Golden Age Showcase: The Flash

Today marks the half way point in our series on the Golden Age superhero team, the Justice Society of America.

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Today is the day we also get to talk about one of the JSA’s most enduring heroes and greatest legacy to the world of superhero comics, a hero whose name is a titan among heroes and is often uttered in the same breath as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman: The Flash.

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Origin and career

Mild mannered Jayson Peter Garrick was but a humble college student who suffered from two problems.  First, he looked and dressed like he was in his 40’s and second, his social life was a wreck because he was a lousy football player.

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All that changed one fateful evening when he spilled some incredibly dangerous heavy water in his lab during his smoke break (because it was the 1940’s and smoking indoors was still a thing)

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Instead of killing him the heavy water granted him super speed and a generation of young fans were introduced to the idea that playing around with dangerous chemicals in very unsafe ways could actually be a good thing.  After a brief career as a football star Jay decided to fight crime instead and in 1940’s Flash Comics #1 he made his debut as the Flash.

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A couple of notes about this Flash (there were future versions of the character that we will get to later).  He was modeled after the Greek god Hermes, the god of travelers and thieves who was known for wearing winged sandals and for being incredibly fast and his helmet was a WW1 style American helmet which he decided to wear in honor of his father.  Also, he was one of the first heroes of the Golden Age to not be a total rip off of Superman.  While this Flash was just as fast as the Man of Steel (and some would argue even faster) speed and incredibly fast reflexes were his only power, forcing him to rely more on wits and quick timing than brute strength.

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Flash proved to be incredibly popular.  He was one of the founding members of the Justice Society but left after six issues in order to appear in his own solo series All Flash comics in 1941.

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The series would continue until 1948 when it was cancelled after 36 issues and Jay would also have a long and distinguished career with the Justice Society right up until the very end.

So what happened?

The same thing that happened to almost every other superhero from the Golden Age.  Flash’s solo comic was cancelled in the post war decline of superheroes and the JSA wasn’t far behind.  There was an interesting bit of drama later in the 1950’s when it was revealed that the JSA was almost unmasked because they were under investigation by the Senate Committee of Un American Activities (for non American readers and people who don’t know the history the Committee of Un American Activities was a bit of Cold War paranoia headed by a man named Joe McCarthy where a lot of artists and famous people were questioned and accused of being Communist sympathizers and spies) but refused to submit to government authority (it was later revealed to be a plot of a time traveling super villain named Per Degaton).  Jay would take this as a hint and retired to live with his long time sweetheart and wife Joan and devoted his life to science.

But that is not the end of the Flash.  In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Jay Garrick would make another appearance that would change the face of super hero comics forever and save the genre.

In 1956 the company now known as DC Comics released Showcase #4 which featured the Flash with a new look and a new sci fi bent to his character.

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Along with the new look came a new identity.  This new Flash was a man named Barry Allen and he kickstarted what is traditionally known as the Flash’s origin story when a bolt of lightning threw him into a batch of chemicals that gave him his powers.

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However, a new Flash with a new mythology created continuity problems for the writers at DC.  If Jay Garrick and Barry Allen existed in the same universe than how come Jay had never heard of the Speed Force and how had Barry never heard of Jay?  Well, DC had an answer for that too and in 1961 it was revealed in the comic Flash of Two Worlds that they actually resided in two separate dimensions.

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Barry Allen would go on to be what many people think of when they hear about the Flash.  Everything from the Flash’s popular rogues gallery

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To the really far fetched sci fi ideas like the cosmic treadmill

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belonged to Barry.  While Jay Garrick would continue to exist as a character within the DC multiverse he was more of a supporting character and father figure to many of the younger heroes and as a fully fledged crime fighter in other universes as well.

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The mantle of the Flash would be passed on to others as time went on.  Wally West and Bart Allen are two of the most famous.  But to many fans of comic books, especially DC superhero books, Jay Garrick is and will always be the first speedster of comics.

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The Primordial Soup: Creating truly mature content and art

WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES OF SEX AND VIOLENCE ARE POSTED BELOW!  IT IS ONLY THERE TO PROVE A POINT.

I would like to share something with you that’s been on my mind recently.  We as an art loving and entertainment consuming culture have fallen in love with the word “mature”.

Audiences love mature content because it treats them like the fully functioning adults they are.  Maturity in art and media gives the audience the benefit of being able to think and process an idea in a complex and interesting way and doesn’t treat them like children.

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After all, anyone who is capable of handling mature art and content is clearly operating on a superior emotional and mental level than a child so why shouldn’t art and entertainment reflect that?

The problem is that there are far too many artists and creative types who have no idea what the word “mature” even means and it needs to change.

Let me explain.  If you’ve bought a video game, a music album (when that was still a thing), or a comic book before 2000 you’ve probably seen something like this on the box.

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Granted the label above is what you would find on video games but the idea is the same across all forms of media: the rating agency for that particular form of media (in America we have the ESRB for video games, the MPAA for movies, and we used to have the Comics Code Authority for comic books) took a look a that particular piece of art and decided that anyone under a certain age wasn’t emotionally and mentally mature enough to handle that content.

But what qualifies any form of entertainment as mature?  Well, if the label above is anything to go by than mature content implies this

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this

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and a lot of this.

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And speaking as someone who enjoys comics and has decided to create comic books as a form of creative expression I’ve seen a lot of comic books, especially from the 1980’s and 90’s with a lot of this

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this

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and, dear God help me, this

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yes a lot of creators like to use the word “mature” as an excuse for putting in all the raunchy, dirty, scandalous stuff that a mainstream, decent, God fearing audience simply cannot handle.

Here’s the thing tough, simply putting a barely clothed woman into your game/comic/movie/what ever you’re creating for the sake of having her there doesn’t make your work mature, it makes it childish.  The same can be said for drug use, extreme violence, and excessive amounts of swearing.  Keep in mind, I’m not saying children should watch Hostel

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but this sort of entertainment should be labeled as “adult”, not mature.

So why do people make this stuff?  Well if you ask me it’s because nothing pisses off an artist or any sort of creative type than having to adjust their vision to some sort of censoring authority.  Want proof?  Look no further than video game industry during the early 2000’s where sex and violence was used almost as a form of protest.

Most of you reading this article will remember the time when games like Grand Theft Auto

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faced tremendous social and political backlash for being a corrupting influence on our poor innocent youth.  There were protests, politicians tried to have it banned, and other lawmakers tried to jump start careers by trying to take it off the shelves.

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In response to all the criticism of their art form a lot of video game developers created a whole slew of violent and “mature” video games.  These were games that you wanted to play, not because they were intelligent or even necessarily good games, but because they had all the blood and violence you could stomach and your parents would hate them

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You can trace this sort of behavior across all forms of media.  Artists don’t like have other people tell them their work can’t be shown to people so they react by making art that tries to subvert the status quo.  The problem with things like violent video games and excessively sexualized comics and film isn’t that it will cause the downfall of society, it’s that it’s usually just not very good.  We slap the mature label on material like this when all it really winds up being is childish and immature.

The good news is that there is quality art out there that does deal with mature themes in a much better way.  The even better news?  It’s not necessarily just for adults.

I want to show you one of the best examples of art that deals with mature subject matter in the last 20 years and also happens to be a children’s Saturday cartoon.

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Most of us know this series, most of grew up watching it as children.  Batman TAS was known for not just being a really well animated and well directed show, but for the way it treated its audience like the mature and responsible people they were without resorting to excessive violence and overly sexualized images.  Probably the best example I can think of is the episode “Baby Doll”

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Without going into too much detail the episode deals with an out of work actress who became famous as a child protagonist on a popular TV show.

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Unfortunately, the actress had a rare genetic condition called systemic hypoplasia which meant she would never grow as she got older.  Even though she was 20 when the show ran she still looked like she was 5.  When she tried to leave the show and branch out her disorder meant that she couldn’t find any work as an actress and, coupled with the fact that many people just couldn’t take her seriously, she eventually snapped and attempted to kill the cast of her old show.  The episode ends with her surrendering to Batman and suffering a severe mental breakdown.

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Here we have a case where, and I cannot stress this enough, a children’s TV show displaying more maturity and adult subject matter than almost any other media ostensibly meant for adults.  It doesn’t show any blood, sex, or hard drug use but it does deal with incredibly mature themes of loss, denial, depression, and hopelessness.  Real maturity has almost nothing to do with blood and sex but has everything to do with complex emotions and themes.

So in conclusion all I have to say is this.  If you are setting out to create a piece of art in any form and you would like to create it for an adult audience feel free to put in all the sex, drugs, and violence you want into it.  Just make sure that you use it to present something in a mature and responsible way.

Golden Age showcase: Hawkman

Today we are continuing our exploration into the Justice Society of America.

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Next up is Hawkman, one of the stranger characters to be created out of the Golden Age and a lesson for any future editors and writers on the importance of keeping your origin stories straight.

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Origin and career

The character of Hawkman was created in  by writer Garner Fox and artist Dennis Neville and debuted in Flash Comics #1 in 1940.  Hawkman’s original secret identity was mild mannered archaeologist Carter Hall.  While on an ordinary archaeological dig Hall discovered a mysterious dagger that put him into a deep trance when he touched it (side note: when will archaeologists ever learn that it’s probably a good idea to keep your hands off the ancient and potentially deadly artifact?)

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When he awoke Carter Hall realized that he was actually the modern reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian prince named Khufu (because of course) who had been murdered by the evil sorcerer Hath Set along with his lover Shiera.

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Realizing his true destiny Carter Hall set out to dispense some justice.  He discovered a rare metal known as “9th metal” which allowed him to negate the effects of gravity and fly on a set of homemade wings.  Also, in an act that would send historians and museum curators into fits of rage, he used weapons from his own museum to fight off the bad guys.

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In terms of his career Hawkman would go on to have a long and interesting run.  He would wind up becoming one of the founding members of the Justice Society and was the chairman of the organization until the very end.

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He also met a girl named Shiera Sanders who it turns out was actually his re incarnated bride from ancient Egypt.

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She winds up becoming the heroine Hawkgirl, making these two one of comic’s first power couples.

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All and all the two hawk themed heroes were quite popular.  Their allusions to magic and the ancient past set them apart from the rest of the superhero pack and made them a huge draw for readers.  In fact, Hawkman was so popular that he was the only superhero to appear in every singe Justice Society comic published.

So what happened?

Like most of his Golden Age counterparts Hawkman suffered a serious decline during the 1950’s with his final appearance as part of the original Justice Society in 1951.  However, like his co worker the Green Lantern Hawkman would receive a sci fi makeover a couple years later.

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The new Hawkman wasn’t a human archaeologist, he was a police officer from a distant planet called Thanagar named Kartar Hol.  The Thanagarians still used a winged harness to fly and they and used weapons made out of “Nth metal” to beat their foes.  This new incarnation of Hawkman came to Earth with his wife Shayera and in order to capture an alien criminal named Byth

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and decided to stay and study human police methods (hilarious) and knock some heads in the name of justice.  Eventually they would sever all ties with their homeworld when Thanagar tried to conquer Earth in the name of fighting a long and bloody war with another planet called Ran.

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Now hold onto your hats because this is where it gets weird.

At the beginning of the Silver Age it was established that there were actually parallel universes in what would become the DC Comics cannon (we’ll talk about that next week).  Carter Hall, the original archaeologist Hawkman, lived on Earth-2 with the original members of the Justice Society while the alien Kartar Hol lived on Earth-1.

In 1985 DC decided to do away with decades of comic book continuity and confusing alternate dimensions with their massive crossover series Crisis on Infinite Earths.

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The series was a huge hit and has helped dictate DC editorial policy for years for better or for worse.  What the event did was reboot the entire DC universe from scratch and replacing the alternate dimensions with one Earth timeline that had the Justice Society in the 1940’s and a more modern Justice League later on.  The series had a massive impact on the history and stories of thousands of characters and created new established cannon that still holds sway today.

Apparently someone forgot to get the memo to the writers of Hawkman because when it came time to reboot him they stuck with the Silver Age alien version.  Kartar was the only Hawkman in this universe and that was final.  This created a continuity problem because it left no explanation for how the Golden Age Hawkman, the archaeologist Carter Hall, could exist as Hawkman.  In order to fix this the writers changed it around to state that the Halls, not the Holls, were the original members of the new Justice League and that the alien Hawkman was simply a Thanagarian agent spying on Earth.

If this is sounding confusing to you don’t worry.  A lot of people find this way to confusing to follow and as a result Hawkman titles suffered from poor sales.

Today Hawkman and Hawkgirl are still kicking around the DC universe.

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Currently both heroes are written as re incarnations of Khufu and Shiera although their continuity continues to remain a confusing mess for many.

Before we go, there needs to be special mention of Hawkgirl.  In modern superhero stories she has actually wound up becoming a bit more popular than her male counterpart due to her main role in the phenomenal Justice League cartoon.

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In this version the creators took the Thanagarian route and made her an alien from another world.  Her wings were part of her and she carried an Nth Metal mace.  Interestingly enough, while she would go on to have her own story in the series (she fell in love with Green Lantern and helped stop an invasion of Earth by her own people at tremendous personal cost) there was an episode called “Shadow of the Hawk” where a mysterious man named Carter Hall attempted to convince Hawkgirl that they were reincarnated lovers of a Thanagarian couple who came to Ancient Egypt thousands of years ago.

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While the history and story of Hawkman has proven to be a bit difficult for readers and writers to handle he deserves some recognition as one of the first members of the Justice Society and one of the most important for a very long time.

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The Primordial Soup: Superman, Spiderman, and the motivation of superheroes.

So I was puttering around on Facebook recently and I found this.

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It’s a quote from the trailer of the upcoming Batman vs. Superman film (super excited for that) and it’s from Ma Kent basically telling Clark that he has the choice to be the hero that people want or he doesn’t have to be.  The choice is his since he doesn’t owe anyone anything.

But that’s not what caught my eye.  What got me really interested was that fact that the above image was posted side to side with this

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Clearly the person who created this was upset with the idea that Superman would even consider abandoning humanity at time when it needed him.  After all, if anyone is gifted with such incredible power

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do they not have an obligation to use that power for the benefit of the greater good?  After all, Spiderman is a hero who is nowhere near as powerful as Superman but he seems to have much stronger moral compass than the man who has all the power in the world.

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But it got me thinking about superheroes and their motivations.  Despite the fact that both Superman and Spiderman are superheroes who bend over backwards to serve the public good and while their reasons for doing so may seem similar on a surface level on account of both of them losing most of their family.

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If you dig deeper into their motivations for doing what they do they are actually wildly different.

First up we’re going to talk about the big blue man, the one who started it all and the inspiration for every superhero since.

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Despite his place as an icon in popular culture Superman has taken a lot of flak these past couple of decades for actually being too super.  It’s no small secret that a lot of people think Superman is over powered and boring.  I know this because I used to be one of them.  It’s easy to think this because when you have a man who can move a planet

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generate enough energy to obliterate said planet with his eyes

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and do this

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fighting petty criminals in the not so mean streets of Metropolis seems downright laughable.  Yes I used to count myself among those who thought Superman was far too overpowered and too much of a goody two shoes for an interesting story.  But here’s the thing, I realized that what makes Superman truly great isn’t what he does with his powers, it’s what he doesn’t do.

Superman is basically God with a cape.

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If he so chose Superman could simply say “screw it” and take over the affairs of Earth without a second thought and there have been plenty of alternate universe stories where he has done that with terrifying effects.  But here’s the thing, Superman doesn’t take over the Earth.  He allows humanity to exist and learn on it’s own even when using his powers would make things so much easier for himself and everyone else.

Yes Superman can do incredible things but he is not above helping someone in need, no matter how small he or she is.

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Superman looks down on us, heck he looks down at almost everyone, but he never uses his powers for personal gain or ill but as an example for others to live by.  To quote Marlon Brando from the first Superman,

“Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed. Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son.”

Superman is heroic because he makes the conscious choice to use his powers for good.

On the other hand we have Spiderman.

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While Spiderman is a powerful super hero in his own right he is nowhere near as powerful as Superman both in scope and scale.  While Superman protects the Earth and fights on a galactic scale Spiderman protects New York and fights on a city wide scale with slightly smaller stakes.

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Along with a smaller scope and a huge drop in power Spiderman does something that Superman rarely does: suffers from the consequences of his actions.

Now before you go to crucify me in the comments or message boards hear me out.  While Superman will always save Lois Lane from distress and prevent the Earth from being blown up, Spiderman is no stranger to failure.  He’s a poor teenager trying to live in New York

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He accidentally killed his girl friend

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he has family he has to take care of

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and there is the small matter of his Uncle Ben who he could have saved but didn’t.

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But despite all the crap that life has thrown his way Spiderman insists on trying to be the best hero he possibly can because he has taken his Uncle’s advice and internalized it so deeply that he couldn’t stop trying to be a hero if he tried.

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Spiderman is heroic because he will always try to do the right thing even if it’s too difficult and even if it’s at great personal cost.

So which is more heroic?  Having the power to rule absolutely but making the conscious choice to only use that power to help those who are weaker than you are or sacrificing everything you have and everything you are in order to rise to the occasion and save people no matter what the cost?  Truth be told I don’t know, it all depends on your personal preference.  Personally I tend to lean slightly towards Superman but that’s just me.  Both these two individuals are fantastic heroes and wonderful examples to live by and both provide a different take on why superheroes do what they do.

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Golden Age Showcase: Dr. Fate

Today we’re back on track with talking about the original Golden Age members of the Justice Society of America.

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This week we’re talking about one of the most powerful heroes in all of comics and one of my personal favorites: Dr. Fate.

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Origin and Career

Dr. Fate first appeared in More Fun Comics #55 as a side story but his origin wasn’t explained until a year later.

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In 1920 an archaeologist named Sven Nelson and his son Kent Nelson traveled to Egypt to unlock the secrets of the pyramids and accidentally opened the tomb of an ancient sorcerer known as Nabu the Wise.

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Sadly the act of opening the tomb released a poison gas that killed Kent’s father leaving him an orphan.

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However Nabu, who was actually an alien from another planet with mastery over scientific knowledge so advanced it looked like magic, took pity on Kent and decided to teach him a few tricks.

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The training took over 20 years and at its end Nabu gave Kent a mystical cloak, amulet, and helmet to give him the power and abilities of Nabu and to assume the identity of Dr. Fate.

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After his training was complete Kent met a girl named Inza Cramer in Alexandria Egypt and they would eventually become a couple.

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Kent eventually returns to the United States where he begins his crime fighting career based out of Salem Massachusetts and mostly involved fighting a blend of traditional criminals and supernatural ones as well.

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When World War 2 rolled around Kent Nelson gave up being Dr. Fate and enlisted as a paratrooper.  He would resign the JSA in 1944 to become an archaeologist, ending the career of the Golden Age Dr. Fate.

So what happened?

Despite a pretty short Golden Age career Dr. Fate would go on to be something of a staple in the DC comic book universe.

Dr. Fate was revitalized in the 1970’s into the character we know today.  It turned out that whenever Kent put on the helmet of Fate he was actually possessed by Nabu and adopted the persona of the actual Dr. Fate.  Instead of disguising himself as Dr. Fate, Kent was simply a vessel for the persona of Dr. Fate.

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It was also revealed that Nabu wasn’t just an alien but rather a timeless Lord of Order, a group of mythical beings dedicated to maintaining order and stability withing the universe and protecting it against the Lords of Chaos.

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Since it was revealed that Dr. Fate was actually an immortal non corporeal being bound to a helmet it made working with Dr. Fate much easier allowing him to have decades of history and plenty of opportunities for crossovers, retconns, and changes.  When Kent Nelson retired plenty of others would wear the helmet and/or adopt the persona of Dr. Fate such as Hector Hall

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a couple named Eric and Linda Strauss

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and the most recent incarnation, a man named Khailid Nassour

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His abilities, coupled with his place as a Lord of Order in the DC universe, have also made him very adept at working with other heroes in other forms of media.  He played an important role as a powerful magician in Justice League Unlimited

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Made a pretty memorable appearance in Smallville

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and was a major plot point in the criminally underrated Young Justice.

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Despite the fact that Dr. Fate has never really been one of the greatest or most popular heroes at DC comics he’s always played an important role.  Whether it’s being one of the founding members of the Justice Society or acting as the agent of the very thing that defines superheroes Dr. Fate is, and will continue to be, one of the most important heroes in the DC cannon and one of my favorites.

Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Olive and the Underworld

I normally do this every Wednesday but I was asked to take a look at this project and since I liked what I saw combined with the fact that the Kickstarter campaign only has seven days left, I decided to take a break from the normal schedule and do a write up on Saturday.

Kickstarter campaign link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1058532910/olive-and-the-underworld-volume-1-a-graphic-novel?ref=category_popular

Today we’re going to look at a Kickstarter campaign for a graphic novel called Olive and the Underworld.

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The comic follows an orphaned girl who has decided that the Goth identity suits her best as she struggles to fit in to her new home and school.

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It doesn’t go very well until one fateful day where she and several of her classmates perish in a bus accident and wind up in Purgatory.  The comic is about Olive as she attempts to navigate the underworld all well trying to discover who she really is and finding her purpose in life.  I should mention at this moment this is a story that’s meant for young adults.

Why I like it

Olive and the Underworld is a story about trying to be accepted for who you are while not fitting into the world around you very well.

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I like these kinds of stories.  Now I’m not going to sit here and complain about how the world doesn’t accept me for who I am (it’s actually quite the opposite, you’ll never find a more conforming soul than me) but I find that this kind of internal conflict usually provides the kind of drama that leads to great stories and interesting characters.

Speaking of characters, from what little I’ve seen of the comic book Olive is quickly shaping up to be one of the coolest protagonists ever.

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Granted, her absolute refusal to give in to societal norms in order to make a few friends does make her come off as a bit stubborn, but not wanting to change yourself in order to fit in is something we can all relate to and appreciate.  Plus, it seems that one of her foster families gave up on her after she tried sacrificing her foster brother’s teddy bears to Hades which is something I find absolutely hilarious.

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And then there’s the subject matter of the comic book itself.  The book is meant for a younger crowd but it isn’t afraid to deal with the really mature stuff.  Sure there’s the topic of identity and fitting in, but it also deals with death and the afterlife, something that a lot of people believe is “too mature” for anyone under the age of 21.

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To be fair, the comic isn’t nearly as serious about the subject matter as most media is with the afterlife.  Instead it opts for the “Heaven and Hell can be hilarious and people shouldn’t take it so seriously” route but any book that believes that young people can be responsible enough and smart enough to deal with something like this gets a gold star in my book.

Why you should donate

I am going to do something interesting here.  I am going to put before you that this book isn’t just an interesting take on the afterlife or a fun story about searching for your true identity, but it’s also one of the most subversive stories in literature.

Let me explain.  The idea that a protagonist in a story needs to journey to an otherworldly realm in order to perform a task or learn an important lesson is nothing new.  If fact, it’s as old as literature itself.  Gilgamesh journeyed to the Land of the Dead to rescue his friend Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was written almost 4000 years ago

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and Homer had his hero Odysseus travel to the Underworld in his epic The Odyssey in order to learn valuable information about how to get home.

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In more modern examples J.R.R Tolkien has Aragon journey to the ghostly White Mountains to recruit an army of the dead in order to assume his rightful place as High King.

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and in a less dark and depressing example, C.S Lewis has his four heroes and heroines travel to the other worldly realm of Narnia where they become kings and queens.

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However, all these stories have one thing in common, all the protagonists come back.  Their quest may take them to the land of the dead or some other place that isn’t our world, but they will always return to our reality.

Olive and the Underworld takes this idea of a journey to another world that has been around for thousands of years and turns it on its head.  See, when Olive and her classmates die and go to Purgatory they’re all justifiably freaked out.  The one exception is Olive.  She discovers that she actually likes Purgatory so much that she doesn’t want to leave.  By traveling to the Underworld, Olive discovers her true identity and spends the rest of story doing everything she can to stay there instead of returning.

That is what makes this story interesting and that is why it deserves your money.

Kickstarter campaign link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1058532910/olive-and-the-underworld-volume-1-a-graphic-novel?ref=category_popular

Golden Age Showcase: Labor Day special

Happy Labor Day everyone!

For our non American readers Labor Day is an American holiday where we celebrate the social and economic achievements of the American worker by taking the first Monday of September off to celebrate the end of summer and eat even more than we should.

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In all seriousness though, Labor Day was created in honor of the American worker in 1882, during a time when American labor was going through something of a rough patch involving quite a few labor strikes and even more strike breakers.

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It was an important time in American history and I strongly encourage anyone who reads this to look into it further.

But we’re not here to talk about labor politics, we’re here to talk about Golden Age superheroes.  And what better day than Labor Day to talk about the big blue Boy Scout of comics, the one who made it all possible, and the one who everyone looks up to.

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Origin and career

Do you really need me to explain the origin story of Superman?

Okay, really quick for anyone who doesn’t know:  Superman is an alien, his planet blows up but not before his father sends him away on a rocket ship just before the planet explodes.

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After crash landing on Earth, the baby boy is taken in by a loving family in the middle of Kansas and adopts the persona of mild mannered Clark Kent.

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He becomes a newspaper reporter and dedicates his life and powers to uphold the idea of

Truth, Justice, and the American Way

See, one thing that might be a bit off putting to comic book readers who are used to  lot of moral ambiguity and complexity in their stories is just how sincere that phrase was in the early Superman comics.  The character of Superman was created by childhood friends Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster.

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They were two first generation Jewish immigrants who fervently believed in the idea that America was the promised land of opportunity and was a chance for anyone to make a life for themselves regardless of race, religion, or creed.  Superman was created to be the embodiment of that ideal.

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However, while America was the land of opportunity for many, there were still quite a few problems that had to be sorted out.  Superman was created in a time when the food lines and horrific unemployment of the Great Depression was still fresh in everyone’s mind

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Europe and Asia were undergoing massive and terrifying social, political, and military changes.

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and there were many people who believed that the American dream should only be limited to those where worthy and racially pure enough to deserve it.

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As a result, Superman had to fight for his existence in his new adopted home and fight for it he did.  Thankfully, Superman was gifted with extraordinary abilities of strength, speed, and durability.

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These gifts allowed him to wage a one man crusade on behalf of the common people and against anyone who sought to undermine the welfare of the common man in order to preserve their own selfish interests.  And protect the common man he did, in the very first issue he brings a wife beater to jail

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Saves a woman from a death row execution

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And sends a terrified corrupt politician to jail by walking across a telephone wire leaping from incredible heights

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It should be noted that the Golden Age Superman was kind of an asshole.

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But his original purpose still stood.  Superman was the great hero for the times, a tireless social crusader who campaigned for the rights of the common man against anyone who would take advantage of someone less powerful than themselves.

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So what happened?

Time.  Time happened.

Let’s be perfectly clear here, Superman never died.  He’s one of only two superheroes (the other being Batman) who survived the superhero dead zone of the 1950’s due to his massive popularity, even becoming the first superhero to appear on television.

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Despite everything that was going on in post war America people still gravitated towards the idea of Superman because he was above all else, a good man.

With that said, while Superman remain unchanged that didn’t mean the times changed around him.  The 1960’s saw the rise of Marvel Comics and the Silver Age.

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Comics became more focused on two things.  First there was an emphasis on science fiction and the fantastic adventures many of these heroes could go through.

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And more importantly, the Stan Lee led Marvel Comics introduced the idea that superheroes didn’t just have to be gods among men, the could be normal flawed humans just like us.

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These new ideas were the complete opposite of Superman’s original purpose but the massive popularity of these ideas resulted in several changes to the character that took him away from the original vision.  Not only was Superman incredibly overpowered and boring, but distrust in the American government in recent decades even resulted in Superman renouncing his American citizenship.

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Bear in mind, the ideas that Superman stands for are still there.  He’s still an incredibly powerful individual who stands up for those who cannot defend themselves, it’s just a little bit different and usually on a much larger scale.

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In my own personal opinion there are still some fantastic Superman stories out there, and one of the best is Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman.

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I won’t go into details, you can read it on your own if your curious, but if you ask me the reason why this story is so great is because Grant Morrison gets Superman better than almost anyone in the past couple of decades.  Superman was created as an incredibly powerful being who stands against oppression, tyranny, and despair on behalf of the common people and at his core, he still stands for that.

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Cambrian Comics Friday Showcase: The art and work of Scott McCloud

Today we’re going to be looking at the work of one of the most important figures in comic book history: Scott McCloud.

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As with most of the Friday posts it’s going to a short one, although this post will probably be longer than most since it’s going to be more of a review than a showcase.

Mr. McCloud’s first widely published work was a lighthearted sci fi action series called Zot! in 1984.  It was a fun comic book series that hearkened back to the days of light and whimsical Golden Age science fiction and really helped showcase a very clean and linear style.  Here are some pages from that work.

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But if you know anything about comic books published in the last couple of decades than you probably know that Mr. McCloud isn’t famous for the stories he created.  Mr. McCloud has left his mark on the comic book industry through his work behind the scenes (he helped develop the comic book Creator’s Bill of Rights which is important because the industry as a whole hasn’t had the best track record on supporting their creators) and as the producer of a little project called 24 hour comics, where he challenges anyone to create a completed 24 page comic in 24 hours or less.

But his most famous and most important work has been as a comic book philosopher and theorist which manifested as the absolutely amazing book Understanding Comics in 1993.

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For anyone who is even remotely interested in creating comics or has an interest in comics as an art form this is the closest thing to holy writ you will ever find.  I’m not going too deep into what the book talks about because we’d be here all day but suffice it to say Mr. McCloud talks about everything from how images can manipulate the reader’s mind and viewpoint of the comic.

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To the importance of the space in between the comic panels and their role in servicing the story.

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Mr. McCloud has done other work, he has written for DC Comics and helped create the press release for Google Chrome

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But Understanding Comics, along with its two follow up novels Reinventing Comics and Making Comics will stand the test of time and remain some of his most lasting and endearing work.

Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Schismatic

WARNING: PICTURES OF EXTREME VIOLENCE SHOWN BELOW!

So I was puttering around on Kickstarter and I found this.

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This rather intense poster is cover art for a comic called Schismatic which is currently looking for funding on Kickstarter.  The comic is about an epic fantasy world that was devastated by two moons playing havoc with the tides is currently trying to recover.  While the main characters are nominally pacifist there is a religious sect that has no qualms about killing people in very violent ways.  And when I say violent I mean…

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really violent and when this religious order kidnaps the children of two parents it is up to them to escape from prison and attempt to rescue them.

Kickstarter campaign link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/andrewadams/schismatic-a-comic-book-mini-series

Why I like it:

Here’s the tagline for the Kickstarter campaign:

What if [Quentin] Tarantino wrote fantasy comics?

Here’s my reaction to the tagline:

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It got me so curious that I became a backer and actually got to read the first issue (if you donate $5 you can read the first issue) and I liked it, I liked it a lot.

From a story telling perspective it’s a solid tale with top notch writing.  The comic was created and written by a gentleman named Andrew Adams and he knows his stuff.  The setting and environment is well crafted, the story does a great job getting a lot of information across quickly and in a way that isn’t boring, it has a great flow and is very well paced, the characters are well thought out, and you get a real sense of everyone’s motivation and place in the world.  But perhaps most importantly, the first issue left me wanting more and eager to see this project succeed.

And then there is the art.  The comic is brilliantly drawn, inked, and colored by a lady named Rachel Briner and I’ll just let the art speak for itself.

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Another thing I really love about the comic is how it reveals so much about the world by just showing things.  For example, while the main characters dress plainly to reflect their beliefs in pacifism and humble living the murderous religious sect takes its cues from the deep ocean in a cruel reflection of the tides and floods that decimated humanity.  They look like this.

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Like I said, the artwork is brilliant.

Why you should donate:

While I say that I really like this comic for its great story telling and artwork the biggest reason I think people should donate to this project is because it is an important one.  The comic deals with some very heavy handed stuff in a very special way that deserves more attention from comic book readers and the comic book industry as well.

Let me explain.  I stated above that the comic is about a society that is rebuilding itself after an apocalyptic event and the majority of the population is being oppressed by an extremely violent religious cult.  While it is easy to take this at face value digging a little deeper will reveal that this story isn’t just really good but incredibly significant.  While religion helps provide comfort and hope for the masses these jerks in the comic are using to justify extreme acts of violence and killing thousands.  And where have we seen that before?

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The comic also talks about family, revenge, and the struggle to maintain a pacifist belief in an increasingly violent world but its treatment of religion is what really stood out to me.

Besides all this there’s one final reason why you should donate.  If you like what you read and want to read the first issue of the comic all you have to do is donate $5.  You’ll be helping this comic series up and running and you’ll be getting a great reward without too much of a commitment.

Schismatic is a well written, well drawn, and surprisingly deep comic that is well worth you time, money, and attention.  Let’s make this happen.

Kickstarter campaign link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/andrewadams/schismatic-a-comic-book-mini-series