Golden Age Showcase: Doctor Nitro

I said this year would be a bit different for this blog series by focusing on some of the more creative villains of the Golden Age of Comics and I intend to keep that promise.

The problem with Golden Age villains is that many of them were never meant to have any serious staying power.  Sure, you’ve got classics such as the Joker,

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and the Red Skull,

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but even these guys were simply reduced to being cackling mad men who were given the simple job of being evil for the sake of being evil and crumpling like wet cardboard once the hero started punching things.

It’s important to remember that during this time comics were built around the heroes and it was simply accepted that the hero always had to win.  I’m not trying to mock the hard working and underpaid writers and artists who created these guys, it’s just that the comic book scene of the 1940’s and 1950’s was a bit different than it was today.

Couple that with the fact that a lot of superheroes at the time weren’t above killing the bad guys,

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and it’s pretty easy to see why creators didn’t really focus on making great bad guys.

So here’s a blog post about an old foe of the Whizzer, Doctor Nitro.

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Origin and Career

The evil doctor made his first appearance in U.S.A Comics #16 in 1945.

He was so obscure and one note that this is the only photo I have been able to find of him.

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If I could describe the Doctor’s motivations in one word it would be generic.  He didn’t have an interesting or compelling backstory, he didn’t have some sort of special mutant ability, and he wasn’t particularly memorable or crazy.

While his motivations may have been generic, his methods certainly weren’t.  The Doctor was an explosives expert (with a name like Nitro that really isn’t surprising) who developed a special explosive that could only be detonated by being exposed to a certain type of ray.

Nitro manages to smuggle this explosive into his prison cell by pretending that it’s hand lotion and manages to escape after detonating a bomb that kills two guards.

After escaping and rejoining his gang, Doctor Nitro planned on becoming rich by blackmailing the wealthy and elite into paying him or he would kill them with the explosive.

The Whizzer witnesses one of Nitro’s henchmen kill a man named Standards and manages to trace the killing back to the Doctor.  While Nitro does manage to douse the Whizzer with his special explosive formula the hero is just too fast for him and manages to round up the evil Doctor and his gang in order to save the day.

Doctor Nitro was last seen in police custody, his current fate is unknown.

How can he be remade/reworked?

The Doctor was only given one appearance in 1945, he didn’t have a career after that.

So instead we’re going to try and remake/rework him for a modern audience and see if he could be a good fit for modern day readers.

Honestly, I think this guy could work, mostly because during my research Doctor Nitro reminded me of this guy.

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That man’s name is Howard Payne.  He was played by Dennis Hopper as the villain of the hit 1994 movie Speed.

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Howard is a retired bomb squad officer from the Atlanta police force who took a group of hostages on board an L.A bus and demanded a ransom of 3.7 million dollars or he would blow up the bus and all the people in it.

Besides sharing similar motives with Howard Payne, Doctor Nitro shares a similar love for explosives and creative ways of blowing things up.

What’s even better is that in the world of comics, Doctor Nitro can still fit in quite well.

Personally, I wouldn’t change the character and motivations at all.  He’s an incredibly talented bomb maker who has a knack for creating explosives that are undetectable and can be utilized in interesting and unorthodox ways.

Granted, there are a couple of comic book characters that utilize new and interesting technology,

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and there are even plenty of super villains that use the power of explosives as their main weapon,

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but I think the best place to put Doctor Nitro would be as a smart, capable, and behind the scenes antagonist to S.H.I.E.L.D.

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If I was writing him, the new Doctor Nitro would be half mad scientist, half bomb maker, and only interested in selling his services and products to the highest bidder.  Perhaps he could have had a previous job as a scientist for S.H.I.E.L.D but decided that they didn’t pay him nearly enough and decided to go freelance.

As for the villain’s tools, I think that he could not only be fun, but also pretty socially relevant.

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It’s no small secret that improvised explosive devices (IED’s) are a favorite and well known tool for terrorists in and around places like the Middle East, but with the new Doctor Nitro and his explosive expertise there is a whole new world of bizarre and interesting ways to challenge our heroes.

For example, if Nitro’s explosive can be disguised as hand lotion, what’s stopping him from creating an edible explosive?  If the charge doesn’t need a detonator to blow up maybe Nitro’s intended target could be killed off after eating a meal laced with explosives and detonated when exposed to a certain type of radiation?  How would S.H.I.E.L.D manage to stop a bomb maker who leaves no trace and doesn’t work with conventional materials?

There are plenty of interesting things that could be done with Doctor Nitro, it would be an absolute shame to waste him.

Hey, thanks for reading!  Just a quick heads up, we also publish a web comic called “The Secret Lives of Villains” ever Tuesday and Thursday and we have our first printed volume available for sale on Amazon!  If you would like to support this blog, and read some pretty awesome comics, please feel free to pick up a copy here.

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.

Image result for timely comics the patriot

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.

Image result for the human torch #4 1941

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.

Image result for timely comics the patriot

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.

Image result for jeffrey mace captain america

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.

Image result for jeffrey mace captain america

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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Comic book showcase: Truth: Red, White, and Black

Today is Martin Luther King day.

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Now, we’ve been writing this blog series for a long time and when an important holiday happens to fall on a Monday, we like to find some sort of superhero and/or comic book that fits within the theme for that holiday.

When it’s the 4th of July we like to do a patriotic superhero,

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when it’s Halloween we like to do a horror themed blog post,

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and for holidays such as Martin Luther King day, we like to talk about black superheroes.

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We’ve briefly talked about the history of black men and women in comic books before, but today I thought we could break tradition and talk about an actual comic book series that was published in 2003 and uses one of the worst events in American history to tell a damn good story.

Today we’re going to talk about Truth: Red, White, and Black.

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Origin and history

WARNING: We are about to discuss a historical event that involves some very questionable ethics, upsetting imagery, and a rather frank discussion of race relations in America.  It may cause some people discomfort but talking about this is necessary in order to make sure something like this never happens again.

Between 1932 and 1972 the United States Public Health Service conducted a long running experiment known as “The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment” where they purposely infected 600 black men in rural Alabama with syphilis in order to study the long term effects of the disease.

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As if that wasn’t bad enough, the people running the study never told these men what was going on.  Instead, all the test subjects were informed that they were simply receiving free healthcare and medical treatment.

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This vile experiment continued until the program was shut down in 1972 after the project was discovered and public outcry grew too strong.

Although the study was shut down and $10 million dollars were paid out in reparations after a class action lawsuit in 1974 it remains one of the darkest chapters in American history.

The Comic

In January of 2003 comic book writer Robert Morales pitched an idea to Marvel’s editor in chief Joe Quesada that told an alternate story behind the serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America.

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Image result for captain america serum

As many of us know, the true recipe for the super soldier serum was destroyed after creating Captain America, but that didn’t stop the Allies and the Nazis from trying to replicate it and making more super soldiers.

What followed was as series of experiments to see if the formula could be replicated.  In the case of the Allies, they forced a regiment of African Amerian soldiers to act as human guinea pigs for the serum, because people are awful and mid 20th century America didn’t really care about black people.

The results were catastrophic and disturbing.

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...and the horror that ensued, graphic illustration of a moral low-point in human and US history.

However, five test subjects did survive to be sent off to the war and one manged to come home.  His name was Isaiah Bradley and he was the first black Captain America.

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Despite having every right to be pissed off at the people giving him orders, Isaiah did his job and did it well.  He managed to swipe one of Captain America’s spare shields and uniforms and kick a lot of Nazi butt.

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Image result for truth red white and black

He was even captured by the Nazis but was rescued before he could be dissected and studied.

His country decided to reward his bravery and accomplishments by court marshaling him and throwing him into prison in 1943 because sometimes life just takes a steaming dump on you and there is nothing you can do about it.

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He was later pardoned by President Eisenhower in 1960.

At the end of the series, Steve Rogers managed to find out about the program that created Isaiah and tried to make things better.  Unfortunately, the serum had a debilitating effect on Isaiah’s mind and he suffered Alzheimer’s like symptoms until he had the mental capacity of a child.

The last panel of the series is one of the most heartbreaking and sweetest panels I’ve ever seen.

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Impact of the comic

Within the Marvel Universe, Isaiah Bradley became a symbol and a living legend within the black community.

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Also, he served as a grandfather like figure and inspiration to many of Marvel’s black superheroes.  Even Black Panther gives him a massive amount of respect.

black panther storm wedding marvel isaiah bradley 3

While he was immensely popular with other black heroes he remained unknown by many white superheroes

Sadly, even after he did his time and served his country the United States government tried to use him and duplicate the experiment.  They wound up creating a clone that was born from a surrogate mother.  The child managed to escape and named himself Josiah X.

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Isaiah also had a grandson named Elijah Bradly who would go on to become the superhero Patriot.

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I’ve talked about race relations in comic books before.  When the industry really started taking off it was not kind to men and women of color.  While I do think things have gotten  better there is still a wide discrepancy between black creators and superheroes and white creators and superheroes in terms of audience and exposure.  But, thankfully things are getting even better and I believe only good things are in store for the future.

Truth: Red, White, and Black is one of the most brutal and uncompromising comic books out there and it is well worth your time and money.  It takes one of the ugliest events in American history and manages to turn it into something that is not only educational but one of the sweetest and most important comic book stories in the past twenty years.

Thank you for reading this article!  Besides weekly blog posts about comic books and superheroes Cambrian Comics also publishes a bi weekly web comic called “The Secret Lives of Villains” and the first volume is up for sale on Amazon here!  If you enjoyed this article please feel free to support us by picking up a copy.  Thanks again!

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.

Giant-Size Avengers Vol 1 1

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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Image result for isbisa she hulk

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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Comic book showcase: ?????

Happy Holidays everyone!

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Since it is the week before Christmas, and since we plan on taking Christmas week off from the blog, I thought it would be nice to talk about one of the most powerful superheroes in all of comic books.

He’s big, he’s red, he knows if you’ve been naughty or nice, and he’s listed as one of the most powerful mutants in the entire X-Men franchise…it’s SANTA CLAUS!

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Origin and Career

Unlike most of the characters we talk about on this blog, this guy has had a long and illustrious career, and he didn’t even start off in comic books.

If you want to learn about the history of Santa, there are a couple of things you have to understand.  For starters, many people use the names “Santa Claus”, “St. Nick”, “Kris Kringle”, and “Father Christmas” interchangeably.

All those names are actually talking about different people throughout history.

The Santa Claus that we know was made popular in the 1930’s as a figure who was used to sell Coca Cola.  This was where we get the idea of a jolly man dressed in red with a big white beard and a red nose.
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But that image was based off of an earlier drawing by famed political cartoonist Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly in 1881, who drew an incredibly popular illustration of the famous poem “A Night Before Christmas”.

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This is where we get the idea of Santa with his reindeer and his fascination with giving out toys.

But THAT image was taken from old European Dutch traditions about a jolly old man named “Sinterklaas”, a jolly old man who travels around on Christmas dressed in red and giving out candy to good little boys and girls.

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This is where we get the idea of Santa and his elves, since this version of Santa was accompanied by two beings called “Zwarte Piet” who help Santa hand out candy to the children.

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It’s worth mentioning that this version of Santa has his origins with the Norse god Wotan, who would ride around on his eight legged horse Sleipnir around this time of year.

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It’s also worth mentioning that “Santa” and “Father Christmas” are actually two different people because Father Christmas looks like this.

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He’s still a pre Christian figure, just a bit different from the tradition of Santa.

But the real origin of Santa comes from the early Christian St. Nicholas.

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St. Nicholas was originally Nicholas, a 4th century Christian bishop of Myra in what is now known as Turkey.

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In the Eastern Orthodox tradition he is the patron saint of children, the falsely accused, repentant thieves, barrel makers, and a whole bunch of cities and nations that are too numerous to count.  He’s a pretty popular saint.

The legend goes that the bishop had a friend who had the bad luck of only having daughters.  Back then, the family of the bride was required to provide a payment to the family of the groom called a dowry as a sign of good faith and friendship.

Unfortunately, if the bride couldn’t provide a dowry the bride couldn’t be married, and the life of an unmarried woman back then was a very difficult one.

When Nicholas heard this he decided to do something about it and late one night he baked a bunch of gold coins into a loaf of bread, climbed up to the chimney of his friend’s house, and threw the loaf down the chimney.

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and that is where we get the origin of Santa sending presents via chimney.

So what happened?

Oh, Santa Claus is still around, giving gifts and spreading good cheer.

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In fact, he has been so good at it that during WW2, Adolf Hitler had Santa captured in an effort to strike at the morale of America.

Thankfully, Roosevelt had Captain America and Nick Fury of the Howling Commandos rescue Santa.

It was later revealed that Santa is actually the most powerful mutant/superhero ever created.  His abilities are widely varied from longevity, to super speed, to the ability to manipulate his size in order to fit down a chimney of any size.

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Santa has appeared in several adventures with famous Marvel and DC superheroes,

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Image result for santa marvel universe

but it’s worth mentioning that he hasn’t always been a source of good cheer over the years.

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Image result for santa marvel universe

Probably the best example of this was when he sold his entire gift making operation to Hydra because he was fed up with all the anger and lack of faith, although it did give us this.

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Despite all the misadventures and silly stories, Santa has remained a force for good in comic books and the world in general  His friendliness, kindness, and generosity have inspired people to live better lives and to be kind to each other during the Christmas season,

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something that is sorely needed in times like these.

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Merry Christmas everyone, and see you all next year.

Golden Age Showcase: Thin Man

Confession time.  I’m sitting in an airport terminal in Portland Oregon (long story) and I’ve been so busy that I nearly forgot to write an article this week.

Thankfully I’ve got about two hours to kill before my flight leaves so today we’re going to talk about the first superhero who was able to stretch his body and use it as a super power.

Today we’re going to talk about Thin Man.

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Origin and Career

The Thin Man first appeared in Mystic Comics #4 in June of 1940.

He was created by artist Polish artist Klaus Nordling (I was unable to find a picture) and an unknown writer.

As for origins, Thin Man was the first super hero who was able to stretch and mold his body into various shapes.

What really sets him apart from a various number of heroes is that while Plastic Man got his powers from a lab accident,

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and Reed Richards got his powers from cosmic rays,

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Thin Man got his powers from a group of advanced humans living in a forgotten valley in the Himalayas.

Thin Man’s identity was Bruce Dickenson, a scientist who was exploring the Himalayas and discovered the entrance to a forgotten kingdom called Kalahia.

After he faints, Bruce discovers that the inhabitants of Kalahia have the ability to change their shape and size at will and that for some reason they decided to give him this ability without his knowledge or consent.

What I really love about this story is how they completely disregard world changing revelations such as the existence of aliens on Mars and multiple dimensions and head straight to the crime fighting.

Bruce convinces the elders of Kalahia to allow him to travel back to his home, accompanied by the daughter of one of the elders named Ollala, because this is the Golden Age of comics and you only need three panels to do anything.

As you can see above, Bruce builds a highly advanced propeller driven plane that he uses to murder people, because the casual murder of suspected criminals is totally justified and doesn’t require any explanation.

The rest of the story involves Thin Man and Olalla foiling a group of mobsters who are trying to collect protection money from a taxi driver.

Thin Man uses his advanced technology and his ability to become as thin as a piece of paper to foil the hoodlums and bring the boss to justice.

 

I like to think that if his adventures had continued that plane would have wracked up one hell of a body count.

So what happened?

Sadly, this origin story would be Thin Man’s first and only Golden Age appearance.

However, Thin Man’s career would get a second wind in the 1970’s when he became part of the World War 2 era Marvel team known as the Liberty Legion.

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He’s on the right of the panel in the green and yellow suit.

Long story short, the Liberty Legion fought a lot of Nazis and Nazi related schemes.

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Thin Man would later reveal to Captain America that he lost his family and connection to his powers after Olalla had returned to her home shortly before it had been discovered and destroyed by a Nazi villain named Agent Axis.

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After Agent Axis gloated that he could not be harmed or prosecuted due to his position as a Nazi scientist working for the United States, Thin Man got angry and snapped his neck.  He was arrested by Captain America and sent to prison.

In the 2004 series The New Invaders Thin Man was pardoned by the United States government with the purpose of equipping the new version of his old team with Kalahian technology.

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Unfortunately this turned out to be a ruse by the Red Skull, who was disguised as the Secretary of Defense at the time.

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Thin Man would wind up creating a warship called The Infiltrator which was a massive battleship designed to be able to cloak itself from any scanner and teleport across dimensions.

The ship wound up sacrificing itself to destroy a doomsday device and saving the world from a villain named U Man.

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I don’t know if Thin Man was on board the ship or not when it exploded.

Thin Man is an interesting hero for a number of reason.  First, he was the first superhero who could stretch himself and change his form at will, setting the precedent for other heroes such as Reed Richards and Plastic Man.  Also, he was the ambassador of a new and different world within the Marvel universe, and if they had not been destroyed by the Nazis I’m willing to bet that they would have become an integral part of the Marvel Universe.

Golden Age Showcase: Spider Queen

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You know what we need to talk about more on this blog?  Female superheroes.

The way I see it, if we’re going to talk about female superheroes we should go all the way with it.  We need something daring, something obscure, something so original and new that it has stood the test of time and has never shared any background or history with any other established character.

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Huh, that’s a woman swinging from a thread, in a strange costume, and calling herself “Spider Queen”.

This sounds familiar, but I just can’t quite place it.

Origin and career

Spider Queen was published by Fox Features Syndicate, the same company that gave us the original Blue Beetle.

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The Spider Queen first appeared as a back up story in a comic book called The Eagle in September of 1941.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #2

The story names a person called Elsa Lesau as the creator.  It would be fantastic if this character was actually created by a woman, but sadly I can’t find any pictures of her.  Also, Elsa may have been a pen name for a writer/artist duo named Louis and Artuo Cazeneuve who were two brothers from Argentina who did a lot of work for Fox and would go on to successful careers as comic book artists.

And this is where I would have a photo of them but alas, Google is a cruel mistress.

It’s worth mentioning that the Golden Age of comics wasn’t very good with things like creators’ rights and giving credit to the people who deserved it so it’s all very up in the air.

Anyway, the Spider Queen was a mild mannered assistant named Sharon Kane.  She worked as an assistant for her husband, a chemist who designed weapons until he was killed by “enemies of the country”.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #2

While sifting through the stuff in the lab, Sharon uncovers a formula for a super strong, super sticky thread like substance similar to spider silk.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #2

Once she realizes that with great power comes great responsibility, Sharon takes the formula, crafts her own wrist mounted spray guns that she can use to swing across buildings, and dons a costume to become a “sworn enemy to all wrongdoers”.

Isn’t it amazing how “scientist with a fascination with bugs” is such a common trope, especially in comics?  It’s not like anyone’s turned this idea into anything successful.

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Anyway, over the course of her career The Spider Queen simply contented herself with punching out goons and other small time criminals.  There may have been a budding romance with a detective named Mike O’Bell, but that didn’t pan out because…

So what happened?

She only lasted three issues, and since she was only a backup character she didn’t get a chance to develop as a hero or as a person.

Comic Book Cover For The Eagle #3

The character would have been doomed to comic book purgatory if it wasn’t for the folks at Marvel resurrecting her in a 1993 mini series starring a superhero team known as the Invaders.

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In a rather interesting twist, Spider Queen was actually a villain.  In fact she wasn’t just a villain but a Nazi as well.

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To be fair, they give her some justification by explaining that she’s only with the Nazis because they’re fighting the same group of people that killed her husband, but still…nazis.

Plus they gave her costume the 90’s comic book treatment.

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Eh, personally I’m on the fence about it.

So that’s the history of the original Spider Queen, but you’re probably wondering if Spider Queen has any thing to do with Marvel’s flagship hero, Spider man.  After all, I have been dropping subtle hints about it throughout the article.

The answer is yes, Spider Queen and Spiderman did meet.  That being said, it got a bit…weird.

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Long story short, this new Spider Queen was a woman named Adriana Soria who was a failed S.H.I.E.L.D experiment in 1945.

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She has super strength, a sonic scream, and the ability to control people with an “insect gene” which allows her to turn people into spider monsters.  One of her victims is Peter Parker.

We’ll ignore the “spiders are not insects” thing and focus on the fact that Peter actually becomes pregnant while in his spider form, dies, and is reborn as a new Spider Man with organic web shooters instead of mechanical ones.

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ew.

This version of the Spider Queen would come back as a semi regular Spider Man villain in a couple more stories but other than the fact that this new villain was more of a body horror, all powerful lady spider that’s really all you need to know.

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The Spider Queen was an interesting super heroine.  Sure she didn’t have a very long career as a hero, and her time as a villain was both short and very weird, but I like to think she was a real trailblazer.  She was the first super hero to utilize web shooters as a gimmick and would have one of the most interesting transitional careers as a super villain.

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Golden Age Showcase: Anteas the Bouncer

So this weekend I went to Rhode Island Comic Con and had the great pleasure of meeting comic book artist Jim Steranko.

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The man is a living legend, one of the medium’s greatest artists, and about a million times nicer than he has any right to be.

Anyway, while I was talking to him I told him about this blog and what I was trying to do.  I asked him if he knew any obscure Golden Age superheroes that I could write about.  He got a sly smile on his face, took out his pen, wrote a name on a piece of paper, and handed it to me.

He introduced me to the comic book hero Anteas the Bouncer.

Comic Book Cover For The Bouncer #13

Mr. Steranko, if you are reading this I want to thank you from the bottom of my decrepit heart.  You are a king among men and I hope this becomes the greatest article I ever write.

Origin and Career

Anteas the Bouncer first appeared in his own titled comic in 1944.

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He was published by Fox Feature Syndicate, the company that was most famous for giving us the Blue Beetle.

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Fox was an interesting company.  On one hand they published one of the first blatant Superman ripoffs in comic book history, on the other hand they made crazy heroes like the Anteas the Bouncer.

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Despite his ridiculous name and appearance there was actually quite a bit of thought and talent that went into this guy.

He was written by a man named Robert Kanigher.

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Not only did Robert write Wonder Woman for over 20 years, he actually wrote the first appearance of the Silver Age Flash: Barry Allen.

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Anteas was also drawn by Louis Ferstadt, a man with few known credits but he did do some work on Plastic Man.

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So the character had a pretty impressive team behind him, but why would they commit to something so ridiculous?

Well, the answer is pretty simple, Anteas is an actual figure from Greek mythology.

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He’s featured prominently in the Legend of Hercules as the son of Gaia, or Mother Earth. While working on his 11th labor of collecting the golden apples of Hesperides, Hercules is confronted by the giant Anteas.  While Hercules was strong there was a problem.  As long as Anteas’ feet were on the ground he was invincible and even stronger than Hercules himself.  If Anteas hit the ground he would rise again and his strength would be restored.

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As you might have gathered from the totally not suggestive sculpture above (they’re just wrestling, honest), Hercules defeated Anteas by lifting him up off the ground and crushing him to death.

This particular piece of Greek mythology would inspire Robert Kanigher to create a modern take on the character, and the results were actually quite clever.

It turns out that Anteas’ had a family and they continued to survive thousands of years into the 1940’s and Anteas’ great, great, great (honestly I don’t know how many greats there are to go back that far, let’s just assume a lot) grandson actually shared the power of his ancient ancestor,

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That’s him on the right with the beret and glasses and this is a part of his origin story.

Comic Book Cover For The Bouncer #11

He was driven away from being a superhero when he realizes the trouble his powers cause.

Comic Book Cover For The Bouncer #11

 He became a sculptor who didn’t care much for the world and just wanted to make things.

Comic Book Cover For The Bouncer #11

Unfortunately, he made a sculpture of his famous ancestor so lifelike that it became a living being.  Because that is how this stuff works.

Comic Book Cover For The Bouncer #11

The statue would drag Anteas Jr., yes that was the sculpture’s name, on various adventures and crime fighting forays.  The sculpture possessed immense strength that was tied to the Earth just like his namesake while Anteas Jr., who had similar powers, fulfilled the role of a sidekick.

The adventures of the Bouncer were a mixed bag.  One day he would be fighting standard gangsters and another he would be fighting clowns dressed like Satan

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That being said, there was one particular gimmick to the character that was pretty cool.

The comic encouraged readers to send in letters to the studio along with pictures of themselves for a chance to be in the comic and accompany the Bouncer and Anteas Jr. on their adventures.

Comic Book Cover For The Bouncer [10]

Think of it like an early version of a Kickstarter reward where being in the comic is offered as a reward tier.  This led to some bizarre meta humor and fourth wall breaks in the comic where the Bouncer would acknowledge the winners and encourage readers to participate and buy the comic.

So what happened?

He’s the immortal spirit of a figure from Greek mythology who lives in a statue and fights crime by bouncing, he was just too perfect for this world.

Sadly the Bouncer and his sculptor sidekick only lasted five issues.  Despite the audience participation gimmick, the talented writing, and halfway decent art, the comic couldn’t sell well enough to stay in print and it was cancelled.  While he made a few appearances in other titles nobody seemed interested in reviving and/or reprinting the character.

The Bouncer was a ridiculous hero with a ridiculous backstory and a ridiculous gimmick.  But despite all of that I like to think there was a genuine passion behind his creation and it looks like everyone involved worked hard on his stories.

In other words, he is the kind of dopey and sincere comic book character that is perfect for this kind of blog.

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Golden Age Showcase: All Negro Comics #1

So this show just came out on Netflix.

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I freaking love it.  The actors are awesome, the soundtrack is phenomenal, and while it’s probably the least “comic booky” of all the shows Marvel puts out, it is a fantastic homage to the 1970’s blaxploitation films that the comic took influence from.

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Luke Cage was a product of the 1970’s, a time when American black culture was really coming into its own, and comic books responded with a whole bunch of new and interesting black characters, including Luke Cage himself.

Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 (1972)

Black Lightning #1 (1977)

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While black people and culture would come into its own in the late 60’s and early 70’s, black people were actually part of comic book culture from its very beginning.

In a lot of the Golden Age Comics I’ve read over the course of this blog I’ve come across a lot of black characters.  The downside is that the overwhelming majority of these characters were not exactly culturally sensitive.

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However, that didn’t stop black people from looking at the racism and stereotypes prevalent in the early days of the comic book industry and trying to do something about it.

It a time when it was still illegal for a black man to use the same restroom as a white man.

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there were black people who took a look at comic books, this new form of mass entertainment that was capturing the hearts and minds of millions, and said,

“we deserve our own comic books and we’re going to make them ourselves.”

Today we’re going to look at the first comic book created by black people, for black people.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

Origin

Despite what you might think by looking at the cover, this comic has a hell of a pedigree behind it.

The idea for the comic came from a man named Orrin C. Evans.

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Mr. Evens was a reporter from Philadelphia.  Not only was he a reporter, he worked for a paper called the Philadelphia Record

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and was the first black reporter to work for a mainstream newspaper.

When the Record went out of business in 1947 he teamed up with several of his former co workers from the newspaper and published All Negro Comics #1 in 1947.

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Evans was a member of the NAACP and a strong advocate for racial equality and it shows in the very first page of the comic, where he explains that the comic was created to educate people about the contributions and accomplishments of black people in America, celebrate those achievements, and “to give American Negroes a reflection of their natural spirit of adventure and a finer appreciation of their African heritage”.

 Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

This was a comic written by black people, drawn by black people, for black people and the stories and artwork are pretty darn good.

It was a 52 page anthology comic that had a bit of everything.  Besides the introductory letter there were prose stories along with a collection of diverse stories from crime mysteries and comedies.  There were even some PSA’s and “crime doesn’t pay” advertisements.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

Some of the more notable characters were figures like Ace Harlem, a detective who managed to chase down and capture a pair of thieves who held up a barbecue restaurant and killed its owner.

 Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

the man was intelligent, observant, and capable of dishing out a beating when he needed too.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

Another story was a single page comedy featuring a character named “Lil’Eggie” who suffered at the hands of his over bearing wife.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

and then there’s my personal favorite: “Lion Man”

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Lion Man was an American college educated man who was sent to Africa at the behest of the United Nations in an attempt to safeguard a large natural deposit of uranium in order to prevent evil men from seizing it to make a bomb.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

He had a sidekick named Bubba, who was often more trouble than he was worth.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

He tried to be helpful.  After Lion Man stopped the evil Dr. Sangro from seizing the mountain,

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

Bubba tries to help by using a machine gun to attack the assailants.

Comic Book Cover For All-Negro Comics #1

the plot is foiled, but Dr. Sangro survives to fight another day.

What I really like about this comic is how it portrays the traditional “African savage” with a lot more respect than other comics from the time.  Granted, Lion Man is American and Bubba does fall into a lot of the tropes that belong to annoying, mildly racist sidekicks, but when all is said and done it is probably the fairest and most reasonable portrayal of black men in Africa in the 1940’s.

The comic had good writing, good artwork, and a heartfelt message behind it.  It was a great representation of what black people could do for comics and deserves a place in the history books as the first comic of its kind.

So what happened?

While there were plans for an All Negro Comics #2 but the title was doomed from the start.

For starters the comic was only distributed to segregated African American communities

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which meant that the audience for the comic was sadly limited.

Second, the price for the comic was 15 cents during time when every other comic was selling for 10 cents.

And finally, good ol’ fashioned racism reared its ugly head when everyone from the people selling the newsprint the comic was printed on to the distributors who put the comic on newsstands refused to do business with Evens and his business partners.

All Negro Comics would only last a single issue, even though we don’t know how many comics were sold it’s safe to say it didn’t sell very well.  However, I like to think that this comic represented an important moment in comic book history and the history of race in America.

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For the first time, a group of black people looked at an industry that was overwhelmingly created by and for white children and said “No, we can create comic books and stories that deserve to be told too” and they did.

There’s no way of telling what the impact of All Negro Comics had on the black community at the time, but it’s important to recognize and acknowledge it as a foundation for black people in comics.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Power Scourge

Today we’re talking about a graphic novel currently seeking funding on Kickstarter called Power Scourge.

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The project is created by a company called Visionary Comics and is seeking $30,000 in funding by October 16th.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/470321830/power-scourge-superpowers-gone-wild-graphic-novel/description

Power Scourge is an anthology book detailing a mysterious event called the “Starburst” and the fallout of the event where thousands of people on Earth start mysteriously developing superpowers.

Patient Zero of the superpower plague - Art by Dani Mendoza, Colors by Tom Long.

Nobody knows exactly what’s going on except there is a strange alien device being built in downtown Richmond VA,

An alien superstructure begins taking shape in Richmond, signaling a definitive shift in the crisis. Art by Paris Cullins, Colors by Tom Long.

and the creators of the project are hinting at a strange race of super powered beings known as “The Everlasting” who appear to be playing a much larger role in this strange event than the creators are letting on.

The Chronicler - one of the mysterious Everlasting who bears witness to the Power Scourge! Art by C. Edward Sellner

While the creators of the this project are being frustratingly vague with plot details, I believe this idea is interesting enough to warrant your time, your attention, and your money.

Why I like it

In almost every superhero comic I’ve ever read super powers are limited to a few,

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well…a distinct selection of men and women with special abilities, the right heritage, or incredible luck.

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This makes sense considering that it makes sense to keep your perspective limited and focused from a story telling point of view.  In a world filled with superpowers, what makes superheroes special enough to tell stories about?

Power Scourge takes this idea and flips in on its head.  There are no billionaires who decided to become superheroes, there are no alien devices that chose a specific wearer, and there are no top secret government agencies that have humans deadly enough to go toe to toe with gods and win.  The powers are introduced to our society suddenly, dramatically, and seemingly without reason and it looks like humanity will react in a pretty predictable way.

What starts as a typical day in downtown Atlanta, Georgia quickly escalates into something never before imagined! Art by Dani Mendoza, Colors by Tom Long.

Almost any writer/creator will tell you that chaos and confusion make for the best story set ups and this graphic novel promises a lot of chaos.

The Cosmic Champion SoulStar plays a critical role in Power Scourge - but its not one you would expect! Art by C. Edward Sellner

Why you should donate

First and foremost, this Kickstarter project promises to be the start of something big: a fully functioning comic book universe with plenty of spin offs and a chance to glimpse into a much bigger world that will be developed into other titles.

This project allows anyone who donates to potentially witness a new generation of superheroes and ideas for superhero comics and I think that’s something special.

Also, I mentioned in the beginning that this was an anthology work and here is a sample of some of the writers and artists that are on board with this story and some of their work.

Writer Ron Marz

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Artist Craig Rousseau

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Artist Steve Ellis

and writer Jimmy Palmiotti

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Needless to say, there is an amazing group of very talented writers and artists working on this project and I hope to see a lot more in the future.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/470321830/power-scourge-superpowers-gone-wild-graphic-novel/description