Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Aria

Today I’d like to talk about one of my favorite genres in all of literature: science fiction.  The project I want to talk about is a Kickstarter campaign for the prologue and first chapter of what is hopefully going to be a much larger work called Aria.

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The comic is written and drawn by Joseph DeSantos and is the very definition of a passion project.  According to the campaign page Mr. DeSantos states that the idea for the project came from his frustration with some of the more unsavory aspects of our modern culture such as greed and corruption among the rich and powerful on a seemingly epidemic scale, widespread ecological destruction, and the massive gulf between the haves and have nots.  It is intended to be a story that spans thousands of years.

The prologue and the first issue are intended to give more detail on the backstory

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and to introduce two of the main characters, the Earth Air Force engineer Talia Green and the mysterious alien Ya’Ren.

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The project is currently on Kickstarter and needs a little under $2000 to meet its goal as of writing this article.

Kickstarter campaign link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/joeydes/an-indictment-of-systemic-corruption-and-intoleran/description

Why I like it:

This is probably the most personal I will ever get in this article series.  I have actually had the chance to work with the writer/artist on this project before.  It was on a separate project of my own creation that unfortunately fell through for various reasons that I won’t go into here.  I will say that Joe DeSantos was not one of those reasons and he was a blast to work with.  I will also say that out of all the artists I have seen he is one of the best at drawing emotion into his characters.

Kickstarter exclusive print featuring the cast of Aria#2!!

Talenthouse Submission by JOEYDES

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You always get a sense of what’s going on in each character’s mind and to me that’s the hallmark of a great artist.

I’d also like to take a moment to say that Aria is the sort of speculative sci fi project I have a soft spot for.  I love stories about Earth in the distant future, all the problems the future holds, all the potential solutions, and how the future can be used to comment on the present.

So basically I’m saying this is the sort of project that is being developed by an artist I like in a genre I really like.  Yes, I am somewhat biased towards this project.

Why you should donate:

For starters the artwork and story for the Prologue and First Chapter are already done, the campaign is just there to cover the cost of printing.  In an uncertain world it’s nice to know that there are places you can get your money’s worth in a timely manner.

The second reason is a bit more…intellectual.  This is by no means a definitive statement but you can argue that most, if not all, of science fiction can be divided into two very broad camps.

The first type of sci fi story can be seen in movies and shows like Star Wars.

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These are the kinds of shows and movies that go to the audience and say “hey, here’s a fun cool looking product that doesn’t have much in the way of a deep message or big important point but look, laser swords!  Space fighters!  Awesome story and characters!”.  We know something like Star Wars isn’t going to challenge our minds and make us think too much (the prequels tried to do that but failed) but we don’t care.  Star Wars science fiction is science fiction as pure entertainment.

 The second type of science fiction story is the kind that bears a lot of similarities to shows like Star Trek.

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These types of shows tend to attempt to imbue their stories with a deeper meaning behind the effects and future technology.  Star Trek attempted to broaden the minds of the audience and while future tech like the transporters were designed as a cost cutting measure, the message of exploration, attempts at peaceful co existence with other alien species, and the all around positive vibes of organizations like Starfleet served as a critique of the present day and as a message of hope and optimism.

Now granted, this is by no means a definitive idea.  There are plenty of shows and works of sci fi that bridge both camps but Aria firmly places itself in the Star Trek camp.  By using a past where humanity’s decisions have practically doomed our planet the work serves as a scathing critique of our society and an exploration of what could happen to us.

As I said before, I like the artist and I like the project.  This is definitely something worth checking out.

Campaign link:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/joeydes/an-indictment-of-systemic-corruption-and-intoleran?ref=nav_search

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Golden Age Showcase: The Human Torch

So after a long look at the first superhero team put together by what would eventually become DC comics I thought it would be nice to take a break and look at some of Marvel’s heroes from the Golden Age.

Now it should be noted that before Marvel Comics became the Stan Lee powerhouse publisher that we all know and love they were originally known as Timely Comics.  It’s important to know this to avoid any potential confusion.

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With that being said, let’s take a look at one of the their earliest and most popular superheroes, one of the biggest names that Timely had on their roster of superheroes: The Human Torch.

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No, not that one.

Origin and Career

The Golden Age Human Torch was rather unique in that he wasn’t actually human.  He first appeared in Marvel Comics #1 in 1939 and was an android developed by a scientist named Phineas T. Horton.

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While demonstrating his latest creation at a press conference his robotic creation decided to demonstrate a massive design flaw at the worst possible time.  It turned out that when his skin was exposed to oxygen the robot would burst into flame all while remaining unharmed.  Unsurprisingly people were terrified of this strange robot and demanded it’s destruction.

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Not that hard as to see why.  Anyway, Dr. Horton couldn’t bear to destroy his creation and attempted to encase the robot in concrete.  However, a crack in the encasement allowed the Torch to escape and in its confusion it laid waste to a large portion of New York.  After nearly killing his creator the Human Torch vowed to control his powers and to use them to benefit humanity.

After building a special oxygen damper the Human Torch adopted a more human persona and enrolled in the NYPD as a man named Jim Hammond.  During this time he had what was probably his most notable claim to comics fame, his encounter and subsequent fight with Timely’s great anti hero: The Sub Mariner.

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The fight was a hit and the two would later become on again off again rivals/frenemies.

After his first battle with Namor the Human Torch would fulfill his patriotic duty and head off to Europe to go kick some Nazi butt.  Before he would do that he would pick up a sidekick named Thomas “Toro” Raymond, the son of two nuclear scientists who had mutated into…someone who could control and manipulate flames in the same way the Human Torch could.  I’d also like to take this moment to mention that one of their biggest foes was a super villain named “Asbestos Lady”.

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That’s both of them with their WW2 superhero team comprising of Namor, Captain America, Bucky Barnes, Miss. America, and the Whizzer (we will be doing articles on all of them) and they kicked a serious amount of ass in both Europe and the Pacific.  Probably the most notable achievement was when the Human Torch immolated Hitler and ended the war.

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So what happened?

The All Winner’s squadron was disbanded in 1949 after defeating the world’s first nuclear terrorist but the Human Torch continued to survive.  After a brief solo career he and Toro were kidnapped by mobsters and were doused with a chemical that paralyzed him and blew out his flame.  Believing him for dead the mobsters buried the Human Torch in the desert and sold Toro to the Soviet Union.  But in 1953 a nuclear bomb tested near his burial revived him and he returned stronger than ever.

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Sadly, his power was to great and too unstable so in 1955 he flew out to the desert and blew himself up so he wouldn’t hurt anyone.

The Golden Age Human Torch would remain destroyed for the rest of the 1950’s.  However, superheroes would make a roaring comeback with the publication of Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four #1 in 1961 with an all new, and all human, Human Torch.

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Thanks to the revitalization of the genre the company now known as Marvel just couldn’t leave one of their greatest heroes by the wayside, so in the 1960’s a villain called The Mad Thinker rebuilt the original android and programmed him to fight the Fantastic Four.

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Naturally the robotic Human Torch was too much of a hero to remain under the control of a supervillain for long so he would eventually free himself from the Mad Thinker’s control only to be extinguished, had has hist body stolen by another evil robot name Ultron, and turned into a little known hero called Vision in 1975.

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However, it turned out that this WASN’T the case and the Vision’s body was actually made up of spare parts from the Human Torch.  The real Torch was revived, lost his powers, and would go on to be a mentor and guiding hand for most of the Marvel Universe before blowing himself up again in order to stop a H.Y.D.R.A sleeper agent named Tara.

The Human Torch would continue to exist as a robotic android in one variation or another up until the modern day. He was one of Marvel’s first and greatest superheroes, and continues to be a mentor and inspiration to most of the Marvel Universe.

Golden Age showcase: The Spectre

Today is all about the final member of the original superhero team, the Justice Society of America.

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And who better to end such a lengthy string of articles than with God.  Not a god like Zeus or Thor but rather, THE God.  Granted today’s character is only part of the divine being we all know and love but he’s an incredibly important part when it comes to comic books.  I’m talking about the literal personification of God’s wrath in the DC universe: The Spectre.

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Origin and career:

Fun fact about this character, he was created by comic book legend Jerry Siegel who was the co founder of this guy, you’ve probably never heard of him.

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The Spectre first appeared in 1940 and was originally a cop named Jim Corrigan

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Corrigan had the unfortunate luck of being at the wrong place at the wrong time and was murdered by gang of mobsters who threw him into a barrel filled with cement and then threw the barrel into a river.  Instead of dying, Jim was confronted by an entity known only as “The Voice” and was sent back to earth in order to rid the world of evil as a spirit of vengeance.

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It seems that Seigel liked to give his characters incredible amounts of power because the Spectre was on level of power and ability comparable to Superman, and if you take the fact that the Golden Age Superman was nowhere near as powerful as he is today you could argue that the Spectre was even more powerful at this time.  He could change his size at will

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He could travel across the world in the blink of an eye

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and he had some rather gruesome ways of dealing with those he sought to punish, including one noteworthy instance where he turned a criminal into a walking skeleton.

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and leaving a man stranded in the middle of a warehouse, paralyzed with some sort of science ray for the rest of his life.

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It should be noted that while Jim Corrigan did have a fiancee at the time named Clarice he decided to break up with because when you’re a non corporeal being with the ability to pass the judgement of the Lord upon all evil doers you’re probably not very well suited for the married life.

Sadly it seems that even back in the Golden Age people realized that having a superhero who is way to powerful to be fighting mere mobsters and cannot be hurt is a bit…boring and by the start of the Second World War the Spectre’s role in the DC universe was greatly diminished.  Jim Corrigan was re incarnated in 1942 and the Spectre became more like his name sake, an invisible ghost like figure who tended to only intervene in events rather than take direct action.  Near the end of the Golden Age he was reduced to the role of guardian angel in a comic book series “Percival Popp, the Super Cop”.

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It seems that the Spectre’s decision to retire with the rest of the JSA during the 1950’s was probably a good idea.

So what happened?

Forgive the pun but the Spectre came back in the 1960’s with a vengeance.

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Instead of toning his powers down legendary DC editor Julius Schwartz made the Spectre even more powerful, basically becoming the closest thing to God in the DC universe.  However, the problem of his power still remained and the creative staff struggled to find ways to tell good stories with a nigh omnipotent protagonist.  The solution was to have him make cameos in other books like the Flash and Batman and many of his later stories took a more occult feel and leaned more in the direction of horror anthologies than a superhero.

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After a period of time as a severely depowered hero with his alter ego running an occult detective agency his role as an agent of God would reach it’s apex under the writing of John Ostrander, who claimed that the Spectre was actually one of the fallen angels who was cast out of Heaven named Aztar.  During this time the Spectre would be confronted with deep and morally questionable decisions like whether or not he should punish a woman who had killed her abusive husband in his sleep.  He would also have an enemy that was his equal in terms of power, a rival angel of death called Eclipso.

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The Spectre would eventually become an integral part of the DC universe on a cosmic level, playing an important part in many of DC’s massive multiverse events like Crisis on Infinite Earths and Zero Hour.  In 1999 Jim Corrigan would eventually find peace and his soul was separated from the Spectre who attached itself to the soul of the Green Lantern Hal Jordan during the event comic Day of Judgement. 

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After Hal was released from the Spectre’s control the entity would go on a violent rampage before finding a new host in a man named Crispus Allen.

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The Spectre would continue to fight many of DC Comic’s massive cosmic threats including his old nemesis Eclipso and the personification of Death, Nekron.

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He’s also had several cameo appearances in various other titles including one of the best episodes of Batman: The Brave and the Bold

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and a pretty good short film under the DC Showcase title.

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As one of DC’s most powerful characters (and that’s saying something) the Spectre has struggled as a character for good and compelling stories.  However, as the personification of vengeance (something that a lot of superheroes in general share) he is and will remain an important part of the mythos and mythology of one of the greatest collection of heroes the world has ever known.

Crowdfunded comics that deserve more attention: Starrytellers Anthology

So it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these and that’s a shame because as I was looking through Kickstarter I saw a whole bunch of interesting stuff that either failed to find funding or didn’t have enough time for anything I could write to make a difference.  With that being said, let’s take a look at this cool little anthology project I found that’s a bit different from what I normally talk about: The Starryteller Anthology.

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The title of the piece is pretty clever play on words.  It’s a collection of stories all centered around the common theme of stars (the giant glowing balls of hydrogen, not celebrities) with 11 different stories created by 11 different female artists from the great Down Under, Australia.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/262408383/starrytellers-anthology

Why I like it:

For starters the idea of building an anthology series around the concept of a star is something I find very interesting.  For starters, you’re dealing with the fundamental forces of the universe creating a ball of fusion and plasma screaming across the universe on a scale that is nearly impossible for we mere humans to comprehend.

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it’s a very awe inspiring topic which doesn’t just apply to science and creation.  The authors of the anthology understand that when you talk about stars you aren’t necessarily limited to science and creation.  There are elements of mythology, spiritualism, and history that make for great stories about such a broad topic.

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Now you may be wondering why I’m not talking about the stories themselves or any other plot details.  Well that’s because the Kickstarter doesn’t give many details about the plot.  However, I was able to look at some of the work from some of the women working on this project and I was simply blown away.  For example, here’s a piece from one of the artists named Natasha Sim

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Here’s another piece by an artist named Lee Lai

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here’s a picture of two Martians (I think) by an artist named Madeleine Karutz

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and here’s a link to some of the work by the person producing the Kickstarter, a lady named Samantha Calcraft (I highly encourage you to check out the story “Fin”, it is hilarious).

Each one of the artists has their own talent and voice that I’m sure will go into creating an awesome story.  I will admit that I am personally more used to a more realistic and hard lined style than this but the level of attention to detail and passion that is clearly put into each of these pieces has made me a fan of everyone involved in this project.

There are a whole bunch of other artists on this project and each one of them is amazing at what they do.  If you want to see more I highly encourage you to check out each of their Facebook pages, Tumblr blogs, and websites.

Why you should donate:

Besides the cool concept and the awesome artists there are several other things that make this anthology special.

First off, it’s a purely Australian project.

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Now, when I hear the word “Australia” comics aren’t the first thing that come to mind (that would be deadly animals that can kill you in a heartbeat) although they did give us the actor who plays Thor in the movies.

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From what I’ve read most Australians got most of their comic entertainment from American re prints and there hasn’t been much in terms of locally produced content which makes this project special.  I can’t guess the intentions of the creators involved but I honestly believe this project has the potential to create a new comic book culture that is distinctly Australian.

Also, the fact that this is an all female ensemble effort is something to be commended as well.  Yes I do believe that the comic book industry is overwhelmingly dominated by men and while there have been several high profile female writers and artists who have done brilliant work it still isn’t enough.  Let me be clear here, from a personal stand point I do not see this from a gender politics viewpoint.  I simply believe that it is necessary for more people with different viewpoints and different voices to become involved in creating comic books in order for the art form to thrive.

So if you want to see a collection of stories from an insanely talented group of artists and writers that are attempting to bring new ideas, new styles, and new stories to the medium we know and love so much, consider donating to The Starrytellers Anthology.

Golden Age showcase: Atom

Today we’re going to talk about the second to last original founding member of the Justice League.

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On the bottom left of the above picture you can see a man in a yellow suit and a full face executioner style mask.  That’s Atom

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No not that one.  This one.

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Origin and career

If you’re wondering why the Atom looks like a 1930’s strong man that’s because he started out that way.  Atom originally started off as an unassuming 98 pound weakling named Al Pratt.  While studying at Calvin College he came across a vagrant in the streets and decided to buy him dinner.  That man turned out to be a former boxing trainer Joseph Morgan

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Joe decided to thank Al by training him to be a boxer and he turned out to be a great teacher.  Al would eventually become so skilled that he finally decided to adopt the life of a costumed crime fighter during a time when hard work and a reasonable amount of training could still give you a reasonable shot at being a hero.

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Al would adopt the name “Atom” and became a founding member of the Justice Society when President Roosevelt organized the Justice Society in order to fight the Nazis.

During the war Al served as a tank driver and in an interesting bit of continuity he became friends with fellow strong man Wildcat

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which was all the more interesting since they were both trained by Joseph Morgan.

In 1948 Atom began to live up to his namesake and developed atomic based superpowers.  It turned out the cause of his newfangled powers was a battle with the reluctant villain Cyclotron six years earlier during the war.

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Side note: It turned out that Cyclotron was forced into becoming a villain by another JSA villain, the Ultra Humanite.  He sacrificed himself by flying Ultra Humanite into the atmosphere and destroying himself.

As a reminder of Cyclotron’s deeds Atom changed his costume to resemble the deceased villain.

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Thanks to this battle Atom developed an immunity to all forms of radiation and while pursuing a villain in the middle of a live atomic bomb test

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He developed super strength as well.  His story would further develop when Al Pratt took partial custody of the then deceased Cyclotron’s child Terri.

So what happened?

With his new super powers the Al Pratt devoted his life to studying radiation and its effects.  However, the Atom and the rest of the JSA were disbanded in 1951 when a Senate Committee ordered them to reveal their identities in order to prove they weren’t Communist sympathizers.

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Naturally the JSA refused to bow down to this obvious parallel to the real life Senator McCarthy and the House Committee of un American Activities and opted for an early retirement.  Atom revealed his identity to his sweetheart Mary James and the two were married.

Al would eventually return with his old team mates as Atom on several occasions later on.  However, his life would take a sudden and tragic turn when one of the JSA’s oldest foes, the immortal Vandal Savage, kidnapped his son and killed Mary James.

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Al was devastated but managed to pull through with the help of his teammates.  Unfortunately, he would later perish when battling the villain Extant during DC’s Zero Hour event in 1994.

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While Al Pratt’s Atom was dead his legacy as a hero would live on in another hero named Atom Smasher, who was actually the grandson of the villain Cyclotron and Al’s god son.

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While a huge portion of Al Pratt’s superhero career was marred by loss and tragedy his legacy lives on as one of the founding members of the JSA and as a hero to exemplified defying the odds to do the right thing.

New mythologies for comic books: Russian legends and myths.

Last week I wrote an article talking about how most of the comic book industry draws upon four mythologies for most of their divine or god-like characters.  While Greek/Roman, Norse, Japanese, and Christian mythology (I debated throwing in Egyptian mythology but I decided it would make too good of an article so for now let’s just pretend that there aren’t enough Egyptian themed characters out there) are all fun and good there are plenty of other mythic traditions that deserve a lot more attention and would make awesome comic book characters and worlds.

Here’s how this is going to work.  I am going to divide each article into three parts.  The first part will talk about any history the mythological tradition might already have within the tradition of comic books.  Second, I’ll give a brief description of a couple of established heroes, gods, or creatures that would make interesting characters.  And finally, we’ll delve into the hypothetical and explore what a character or comic book series could look like.

With that being said, let’s take a look at Russian mythology and folklore.

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Russia in comics

Now many of you are probably quick to point out that there are plenty of Russian characters in comic books and you’d be mostly right.  There are plenty of famous comic book characters that speak Russian, work/kill for Russia, and live in Russia.  Characters like the Black Widow

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Colossus (my personal favorite)

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and the Crimson Dynamo

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Here’s the thing though.  If you wanted to get technical all of these characters aren’t technically Russian, they’re Soviet.

For anyone who might not know the Soviet Union was a collection of Eastern European and Central Asian nations that shared a common system of government and were all bundled together under the “benevolent” protection of their biggest and most powerful member, Russia.

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Granted they all used the Russian language and currency and they all banded together to use Russian technology and education defend and develop but each member state did have it’s own history and culture before joining the Soviet Union.

What’s interesting is that the Soviets were only around for about 80 years.  It all started with this guy: Vladimir Lenin

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who helped kickstart the Russian Revolution of 1917 which was supposed to look like this

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However, the Revolution was taken over by this guy: Joseph Stalin

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who did a lot of this

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Millions of people died, even more millions starved to death, and pre Soviet Russian culture suffered and was almost completely erased in an attempt to make room for the new and modern Soviet system of thought.  Couple that with some old fashioned Cold War antagonism and paranoia and it’s easy to see why many people, especially in the West, don’t know much about pre Soviet Russia.

I want to talk about the gods, heroes and monsters of pre Soviet Russia: a land of forests, rivers, and the kind of vast isolated landscape that would leave a person feeling very small.

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Thankfully I am not the first person to recognize the amazing stories of pre Soviet Russia for what they are, people like Neil Gaiman have included Russian folklore into their stories since the beginning of their careers.

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If you’re a fan of Mr. Gaiman’s work than you have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to talk about but for the rest of us, let’s delve into the creepy, strange, and wonderful world of Russian folk lore.

Examples and showcases:

Here’s where I showcase certain parts of Russian mythology.  Naturally I can’t go over it all, there’s enough material for an entire book but for now let’s look at three parts: the old gods, great folk heroes, and mythical beasts and beings.

Now before the Soviets came to power Russia was Christian, really REALLY Christian.

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While the Soviets  tried to stamp out the Russian church (it’s making a come back now) there was a time when Russia was ruled by the old gods.

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Not a whole lot is known about these gods (nothing was written down and the Christians were just as happy to destroy the remnants of the old world as the Soviets were) but they do continue to live on through their names.  You have the main god, the god of thunder, Perun

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The god of light, Belobog

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and his much darker companion, Chernobog.  Fans of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods may recognize Chernobog as “that guy with the hammer” whereas fans of Disney’s Fantasia might recognize him as the guy at the end of the movie that gave you nightmares.

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As I said before though, we don’t know a whole lot about these gods.  This is because around 980 A.D Russia became a Christian nation thanks to this man.

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That’s Vladimir of Kiev, the man who would make Russia Christian and shape it into what it is today (technically he’s Ukrainian but shh!  That part of the world is already in enough trouble as it is).  Let’s make one thing clear, Vladimir was not a nice man.  He used violence and fear to build his empire and it was reported that he had five wives and over 800 concubines, but since he made Russia Christian (by forcing entire populations to baptize themselves in rivers) the Church liked him and made him a saint.

Anyway, Vladimir ruled from the city Kiev which became very wealthy through trade.  Wealth attracts rivals and rivals means war so Vladimir surrounded himself with his knights or bogatyr in Russian.

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These men were romanticized into early Russian superheroes and the epic tales (or byliny in Russian) about their deeds read almost like a Thor comic.

The three men pictured above are three of the most famous bogatyr: Illya Muromets, Dobrynya Nikitich. and Alyosha Popovich.  Here’s a small taste of their alleged exploits.

  • Illya travels from his hometown to Kiev in order to serve Prince Vladimir.  While Kiev is over 500 miles away he vows to accomplish the journey in six hours and nearly succeeds, if it wasn’t for the fact that he was delayed fighting a supernatural forest bandit.
  • Dobryanya fought a multi headed dragon by himself for three days and nearly drowned in its blood.
  • Alyosha fought the monster Turagin but beating him to death with a staff, cutting him into tiny pieces, and presenting his body to Prince Vladamir.

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It’s worth mentioning that we should probably take these stories with a grain of salt but there is some speculation that these great deeds were metaphors and representations of actual people who fought against some of Russia’s many, many enemies.

Lastly we’re going to talk mythical creatures and beasts.  While the south of Russia is dominated by plains and steppes the north of ancient Russia was covered in dark, deep, and cold forests.

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These were the kinds of places where demons lived and where a Russian peasant would think twice before venturing out into the woods at night.  Naturally places like these were the breeding ground for all sorts of mythical creatures like the child snatching leshii 

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and the seductive and tempting rusalka

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But it would be terrible form not to mention the queen of Russian folklore, the witch that rules them all: Baba Yaga

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She lives in a house that walks on chicken legs, flies around on a mortar and pestle, and in a couple of accounts has no qualms about eating people.  That being said Baba Yaga is an interesting case study.  In some stories she is definitely evil but in other cases she lends her help and powers to the hero of the story.  Basically she’s awesome and more people deserve to know about her.

How to use Russian mythology in comics

This is the part where I offer my own personal opinions on the folklore of the day and how they could be used in a comic book.

I mentioned that these stories would be right at home in a Thor comic and I meant it.  Gods walking among the people, legendary heroes who can kill dragons and travel hundreds of miles in hours, and mystical creatures are Thor’s bread and butter. In fact, inserting Russian folk legends into Thor comics would work really well considering that the Vikings and the Slavic Russians have a long history together.

But let’s say that Marvel doesn’t want to add Russian mythology to Thor, what happens when you try to make a Russian comic book hero stand on its own.  Personally I think that having one of these legendary bogatyr travel forward in time to modern day Russia would make an interesting story.  Something like that could be a “fish out of water” story where the hero attempts to fit into modern Russia while coming to grips with the fact that he is a relic.  The hero would have to cope with the centuries of violence and persecution that Russia has undergone and struggle to be a hero in a society that has all but forgotten him.

As for the mystical elements of Russian folklore I don’t see any reason why there couldn’t be a modern story with these elements in them.  One of the most popular types of stories are the stories where a protagonist, usually a young child, travels to a mystical realm where the creatures and gods of ancient Russia exist.  Think of it like Alice in Wonderland only with woodland sprites and witches in chicken feet shacks.

Anyway, that’s a brief description of Russian folklore and how it could be made into an epic comic.  Let me know your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Golden Age Showcase: The Sandman

Today we’re continuing to talk about the founding members of comic’s first superhero team: The Justice Society of America

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Today we’re going to talk about the one superhero with the oldest and most definite roots of the entire genre: The Sandman.

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Out of all the superheroes we’ve talked about The Sandman shares the most similarities with what came before comics: the pulp heroes.  The pulps were cheap, disposable adventure novels that usually dealt with lurid subject matter and had colorful characters like Doc Savage

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The Shadow

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and my personal favorite: Zorro.

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These stories were action packed, violent, and awesome.  The funny thing is that if you look at a typical set up for a pulp novel: a seemingly normal yet insanely talented and tortured protagonist, lots of action, and a very set good vs. evil viewpoint they share quite a bit with the Sandman, arguably making his character older than Superman’s.

Origin and career

The Sandman was originally born as Wesley Dodds: a wealthy Jewish-Catholic boy who spent a lot of time traveling throughout China learning martial arts, herbology, and origami.  Despite his upbringing he had a relatively normal appearance even looking a little bit pudgy in comparison to his god like co workers.

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Unfortunately, tragedy struck the Dodds household.  Wesley’s father died during the First World War and his mother died soon after (because of course) leaving him in charge of a large estate and business.

Around 1938 Wesley started having vivid nightmares about criminals and the horrible crimes they would commit.  Realizing that inaction on his part would eventually drive him insane, Wesley decided to try to overcome the nightmares by becoming a costumed vigilante (it should be noted that his lack of moral compass, he wants to stop crime in order to solve his own problems rather than fulfill some greater good, makes him rather interesting in my book) and he used his fortune to develop and build a series of knockout gases that would force criminals to confess to what they’d done.

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After developing the gas and chemicals Dodds was given plans for a special gun by his good friend the Crimson Avenger and after that the legend was born.

During his career as a solo hero the Sandman stuck a lot closer to his pulp roots than his contemporaries.  A lot of his villains were pretty sadistic and brutal, even by today’s standards. His first villain was a serial killer called the Tarantula

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and later on he would deal with other dark villains such as Dr. Death, the Butcher, and the Scorpion.  It is interesting to note that The Sandman would often suffer serious injury from gunshot wounds and, unlike many of his god like compatriots, had to regularly deal with the pain and trouble of being shot.

Early on in his crime fighting career Wesley met a girl named Diane Belmont, the daughter of the district attorney.

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The two would eventually become lovers although they never married, and later on Wesley would reveal his identity to her as well.  Amazingly, the Sandman would buck a lot of established comic book tradition and have Dian be more of an asset to his fight against evil rather than a damsel in distress.

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In 1941 the Sandman was selected by Dr. Fate to join the Justice Society where he helped prevent a villain named Ian Karkull

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from assassinating President Roosevelt and taking over the United States.  Sadly, during his tenure with the JSA, Dian was almost killed while attempting to subdue several Nazi spies before Wesley could reach her.  With his lover taken away from him Wesley resolved to look after Dian’s nephew Sandy Hawkins and decided to change his suit at the end of 1941.

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The Sandman had a sidekick and a new costume (I don’t like it in case you were wondering) but by 1945 the lifestyle was taking its toll.  Wesley’s all to human body began suffering from heart problems and he decided to lay off full time Justice Society work.  The final nail in the coffin wold come in 1951 when Wesley accidentally transformed Sandy into a monster and resolved to never be a costumed hero again.

So what happened?

Wesley retired in 1951 and the strain of being a hero, coupled with his guilt over Sandy, led him to try to suppress the idea that he ever was Sandman.

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Wesley would later come out of retirement with his old suit, fedora, and gas mask costume (hooray) and a desire to help his former sidekick overcome his transformation.  He wold eventually accomplish that by defeating an evil scientist known as the Shatterer who was using Sandy to create earthquakes and hurt his former rivals.

Over the next couple of decades Wesley would continue to play a small but important role in several stories.  As one of the oldest members of the JSA he would still help them but after several key battles he suffered a crippling stroke and began to wind down his superhero work again.  He and Dian had been reunited for a while and they decided to travel the world, but she succumbed to cancer and died in his arms.

Wesley would later die after jumping off a cliff in Tibet in order to stop a villain called the Dark Lord.

It should be noted that Wesley Dodd’s Sandman identity shared a name with the more recently popular Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.

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There are several differences, Dodds was simply a man while Gaiman’s Sandman was Morpheus the Lord of Dreams but Gaiman must have been aware of this as well and mentioned in the comics that Dodds’ original ability to dream of crimes before they happened was a direct result of Morpheus being absent from his kingdom for a period of time.

While the Sandman continues to live on under various retcons and in different identities it is important to pay homage to original: a tortured man who bravely fought against monsters and criminals and who was able to straddle the two worlds of pulp hero and comic book.

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New mythologies for comic books: an introduction

Today I’d like to start off a small blog series about mythology in comics.  Let me be clear, I’m not here to talk about the mythology of comics, this won’t be a series where I dissect the stories of heroes like Superman and Batman

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Instead this is going to be a series about the myths and stories that tie comic books to the ancient past and heroes like Thor and Wonder Woman.

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It’s no small secret that ancient mythology is a favorite source of inspiration for characters and material in comics and it works so well because these ancient stories were meant for a comic book.  Sure the rage of a godlike personification of warfare and bloodlust like Achilles may seem a bit over the top and overly dramatic to a modern day reader

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But it’s downright subtle when compared to that modern day personification of rage of violence: The Hulk.

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And having a near immortal trickster god filled with spite and jealousy attempting to wage war on his former family and suffering for it by tying him down and having snake venom poured onto his eyes?

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That’s Loki, a character so over the top that he fits right into our modern day myths.

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So it’s pretty clear that ancient mythology and modern comics have a pretty well established relationship but which ones are the most popular?  Let’s take a look.

Greek/Roman mythology

This one is probably the most blatant and well established set of myths and stories in comics today.  DC Comics is probably the most famous company to utilize it as source material and they’ve done so with tremendous success.

The most blatant example is Wonder Woman.  Shaped from clay and given life by the Gods (you could write an entire PhD thesis on the symbolism of that) the gods and monsters of ancient Greece and Rome factor heavily into her story and character.

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While characters in the DC universe come into contact with Greek mythology in obvious ways like battling Ares the god of war

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and claiming classical heroines like Hippolyta as family (Fun fact: Hippolyta was killed by Hercules during his 9th labor while her Amazons made a name for themselves fighting in the Trojan War of Iliad fame) Greek mythology dominated the DC comics mythos in more subtle ways as well.  Take for example the three biggest and most powerful gods in the Greek pantheon.

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They are Zeus, king of the gods and ruler of the skies, Posieden, ruler of the seas, and Hades, lord of the underworld.  You have the powerful king, the ruler of the seas, and the dark brooding one who spends most of his time underground.  Sound familiar?

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There’s also the name of the hero SHAZAM!

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which is an acronym for a series of classical heroes standing for the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury.  With the exception of Solomon all of them are Greek/Roman and all incredibly powerful.

Norse mythology

Norse mythology is a bit newer to the comic book scene and is utilized a bit differently.  Thor was brought into comics by the legendary writer/artist team Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

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While Lee wanted to bring Norse mythology into comics Kirby (who you could argue was responsible for more of the creative grunt work than Lee) was a big fan of something called the Ancient Astronaut theory.  Basically it states that what our ancestors called gods were actually aliens who landed on Earth possessing technology far beyond comprehension.  This led to Kirby combining Norse mythology with sci fi elements and using it to display some of Marvel’s more…interesting space related adventures and inter dimensional tomfoolery.

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That being said, while the setting was different from the ancient stories the characters and names remained pretty much the same.  From the gate keeper of Asgard, Heimdall

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To the nine realms of the World Tree

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Norse mythology has played a huge part in the Marvel comic book and cinematic universe.

Japanese mythology

This one’s a bit tricky.  The most popular religion in Japan is Shinto, a polytheistic religion centered around the worship of spirits and nature.

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There really isn’t a unifying mythos within Japanese comic culture like you would find at DC or Marvel and many creators don’t bother with it at all but spirits have been a major part of several important works.  Death Note, which has a Japanese death spirit called a shimigami, is one

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while aspects of respect towards nature and nature spirits feature heavily in the works of creators like Miyazaki.

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Judeo-Christian mythology

Angels, demons, Heaven and Hell, the eternal war for the soul of mankind, you know the drill.  This is more of an idea than a cast of characters, although Jesus himself has appeared in several comics.

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and you’ve also seen it in comics like Spawn

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and Ghost Rider

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Basically if you’ve read any comic that thinks it’s edgy by putting angels, demons, or a Christ like figure that works towards saving humanity (Superman comes to mind) then you’ve come into contact with Judeo-Christian mythology in a comic book.

So these are the four mythologies that have dominated the comic book industry since the beginning.  But here’s the thing, the world is a big place and is filled with other stories and legends than these.  Countries and places like India, Africa, pre Colombian America, and the Pacific islands all have their own stories and mythologies that have shaped their world view for generations.  Each culture has their own Superman that stands for what they believe in and don’t you think we owe it to ourselves as global citizens and comic book fans to branch out a bit and explore?

Here’s how this is going to work.  Every week I’m going to pick a place, region, or time period that isn’t necessarily very well known to popular culture and talk about it.  Each article will give a brief description of that place’s history in the comic book industry (like if there were any heroes or villains to took inspiration from this period in a previous time), a general idea of the mythology of that place, and what a hypothetical comic book character based around that mythology could look like or say.  So strap in, sit back, and get ready to learn about gods, heroes, and villains that you had no idea existed.