The Secret Lives of Villains #295

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Golden Age Showcase: Stardust the Super Wizard.

You know what I really like about comics?  The scope and scale of the medium.

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Sure, in any artistic medium you can tell big stories, but in comics?  Comics are the new mythology, giving us larger than life characters that serve as brightly colored allegories for the larger world.

The Golden Age of Comics had their myths and legends but let’s be honest with ourselves…they were somewhat limited.

It makes sense I guess.  After all, a lot of people were pressuring creators to churn out new superheroes as quickly as possible and there are only so many ways you can copy heroes like Superman or Batman.  Plus, our country was faced with an actual larger than life event known as World War 2 so those heroes were tasked with winning the war, but surely there had to be some way to inject a little grandiosity into the comic book scene.

Where’s the magic?  Where’s the ridiculousness?  Where’s the cosmic scale of it all?

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Oh, this’ll be interesting.

Origin and Career

Stardust the Super Wizard, a giant space magician with super strength and a tiny head,

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was first published in Fantastic Comics #1 in December of 1939.

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The title was published by Fox Features Syndicate, who published the first Blue Beetle, and created by writer and artist Fletcher Hanks.

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Hanks is also responsible for creating one of the first female characters in comics, a woman named Fantomah.

Fantomah, Mystery Woman

Hanks was something of an elder statesman for a comic book industry that was dominated by teenagers.  He specialized in creating supernatural characters who had no qualms about wrecking terrible revenge against their antagonists and Stardust was no exception.

His origins are simple.  He’s a mysterious super being who descends from the stars to wreck terrible retribution on criminals everywhere.  Everyone knows this this due to a strange radio broadcast that tells them everything.

Comic Book Cover For Fantastic Comics #1

What’s his backstory?  Where does he come from?  Nobody knows.

What we do know is that his powers are seemingly limitless, and he demonstrates his power against two thugs who are just about to assassinate the President.

Comic Book Cover For Fantastic Comics #1

It’s pretty clear that our hero is a giant and has more powers than Superman did at his height.

It’s worth mentioning that Stardust also partakes in one of the hallmarks of the Golden Age of comics: the hero murdering hoards of criminals and evil doers in brutal fashion.

Comic Book Cover For Fantastic Comics #1

The first story sets the tone for most of the Stardust stories as the hero defeats a series of increasingly over the top and surprisingly well equipped enemies with unimaginable violence.  While he would only last for 16 issues, each one of them is pretty epic and worth checking out.

It’s worth mentioning that Stardust didn’t just police Earth, he dedicated his life to busting crime all across the solar system from his private star base.

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He had enemies with creative names like Kaos of Venus, the Brain Men of Mars, and Yew Bee.

My personal favorite is the story where our hero faces the evil machinations of an arch criminal named De Structo, who plans to use an oxygen destroying ray to suffocate the political leadership of the United States.

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No I’m not making any of that up.

Stardust captures De Structo and punishes him by removing the villain’s head, keeping it alive, and throwing it to an alien beast known as a “giant headhunter”.

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Funny how the headhunter alien looks suspiciously human.  Also, that is not a good way to go.

So what happened?

As I stated above, Stardust only lasted for 16 issues.  I have no idea why he didn’t last longer and can only assume that people were allergic to fun and epicness.

Thankfully, all was not lost and it turned out that Fletcher Hanks had developed something of a cult following.  All of his Golden Age stories were collected into anthologies and are currently published by Fantagraphics Books.

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Also, it turns out that Stardust is a superhero that has greatly benefited from being in the public domain since he has actually appeared in a lot of other independent projects.

Some of his more notable appearances have been in Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,

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He also had a cameo in Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon #141.

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He’s also been used in a genre that we don’t talk a lot about on this blog: table top games.  His name was used as an example of how power corrupts in The Super Villain Handbook by Fainting Goat Games.

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Stardust the Super Wizard may have had a short career in the Golden Age, but it was a career filled with memorable events and villains.  He’s remembered fondly today and his reputation is well deserved.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Drawing Blood

Normally this blog is reserved for obscure, small time artists and creators looking to fund a project that would have a very difficult time getting attention from a major publisher.  That’s the spirit in which sites like Kickstarter were created and it’s a spirit that we appreciate and aspire to.

However, today is the day where we attempt to sell out in a blatant attempt to gain more views and popularity.

Today we’re looking at a project called Drawing Blood.  It’s a biographical graphic novel detailing the rise and fall of a humble comic book creator named Shane Bookman.  The project is headed by Kevin Eastman, David Avallone, and Ben Bishop.

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As of the time of writing the project has already reached over $40,000 of it’s $75,000 goal and ends in 24 days.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2073065927/kevin-eastmans-drawing-blood-vol-1-a-graphic-novel/description

Why I like it

I like it because it’s a biography about indie comic book legend Shane Bookman and his journey from the highest highs of success to the lowest lows of fame and fortune.

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What, you’re telling me that you’ve never heard of Shane Bookman?  The creator of the 1992 hit comic “Radically Rearranged Ronin Ragdolls”?

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You know, the comic that started off as a darkly humorous parody of the grim and gritty comic books of the time and was spun off into a merchandise and tv empire that remains a pop culture phenomenon to this day?  In fact, it was so successful that there are rumors there will be a big budget action movie produced by some super Hollywood director named Daniel Flay, who really likes explosions and movie series with a seemingly infinite number of sequels.

Ok, so you probably know that Shane Bookman doesn’t exist.  In fact, those of you in the know probably recognized what this project actually is when you saw who was creating it.

For those of you who don’t know, Kevin Eastman is one of the co creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,

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You know, the comic that started off as a darkly humorous parody of the grim and gritty comic books of the time and was spun off into a merchandise and tv empire that remains a pop culture phenomenon to this day and has been turned into another Michael Bay reboot that will probably churn out sequels until the day we die.

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Drawing Blood was created to be a fictitious, semi autobiographical, darkly comedic look at the creation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the rise and fall of a great artist.  It looks like it’s going to be grim, dark, violent, and promises to go behind the scenes of the creation of one of the most famous and popular comics of recent memory.

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I love this sort of stuff.  Call me weird but there are few things more satisfying than watching a success story pan out with all the trials, tribulations, thrills, chills, and potential for violence.

Why you should donate

Because being a comic book creator is hard, and while a select few creators do get to enjoy the fruits of their labor and create characters and stories that are enjoyed by millions of people,

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there are hundreds, if not thousands more men and women who put their heart and soul into their work and got screwed out of their righteously deserved credit.

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Ok sure, Alan Moore isn’t the best example but when it comes to talking about creators getting nothing for their work (although while he has made a lot of money you could make a strong case for him getting shafted by watching Hollywood butcher some of his greatest work like V for Vendetta and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) but the comic book world is a special case when it comes to the discussion of creator’s rights and credit.

In the very beginning comic book artists and writers didn’t own anything they created.  Their work belonged to the companies that employed them and the only money many o them would see from their creations would be the page rate they received on a work for hire basis.

This is why legends such as Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster,

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who created the iconic Superman had to sue Warner Brothers in the 1970’s for the credit and recognition they justly deserved, and why Shuster died in debt.

The struggle of the creator for the rights and recognition to their work is a long and often tragic tale and it’s problems are still being worked out and argued over today.

Some creators, such as the founders of of Image Comics,

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have made it possible for creators to have greater control over their work and how it’s used, but it’s still a sensitive and complex issue that’s still being talked about.

I bring all this up because I think that a project like Drawing Blood is important to this discussion.  Audiences see the end result of the hard work and sacrifice that goes into creating stories and characters, but not a lot of people pay attention to the stuff that really goes on behind the scenes.

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Sometimes the creation of a story is just as import as the actual story itself, and if a project like Drawing Blood can draw more attention to the world behind the story than it is a story worth reading.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2073065927/kevin-eastmans-drawing-blood-vol-1-a-graphic-novel/description

Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Italiano

Warning: this article contains content not suitable for children.

Today we’re talking about a comic book project on Kickstarter with big dreams, an ambitious goal, and an interesting take on the gangster epic, one of the more popular genres in popular culture.

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The project is a series of graphic novels created, drawn, and produced by Mike Bloom.

It is currently seeking funding for the debut issue of a planned long form series and is seeking to reach $10,000 by June 30th, 2017.

Here’s the link to the campaign:

Why I like it

The story is simple.  Four crime families are fighting among each other for control of the fictional town of Capitol City.  These families all have colorful leaders such as Mario Italiano.

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So it seems like it’s a pretty stereotypical gangster story but the way it tells its story is so interesting and quirky that I can’t help but be impressed.

You’ll notice that the art style is…different.

I want to say this is Saturday morning cartoon violence cranked up to eleven but…it’s not.  It’s too angry and violent for a kid cartoon but it’s too clean and polished for mature and gritty.

I guess the only word I can use to describe it is…unique.

It’s a rapid fire assault on the senses that makes it bizarre, almost alien, and I love it for that.

Also, the creator claims that this graphic novel series is “The Sopranos meets Rick and Morty”.

I like the Sopranos,

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and I LOVE Rick and Morty,

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and if this comic lives up to its promise than I will be a very happy man.

If there was one correction I would make I would say that the art style reminds me of Invader Zim more than anything.

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It’s probably just me but hey, is being compared to Invader Zim really a bad thing?

Why you should donate

If the art and premise didn’t grab your attention and make you want to donate than I highly recommend checking out the story behind the creation of this comic.

I’m not going to go into the creator’s entire life story here but just to give you a rundown, the man is passionate about this project and has dedicated over fifteen years of his life to making this series a reality.

Heck, before it was a comic it was actually a card game you could play on your phone.

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Now, I don’t normally use the backstory behind the creation of something as a selling point.  Usually I believe that it doesn’t matter how much time you put into something if the end result is going to be garbage.  But this?  This is different.

You can tell that the creator is incredibly passionate about this project, and that he has poured his heart and soul into it, and that is worth our respect and attention.

Italiano is an ambitious project that is the textbook definition of a labor of love.  It’s crazy, violent, bizarre, wholly unique, and is worth your time and money.

Campaign link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1916419692/italiano-the-graphic-novel-series/description

Golden Age Showcase: The Patriot

Happy post Super Bowl everyone!

Last night was one of the greatest games I have ever seen and I am so happy that my favorite team won their fifth championship.

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Full disclosure, I am a huge fan of the New England Patriots so I would like to apologize for anyone reading this who isn’t a football fan and has to put up with yet another half crazed fan talking about something that’s not that interesting.  As for anyone who was hoping for the Patriots to lose, I’m not sorry in the slightest.

The game was one of the greatest things I have ever seen, so I thought it might be fitting to talk about an old school hero named The Patriot.

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Look, it was either this guy or Sportsmaster and I chose him.

Origin and Career

The Patriot was a second string character created by writer Ray Gill and artist Bill Everett,

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who was also the man who created Namor the Submariner.

The character first appeared in The Human Torch #4 in April of 1941.

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Fun fact: the issue is rather famous for a printing error that stated it was issue #3 instead of #4.

Anyway, the Patriot’s actual name was Jeffery Mace and his first appearance was in a ten page backup story titled “The Yellowshirts turn Yellow!” where the Patriot defeated a group of people looking to subvert the United States war effort by overthrowing the United States government.

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The character proved to be pretty popular for a backup character and would go on to have a successful, if not a bit standard and cliche, career as a secondary character in The Human Torch comics and Marvel Mystery Comics as well.

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I like to think that if Captain America didn’t turn out to be as popular, the Patriot would have been able to become a much more established superhero.  He wasn’t flashy, he didn’t have any special powers or particularly noteworthy stories, but he did his job and was popular enough to have a pretty long and storied career in the 1940’s.

So what happened?

Life tip: if you want to survive through trying times, you have to be able to stand out so people notice you.  The Patriot did not have that chance and as a result died out with the superhero fad in the late 1940’s.

With that being said, his previous popularity gave him something that a lot of his colleagues never had: a second chance.

His first appearance was in The Avengers #97 along with his colleague in arms The Fin (the same guy we talked about last week) as a mental projection of Rick Jones in order to wage war on the Kree and Skrull.

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He wound up joining the retconned superhero group known as The Liberty Legion and was given a much more fleshed out backstory in the 1970’s.

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They gave the man a much more fleshed out backstory that gave him some much deeper connections to the Marvel Universe as a whole.

In the new reality Jeffery Mace was a reporter for the Daily Bugle (Spiderman!) who was inspired by his idol Captain America.

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He even got to BE Captain America for a little bit when Marvel published a “What if?” story where he got to don the uniform of Captain America for a bit in order to explain how the hero could have continued to work after being frozen in ice.

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He was actually the third person to don the costume.  That’s him carrying the previous Captain America stand in, a hero called “The Spirit of ’76”.

Jeffery had a couple of guest appearances after that and was killed off in main continuity in 1983.

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But for some wonderful reason, the Patriot still had some juice left in the tank.

In the modern day Jeffery’s story was retold in a comic book series called Captain America: Patriot that took a closer look at McCarthy era America and superheroes who wear the red, white, and blue.

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His legacy lives on with a kid named Eli Bradley (the son of Isaiah Bradley from the excellent Truth: Red, White, and Black) working with the Young Avengers.

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Also, for the first time in this entire blog, I can say that we have a superhero who actually made it outside of comics and into the movies!

Jeffery Mace made it onto the Marvel tv show Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D and was played by Jason O’Mara.

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I won’t go into any further details for fear of spoiling the show, but I can say that he is one of the good guys and a friend to Coulson.

The Patriot is as big, bright, and as dumb as they come.  He wasn’t meant to be all that interesting, he was written to punch Nazis and fight during the war.  What Marvel created was a patriotic mascot, what they got was one of the best and most sincere attempts to replicate Captain America, one of their greatest icons.

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