Comic book showcase: Black Lightning

So I just watched the season premiere of CW’s Black Lightning yesterday.

Image result for cw black lightning

It’s pretty good.  The effects were great, the character dynamics were well thought out and have a lot of potential, and it pulls absolutely no punches when it comes to dealing with the…well let’s be polite and say “strained” relationship between black Americans and the police.

Image result for black americans and police

By all accounts the CW has another hit on their hands and it looks like Black Lightning is here to stay, so let’s look at his origins and see what’s changed and if the show can learn anything from the comics.

Origin and Career

Black Lightning was created in 1977, a few decades after the Golden Age of Comics and the favorite time period of this blog.  This is going to require a little explanation.

It’s widely believed that the Golden Age of Comics ended in 1956 with the publication of Showcase #4 and the introduction of Barry Allen as the Flash.

Showcase4.JPG

This brought along the Silver Age of Comics, a time period that was known for comics that focused on a more sci fi and technological oriented appeal.

Image result for silver age comics

Magic had been replaced by space science and monsters had been replaced by aliens.

This was also the time when Marvel Comics came into the world as the comic book company we all know and love today.  A little known creator named Stan Lee decided to create a super hero family that traveled across time and space to defeat strange and fantastic threats.

Image result for fantastic four #1

It did pretty well and helped kick off the Marvel Universe that we all know and love today.

However, by the 1970’s things were changing again, and comics were moving out of the high concept science fantasy of the Silver Age.  Times were changing.  There were protests,

Image result for 1970's protest

racial violence,

Image result for 1970's racial violence

and there was a general sense of doom and gloom.

Image result for 1970's urban decay

Yes, the 1970’s were a unique and special time that we will never have to live through again.

The great thing about these changing times was that in the comic book industry restrictions on what comic books could be talk about were becoming looser and looser, and in 1970 we entered a time that comic book historians called “The Bronze Age of Comics”.

This was a time where comic books got darker and edgier, talking about issues like drugs,

Image result for dc speedy drugs

not shying away from violence,

Image result for marvel the punisher first appearance

and launching an explosion of black superheroes.  Luke Cage is probably the most famous and successful of these heroes.

Image result for famous bronze age comics

Anyway, DC had a problem in the 1970’s, Marvel was growing too fast and taking away a huge portion of their business.  So DC decided to try and beat Marvel by flooding the market with a slew of new titles.  One of these titles was going to be DC’s first black superhero and they eventually decided to publish….the Black Bomber.

The Black Bomber was supposed to be a white bigot who hated black people, but thanks to an accident he gained the ability to turn into a black superhero when under duress.

Image result for dc comics the black bomber

This is the only picture I could find of him.  The only other reference he got in a comic book was a small reference in a Justice League of America comic written by Dwayne McDuffie.

Image result for dc comics the black bomber

Yeah, this was probably not a good idea.

So what convinced the editors at DC to change their mind?  Why one of the writers of Luke Cage of course!

Image result for tony isabella comics

The guy on the right is Tony Isabella, one of the early writers of Luke Cage.  DC had hired Tony to create their first black superhero and in 1977 he partnered with artist Trevor Von Eden,

Image result for trevor von eeden

to create Black Lightning.

Image result for black lightning number 1

Black Lightning’s real name is Jefferson Pierce.  He actually grew up in the poorest part of Metropolis known as Suicide Slum.  After becoming a highly successful athlete an scholar he returned home and he used a newly created power belt that helped him shoot bolts of electricity to clean up the streets of drug dealers and gang members.

Image result for suicide slum metropolis

Where was Superman in all of this?  Probably saving Earth from aliens but whatever.

Black Lightning did initially play up a lot of stereotypes that were prevalent among the black community in the 1970’s.  His costume and accent were over the top and almost comical but his intentions were good and he proved himself to be a respectable hero in his own right, gaining the trust of Superman and several other figures in the city in his battle against the gang that had made Suicide Slum their home, a group called The 100 and led by a large man known as Tobias Whale.

Image result for dc comics the 100

Aside from changing the location, the show appears to be pretty loyal to the comics.  Granted, in his early appearances Black Lightning isn’t married and doesn’t have kids, but that would come later.

So what happened?

Unfortunately the individual series for the character only lasted 11 issues.  While DC had high hopes in regaining its market share by flooding the market with new comics, it didn’t work out so well due to rising printing costs, the 1977 blizzard, and an awful economic recession.  A year later the company cancelled 40% of its titles in an event known as the “DC Implosion”.

Image result for implosion

Black Lightning survived, although he would only show up in other books for the next couple of years.  In 1983, he joined a group called the Outsiders, a group of superheroes led by Batman and featured mostly new characters like Katana and Geo-Force.

Image result for black lightning the outsiders

So yes, the idea that Batman is everything is nothing new.

In 1989 it was revealed that his powers weren’t the result of his power belt, but they were actually derived from a genetic abnormality known as the “Metagene”, a plot point that has been used throughout the DC universe as the source of power for a large number of their heroes.

DC’s first black superhero would get another crack at a solo series in 1995, and they even brought back Tony Isabella to do the writing.

Image result for black lightning 1995

Unfortunately, history has a nasty way of repeating itself and the series was cancelled after 13 issues.

Black Lightning has continued to exist in the DC universe as a hero making appearances in other books.  At one point, Lex Luthor actually made him Secretary of Education when he was elected President of the United States.

Image result for black lightning secretary of education

But let’s not delve too much into the fact that a comic book company had a corrupt businessman elected to the Presidency, that’s just too unrealistic.

He would also get a family and two children to look after.  Their names were Anissa and Jennifer Pierce and they have been a staple of Black Lightning’s identity ever since.

Image result for dc comics black lightning children

Even though he’s never had much of a solo career, Black Lightning is a capable and talented hero with a great backstory and plenty of potential.

Image result for black lightning secretary of education

He is a teacher, a mentor, and a very capable role model for everyone in the DC universe but most importantly of all…he has the respect and attention of Batman.

Image result for black lightning secretary of education

I think this CW show is going to be awesome.

Image result for black lightning secretary of education

Advertisements

Golden Age Showcase: Lobo

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. day everyone!

Image result for martin luther king star trek fan

Today is the birthday of one of America’s greatest civil rights leaders and in honor of the day I’m also going to post the video to his famous “I have a Dream” speech, which I highly encourage you to watch since it is one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century.

Fun fact: the man was also a huge Star Trek fan.

Image result for martin luther king star trek fan

He was such a huge fan that he personally begged Nichelle Nichols to keep her iconic role as Lt. Nyota Uhura on the show.

Image result for uhura

Don’t believe me?  The Washington Post can do a better job of explaining it than I can.

Anyway, another tradition that this blog has for Martin Luther King Jr. Day is talking about black representation in the comic book industry.  Today I thought it would be nice to talk about the first black comic book character to star in his own solo comic book series: Lobo.

Image result for dell comics lobo

Origin and Career

The character made his debut in his own self titled series in December of 1965.

Image result for dell comics lobo

The comic was published by a company called Dell Comics, which had survived the comic book crash of the 1950’s by publishing Disney licensed comics and grew to become the largest comic book publisher of the 1960’s.

He was created by writer and Dell Comics editor Don Arneson and artist Tony Tallarico.  Both of them were white men from Minneapolis and Brooklyn respectively and thought that having a black cowboy as the main character of a series might be a good sales hook to lure interested readers.

Since the comic was published two years after King’s famous speech and in the middle of the American Civil Rights movement  I can see the logic.

The story itself starts off at the very end of the Civil War, where it is revealed that the main character fought for the Union and is happy to finally be free.

Unfortunately, the unit is attacked by a bunch of Confederate soldiers who haven’t heard that the war is over.  The main character is fed up with the violence and decides to move West to start a new life for himself.  He becomes a cattle drover on a ranch where he is framed for murder and decides to become a vigilante and hunt down other criminals.  His trademark is a gold coin with a wolf’s head on it, which is where he gets his name since “Lobo” is Spanish for wolf.

His name is never revealed and his race is never brought up as a point of contention.  He’s a good and capable man who just happens to be black.

Now, believe it or not, this story does have some basis in historical fact.  There were black soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War,

Image result for black civil war soldiers

many people did move out west in an attempt to start a new life after the war and there were black cowboys such as Nat Love who worked in the West as cattle drivers.

Image result for black cowboys

So we have a publishing company at the height of its power, with a character based in a genre that was doing really well at the time and steeped in historical fact, coupled with a good creative team telling a story about a black man in the middle of one of the most progressive and forward looking eras in American history.

What could possibly go wrong?

So what happened?

The series was cancelled due to poor sales numbers.  Basically, how the industry worked back then was that publishers would print a certain number of copies of a book and sell it to retailers who would mark up the price and sell it to the public.  Any copies that weren’t sold would have their covers cut off and returned to the publisher.

After publishing the first issue of Lobo comic book retailers returned over 90% of the copies that Dell Comics had shipped out.

It’s worth mentioning that this is not the case with comic book distribution today since the distribution industry doesn’t allow returns and is dominated by a singe company called Diamond Distributors,

Image result for diamond distribution

but that is another story.

While there is not official explanation for the crappy sales numbers it’s probably safe to assume that a comic book with a gun wielding black man on the cover in 1960’s America probably didn’t go over very well with the majority of the American comic book buying public, who just so happened to be white.
Image result for dell comics lobo

Still, it was a well written, well drawn character with some serious and well meaning effort behind his creation and while we may never grace the cover of another comic book ever again, his position in the annuls of comic book history is assured as the first African American solo comic book character.

Image result for dell comics lobo

Golden Age Showcase: Alias X

We’re back!

Image result for new years fireworks

After a nice relaxing Christmas break, and a nasty cold, we’re back to deliver more strange and interesting superheroes of the early days of comics.

2017 was a great year for this blog and we look forward to more of the same this year.  In fact, let’s get started with a good one.

Here’s a hero that never made it past 1943, but could actually be a perfect hero for the modern day: Alias X.

Image result for alias x holyoke

He even has a cool name.

Origin and Career

Alias X made his first appearance in Captain Fearless #1 in August of 1941.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

We are definitely going to cover the guy on the cover later.

Alias himself was created by Ray Allen and Al Ulmer, two men who will remain mysterious since I can’t find their pictures.

The cover of the book says that it’s published by a company called Holyoke Publishing, but that isn’t true.  It was actually created by a company called Hellnit Publishing, which was owned by this man: Frank Z. Temerson.

Remember this, it becomes important later.

The character himself was created by Ray Allen and Al Ulmer, two people who are so obscure that I can’t find any photos of them anywhere.

The hero’s story starts in the middle.  A mysterious costumed hero who goes by the name of “X” has been terrorizing the criminal underworld and the police commissioner and a newspaper editor are talking about him.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

The hero makes an unexpected appearance and decides to tell the two men his backstory.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

He refuses to give his name, but mentions that he was a small time taxi operator who was charged with the murder of a cop.

The man decides to do the right thing…by escaping prison and bringing those responsible to justice.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

A man on trial for a crime he didn’t commit?  Being forced to answer questions without a lawyer?  Making his escape in order to clear his name?  Yep, sounds like a comic book character to me!

The man doesn’t have any superpowers, but he does use his time in hiding to become a master of disguise.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

The comic says his home was only ten miles away from the prison.  He’s either the smartest man in the world or these cops are idiots.

The new hero manages to foil a robbery using his powers of disguise, and tells the commissioner and newspaper editor that if he manages to complete his mission, someday he will reveal who he really is.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

The rest of Alias’ adventures would follow a similar pattern where he would find and catch a group of criminals using his powers of disguise.  Sadly, he didn’t have a whole lot of time or enough attention to give him an established super villain, although he did appear in a comic called Captain Aero where he fought a Nazi spy ring.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Aero Comics v1 10 (4)

Alias X would only have a handful of appearances and ceased to exist after 1942, a much shorter lifespan than his contemporaries.  Why?  Well…

So what happened?

So you remember the start of the article, where I said the character was originally published under Helnit Publishing under the control of Frank Z. Temerson?

Image result for frank z. temerson

Well, get ready for legal shenanigans because here’s where it gets weird.

Holyoke Publishing wasn’t a book publisher, it was a newspaper business.

Image result for holyoke newspapers

The company decided to enter the comic book business by taking books created by Helnit Publishing, along with the bankrupt Fox Publications, and repackage them under the Holyoke name.

This was how Holyoke became the publisher of the Blue Beetle, a Golden Age hero with a much longer history than Alias X.

Image result for golden age blue beetle

If this sounds sketchy than you’ve got good instincts.  Documentation over who owned what was pretty poor back then and the owner of Fox Publications would wind up suing Holyoke and winning.

Image result for scales of justice

Temerson, being the original owner of Alias X, would also reclaim what he lost and Holyoke would cease publishing comics in 1944.

Alias X is an interesting case as far as Golden Age superheroes go.  Since he was published by a company that had a small audience and a troubled history he didn’t get a whole lot of attention and respect.  Also, unlike most of the heroes we talk about on this blog he fell off the map at the height of popularity for super heroes in American culture.

Could he have survived the post war years?  Would he have gone on to become one of the great heroes of the modern age?

Comic Book Cover For Captain Fearless Comics #1

Probably not, but I think it would have been interesting to try.

 

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

Image result for flash gordon comic

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.

Image result for king features syndicate

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.

Image result for king features syndicate

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.

Image result for buck rogers comic

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.

Image result for alex raymond

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.

Image result for ming the merciless comic

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.

Image result for flash gordon movie serials

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.

Image result for flash gordon movie

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.

Image result for george lucas

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.

Image result for star wars

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,

Image result for star wars han luke leia

resisting an evil ruler,

Image result for star wars the emperor

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

Image result for star wars space battle

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

Image result for flash gordon toys  Image result for star wars toys

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.

Image result for flash gordon comic

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

Image result for mighty mascots kickstarter

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.

Image result for mighty mascots kickstarter

(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.

Image result for keith gleason leominster

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,

Image result for mighty mascots kickstarter

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

Image result for mighty mascots kickstarter

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

Image result for food fight animated movie

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,

Image result for transformers movies

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.

Image result for stranger things

 

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?

Image result for michael bay

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.

Image result for the duffer brothers

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.

Image result for mighty mascots kickstarter

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:

Image result for blizzard snow

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.

Image result for ice themed supervillains

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,

Image result for captain cold

and Batman’s Mr. Freeze.

Image result for mr. freeze

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.

Image result for minister blizzard

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.

Image result for wonder woman #29 1944

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.

Image result for henry g. peter and william marston

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.

download.jpeg

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

Image result for minister blizzard

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.

Image result for minister blizzard

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.

Image result for minister blizzard silver age

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

Image result for minister blizzard dc ecuador

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.

Image result for minister blizzard dc wonder woman annual

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”.

Image result for minister blizzard batman

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.

Image result for minister blizzard

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.

Image result for russian vikings

Image result for russian mongols

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.

Image result for war and peace

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,

Image result for russia ww2

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

Image result for stalin purges

(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.

Image result for igor the archer

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,

Image result for american soviet alliance

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,

Image result for kurt schaffenberger

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.

Image result for gardner fox

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.

Image result for rurik russia crown

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.

Image result for ivan sacks novgorod

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.

Image result for cold war

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,

Image result for ec comics international comics

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.

Image result for russian silver age comic book villains

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

Image result for marvel colossus

and devious antiheroes/double agents like Black Widow.

Image result for black widow marvel

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.

Image result for igor the archer comicbook

Golden Age Showcase; Nelvana of the Northern Lights

Canada.  From what I’ve heard it’s a pretty nice place.

Image result for canada

As an American I may not know a whole lot about our neighbor to the north aside from hockey, poutine, curling, Celine Dion, hockey, maple syrup, universal healthcare, hockey, Justin Bieber, Molson, and hockey, but I do know that Canada has a respectable place in comic book history as the home of Marvel’s greatest cash cow…I mean greatest bad asses: Wolverine.

Image result for marvel wolverine

and to all the people complaining about me not bringing up Alpha Flight,

Image result for alpha flight

they came out after Wolverine.  But don’t worry, they factor into this article later.

But Wolverine wasn’t the first Canadian superhero.  Everyone’s favorite hairy man with foot long murder knives in his hands was first published in 1974 and it turns out that Canada had been in the comic book publishing business since the Golden Age.

Today we’re going to talk about Canada’s first true superhero: Nelvana of the Northern Lights.

Image result for nelvana of the northern lights

Origin and Career

Nelvana of the Northern Lights made her first appearance in Triumph Adventure Comics #1 which was published by Hillborough Studios in August of 1941.

Image result for triumph adventure comics

She was created by Canadian comic artist Adrian Dingle,

Image result for adrian dingle

who was inspired by stories told by Canadian painter Frank Johnston.

There are a couple of things to note about this comic.  For starters, the cover is in black and white and you’ve probably never heard of Hillsborough Studios.  That’s because the publisher was created by Dingle and two others to create something resembling what we would call an independent publisher today.  The reason why the comic is in black and white is to cut down on costs, partially because it was a small operation, partially due to the lack of resources thanks to the war effort, and partially due to the fact that the Canadian comic book market wasn’t very large at the time.

Nelvana would turn out to be Dingle’s greatest and most lasting success.

Image result for nelvana of the northern lights

For starters, she was one of the first comic book heroines ever published.  She wasn’t the first, but she beat out Wonder Woman by three months.  However, she was the first truly Canadian superhero and she was a member and protector of the Inuit people,

Image result for canadian inuit

and you could make the argument that this makes her one of the first Native American superheroes ever published (someone correct me in the comments if I’m wrong).

Nelvana is a demigoddess, the child of a human mother and a god named Koliak who was the king of the Northern Lights.

Image result for nelvana of the northern lights koliak

Her powers were pretty fitting for a demi god.  She could fly, turn herself invisible, travel at the speed of light along the Norther Lights, and could summon a heat ray that could melt through almost anything.

Also, she had a brother named Tanero.

Image result for nelvana of the northern lights tanero

What makes Tanero interesting is that he couldn’t be seen by white men, he had to turn into a dog whenever they were present.  Thankfully, her brother/household pet proved to be useful as a noble steed Nelvana could ride on.

That’s not weird at all.

In her first seven stories, Nelvana and her brother protected the Inuit people from all kinds of threats from slavers to Nazi agents, thus fulfilling the standard “Golden Age hero kicks Nazi butt” quota.

After seven issues, Dingle took his creation to a company called Bell Features, which allowed Nelvana to add some color to her adventures.

Image result for nelvana of the northern lights aliens

Her stories took a left turn into crazy awesomeness after that.  Now instead of just Nazis and gangsters, Nelvana fought aliens and mad scientists with death rays.

While her enemies became crazier, Nelvana became a bit more grounded.  She adopted the civilian persona Alana North and gave up a good portion of her mystic origin to become the standard spy smasher super heroine that the real life war effort called for.

Fun side note: did you know that the Nazis actually landed on Canadian soil during the war?  They established a weather station on Newfoundland in 1943 and used it to determine weather patterns in Europe for the rest of the war.

Image result for nazi weather station

So it turns out that Alana North would have had an actual job on her hands and that threats of invasion weren’t that far off.

So what happened?

While Nelvana was able to hold her own and become a Canadian symbol during the war, she and her publisher could not survive the glut of American comics that flooded the Canadian market when trade restrictions were lifted after the war.  Nelvana had her last appearance in 1947 and Bell Features ceased publication in 1953.

Thankfully, despite her short history, Nelvana’s story actually gets a happy ending.  While she didn’t last very long, her impact on Canadian identity and culture lives on to this day.

The Canadian animation company Nelvana Limited is named after her.

Image result for nelvana limited

They bought the rights to the character in 1971 and currently share said rights with Library and Archives Canada.

And for those of you who are upset that I didn’t talk about the Canadian super team Alpha Flight don’t worry, it turns out that Nelvana is actually the mother of one of the team members: Snowbird.

Image result for snowbird marvel

But the best part of the story is that reprints of her old stories are actually being published to this very day!  In 2013 comic book historian Hope Nicholson launched a Kickstarter campaign to reprint six of Nelvana’s old stories and bring them to a modern audience.

The campaign made its goal in five days and the project is currently being published through IDW.

Related image

Nelvana of the Northern Lights deserves a special place in comic book history as one of the first, and most powerful super heroines in comic books.  While she got left by the wayside due to the limitations of the Canadian comic book industry, she proved that great superheroes don’t have to be American to be popular.

I like to think she was the Canadian version of Superman, a heroine who inspired thousands of other creatives to imagine and create superheroes of their own.

Image result for nelvana of the northern lights

Golden Age Showcase: Mister Mind and the Monster Society of Evil

So the Justice League movie came out this weekend.

Image result for justice league

I haven’t seen it, I probably will despite the negative reviews, and I think I’ll use this opportunity to talk about super hero team ups.

The idea of superheroes teaming up to fight evil together is nothing new in comics.  The very first time it happened was in All Star Comics #3 in 1940 when the Justice Society of America was formed.

Image result for all star comics 3

Super hero team ups like this can happen for a couple of reasons.  In the case of the JSA above and the original Luke Cage and Iron Fist books,

Image result for iron fist and luke cage

it was a successful attempt at saving the characters from poor sales numbers.  In the case of the modern day Avengers,

Image result for the avengers

It was a reward for the fans for watching the movies and making the MCU into the most successful franchise of all time.

But it’s not just superheroes that have been brought together, the bad guys get their team ups too.

While one of the most famous examples has to be DC’s Suicide Squad,

Image result for suicide squad 1987

today I want to talk about the first super villain team up in comic book history: The Monster Society of Evil.

Image result for the monster society of evil

Origin and Career

The Monster Society of Evil was a collection of super villains that were published by Fawcett Comics: the original creators of Captain Marvel.

Image result for fawcett comics

Captain Marvel was an interesting hero, mostly because for a brief period of history he was actually more popular than Superman.

Image result for captain marvel vs superman

But we’re not here to talk about Captain Marvel, we’re here to talk about the bad guys and the devious mastermind that brought them together.

The Monster Society of Evil made its first appearance in Captain Marvel Adventures #22 in March of 1943.

Image result for captain marvel adventures 22

The story was drawn by the original Captain Marvel artist C.C Beck,

Image result for c.c beck

and written by one of the most prolific Captain Marvel and Superman writers of all time: Otto Binder.

Image result for otto binder

The comic starts off with the mysterious and intimidating Mister Mind intercepting a broadcast about an Indian Princess who has a set of jewels that she wishes to donate to the Allied war effort.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #22

For starters, props to the villain for having a moon base and second, it’s amazing how just on the nose a bad guy named “Captain Nazi” can be.

Why is Mister Mind helping someone like Captain Nazi?  Because it’s evil of course!

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #22

It turns out that there’s more to the princess’ jewels than  meets the eye, and that Captain Nazi is very good at disguises,

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #22

even if his henchmen are idiots.

Captain Marvel manages to track down Captain Nazi, only to find that it was all a trap set up by Mister Mind.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #22

While the hero is able to take the villains out one by one, both sides manage to track down a second pearl and the villains make their getaway through the power of teamwork.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #22

The race to retrieve the pearls would go on for several issues, with Captain Marvel taki.  Interestingly, the mastermind behind the whole operation would continue to remain hidden for two more issues until Captain Marvel finally decides to take the fight to Mister Mind’s moon base.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #26

It’s a pretty awesome story, with Captain Marvel fighting robots,

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #26

and squid men.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #26

The Captain decides to search as his alter ego, Billy Batson.  After brushing off an insignificant little worm he’s confronted by a giant of a man who appears to be the real Mister Mind.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #26

Our hero manages to defeat the villain with an epic headbutt!

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #26

But it turns out that the giant wasn’t Mister Mind at all!

Not to worry though, they reveal the true identity of Mister Mind in the next issue.  You know that worm Batson brushed off of his shoulder?  Yep…that’s the criminal mastermind!

Image result for captain marvel mister mind

Oh yes, that’s certainly the face of a criminal mastermind and genius.

Despite his small stature and lack of long range vision, Mister Mind is a capable villain with the ability to hypnotize creatures and humans to do his bidding.  So naturally he teams up with Hitler.

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #28

Mister Mind turns out to be a very slippery nemesis for Captain Marvel and the two would continue their game of cat and mouse (worm and human just doesn’t have the same ring to it) for over twenty issues and ended in Captain Marvel Adventures #46 when he’s captured, tried, and executed via electric chair…

Comic Book Cover For Captain Marvel Adventures #46

somehow.

And that was the end of Mister Mind in the Golden Age of Comics, one of the smallest and most devious villains in all of comic books.

So what happened?

Sure the evil worm may have been killed, but we all know that death is but a revolving door in comics so he could have made a comeback.

Unfortunately that wouldn’t happen.  Fawcett stopped making comics in 1953 and DC wound up suing Fawcett for copyright infringement in one of the longest court cases in comic book history.

In 1972 DC Comics began publishing their own Captain Marvel stories under the title of SHAZAM! due to Marvel Comics snapping up the copyright to the name.

Cover

Mister Mind would be reborn as a DC super villain in the second issue of the series where it was revealed that he had survived the electrocution and hypnotized a taxidermist into creating a fake corpse.

Image result for mister mind dc comics

The villainous worm would reform the Society of Evil to include some of the most powerful and deadly villains in the Captain Marvel franchise.

Image result for the monster society of evil

This would continue until DC reset its entire universe in 1986 with the Crisis on Infinite Earths event and everything was reset.

Image result for crisis on infinite earths

Mister Mind would wind up returning to the DC universe in the limited event series The Power of SHAZAM!, only this time he became a tad more…intimidating.

Image result for mister mind dc comics the power of shazam

This version of the villain was a member of a species from Venus and almost destroyed the Earth in a nuclear holocaust.

The worm would continue to be a nemesis of the Captain Marvel series and DC heroes as a whole.  His most recent appearance was in the company’s New 52 reboot, although the Society of Evil didn’t make an appearance.

Image result for mister mind dc comics the power of shazam

He has yet to appear in any recent DC comics.

Mister Mind is one of the most interesting comic book villains to ever come out of the Golden Age of Comics.  He was smart, capable, and evil to the core but needed to manipulate others to do his dirty work for him.  Outside of stalwarts like Lex Luthor and the Joker, Mister Mind has one of the longest and most successful careers of any comic book super villain and I would be very interested in seeing if DC decides to do anything with him in the future.

Image result for mister mind dc comics the power of shazam

 

 

Golden Age Showcase: Stuntman

We all know who Jack Kirby is right?

Image result for jack kirby

Okay, so for anyone who doesn’t know the name all you need to know is that Kirby was the main artist and one of the biggest creative voices behind many of Marvel’s greatest superheroes.  The man had one of the most prolific art careers in comic book history (there are stories out there that said he could draw five to six pages a day) but  was sadly, and unfairly, overshadowed by his more famous counterpart: Stan Lee.

Image result for jack kirby and stan lee

With such a legendary career you would think that Kirby created nothing but legendary stories.  Sadly, that wasn’t the case as evidenced by today’s hero: Stuntman.

Image result for stuntman comic golden age

Origin and Career

Our hero made his first appearance in the self titled Stuntman #1, which was published in April of 1946.

Comic Book Cover For Stuntman #1

A couple of things to note here.  First, the cover claims that it’s not a comic book.  Instead, it’s a comic novelette which makes me think the comic’s creators were trying to create something a bit classier than the throwaway pulp that made up most of the comic book scene of the 1940’s.  Second, you’ll notice that the book was created by Jack Kirby AND Joe Simon, the creator of Captain America.

Image result for joe simon and jack kirby

So we have not one, but two of the greatest comic book creators of all time working on single project.  This ought to be good.

The story starts off with a criminal gang trying to shake down a travelling circus, implying that there will be several accidents if management doesn’t pay up.

Comic Book Cover For Stuntman #1

Sadly, the criminals succeed in killing the circus’ greatest act: a group of high flying acrobats known as “The Flying Apollos”

Comic Book Cover For Stuntman #1

The only survivor is their young ward Fred who vows revenge and accidentally runs into a movie star/amateur detective named Don Daring.

Comic Book Cover For Stuntman #1

What?  Is the origin of an acrobatic superhero who used to work for a circus before his parents were murdered starting to sound a bit familiar to you?  Shut up and focus on the excellent artwork!

Anyway, Fred takes a job as Don’s stuntman in his pictures with the purpose of getting a new job and working with Don in order to solve the case by acting as bait for the killer.  Fred is eventually attacked and decides to don a costume to go after the killer

Comic Book Cover For Stuntman #1

Hmmm, could use more black.

Don discovers that it was a circus manager who was behind the crime all along, but before he can carry out his dastardly deed he is ambushed by the Stuntman and the day is saved.

Comic Book Cover For Stuntman #1

The rest of Stuntman’s adventures would have a similar theme to them.  Don would do all of the detective work while Fred would swoop in as the Stuntman to do the fighting.  The two men were a duo, dynamic even, and their adventures all centered around the entertainment industry and the various people looking to fleece audiences and entertainers alike.

For a Golden Age comic the writing and artwork were fantastic.  But then again, that’s what you expect from the minds and talents of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon.  Surely the Stuntman would go on to become one of the greatest superheroes of all time.

So what happened?

The Stuntman Comic only lasted three issues and the character would only make nine appearances for a single year.

Honestly, considering the talent behind the character and quality of the artwork and writing, I’m really surprised it only lasted that long.  Maybe it was the post war backlash against superheroes, or maybe it was Harvey Comics’ decision to focus on licensed characters instead of original content.

Image result for harvey comics

but sadly we were deprived of more excellent stories.

However, it’s safe to say that the legacy of the Stuntman superhero lives on in another circus performer who watched his family get murdered before his eyes and eventually wind up fighting crime under the guidance of a rich amateur detective.

Image result for golden age robin

Okay, so maybe Stuntman bears too much of a resemblance to Robin for comfort and maybe if the title had kept going Harvey would have found themselves on the receiving end of a DC lawsuit, but I honestly think that comic book fans and readers missed out on something fantastic with this Golden Age hero created by two of the greatest comic book creators of all time.

Image result for stuntman comic golden age