Comics that deserve more attention: Valerian and Laureline

So I saw Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets this week.

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Now, the reviews have been not that great and it looks like this movie is going to be a massive flop at the box office, but I thought it looked fantastic, it had some really cool ideas and set pieces, and I wouldn’t really mind seeing more of it.  In short, I thought it was basically a retread of director Luc Besson’s other science fiction movie that didn’t get the attention it deserved,

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Like most science fiction movies that are made today, the Valerian movie is based off of a comic book series.  The books in question are the Valerian et Laureline series, which was written by French writer Pierre Christin and drawn by Jean-Claude Mezieres.

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The series started as a comic strip in the French magazine Pilote  in 1967 and published its final series in 2010.  It was published by French comic book publisher Dargaud.

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The series is an epic space opera starring the titular character Valerian and his colleague and co agent Lauraline as special agents working for the Terran Empire across time and space.

To go into any sort of detail about the adventures of these two would take hours, long story short it’s good enough that you should go read it, like right now.  But if you’re still here and need more convincing the real treat of the comic is its art.  Now, I’ve never fancied myself as an art lover and I tend to focus on story over art in my comics but…

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Yeah, I can see why the director wanted to make this movie.

So the comic is a long running, absolutely gorgeous, and thought provoking epic that was good enough to inspire at least one famous movie director to adapt it but how did it get here?  How did it remain so popular and long lasting?  and why was it so unknown to most comic book reading Americans?

To answer that question I did some research and decided that today we’re going to run through a very, VERY brief description of

The history of Franco Belgian comics.

 What a lot of people may not understand is that the idea of using words and pictures to communicate ideas has been around for a pretty long time.  In an age where most people couldn’t read, it was easier to convey ideas or stories through pictures.  As a result, the first comics were strips or single page stories that were owned and published by newspapers.

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In the early 20th century comic strips started to separate themselves from the newspapers to create their own comic series.  Two of the most famous were, Pieds Nickeles 

and the very first female protagonist in comics: Becassine.

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What’s really interesting is that during the 1920’s and 1930’s even the Catholic Church was getting involved in telling stories with pictures with publications like the Belgian Zonneland creating morally upright and decent stories for the children to read.

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Side note: it’s worth mentioning that a lot of people lump France and Belgium together when talking about comics since French is spoken by a healthy chunk of the Belgian population and French and Belgian comics often share the same readers.

France and Belgium had a very strong tradition of graphic storytelling through the 1920’s and 1930’s the art form took off in popularity, and publishers such as Dargaud rose up to meet the demand.

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This time also saw Belgian artist Herge would create a comic series that remains one of my personal favorites in 1929 with the publication of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets.

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This particular title is a bit simplistic and has some really uncomfortable caricatures in it, but it was popular and provided a good jumping off point to one of Europe’s most beloved characters.

The art form was so popular that the French gave a name to it: bande dessinée.  A rough translation would be “drawn strips”.

Now, while the French and Belgian comic book industry did manage to produce some original work it was being rapidly overshadowed by a flood of American comics that could be bought and printed at a lower price.  After all, why spend all the time and money making your own stuff when you can just pay someone else to do the work for you.  However, in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s Europe had a bit of a problem.

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There was a war on and the Germans clamped down on American imports, including comics and animated films.  This cut off helped Europe develop its own stories and characters free from American influence and after Paris was liberated and the war was over, it was local artists and comic book creators who filled the gap.

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What’s really interesting is that even when the war was over, American comics never really came back in France.  This was epitomized by a law passed in 1949 that slowed the import of American literature, a law that was pushed by the French Communist Party who sought to limit American influence in Europe.

Free from the cultural behemoth of post war America, artists like Herge would go on to give Tintin his own comic magazine, and it remains incredibly popular to this day.

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Tintin’s success, coupled with the demand for more comics, resulted in a boom of magazines being published in post war France.  Eventually the market stabilized and Herge’s Tintin magazine and the French magazine Spirou became the dominant magazines throughout the 1950’s.

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It’s worth mentioning that France never had the backlash against comics that America went through in the 1950’s, so while American readers were doing this,

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French comics spent the fifties expanding, diversifying into different stories, and never lost their appeal as an art form.

Some of the highlights included the future 1980’s cartoon fodder The Smurfs, created by comic book artist Peyo and published in 1958 by Spirou,

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and another personal favorite of mine Asterix and Obelix, published by the Belgian magazine Pilote in 1959.

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The 1960’s and 70’s saw a more mature type of storytelling, with the debut of Valerian and Laureline in 1967,

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and tripy and far reaching sci fi art from artists like Jean Giraud (better known as Moebius) and Bilal making their way into a comic magazine called Metal Hurlant.  

That comic would eventually go out of business, but not before it was brought to America where it became the comic Heavy Metal, which is still around.

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The French and Belgian comic traditions have continued to this day.  They’re remarkably different from their American counterparts because while many Americans do tend to think of comics as reading material “for the kids” (no offense to the readers of this blog but come on, everyone knows at least one person who turns their noses up at comics) the French view it as a form of literature that is just as important as the novel or poem.

A modern example?  One of my favorite modern graphic novels created by the French-Iranian writer and artist Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.

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Franco Belgian comics are also reknown for their artwork, with many of the older French artists divided into three distinct schools of comic art, including the realistic, which was popularized by artists such as Moebius,

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the “Linge claire” style, which favored more angular and simplistic character designs set against realistic backgrounds and was popularized by Herge and the Tintin books,

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the “comic dynamic style” which featured a more cartoonish emphasis on characters, movement, and action which was popularized by the Asterix books.

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So there you have it, a simplistic, generalized, and far too brief look at the comic book culture that inspired the movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.  If this piqued your interest at all I highly recommend checking some of the titles out that I posted above and if you haven’t seen the movie yet…please go see it now.

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Golden Age Showcase: Blackhawk

So I saw the Dunkirk movie yesterday.

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I liked it, it was very well directed, and it’s probably the most British movie since Chariots of Fire.

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The movie got me thinking about this blog.  The simple truth of the matter is that this blog deals with heroes that were created in a time when the world needed a bit of escapist fantasy and the comic book industry responded by creating a whole bunch of heroes who could do the fighting for them.

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While there was a time and a place for these types of stories it’s important to remember that the fantastical violence shown in World War 2 era comics was very real for a lot of people and many of those people didn’t make it out alive.

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Now, we’ve covered some of the more “realistic” war comics with characters like Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos,

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but this week I thought it might be fun to talk about another war comic that was actually published during World War 2 with Quality Comics’ fighter squadron/expertly dressed hero Blackhawk.

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Origin and Career

Blackhawk made his first appearance in Quality Comics’ Military Comics #1 in August of 1941.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

Right off the bat the main character made the cover and looks good doing it.

There is some debate as to who created the character in the first place.  While many credit comic book legend Will Eisner with the character’s creation,

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Eisner himself gave most of the credit to artist Charles Cuidera and writer Bob Powell.

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For a time when the United States hadn’t entered the war in Europe, this comic was certainly very much for it.  In the very first page the comic shows the Nazis steamrolling through Poland and introducing the main villain of Captain von Tepp, who is the very definition of a bastard.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

Seriously, even kicking puppies seems a bit tame for this guy.

Von Tepp and his Butcher Squadron discover a mysterious black plane that they shoot down.  The Captain makes the unknown pilot’s life even more hellish by destroying a farmhouse with innocent people in it.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

The pilot is revealed to be a man named Blackhawk, who vows revenge against the Nazis and gets his wish a few months later when he confronts Von Tepp and kidnaps him.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

Blackhawk takes the Captain back to his island base where they decide to settle their grievances with an honorable duel using airplanes.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

Naturally the Nazi cheats by sabotaging Blackhawk’s plane and the two crash to the ground, where the grudge is settled when Blackhawk shoots the Captain.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

In later issues it was revealed that the Blackhawks were actually a squadron of fighter pilots made up of men whose nations had been captured by the Nazis.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #2

Side note: this actually has a basis in real history.  Feel free to look up the exploits of groups like the Polish 303 Squadron if you want some real life heroics.

In Issue #3 the group would also get a Chinese cook, who was unfortunately named “Chop Chop”.

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…well they can’t all be good.

Sales wise the Blackhawks were a massive hit for Quality Comics.  They were so successful that they received their own comic in 1944.

Blackhawk #9

In 1950 it was revealed that the leader of the Blackhawks was actually an American volunteer fighter pilot who had joined the Polish air force and decided to form the squadron as a way to fight back against the Nazis, even though he and his comrades had no country.

Some of the most talented writers and artists of the Golden Age worked on the Blackhawk title and it was actually so popular that Quality continued to publish the title right up until they went out of business in 1956 with Blackhawk #107 being the last issue.

Blackhawk #107

So what happened?

Quality couldn’t make it past the comic book slump of the 1950’s and sold off the rights to most of their characters to DC comics in 1956.

Interestingly enough, the Blackhawks had been so popular that DC actually decided to continue publishing the title after they bought it,

Blackhawk #108

they even kept most of the original art team on the title ensuring that the only thing that changed with the comic was the logo.

Now that the Blackhawks had new life they wound up being one of the few superhero teams to transition into the Silver Age of Comics.  This time in comic book history saw the squadron face fewer Nazis and more science fiction themed villains and things got a little…weird.

Blackhawk #119

Also, in 1959 they added a lady to the team as an on and off supporting character.  She was given the rather unimaginative name of Lady Blackhawk.

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She would remain one of the biggest members of the supporting cast and even became a villain named Queen Lady Shark.

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I don’t know what’s funnier, the skis or that hat.

Ironically, the rise of superhero comics in the 1960’s hurt the Blackhawk Squadron and while DC attempted to revamp the group in 1967 by giving them new names and costumes,

Blackhawk #230

it only lasted 14 issues before the title was cancelled.

The Blackhawks would make a brief comeback in 1976 as a group of mercenaries,

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but they were cancelled again until the 1980’s when they were sent back to their familiar stomping grounds of World War 2.

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The 1980’s series reworked the Blackhawks and gave their older stories a more modern update in terms of storytelling, including a much more dignified appearance and backstory for poor Chop Chop.

In 1988 DC reworked its entire history with the mega event Crisis on Infinite Earths 

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and the Blackhawks made the cut.  They were given another reworking and this time the squadron was led by a man named Janos Prohaska, an actual Polish national who was forced to flee his home after the Soviets kicked him out.

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The Blackhawks continue to be a part of the DC universe.  One of their more noticeable appearances was in the excellent Justice League animated show where they played a major part in the episode “The Savage Time”.

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and in the show Arrow the “Blackhawk Squad Protection Group” made an appearance as the place of employment for John Diggle’s commanding officer Ted Gaynor.

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Also, a group calling themselves the Blackhawks got their own title in DC Comics’ New 52 relaunch,

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but they have yet to show up in DC’s more recent “Rebirth” relaunch.

The Blackhawks are a team with a long and fantastic history.  What I find really fascinating is just how well they were able to survive so much while so many of their contemporaries fell through the cracks, never to be seen again and if it wasn’t for characters like Plastic Man,

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I would go as far as to say that the Blackhawks were the best and most notable comic to ever be published by Quality Comics.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Persephone

Today we’re taking a look at a graphic novel project called Persephone that is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter.

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The story is a revisionist look at the popular Western myth of the abduction of Persephone, the daughter of the ancient Greek goddess Demeter and queen of the Underworld after she was kidnapped by Hades.

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The project was created by Allison Shaw and is currently seeking $16,000 on Kickstarter.  At the time of writing the project has collected over half its goal with 26 days left in funding.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/19365079/persephone-one-volume-comic-adaptation?ref=category_recommended

Why I like this project

I like this project because I’m a sucker for Greek mythology.

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More specifically, I like how the Ancient Greeks used their gods and heroes to tell stories about the human condition.  Hercules wasn’t just a hero, he was a tortured soul looking for redemption through his twelve labors.

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The Greek gods weren’t just the rulers of the world, they were petty and vindictive bastards who had no problem screwing with mortals who upset them.

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The story of Hades and Persephone is one of the more popular stories in Greek mythology.  The god of the underworld sees the daughter of the goddess of the harvest, kidnaps her.

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In most interpretations of the story Persephone is kidnapped against her will and becomes a cold and distant queen.

But this Kickstarter project is different.

This story reworks the myth from a more modern feminist point of view and bucks thousands of years of tradition to ask: what if Persephone wasn’t forced by Hades to travel to the Underworld?

Honestly, it’s an interpretation that never really crossed my mind.  After Persephone was kidnapped her mother became very upset and refused to let anything grow.  The end result of the story is that Persephone ate the food of the dead and has to spend three months out of the year with her husband, during which Greece must suffer through a three month winter.

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I always read the story as a tragedy but this comic?  This comic frames the story as a romance between Persephone and Hades, which is something that I think is different, new, and very interesting.

Plus, I really like the art style.

To me it looks like a mix between Japanese manga and ancient Greek pottery,

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Why you should donate

There was a certain movie released this year about another female comic book character who is based in Greek mythology that did rather well at the box office.

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I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Wonder Woman and the Persephone of this comic are really similar.  Both of them are women in a world dominated by men, both of them are different interpretations of Greek mythology, and both of them prefer to change the world using love and kindness.

The difference is that Wonder Woman prefers to show her love through extreme violence and pointy objects,

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while Persephone has a softer, gentler, and more erotic approach.

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This isn’t just a reworking of an ancient myth, it’s a type of story that comic books really haven’t paid much attention too over the years.

Sure there have been romance comics in the past,

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but romance comics really fell out of the limelight in the 1950’s in favor of characters who solved their problems with violence.

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Now I like a good fight as much as the next person, but why do we need so many characters that let their fists do the talking?

Persephone is a story about a different kind of female hero.  She doesn’t solve her problems by punching.  Instead of struggling and fighting her captor, she reaches out to him, tries to understand him, and winds up falling in love with him.

Persephone Chapter 7 by Eupraxia

The end result is a comic that forgoes violence in favor of a gentler and more sensual story, a story that provides a different kind of comic that we really haven’t seen before, and is worth your attention.

Persephone Chapter 3 by Eupraxia

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/19365079/persephone-one-volume-comic-adaptation?ref=category_recommended

Golden Age Showcase: The Purple Zombie

So we lost one of the greats yesterday: George A. Romero.

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While he did create other films and was a fervent activist throughout his life, the man will always be remembered as the founding father of the zombie movie.

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Fun fact: after he made his first film Night of the Living Dead Romero screwed up some paper work with the copyright office and as a result, the film is now in the public domain.  You can watch it for free and I highly recommend it.

Yes, zombies are a pop culture staple nowadays.  While their time as the dominant force of pop culture has waned, they’re still around making boatloads of money, especially in the comic book world.

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So I thought it might be fun to talk about one of the earliest zombies in comic books, and how different a walking corpse from the 1940’s was from the present day walking corpse.

Today we’re talking about the Purple Zombie.

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Origin and Career

The Purple Zombie made his first appearance in Eastern Publishing’s Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1 in August of 1940.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1

The character was created by Tarpe Mills, which was a pen name for Golden Age writer and artist June Mills.

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Mrs. Mills was actually the first lady to create a female superhero, a black cat costumed heroine named Miss Fury.

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Let it be said that the early comic book scene wasn’t entirely dominated by male New Yorkers, it was just mostly dominated by them.

When reading the Purple Zombie stories you can actually see a lot of tropes that plague (pun intended) the modern zombie.  He was created by a mad scientist named Dr. Malinsky who was seeking to create an unstoppable army in order to take over the world,

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1

However, it’s worth mentioning that there is no specific mention of how this zombie was created.

After establishing himself as an evil bastard, Dr. Malinsky realizes that he has the same problem Dr. Frankenstein had, that his creation realizes what it is and isn’t all that fond of his purpose.  The creation bypasses years of therapy and emotional issues by strangling his creator.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1

You’ll notice three things that make this guy different.  First, he’s bulletproof and super strong, thus avoiding the trope of zombies that need to be shot in the head and who are only effective in large groups.  Second, he’s surprisingly articulate for a zombie and has no need or desire to consume the brains of the living.  Third, his skin looks more black than purple which…raises a lot of very icky moral questions that are a bit more unsavory today than they would have been seventy years ago.

Nevertheless, this zombie sets out to find the people who backed his creation and remove them from the face of the Earth.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #1

It’s never mentioned who the backers were working for, but with a name like Otto Von Heim it’s safe to assume they were working for the Nazis.

In a rather interesting twist, this zombie was actually captured and sentenced to death for the murders.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #2

This is where he gets his purple skin, and his jailers realize that he can’t be killed.

The zombie is released into the care of Malinsky’s former assistant and swears to do nothing bug good from here on out.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #2

Again, some kind of uncomfortable racial overtones here (it’s worth mentioning that pre Romero zombies were often associated with African or “voodoo” religions) but as origin stories go it’s pretty fleshed out and well done for the Golden Age.

Sadly, the zombie’s brush with organized crime wasn’t over.  Realizing that a large, bulletproof, super strong, nearly unkillable monster could be useful in committing crimes a gangster named Joe Coroza kidnapped the Purple Zombie in an attempt to use him as a weapon.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #2

His human friend tries to rescue him, but is forced to contend with an army of mechanized skeletons as well as the gangsters.

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However, it turns out that the man who created the moving skeletons was actually a good guy and the Purple Zombie decided to join forces with him and go off to fight in Europe for the forces of democracy.

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It’s nice to know that the idea of using creatures more often associated with horror to do good is older than a lot of people think.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #5

The plan is a success and the Zombie and his skeleton pals successfully stop the death ray from killing thousands more.  Their solution…cold blooded murder.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #7

After successfully defeating the death ray and single handily winning the war (I assume) the heroes find themselves forced to land in a mysterious lab.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #7

It turns out that the scientist forced them to land there so he could show them their time machine and in the very next page… Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #7

Jesus, this comic jumps around more than an over caffeinated toddler.

The two find themselves in 64 A.D in the middle of the Roman Empire.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #8

The Romans do the surprisingly sensible thing and declare these two strangers to be madmen.  They also understand modern English.

Thankfully, lions are no match for the two.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #8

Unfortunately, they now have to contend with the entire city of Rome burning.

Thankfully, they are saved by the actions of their colleagues in the present day who manage to transport them out of danger into the Medieval Ages.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #9

It turns out they’ve landed straight in the middle of the Crusades and wind up meeting King Richard I of England.

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They would have been on good terms if it wasn’t for their sudden transportation to the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #10

Honestly, I don’t know if the author is trying to be educational, or if she’s just name dropping random historical figures who were popular at the time.

They meet up with Sir Francis Drake while he’s bowling,

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #10

(fun side note: the story is that Sir Francis was supposedly bowling when he received news of the Armada so props for possible historical accuracy)

and the two men help him defeat the Spanish Armada until they’re whisked away to the French Revolution.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #11

I’m beginning to think the scientists controlling the time machine hate our protagonists.

The two suffer through one more trip into prehistoric times,

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #12

and then they’re transported back to the modern day where it is revealed that the Purple Zombie wasn’t actually dead to begin with.  He was actually faking his death in order to escape and wound up becoming an unwitting participant in the original experiments.

Comic Book Cover For Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics #12

So I guess you could argue that the Purple Zombie wasn’t actually a zombie.

Goddammit.

So what happened?

The page above is the last page we would ever see of the Purple Zombie.

We’ve talked about Eastern Publishing before and how it was going through a rather turbulent time in the late 1940’s when it merged with a bunch of other publishers to become Standard Publishing and eventually stopped making comics in the 1950’s.

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But even if Eastern Publishing had survived, I think that the Purple Zombie would have been doomed anyway.  For starters there were companies in the 1940’s who were using zombies and monsters much more effectively and with much better artwork.

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And even if the Purple Zombie had managed to become more popular, it stood no chance against the backlash against comics in the 1950’s that wound up creating the Comics Code.

With that being said I actually like the Purple Zombie.  While he had a pretty average power set and wasn’t technically a zombie, he had a pretty good back story and enough heart and dedication to be a pretty good superhero.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Through the Cognitive Rift

Today we’re talking about Through the Cognitive Rift, a graphic novel project currently seeking funding on Kickstarter.

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The project is about the human mind and hypothesizes that the universe we know and love is simply the thoughts and dreams of a single individual.  The story takes place in a universe experiencing the apocalypse because its creator has severe mental problems and is contemplating suicide.  The plot is about the one person in this universe that has been given the opportunity to connect with its creator and attempt to save the creators life and, by extension, all of existence.

The project was created by Natalie McKean and is seeking to raise $3,200 by August 9th.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nataliemckean/through-the-cognitive-rift-graphic-novel?ref=category_newest

Why I like it

The first reason I like this project is because I have a tremendous amount of respect for the creator.

Now, I never knew Mrs. McKean before I saw her project but when I learned that she is doing all of the writing, art, and production work by herself I couldn’t help but take my hat off to her.

Trust me when I say that creating comics takes a lot of work.  Heck, all I do is write mine and I’m still frazzled.

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The second reason that I like this project is its subject matter.

When I saw that this book was about the internal workings of people’s minds and thoughts my mind immediately thought of this:

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Now, Inception is one of my favorite movies of all time.  It’s deep, thoughtful, and trippy as all hell.

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Now, it looks like Through the Cognitive Rift promises to be trippy as well, just in a different way.

But I think this book promises to be more than Inception, in fact I think it has the potential to be more.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for Christopher Nolan and the cast of the film, but as a director he’s more of a robot than a human.

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Don’t believe me?  Go back to any of his films and try to find a character that conveys emotion and feeling through something that isn’t exposition or dialogue that doesn’t move the plot forward or reveal some sort of great theme or world shaking plot point.

I like this project because it looks like a more human and thoughtful version of Inception and while I don’t know if that was the creator’s intention, I write this with nothing but the highest praise and excitement.

Why you should donate

Take everything I said about Inception,

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throw in the awesome artwork,

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AND add the fact that this is probably one of the most creative and interesting stories that you will ever see dealing with depression, suicidal thoughts, and mental health,

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and you have a recipe for a book that is engaging, thoughtful, and gorgeous to both read and look at.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nataliemckean/through-the-cognitive-rift-graphic-novel?ref=category_newest

Golden Age Showcase: Spider Widow

So I saw Spiderman: Homecoming yesterday.

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It was good, I liked it, and it’s good to know that Spiderman is back in the loving arms of the company that spawned him.

You can make the case that Spiderman is the closest thing Marvel Comics has to a mascot, or at the very least he’s Marvel’s most successful solo hero.

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And what’s not to like about him?  He’s got a great gimmick, he’s got a great backstory, and he’s one of the best creations to come out of the mind of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

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But here’s the thing, great ideas like this don’t just come from nothing, and there were spider themed superheroes published in the 1940’s.  One of these heroes was a Quality Comics character named Spider Widow.

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Origin and Career

Spider Widow first appeared in Quality Comics’ Feature Comics #57 in June of 1942.

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She was created by comic book artist Frank Borth.

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While he did do some work for a Catholic magazine called Treasure Chest and did occasional work for Cracked (the magazine not the website), Spider Widow was his most popular creation.

As for her bio, her civilian identity was Dianne Grayton, rich socialite and lady about town.

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How did she get her powers?  Not mentioned.  Why did she decide to fight crime?  The comic didn’t seem to care.  What was her power?  She dressed up like an old hag and had the ability to control black widow spiders,

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swarms of them.

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You sure this is a superhero comic?  Because I’m getting more of a horror vibe from this.

Her enemies weren’t that special.  She fought the traditional assortment of stereotypical racist caricatures of Axis saboteurs.  What made her pretty unique was what Qualiy did with her.  First, they paired her with a superhero named the Raven, who made his first appearance in her title.

The story was simple.  Axis spies kidnapped her because she was meddling in their affairs a bit too much and the Raven swooped in and saved her.

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The day was saved, the two shared a thank you kiss, but sadly it was dark so they couldn’t see each other’s faces.

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The Raven was later revealed to be a man named Tony Grey, and the two wound up forming a romantic relationship on top of their crime fighting.

One of their more notable adventures was when they teamed up to fight Spider Man, a Nazi saboteur who controlled a giant robotic spider.

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Nazis controlling giant spiders?  NOPE! SOUND THE ALARMS!  PREPARE THE TERMS OF SURRENDER!

Now, two comic book heroes coming together in a comic isn’t really that special, but bringing in another hero and crossing over in two books?  That was pretty unique for the time.

I don’t know why they chose her, but Quality Comics had The Raven crossover with another Quality character named The Phantom Lady in Police Comics #20 in 1943.

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She wound up rescuing the Raven while he was investigating a crime ring and he brought her from Police Comics to Feature Comics for a couple of issues.

The two ladies did not get along very well.

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Plus, I’m willing to bet the writers were venting some pent up frustrations in the book through some impressively subtle fourth wall breaks.

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Look at the second to last panel and tell me you aren’t a bit impressed.

The two even went as far as to fight a duel for the Raven’s affections,

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but it turned out to be a set up by some criminals and they quickly patched it over.  The day was saved and then everyone went back to their own titles.

So what happened?

Aside from her crossover with the Phantom Lady, Spider Widow wasn’t really that popular or noteworthy.  She lasted for a couple more issues and then disappeared around 1943.

It’s kind of a shame because she really did have a great gimmick and power set.  Sure she was pretty boring as a person, and having her fight with another lady over a man probably won’t score her a whole lot of points with modern audiences, but she is in the public domain and could be a great horror protagonist.

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While I don’t want to mistake correlation for causation, you can kind of see something resembling Spider Widow’s legacy in Marvel’s more modern characters.

For example. what’s the name of Marvel’s favorite super spy femme fatale?  Black Widow.

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Sure, she doesn’t have the power to control spiders but I like to think the creatives at Marvel were remembering Spider Widow when they came up with her.

Also, there was a villain in the Spider Man books named Spider Queen who had the power to control insects,

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(yes I know spiders aren’t insects),

Sure, she’s not a wealthy heiress and controlling insects isn’t exactly a rare power, but it seems that Marvel has a pretty pronounced fascination with spiders and I like to think that Spider Widow was a start.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: After the Gold Rush

Today we’re talking about a Kickstarter comic called “After the Gold Rush”.

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The book is about a scientist coming back to Earth after some mass exodus and seeks to bring back “optimistic sci fi and show that there is better living through science”.

The campaign is run by Miles Greb and has already passed its goal of $4,500 with 26 days left in the campaign.

Kickstarter link:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/919052445/after-the-gold-rush-1-3-a-return-to-optimistic-sci?ref=category_newest

Why I like it

In order to understand why I like this project there are two things you have to understand about me.

First, I’m a sucker for cool artwork and this book has some really good art.

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The comic is primarily drawn by a gentleman named Issac La Russa and while it’s difficult for me to describe, I like to think that his art style would be perfect in everything from lighthearted kid’s books to grim and gritty superhero work.

The cover art is done by a guy named Barry Blakenship,

Cover art by Barry Blankenship

This is high caliber work that would be at home with Marvel or DC.  Instead we’re lucky enough to have this on a creator owned project.

The second reason I like this project is because I’m a massive history nerd.

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Now, it would seem strange for a science fiction book to have ties to the past, but hear me out.

A lot of people think that history is about single individuals or events but the reality is different.  Take something like the California Gold Rush of 1849,

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It wasn’t an event driven by a single individual within a set period of time.  It was a mass migration of ordinary people looking for a better life and wound up changing the future of California forever.

“After the Gold Rush” takes this idea and uses it to tell a fantastic story.

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I don’t know much about the plot, but it appears that the story takes place after some sort of human mass migration into space, most likely done by people who were looking for a better life.  This book takes a look at what happens after the people have left and what’s become of Earth.

It’s a book that understands that history isn’t just made up of individuals, it’s made up of masses of people who are trying to better themselves and that’s something special.

Why you should donate

The headline for the campaign states that this comic is “a return to optimistic sci fi”.  That alone should be something to celebrate.

The reason I say this is because it’s probably safe to say that science fiction has gotten pretty grim and gritty these days.

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If science fiction is how we view the future, than I would have to say that we’re being incredibly pessimistic.  Don’t get me wrong, I like grim and gritty stories, and there have been some pretty good ones over the years,

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but we live in an age where the greatest work of optimistic science fiction of our time,

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isn’t immune to being run through a couple of filters in an effort to provide a more realistic and morally questionable story.

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(holy crap, references to two beloved science fiction franchises in an article!)

Again, I have no problem with making science fiction more realistic, but at some point you just have to say “Enough with grim and depressing reality, give us something happy for once!”.

That’s the void that “After the Gold Rush” looks to fill and by God, I think it can actually pull it off.

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Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/919052445/after-the-gold-rush-1-3-a-return-to-optimistic-sci?ref=category_newest

 

Golden Age Showcase: Bulletman

Quickly, when you hear the name “Bulletman”, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?

Personally I image some sort of dark, brooding, Punisher type hero who lets his guns do the talking and they aren’t taking “no” for an answer.

Kind of like what you might have found in a lot of comics from the 1990’s.

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Side note: the above image is a character named Overtkill.  Yes, that is how you spell his name.

Well, in the 1940’s a company called Fawcett Comics created a character named Bulletman and he looked like this:

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Good Lord…that hat!

Origin and Career

Bulletman made his first appearance in Nickel Comics #1 in May of 1940.

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He was published by Fawcett Comics and was created by writer/editor Bill Parker and artist John Smalle.

Bill Parker created Fawcett’s most popular character, Captain Marvel.

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Remember this, it will be important later.

As for origins, Bulletman’s civilian identity is Jim Barr.  His story takes a welcome break from the “I’m just going to fight crime because I’m rich and I have nothing better to do” school of thought and takes its cues from the Batman school of crime fighting.  Namely, his parents get killed by criminals so he decides to fight crime at a young age.

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No word on what happened to his mom.

A couple of things are interesting in this origin story.  First, the boy is a scientist and never had any aspirations to be an athlete, so that’s a pretty good deviation from the norm.

Second, he develops a “crime cure” because he believes that crime is a disease that can be treated like malaria or small pox.

Wow, there’s…enough to unpack in that last panel alone to fill an entire book.  So let’s skip over that and save it for arguing in the comments.

Sadly, Jim suffers from the plight that all smart people seem to suffer from in fiction, having his career hampered by idiots and jocks.

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Three things to note here on this page.  First, this is the best scan I could find.  Second, the only one who believes in him is a pretty lady named Susan Kent, who eventually becomes his girlfriend and wife.  Finally, notice how the cop in the second to last panel is openly justifying torture to extract a confession from a criminal using a rubber hose.

Meanwhile the “crime cure” works!  Sort of…

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I mean, it turns him into a superhero so yeah…he gets to cure crime by punching things.

He continues his reckless use of using things without testing them by building a gravity defying helmet and leaping out a window before it can be tested.

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Thankfully the helmet works, even if he looks hilarious in it, and he manages to stop the criminals and save the day.

Bulletman would go on to be one of Fawcett’s most successful heroes, second only to Captain Marvel.  After his career took off (har har) he did something strange and actually didn’t fight Nazis or Nazi spies.  Instead he fought criminals both with his superpowers and as a police scientist.

Of course, just punching people can get boring pretty quickly so in April of 1941 Bulletman appeared in Master Comics #12 and his lady friend Susan Kent wound up discovering his identity.

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The police chief’s daughter did in a matter of months what Lois Lane couldn’t do in years and in the following issue she confronts him about it.

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The two wind up reconciling after Susan saves Bulletman’s life by giving herself the same powers and “finding an extra helmet lying around”.

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And the two became a crime fighting couple to be reckoned with.

So what happened?

By all accounts Bulletman and Bulletgirl should have survived into the modern day.  He was a popular character, he had an interesting backstory, and he was regularly seen with one of the most popular superheroes of the 1940’s.

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And that was the problem.  See, while Fawcett Comics had a huge amount of success with Captain Marvel it turned out that his greatest enemy wasn’t a super villain, but legal action.

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It turned out that DC Comics looked at the hordes of tall white guys with super strength, super speed, flight, and a secret identity and decided that a lot of them were a little too close to their big time money maker: Superman.

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We can debate the truth to this statement all day, but what’s not debatable is the results and in the case National Comics Publications v. Fawcett Comics National Comics won and Fawcett was forced to pay damages and cease publication of Captain Marvel.

It’s worth mentioning that the case made its first initial court appearance in 1941 with the final decision made a decade later, making this one of the longest copyright cases in comic book history.

Fawcett was decimated by the case and ceased publishing comics in 1953, and while they would restart publishing comics in the 60’s, they wound up handing their entire stable of superheroes over to DC comics in 1972.

Bulletman and Bulletgirl made the leap as well and appeared in a new superhero group called “The Squadron of Justice” to defeat the forces of a villain named King Kull.

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They kept the helmets because why the hell not?  They make the costume.

The two would be moved into the All Star Squadron, a DC Comics superhero team that was placed in a universe where World War 2 was still happening.

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The two would go on to have a fairly important supporting role in DC’s SHAZAM! books. He got to meet Green Lantern mentor Abin Sur,

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and at one point, Bulletman was actually accused of being a Nazi collaborator in 1998’s Starman #39 although he was naturally cleared of all charges.

Bulletman and Bulletgirl would also have a kid!  In 1997 they had a kid named Deana who donned her mother’s helmet and became the hero Windshear.

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She dated Captain Marvel for a bit and helped her Dad rescue Marvel from a villain named Chain Lightening.

The group has even inspired copies of their own, although they were all published within DC Comics so there was no court case.  In 2005 Grant Morrison published a book series called Seven Soldiers, which was based on many of the old Fawcett characters.  Bullet girl became “Bulleteer” and she looked like this.

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So nice to know the phallic helmets didn’t just remain, they got bigger.

In a way I’m upset that Bulletman and Bulletgirl wound up where they are today.  By all accounts they should still be around today since they did hold their own with some of the big name heroes of the Golden Age of Comics and the fact that they were a capable pairing as husband and wife adds an interesting dynamic that you don’t really see with a lot of comic book superheroes.

They were a solid team with a solid story and a solid power set and deserve a place right alongside their famous colleague Captain Marvel.

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