Comic book showcase: The creators of Thanos.

So I saw Avengers: Infinity War over the weekend.

Image result for avengers infinity war

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.

Image result for marvel ten years

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.

Image result for thanos

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.

Image result for thanos and death

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.

Image result for marvel cosmic

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.

Image result for guardians of the galaxy

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.

Image result for jack kirby

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.

Image result for jack kirby

You can see a lot of his

design aesthetic on display in Thor: Ragnarok.

Image result for jack kirby thor ragnarok

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,

Image result for mike friedrich

and writer/artist Jim Starlin.

Image result for jim starlin

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.

Image result for 1970's marvel

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,

Image result for thanos

Drax the Destroyer,

Image result for drax the destroyer

Gamora,

Image result for gamora

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

Image result for adam warlock

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).

Image result for captain marvel 1970s

 

 

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.

Image result for stan lee and jack kirby

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.

Image result for jack kirby darkseid and new genesis

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,

Image result for harvey pekar

Art Spiegelman,

Image result for art spiegelman

and Robert Crumb.

Image result for robert crumb

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.

Image result for star reach and heavy metal

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.

Image result for heavy metal comic

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.

Image result for starlin star reach

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.

Advertisements

Golden Age Showcase: Bozo the Iron Man

Have you ever noticed that bookstores tend to put fantasy and science fiction books on the same shelves?

Image result for science fiction fantasy book shelves

I mean, I can understand why.  Both genres talk about the human condition using fantastical elements and worlds.  The difference is that while science fiction tends to focus on how technology changes society, fantasy tends to focus on how people change society.  The point is that while they share quite a few similarities, they are just different enough to warrant their separation.

Comic books are interesting because the medium has no trouble combining the two genres together and it’s gotten really good at it.  In fact, it’s gotten so good at it that not only is it possible to combine aspects of fantasy and science fiction together, it’s possible to spawn a billion dollar franchise out of it.

Image result for marvel the avengers

While the Golden Age of Comics did have a heavy focus on supernatural and fantasy elements, it also had its fair share of science fiction heroes.

One of these heroes was a creature called Bozo the Iron Man and before you laugh at his name and appearance, you may be shocked to learn that he was actually a pretty interesting hero.

Image result for bozo the iron man

Origin and Career

Bozo the Iron Man made his first appearance in Quality Comics’ Smash Comics #1 published on August of 1939.

Image result for smash comics #1

While that is Bozo on the cover, he doesn’t fight a gorilla in his story.

He was created and drawn by an editor at Quality Comics called George Brenner,

Image result for george brenner comics

Brenner is also known for creating what is arguably the first masked superhero in all of comics in 1936 as well as the hero 711, who is actually one of this site’s favorite heroes.

Image result for george brenner 711

The origin of our titular hero actually bucks Golden Age tradition and gives us something that this blog hasn’t really seen: a morally ambiguous and surprisingly deep origin.

The comic starts with a mysterious robot terrorizing the citizens of the unnamed city.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #1

It turns out that the robot is actually under the control of evil scientist cliche #421 and despite the police trying their best they don’t want to go near the giant killer robot.  In order to put an end to this case the Commissioner calls in a special consultant named Hugh Hazzard, who winds up being the actual main character of the story.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #1

The comic then goes through the standard motions.  The good guy finds the bad guy, defeats him, and the robot is scrapped.  However, in an interesting twist, Hugh decides to find the robot and use it to fight crime without the knowledge of the police.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #1

Sure, the design of the robot doesn’t exactly inspire feelings of dread and terror, but the ending of the first issue actually sets up a surprisingly nuanced and interesting premise for a superhero story.  Seriously, in a time where comics weren’t known for a whole lot of creative complexity, the creative team behind Bozo had the main robot hated and feared by those he was trying to protect.

Don’t believe me?  Take a look at the bottom of a page from the second issue below.

Comic Book Cover For Smash Comics #2

Sure, titles like the X-Men would make the idea of heroes protecting the very people who feared them a comic book staple, but considering that this was being written in 1939 it’s a pretty interesting setup.

Unfortunately, they really didn’t do anything interesting with this setup and the rest of Bozo’s adventures were pretty typical “villain of the week” affairs.

So what happened?

Usually the old Golden Age heroes would either be revived by one of the major comic book companies further down the line or find their way into the works of writers and creators who were fans of the original but sadly, that isn’t the case for Bozo.  This is going to be one of the shortest “What happened?” sections ever written.

Quality Comics folded in 1956 when the comic book market contracted.  They were eventually acquired by DC and many of Quality’s heroes would survive in reprints, but sadly Bozo didn’t make it into any of them.

The only legacy Bozo would have is a brief re imagining by comic book legend Grant Morrison.

Image result for grant morrison

For those who don’t know, Grant Morrison is considered to be one of the great modern wizards of comic books and is responsible for some of the greatest modern comics ever written, including the greatest Superman story of the past 20 years.

Image result for grant morrison superman

Sadly, Bozo didn’t make it into any of Grant’s works, although another creator by the name of Justin Grey said in an interview that his creation of a robot named “Gonzo the Mechanical Bastard” was inspired by Morrison’s redesign.

Image result for gonzo the mechanical bastard

I would go into more detail into Gonzo’s origin but for the casual fans all I am going to say is that he’s nothing like the source material and for the more hardcore fans I’ll say that the Anti Life Equation was involved.

Bozo the Iron Man was a pretty goofy hero with a well thought out backstory and an interesting hook to his character.  Instead of being loved (or at the very least tolerated) by the police and the public at large, he was feared and mistrusted so much that his existence had to be kept a secret.  He was one of the more complex characters of his time and should be remembered as such, even if he looked a bit ridiculous.

Image result for bozo the iron man

The Primordial Soup: July 4th, Captain America, and Modern Myth

Ah the 4th of July.  A time for Americans all over the world to stuff our faces with more food than even we’re used to,

july-bbq-ay-x

Terrify our pets and small children with big loud explosions in the sky,

images (13)

and if we have time, remember our country’s foundation and the crowd of old white men that got together and hammer out the rules and laws Americans live by today.

trumbull-large1

One thing that has really struck me looking back at the history of America is our fascination with symbols and myth, especially with the classics.  Granted, this is nothing new.  Every part of the world has a part of their history that they fondly remember but I like to think America is a bit different and a bit more obsessed with it than the rest of the world.  After all, what other country has a massive statue of the Roman God Libertas, the classical personification of freedom from tyranny, and displays it so proudly?

download (18)

Author’s note: yes I am aware the statue was a gift from France.

It’s fair to say that Americans, especially out founding fathers, loved to build statues based off of classical ideals and abstract figures.  It’s also fair to say that this fascination has changed a bit.  Instead of building monuments to the ancient goddess of victory like the Dewey Monument in San Francisco

Dewey-monument-eastward-in-union-sq1859

To more corporeal figures like Abraham Lincoln

images (14)

To Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin-Luther-King-Jr-web-1024x682

So where have all the representatives of ideas and values gone?  Do we pay attention to symbols anymore?  The answer is yes, we still have representative figures of these values and they are found in our comic books, specifically our comic book heroes.

It’s no small secret that pop culture is in love with super heroes at the moment and a truly great hero can become immortal in our hearts and minds.  In my opinion the best heroes fall into two categories.  They are either the weird and crazy ones that you can help but admire.

deadpool

download (19)

Or the more serious ones succeed because they are representations of ideas that are much bigger than themselves or anyone one person.  Comic books are stuffed to the gills with the personifications of justice,

3058421-nealadamsbatman

human curiosity and scientific advancement,

download (20)

and our hope for peaceful existence and a desire to live a society that can accept us for who we are.

infographic-crazy-x-men-movie-timeline

This all started, as almost every comic book trope started, with the big blue boy scout himself the physical manifestation of the American dream who tirelessly fought for the principals of “Truth, Justice, and the American way”.

wbhe-05

There have been entire books and websites dedicated to the meaning and symbolism of Superman, the creation of two first generation Jewish Americans who wanted to build something that would symbolize the hopes and dreams of the wave of immigrants coming into America, but one thing is clear, the years have not been very kind to the original message.  Today Superman is written more as a Christ figure and writers tend to play more to his alien heritage than his original meaning and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

man-of-steel-superman

However, that means that there must be another hero to take his place, someone who can symbolize what America can stand for and if you read the title, or have even the most cursory knowledge of comics or comic book movies, you know who it is.

1585_CaptainAmerica_AvengersAssemble_46

The symbolism of Cap is pretty obvious, so obvious that even a 4 year old can figure out his meaning.  To quote Bob Chipman, a Boston based internet movie critic who is a favorite of mine, “If you pointed out to him [Captain America] that he’s kind of corny, he’d respectfully ask that you not refer to a storied American produce like corn in the pejorative sense.” (this is taken from his review of the first Captain America movie) and that is completely true.  Captain America is everything now that Superman was fifty years ago.

But here’s the thing, it’s not just Cap’s uniform and shield that make him the personification of American ideals, it’s his actions as well.  Whenever America did something morally questionable or outright evil, Captain America was there to voice his displeasure.  One of the biggest instances of this was in 1974 when it was discovered that the President, looking suspiciously close to Richard Nixon, turned out to be a terrorist in disguise.  Captain America proceeded to abandon his costume and start fighting crime as the hero Nomad.

Nomad

But one of the best, and my personal favorite, example was with the 2006 story line Civil War.

Civil_War_Vol_1_1_Variant

Now to many comic fans this may seem like a polarizing choice and I’ll admit that Civil War has produced some things that quite a few people don’t like.

03-Spider-Man-One-More-Day

But it’s the main storyline, where the superheroes are divided between those who see government registration as a safe and secure way to train and use their powers to help more people and those who view becoming glorified government employees as a threat to their personal liberties, that I really like.  While Iron Man, the ever practical business man and futurist, sides with and lead the pro registration side it is Captain America who goes against the will of his government and many of his friends to say “this is wrong and I need to fight it”.

captain-america-vs-iron-man-civil-war

Captain America is the unironic personification of all the good America the country has done and the model character for all the good and upright things America is capable of doing.  So this July 4th enjoy your food, enjoy the fireworks, and remember that myths and heroic representations of all the good things we can be is still around and still going strong.

Oh, and for all the non Americans who read this article, thank you for putting up with this one day where we’re louder and brasher than usual.

The Primordial Soup: Why is Iron Man so popular?

So this little movie just came out.

Avengers_Age_Of_Ultron-poster1 (1)

It’s safe to say that the Avengers and the Marvel movie experiment has been a massive success, bringing together a team of some of the greatest superheroes of the 20th century.  What’s even better for the fans, and Marvel’s box office bottom line, is that most of these superheroes have built up successful movie franchises on their own.  The mighty Thor can easily draw fans in on his own with his epic fantasy tales (though it doesn’t hurt that he has Loki on his side).

download (9)

Captain American can rake in the box office proceeds with his sense of moral justice amid a world that is increasingly going to hell in a hand basket.

download (10)

And the Incredible Hulk is resilient enough to survive over fifty years worth of comics, television, Ang Lee, and a reboot.

download (11)

But by far the most popular and successful super hero to arise from Marvel’s post bankruptcy movie juggernaut is Iron Man, who over the course of seven years and three movies has managed to rake in over 2 BILLION on his own.

images (3)

But what makes Iron Man so popular?  Why did Marvel decide to kick off their movie universe with an unknown director and problematic lead actor?  Let’s find out.

In order to figure out why Iron Man is so popular we have to go back through his history.  One of the reasons I find his popularity so funny is because Iron Man may be the only hero created so people would hate him.  Stan Lee initially created Iron Man in 1963 during the height of the Vietnam War.  Iron Man aka Anthony Stark, is a “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist” who designs and builds weapons for the U.S military, which meant he was responsible for the Marvel equivalent of this.

download (12)

which Stan thought would piss off a lot of younger readers.  However, for some odd reason Iron Man proved to be incredibly popular and he developed into a Marvel mainstay.  Due to his capitalist, free wheeling, death dealing lifestyle Stark became the embodiment of American industrial might and militaristic aggression beating back colorful villains like the Crimson Dynamo, an experiment by the Soviet Union attempting to duplicate the Iron Man armor.

images (4)

And the Mandarin, an evil Chinese super genius with ten rings that give him various powers.

mandarin-iron-man-3-villain

It’s pretty clear that most of these villains wouldn’t work today, Iron Man 3 avoided using the Mandarin in his original form, because they were meant to be caricatures of America’s great Communist enemies: the Soviet Union and China.  Through out the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s Iron Man was Marvel’s representation of American industry, conquering his foes with technological prowess and ingenuity.

And then the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and just like that the Cold War ended.

berlin-wall_2526447b

You’d think that would be the end if Iron Man, after all what would the living embodiment of the military industrial complex have left to fight, but he managed to keep his position as one of Marvel’s top characters long after the Cold War was over.  As far as I can tell there are two possible explanations for this.  First, there’s the Batman argument, which basically means comic book readers just really enjoy watching a 1%er beat the ever loving crap out of poor people with cool gadgets.  But the second option is much more interesting to me.

Iron Man is a geek.

images (5)

Think about it.  Iron Man makes his living designing machines and gadgets.  From an early age Stark was tinkering, programming, and graduating from MIT at age 15. Heck, his only real superpower is his mind, which was able to develop a suit to give him the powers of a god.  There is no problem he can’t solve with technology and nothing his mind can’t handle.

Now if we take that template and we apply it to our society and our modern day world we can see something interesting.  Who are our real world industrial heroes?  Who are the people we admire for changing the world and making massive fortunes?  The answer is, geeks who developed the products that run our world today.  Computer experts like Bill Gates.

download (13)

Programming innovators like Larry Paige and Sergey Brin.

images (6)

And visionaries like Jeff Bezos.

download (14)

And our fascination with tech innovators doesn’t end with the people who wind up with all our money, it extends to the rest of us as well.  In fact, if you look at the number over the past twenty years, there are more engineers and people studying engineering then ever before.  If you go to crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo they are filled with people working on fun and interesting gadgets and tech.  We love the ideals that heroes like Iron Man exemplify like intelligence, confidence, innovation, and curiosity and while it is true that Iron Man does share quite a few similarities in his background with heroes like Batman I think that people tend to be more interested in Batman’s dark atmosphere and fanatic devotion to justice while we are more drawn to Iron Man’s spirit of innovation and creativity.

Unless everyone just likes to associate him with the song, in which case this entire article is completely pointless.