Golden Age Showcase: The Destroyer

On November 12th, 2018 we lost the Walt Disney of comic books, a master of movie cameos, and one of the few comic book creators that almost every person in the world can name whether they’re a fan of comic books or not: Stan Lee.

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There is no denying that the man’s legacy is immense and the impact he had on comic books as a medium and as a pop culture force was almost immeasurable.

Some cliff notes on his early life.  He was born in 1922 to a Jewish family in New York under the name Stanley Lieber.  “Stan Lee” was originally a pen name that he used when writing comics because he was saving his actual name for when he would start writing novels.

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Stan was around for the very beginning of the comic book industry that we know and love when he first started working for Timely Comics in 1939 after graduating high school.  While his initial duties were small time stuff like filling inkwells.  His first bit of writing work was creating filler text for a Captain America story named “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge”,

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Fun fact: this is the first story where Captain America throws his shield.

From there, Stan wrote a back up feature called “Headline Hunter”,

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and in 1942 Timely Comics launched the first superhero co created by their new upcoming writer and the hero we’re going to talk about today: The Destroyer.

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Ladies and gentlemen, here is the first superhero that Stan Lee ever created.

Origin and Career

Full disclosure, I’ve done a bit of research for this article, and I can’t find a whole lot of images of the Destroyer due to copyright, so there’s going to be a lot of text and not a whole lot of pictures.

The Destroyer made his first appearance in Mystic Comics #6 in August of 1942.

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He was co created by Stan Lee and artist Jack Binder,

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Jack Binder was the older brother of Otto Binder, the man who would develop a healthy portion of the Superman mythos.

The Destroyer’s civilian identity is Kevin Marlow, an investigative journalist who was sent behind enemy lines to record and document Nazi atrocities.

He got a view that was a probably a bit too personal when he was captured, tried as a spy, and sent to a location known as Strohm Prison.  While he was there he was tortured met a Jewish scientist who was forced to work for the Nazis known as Eric Schmitt.

Schmitt had been forced to develop a super soldier serum for the Nazis (yes, it turns out he was a colleague of the scientist who gave Captain America his powers) and was beaten to near death.  Schmitt would wind up giving his heavily guarded sample of the super soldier serum to Marlow, who became incredibly strong and fast and used his abilities to break out of prison.

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Marlow vowed to fight Nazism on his own an donned his black, grey, and red costume to strike fear to the Nazis behind enemy lines.

Of course, his actions did not go entirely unnoticed and the Destroyer’s one man war drew the ire of the Gestapo under the command of Captain Fredrick von Banger.

Naturally, the confrontation didn’t go very well for the Nazis and while The Destroyer was able to overpower the captain, von Banger managed to escape by cheating.

That was The Destroyer’s first appearance and it turned out he was actually pretty popular during the wartime years.  Perhaps the one thing that separated The Destroyer from his other super powered colleagues was his willingness to accept help from other Germans and to accept the idea that the Nazis were more tyrannical despots rather than an entire nation of people.  Case in point, one of his earliest enemies was a psychotic scientist named Herr Scar,

Scar (Earth-616)

who was tasked by the Nazi government to quell German dissenters.  Naturally, with a face and name like that Herr Scar was an evil man who died very quickly.

The Destroyer would continue to experience a fair amount of success during the war.  He made cover appearances in the last four issues of Mystic Comics and would go on to become one of Timely’s most published characters, just behind the heavyweights of Captain America, the Human Torch, and Namor the Submariner.

So what happened?

Kevin Marlow disappeared in the late 1940’s when comic book superheroes were on the decline and comic books were facing a significant backlash and public hatred.

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Timely Comics changed its name to Atlas Comics, and Stan Lee managed to keep going by writing other stories.

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What happened next is mostly hearsay and conjecture, but the story goes that Lee was just about to quit comic books forever until his wife Joan told him to write one last story that he wanted to write.  The result was the creation of a new group of superheroes: The Fantastic Four.

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They’re pretty obscure, you’ve probably never heard of them.

The book was a hit.  Coupled with the rebirth and revitalization of the superhero genre in the 1960’s, comic books became cool again and Atlas changed its name again to Marvel Comics.

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The Destroyer continued to exist, although it was no longer a heavy hitter in the Marvel lineup.  However, in the 1970’s, then Marvel editor in chief Roy Thomas and artist Frank Robbins rebooted the story and made the new Destroyer a British agent named Brian Falsworth, and through a long and convoluted path of events (it’s comics, this happens) Falsworth became the British hero Union Jack.

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All previous continuity was retconned and the previous identity for the Destroyer known as Kevin Marlow was revealed to be a mistake by the FBI.  It was also revealed that Brian Falsworth died in a car crash in 1953.

The Destroyer name would eventually be adopted by Brian’s close friend Roger Aubrey in a 2009 miniseries written by Ed Brubaker.

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A final version of the Destroyer would make an appearance in Marvel’s MAX imprint, which was the place where Marvel created its explicit and mature stories.

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This series was written by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and featured an elderly Kevin Marlow in modern times.

Kevin Marlow (Earth-616) from Destroyer Vol 3 4 0001

This version of the Destroyer still had the strength and endurance of the super soldier serum, but unlike Cap he aged.

The story itself followed the Destroyer as he set off to kill his remaining rogues gallery and ensure the safety of his loved ones, by any means necessary.

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So that’s a brief rundown of the Destoryer.  If I had to describe him in one word it would be…standard.  During the 1940’s he was a product of his times.  People wanted bright and colorful heroes to fight their battles for them, and the destroyer delivered.  And while he would go on to become a part of the Marvel Universe and was well remembered by people working in comics, he would never see mainstream success.

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As for Stan Lee?  Well, he went on to help create some of the greatest and most popular heroes of all time,

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become the public face of American comic books, and be well known and loved by millions of fans.

All in all, a pretty good life and a pretty good legacy.

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Thanks for everything Stan, you will be missed.

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Comic book showcase: Steve Ditko’s career and contribution to comics

So we lost one of the greats this week, legendary comic book writer and artist Steve Ditko.

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Ditko was an interesting character in his own right.  In an industry that thrives on creators being in direct contact with their fans through things like letter pages,

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and comic conventions,

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Ditko was a recluse who rarely made appearances and almost never gave interviews.

So how did Steve Ditko become such an icon in the comic book community, despite choosing to adopt a public persona that many would have considered career suicide?  Well, let’s take a brief look at his career and some of his more famous creations.

Ditko was part of the great revitalization of comic books in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  This time period was known as the Silver Age of Comics and was known for its focus on science fiction aesthetic and themes,

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and for a little known writer named Stan Lee and a cigar chomping artist known as Jack Kirby creating the juggernaut known as Marvel Comics.

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This was also a time when many of the heroes that we know and love today were either created, such as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four,

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or received a make over that would define them for the next fifty years such as Carmine Infantino’s re interpretation of The Flash.

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So where was Ditko in all of this?

Well, he got his start drawing for a small company called Charleton Comics after serving in the Army after World War 2, but moved to Atlas Comics in the mid 1950’s after recovering from a bout of tuberculosis.

Ditko would frequently collaborate with Stan Lee in creating short stories for Atlas publications such as Strange Tales,

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These stories were a huge success, and in 1962 Lee was given permission to create a story about a teenage superhero with spider themed powers.  Lee’s first choice for an artist on the project was…Jack Kirby.

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Kirby was an industry veteran and a very good artist, but in interviews Lee recalled that he didn’t like the way Kirby drew Spider Man.  It was good but it was just too heroic.

So Lee turned to Ditko and together they would go on to create one of the most iconic and popular superheroes ever: Spider Man.

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The hero would debut in Amazing Fantasy #15 on August 10th, 1962.  While the interior artwork was done by Ditko, the cover was drawn by Kirby.

Lee and Ditko’s creation was a massive hit and helped usher in a new era of superheroes who weren’t gods or paragons of virtue, they were creatures with fantastic powers and very human emotions and problems.  Spider Man may have had amazing powers, but he always suffered because of it.  Everything from the death of his Uncle Ben,

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to the death of Gwen Stacy,

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was his fault.

But if you ask me, one of the most iconic moments in the early Spider Man comics was a scene where he’s trapped under rubble, buried alive by the Green Goblin and he has to get himself out.

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Ditko helped make superheroes vulnerable, twisting Spider Man’s body into brutal and uncomfortable poses that made the reader feel the effort and pain he was going through.  It’s fantastic stuff.

A few years later Lee and Ditko would go on to create Dr. Strange, who debuted in Strange Tales #110 in July of 1963.

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Strange allowed Ditko to unleash some of the most surreal and fantastic artwork ever seen as the human Dr. Strange battled creatures of the mind who wielded black magic.

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It’s worth remembering this was the 1960’s, a time when counter culture and New Age religions were starting to make their way into pop culture.  It’s also worth remembering that Dr. Strange became really popular with college kids at the time.

Unfortunately, Steve’s relationship with Marvel and Stan Lee wouldn’t last.  See, Marvel Comics in the 1960’s pioneered a style of comic creation known as “The Marvel Method”.  Long story short, what would happen is that the writer would send an artist a rough idea of a story, the artist would draw the story as they interpreted it, and then the writer would write out the dialogue afterwards.

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It was a great way for a writer like Lee to produce a metric crap ton of work while maintaining his public image, but it wasn’t without problems.  Sadly, there is a lot of debate to this day over who created what at Marvel and whether or not Stan Lee deserves the level of credit and respect he is enjoying in popular culture while artists like Kirby and Ditko were relatively sidelined in the public eye.

But that’s a debate for another day.  What we do know is that Ditko was frustrated with Marvel and Lee enough to leave them and go work for his old collaborator Charlton Comics.

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While Charlton didn’t pay as much as Marvel, they did allow their creators more freedom in their work.  Ditko thrived at Charlton, helping to create some of their most iconic heroes such as Captain Atom,

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and The Question.

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The Question was probably Ditko’s most personal work.  He was a big fan of Ayn Rand and objectivism, the idea that morality must be realized through individuals seeking to act in their own self interest.  The Question was Ditko’s way to express his personal philosophy to the world, something that hadn’t really been done in a medium that was originally more concerned with simple stories for children.

The Question was uncharacteristically brutal for the time period.  There was a scene where he let a pair of criminals get swept away in a sewer than save them.

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Ditko also did some work for DC in the 1970’s creating heroes like Hawk and Dove and Shade the Changing Man along with a whole host of others.

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During the 1980’s and 90’s Ditko would become even more reclusive, working for small presses and often taking bigger work simply for the paycheck.  He would eventually retire from mainstream comics in 1998, although he did work with former Charlton editor Robin Snyder in publishing bits of solo work.

While Steve Ditko became more and more of a recluse, his work and characters continued to have a lasting effect on comics and popular culture.  While Spiderman is his most famous work,

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and Doctor Strange is currently enjoying higher status thanks to the Marvel movies,

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I think a lot of his work at Charlton and DC comics deserves special mention.

In 1983, most of the Charlton characters were bought by DC comics when Charlton was suffering financially.  They were approached by Alan Moore, who wanted to write a 12 issue series that was a dark and gritty deconstruction of the superhero genre called Watchmen and he wanted to use Charlton characters to do it.  Two of them were Ditko creations, The Question and Captain Atom.  When DC said no, Moore used the idea of The Question to create his own character: Rorschach.

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and the idea of Captain Atom to create Dr. Manhattan.

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Most of the Charlton characters would go on to have successful careers in the DC universe on their own accords.  I can specifically remember the Justice League cartoon making fantastic use of The Question in its later seasons.

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So, how do we process the legacy of Steve Ditko?  He helped elevate the medium of comic books by introducing deeper and more meaningful themes and ideas into his work, he stood by his beliefs and preferred to let his work speak for him, and he helped to create two of the most iconic superheroes in modern history.

All in all, as far as legacies go, his position as one of the greatest comic book creators of all time is well deserved.

Thank you Mr. Ditko, you will be missed.

Diamond Comic Distributors: a brief history.

I was going to write an article about an obscure superhero this week, but then I heard the news that DC is teaming up with Walmart to start selling comic books.

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For anyone who doesn’t know, Walmart is going to start selling 100 page anthology titles for $5 starring Batman, Superman, the Justice League, and the Teen Titans in July.

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Personally I find this pretty exciting, partially because I’m a fan of anything that gets comic books into the hands of more people and expands the public profile of the medium that I love.  While some people may question my enthusiasm for supporting a mega corporation that engages in some of the shadiest business practices ever, I can assure you that Walmart is a step up from the current state of affairs.

For those of you who know what I’m talking about, yes it’s going to be one of those articles that confirms what you probably already know and yes, there will be much anger and rage.  For those of you who don’t, let’s delve into the history and reputation of the biggest distributor of comic books: Diamond Comic Distributors.

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very brief history of comic book distribution.

In the early days of the comic book industry, comic books were distributed like newspapers to newsstands and drug stores.

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It was a good place for comics at the beginning, but the system had three big problems.  For starters, comics suffered from the reputation of being cheap and disposable entertainment that wasn’t worth a whole lot of attention, so books tended to be shipped and sold in very poor condition by people who had no idea what they were talking about.

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Second, if a book didn’t sell well, the seller could rip the cover off of the book and return it to the publisher for credit towards the next order, which was very bad news for a publishing industry that survived off of very small profit margins and was perpetually going out of business.  And finally, the stranglehold that newspaper distributors held on getting a comic book out to the people allowed for censoring bodies like the Comics Code Authority to step in and impose their will on content.

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If comics didn’t have this sticker on them, then distributors wouldn’t move the comic, ensuring that the comic would make nothing.

All of this started to change in the 1960’s with the rise of the underground comix scene.

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The comix scene was a network of alternative, underground, and controversial creators and artists who disliked the rules imposed on the comic book medium and protested by creating some of the raunchiest and explicit material I’ve ever seen.

No, I’m not showing this to you, go find out yourself if you want to learn more.

Naturally, no big newspaper distributor would sell this kind of stuff, so the creators created their own small time distribution models in places like San Francisco, where their comics were sold out of head shops and weed dispensaries.

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Things would come to a head in 1972 when comic book dealer, convention organizer, and fan Phil Seuling,

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approached publishers with an idea.   He would create a new distribution model where purchases were no longer returnable and where shops and retailers could order the specific number of books that they wanted, something that was unheard of at the time.  This idea, coupled with the fact that Seuling could offer retailers a discount if they bought a certain number of books, would lead to the decline of the newsstand model and the rise of the specialist comic book store.

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For a while this new system was a success.  Now, comics could be bought and sold faster, cheaper, and by people who knew what they were talking about and what they were doing.

And it only took two decades for all of it to go wrong.

The rise of Diamond

In 1982 a Baltimore comic book store owner by the name of Steve Geppi,

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took over the sales accounts and warehouses of defunct comics distributor New Media and another distributor named Irjax.  He named this new company Diamond, after an imprint that Marvel had created for non refundable comics.

Mr. Geppi’s new venture quickly became one of the largest comic distributors in the United States, mostly because they actually knew what they were doing and were one of the most efficient operations in an industry.  Most of their rivals either went bankrupt due to poor business management, or were bought out by Diamond in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

By the mid 1990’s the comic book distribution business was dominated by three players: Diamond,

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Capital City,

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and Hero’s World.

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In 1996 Marvel Comics, who was enjoying its position as the largest comic book publisher in the world and riding high off of a massive sales boom in the late 80’s and early 90’s, decided to buy Hero’s World and make them the sole distributor of all of Marvel’s titles.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty clear that Marvel was being a jerk during this whole ordeal so I’m not passing too much judgement on Diamond for what happened next.  Long story short, Diamond managed to outbid Capital City and become the exclusive distributor for DC Comics,

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and Dark Horse Comics,

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which made the largest comic distributor in the United States even bigger.

The Marvel/Hero’s World deal failed miserably.  Hero’s World didn’t have the infrastructure and ability to handle nationwide distribution for the world’s largest comic book publisher and folded after less than a year of business.  Out of options, Marvel went to Diamond cap in hand,

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and Diamond became the sole distributor of the entire American comic book industry.

If all of this sounds sketchy as hell, you’re right.  In 1997 the Department of Justice launched an anti trust investigation looking into Diamond.

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However, in 2000 the DOJ ceased their investigation, believing that further investigation was unwarranted since Diamond only controlled the distribution of comic books but not the distribution of all books.

Which doesn’t seem very fair at all.

The current state of affairs, or why Diamond is bad for business

Despite the fact that the Feds didn’t find anything wrong with Diamond’s business practices, it’s pretty clear that Diamond is a monopoly and certainly acts like it.

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That’s what Diamond is now.

Since there is no competition to keep Diamond honest and promote fair business practices everyone has suffered and everyone has a reason to dislike Diamond.

Retailers dislike Diamond for their poor customer service, late shipping of orders, and sloppy business practices.

You can read a store owner’s own troubles here.

Seriously, I have a friend who owns a comic book store (who shall remain anonymous) who has told me that several colleagues still have to mail checks to Diamond every month in order to pay for orders.

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Mailing checks…in an age where everything is paid for online.

But retailers aren’t the only ones who suffer, publishers and creators suffer as well.

If you’re a small time comic book creator and you want to get your book out to stores and in front of prospective buyers than you better get really good at cold calling, because Diamond won’t even consider selling your book unless you can do at least $2,500 worth of business.

Sure, this is great news for bigger publishers who don’t have to worry about too much competition and can sell their books at a lower price point by offering bulk discounts, but even Marvel and DC have problems.

There was an infamous incident in 1986 where a comic book called Miracleman showed a graphic scene of a mother giving birth.

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There was some negative backlash against the scene, and Diamond responded by encouraging retailers to drop the title all together.

If this sounds like the echos of the Comics Code Authority, you’re absolutely right.

Quite a few creators have taken notice and aren’t very happy with the current state of affairs.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s a page from a Spongebob comic book that was given out during Free Comic Book Day.

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So, that’s the way things are now.  Will this deal between Walmart and DC change things for the better, or is it simply an interesting footnote in comic book history?  Will this usher in a new era of comic book popularity, or are we simply trading one monstrous corporation for another?

Only time will tell, but I for one am going to be watching the future of comic books very closely.

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 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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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.

 

 

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