would have equally violent beginnings, and for the most part it’s true. The Golden Age saw the creation of two of Batman’s most iconic foes: The Joker and Clayface. Out of the two of them Clayface was the one that changed the most. Instead of being a mutated lump of clay
The original Clayface was an actor named Basil Karlo who wasn’t a mutant, he was just really good at disguising his face as a twisted and grotesque monster who started killing actors that pissed him off or threatened his acting career.
And then we get to the Joker.
Strangely enough the Joker’s journey is almost the complete opposite of Clayface. While Clayface underwent a dramatic change the Joker has remained relatively consistent over the years.
The Joker, who was based off of the 1928 German Expressionist film (by the way if you ever want inspiration for a horror villain look at German Expressionist films from the 1920’s, they are terrifying) The Man Who Laughs,
is cold, conniving, brutal, and a master chemist who has perfected a serum which he calls “Joker Venom” that kills its victims by twisting their faces into smiles.
His origin was kept ambiguous and he remained an enduring foe of the Batman well into the modern day.
So what happened?
The 1950’s happened. I’ve talked about the Comics Code Authority and its impact on the industry in the 1950’s in my article about the Golden Age Ghost Rider, but it hit Batman especially hard. Parents didn’t like the idea of having their children reading stories filled with grotesque violence, death, and general mayhem and they made their displeasure known with public comic book burnings.
While Batman tried to be a bit more kid friendly with the addition of Robin and more fanciful storytelling it didn’t work and in response to public outcry the industry created the Comic Code Authority: a review board that censored comic books to make them more palatable to American parents.
Batman would obviously survive, he was just too popular. That being said, his stories were significantly neutered. In accordance to the Comic Code all criminals were to be caught and thrown into jail, there would be no violent deaths, and the police were to be always portrayed as a force of good resulting in Batman having a more friendly relationship with the police.
While Batman has changed significantly over the past 75 years, it is important to know where he came from…and what the original Batman was willing to do in the name of justice.
Today we are going to switch companies and talk about my second favorite comic book publishing company: Image Comics.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the company, Image was formed in 1992 when a group of very successful and very popular artists decided to leave Marvel and strike out on their own because they were upset at the fact that while their work was selling very well and making their employer millions, they were receiving next to nothing other than a page rate and modest royalties. This group of men decided to form their own comic book publishing company, a company where they could work on ideas they wanted to work on and would receive all the credit and income from their work.
As a comic book creator myself I can appreciate what these guys were trying to do. Creators work their butts off to create something fun and interesting, it would make sense that they get a lion’s share of the credit and money. That being said, while Image Comics was initially successful crappy writing, poor business decisions, and a whole host of nasty and expensive lawsuits saw a rapid fall from grace. Early 90’s Image comics are still notorious among comic book fans for being just…awful.
But Image has been experiencing something of a Renaissance over the past couple of years. It turns out that when you give creators the ability to create on their own terms with their own ideas and profit from their hard work you can get some really great talent to create some really great stuff. Image has been responsible for almost single handedly maintaining the zombie survival genre with their runaway hit comic book series The Walking Dead
They’re comics have vastly improved in quality with critically acclaimed work like Southern Bastards.
and they have done something that I had previously thought impossible: make gross out humor continuously funny with my third favorite series of all time.
3. Chew (Image Comics)
Author: John Layman
Artist: Rob Guillory
Number of issues: As of time of writing, 50
To put it simply, Chew is one of the most interesting and original stories I have ever read. The comic takes place in a near future where a mysterious strain of avian flu kills millions of people around the world. In response the United States government bans the consumption of chicken, eggs, or any other poultry product prompting a vast and sophisticated criminal element to fulfill a demand for black market chicken products (the fact that this event and its after effects bears a striking resemblance to the American government’s Prohibition of alcohol during the 1920’s is something that I’m SURE was completely unintentional).
As a result the American Food and Drug Administration becomes one of the most powerful, and well funded, government agencies and is responsible for hunting down these poultry bandits. The comic follows the adventures of FDA agent Tony Chu (get it?) who has an extraordinary ability that makes him a star agent. Tony is something called a Cibopath: a person capable of getting a psychic reading of the life and experiences of anything he eats.
This means he can eat a carrot and learn where it was grown, what pesticide was used, and how it was packaged. It also means he could eat a hamburger and see something else entirely which, needless to say, means he tends to favor more vegetarian fare (although strangely enough he doesn’t get a psychic reading off of beets, so he eats a lot of those). Now, being an officer of the law, Tony has to deal with a lot of dead bodies, dead human bodies, so if he wants to do his job to the best of his ability then…
well you get the idea. I don’t want to give too much of the story away since the comic is still ongoing and hasn’t been finished (what are you still doing here? Go online or to your nearest comic book store and start reading this thing now!) but it also turns out there is more to to bird flu than meets the eye. The comic is filled with murder, dismemberment, cannibalism, vomit, revolution, vampires, and a massive government conspiracy involving aliens and other people with strange food based powers (I kid you not there is a man who can craft weapons out of chocolate) that threatens our world as we know it. What I am trying to say is, this comic is hilarious and I cannot recommend it enough.
Today we’re going to look at Space Corps a webcomic developed by Gannon Beck, Bryan Richmond, and Joey Groah. The comic is all about military service and the personal and psychological ideas behind becoming and being a soldier. The comic itself publishes pages once a month and can be found here and they have launched a Patreon campaign in an effort to raise funds for more pages, which can be found here. This comic is rapidly becoming one of my favorites and I am going to tell you why.
What is it?
In terms of overarching story Space Corps is pretty standard. Earth gets invaded by an alien force called the Winnowers.
They’re a pretty bad group of aliens that believe in genetic perfection and as a result, have embarked on a campaign of galactic conquest in an effort to cull the galaxy for genetic material they can use to enhance their fighting ability. A kid named Deven Taylor and his family are captured and herded into concentration camps in order to be tested and eventually exterminated. However, the planet is eventually liberated by the good guys who are part of the Space Corps and Deven joins the Corps in order to fight the Winnowers and liberate the galaxy.
Granted the story is somewhat generic but that is not the point of the comic. Instead of trying to tell a large scale story the comic makes itself about the mindset of a soldier and what it takes to serve. The Patreon page and comic website are very clear that the characters in the comic are based off of real people and it is very easy to look at characters like Captain Brockett
and see the human inspiration behind the character. While many of the people and soldiers in this adventure are alien, it is still a very human story.
Why I like it
The simplest reason I like Space Corps? I’m a sucker for military sci fi as a genre. This is one of my favorite movies of all time
(eventually I’ll get around to explaining why) and I may or may not have a whole bunch of ideas and half finished scripts floating around in my hard drive somewhere that involve futuristic military action and people blowing a whole bunch of stuff up.
With that said I am a civilian through and through. I never served in the military and most of my family didn’t either but one of the things that makes military stories so engaging in my minds is the psychological aspect of service. There are countless stories of soldiers braving adversity and forging bonds that last a lifetime
There’s the honor and pride of service
complete horror of war when soldiers and civilians face the kind of adversity that anyone who has not served or lived through cannot begin to comprehend.
and there is the tragedy of those who survived it all but are left with the kind of emotional and psychological scars that will never leave.
The point is that military service is filled with all sorts of ideals and situations that make for compelling stories and Gannon Beck, one of the comic’s creators, does come from a military background which lends a lot of credibility to the story and the motivations behind the characters.
Of course, these types of stories have been told before. Since warfare has been around basically as long as human beings have stood upright it would make sense that there would be plenty of other writers who try to tackle such a subject
(by the way, the last picture is a comic by legendary comic artist Bill Mauldin, whose life and career is definitely worth checking out) so you have do something different if you want to separate yourself from the pack. Space Corps does this by having one of the coolest and most original characters I have ever seen:
The suit with the fishbowl for a head is Corporal Swarm. He is one of the main soldiers in the story and without giving too much away, he is a complete and total badass. But it’s a little more complicated then that. You see, Swarm is not really a person, it’s more of a hivemind. The suit doesn’t hold a body, it holds a collection of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of insects who all work as a collective mind to pilot the suit.
So you have a massive colony of bugs, each with their own personalities and lives, living within a fully contained ecosystem of a suit that moves, acts, and fights like a real human. Not only is this an amazing idea it also allows the character to have a very distinct personality. Since Corporal Swarm is a hivemind it understands the concept of living and dying for the person next to it better than almost anyone else it allows the character to sympathize with those around him in a way that is different from everyone else. I don’t want to go into more detail and run the risk of spoiling anything from the story but needless to say Cpl. Swarm is great and helps make the story a great one.
If you like military action that tells a great story and sheds light into the mindset of a soldier and what it means to serve, definitely check this comic out and consider donating to its Patreon page.
Patreon link: https://www.patreon.com/spacecorpscomic?ty=h
Today we’re going to talk about Daredevil.
No not him.
During the 1940’s one of the many companies to try to cash in on the superhero craze called Lev Gleason Publications asked one of their most prominent artists, a man named Jack Binder, to write a new superhero title. What followed was an unprecedented 16 year run on one of the Golden Age’s most popular heroes: Daredevil.
Origin and career:
If you take this Daredevil’s origin story out of context then it starts getting a bit…creepy. To put Daredevil’s origin in context it’s important to remember his premiere was a year after another, slightly more famous, superhero hit the shelves
which helped create the idea of a hero having a troubled backstory and origin. I would tell you what Batman’s origin story is but let’s not kid ourselves, most of us know it by heart.
Since the Batman’s origin proved to be incredibly popular, and since the Golden Age of Comics was all about copying the latest fad, Daredevil had a similar tragic backstory. The only difference was that it was so…much…worse.
The hero’s original name was Bart Hill and he had the unfortunate luck to watch his parents be murdered right before his very eyes by a gang of criminals who wanted something his father had invented. To add insult to injury the same criminals decided to brand the poor boy on his chest with a hot iron that looked like a boomerang.
The shock of his parent’s death, coupled with the pain of the branding, caused Bart to go mute and swear vengeance upon all crime and become a vigilante. For some reason he used the boomerang shaped scar on his chest for inspiration and become an expert boomerang marksman instead of…using bats as a symbol to strike fear and terror into the hearts of criminal scum everywhere.
While he was originally created as an eight page side story in another comic book called the “Silver Streak” Daredevil was pitted against the villainous “Claw” for a five issue story that made him a popular, if not a bit brutal, hero.
Eventually Daredevil proved so popular that he was given his own series in 1941. The issue was written and partially drawn by a new creator, Charles Biro and featured the hero doing what else, beating Hitler.
Soon after Daredevil was introduced Biro gave Daredevil something to make him even more appealing to a large comic book audience: his own superhero team. In Daredevil comic issue #13 the hero was given a group called “The Little Wise Guys”, a collection of children with wacky names like Curley, Jocko, Peewee, Scarecrow, and Meatball.
This combination would prove to be incredibly popular and the team would embark on grand adventures such as:
engaging in a wild bicycle chase with desperate felons,
rescue a damsel in distress from a gang of whip wielding masked strangers in a situation that isn’t reminiscent of BDSM at ALL.
And, I swear to God I am not making this up, MURDERING AN ENTIRE SQUAD OF JAPANESE SOLDIERS BY CLUBBING THEM TO DEATH AND HANGING ONE FROM A TREE AS AN EXAMPLE!!
A year later Biro would revamp Daredevil’s identity into a more kid friendly hero. Instead of simply having his parents murdered Bart’s backstory claimed he had been raised by Aboriginal Australians in the Outback, and instead of being a mute he could now talk.
So what happened?
Despite Daredevil’s popularity he wasn’t popular enough to survive the comic book crash of the 1950’s and the decline of superheroes in comics. Daredevil himself was written out of his own series in 1950, although his kid gang “The Little Wise Guys” continued to star in their own independent series which lasted until 1956 when Lev Gleason Publications went out of business.
What’s really interesting about this title is that unlike everything else we’ve talked about in this blog series, Daredevil and his army of child soldiers have a solid and important legacy to the world of comics. Charles Biro, the man behind most of the stories and the 16 year long run of the character, was one of the most important people in the Golden Age of Comics.
Besides taking the reigns on one of the most popular heroes of the time, Biro is widely regarded to have crated the first crime comic,
and the first adult comic
so if you’re looking for one person who helped kick start the Comics Code Authority and censorship in comics you can blame him, although Biro’s legacy deserves far more praise than condemnation.
In fact, it is because of Biro’s legacy that the Golden Age Daredevil continues to exist today. Like most Golden Age heroes he has passed into the public domain, which means that any company can use him as they please. As a result, Daredevil and his arch nemesis the Claw have appeared in AC Comics “Femforce” as guests,
Erik Larsen’s early Image series “Savage Dragon” first as a guest and then as a supporting character.
and as a character in Dynamite’s “Project Superpowers” by Jim Kruger and Alex Ross.
With one of comic’s greatest original creators at his helm and a legacy that enshrines him as one of the Golden Age’s greatest heroes, Daredevil is someone who’s legacy and story deserves the respect and admiration of comic book fans everywhere.
Out of all of my favorite comic books that I enjoy and endlessly recommend to everyone I meet this is the one that has probably enjoyed the most mainstream success. But before that we need a brief history lesson.
Vertigo is an imprint of DC Comics (for those of you who aren’t sure what an imprint is think of it like a company within a larger company that focuses on one specific thing) and is one of the most popular brands in comics. It was founded in 1993 with a lady named Karen Berger at the helm.
Mrs. Berger had originally been responsible for bringing some of the most popular British comic book writers of the modern era into American comic books. Names that included Grant Morrison
and Neil Gaiman
among many others. This “British Invasion” of comics created some of the darkest, edgiest, and most exciting work the industry had ever seen with new takes on heroes like Animal Man, Hellblazer (this is the title of the comic that has Constantine in it), and The Swamp Thing. This new sophisticated take on comics, coupled with an opportunity for DC to take over some projects that Disney comics had abandoned after an implosion in the 90’s (no really), led to the creation of the Vertigo imprint and the publishing of one of its most iconic series and my 4th most favorite comic.
4. Sandman (Vertigo Comics)
Author: Neil Gaiman
Artists: Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Jill Thompson, Shawn McManus, Marc Hempel, and Michael Zull
Number of Issues: 75
Sandman is very intelligent storytelling told by a man who is very passionate and interested in things that often seem a bit childish. It’s a fantasy series but this is most definitely not for children. Gaiman loves to talk and write about magic and mythology and one of the best ways to tackle such massive subjects is to give them humanoid shape and personalities.
The comic follows the imprisonment and subsequent escape of Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams.
After being imprisoned for decades by a black sorcerer Morpheus finally manages to escape and make his way back to his kingdom, a land where he rules over the dreams and imaginations of every human being in existence.
It’s a strange world that seems both familiar and unfamiliar to the naked eye and is home to a large cast of strange and mysterious characters such as Cain and Abel
Lucien the Librarian who looks after all the books and works ever created but were never made.
and a whole host of dreams such as the terrifying Corinthian.
It also turns out that Morpheus is not the only one of his kind. The Lord of Dreams is one of seven “Endless”, a group of immortals that represent various aspects of the universe: Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium, Destruction, and Dream.
And that brings us to the second aspect of the comic and my personal favorite. While the crux of the series is about Dream and how he tries to piece his life and his kingdom back together after being held in captivity, the Endless are immortal and powerful beings that hold sway over so much of humanity and access to every corner of the universe. This gives the comic ample opportunity to jump across time, space, and dimension to bring stories about whatever the author wants to talk about. In one issue Dream could be conversing with his brothers and sisters and trying to figure out what to do with some strange universe shattering phenomena in the next issue Dream could be sitting in a bar with an immortal human being discussing the nature of life. The Sandman deals with the forces of Hell, Heaven, Norse Mythology, the French Revolution, Greek myths, inter dimensional travelers, super heroes, serial killers, Shakespeare, actors, and even normal everyday human beings trying to live their lives. The story is massive, sprawling, and offers a glimpse into an imagination that is ripe with wonderful stories and tales to tell.
If you would like to read the series you can buy it digitally on Comixology or the Vertigo store. Also, DC launched another Sandman title called “Sandman: Overtures” which is in stores and online right now.
So I was puttering around on Patreon looking for a fun project to read and write about when I stumbled across a little webcomic called Doomsday my Dear. I started reading it on its webpage and I just couldn’t stop. The comic updates twice every week and has been going steady for a while now. It is currently on Patreon and is funded on a per page basis, which means if you give $1 per page you can expect to give around $8 a month.
Patreon link: https://www.patreon.com/doomsdaymydear?ty=h
What is it?
Doomsday my Dear is an ensemble webcomic about a not too distant future where London is being ravaged by a mysterious disease known as “The Blood Plague”. Basically how it works is this: people with a certain genetic make up, called “Carriers” in the comic, carry a non contagious form of the plague from birth. While the carrier is unharmed and can live a normal life problems arise when the carrier has children. When a carrier has a child, even with a non infected human, the baby is born with an incredibly virulent and incredibly contagious disease that kills any other child who breathes it in. One of the only ways to tell if anyone carries the plague is by looking at their eyes, which usually are different colors.
Fan art by E.D Mead.
While the disease isn’t threatening to wipe out the human race in one fell swoop, which would prompt a rapid and brutal government crackdown you’d normally see in zombie or other plague films, it does prompt enough worry to turn London into a totalitarian military state. In response to the plague Great Britain begins issuing procreation licenses and registering the names of all known carriers who are forbidden to have children. If you’ve seen X Men you know exactly what happens next.
The comic begins with the election of Narissa Gilingham as Prime Minister of Great Britain who ran on the platform of eradicating all Carriers from the British population, which isn’t the start of something sinister and evil at all (note: sarcasm is REALLY hard to convey in writing)
Don’t let her half smile fool you, this woman is ruthless. Within days of her election the streets are filled with police forcibly taking Carriers to a compound called “Paradiso” and anyone who does not comply is shot.
The comic itself is an ensemble work following the lives of regular people living in this new world. The comic covers everyone from scared teenage Carriers, to members of the military and police, to terrorists seeking to bring down the system. It is a massive epic story filled with love, loss, violence, and a Prime Minister who seems to display signs of other worldly powers.
Why I like it:
For starters the artwork is amazing. The comic is written and drawn by a lady named Cami Woodruff, who graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design and is currently working as a storyboard artist for the hit tv show Archer
(if you are reading this Ms. Woodruff then hello and sorry if this seems a bit weird)
Besides having an artist that really knows what she is doing the artwork kind of looks like an early 90’s Disney animated movie, and I love early 90’s Disney animation.
But despite the cheery feelings the art style helps elicit the story is anything but. This is a scenario we’ve seen a thousand times before, a disease ravaged country coming under the grip of a totalitarian government filled with death squads, questionable government actions, and a very prevalent sense of dread.
It’s not a very happy story and the comic is very good at showing the fear and terror that an event like this would inspire.
But that’s not why I really like this comic. I really like stories that put a different spin on popular subjects or genres (hell I make a webcomic about a family of super villains so of course I do) and this comic does that brilliantly.
Unlike a lot of doomsday stories where the government is an evil monolithic entity every character is presented as a normal human being who is only doing what they see is right. Plague carriers, resistance leaders, government officials, soldiers, and normal civilians are all shown in the exact same light and treated just like any normal human being would. All of them have their hopes, dreams, and ideals. They all drink, gossip, and screw. Even when one of the main characters does something terrible or questionable it is presented in such a way that you can kind of understand why they did it and you feel sorry for them when they are forced into a situation they don’t want to be in.
Anyway, I could go on all day about this but I’m just going to let you see for yourself. I definitely encourage you to check out this comic and donate to it’s Patreon page if possible.
Today we’re going to talk about Ghost Rider.
No not that one, this one.
As I have stated time and time again the Golden Age of comics was a bit…weird and it may seem difficult to believe now but there once was a time when superheroes were not the reason kids bought comic books.
After the Allies punched Hitler’s dream of a thousand year empire for real the superhero comics fell by the wayside. Post WW2 was filled with all sorts of different genres like romance,
Supernatural and horror stories,
There was a time when Westerns, with all their stories about lone gunmen bringing justice to the wild frontier and some questionable stereotypes of American natives and Chinese, ruled the comic book world. In fact, Timely Comics, the company that would later become Marvel Comics, survived the post war years by producing Westerns, some of which were worked on by Stan Lee himself. Into this post war Western boom rode the Ghost Rider.
Origin and Career
The Ghost Rider was originally conceived as a Western vigilante lawman named Rex Fury aka “The Calico Kid”. He had a standard pulp and superhero origin where he decided to adopt a colorful costume to fulfill the kind of justice he believed the system couldn’t deliver. He would ride a black horse called Ebony and travel the West disguised as a bumbling salesman in order to fool criminals.
He was assisted by a Chinese migrant worker named Sing Song (yeah, stereotypes and lack of cultural sensitivity was another hallmark of the Golden Age) who helped Rex after the Calico Kid saved him from being framed for murder.
However, Rex Fury was being published just as the comic industry was changing from vigilantes and outlaws to more mature books so Rex was given a new origin and costume. After Rex is attacked by a white bandit named Bart Lasher who disguises his crew as a group of blood thirsty Indians (like I said…not very culturally sensitive) and throws the hero and his sidekick into a swirling abyss known as the Devil’s Sink. Rex and Sing Song survive and Rex decides to adopt a more supernatural guise to terrify criminals and the superstitious. By covering his clothing and cape in phosphorous he is able to appear as a glowing white spectre known as “The Ghost Rider”
You can read his origin story here, although I should warn you it is not for those who are easily offended at traditional stereotypes of Asians and Native Americans.
After adopting this new persona the Ghost Rider began his new career as a vigilante that terrified would be criminals as a ghost like creature. Due to the growing popularity of horror comics in the early 1950’s the Ghost Rider’s enemies became more supernatural as well, from criminals impersonating monsters including such as the Harpy and Frankenstein’s monster.
But by 1952 he was fighting actual supernatural threats such as a dragon.
So what happened?
1954 happened. That was the year a child psychologist named Fredric Wertham published a book that is infamous to the comic book industry, Seduction of the Innocent.
Wertham was concerned that comics filled with violent images and supernatural stories were corrupting the youth of America and would lead to misbehavior and juvenile delinquency (a popular form of media coming under fire because of fears that it might turn children into savage little psychopaths? THAT’S new!). There was a Congressional hearing were Wertham testified.
And rather have Congress and a mob of angry parents put them out of business the comic book companies got together and created the Comics Code Authority, an organization that would monitor every comic ever published and censor images or themes that were deemed too risque. One of its most enduring legacies was the CCA stamp which you can find on a lot of older comics.
Despite their best intentions the Comics Code was devastating to the industry. Crime comics were heavily censored (you couldn’t show a crime being committed and the criminal had to always lose in the end) and horror and sexually themed comics were outright banned. This led to a lot of companies going out of business with only the big titles like Superman and Batman holding the kind of numbers that allowed them to survive.
Sadly the Ghost Rider was one of the many characters to fall victim to the new era of comics and his title was ended in 1954. The good news is that he is currently in the public domain so if anyone wants to resurrect the character they are more than welcome to.
The world is filled with rivalries: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, Pokemon Red vs. Pokemon Blue, Justice League vs. Avengers, butter side up vs. butter side down (you may laugh but they almost declared thermonuclear war in the book over this issue) and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Healthy rivalries give both sides something to work towards, the goal being to be better and more successful than the other. It’s no small secret that the comic book industry is home to one of the biggest rivalries in entertainment, Marvel vs. DC, and talking about that little squabble and whether or not it really matters is an article all unto itself but today we are going to talk about something different. Today we are going to talk about which country produces better comic books: America or Britain.
A quick explanation and a couple of ground rules. The article will look at both sides of the debate and present the pros and cons of either side. If you see something you disagree with or have a point to make please feel free to do so, just do it in a way that is constructive and beneficial to the conversation.
It’s no small secret that American comic books are kind of a big deal, in fact it’s pretty safe to say that the comic book as we know it (i.e a printed magazine with sequential art work designed to tell a story) is an American invention.
And then we get to superheroes. While superhero comics weren’t all that popular in the very early days of comics it didn’t take long for Action Comics #1 to change everything in 1938, introducing the man you all know so well that I don’t even have to say his name.
In fact, there are so many famous characters that came out of American comics that to list them all would take months.
Not only does the American scene have a superhero roster that dominates the comic book market but there is also a thriving independent scene with companies like Dark Horse and imprints like Vertigo delivering top notch non superhero comics.
The way I see it, American comics are as varied as they are and as big as they because of what America is as a society. While it may seem strange we have to understand that America is not a very old country. We haven’t been around even 300 years which means we like to move forward and look to the future. It’s that forward thinking attitude that lets us look at something like a cheap plup story and think “hey, that would make a really good multi million dollar movie” or “hey, why NOT write about a man who can bench press continents and stand for truth, justice, and the way of life our parents worked so hard for?”. It’s that forward thinking, almost naive optimism that allowed America to create the genre and some of its most famous characters and it allowed the American comic book industry to flourish.
Just because you have an idea doesn’t mean you necessarily have the skill or the talent to pull it off and make it a success. It’s a generally accepted rule that when something is successful there will be a host of imitators trying to cash in on its popularity and this is especially true with comic books. While the American industry has produced some of the greatest ideas every conceived it has also produced a lot of crap.
While you could be forgiven to think that this debate heavily favors the American side it is important to remember that Great Britain has its own comic culture and its own comic book icons that are some of the greatest in the business today. British writers like Grant Morrison, Neil Gaimen, and Alan Moore (who I am going to affectionately dub “The Magic Bros.” on account of their shared fascination with the strange and the occult) have not only produced some of the greatest comic book stories of all time, but some of the greatest stories of the modern age period. Don’t believe me? Take a look.
It’s also worth noting that Mark Millar, who is currently one of the most successful comic book movie creators, is Scottish and his violent and gory offerings are helping to shape what a comic book movie is.
Now I’m not British so I really can’t explain why Britain produces such great writers but if I had to guess it’s because of Britain’s history and connection to their past. Whether you miss it or hate it the British Isles once dominated a quarter of the globe and have turned out some of the greatest writers in human history. When you’re part of a culture that once ruled the Earth and produced literary geniuses like Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, and Eliot AND authors that defined genres like Tolkein, Conan Doyle, Orwell, and Clarke you respect the history and traditions that made it great. Great Britain has produced some of the greatest writers of all time and it only makes sense that this seemingly natural talent translates over to comics as well.
Name one British comic book series that is even as remotely iconic as a hero like Superman or Batman.
Okay maybe, but can you name another?
Britain’s history and culture is one of its greatest strengths it is also a crippling weakness as well. When you become too wrapped up in tradition and the way things are supposed to be you wind up stifling a lot of creative potential for something new. Sure these traditions helped create a writer like Gran Morrison but it is no coincidence that Grant Morrison has done some of his most famous and best known work for American comic books.
So what do you think? Does skill and tradition trump the desire for something new and a willingness to try new things? Is it better to move forward and push the boundaries of what’s possible or devote your energy into honing your skill on an established piece of work? Let us know in the comments below and feel free to share.