Golden Age Showcase: Camera Comics

Today we’re going to do something different.

I was planning to try and talk about a famous Golden Age comic book villain, but since most of the bad guys were usually one note, thinly veiled Nazis.

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or usually wound up dead after a single issue,

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it was kind of difficult for a villain to really take off.

The thing is, during my research I discovered a comic book villain called “The Mad Arsonist”.

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That’s him in the background holding the vial and looking like a half crazed madman.

The story behind him is simple, he’s a crazy pharmacist who liked to set things on fire and watch them burn.

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While the villain himself was pretty intriguing what I wound up discovering is that the company that published his story, Camera Comics, had a pretty interesting backstory itself.

So today, instead of talking about a single character, we’re going to showcase an entire company and the work they did.  Today we’re going to talk about Camera Comics.

Origin and Titles

In 1935 a man named Tomas Maloney published a magazine called U.S Camera.

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Maloney was an advertising executive and photography enthusiast who dedicated himself to publishing photographic works and promoting photography as an art form.

He would move on to publishing a full size magazine, titled U.S Camera Magazine, in 1938.

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The publication was a success and would eventually reach a peak circulation of over 300,000 copies.

In 1945 the U.S Camera Publishing Corporation looked at the pop culture landscape, noticed that this new fangled “comic book” was really popular with young people, and decided to enter the comic book publishing game themselves.  Their first publication was Camera Comics #1 in October of 1944.

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It’s important to understand that these comics were created as advertisements first and stories second, which is a crying shame because a lot of the work that came out of these comic books was really good.

Camera Comics produced six volumes of work and each volume was usually made of three types of material: ads and real world tutorials, fictional stories, and historical/biographical work.

The first type of material was pretty straightforward.  Since Camera Comics was created to advertise and sell photographic equipment it would make sense that a lot of ads were placed in each publication.

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Also, each issue had two issues talking about certain aspects of the hobby.  These included instructional pages on how to create a dark room,

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to showing how American soldiers set up, took, and developed recon photos for the war effort.

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Naturally, the war effort led to the second type of material that the comic title published: traditional comic book stories.

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A lot of these stories were similar to the traditional wartime superhero stories that were popular throughout the war.  The big difference is that instead of superpowers and bright costumes saving the day, these heroes usually saved the day by using a camera in some capacity.

For example, “The Grey Comet” was a story about an Air Corps (the Air Force didn’t exist until after the war) pilot who managed to stop a German guided missile and somehow managed to complete a reconnaissance run as well.

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 1 (1)

Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 1 (1)

This would eventually develop into Camera Comics creating its own characters such as “Kid Click”.

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He was a young kid with a passion for photography and would go around solving small time crimes where his film would always be used as evidence to apprehend he criminals.

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Comic Book Cover For Camera Comics v1 3 (3)

Another character of note was Linda Lens.

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While Kid Click was a pretty blatant gimmick to sell cameras to kids, Linda Lens was surprisingly progressive for comics.  As you can see above she was a capable, independent photographer with her own business which by all accounts was doing well.

What makes it even more interesting is that she wound up becoming a freelance photographer for the U.S Army and was able to appear on the front lines as a combat photographer.

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she actually helped uncover a secret Nazi listening post in a popular officer’s club in Allied occupied France.

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and played an important role in capturing the Nazi spy.

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The third and final type of story that appeared in these books were short biographical comics about famous historical figures that helped develop the art and technical aspects of photography.  These included pioneers such as Matthew B. Brady,

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who was one of the first pioneers of outdoor photography and was one of the first wartime photographers.

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and Edward Maybridge, a man who was one of the first people to showcase how a series of still photographs could be turned into a moving picture.

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All in all, Camera Comics was a fun, engaging, and informative advertisement for photography and I like to think that it was a success in convincing a generation of children to take up a camera as a hobby.

So what happened?

Despite some genuinely good work and sincere thought that went into a lot of these comic books, at the end of the day they were just ads.

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Camera Comics played second fiddle to the much more serious publications that Thomas Maloney was publishing and his other work was  finding great success in the popular culture.  In fact, his U.S Camera Annual: 1945 was lauded by the New York Times as “The best picture book on the War to date”

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Camera Comics was cancelled in 1946 after a nine issue publishing run.

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These comics were far better than they had any right to be.  Even though they were essentially glorified ads there was some genuine heart, passion, and talent that went into publishing these stories and that deserves our recognition and respect.  Whether it was telling fictional stories about characters using their cameras to save the day,

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telling stories about the pioneers of photography,

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or showing kids how they could become better photographers themselves,

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Camera Comics was a publication that set out to make photography better for everyone.

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Golden Age Showcase: Scarab

You know what’s awesome?  Ancient Egypt.

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As one of the world’s oldest civilizations Egypt has held a special place in the hearts of historians and pop culture geeks everywhere.  From the great Nile river,

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to the Pharaoh’s of old,

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to the priceless historical artifacts that have been…”liberated” from their homes and placed in museums around the world.

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Egypt has been a place that has captured the imaginations of generations.

It turns out that comic book creators have a healthy interest in ancient Egypt too.  A lot of superheroes are either from Egypt or use ancient Egyptian magic and imagery.

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Today we’re going to look at one of the earliest heroes from the Golden Age of comics who used ancient Egyptian magic, and another uncomfortable case of 1940’s casual racism and stereotypes.

Today we’re talking about the Scarab.

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Origin and Career:

The Scarab first appeared in Startling Comics #34 in July of 1945.  While the writer is unkown the artist was a man named Ken Battefield…who didn’t go on to do very much or become well known.

In the comic the Scarab was actually a well respected archaeologist named Peter Ward who was visiting his uncle in London for a vacation.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #34

Suddenly, a wounded man stumbles onto his front step and tells Peter to find a scroll in the British Museum that links back to the ancient Egyptian cat god, making this one of the rare occasions where British imperialism was actually helpful.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #34

Unfortunately, the men who stabbed the messenger are on Peter’s trail, looking for the fantastic treasure that is supposedly buried in the cat’s tomb.

Peter travels to Egypt, reinforcing every uncomfortable stereotype the West had about people from the Middle East.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #34

and after being stranded in the desert he is fortunate enough to be aided by a mysterious cat who guides him to the tomb’s entrance.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #34

In the tomb Peter finds a magic ring and POOF!, he’s instantly transformed into our hero.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #34

The ring gives him a whole host of powers, including the ability to fly and enhanced durability.  This is fortunate because the men who were after him and the treasure catch up to him and try to kill him, only to be foiled by the Scarab.

Comic Book Cover For Startling Comics #34

This ring apparently gives Peter a soul as well, because he demands that the robbers put everything they stole back and refuses to take any of the treasure for himself.

The Scarab would go on to a fairly long stint as a back up character in another Standard Comics title Exciting Comics and spent the rest of his run solving various archaeology related crimes.  There is one particular instance where Ramon Royale, the man who Peter stopped in his first adventure, was employed by the German government in an attempt to destabilize Egypt and turn it against the United Nations.

Comic Book Cover For Exciting Comics #43

However, Peter was able to convince the Egyptians that siding with the Unite Nations was a good thing.

Comic Book Cover For Exciting Comics #43

The rest of his adventures would follow a pretty straight formula of the Scarab stopping some threat that was looking to steal archaeological treasure that didn’t belong to them.  This would continue into his last story which appeared in The Black Terror #20 in 1947 where he stopped a gang of four Arab thieves bent on robbing a grave for wealth.

In an interesting twist the Arabs were actually immortals who uncovered an immortality serum in a tomb they had discovered by accident.

Comic Book Cover For The Black Terror #20

The Scarab was able to identify a counter to the potion and the four Arabs killed themselves when they realized they were no longer immortal and were unable to fit in with the real world.

Comic Book Cover For The Black Terror #20

So what happened?

The man never got past back up story material and disappeared in 1947.  It makes sense considering that he just wasn’t that well written and superheroes were going out of style in post war America.

He would disappear off of pop culture radar for a while until Alan Moore picked up a lot of Standard’s superheroes for his Tom Strong series.

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The Scarab would be a bit player for most of Alan Moore’s story until a spin off series to Tom Strong called Terra Obscura.

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The Scarab actually played an important part in the story when he bonded with the ancient Egyptian god Thoth in order to stop the villain Mystico, who had bonded with the god Set and threatened to take over the world.

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The Scarab was an unimportant hero who had an uneventful career and did uneventful things.  Still, despite all the old timey racism and stereotyping, I kind of like him.  He wasn’t the first hero to gain his powers through the mysterious and ancient gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt, but he embraced his gimmick with gusto and devoted his life to making sure that the artifacts and treasures of history were safe from thieves.

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Eh, close enough.

Golden Age Showcase: Princess Pantha

Today I want to talk about Tarzan.

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We may think of Tarzan as quaint and pretty racist today (a white man who finds himself stranded in the jungle and not only survives but thrives and proves himself superior to people who have been living in the same location for centuries? Right.) but back in the 1930’s and 1940’s he was a pop culture juggernaut.

Tarzan got his start in 1912, years before the comic books became the medium they are today.  In their own special way, the Tarzan books were a big part of the main competition that comic books had to face as they came into their own.

I bring this up because like Superman in 1938, the popularity of Tarzan spawned a whole host of imitators.  One of the most important imitators was Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.

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The idea of taking the “noble savage” trope that Tarzan helped develop and flipping the gender of the protagonist proved popular (and probably quite kinky) and lucrative.

Sheena would go on to become a pop culture icon of her time and would would inspire a whole host of imitators herself, and today we’re going to talk about one of them.

Today I present: Princess Pantha

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Origin and Career:

Disclaimer: The following article shows and discusses imagery that displays some pretty strong racist overtones.  This is not done out of malice or anger, these images were products of their time and should be openly viewed and discussed so that we as a culture and a people can acknowledge them and learn from our past, for better or for worst.

Princess Pantha made her first appearance in Thrilling Comics #56 in October of 1946.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

While I was unable to find the name of her writer I did find out that she was drawn by comic book artist Art Saaf,

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who would go on to do a lot of work for DC Comics in the 1970’s, including a lot of romance comics,

and one of the most famous stints on Supergirl in the 1970’s.

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It’s pretty clear that Mr. Saaf was really good at drawing beautiful women, and it definitely shows in his early work with Princess Pantha.

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Anyway, back to her origin.  It turned out that “Princess Pantha” was originally a stage name for the world famous animal trainer of the National Circus.  Looking to improve their act the circus sent Pantha into the heart of Africa in an attempt to find a rare white gorilla the locals called “M’gana”.

While it is pretty cool to have a career woman on an expedition to further her own fortunes, any sort of progressive or forward thinking idealism is quickly squashed in the first couple of pages by the “famous explorer” Dane Hunter, who believes that an “inexperienced kid” shouldn’t be by herself in the wilds of Africa.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

The Princess isn’t exactly the most tolerant type either and her expedition goes south when her party is attacked by natives.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

She manages to fend off the locals by playing a recording of a gorilla, which scares the raiding party away.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

Unfortunately, she is now stranded in the jungle without much food and no way home.

Dane attempts a rescue but is captured himself.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

Thankfully, some time has passed between Patha escaping and Dane being captured, enough time for Pantha to become an expert in jungle survival (in one page no less) and craft a leopard skin bikini.

Pantha rescues Dane by stampeding a herd of wild elephants into the village of the tribe that tried to kill them both.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

She rescues him and the issue ends with both of them vowing to find a way back to civilization.

Comic Book Cover For Thrilling Comics #56

Like I said, this particular story has some pretty racist overtones, but it was popular enough to warrant more adventures and even several cover appearances.

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Sadly, most of her stories didn’t deviate from the formula set by her first appearance, where Pantha and Dane would stumble into a mystery/adventure and have to fight off an army of poorly dressed and horribly stereotypical natives who were greedy, evil, and usually didn’t speak very good English.

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You’ll notice that the world “civilization” gets thrown around a lot and it usually winds up referring to western or “white” civilization.

So what happened?

Pantha went on like this for three years until it was dropped in favor of another icon of 1950’s pop culture, the cowboy.

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Her final appearance was in Thrilling Comics #72, where once again she confronted and defeated the savage men and beasts of the wild thanks to her “superior” intellect and the benefits of western civilization.

It was probably for the best.

Like many of Standard Comics’ properties she would experience a revival in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  She first appeared in AC Comics Jungle Girls: Wild Side

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displaying all the fabulous 90’s comic tropes of an impossibly large bust on top of an impossibly slim waist with the butt jutting out in the most uncomfortable angle.

She would also have a supporting role in Alan Moore’s Terra Obscura series.

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She dated a character named Doc Strange for a bit, but was mostly relegated to the sidelines.

Princess Pantha is a tricky character to talk about.  On one hand she was strong, capable woman who could handle herself in a fight and was able to overcome a lot of presumptions that her male colleagues had about her.  On the other hand, there was some pretty blatant and uncomfortable racism and sexism going on in these comics, ensuring that they would be permanent fixtures of their times and would not be able to to transition into modern popular culture very well.

But hey, leopard skin bikini!

Golden Age Showcase: The Fighting Yank

Happy Labor Day everyone!

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For our international viewers Labor Day is an American holiday where a lot of working people get the day off in order to relax and for the nation to honor the people working in the shrinking number of manufacturing jobs in this country and no, service workers usually don’t get the day off.

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Sadly there aren’t a whole lot of Golden Age superheroes who worked in factories during the 1940’s, most of them were off actively punching Nazis or saboteurs.

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Still, honoring the men and women who worked in American factories during the Second World War is a pretty patriotic thing,

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so let’s look at one of the most patriotic superheroes to ever come out of the Golden Age.

Meet the Fighting Yank: a hero who bleeds the red, white, and blue so hard he makes Captain America hide his face in shame.

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Origin and Career

The Fighting Yank first appeared in Neodor Comics’ Startling Comics #10 in September of 1941.

He was created by writer Richard E. Hughes,

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and artist John L. Blummer.

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Fun fact: Richard Hughes was a pseudonym for his real name, Leo Rosenbaum.  Hughes would go on to be the editor for the American Comics Group from 1943 to 1967.

The origin story is a doozy, and in order to understand it we have to go all the way back to the American Revolution where a man named Bruce Carter is tasked by George Washington to deliver dispatches through enemy lines.

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sadly the mission fails and Bruce is killed by British spies.

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fast forward a couple of centuries later and Bruce Carter III is being yelled at by his family and fiance for being lazy and day dreaming about his long dead ancestor when he should be doing something.

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In what must have been one heck of a mind trip the ghost of his ancestor comes back to life and tasks the modern Bruce to find his ancestor’s cloak, which will give him incredible power.

It turns out the cloak was hidden in his house all along and after donning it Bruce has the power to bend steel and punch through walls.

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after discovering the extent of his powers the Fighting Yank goes on his first adventure where he manages to save the life of a United States Senator named Walton.

It’s worth mentioning Bruce’s fiancee, Joan, is actually a pretty developed and capable character for a superhero’s girlfriend.  She’s the one that discovers the plot to kidnap the Senator,

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and she handles herself in a fight while Bruce is busy admiring himself in the mirror.

But perhaps the most impressive feat is that she manages to figure out the Fighting Yank’s identity within seconds of meeting him.

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It turns out that the people who kidnapped the Senator were Nazi agents who sought to undermine America’s war efforts.

The Fighting Yank rescues a man who he thinks is the Senator but turns out to be a Fascist decoy.

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The fake Senator shoots the Fighting Yank, but the hero is saved by the ghost of his ancestor after surviving the wound.

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It turned out that the impostor was actually the real Senator’s twin brother (groan) and the Fighting Yank manages to stop the villains in time before they can do anymore damage.

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The Fighting Yank would go on to be one of the most popular characters that the Standard Comics organization would publish.  He was so popular that he was given his own comic book title in September of 1942.

Comic Book Cover For The Fighting Yank #1

The rest of his adventures were very similar to his first.  The Fighting Yank and his girlfriend would be confronted with some sort of fantastic threat posed by enemy soldiers or saboteurs and they would save the day.

It’s worth mentioning that this comic is a pretty good look into some of the more unsavory aspects of American wartime culture, including some really uncomfortable portrayals of Japanese soldiers and people.

Comic Book Cover For The Fighting Yank #1

He does get to punch a shark though.

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It’s also worth mentioning that there was another hero named the Fighting Yank who was published by Timely Comics during the war as well.

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This version was a slightly more believable character who was a secret agent sent to China in order to fight the Japanese.

He wasn’t nearly as cheesy or as popular as Standard’s version.

So what happened?

Standard Comics reorganized in the late 1940’s and the Fighting Yank disappeared in 1949 after a stint in Nedor Comics’ series America’s Best Comics.

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The hero would be revived in the 1990’s with a publisher called AC Comics reprinting some of his titles.  He would later receive a new costume, which was a homage to Jack Kirby’s hero the Fighting American, in 2001.

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The Fighting Yank would also play a part in Alan Moore’s publishing venture America’s Best Comics where it was revealed that Bruce Cater had a daughter named Carol, who wound up inheriting her father’s powers.

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While Carol received her powers in a way similar to her father she was uncomfortable with the name “Fighting Yank” and decided to call herself “Fighting Spirit”.

The Fighting Yank is pure World War 2 American super cheese.  He was created as wartime propaganda, he helped promote some of the worst stereotypes of Japanese people I’ve ever seen, and he was half a bald eagle short of bleeding red white and blue.

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That being said, it was obvious who he was from the get go and he made no apologies for being one of the most American characters in an industry filled with dozens of heroes wearing the red white and blue.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Power Scourge

Today we’re talking about a graphic novel currently seeking funding on Kickstarter called Power Scourge.

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The project is created by a company called Visionary Comics and is seeking $30,000 in funding by October 16th.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/470321830/power-scourge-superpowers-gone-wild-graphic-novel/description

Power Scourge is an anthology book detailing a mysterious event called the “Starburst” and the fallout of the event where thousands of people on Earth start mysteriously developing superpowers.

Patient Zero of the superpower plague - Art by Dani Mendoza, Colors by Tom Long.

Nobody knows exactly what’s going on except there is a strange alien device being built in downtown Richmond VA,

An alien superstructure begins taking shape in Richmond, signaling a definitive shift in the crisis. Art by Paris Cullins, Colors by Tom Long.

and the creators of the project are hinting at a strange race of super powered beings known as “The Everlasting” who appear to be playing a much larger role in this strange event than the creators are letting on.

The Chronicler - one of the mysterious Everlasting who bears witness to the Power Scourge! Art by C. Edward Sellner

While the creators of the this project are being frustratingly vague with plot details, I believe this idea is interesting enough to warrant your time, your attention, and your money.

Why I like it

In almost every superhero comic I’ve ever read super powers are limited to a few,

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well…a distinct selection of men and women with special abilities, the right heritage, or incredible luck.

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This makes sense considering that it makes sense to keep your perspective limited and focused from a story telling point of view.  In a world filled with superpowers, what makes superheroes special enough to tell stories about?

Power Scourge takes this idea and flips in on its head.  There are no billionaires who decided to become superheroes, there are no alien devices that chose a specific wearer, and there are no top secret government agencies that have humans deadly enough to go toe to toe with gods and win.  The powers are introduced to our society suddenly, dramatically, and seemingly without reason and it looks like humanity will react in a pretty predictable way.

What starts as a typical day in downtown Atlanta, Georgia quickly escalates into something never before imagined! Art by Dani Mendoza, Colors by Tom Long.

Almost any writer/creator will tell you that chaos and confusion make for the best story set ups and this graphic novel promises a lot of chaos.

The Cosmic Champion SoulStar plays a critical role in Power Scourge - but its not one you would expect! Art by C. Edward Sellner

Why you should donate

First and foremost, this Kickstarter project promises to be the start of something big: a fully functioning comic book universe with plenty of spin offs and a chance to glimpse into a much bigger world that will be developed into other titles.

This project allows anyone who donates to potentially witness a new generation of superheroes and ideas for superhero comics and I think that’s something special.

Also, I mentioned in the beginning that this was an anthology work and here is a sample of some of the writers and artists that are on board with this story and some of their work.

Writer Ron Marz

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Artist Craig Rousseau

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Artist Steve Ellis

and writer Jimmy Palmiotti

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Needless to say, there is an amazing group of very talented writers and artists working on this project and I hope to see a lot more in the future.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/470321830/power-scourge-superpowers-gone-wild-graphic-novel/description