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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: The Kugali Anthology

So I thought the Black Panther movie was awesome,

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and if the box office numbers have anything to say, everyone reading this is probably thinking the same thing.

I’m willing to bet that the creators of today’s Kickstarter comic looked at the release of the movie and thought that now would probably be the best time to try and raise money for their project: The Kugali Anthology.

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The Kugali Anthology is a collection of comic stories and characters written and drawn by black creators, with an emphasis on creators from Africa.

The comic is being funded out of Britain, so any funding information is converted into American dollars.  At the time of writing this comic has currently raised $5,922 out of $13,782 and has 26 days left in its campaign.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kugalimedia/the-kugali-anthology?ref=discovery

Why I like it

Before we start I should make one thing incredibly clear, I am not an expert on Africa and I have no ancestral or familial ties to Africa.  Outside of a few close family friends and an extremely brief section of my school’s history curriculum, my knowledge of African history and culture is very limited.  I am simply writing as a very curious, and very white, comic book fan and tourist.

From the looks of it, this particular anthology is focusing on fantasy stories and folk tales.

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I will admit that I could be wrong, but even if I am, the very idea of having a magazine that brings more attention to creators and artists from Africa telling stories that are based in African culture and history is incredibly exciting and makes me very happy.

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What little I do know has been enough to pique my interest in Africa for a while and I find its history absolutely fascinating.  Africa is a vast,

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and incredibly diverse continent filled with larger than life places and people.  Stories about great kings such as Mansa Musa of the Mali Empire,

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the East African spice ports,

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and the life and exploits of Shaka Zulu,

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have captured my imagination and I have been trying to learn more ever since.

Heck, Africa is home to one of the first and greatest civilizations in Western history, a civilization that some historians devote their entire lives to studying.

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Again, I will admit that I am writing this from a place of relative ignorance but let me ask you this:  If my limited knowledge of Africa can demonstrate that the continent is more than a collection of unfortunate stereotypes, that there is more to it than poverty, disease, and violence, what do you think we could learn from people who actually live there?

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This leads me directly into my next point…

Why you should donate

Because the world is getting smaller and introducing people to entertainment influenced by different cultures just makes sense.  Plus, it can provide creators with a much needed infusion of new ideas and aesthetics.

I’m going to explain by picking on the fantasy genre for a minute.  To be clear, I love a good fantasy story but let’s be honest, the second you read the word “fantasy” your mind probably brought up images like this:

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or this,

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or maybe this if you’re a Japanophile:

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Sure, some creators have helped audiences branch out by introducing fantasy worlds that aren’t influenced by Medieval Europe or Japan.

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but European and pan Asian cultures are not the only places that have stories worth telling and interesting aesthetics.

Africa has so many stories, characters, and themes to offer the world and it’s high time that African creators took their rightful place on the cultural stage and shared their voices with the world.

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The Black Panther movie showed us that audiences are ready for stories that uphold the idea of a strong and confident Africa and that African themes and aesthetics can be a viable source of entertainment.

 

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Let’s take the next step and introduce audiences to the wonderful world of African comic books.

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Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kugalimedia/the-kugali-anthology?ref=discovery

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Golden Age Showcase: Olga Mesmer

When writing about the Golden Age of Comics, one of the fun little treats is discovering and sharing the origins of the tropes and ideas that permeate the genre to this day.

Batman was the the first superhero to have his parents killed,

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Doll Man was the first superhero who used his ability to change size as a superpower,

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Superman was the first hero to have a secret identity,

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the list goes on.

We’ve talked at great length about the impact that female characters have had on the comic book industry, and while Wonder Woman may be the most famous super heroine of the Golden Age,

there were several lady superheroes who came before her and a woman named Fantomah is considered to be the first female superhero in a comic book.

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However, today’s entry comes from a time before we knew what superheroes were.  Heck, it comes from a time when we didn’t even know what comic books were.

Today we are going to talk about a woman with strange and mysterious powers and who some consider to be America’s first super heroine: Olga Mesmer.

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Origin and Career

Before comic books were a thing there were comic strips, serialized stories that were published in newspapers across the country and could range from a strip with a few panels,

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to grand and complex illustrations that could take up an entire page.

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While the comic strip industry laid the groundwork for an entire generation of comic book artists, it was the pulp magazines that laid the foundation for the themes and tropes that would define the future of superheroes.

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The pulps were fiction magazines that were really popular for the first half of the 20th century.  They got their name from the cheap pulp paper they were printed on, one of them many ways they cut corners and lowered production costs.

They made up for the cheap quality with lurid and fantastic stories that helped influence the heroes that came after.  The Shadow was a pulp vigilante who prowled the streets at night and hunted criminals,

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and John Carter was a war veteran who found himself transported to Mars, where the planet’s gravity gives him superpowers.

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While it’s impossible to pinpoint it exactly, it’s easy to see how the creators of Batman and Superman must have been influenced by their popularity.

Olga Mesmer was an interesting case.  She was a comic strip that was initially published inside a pulp magazine.  Specifically, she appeared in a magazine hilariously titled Spicy Mystery in September of 1937.

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The book was published by a company called Culture Publications.

As for the art itself, nobody really knows who created the artwork or wrote the stories, since old timey publishers didn’t give a damn about creators rights or credit.  However, we do know that the artwork was contracted out to an art studio known as Majestic Studios, which was owned by a man named Adophe Barreaux.

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Barreaux was a well known and established comic book artist from Charleston, South Carolina who worked for several ad agencies and drew other comic strips for Spicy Mysteries such as the raunchy “Sally Sleuth”,

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and his own syndicated strip: “The Enchanted Stone of Time”

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As for Olga Mesmer herself, her origin story is actually quite interesting.

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She was the daughter of a royal family originally from the planet Venus and ruled a secret kingdom under the Earth.

It’s really interesting to see how people in the past were convinced that there was a whole different world underneath our feet.
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Olga’s mother was the queen named Margot who had been removed from power during a coup d’etat from a villain named Ombro.  She lost her memory in the escape and met a scientist named Dr. Hugo Mesmer.  The two fell in love, married, and had a child together.  But while she was pregnant, the Doctor began to suspect that his wife was different and his curiosity led him to exposing her to “soluble x-rays”, which left her blinded and bedridden.

Yeah, real father of the year material there.

Margot eventually recovered and discovered that she had the ability to see in the x ray spectrum and could see through walls.  This gift wound up killing her husband (people didn’t really understand x-rays back then) and Margot fled back underground.

Olga was born shortly after and inherited her mother’s ability to see through walls and super strength.

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It’s worth mentioning that there aren’t any pictures of Olga where she doesn’t have ripped clothing.  In fact, there aren’t that many pictures of her at all.

She wound up rescuing a man named Rodney Prescott from a group of assailants, which she dealt with by casually killing them.

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However, Rodney was seriously wounded and was only saved by a blood transfusion from Olga, which granted him a small measure of her power.

Yeah, people didn’t really understand blood transfusions either.

The two became a duo, traveling underground to rescue her mother and defeat the evil machinations of Ombro.

The story ended in 1939, with the two traveling back to Venus and being proposed by a prince of Mars named Boris.  Apparently the two planets were at war with each other and their union would hopefully bring peace to the two cultures.

I have no idea what happened next, although I would like to assume everything wound up fine.

So what happened?

Action Comics #1 came out in 1938 and pop culture and entertainment was changed forever.

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Comic books became the new literary fad for young boys and girls and while comic strips continued to exist through syndication, the age of the pulp novel as a dominant cultural force was over.

Adolph Barreaux went where the work was and wound up producing comic book art for a whole bunch of publishers.  He ended his career in 1953 after working as a children’s book illustrator for a company called Trojan Publications.

Olga Mesmer is less than a footnote in pop culture history.  She played a small part in a fairly small magazine that was part of a culture that preferred to read her stories and then throw them away.  Even her status as America’s first super heroine is up for some debate since she doesn’t display many of the tropes we associate with heroes today.

However, it is my honest opinion that Olga Mesmer was a hero and that she deserves far more recognition than she is currently getting.  Plus, it’s kind of cool to see a woman from the 1930’s kick so much ass.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Kaiju Gods

Full disclosure: this project contains work by Frankie B. Washington, an artist who has done work for this site.  No money or special favors were exchanged for the writing of this article.

Today we’re talking about a Kickstarter project entitled Kaiju Gods.  

 

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This is an anthology book featuring stories about the Japanese giant monster genre of movies known as “kaiju” movies.  At the time of writing this project has 20 days left and has raised $4,960 of it’s $16,000 goal.  Funding ends on March 16th.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/208514895/kaiju-gods?ref=nav_search&result=project&term=kaiju

Why I like it

GIANT MONSTERS AND ROBOTS PUNCHING THINGS!

Raiderman by Jay Piscopo

UNBELIEVABLE DESTRUCTION!

Sloan by Daniel Warner and Chris Enterline

MONSTROUS ROMANCE!

Story by Garrett Gunn and Nicolas Touris

HUMAN ANTS TREMBLING AT IN THE PRESENCE OF A VENGEFUL GOD!!!  ALSO…BANANAS!

Banana Katana by Kevin Roditeli and Rottsteak

Sorry…got a little carried away there.

I am a sucker for stories about big things punching other big things and yes, Pacific Rim was a great movie and I am eagerly awaiting the release of Pacific Rim Uprising.

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As you can tell from the artwork posted above, there is a huge amount of creativity and passion on display here.  In fact, if you got to the campaign page and read it through, you’ll find that the guy putting the anthology together had no trouble finding people willing to participate.

Now, while I am a big fan of big things being punched, I will admit that there is the possibility of it getting…boring.  Thankfully, this anthology has gathered a wide and diverse pool of talent utilizing different backgrounds, art styles, and story techniques to tell a wide range of stories that deal with the kaiju monsters.

There seems to be a story where a samurai fights a kaiju with nothing but a bow and arrow,

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I don’t know any of the specifics, all I know is that it looks awesome.

Why you should donate

Because kaiju are the perfect metaphor for our time.

We live in a massive, interconnected, and increasingly complicated world that is in the process of changing in ways that we can’t possible imagine.

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Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather live here and now instead of anywhere else, but when times change the chaos can be incredibly destructive.

The internet and social media may have given the individual a greater voice and reach bigger and bigger audiences, but all that noise and activity and be so overwhelming that it drives us to become more and more isolated and withdrawn.

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Globalization has allowed millions of people to be lifted out of poverty, but has reduced millions more to jobs where they are nothing more than cogs in a very large machine that is nearly impossible to comprehend.

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To top it all off, the Earth’s climate is changing, creating an uncertain future where we are unable to sustain our current lifestyle and doom entire countries to ecological and environmental disaster.

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If it all seems a bit overwhelming it’s because it is.  Our brains are incapable of processing tragedies that affect so many people, so we simply shrug our shoulders and write off the suffering of millions as just “something that happens”.

That sort of dehumanization is terrifying, and it is that kind of horror that the Japanese knew all too well as they watched their cities being bombed into oblivion by the seemingly overwhelming and alien force that was the United States military.

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One man who understood that horror well was a little known director named Ishiro Honda,

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and in 1954 he gave that horror a name: Godzilla.

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We can look back at the past and admire how far we’ve come, we can look towards the future and eagerly await what’s to come, but it is important to look at where we are in the present and realize just how small and insignificant we really are.

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Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/208514895/kaiju-gods?ref=nav_search&result=project&term=kaiju

 

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Golden Age Showcase: Waku Prince of the Bantu

Did I go and see the Black Panther movie this weekend?  Of course I went to go see the Black Panther movie this weekend!

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It’s a great movie, if you haven’t seen it yet than you need to stop what you’re doing and go watch this movie right now, you can read this article while you’re watching the dozens of previews attached to the movie.

But I’m not here to talk about how this movie is important, other people are doing a better job of that than I can.  While he was the first black character in mainstream comics, he wasn’t the first black character to star in his own series.

That was Waku, Prince of the Bantu.

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Origin and Career

Waku made his first appearance in Atlas Comics’ Jungle Tales #1 in September of 1954.

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Yes, the title says “Jungle Action” we’ll get to that.

The character was created by artist Ogden Whitney,

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who worked as a fairly successful artist for several comic book companies and is most famous for co creating a hero named Herbie Popnecker.

It’s pretty clear that the comic is following in the footsteps of the old Tarzan stories, which makes sense because this book came out during a time when comics were moving away from super heroes and into alternate genres such as romance and westerns.

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It was also released at a time when race relations in America weren’t at their best.

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What’s interesting about comics is that black people have actually been part of the comic book landscape since the beginning.  It’s just that the way they’ve been portrayed hasn’t always been…

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well let’s be polite and say “sensitive”.

Waku was the first black character to star in a series of stories as the main lead.  Not only that, but the stories featured a predominately black cast.

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Certainly sounds familiar.

The character was the head of a tribe living in the depths of South Africa, and it is worth mentioning that there is some respect paid to actual history here.  The Bantu Migration was an actual historical event and is widely considered to have played an important role in developing African politics and identity.

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You can read more about it here.

The character’s first adventure has him inheriting the leadership of the tribe from his dying father, who tells him to forswear violence and govern with kindness and wisdom.  This proves problematic when he refuses to participate in ritual combat in order to take his place as king and loses his throne to a greedy and ambitious rival, who tries to sell his people’s services to “white hunters” at great personal profit.  Waku winds up killing this usurper and is about to kill himself in penance for what he’s done when his father appears as an apparition and frees him from his vow.

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The character would go on to appear in seven more issues and in each issue he would fight off some challenger to his throne or threat to his people.  This ranged from wrestling lions,

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to evil shamans capable of raising armies of the dead.

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In all of his appearanc

So what happened?

Jungle Tales lasted seven issues and was later changed to Jan of the Jungle.

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I guess it’s true what they say, sex sells.

Normally changing a title like that hints at some serious problems for the publisher but this time it wasn’t the case.  Atlas Comics re branded in the 60’s as the more familiar Marvel Comics.

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I’m sure they need no introduction.

Marvel rode the coattails of a little known writer who had been working for them since the 30’s and an artist with an incredible work ethic and a penchant for smoking cigars: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

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For the handful of people that don’t know their names, these two men basically invented the entire Marvel Universe that we know and love today.

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And in 1966 they  introduced the Black Panther in Fantastic Four #52.

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After a couple of guest spots with the Fantastic Four and Captain America, Black Panther was given his own solo series.  The title of the book?  Jungle Action.

Now, I’m not saying that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby used Waku as a direct inspiration for Black Panther, there isn’t any evidence of that and any allegations made would be unfounded and unprofessional.  But it’s worth considering that both characters were kings of African nations and tribes, both of them were capable warriors, and both Lee and Kirby were working for Atlas at the time Waku was being published.

I’d say that is one hell of a coincidence.

Is Waku a better character than Black Panther?  Not really.  Should Waku have been the face of black characters in comics? No.  But Waku was the first black character who was the star of his own stories and he was treated with respect and dignity.

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He was a good man, a capable ruler, and a good starting point for Marvel’s long and storied collection of black comic book characters.

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Golden Age Showcase: The Eye

Last week we talked about a superhero known as “The Hand”.

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Everyone seemed to like it so here’s a write up about another body part that decided to become a superhero.

Yes, there was more than one of these, and this one was actually a bit more successful.

Say hello to The Eye.

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Origin and Career

The Eye made its first appearance in Keen Detective Funnies #12 in December of 1939.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

The book was published by a company called Centaur Publications, one of the earliest comic book publishers in American history and the company that helped Bill Everett get his start in comics.

Bill Everett is the man who helped create Namor the Submariner and Daredevil.

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The character itself was created by a man named Frank Thomas.

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You may not know the man’s face, but I’m willing to bet that if you’re an animator or a Disney fan you know his his name and his work.

The man was one of the original animators on Walt Disney’s creative team when the company was just starting out and helped produce some of the most recognizable classics in modern animation history.  One example?  He animated this scene from Snow White.

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He also helped write a book with a colleague of his named Ollie Johnston called The Illusion of Life,

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a book that remains one of the most important milestones in 2D hand drawn animation to this day.  In fact, the two men were so influential that they were given a cameo appearance in The Incredibles, one of my favorite movies of all time.

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Basically Frank Thomas was a big deal, and The Eye was his contribution to the comic book world.

As for The Eye itself, his first adventure starts with the whitest Afghani family on the face of the planet.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

The old man laments that he was once a prosperous businessman but had his livelihood stolen from him.  Suddenly, a disembodied eye appears in the room.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

Meanwhile, in Kabul we’re introduced to the vain and pompous villain of the story, a man named Herat, who wants the old man dead.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

You know, I can’t help but wonder how differently this story would play out if it was published today.

Anyway, the villain tries to hire two hitmen to take out his rival.  Fortunately The Eye stops them with his ability to travel anywhere and shoot heat blasts out of his…well eye.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

Boy, I know red eye flights are a pain…but this is ridiculous.  (wait don’t go…come back!)

The story resolves itself quickly and just in the way you would expect.  The villain is defeated, and justice is served.  The Eye has saved the day and the old man and his daughter are free to return to their business.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

The Eye would go on to become something of a regular back up feature in the comic.  The stories weren’t connected, it was more of an anthology tale where The Eye would drop in on a group of criminals committing a crime and use one of his many ill defined powers to save the day.

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He was also given a sidekick, a young attorney named Jack Barrister who would assist The Eye whenever it needed a hand.

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The Eye ran for eight issues in Keen Detective and must have been popular because he was given his own series in November of 1940.

Comic Book Cover For Detective Eye #1

So what happened?

The Eye may have been popular enough to get his own series, but his publisher wasn’t so lucky.  While Centaur may have been one of the first comic book publishers ever, poor distribution and business sense saw the company go under in 1940.

While the company folded, it did retain something of a legacy.  In 1987 one of his stories was reprinted in a book called Mr. Monster’s Hi Shock Schlock by Michael T. Gilbert.

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And in 1992 a company called Malibu Comics revived a bunch of Malibu characters into a team known as The Protectors,

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and the Eye was cast as a supporting character.

The Eye was a genuinely interesting idea and character for a superhero.  He had an interesting gimmick and he had a legendary creator behind him.  If it wasn’t for his publisher going out of business I’m willing to bet it would have gone on to become a staple of modern comic book superheroes as well.

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It’s a real shame to see an idea like that go to waste.

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Golden Age Showcase: The Hand

This one is going to be a short one, but boy is it a weird one.

We’re all familiar with the idea of a giant hand that is used as a metaphor for controlling things.  The hit video game Super Smash Bros. has the “Master Hand” as a final boss,

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Marvel Comics has the super secret group of ninja demons known as “The Hand”,

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and many real life people love to claim that our lives and fortunes are at the whim of the “invisible hand of the market”.

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Yes, the hand is always there.  It’s big, it’s powerful, and it’s completely unknown to we small pathetic creatures.

But did you know that someone tried to take this idea of “The Hand” and turn it into a superhero in the 1940’s?

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Told you this was going to be weird.

Origin and Career

The Hand made his first appearance in Speed Comics #12 in 1941.

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The comic series was the first comic book title published by Harvey Comics, a relative newcomer to the comic book scene and a company that would become famous for licensed titles such as Caspar the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich.

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Fun fact: Speed Comics had been bought from a struggling publisher called Brookwood Publications and was Harvey’s entry point into comic book publishing.  Without this title, Harvey wouldn’t go on to become a major comic book publisher.

The character of The Hand was created by Ben Flinton and Bill O’Connor, two men who would go on to create the Golden Age version of the superhero known as The Atom.

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Unfortunately, both men would wind up joining the armed services in 1942, and while both men survived they did not return to comics after that.

In his first and longest adventure, the Hand doesn’t fight Nazis or stop saboteurs.  Instead, he stops a couple of card sharks from ripping off a casino.

He is introduced with no fanfare, no explanation, and no backstory.  He just appears and warns two men that they better watch themselves.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

The two men ignore the warning and begin to clean out the house.  The Hand warns management, who takes it all in remarkable stride and agrees to let the disembodied hand help him.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

I like to imagine that the hand belongs to some sort of cosmic being that is actually a child and is trying to act all grown up by helping people.

Why not?  It’s more explanation than the comic gives.

The Hand is also a capable fighter…and capable of phasing through walls.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

However, when the criminals attempt to stop The Hand by confessing, The Hand realizes that they will not be arrested or charged for their crimes.  So he brands them on the forehead so the world will know what they’ve done.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

Apparently, The Hand has never heard of hats.  Which kind of makes sense.

On a side note: this comic issue deserves special mention for the story that came directly after this one.  Since most comics at the time were anthologies publishing short stories of only a couple of pages, we got treated to this one.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #12

A kid taking out a head of state with a rifle and people being okay with it?  Boy the times really were different back then.

Anyway, The Hand would have one more story in the following issue of Speed Comics where he played the patriotic game and helped the F.B.I defeat some foreign spies.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #13

It was shorter, but had more action.

So The Hand was an established hero with a gimmick and a creative team behind him…

So what happened?

…and that was it, those were the only two issues that featured The Hand as a superhero.

It’s really not that surprising really.  The character was a small backup feature in a series that didn’t last very long and was published by a company that shifted focus away from original characters and into licensed stories.

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Plus, let’s be honest, the two stories that The Hand appeared in weren’t that exciting or good.

The Hand may have been a small time character with boring stories, but that doesn’t mean the concept wasn’t interesting or that he didn’t have any value.  Sure, the creature was a hero and had a sense of agency and purpose, but it always had room for normal people to step in and take over when the time was right.

Comic Book Cover For Speed Comics #13

It appeared that The Hand was some sort of benevolent spirit who helped where he could and allowed normal people to do the right thing, and if that isn’t heroic I don’t know what is.

The Hand had potential, it would be a shame to forget that.

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Comic book showcase: Black Lightning

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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,

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racial violence,

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and there was a general sense of doom and gloom.

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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,

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not shying away from violence,

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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,

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to create Black Lightning.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I think this CW show is going to be awesome.

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Golden Age Showcase: Lobo

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. day everyone!

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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.

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

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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.

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Origin and Career

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

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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,

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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.

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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,

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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.
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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.

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Golden Age Showcase: Alias X

We’re back!

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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

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

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What, you were expecting something else?

Origin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Impact and legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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resisting an evil ruler,

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

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

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

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