Comic book Showcase: Wytches

First and foremost, my apologies for not posting anything last week.  I just started a second job and I’ve been busy adjusting to that.

Second, happy Father’s Day!

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A lot of cultures and countries have a day or two where parents are honored more than usual, and yesterday was the day Americans do it, mostly by buying manly things like ties and tools.

Now, I’ve made it very clear that I’ve found it difficult to write a blog entry about some obscure superhero after a holiday that celebrates parenthood.  There are two reasons for this.  First, one of the core values of parent hood is keeping your children safe and the inherent violence that superhero stories require,

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would probably make any self respecting parent cry.

This segues right into the second problem with parenthood in comics.  It’s a well known fact that comic book parents have a nasty habit of dying or being absent from the equation.

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You can’t have parents worrying about their offspring if they’re completely removed from the equation.

So, instead of talking about an obscure comic book superhero from the 1980’s, I thought it would be nice to honor Father’s Day by sharing one of my favorite horror comics with you guys that talks about parenthood: Scott Snyder’s Wytches.

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Side note: This comic came out in 2014, so it’s fairly recent but not recent enough for nobody to have read it, and it’s written and drawn by two well known comic book creators and has garnered enough of a reputation to be optioned as a movie.  I’m going to assume a lot of the people who read this blog have either read it or heard about it, but in the mean time,

SPOILERS AHEAD!

About the comic

Wytches is a six issue limited series that was published by Image Comics in October of 2014.

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The comic was drawn by British artist Jock,

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and written by American artist Scott Snyder.

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Both these guys are fantastic creatives with resumes a mile long, but if I had to draw attention to one part of their careers it would be their contributions to DC’s Batman.  Jock for his artwork,

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and Scott for what he’s added to the mythos, such as the Court of Owls.

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What both Jock and Snyder are very good at is creepy, horror imagery and that all comes to a terrifying and amazing forefront with Wytches.

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The story follows a father named Charlie, his wife Laura, and their daughter Sailor as they move to the small town of Litchfield New Hampshire.

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The reason why they moved was due to Sailor being mercilessly bullied by another girl,

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right up until the girl had an unfortunate “accident”, which led to people believing that Sailor had killed the bully.

Unfortunately for the family, the town and surrounding forest are home to some thing ancient, dark, and horrible: wytches.

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These aren’t creatures of magic, or even human.  These are hunched, twisted, menacing apex predators who live underneath trees and cook humans alive before eating them.  They have some sort of ancient science that can grant boons to anyone who wishes to gain their favor, but they demand a sacrifice in exchange.

This is done by spraying people with a green liquid that marks them as “pledges” and throwing them into a hollowed out tree where the pledge gets dragged down to their lair and eaten.

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Really horrific stuff.

The story is about the family dealing with the wytches and trying not to get eaten.  To say anymore would spoil some of the fun parts of the plot, so all I’m going to say is that you should read it.

Themes and meaning

So why am I talking about a horror comic on the day after Father’s Day?

Well, the importance of family and the things that parents will do to protect their children is a major theme of the story.

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Sure, there’s the obvious issue of Charlie trying to save his daughter from the very real monsters that want to eat her.

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But it goes deeper than that.

Charlie spends most of the time he has with his daughter trying to help her deal with her anxiety and what I can only assume is a pretty bad case of PTSD.

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There’s actually a really gut wrenching scene near the end of the book that’s a flash back to Charlie snapping at his daughter for what he perceives as weakness.

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This is contrasted with his wife, who wants to forget everything and start over.

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She has her reasons, but to talk about them is something that I don’t want to spoil.

Wytches is an expertly written, incredibly well drawn, and horrifying modern parable on the dangers and fears of modern parenting and I would actually go as far as to say that it would probably make a very good Father’s Day gift.

Assuming your dad likes this sort of stuff.

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Comic book showcase: Fish Police

I did some thinking over the Memorial Day weekend and I came to the realization of just how different this blog is going to have to be.

Talking about superheroes from the 1940’s was much easier than talking about comics from the 80’s.  For one thing, there were more resources and easier access to scanned copies of books from the 1940’s.  Plus the business was much newer and simpler back then with the centralized distribution through newsstands and a small group of publishers, the lack of censorship from the Code, and less media to compete with for viewers.

But then again, if it wasn’t for the wild and kooky business practices of the 1980’s I don’t think we would have had anything as bizarre as Fish Police.

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Origin and Career

Fish Police was created by comic writer and artist Steve Moncuse, whose image I cannot find.  He first started Fish Police as a self published title under the name of Fishwrap Productions.

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This lasted for eleven issues until it was picked up by a small indie publisher called Comico in 1987.

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Comico is the kind of publisher that this blog was built for and you better believe this will not be the first time we talk about them.

Fish Police is a comic about Gil,

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Gill is a hat wearing, hard nosed, gun packing detective who allegedly used to be human and now solves fish related crimes in a sort of film noir style, complete with an authority figure that’s had enough of his loose cannon ways.

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One would assume that it would be easy to solve a murder when everyone is “sleeping with the fishes”.

The comic even continued the film noir tropes by including a dame named Angel,

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who gets Gil mixed up in a strange drug case involving her uncle but that’s all I was able to find on that.

So what happened?

Everything was hunky dory for 17 issues until Comico went bankrupt in 1986 after trying to distribute their comics directly and through newsstands.

The comic was almost immediately picked up by Apple Press,

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That lasted for a few years until 1991 when Apple let the series go.

Despite the comparatively short print run and carousal of publishers, the idea still had some life to it.  In 1992 Steve Moncouse and artist Steve Haulk launched Fish Shticks, a six issue series that told some new stories and was more gag focused than the original.

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Also, joy of joy and wonder of wonders!  They made an animated tv show!

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Hanna Barbara (you know, the Scooby Doo guys) adapted the comic into a regrettably short lived animated show that took a much darker and hard broiled (preferably with a nice white wine sauce and lemon) turn than the comic.

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For God’s sake, the show had Tim Curry voicing a shark lawyer!

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Which is funny considering that this wasn’t even close to his weirdest role.

The cartoon was created as an attempt to compete with the new and hip show on Fox The Simpsons,

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but since you probably know all about The Simpsons and next to nothing about Fish Police, it’s safe to say we can guess what happened.

The show only lasted 6 episodes, which I am sure you can find online if you look hard enough.

The series has continued to live on in reprints.  Marvel reprinted the title in the early 90’s and IDW reprinted the story as late as 2011.  Plus, there was a new Fish Police story that made an appearance in Dark Horse Presents in 2013.

Fish Police was a story that could have only gone as far as it did in the 1980’s.  It was a self published book that managed to make it all the way to prime time television before dying a painful death wrapped in newspaper.  It was quirky in all the right ways and i love it.

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Although, I am disappointed at the lack of fish puns I was able to fit into this article.

1980’s Comic Showcase: Angel Love

As I was hunting around the internet for obscure comic books from the 1980’s to talk about I stumbled upon this beauty:

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It looked crazy, it was from a small publisher, and it only lasted three issues!

Sadly, it was so obscure that I couldn’t find anything else about it besides who created it and who published it, not very good blog material.  There are copies of the comic available for sale on Amazon, but I am poor at the moment and shipping takes time.

I wouldn’t mind taking a look at this later, but until then…let’s look at a slice of life story starring an aspiring female artist living in New York City called Angel Love.

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Origin and Career

Angel Love was created, written, and illustrated by a cartoonist named Barbara Slate.

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Mrs. Slate rose to prominence in the comic book world with her character Ms. Liz, who appeared on greeting cards,

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comic strips,

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and the Today Show even commissioned a few animated shorts of Ms. Liz in 1982.

Here’s an interview:

So Mrs. Slate was already a success before she decided to write for DC Comics, and in 1986 they published Angel Love #1:

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The plot of the comic was pretty straight forward.  There was a girl named Angel Love who moved from Pennsylvania to New York City in order to become an artist, but her dreams had decided to stay behind for a bit so she wound up working as a roller skating waitress.

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Since Mrs. Slate was from Pennsylvania herself, I can’t help but think there was a bit of a biographical component to this story.

Anyway, the story was a slice of life comic chronicling Angel’s adventures with romance,

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and family drama.

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The story was often told with realism in mind, but wasn’t afraid to throw in some fantasy elements like talking cockroaches,
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and a rather disheveled looking guardian angel.

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Now, looking at this comic you might be tempted to think that this is a child friendly story, that it’s a modern rebirth of the old romance comics from the 1940’s,

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or an updated re imagining of the long running Archie comics.

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The thing is, while the art style may have indicated that the comic was for younger readers, the subject matter of the story…

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was not.

Despite the cutesy art style and low stakes romance, the story dealt with some very adult issues.  In the very first issue, Angel’s romantic interest is found snorting cocaine, which causes her to break up with him.

Also, the family drama part of the story gets pretty deep when Angel finds out that her mother is dying from some sort of terminal disease,

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and has to track down her long lost sister, who changed her name to Maureen McMeal, in order to try to convince her to donate bone marrow for a transplant.

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The situation is resolved when Angel confronts Maureen and she reveals that yes, she is her long lost sister, but decided to leave home after their father raped her when she was young and decided to change her name and run for political office, refusing to acknowledge her old life for fear of causing a scandal.

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So yeah…that’s pretty dark.

So what happened?

Despite the reputation of the comics’ creator and the quality story telling, nobody really knew what to think of this comic, and that was its undoing.

The art style made the comic book look like it was a book for children but the mature subject matter was very clearly for adults.  The comic was even published without the infamous Comics Code sticker on the cover.

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The title lasted eight issues and had one special comic that wrapped up the story line.  This was where Angel’s sister revealed she had been raped when she was young and the title included a “For Mature Readers” warning on the cover.

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Angle Love didn’t have much of a career after that.  She made one cameo appearance in Animal Man #24 where she was seen reading her own comic in the background.

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But that’s about it.

Barbara Slate’s career would continue to grow and she went on to become a very successful writer, artist, and speaker.

Some of her more recent works are You Can Do a Graphic Novel, which was published in 2012,

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and in 2012 she wrote a book called Getting Married and Other Mistakes which was published by Other Press.

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In the world of comics Barbara Slate’s career, especially a comic like Angel Love, is an interesting one.  In an industry that is dominated by superheroes, spandex, and world shattering violence, Angel Love showed us that even small stories can have a huge emotional impact.

Angel Love was a small romance and slice of life story with big ideas and implications, and I think it definitely deserves more attention.

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1980’s Showcase: Power Pack

Happy Monday after Mother’s Day everyone!

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While this previous Sunday was the American version of the holiday, it’s nice to know that the idea of celebrating motherhood is usually given its own special day all across the world as well.

And why not?  Looking after a human from its puke and poo days all the way to something resembling adulthood isn’t easy.

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Now, I have a confession to make: I always hate writing this blog the day after Mother’s Day, because so many superhero stories go out of their way to take the parents out of the equation as quickly as possible.

Seriously, superhero parents are either completely absent,

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replaced by surrogates before the hero has any chance to become aware of his or her actual family,

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or killed off to provide the hero with motivation.

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Thank you Batman.

Granted, this has gotten better over time and there are superhero stories that have talked about parenthood and the relationship between family members rather well,

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but most of the parent figures presented in the movie are abusive jerks with only one of them redeeming himself at the very end.

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So it’s safe to say that comic books don’t have the best track record when it comes to treating moms and dads.  But why?

If you ask me, there are two reasons why superheroes aren’t very good at including parents in their stories.  First, being a superhero is kind of dangerous.

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The level of destruction, property damage, and bodily harm that is inherent in so many of our favorite superhero stories is kind of terrifying if you take a step back and look at them with a critical eye.  I don’t have kids, but I don’t think any mortal parent would be okay with seeing their child getting smashed into buildings on the evening news.

Even if the parents are superheroes themselves, they tend to express reservations about their children doing what they do before realizing that it’s kind of necessary for their kids to grow up.

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The second reason why superhero stories don’t deal with parents very well is because well…most of them are stories for children.

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I almost hate to say this but, most children are selfish greedy little twerps who don’t realize what their parents do for them and believe that life would be much better without them.

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Comic book creators know their audience and present their readers with a fantasy where all the problems of the world can be solved quickly and violently and where its main character can live in a world where nobody is there to tell them to brush their teeth and go to bed.

That’s not to say that stories where superheroes had parents, and in the 1980’s Marvel produced a comic book series where the main characters were children, and their parents were not only alive and kicking, they were integral to the plot.

Let’s kick off this new era for this blog by talking about Power Pack.

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Origin and Career

The 1980’s were an interesting time for Marvel.  They had established themselves as the dominant comic book publisher in the American comic book market and the editorial direction of the companies stories were under the direction of a man named Jim Shooter.

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Shooter is a rather…divisive figure in the comic book world.  On one hand, he published his first comic book work when he was 14 years old, so he’s clearly a fan of the medium.

Also, during his time at Marvel he helped bring us the black Spider Man suit,

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that would eventually give us Venom,

On the other hand, a lot of creators have very negative opinions of Shooter’s leadership style and he had a reputation of squashing creative ideas that weren’t his own.  It was either his way or nothing at all.

Anyway, one of the things that Shooter pushed when he was in charge of Marvel was the idea that editors should write the stories instead of working with writers.

One of these editors was Louise Simonson, the eventual creator of Power Pack.

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Holy crap, we actually have a female creator on this series!

Simonson teamed up with an artist named June Brigman,

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(holy crap…TWO women?  This is nuts!)

and together they created a team of superhero children, who made their first appearance in August of 1984.

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The story follows the Powers, a family of six.  There’s a mother, father, and four children named Alex, Julie, Jack, and Katie.

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Both parents are hard working individuals who try to care for their kids.  The father just so happens to be a brilliant inventor who has invented a way to turn matter into anti matter.  Because even though this is the most normal family I’ve seen in a comic book, someone’s got to have a weird job or quirk.

What the Powers don’t know is that their father is being watched by an alien called  a Kymellian who is named Aelfyre Whitemane.

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Okay, first…how the hell does he stand on those two legs?  And second, I would like to take back everything I’ve ever thought or said about certain internet communities with strange interests or fetishes.  It’s clear that this strangeness has been around long before the internet was a thing.

Anyway, Whitemane is disturbed at the news of Dr. Powers invention because it turns out that his planet had been destroyed by a similar device.  Unfortunately, this news is also picked up by the mortal enemies of the Kymellians, an evil race of lizard aliens known as the Snarks who want to use the device as a weapon.

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The Snarks succeed in capturing Dr. Powers and his wife but Whitemane sacrifices himself to save the children.  The horse alien explains what’s going on and gives the children his powers of gravity and density manipulation, energy blasts, and instant rainbow teleportation along with some spiffy new suits.

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Also, the kids get a ship to go after their parents.  It’s a fully intelligent ship and its name was Friday.

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It is worth mentioning that the main characters of this series are children, the oldest one is 12 while the youngest is only 5 years old.  Amazingly, they’re actually written like children, not pint sized god beings who are wise beyond their years.

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Despite the age problem, they manage to use their powers to rescue their parents and return to Earth.

Even though the family is still together and back home, there are still some problems.  A major running theme throughout the series is whether or not the kids should tell their parents about their powers.  This comes to a head in the fifth issue of the series when their dad’s boss suspects the kids of being mutants and CHASES THEM WITH A GUN!

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While the father doesn’t know about his kid’s powers, he punches his boss and resigns from his job.  This, along with his boss suing the family, bankrupts the Powers family who wind up moving to New York when the father is offered a teaching position.

While in New York the kids establish themselves as a part of the Marvel Universe.  They have a whole bunch of crossovers with characters like Spider Man,

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and the X-Men.

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What makes this series unique and interesting is that the comic wasn’t afraid to talk about some very serious issues.  In 1984, Simonson wrote a crossover story with the Power Pack and Spider Man that talked about sexual abuse.

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The comic was released for free and printed in newspapers across the country.

While the comic dealt with serious issues, the Power Pack still manged to remain kid friendly, a testament to Simonson’s writing.  Despite their abilities, they were still children and they dealt with having powers and using them like children.

So what happened?

The series was a success, but sadly times and tastes changed and the series attempted to change with it.  In 1990, new writers were brought on to try and make the series edgier and darker with issue #56,

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It did not work.  The fans revolted and the series was cancelled less than a year later.

It’s worth mentioning that the move to grimmer and darker storytelling was a rather unfortunate trend for comics in the 1990’s, and would go on to have rather disastrous consequences for the entire industry…but that’s another story for another time.

Thankfully, all was not lost and the Power Pack was fondly remembered enough to get a four issue mini series in 2000.

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The series advanced the ages of the kids by a few years, moved them to Seattle, and had them fighting the Snarks in space while dealing with the themes and problems that kids have to deal with.

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There has been talk about the Power Pack making a comeback into the Marvel Universe, but short of a small appearance in the Fantastic Four comics, that has yet to happen.

The Power Pack is a fun piece of comic book history and deserves way more attention than it gets.  It was a thoughtful, engaging, and fun series that treated its child protagonists with respect and dignity and proved that you don’t need dead parents to make a good superhero story and while Marvel has a newer set of young heroes in the limelight dealing with childhood problems,

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I happen to think that the Power Pack would make an excellent tv show or cartoon.

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It’s a new day for the comic book showcase: Welcome to the 80’s

The Golden Age of Comics was a magnificent, and often insane, time in comic book history.  It was the birth of the industry that we know and love, a time when publishers and creators were establishing traditions that carry on today, and a time that birthed some of our most beloved superheroes.

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But like all things, it grows stale with time.  Seriously, we’ve been doing this blog for over three years, and while there is still plenty of material to cover and poke fun at, it’s been getting pretty stale.

Thankfully, the 1940’s weren’t the only time in comic book history that saw a tremendous output of creativity and insane storytelling, and I think it’s time to move on to a more recent, but no less crazy time period.

Today marks a new era in this blog.  Today we’re going to start looking at obscure comic book characters from a more modern time in comic books: the 1980’s

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Now, I want to make something perfectly clear, I am not doing this to show how much better things were back in the day.  The entire reason I do this blog is to show that failure and obscurity are just as important to the creative process as fame and success.  After all, for every Batman,

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there were at least a dozen other superheroes that didn’t make the cut.

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So what made the 1980’s such a fantastic time for creativity in comics?  Well…

1. Relaxed censorship standards and rules

Most historians place the Golden Age of Comics from 1938 to the early 1950’s.  It’s actually a pretty easy period to date since most people agree that it began with the publishing of Action Comics #1,

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to the pronounced and violent push back against comics in the early 1950’s, leading to a Senate subcommittee hearing on juvenile delinquency where comic books were the focus and target.

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The anti comic book crusade was led by child psychologist Dr. Fredric Wertham,

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which led to the creation of the infamous Comic Code Authority by the comic book industry in order to placate the people who were literally burning their product.

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The Comics Code made their will known through a very prominent sticker that you’ve probably seen on older comic books.

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Basically, before a comic could be shipped off to distributors it had to be submitted to a board of inspectors and editors for approval.  If the comic didn’t meet the incredibly strict standards of the code, the comic didn’t get the stamp and couldn’t be distributed to the masses.  It was an unfair, but incredibly effective, tactic that neutered the comic book industry from evolving for decades.

Granted, the new world order wasn’t a total wasteland.  The comic book industry did recover and launched into the Silver Age, a time that gave us a lot of modern reinventions of classic characters,

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a new focus on science fiction to reflect the modern American-Soviet space race,

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and the birth of the comic book juggernaut known as Marvel Comics, headed by superstar artist Jack Kirby and writer Stan Lee, who reinvented the entire concept of superheroes by giving them human problems and human flaws.

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Don’t get me wrong, I think the Silver Age was great, but I think it was still severely limited by the Comics Code.  It didn’t matter how many characters were created, or how human they were, the types of stories that could be told were hampered by the oppressive shadow of censorship.

All of that began to change in 1971 when the U.S government approached Marvel and asked them to publish a story about drug abuse in order to reach out to children about the dangers of drugs.  This would come to a head in May of 1971 with the publishing of Amazing Spider-Man #96

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Of course this was a breach of the rules the Comics Code had in place, but since the comic was written and drawn with the blessings of the United States government, Stan Lee and company could’ve cared less.

The comic triggered a review of the established Comics Code rules and it was eventually decided that the rules should be relaxed in order to accommodate the changing times and allow for a wider range of stories to be told.  While the code would remain in effect for several decades (DC wouldn’t stop publishing stories with the seal until 2011) the writing was on the wall and the Comics Code began its slow and inexorable decline, which led to…

2. The rise of the indie scene into mainstream popularity

Just because the big publishers were limited by the Comics Code didn’t mean that all comic books were hobbled by restrictions and censorship, it just meant that the adult stuff didn’t reach a massive audience.

The 1970’s saw the rise of the underground “comix” scene, a sub set of the comic book industry where there were no limits on things like sex or drugs, no subject was taboo, and creators would often sell their work themselves in small batches.

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It wasn’t the most profitable venture, but then again the comic book industry has rarely been kind to the people making comic books.  The underground comix scene quickly developed its own style and superstars and two of the most famous names of this time period were Robert Crumb,

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and Art Spiegelman.

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Side note: it’s worth mentioning that these were not the only big names in the comix scene and that studying underground comics of the 1970’s could fill a book on its own.  I highly recommend that you check it out and do your own research, there is some fantastic stuff.

Both of these artists would find mainstream success in the 1980’s due to changing audiences and relaxed restrictions.  Crumb would watch one of his first and most famous creations get turned into an insanely vulgar, and insanely successful, animated film Fritz the Cat,

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While Art Spiegelman would go on to bring the underground into the light of day with the publication of his smash hit comic book Maus,

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which was serialized in the underground magazine Raw from 1980-1991.  It is a fantastic book and is considered to be one of the greatest accounts of the Holocaust ever published.

While all this was going on creators like Jim Starlin, the man who helped develop the Marvel super villain Thanos, began publishing and editing an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories called Star Reach.

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This anthology ran from 1974-1979 and helped the independent comic book scene by publishing indie stories by some of the biggest names in comics at the time.

The influx of talent into the independent comic scene, coupled with the rise and recognition of established indie creators brought on by the relaxing of censorship rules, changed the comic book landscape forever.  Now, there were new stories that could be told, new subject matter to be explored, and new issues that could be discussed.

All of this led to…

3. The birth of mature and dark storytelling in mainstream comics

Small timers and indie publishers weren’t the only ones who suffered under the restrictions of the Comics Code, the creators and editors working for the big two of Marvel and DC were chafing as well.

After Stan Lee and Marvel weakened the Comics Code with Amazing Spiderman #96 the floodgates were open for a time period known as the “Bronze Age of Comics”.

The Bronze Age was a time where comics began to shift away from the fantastical science fiction of the Silver Age to more grounded stories that focused on social commentary and modern, relevant issues such as inner city problems and drug use.

Case in point: this was the era that gave us Luke Cage,

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reintroduced the idea that superheroes could kill with the introduction of the Punisher,

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and turned Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy into a junkie.

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But to highlight the true impact the 1980’s had on comic books I’d like to bring up two of the biggest names to break into the comic book scene in the 1980’s: Frank Miller,

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and Alan Moore.

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Frank Miller got his start in Gold Key Comics, but really broke into the comic book scene in 1979 drawing Daredevil #158.

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Miller would eventually become the writer for the series as well and built the character into what he is today.  Have you noticed that Daredevil is a devout Catholic?

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That was Miller.

He created the characters of Stick and Elektra,

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and helped drag the character out from the doldrums of mediocrity and into the spotlight as one of Marvel’s most popular characters.  Miller is the reason why Daredevil is so popular today.

Now, it’s fair to say that Frank Miller has not aged well.  It would be fair to say that the quality of his writing and storytelling has dropped off a bit and some of his more recent work,

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has been justifiably panned as bad.  Seriously, the above book is so bad and offensive I’m loathe to even admit that it even exists.  Don’t bother reading it, it doesn’t deserve the publicity.

But Frank Miller didn’t get to this point by being bad all the time.  In fact, for most of the 1980’s he was considered to be one of the better writers and artists out there and it would all come to a head in 1986 with the publication of what many consider one of the greatest Batman stories ever written: The Dark Knight Returns.

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Before this, most people knew Batman as the campy Adam West character from the tv show.

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After Miller was done with him, he was known as the brooding, borderline psychotic thug that audiences have known and love since the Christopher Nolan movies.

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Alan Moore, the other person we’re going to talk about today, had a similar career path.

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Like Miller he got his start in obscure, small time writing gigs, although most of Moore’s early work was in underground comic magazines and small presses.

Moore’s break came when he started writing for some of the big names in British comics, namely 2000AD, the publisher that owns Judge Dredd.

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His work caught the attention of DC comics, who hired him to revitalize one of their lesser known characters: the Swamp Thing.

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And revitalize it he did, adding some of the strangest, trippiest, and creepy imagery I’ve ever seen in comics.

But that’s not what you’re here for.  Chances are that if you’re reading this blog, you know what Moore’s most famous work is.

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Like Miller’s take on Batman, Watchmen was published in 1986 and was a huge hit.  It’s legacy of fantastic storytelling, complex characters, and flexible approach to morality turned this comic into one of the best comic books ever written and a story that many consider to be one of the best ever written in the 20th century.

Thankfully, Moore’s future work was also just as enjoyable and just as readable, and Moore has gone on to become one of the greatest comic book authors in history and most likely the winner of “most intimidating glare in comics”.

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So there you have it, a horrifyingly short explanation as to why the 1980’s were a fantastic time for comic books and why it’s a decade worth remembering and exploring.  There were hundreds of independent comic book publishers, creators, and artists out there that took advantage of the relaxed rules over censorship and the rise of a new generation of talent that weren’t afraid to tell mature adult stories in order to advance the medium they loved, and we’re going to look at as many of the as we can.

Here’s to another three years.

 

Comic book showcase: The creators of Thanos.

So I saw Avengers: Infinity War over the weekend.

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The only thing I will say about it is that it’s one heck of a turning point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and an epic way to cap off this giant experiment that Marvel and Disney have been running for the past ten years.

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Other than that, I’m not saying anything else about the movie.  The internet is filled with enough spoilers as it is.

No, today I want to do something different and talk about the behind the scenes history of big bad guy of the film, the villain who has been teased for the past five years: Thanos.

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The character is pretty simple.  He’s in love with the Marvel Universe’s personification of death and he attempts to prove his love by killing off half of the universe using the Infinity Gauntlet.

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He’s one of Marvel’s most powerful bad guys and a big part of the strange and weird cosmic stories that Marvel produced in the 70’s and 80’s.

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Sadly, Marvel’s cosmic stories were never a big seller for the company when you compare them to their mega hits like Spider Man and the X-Men.  Stories about characters like Ronan the Accuser and Adam Strange weren’t very popular, even though they’ve been getting more attention nowadays with the smash success of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

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This is really sad since these are some of the weirdest, most bizarre, and high concept storytelling the company has ever produced, and most of this insanity was created by the other legend working at Marvel, and a long time favorite of this blog series: Jack Kirby.

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You know him, you love him, he helped create nearly every single superhero on the big screen right now, and he loved him some crazy far out aliens and space stuff.

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You can see a lot of his

design aesthetic on display in Thor: Ragnarok.

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While Marvel had Kirby to thank for some of the most fascinating and bizarre aspects of their superhero universe, he didn’t create Thanos.

Thanos was created by writer Mike Friedrich,

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and writer/artist Jim Starlin.

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Both of these artists have had long and storied careers at both Marvel and DC and came into their own in the 70’s and 80’s, reinventing what comics could do and giving us some of the greatest characters and stories today.

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Starlin in particular is the prince of the Marvel cosmic universe, and his resume is only dwarfed by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby themselves.

He helped create Thanos,

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Drax the Destroyer,

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Gamora,

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and he reinvented other heroes which will probably be making appearances in future Marvel movies like Adam Warlock,

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and Captain Marvel (who has a long and interesting story that I’m not going to talk about here, but long story short he was created in the 70’s and was reinvented as a lady in the present day).

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Yes people like Kirby, Friedrich, and Starlin were some of the most prominent and successful names in comics in the 70’s and 80’s, and were responsible for many of our childhood favorites.

And they all hated Marvel with a burning passion.

Long story short, the mega publisher decided to continue the long and sordid history of comic book publishers screwing authors and artists over.  Kirby followed in the footsteps of hundreds of his Golden Age co workers and was famously screwed out of most of the credit and royalties of his work, watching as his co creator Stan Lee would go on to become the biggest name in comics.

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Starlin in particular hates Marvel with the burning passion of a neutron star.

 

So they decided to quit Marvel and move on to greener pastures.  Kirby would move to DC Comics and create the characters of New Genesis and Apokalips, the latter being home to one of DC’s most powerful villains: Darkseid.

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Starlin and Friedrich decided to create their own comic, an anthology series known as Star Reach.

Star Reach is an interesting bit of comic book history.  It may seem like the comic book scene is dominated by Marvel and DC, and for the most part that’s true, but there has been a long running independent comic book scene that really took off in the 1970’s with the work of underground super stars like Harvey Pekar,

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Art Spiegelman,

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and Robert Crumb.

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The independent “comix” scene has its own separate and unique history and you could write books about it,  but for the sake of time and simplicity all you need to know is that it was characterized by its own unique art styles, adult themes, and subject matter that was absolutely NOT for children.

Star Reach was a comic anthology that collected short science fiction and fantasy stories and shared and helped bridge the gap between mainstream comics and the independent comix of the time.

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The first issue was published in 1974 and fans described the book as a “ground level publication”, sharing the distinction and aesthetic with a similar European publication we know today as Heavy Metal.

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Perhaps it was the lurid material, or the crossover appeal bridging the gap between mainstream comic books and the underground comix scene, or maybe it was the famous names attached to the book.  Either way, Star Reach was a hit and had a pretty solid five year run.

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Also, it helped set off a boom of independent comic books published in the late 70’s and early 80’s which helped shape the pop culture landscape we know and love today.

You know what?  I think this might be the perfect segue into a new age for this blog.  Sure, the 40’s were a fantastic time for comic books and produced some of comics’ most endearing characters and crazy stories, but the late 70’s and 80’s had some pretty insane characters and were a pretty fascinating time for the comic industry as well.

All good things must evolve, and I think now might be the time to change it up a bit.

This’ll be fun.

Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Heroes of the Public Domain.

Today we’re going to talk about a Kickstarter comic called Heroes of the Public Domain.

Regular Edition Cover

This project is seeking funding to create a catalog of superheroes that are in the public domain.  This means most of them are from the Golden Age of Comics, a time period that many historians place between 1938-1952 where comic books exploded onto the pop culture scene and superheroes became incredibly popular.

The project is being led by a Canadian group called Temporal Comics and is seeking $1,776 USD in funding.  At the time of writing the project has reached $1,432 with 23 days left in the campaign.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1973136011/heroes-of-the-public-domain-golden-age-guide-issue?ref=discovery

Why I like it

If you’re a fan of this site than you know that we at Cambrian Comics love writing about Golden Age superheroes.

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For anyone who doesn’t know, over the past three years we’ve been running a blog series entitled “Golden Age Showcase”, where we talk about old school heroes from a time when comic books were new and superheroes were somehow even more popular than they are now.

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While it’s fun to study the absolutely ridiculous characters from the Golden Age of Comics,

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it’s also important.

The Golden Age gave us many of comics’ most important and recognizable heroes.  Characters like Batman,

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Wonder Woman,

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Namor the Submariner,

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and the one who started it all, the one who inspired every modern superhero in existence, and the one who just turned 80 years old this year: Superman.

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But it wasn’t just a time where every superhero became a pop culture icon.  After the success of Action Comics #1 it seemed that every two bit publisher and pulp magazine auteur thought they could make it big by creating a superhero of their own.

The results were ridiculous and hilarious with heroes such as Dynamite Thor,

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Lady Satan,

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and The Fin.

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Sure, many of these heroes were silly, poorly written, or even blatant clones of Superman,  But there is not denying that the Golden Age of Comics was a time of exploration, experimentation, and glorious cheese that built the industry we know and love today.  A lot of people worked very hard to bring us these characters and their legacy is worth remembering and studying.

Also, full disclosure: We’re probably going to use the list provided in the Kickstarter description as a resource for more names.  It really is amazing that we’ve been doing this for over three years and still haven’t run out of heroes to talk about.

Why you should donate

Because the culture of the past informs the culture of the future, mostly by ripping off stories from the past and using our familiarity to open our wallets and giving artists our money.

At some point, I’m sure many of you have expressed your frustration at the endless sequels, reboots, and adaptations that make their way into our movie theaters and Netflix queues every year.

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I know because I am one of those people, but I also understand that one of the most prominent and important aspects of art is the ability to emulate and expand upon past works.

We may complain that Hollywood lacks originality when it comes to making movies, but it’s not a modern issue.  Over half of the movies that Hollywood has ever made are adaptations of some sort.  And let’s not forget that the most successful movie of all time,

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was adapted from a book.

In a way it makes sense, movies cost a lot of money so producers would want something that already has enough mass appeal to get people into the theaters.

What’s funny is that this isn’t even a modern thing, artists have been doing this for centuries.  The Renaissance artists were avid lovers of Classical art and blatantly ripped off the style and practices of the ancients.

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Michelangelo once tried to scam the Catholic Church by carving a statue and trying to sell it off as an antique.

Even the great William Shakespeare ripped off the work of his contemporaries.

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It’s true, Romeo and Juliet was inspired by the works of Italian author. Masuccio Salernitano and his two doomed lovers Mariotto and Giannoza.

Yeah, copyright laws didn’t really exist back then.

While we can moan and complain about how originality in art is dead the simple fact of the matter is that it works.  The unfortunate truth is that, at the end of the day, most artists are looking for the kind of success that allows them to get paid, and borrowing from what is familiar can be an incredibly lucrative option.

Don’t believe me?  Just look at Disney, the current owners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the empire they built with stories and characters from the past.

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Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, Alice and Wonderland, Robin Hood…the list goes on.  All of are well known, all of them were borrowed and revamped by the Disney company, and I’m willing to bet that most of these stories made up a healthy portion of your childhood.

Even though comic books are a relatively new medium, it hasn’t stopped companies like Marvel from taking one of their earliest characters.

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and giving him a modern update.

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So if giant corporations and famous artists can do it, why can’t we?

There are thousands of fantastic superheroes out there who are free to use and have so much potential.  This Kickstarter gives us a head start by giving us a list of some of the best.

 

All-Art Variant Edition

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1973136011/heroes-of-the-public-domain-golden-age-guide-issue?ref=discovery

 

 

Golden Age Showcase: Superman and the Clan of the Fiery Cross

WARNING: This article contains a frank description of the history and politics of the American hate group known as the Ku Klux Klan. This group has a long and ugly history of racist violence that unfortunately continues today.  Also, this article contains images and descriptions that many people will find offensive.  If this bothers you, it is perfectly okay to not read this article.

Superman is 80 years old today!

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Today I want to talk about one of Superman’s greatest, and most important, stories.  It’s not a comic book, it’s a radio show, and it is one of the most important pieces of superhero media ever produced.

It’s Superman and the Clan of the Fiery Cross, the story where Superman literally, not figuratively but LITERALLY, helped bring down one of the most vile and awful hate groups in American history.

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Background and History

The KKK was a white nationalist group that was initially founded just after the American Civil War in 1865 by a group of former Confederate soldiers.

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Their goal was to intimidate newly freed black slaves and prevent them from voting and trying to improve their lives.

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The Federal Government cracked down on them, declaring them a paramilitary terrorist organization and forbade them from assembling.

While this version of the group was crippled, they would make a comeback in the 1920’s with the premiere of D.W Griffith’s Birth of a Nation: a fictionalized and highly romanticized account of the original klan.

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Unfortunately, the movie was an incredibly effective recruiting tool and the new version of the klan exploded in popularity.  They adjusted their message slightly, instead of targeting black people they became anti immigrant and for the prohibition of alcohol.

They even managed to become involved in politics.

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By the 1940’s the Klan returned to form, campaigning against equal rights for black people across the American South through violence.

One of the people who saw all these horrible things happen was a man named Stetson Kennedy,

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Kennedy was a writer and activist from Florida who saw what was going around him and decided that he didn’t like the KKK very much.  So he decided to do something about it by infiltrating the organization and finding out as much as he could.

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He discovered that the Klan was less intimidating and had some really stupid customs and rituals, not really surprising considering that it’s a bunch of guys dressed in sheets, and decided to make them look as ridiculous as he could.

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Sadly, there was a problem: how was Stetson going to share his information with the public?  What could he use to reach as many people as possible?

This is where The Adventures of Superman radio show came in.

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The show was produced and syndicated by the New York radio station WOR and starred a man named Bud Collyer as Superman and Joan Alexander as Lois Lane.

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In 1946, Mr. Kennedy approached the radio show and asked them if he could use Superman to share his findings about the Klan with the world.  DC comics was more than happy to oblige since the Second World War was over and Superman couldn’t fight German Nazis anymore.  Now he would fight the American version.

Here’s the first part of the radio special for your listening pleasure.  I skipped the first two minutes of the video because it’s an add for a discontinued breakfast cereal called Kellogg Pep, but it’s still pretty good and I highly recommend tracking down the rest of the series and giving it a listen.

So what was the impact?

The effects of the radio broadcast were immediate and massive.  Within two weeks recruitment into the Klan was down, and by 1948 people were openly mocking its members at their rallies.

Kennedy would go on to share the rest of what he learned about the Klan with the authorities, and even wrote several books which led to arrests and prosecutions for several chapters.

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So the Klan was substantially weakened, thanks to Superman.

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Sadly, while the Klan was substantially weakened it wasn’t killed off completely.  The organization maintains a violent anti immigrant and white nationalist stance and holds rallies to this day,

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and there’s a former low level politician named David Duke who is a member of Klan who has gained an unfortunately large amount of attention.

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It’s worth mentioning that the FBI has reported a rise in hate crimes and hate groups in America over the past couple of years, it’s not a very large rise and can be attributed to a small number of very vocal fringe groups.

A lot of people say that Superman is boring, too powerful, and too much of a goody two shoes to be interesting in the modern world.  But in a world that is filled with some awful people and vile ideologies,

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it’s good to know that we have characters like Superman who stand for what is true and just.

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Here’s to 80 more years.

 

 

Golden Age Showcase: Brainwave

Well, that was a nice Easter break, what can we talk about that’ll grab peoples attention again?

How about the first villain dangerous enough to pose a threat to the first superhero team in comics?  He goes by the name of Brainwave.

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Sure, that sounds fun.

Origin and Career

The first group of superheroes to join together as a group in modern American comics was the Justice Society of America, who made their first appearance in All Star Comics #3 in 1940.

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While the official reason for bringing the group together was to help protect America and stand for democracy against the forces of evil, the reality was that the sales figures for each of the characters were flagging on their own and they were brought together to make more money.

Thankfully, the book was a hit.  For the first couple of issues the heroes fought your standard collection of gangsters or went on their own separate adventures with their own villains to fight.  However, in March of 1943, super writer Garner Fox wrote All Star Comics #15,

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each of the members is stumped by a case they’re working on and can’t make it to the meeting.  It’s alright though, because they’ve each written an apology letter to the league  explaining their actions and each of the letters is read by the team’s secretary: Wonder Woman.

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Ah the 1940’s…sigh.

Anyway, Wonder Woman figures out that each crime that each member of the JSA is trying to solve is being masterminded by a single individual.

So what does she do?  She finds all of the girlfriends of each of the JSA members and tells them to dress up in their costumes.

Wonder Woman seems to not understand the idea behind a secret identity, either that or these ladies are some of the most clueless human beings in existence.

It turns out that the crimes are being committed by a man named Henry King, a tiny little man who has the power to create very realistic illusions.

King’s backstory is actually pretty tragic.  As a boy he was lonely and didn’t have many friends and when he discovered his ability to create images out of thin air he used them to create a group of friends and historical figures for him to play with.

Unfortunately, his newfound power corrupted him to the point where he simply decided that he wanted money and used his powers to coerce gangsters into working for him and to convince people they were going crazy.

Anyway, the girls arrive at Brainwave’s hideout but are fooled by his illusions and captured by people who look just like their boyfriends.

This was  time when Wonder Woman could be stopped if you tied her up.

The boyfriends arrive soon after and while Brainwave attempts to threaten them with the deaths of their beloveds,

Wonder Woman breaks free and manages to free them.

The ensuing fight is short and Brainwave falling to his death.

The JSA was terrifyingly nonchalant about it.

However, the villain was saved at the last minute by his clothing and the design of his villainous hideout.

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He would later appear as a member of the Injustice Society, a gang of super villains who formed as a direct counter to the Justice Society.

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But that’s a story for another couple of blog posts.

So what happened?

They say a hero is only as good as the villains they fight, but unfortunately a villain’s fate is directly tied to how well the hero can sell books.

The Justice Society was shut down in the early 1950’s when American parents thought that comic books and superheroes were corrupting their children.

Image result for comic book burningsFortunately, Brainwave was able to make a comeback, and he actually got even more interesting.

He wound up getting married to a woman named Merry Pemberton, a super heroine known as “Gimmick Girl”.

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She was a good guy, he was a bad guy.  She didn’t know at first and was sad when she found out.

What makes this even better is that they had a kid together: Henry King Jr.

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He became Brainwave number 2, after his father saved him from a villain known as the Ultra Humanite and gave his powers to his son.

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Junior was part of a group called Infinity Inc., but eventually went crazy over his father’s villainous legacy, but it was eventually discovered that he was being controlled by a parasitic worm and Captain Marvel villain named Mr. Mind.

Boy, family drama is a killer.

The elder villain’s final appearance was in DC’s Blackest Night crossover where he appeared as an undead corpse, reanimated by the mysterious black power rings.

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Brainwave was one of the original super villains of the early days of comics.  In a time when super heroes fought gangsters and Nazis, he was one of the first threats that the heroes had to face that had powers rivaling their own.  He was a formidable threat, a capable villain, and wound up having one of the most interesting and fulfilling story arcs in the long history of the Justice Society of America.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Dulce: The New Guy

Today we’re looking at a comic book Kickstarter project entitled “Dulce: The New Guy”.

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The comic takes place in Dulce, New Mexico, a place that is allegedly home to a joint U.S military and alien base.

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The story follows the adventures of Marcus as he begins his first day working at the base and promises that Marcus will come face to face with “reptilians, fear deities, chimera, monsters, and a variety of races of aliens…”

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The comic itself was created by Eric J. Cockrell and Gene Hoyle with artwork by Greg Woronchak, colors by Avery Ferdinand, lettering by Michael Waggoner, and editing by Chuck Pineau.

At the time of writing the project has raised $1,150 of its $3,300 goal with 22 days left in the campaign.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1410875579/dulce-the-new-guy-comic-book/description

Why I like it

I’m a sucker for comedies that take big, grand, and potentially Earth shattering revelations and treat them as ordinary mundane things.

Marcus is an ordinary human, thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and forced to deal with things that no human has probably ever had to deal with.

For God’s sake, his co workers are a lizard man and a human sized fly.

they’re dealing with time travel like it’s no big deal,

the comic has GIANT KILLER BUNNIES!

Isn’t that awesome!?

For me, the best comedy takes place when you have the extraordinary happening in a mundane and boring way.  The more indifferent people are to the crazy things happening around them, the funnier it gets.

Come to think of it, wasn’t there a movie that was released a little over a decade ago that treated cosmic, earth shattering events with casual interest?

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Also, come to think of it, wasn’t there an incredibly popular television comedy in an office setting that dealt with the everyday lives of office drones?

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Huh, neat.

I bring this up because this comic makes me think of The Office with a healthy dose of Men in Black thrown in.  Now, Men in Black is one of my favorite films of all time, and while I’m not the biggest fan of The Office (I know it’s sacrilege, but let’s just say that I’ve had too many people compare me to Dwight to get into the show) I understand its appeal and believe it deserves the praise it gets.

Now, I admit I could be wrong in this comparison,  but it is my honest to God opinion that a comic that combines some of the best elements of a very good movie like Men in Black  and a very good TV show like The Office deserves my attention and respect.

Why you should donate

For starters, the rewards that these guys are offering are fantastic.

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This is not the first tango these guys have had with Kickstarter created comics, and they certainly know how to take care of the people who give them money.

But there’s another, deeper reason why this comic is worth your time, and dare I say…important.

We can always use a good laugh at the expense of those in power.

Let’s face it, for the longest time places like Area 51,

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occupied a lighthearted and almost jovial place in American pop culture.

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I think it’s pretty cool that that United States government has taken the reputation of one of their testing grounds for top secret aircraft and embraced it.

Unfortunately, while places like Area 51 have given “Top Secret” a lighthearted spin, there have been times when secret government programs have taken on a much more sinister meaning.

Over the past decade the United States government, which is supposed to be accountable to the people, has tried to keep the following things secret from the public:

kidnapping and torturing people suspected of terrorism against the United States,

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launched mass surveillance programs on the American citizens,

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and we’re currently trying to figure out if our current President has been the willing/unwilling participant in election rigging conducted by a foreign power.

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It’s all really scary stuff, but you know what really helps in times of trouble?

Laughter…and fantastic stories about crazy monsters and strange science.

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Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1410875579/dulce-the-new-guy-comic-book/description