Golden Age Showcase: Bozo the Iron Man

Have you ever noticed that bookstores tend to put fantasy and science fiction books on the same shelves?

Image result for science fiction fantasy book shelves

I mean, I can understand why.  Both genres talk about the human condition using fantastical elements and worlds.  The difference is that while science fiction tends to focus on how technology changes society, fantasy tends to focus on how people change society.  The point is that while they share quite a few similarities, they are just different enough to warrant their separation.

Comic books are interesting because the medium has no trouble combining the two genres together and it’s gotten really good at it.  In fact, it’s gotten so good at it that not only is it possible to combine aspects of fantasy and science fiction together, it’s possible to spawn a billion dollar franchise out of it.

Image result for marvel the avengers

While the Golden Age of Comics did have a heavy focus on supernatural and fantasy elements, it also had its fair share of science fiction heroes.

One of these heroes was a creature called Bozo the Iron Man and before you laugh at his name and appearance, you may be shocked to learn that he was actually a pretty interesting hero.

Image result for bozo the iron man

Origin and Career

Bozo the Iron Man made his first appearance in Quality Comics’ Smash Comics #1 published on August of 1939.

Image result for smash comics #1

While that is Bozo on the cover, he doesn’t fight a gorilla in his story.

He was created and drawn by an editor at Quality Comics called George Brenner,

Image result for george brenner comics

Brenner is also known for creating what is arguably the first masked superhero in all of comics in 1936 as well as the hero 711, who is actually one of this site’s favorite heroes.

Image result for george brenner 711

The origin of our titular hero actually bucks Golden Age tradition and gives us something that this blog hasn’t really seen: a morally ambiguous and surprisingly deep origin.

The comic starts with a mysterious robot terrorizing the citizens of the unnamed city.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #1

It turns out that the robot is actually under the control of evil scientist cliche #421 and despite the police trying their best they don’t want to go near the giant killer robot.  In order to put an end to this case the Commissioner calls in a special consultant named Hugh Hazzard, who winds up being the actual main character of the story.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #1

The comic then goes through the standard motions.  The good guy finds the bad guy, defeats him, and the robot is scrapped.  However, in an interesting twist, Hugh decides to find the robot and use it to fight crime without the knowledge of the police.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #1

Sure, the design of the robot doesn’t exactly inspire feelings of dread and terror, but the ending of the first issue actually sets up a surprisingly nuanced and interesting premise for a superhero story.  Seriously, in a time where comics weren’t known for a whole lot of creative complexity, the creative team behind Bozo had the main robot hated and feared by those he was trying to protect.

Don’t believe me?  Take a look at the bottom of a page from the second issue below.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #2

Sure, titles like the X-Men would make the idea of heroes protecting the very people who feared them a comic book staple, but considering that this was being written in 1939 it’s a pretty interesting setup.

Unfortunately, they really didn’t do anything interesting with this setup and the rest of Bozo’s adventures were pretty typical “villain of the week” affairs.

So what happened?

Usually the old Golden Age heroes would either be revived by one of the major comic book companies further down the line or find their way into the works of writers and creators who were fans of the original but sadly, that isn’t the case for Bozo.  This is going to be one of the shortest “What happened?” sections ever written.

Quality Comics folded in 1956 when the comic book market contracted.  They were eventually acquired by DC and many of Quality’s heroes would survive in reprints, but sadly Bozo didn’t make it into any of them.

The only legacy Bozo would have is a brief re imagining by comic book legend Grant Morrison.

Image result for grant morrison

For those who don’t know, Grant Morrison is considered to be one of the great modern wizards of comic books and is responsible for some of the greatest modern comics ever written, including the greatest Superman story of the past 20 years.

Image result for grant morrison superman

Sadly, Bozo didn’t make it into any of Grant’s works, although another creator by the name of Justin Grey said in an interview that his creation of a robot named “Gonzo the Mechanical Bastard” was inspired by Morrison’s redesign.

Image result for gonzo the mechanical bastard

I would go into more detail into Gonzo’s origin but for the casual fans all I am going to say is that he’s nothing like the source material and for the more hardcore fans I’ll say that the Anti Life Equation was involved.

Bozo the Iron Man was a pretty goofy hero with a well thought out backstory and an interesting hook to his character.  Instead of being loved (or at the very least tolerated) by the police and the public at large, he was feared and mistrusted so much that his existence had to be kept a secret.  He was one of the more complex characters of his time and should be remembered as such, even if he looked a bit ridiculous.

Image result for bozo the iron man

Advertisements

Golden Age Showcase: Stardust the Super Wizard.

You know what I really like about comics?  The scope and scale of the medium.

Image result for scope and scale of comic books

Sure, in any artistic medium you can tell big stories, but in comics?  Comics are the new mythology, giving us larger than life characters that serve as brightly colored allegories for the larger world.

The Golden Age of Comics had their myths and legends but let’s be honest with ourselves…they were somewhat limited.

It makes sense I guess.  After all, a lot of people were pressuring creators to churn out new superheroes as quickly as possible and there are only so many ways you can copy heroes like Superman or Batman.  Plus, our country was faced with an actual larger than life event known as World War 2 so those heroes were tasked with winning the war, but surely there had to be some way to inject a little grandiosity into the comic book scene.

Where’s the magic?  Where’s the ridiculousness?  Where’s the cosmic scale of it all?

Image result for stardust the super wizard

Oh, this’ll be interesting.

Origin and Career

Stardust the Super Wizard, a giant space magician with super strength and a tiny head,

Image result for stardust the super wizard

was first published in Fantastic Comics #1 in December of 1939.

Image result for fox features comics fantastic comics #1

The title was published by Fox Features Syndicate, who published the first Blue Beetle, and created by writer and artist Fletcher Hanks.

Fletcher Hanks.jpg

Hanks is also responsible for creating one of the first female characters in comics, a woman named Fantomah.

Fantomah, Mystery Woman

Hanks was something of an elder statesman for a comic book industry that was dominated by teenagers.  He specialized in creating supernatural characters who had no qualms about wrecking terrible revenge against their antagonists and Stardust was no exception.

His origins are simple.  He’s a mysterious super being who descends from the stars to wreck terrible retribution on criminals everywhere.  Everyone knows this this due to a strange radio broadcast that tells them everything.

Comic Book Cover For Fantastic Comics #1

What’s his backstory?  Where does he come from?  Nobody knows.

What we do know is that his powers are seemingly limitless, and he demonstrates his power against two thugs who are just about to assassinate the President.

Comic Book Cover For Fantastic Comics #1

It’s pretty clear that our hero is a giant and has more powers than Superman did at his height.

It’s worth mentioning that Stardust also partakes in one of the hallmarks of the Golden Age of comics: the hero murdering hoards of criminals and evil doers in brutal fashion.

Comic Book Cover For Fantastic Comics #1

The first story sets the tone for most of the Stardust stories as the hero defeats a series of increasingly over the top and surprisingly well equipped enemies with unimaginable violence.  While he would only last for 16 issues, each one of them is pretty epic and worth checking out.

It’s worth mentioning that Stardust didn’t just police Earth, he dedicated his life to busting crime all across the solar system from his private star base.

Image result for stardust kaos of venus

He had enemies with creative names like Kaos of Venus, the Brain Men of Mars, and Yew Bee.

My personal favorite is the story where our hero faces the evil machinations of an arch criminal named De Structo, who plans to use an oxygen destroying ray to suffocate the political leadership of the United States.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

No I’m not making any of that up.

Stardust captures De Structo and punishes him by removing the villain’s head, keeping it alive, and throwing it to an alien beast known as a “giant headhunter”.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Funny how the headhunter alien looks suspiciously human.  Also, that is not a good way to go.

So what happened?

As I stated above, Stardust only lasted for 16 issues.  I have no idea why he didn’t last longer and can only assume that people were allergic to fun and epicness.

Thankfully, all was not lost and it turned out that Fletcher Hanks had developed something of a cult following.  All of his Golden Age stories were collected into anthologies and are currently published by Fantagraphics Books.

Image result for fletcher hanks fantagraphics

Also, it turns out that Stardust is a superhero that has greatly benefited from being in the public domain since he has actually appeared in a lot of other independent projects.

Some of his more notable appearances have been in Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,

Image result for the league of extraordinary gentlemen stardust

He also had a cameo in Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon #141.

Savage Dragon #141

He’s also been used in a genre that we don’t talk a lot about on this blog: table top games.  His name was used as an example of how power corrupts in The Super Villain Handbook by Fainting Goat Games.

Image result for fainting goat games the supervillain handbook Deluxe edition

Stardust the Super Wizard may have had a short career in the Golden Age, but it was a career filled with memorable events and villains.  He’s remembered fondly today and his reputation is well deserved.

Image result for stardust the super wizard

 

Golden Age Showcase: A selection of comics about 9/11

So it’s September 11th today.

Image result for 9/11

They say everyone who is old enough to remember 9/11 remembers exactly where they were when they heard the news.  I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but I remember being in middle school and being hurried into an auditorium by the entire staff and not really understanding what was going on until much later.

September 11th was an important event in American history and for American comics as well.  For starters, it was the deadliest attack on American soil by a foreign threat since Pearl Harbor.

Image result for pearl harbor attack

We all know that Pearl Harbor was the principal event that brought the United States into World War 2, but it was also the event that guided the direction of American comics towards superheroes,

Image result for golden age superheroes

and war comics.

Image result for golden age war comics

If we take a step back this makes a lot of sense.  Comic book publishers saw that the American people needed escapist power fantasies where all their problems could be solved by walking metaphors that could punch their problems in the face and this trend would continue as America became a world wide military superpower that became increasingly involved in world affairs.

Image result for american military complex

Just like Pearl Harbor, 9/11 was an event that rekindled our interest in superheroes.

Image result for modern superheroes

and it even revitalized an interest in modern military narratives, although these tended to find their way into video games and other forms of media.

Image result for modern warfare

Once again, it was a way for American culture to make sense of our place in the world and give a brightly colored metaphor to our problems.  The only differences were that our heroes fought in Afghanistan instead of Europe and a lot of creators had to deal with a more complex and morally grey fallout.

Image result for captain america civil war comic

In many ways post 9/11 America paralleled post Pearl Harbor America and comic books were there to document and process it.

I know it happened a long time ago, that it brings up painful memories that a lot of us would like to forget, and that many of us would like to keep the political and social fallout that the event caused out of our comic books, but stuff like this is important and needs to be talked about.

So today I’m going to give a brief overview of three comics that dealt with the events of 9/11 and a little bit about the background and influences of each one.

Amazing Spiderman #36

Amazing Spider-Man Vol 2 36

This comic hit the stores on December of 2001, a mere two months after the attacks.  As a result, it is the closest out of the three comics to the actual attacks, during a time when it was still terrifyingly fresh in our minds and we were all still standing together against a threat that we really didn’t understand.

Out of all the superheroes in the modern pop culture cannon, Spiderman is probably the one who is most connected to New York, and one of the most hard hit by the events of 9/11.

Image result for spiderman

While New York has always had a special place in comic books as the birthplace of the American superhero industry, Spider Man has had a special relationship with the city.  He’s the city’s defender, the protector of the ordinary people living there, and I’m willing to bet that he’s incredibly grateful for all of the tall skyscrapers around that allow him to actually use his webs effectively.

Image result for spiderman web swinging

The attacks would even have an effect on the Sam Raimi Spiderman movie, forcing Sony to remove a shot of the Twin Towers from a trailer,

Image result for spiderman twin towers trailer

and inspiring Sam Raimi to include a “this is New York!  If you mess with him you mess with all of us” scene into the movie.

The comic itself was written by the legendary writer J. Michael Straczynski and was drawn by Marvel stalwart John Romita Sr.  It isn’t part of a larger story, it’s just Spiderman wandering the wreckage of Ground Zero and trying to process it all.

Image result for amazing spider man 36

Now, I have seen some criticism over the years about this comic, and I can kind of see why.  There’s a page where some of the most violent and destructive villains in the Marvel Universe are just standing in the wreckage, doing nothing.
Image result for amazing spider man 36 villains standing in ground zero

Hell, this wasn’t even the first time that Marvel destroyed the Twin Towers in their version of New York.  Juggernaut did it in an issue of X-Force in 1991 and laughed about it.

Image result for juggernaut destroyed twin towers

but this is not the kind of comic if you ask me this comic deserves our attention and respect as a way for a company that is so engrained into the culture of New York to come to terms with an event that shook the city and the country to its core.

Image result for amazing spider man 36

Image result for amazing spider man 36

In the Shadow of No Towers

Image result for in the shadow of no towers

In the Shadow of No Towers was published in 2004 and was written by indie comics legend Art Spiegelman, the author of the groundbreaking graphic novel Maus.

Image result for art spiegelman and maus

Mr. Spiegelman is a native New Yorker and was there during the attacks.  He was a contributor to the New Yorker magazine at the time and is responsible for the cover of the magazine published on September 24th 2001.

Image result for art spiegelman new yorker 9/11

He’s also a big fan and advocate of comics and takes a lot of inspiration from a lot of the early comic book artists, and it shows in his work.  The book itself is much more personal than the Spiderman comic, but at the same time it has something more to say about the event and its impact.

On one hand it’s about the author himself and where he was during the attacks.  His daughter was attending school near the Twin Towers on that day and the author is not afraid to talk about the fear and terror of actually being up close and personal to an event like that was.

Image result for art spiegelman in the shadow of no towers

On the other hand, this book was published in 2004 and while we had come to grips with the attack itself, we were neck deep in the consequences that the attack wrought on American culture and politics. Specifically we were at the beginning of what would become a long, drawn out military occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Image result for iraq war 2004

Image result for afghan war 2004

Spiegelman saw what was going on, how the attacks were being used to justify spending billions of dollars and killing thousands of American troops (along with Lord knows how many Iraqi and Afghani citizens), and he was not happy with what he saw.

Image result for art spiegelman in the shadow of no towers

This book uses old school comic characters and techniques to talk about 9/11 and its aftermath and it is really worth checking out.

Ex Machina

Image result for ex machina comic

This comic came out the same time as In the Shadow of No Towers but instead of being a one off graphic novel, it was a 50 issue comic series that lasted six years and was published by DC Comics.

The series was created and written by Brian K. Vaughn,

10.12.12BrianKVaughanByLuigiNovi1.jpg

who has been doing a lot of great comic book work and is most well known for creating the indie mega hit Saga.

Image result for saga comic

Now, Vaughn is not a native New Yorker but he did go to New York University and got his start there and, according to the author himself, he created Ex Machina as a rant against the political leadership of the time.

Image result for ex machina comic

The comic presents an alternate history of New York and America.  It’s a future where there is a single superhero called “The Great Machine” and he manages to stop one of the planes from crashing into one of the towers.  In the aftermath he is elected to become mayor of New York City and the comic deals with his term in office.

Image result for ex machina saving the twin towers

The comic is a political drama and out of the three titles we’ve talked about it is probably the most detached from the actual events of 9/11.  While it actually changes the events of that day, it uses the superhero story to tell a gripping and meaningful story that shines a light on American politics and how our country’s leaders used the Twin Towers to guide the American public towards the future we are living in now.  The comic is brilliant and it is definitely worth your time.

So there you have it, three different comics, by three different types of comic professionals, talking about the same event through different viewpoints and motivations.  And while it is important to acknowledge the fallout and changes to our culture and way of life, it is important to never forget what happened and how we can ensure it will never happen again.

Image result for 9/11 memorial

 

Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Frankenstein for Mayor

Now it’s time for another Kickstarter comic that I find really interesting.  Let me tell you about a book called Frankenstein for Mayor.

Image result for frankenstein for mayor

The comic is a 76 page story about partisan politics in Transylvania, and an attempt by the lower class werewolves to usurp the incumbent mayor Dracula with their candidate: Frankenstein.

The project is created by Jack Wallace, Chris Allen, and Reinaldo Lay and is seeking $2,000 through Kickstarter in order to fund their first issue.

The project currently has $1,061 and has 21 days left.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2001641902/frankenstein-for-mayor-comic-about-partisan-politi?ref=category_newest

Why I like it

I honestly think that Frankenstein’s monster would make a fantastic elected official.

Image result for frankenstein

Let’s consider some of his strengths as a political leader.

He hates fire, so he would ensure that our fire departments were well funded,

Image result for fire fighters

He’s a big believer in science and loves children, so he would ensure that our schools ran well,

Image result for frankenstein children

and he is the literal embodiment of “speak softly and carry a big stick” so we could rely on him to adopt a firm yet gentle stance on foreign policy.  But perhaps most importantly, he is a man of the people,

Image result for frankenstein

several people actually.

I like this comic because it recognizes the potential that someone like Frankenstein has for all matter of social and political commentary and that leads me directly into…

Why you should donate

Because it’s the kind of comic we need in today’s day and age.

Let’s face it folks, we’re at a point in American and world politics where it’s either a joke at best,

Image result for american politics jokes

or terrifying at worst.

Image result for charlottesville va rally

The thing is, politics have almost always been like this, and comics and cartoons have almost always been a part of showing how ridiculous it can all be.

We only have to look at the work of people like Thomas Nast,

Image result for thomas nast cartoons

to realize that politics are a joke and the cartoonist is the little boy showing all of us that the emperor has no clothes.

What we need are people who are willing to look at the big picture and show just how ridiculous and over the top it is, and what better way to show both the hilarity and horror of modern day politics than Frankenstein’s monster and all of our favorite horror villains.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2001641902/frankenstein-for-mayor-comic-about-partisan-politi?ref=category_newest