Golden Age Showcase: Isbisa

Happy New Years everyone!

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After a week long break to celebrate the holidays we’re back and ready for another year of obscure comic book characters you’ve never heard of!

Now, since it’s a new year I thought it might be fun to do some branching out and try some new things.  So this year I thought I might focus more on the villains of the Golden Age.

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Now, over the course of researching a lot of Golden Age superheroes, I’ve learned that the early comic book scene wasn’t a very big fan of putting a lot of thought into their bad guys.  Usually the hero fought off hoards of gangsters enacting some sort of scheme

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or the Nazis trying to pull off some evil plot.

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Most of the time the villain that the hero would be fighting would often get his/her just comeuppance at the end of the story and be killed off.

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The point is that the bad guys don’t get a whole lot of attention in the Golden Age of Comics, but every now and then there is a villain who proves to be a long lasting and memorable threat.

Anyway, I thought we could start with a villain who managed to give an entire team of some of the most powerful superheroes a run for their money: Isbisa.

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Origin and Career

Isbisa made his first and only Golden Age appearance in All Winners #19 in 1946.

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What’s interesting is that while many of the comic books at this time were anthologies that told a series of short, unrelated stories about a whole cast of super heroes, this book was a complete story where a team of some of Timely’s greatest heroes would work together to defeat Isbisa as a common foe.

The book itself was written by comic book legend, and a man who deserves way more credit than he’s been getting, Bill Finger.

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Bill Finger is the man who is responsible for creating most of the Batman mythos, although for the purposes of this article let’s just say he’s the guy who created the Joker.

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So it’s safe to say Mr. Finger knew how to create a pretty good villain.

Isbisa started out as a humble museum assistant named Simon Meke.

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His goal was simple (as was most of the motivations for villains at the time): world domination, which he planned to accomplish by stealing a nuclear weapon.  In order to do this he adopted the super villain identity of “Isbisa”, which was an acronym for the six “Ages of Man” (Ice Age, Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Steel Age, Atomic Age).

Despite his lowly status, and the fact that he probably had no idea how to properly handle and manage a nuke, Meke was a smart man and realized that the superheroes of the All Winners Squad would be his greatest threat.

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He developed a plan to keep the team of Captain America, Bucky, the Sub Mariner, The Whizzer, The Human Torch, Toro, and Miss America busy while he could make off with the bomb.

His plan was actually pretty devious.  It involved hiring a group of gangsters and two small time super villains named “The Calcium Master”

(Drink your milk kids),

and Black Patch

to distract the heroes by committing various crimes while he robbed the place storing the bomb with his own special sleeping gas.

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In typical super villain fashion each of the crimes was committed with a certain theme and with plenty of clues for the heroes to use in order to figure it out.  Also, in typical comic book fashion the heroes were able to come together and save the day, capturing Isbisa and placing him into police custody.

So what happened?

Isbisa’s battle against the All Winners squad was his first and only Golden Age appearance.  However, this was not the last time he would appear to challenge his old foes.

His next appearance was in the 1970’s in Giant Sized Avengers #1 as a flashback.

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It turned out that two of the old members of the squad, the Whizzer and Miss America, had left the group after defeating Isbisa and were married.  They wound up joining the CIA and were placed on body guard duty at a nuclear test site.  Unfortunately, during one of the tests they were both exposed to a large amount of radiation and when Miss America gave birth to their first child they discovered that their son was lethally radioactive.

The two were forced to place their son in stasis, but unfortunately their son escaped and became the villain Nuklo.

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Nuklo was eventually defeated and contained, but not before being brought to the attention of Isbisa.

The now released super villain learned about Nuklo’s powers and conspired to use them to give himself nuclear powers.

He disguised himself as a psychiatrist, infiltrated the facility holding Nuklo, and managed to hook both of them up to a device that would transfer Nuklo’s power to himself.  The device worked and when the Whizzer confronted his old nemesis, Ibisia killed him.

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He was defeated by Vision and the Scarlet Witch and sent back to prison.

His final appearance was in a battle with She Hulk.

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Isbisa had managed to escape prison again and was disguised as a physics teacher named Doctor Sandeson.  He discovered a way to move super villains in and out of time and space and used this same energy to rejuvenate himself (it’s worth mentioning that She Hulk comics played fast and loose with things like time and space and breaking the fourth wall).

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She Hulk eventually triumphed and Isbisa managed to escape.  He hasn’t been heard from since.

Isbisa is something of a rarity in Golden Age Comics.  While there were plenty of capable superheroes in the Golden Age, and plenty of them were much deadlier and scarier than Isbisa, there weren’t a whole lot of consistent threats.  Usually a bad guy would last anywhere between a single issue or a couple, but Isbisa did manage to last and plague his mortal enemies for a terrifyingly long amount of time.

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History and Legends of Game of Thrones: Valyrian Steel

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM SEASON 1 AND THE RED WEDDING.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Today’s post is short, sweet, and loads of fun.  Today we are going to take a break from the big ideas and grand events of the books and show and look at a very specific material from the books and show that leaves heads and jaws rolling: Valyrian Steel.

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the books and show Valyrian Steel is a strange and almost mythical material that was created during the height of Valyrian power.  When Valyria fell, like all great empires usually do, the secret to making the material was lost and only a finite amount of the stuff remains.  The steel is remarkably light yet will cut through a man’s armor and weapons like a hot knife through butter so any sword made of Valyrian steel is basically the fantasy equivalent of a lightsaber.  As a result, any family who possesses a sword made of Valyrian Steel keeps it as a treasured heirloom and give the swords names like “Ice” or “Oathkeeper” and “Heartsbane”.  They are also so integral to each bearer’s honor and family that Tywin Lannister saw fit to melt the Stark’s Valyrian greatsword down into two swords as a giant middle finger to the Starks after the Red Wedding.

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Two other features define Valyrian steel other than its rarity and deadly capability: It is extremely difficult to reforge, requiring an extremely skilled smith and techniques that are more similar to magic than science and it is also known for the intricate designs that seem to be woven into the metal itself.

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Happily everything described in the books and the show about this strange material can be traced back to a real world super metal that made legendary swords: Damascus Steel, also known as Wootz Steel.

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Our first record of Damascus steel comes from India where it is believed that it moved to the Middle East and into Europe around the 3rd century AD.  Like it’s Valyrian cousin, Damascus Steel was famous for its beautiful patterns engraved on the steel.  Also like Valyrian Steel, it was incredibly difficult to make and was renowned for making fine swords.

While there was no magic involved in making Damascus steel the forging process was incredibly complex and almost seemed like alchemy.  Without going into too much detail steel is essentially iron with a tiny bit of carbon mixed in.  A smith would take a lump of iron, add a high amount of carbon into the molten metal, and beat and reheat the metal until all but a tiny amount of carbon was left.

Steel is processed at India's Tata Steel Plant in Jamshedpur. India's Tata Steel is likely to make a formal takeover bid for Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus Group at a higher price than previously offered, press reports said on 19 October 2006. The Business Standard newspaper said Tata Steel was likely to raise its offer of 455 pence per share - which values Corus Group at 4.05 billion pounds (6.03 billion euros, 7.56 billion dollars) - due to possible counter bids.

The trick was getting the right amount of carbon, too little carbon and the sword would be too soft to cut anything (not good when you’re fighting someone with armor) and too much carbon would leave the sword brittle and prone to shattering (REALLY not good in battle).  Somehow, the metallurgists responsible for Damascus Steel were able to make a metal that was both hard enough to cut well and soft enough to not break in battle while employing techniques that were similar to modern nanotechnology and haven’t been replicated for centuries (you can find out more, and the source of everything I just described here).  One of the most famous examples of this is the “Ulfberht” Sword.

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Not much is known about the sword’s origins except the name Ulfberht is stamped on the blade.  We don’t know if it’s the owner of the sword or if it’s the smith who made it but we do know that it was made of the same material, or at least something similar, as Damascus swords.  This was a prized luxury item that was only reserved for the very rich and powerful, say a lord or powerful king.  The Ulfberht sword would have been the real world equivalent of the Stark’s sword “Ice” and would have been something its owners would have cherished.

So there you have it, even the smallest details and materials from the books and show have potential historical similarities.  Tune in Wednesday when we return to form and start talking about the big ideas again.