Golden Age Showcase: The biggest space opera of early science fiction

I feel compelled to talk about a well known, nostalgic, space opera about a small group of plucky rebels against an all powerful empire that threatens the freedom and safety of the entire galaxy.  It would also help if this space opera has a rabidly loyal fan base and has gone on to influence popular culture for decades

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What, you were expecting something else?

Origin

Before Superman made comic books profitable in 1938 the best way to get sequential stories published was through a newspaper comic strip.  The strips were published and distributed through something called syndication.  This was where a syndication company would hire a creator to create a strip and then distribute it to various newspapers around the country.

One of the biggest names in the industry at the time was King Features Syndication.

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How big is it?  Well, it’s still around today and if you’ve ever picked up the comics section of a newspaper before, I guarantee that you’ve read one of their strips.

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Anyway, in 1934 King Features had a problem.  A rival company had just rolled out a science fiction adventure comic called Buck Rogers to huge commercial success.

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King didn’t want to miss out on this explosion of sci fi popularity, so they turned to a staff artist in their employ named Alex Raymond.

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He was the man who created Flash Gordon and in May of 1934, the first comic strip debuted.

The strip begins with the end of the world.  A giant planet named Mongo is on a collision course with Earth and a half mad scientist named Dr. Zarkov kidnaps a Yale polo player named Flash Gordon and his true love Dale Arden to stop the collision and save Earth.

They manage to stop the collision and save Earth, only to come into contact with Mongo’s evil ruler: the awesomely named Ming the Merciless.

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Impact and legacy

The comic was a huge hit and would go on to inspire dozens of adventures, re imaginings, and become a massive multi media franchise with the release of several movie serials between 1936 and 1940.

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The character remained popular through the 1940’s and 50’s, transcending the backlash that so many comic book characters faced in post war America.  He even got a big budget re imagining several decades later which was a pretty blatant attempt at cashing in on its nostalgic value in 1980 where the main hero was re imagined for modern audiences.

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Because the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Side note: the comic has a website that publishes strips every week.  You can find it here and it’s really worth checking out.

Everything about the character, from the comic to the movies, is deliciously cheesy and over the top.  It’s got strange aliens, grand romance, and the forces of good triumphing over impossible odds.  It was also a massive influence for a lot of film makers and creative types at the time, including a little known film student named George Lucas.

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Lucas would go on to use the Flash Gordon space opera, along with ideas from film legend Akria Kurosawa and a host of others, to create a little film called Star Wars.

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It’s a really obscure movie, you’ve probably never heard of it.

The more you look at it, the more similarities you can find.  Like Flash Gordon, Star Wars has a band of plucky rebels,

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resisting an evil ruler,

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and tells a deeply personal story set against the backdrop of a massive and violent sci fi universe.

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Oh, and both franchises are famous for the sheer amount of merchandise and spin offs they managed to produce.

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Flash Gordon is one of the greatest and most influential science fiction stories of all time.  It’s epic scope and scale, along with it’s amazing story telling and imagination, have ensured its place in the annals of pop culture history and as the direct ancestor of one of the greatest stories of the 20th century.

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Crowd funded comics that deserve more attention: Mighty Mascots

It’s been a while, mostly because of holiday stress and a chaotic work situation, but we’re doing another one of these Kickstarter write ups this week!

Full disclosure: The author of this article does have a personal and professional friendship with the creator of this project and it does include artwork by Frankie B. Washington, the primary artist on a web comic published by this site.  The author has also donated to this project, but no money or favors were exchanged for the writing of this article.

Today we’re going to talk about a Kickstarter project called The Mighty Mascots

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The comic is a superhero story about a collection of food mascots (think the Planter’s Peanut or the Seakist tuna) who are brought to life through a freak 3-D printing accident and are brought together to fight various evil doers.  While the Kickstarter is funding the first creation of the first issue there are plans to turn it into an ongoing series.

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(this drawing was done by Frankie B. Washington)

The project was created by Keith Gleason and at the time of writing the project has $828 of its $1000 goal and has twelve days left to donate.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/914859599/the-mighty-mascots-comic-book-issue-1

Why I like it

As I mentioned at the top of the article, I know the creator of this project personally, and I can say without irony or coercion that Mr. Gleason knows his stuff.

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More specifically, Mr. Gleason is very good at writing lighthearted and humorous stories that feature interesting characters and incredibly unique set ups.

This project is no exception.  Where else are you going to find a bear with clawed boxing gloves,

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fighting next to an anthropomorphic glass of water, sugar, and blue food dye?

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The idea of using food brands as superheroes is an awesome idea.  Sure it’s been done before,

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but I will bet a considerable amount of money that this comic will be better than that abomination.

The art team is also worth mentioning.  As I said before, the comic features work from Frankie B. Washington and the principal artist is a man named Ian Waryanto,

Boxer Bear Unleashed!

who has done work for creators at Image and Marvel.

So it’s a cool idea, put together by a great creative team, and most importantly it’s a fun comic in an industry that has pushed fun and joy aside to focus on dark and brooding drama.

And then of course there’s the nostalgia factor which leads me into…

Why you should donate

If you’re a nostalgia fan, specifically a fan of 80’s and 90’s cartoons that were thinly veiled advertisements for action figures and sugary snacks and beverages, you owe it to yourself to back this project.  Let me explain why using two of the biggest nostalgic cash grabs in today’s market: Transformers and Stranger Things.

We all know that nostalgia is big business, which has led to everything from big budget versions of our favorite toy cartoons,

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to coming of age stories that reassure us that keeping our emotional attachment to the toys we grew up with isn’t just okay, it can actually save the world.

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What’s interesting is that while Hollywood is riding a massive cash wave of nostalgic fervor, it’s not Hollywood’s kind of nostalgia.

The fact of the matter is that most of the people in charge of what kind of movies and shows get made are too old to wax nostalgic about the 1980’s and 90’s.  Let me put it to you this way, do you really think Michael Bay grew up on the Transformers cartoon?

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The answer is no, he was born in 1965 and would have been in his twenties by the time the Transformers cartoon rolled around.

To properly leverage nostalgia into a product that can be profitable and enjoyable to its target audience you have to understand why audiences loved the original product in the first place.  This is usually helped by being part of the generation that grew up on said product and being given the time and freedom to put that feeling into film.

I think that it’s the reason why Stranger Things works so well.  The Duffer Brothers have demonstrated that they understand why people who grew up in the 1980’s loved that time period so much and Netflix has been very generous in leaving creators alone to do their work.

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So what would you rather have: an army of ancient Hollywood executives approving movies based off of nostalgic properties that they have little to no interest in, or a small team of creatives who genuinely care about what they’re working on and who want to put their heart and soul into something that they care about?

If your answer was the second option than go ahead, donate to the comic about cereal and beverage mascots fighting crime and taking names.

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Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/914859599/the-mighty-mascots-comic-book-issue-1

Golden Age Showcase: Minister Blizzard

It’s December, which means for those of us living in the northern climes it usually means a lot of this:

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Sure, it’s not always this dramatic or extreme, but when it snows it generally puts a damper on everyone’s plans.  Not a whole lot of people like the cold, except for the children who get the day off when school is cancelled.  What I’m getting at here is that the ability to control snow and ice makes for a fantastic super villain power.

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Sure, there are plenty of superheroes who can control snow and ice, but if you ask me it makes for a much more…chilling power in the hands of the bad guys.

Some of the greatest bad guys in comic book history are ice themed villains, and two of the greatest are Flash’s Captain Cold,

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and Batman’s Mr. Freeze.

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But while they may be two of the greatest villains around, they weren’t the first ice themed super villains in comics.  That honor belong’s to a Wonder Woman villain named Minister Blizzard.

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Side note: if anyone knows about an ice powered super villain who was published before this guy, please let me know.

Origin and Career

Minister Blizzard made his first appearance in Wonder Woman #29 in May of 1948.

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The script was written by Wonder Woman’s creator: William Moulton Marston and the art was done by early Wonder Woman artist Henry G. Peter.

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The story starts off with a scientist named Professor Chemico (gee, I wonder what he specializes in) traveling to the North Pole to test an invention that can control the climate of a surrounding area.  His intention is to raise the temperature of the North Pole in order to turn it into a warm and fertile place for humans to live.

This is hilarious when you consider that in any modern comic, this man would be a very clear cut villain.

However, despite the comic’s positive spin on global warming, it turns out that the actions of the protagonist will wind up causing a considerable amount of damage because there are already a group of people living in the fictional location of Iceberg Land at the North Pole.

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The people are led by the princess Snowina (groan!) and her Prime Minister is Minister Blizzard.

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At the start his intentions seem pure.  He helps protect his people from the seeming advances of the foreign invaders by capturing and freezing them.  However, it turns out that he’s a bit power hungry and decides to take the Professor’s machine and use it to take over the world.

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He attempts to threaten New York with a giant glacier, but Wonder Woman manages to stop him in time.  He’s captured, returned to the custody of the Ice People, and relations are repaired between the two civilizations.

So what happened?

He only had one appearance in the Golden Age books, but he would actually go on to have a fairly long and decent career in the later years.

His next appearance was in 1966 in Wonder Woman #162 where he tried to repeat his plan to take over New York by freezing it over.

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He even joined a bunch of other ice themed villains in an attempt to freeze and blackmail Ecuador.

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It turned out that the group had been formed to be a distraction for a much larger crime going on.

He would even make a few small modern appearances and this time the writers actually made him into an environmentally minded villain who was hellbent on creating another Ice Age.

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More recently, he has even had the honor of getting the stuffing beaten out of him by Batman in DC’s recent Rebirth series of comics when he tried to stop a billionaire from creating what he called a “fake winter town”.

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Minister Blizzard could be considered a small, one time super villain, but he has certainly gotten around.  As one of the first super villains with the power to control ice and snow he deserves a place in comic book history and a spot in the pantheon of DC comic book villains.

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Golden Age Showcase: Igor the Archer

So last week we talked about a Golden Age Canadian superhero and I thought it might be nice to continue our brief foray into international Golden Age superheroes and talk about a Russian comic book character.

Russia has a long and proud tradition of folklore heroes and fantastic individuals.  After all, you don’t wind up becoming the home for invading Vikings and Mongols and not develop a long and violent history.

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However, Russia’s contribution to the comic book world has been somewhat limited.  This can probably be attributed to two reasons.  First, it’s a well known fact that Russia’s greatest contribution to the world’s literary scene is the long and impossibly dense novel.

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Second, while America was using its superheroes to fight Nazis in the comics, Russia was in the middle of fighting the Nazis in a war that would have made the Red Skull cringe,

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and this was right after Stalin took over and celebrated by killing even more of his countrymen.

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(side note: this is the most G rated picture I could find.  Reading up on the Soviet purges is not for the faint of heart)

So Russia/the Soviet Union was a little too preoccupied to get in on the new comic book fad, but that didn’t stop the Americans from trying for them.

Today we’re going to talk about an American made Russian hero: Igor the Archer.

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Origin and Career

Igor made his first appearance in EC Comics’ International Comics #1 in the Spring of 1947.

Cover for International Comics (EC, 1947 series) #1

As covers go it’s pretty good, not up to the excellent EC Comics standards, but pretty entertaining.

While I can’t imagine the exact logic behind the creation of the character, I can imagine that the idea was tossed around as something exotic for an American audience.  After all, we had just finished fighting a war with the Soviet Union and while they were still our friends,

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Russian culture and history was just exotic and mysterious enough to be unknown and exciting.

As for the character himself, who created him is something of a mystery.  We’re pretty sure that the art was done by Captain Marvel and Superman stalwart Kurt Schaffenberger,

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and it’s rumored that the writing was done by comic book legend, creator of Barry Allen as the Flash, and author of almost 4,000 comic books, Gardner Fox.

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As for the character himself, well…he’s an archer from a noble family and the only champion of the oppressed who dares to fight back against a corrupt sheriff, I mean czar.

Comparisons to Robin Hood are inevitable.  No seriously, they even have an archery competition where the hero manages to split an arrow with another arrow.

The opening story itself is pretty bog standard, evil ruler tries to arrest the good guy and the good guy manages to escape.  It’s worth mentioning that he actually does this really cool “arrow ladder” thing to escape that would make Legolas proud.

It’s worth mentioning that the artwork is pretty good and the costumes are fairly historically accurate.  That hat that the czar is wearing?  That’s modeled after the crown of the early Russian czars.

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Also, the idea of a Russian ruler abusing the absolute power he has over the common people is nothing new considering that the Russian czars have a long history of violence against their subjects.

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So we have the set up for a long running and successful comic book series starring a character that is just familiar enough to audiences to be welcomed, just exotic enough to be interesting, and created by a writer and artist who were well known and successful for one of the greatest comic book publishers of the Golden Age.

What could possibly go wrong?

So what happened?

Everything went wrong almost immediately.

For starters, America and the Soviet Union went from being people who tolerated each other to passive aggressive neighbors with the capability to end the world at a moment’s notice.

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superheroes went the way of the dodo bird and EC Comics switched to publishing highly successful horror comics that got them in so much trouble they had to shut down,

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and Gardner Fox would go on to become one of the greatest comic book writers of all time.

The origin story above is the only evidence I could find online of Igor’s existence.  Apparently he had more appearances in more modern comics, but I can’t seem to find them.

With all things considered, it’s not very surprising that Igor the Archer didn’t become the next big thing.  Comic books would later use the Cold War to turn the Soviet people and culture into a comic book staple.  More often than not, they were portrayed as villains.

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But every now and then they had good guys like Colossus (my personal favorite X-Man),

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and devious antiheroes/double agents like Black Widow.

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In many ways, I’m actually kind of sad that Igor the Archer didn’t go on to have a successful career.  He was from an interesting time period of history and while his power set and motivation were a bit cliche, I think that with the proper guidance and a very passionate writer and editor, he could have turned into a great hero.

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