Golden Age Showcase: Waku Prince of the Bantu

Did I go and see the Black Panther movie this weekend?  Of course I went to go see the Black Panther movie this weekend!

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It’s a great movie, if you haven’t seen it yet than you need to stop what you’re doing and go watch this movie right now, you can read this article while you’re watching the dozens of previews attached to the movie.

But I’m not here to talk about how this movie is important, other people are doing a better job of that than I can.  While he was the first black character in mainstream comics, he wasn’t the first black character to star in his own series.

That was Waku, Prince of the Bantu.

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Origin and Career

Waku made his first appearance in Atlas Comics’ Jungle Tales #1 in September of 1954.

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Yes, the title says “Jungle Action” we’ll get to that.

The character was created by artist Ogden Whitney,

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who worked as a fairly successful artist for several comic book companies and is most famous for co creating a hero named Herbie Popnecker.

It’s pretty clear that the comic is following in the footsteps of the old Tarzan stories, which makes sense because this book came out during a time when comics were moving away from super heroes and into alternate genres such as romance and westerns.

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It was also released at a time when race relations in America weren’t at their best.

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What’s interesting about comics is that black people have actually been part of the comic book landscape since the beginning.  It’s just that the way they’ve been portrayed hasn’t always been…

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well let’s be polite and say “sensitive”.

Waku was the first black character to star in a series of stories as the main lead.  Not only that, but the stories featured a predominately black cast.

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Certainly sounds familiar.

The character was the head of a tribe living in the depths of South Africa, and it is worth mentioning that there is some respect paid to actual history here.  The Bantu Migration was an actual historical event and is widely considered to have played an important role in developing African politics and identity.

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You can read more about it here.

The character’s first adventure has him inheriting the leadership of the tribe from his dying father, who tells him to forswear violence and govern with kindness and wisdom.  This proves problematic when he refuses to participate in ritual combat in order to take his place as king and loses his throne to a greedy and ambitious rival, who tries to sell his people’s services to “white hunters” at great personal profit.  Waku winds up killing this usurper and is about to kill himself in penance for what he’s done when his father appears as an apparition and frees him from his vow.

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The character would go on to appear in seven more issues and in each issue he would fight off some challenger to his throne or threat to his people.  This ranged from wrestling lions,

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to evil shamans capable of raising armies of the dead.

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In all of his appearanc

So what happened?

Jungle Tales lasted seven issues and was later changed to Jan of the Jungle.

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I guess it’s true what they say, sex sells.

Normally changing a title like that hints at some serious problems for the publisher but this time it wasn’t the case.  Atlas Comics re branded in the 60’s as the more familiar Marvel Comics.

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I’m sure they need no introduction.

Marvel rode the coattails of a little known writer who had been working for them since the 30’s and an artist with an incredible work ethic and a penchant for smoking cigars: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

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For the handful of people that don’t know their names, these two men basically invented the entire Marvel Universe that we know and love today.

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And in 1966 they  introduced the Black Panther in Fantastic Four #52.

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After a couple of guest spots with the Fantastic Four and Captain America, Black Panther was given his own solo series.  The title of the book?  Jungle Action.

Now, I’m not saying that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby used Waku as a direct inspiration for Black Panther, there isn’t any evidence of that and any allegations made would be unfounded and unprofessional.  But it’s worth considering that both characters were kings of African nations and tribes, both of them were capable warriors, and both Lee and Kirby were working for Atlas at the time Waku was being published.

I’d say that is one hell of a coincidence.

Is Waku a better character than Black Panther?  Not really.  Should Waku have been the face of black characters in comics? No.  But Waku was the first black character who was the star of his own stories and he was treated with respect and dignity.

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He was a good man, a capable ruler, and a good starting point for Marvel’s long and storied collection of black comic book characters.

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Modern film, the Golden Age of Comics, and Wonder Woman

So this little movie is in theaters now.

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I haven’t seen it, although it is currently on my list of films to see, but I have seen the trailer and a good portion of the promotional media for the film.

A quick summary: the movie follows the real life journey and exploits of William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman.

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In real life, Marston was a respected psychologist and the inventor of the lie detector,

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he was also engaged in an unconventional relationship with his wife Elizabeth and his partner Olive Byrne.

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As for the exact nature of their relationship, all you have to do is take a look at the comics that Marston wrote to get some idea of what was going on.

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Frankly, I’m glad this became a movie and I would love to see more films like this since the story behind the creation of some of our most beloved superheroes is often just as interesting as the characters themselves.

Personally, I would love to see a movie about the trials and tribulations of Supmerman’s creators Siegel and Shuster,

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and we’re probably getting a Stan Lee film soon.

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but that’s not what I want to talk about today.

There’s a scene in the trailer for Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman where a group of people are burning a pile of comic books.

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While I don’t like seeing anyone burning books this actually got me pretty excited.  This is the first time I’ve seen any movie talk about the decline and fall of the Golden Age of Comics and while it is presented as a backdrop for the story the movie wants to tell, it’s an important time in American pop culture where the nature and effect that art has on our minds and souls was being hotly debated.

So today I’m going to give a brief history of the comic book industry in the late 1940’s and 50’s and in order to do that we have to talk about:

The post war comic industry

After the Allies won the Second World War Americans everywhere breathed a sigh of relief and celebrated by coming home, starting a family, and giving up on superhero comics.

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Yes, the infamous “superhero fatigue” that so many people say is  coming with this current glut of superhero movies is actually nothing new.

Naturally, the comic book industry reacted to this shift by switching to different genres and trying new things.  Post war America saw a boom in non superhero comics, especially romance,

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humor,

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and horror comics.

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Post war America was actually a pretty good time for comics.  More people were spending money on entertainment, readers were getting older and more mature, and some of the greatest artists of the time were doing some of their best work.

Unfortunately comic books were confronted with a force more powerful than any super villain doomsday device: concerned parents.

You know how concerned parents thought violent video games were turning kids into mass murdering psychopaths?

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Well, it turns out that that isn’t all that new either.  In the 1950’s comic books went through the same process and things would come to a head with,

Backlash, Dr. Wertham, and Seduction of the Innocent

Maybe it was the soldiers coming home from the war trying to process the violence and destruction they saw, maybe it was the Red Scare and the rise of anti Communist sentiment in America, or maybe comic books have a bigger place in our psyche than we think, but for some reason these hearings swept the American people into an anti comic fervor that saw a tremendous backlash against the art form.  This resulted in crazy events like mass comic book burnings as early as 1948,

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but sadly the real destruction would come in the form of a well meaning man in a suit and tie.

Every art form, at some point in its early history, has had a vocal opponent who claims that said art form is destroying our children’s minds and must be censored before it’s too late.

Rap music had Tipper Gore,

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video games had Jack Thompson,

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and comic books had Dr. Fredric Wertham.

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Now, I don’t think Dr. Wertham did what he did because he hated comics or because he was an uneducated hack who was simply making wild accusations because he wanted the attention.  He was actually a highly respected psychologist who did a lot of good work, including providing cheap psychiatric care to under privileged children.

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Unfortunately, he noticed that a lot of the children under his care read a lot of comic books and he started to believe that it wasn’t societal woes or a poor home life that turned kids bad, but violent and disturbing imagery in the media the kids consumed.

Things would come to a head in 1954 when Wertham published his most famous work Seduction of the Innocent

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where he blamed comic books for the rise of “juvenile delinquency” in American youth.

The book was a hit and led to a Congressional hearing on the effects of comic books on children’s minds, and Wertham was the star witness.

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The hearings were incredibly destructive for the comic book industry and effectively brought mass censorship to the medium.  Companies that depended on risque and controversial content to stay afloat, such as the horror and comedy powerhouse EC Comics were the hardest hit and were forced out of business.  The industry underwent a massive contraction and thousands of people lost their jobs as publishers went out of business left and right.

The Fallout

In an attempt to save themselves from excessive censorship the remaining comic book publishers formed an organization known as the Comics Code Authority.  It was an organization that reviewed comics before they could be published and made sure they followed a certain set of rules in order to ensure that they were suitable for children.

The most famous and notable legacy of the Comics Code was the stamp that appeared on the far right corner of almost every comic for the next forty years.

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While the Comics Code didn’t kill the comics industry it did cripple it so badly that it’s still recovering today.  Since comic book writers weren’t allowed to tell complex and morally ambiguous stories if they wanted to get their book published comics became simple and almost boring in their predictable story lines and basic morality tales.  Sure, mature and grown up comics existed, but they could only be found in small press, out of the way places such as the “comix” scene of the late 60’s and early 70’s.

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Eventually cracks in the Comics Code would start to show and historians widely believe that it lost its power after Amazing Spider Man #96 told a story where Spiderman helped a friend who was addicted to drugs and was published without the stamp.

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But if you ask me, the damage had already been done.  The Golden Age of Comics was a time where characters like Wonder Woman could talk about deep and meaningful issues like man’s tendency towards hatred and how women could bring about a more peaceful world, whereas the immediate post Comics Code publishing industry decided to celebrate its newfound freedom by throwing all subtlety out the window and indulging in a lot of violence for violence’s sake.  This,

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is downright childish in comparison to the early issues of Wonder Woman.

Now, I firmly believe that we as a society have gotten better in dealing with art and the effects that it may or may not have on our minds, and I also think that the comic book industry telling better stories today than it did twenty years ago, but it is vitally important that we never forget why heroes like Wonder Woman were created and how important it is that we apply the same passion and thought into our stories today.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Drawing Blood

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

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

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

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

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

Why I like it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why you should donate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comics that deserve more attention: Valerian and Laureline

So I saw Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets this week.

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Now, the reviews have been not that great and it looks like this movie is going to be a massive flop at the box office, but I thought it looked fantastic, it had some really cool ideas and set pieces, and I wouldn’t really mind seeing more of it.  In short, I thought it was basically a retread of director Luc Besson’s other science fiction movie that didn’t get the attention it deserved,

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Like most science fiction movies that are made today, the Valerian movie is based off of a comic book series.  The books in question are the Valerian et Laureline series, which was written by French writer Pierre Christin and drawn by Jean-Claude Mezieres.

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The series started as a comic strip in the French magazine Pilote  in 1967 and published its final series in 2010.  It was published by French comic book publisher Dargaud.

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The series is an epic space opera starring the titular character Valerian and his colleague and co agent Lauraline as special agents working for the Terran Empire across time and space.

To go into any sort of detail about the adventures of these two would take hours, long story short it’s good enough that you should go read it, like right now.  But if you’re still here and need more convincing the real treat of the comic is its art.  Now, I’ve never fancied myself as an art lover and I tend to focus on story over art in my comics but…

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Yeah, I can see why the director wanted to make this movie.

So the comic is a long running, absolutely gorgeous, and thought provoking epic that was good enough to inspire at least one famous movie director to adapt it but how did it get here?  How did it remain so popular and long lasting?  and why was it so unknown to most comic book reading Americans?

To answer that question I did some research and decided that today we’re going to run through a very, VERY brief description of

The history of Franco Belgian comics.

 What a lot of people may not understand is that the idea of using words and pictures to communicate ideas has been around for a pretty long time.  In an age where most people couldn’t read, it was easier to convey ideas or stories through pictures.  As a result, the first comics were strips or single page stories that were owned and published by newspapers.

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In the early 20th century comic strips started to separate themselves from the newspapers to create their own comic series.  Two of the most famous were, Pieds Nickeles 

and the very first female protagonist in comics: Becassine.

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What’s really interesting is that during the 1920’s and 1930’s even the Catholic Church was getting involved in telling stories with pictures with publications like the Belgian Zonneland creating morally upright and decent stories for the children to read.

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Side note: it’s worth mentioning that a lot of people lump France and Belgium together when talking about comics since French is spoken by a healthy chunk of the Belgian population and French and Belgian comics often share the same readers.

France and Belgium had a very strong tradition of graphic storytelling through the 1920’s and 1930’s the art form took off in popularity, and publishers such as Dargaud rose up to meet the demand.

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This time also saw Belgian artist Herge would create a comic series that remains one of my personal favorites in 1929 with the publication of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets.

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This particular title is a bit simplistic and has some really uncomfortable caricatures in it, but it was popular and provided a good jumping off point to one of Europe’s most beloved characters.

The art form was so popular that the French gave a name to it: bande dessinée.  A rough translation would be “drawn strips”.

Now, while the French and Belgian comic book industry did manage to produce some original work it was being rapidly overshadowed by a flood of American comics that could be bought and printed at a lower price.  After all, why spend all the time and money making your own stuff when you can just pay someone else to do the work for you.  However, in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s Europe had a bit of a problem.

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There was a war on and the Germans clamped down on American imports, including comics and animated films.  This cut off helped Europe develop its own stories and characters free from American influence and after Paris was liberated and the war was over, it was local artists and comic book creators who filled the gap.

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What’s really interesting is that even when the war was over, American comics never really came back in France.  This was epitomized by a law passed in 1949 that slowed the import of American literature, a law that was pushed by the French Communist Party who sought to limit American influence in Europe.

Free from the cultural behemoth of post war America, artists like Herge would go on to give Tintin his own comic magazine, and it remains incredibly popular to this day.

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Tintin’s success, coupled with the demand for more comics, resulted in a boom of magazines being published in post war France.  Eventually the market stabilized and Herge’s Tintin magazine and the French magazine Spirou became the dominant magazines throughout the 1950’s.

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It’s worth mentioning that France never had the backlash against comics that America went through in the 1950’s, so while American readers were doing this,

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French comics spent the fifties expanding, diversifying into different stories, and never lost their appeal as an art form.

Some of the highlights included the future 1980’s cartoon fodder The Smurfs, created by comic book artist Peyo and published in 1958 by Spirou,

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and another personal favorite of mine Asterix and Obelix, published by the Belgian magazine Pilote in 1959.

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The 1960’s and 70’s saw a more mature type of storytelling, with the debut of Valerian and Laureline in 1967,

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and tripy and far reaching sci fi art from artists like Jean Giraud (better known as Moebius) and Bilal making their way into a comic magazine called Metal Hurlant.  

That comic would eventually go out of business, but not before it was brought to America where it became the comic Heavy Metal, which is still around.

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The French and Belgian comic traditions have continued to this day.  They’re remarkably different from their American counterparts because while many Americans do tend to think of comics as reading material “for the kids” (no offense to the readers of this blog but come on, everyone knows at least one person who turns their noses up at comics) the French view it as a form of literature that is just as important as the novel or poem.

A modern example?  One of my favorite modern graphic novels created by the French-Iranian writer and artist Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.

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Franco Belgian comics are also reknown for their artwork, with many of the older French artists divided into three distinct schools of comic art, including the realistic, which was popularized by artists such as Moebius,

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the “Linge claire” style, which favored more angular and simplistic character designs set against realistic backgrounds and was popularized by Herge and the Tintin books,

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the “comic dynamic style” which featured a more cartoonish emphasis on characters, movement, and action which was popularized by the Asterix books.

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So there you have it, a simplistic, generalized, and far too brief look at the comic book culture that inspired the movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.  If this piqued your interest at all I highly recommend checking some of the titles out that I posted above and if you haven’t seen the movie yet…please go see it now.

Golden Age Showcase: Blackhawk

So I saw the Dunkirk movie yesterday.

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I liked it, it was very well directed, and it’s probably the most British movie since Chariots of Fire.

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The movie got me thinking about this blog.  The simple truth of the matter is that this blog deals with heroes that were created in a time when the world needed a bit of escapist fantasy and the comic book industry responded by creating a whole bunch of heroes who could do the fighting for them.

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While there was a time and a place for these types of stories it’s important to remember that the fantastical violence shown in World War 2 era comics was very real for a lot of people and many of those people didn’t make it out alive.

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Now, we’ve covered some of the more “realistic” war comics with characters like Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos,

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but this week I thought it might be fun to talk about another war comic that was actually published during World War 2 with Quality Comics’ fighter squadron/expertly dressed hero Blackhawk.

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Origin and Career

Blackhawk made his first appearance in Quality Comics’ Military Comics #1 in August of 1941.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

Right off the bat the main character made the cover and looks good doing it.

There is some debate as to who created the character in the first place.  While many credit comic book legend Will Eisner with the character’s creation,

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Eisner himself gave most of the credit to artist Charles Cuidera and writer Bob Powell.

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For a time when the United States hadn’t entered the war in Europe, this comic was certainly very much for it.  In the very first page the comic shows the Nazis steamrolling through Poland and introducing the main villain of Captain von Tepp, who is the very definition of a bastard.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

Seriously, even kicking puppies seems a bit tame for this guy.

Von Tepp and his Butcher Squadron discover a mysterious black plane that they shoot down.  The Captain makes the unknown pilot’s life even more hellish by destroying a farmhouse with innocent people in it.

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The pilot is revealed to be a man named Blackhawk, who vows revenge against the Nazis and gets his wish a few months later when he confronts Von Tepp and kidnaps him.

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Blackhawk takes the Captain back to his island base where they decide to settle their grievances with an honorable duel using airplanes.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

Naturally the Nazi cheats by sabotaging Blackhawk’s plane and the two crash to the ground, where the grudge is settled when Blackhawk shoots the Captain.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

In later issues it was revealed that the Blackhawks were actually a squadron of fighter pilots made up of men whose nations had been captured by the Nazis.

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Side note: this actually has a basis in real history.  Feel free to look up the exploits of groups like the Polish 303 Squadron if you want some real life heroics.

In Issue #3 the group would also get a Chinese cook, who was unfortunately named “Chop Chop”.

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…well they can’t all be good.

Sales wise the Blackhawks were a massive hit for Quality Comics.  They were so successful that they received their own comic in 1944.

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In 1950 it was revealed that the leader of the Blackhawks was actually an American volunteer fighter pilot who had joined the Polish air force and decided to form the squadron as a way to fight back against the Nazis, even though he and his comrades had no country.

Some of the most talented writers and artists of the Golden Age worked on the Blackhawk title and it was actually so popular that Quality continued to publish the title right up until they went out of business in 1956 with Blackhawk #107 being the last issue.

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So what happened?

Quality couldn’t make it past the comic book slump of the 1950’s and sold off the rights to most of their characters to DC comics in 1956.

Interestingly enough, the Blackhawks had been so popular that DC actually decided to continue publishing the title after they bought it,

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they even kept most of the original art team on the title ensuring that the only thing that changed with the comic was the logo.

Now that the Blackhawks had new life they wound up being one of the few superhero teams to transition into the Silver Age of Comics.  This time in comic book history saw the squadron face fewer Nazis and more science fiction themed villains and things got a little…weird.

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Also, in 1959 they added a lady to the team as an on and off supporting character.  She was given the rather unimaginative name of Lady Blackhawk.

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She would remain one of the biggest members of the supporting cast and even became a villain named Queen Lady Shark.

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I don’t know what’s funnier, the skis or that hat.

Ironically, the rise of superhero comics in the 1960’s hurt the Blackhawk Squadron and while DC attempted to revamp the group in 1967 by giving them new names and costumes,

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it only lasted 14 issues before the title was cancelled.

The Blackhawks would make a brief comeback in 1976 as a group of mercenaries,

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but they were cancelled again until the 1980’s when they were sent back to their familiar stomping grounds of World War 2.

Blackhawk #251

The 1980’s series reworked the Blackhawks and gave their older stories a more modern update in terms of storytelling, including a much more dignified appearance and backstory for poor Chop Chop.

In 1988 DC reworked its entire history with the mega event Crisis on Infinite Earths 

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and the Blackhawks made the cut.  They were given another reworking and this time the squadron was led by a man named Janos Prohaska, an actual Polish national who was forced to flee his home after the Soviets kicked him out.

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The Blackhawks continue to be a part of the DC universe.  One of their more noticeable appearances was in the excellent Justice League animated show where they played a major part in the episode “The Savage Time”.

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and in the show Arrow the “Blackhawk Squad Protection Group” made an appearance as the place of employment for John Diggle’s commanding officer Ted Gaynor.

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Also, a group calling themselves the Blackhawks got their own title in DC Comics’ New 52 relaunch,

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but they have yet to show up in DC’s more recent “Rebirth” relaunch.

The Blackhawks are a team with a long and fantastic history.  What I find really fascinating is just how well they were able to survive so much while so many of their contemporaries fell through the cracks, never to be seen again and if it wasn’t for characters like Plastic Man,

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I would go as far as to say that the Blackhawks were the best and most notable comic to ever be published by Quality Comics.

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Golden Age Showcase: Spider Widow

So I saw Spiderman: Homecoming yesterday.

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It was good, I liked it, and it’s good to know that Spiderman is back in the loving arms of the company that spawned him.

You can make the case that Spiderman is the closest thing Marvel Comics has to a mascot, or at the very least he’s Marvel’s most successful solo hero.

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And what’s not to like about him?  He’s got a great gimmick, he’s got a great backstory, and he’s one of the best creations to come out of the mind of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

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But here’s the thing, great ideas like this don’t just come from nothing, and there were spider themed superheroes published in the 1940’s.  One of these heroes was a Quality Comics character named Spider Widow.

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Origin and Career

Spider Widow first appeared in Quality Comics’ Feature Comics #57 in June of 1942.

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She was created by comic book artist Frank Borth.

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While he did do some work for a Catholic magazine called Treasure Chest and did occasional work for Cracked (the magazine not the website), Spider Widow was his most popular creation.

As for her bio, her civilian identity was Dianne Grayton, rich socialite and lady about town.

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How did she get her powers?  Not mentioned.  Why did she decide to fight crime?  The comic didn’t seem to care.  What was her power?  She dressed up like an old hag and had the ability to control black widow spiders,

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swarms of them.

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You sure this is a superhero comic?  Because I’m getting more of a horror vibe from this.

Her enemies weren’t that special.  She fought the traditional assortment of stereotypical racist caricatures of Axis saboteurs.  What made her pretty unique was what Qualiy did with her.  First, they paired her with a superhero named the Raven, who made his first appearance in her title.

The story was simple.  Axis spies kidnapped her because she was meddling in their affairs a bit too much and the Raven swooped in and saved her.

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The day was saved, the two shared a thank you kiss, but sadly it was dark so they couldn’t see each other’s faces.

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The Raven was later revealed to be a man named Tony Grey, and the two wound up forming a romantic relationship on top of their crime fighting.

One of their more notable adventures was when they teamed up to fight Spider Man, a Nazi saboteur who controlled a giant robotic spider.

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Nazis controlling giant spiders?  NOPE! SOUND THE ALARMS!  PREPARE THE TERMS OF SURRENDER!

Now, two comic book heroes coming together in a comic isn’t really that special, but bringing in another hero and crossing over in two books?  That was pretty unique for the time.

I don’t know why they chose her, but Quality Comics had The Raven crossover with another Quality character named The Phantom Lady in Police Comics #20 in 1943.

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She wound up rescuing the Raven while he was investigating a crime ring and he brought her from Police Comics to Feature Comics for a couple of issues.

The two ladies did not get along very well.

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Plus, I’m willing to bet the writers were venting some pent up frustrations in the book through some impressively subtle fourth wall breaks.

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Look at the second to last panel and tell me you aren’t a bit impressed.

The two even went as far as to fight a duel for the Raven’s affections,

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but it turned out to be a set up by some criminals and they quickly patched it over.  The day was saved and then everyone went back to their own titles.

So what happened?

Aside from her crossover with the Phantom Lady, Spider Widow wasn’t really that popular or noteworthy.  She lasted for a couple more issues and then disappeared around 1943.

It’s kind of a shame because she really did have a great gimmick and power set.  Sure she was pretty boring as a person, and having her fight with another lady over a man probably won’t score her a whole lot of points with modern audiences, but she is in the public domain and could be a great horror protagonist.

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While I don’t want to mistake correlation for causation, you can kind of see something resembling Spider Widow’s legacy in Marvel’s more modern characters.

For example. what’s the name of Marvel’s favorite super spy femme fatale?  Black Widow.

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Sure, she doesn’t have the power to control spiders but I like to think the creatives at Marvel were remembering Spider Widow when they came up with her.

Also, there was a villain in the Spider Man books named Spider Queen who had the power to control insects,

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(yes I know spiders aren’t insects),

Sure, she’s not a wealthy heiress and controlling insects isn’t exactly a rare power, but it seems that Marvel has a pretty pronounced fascination with spiders and I like to think that Spider Widow was a start.

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Golden Age Showcase: Wonder Woman

Just getting this out of the way now.  This is a SPOILER FREE article about Wonder Woman.  While it discusses aspects of the movie and its cast it contains nothing that might ruin the movie for you.  Enjoy!

I went to go see the Wonder Woman movie this weekend, and judging from the box office a lot the people reading this article probably went to go see it too.

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My opinion of the film?  I loved it!

The actors were great, the action was phenomenal, and in a rather refreshing change of pace it was set in World War 1 instead of World War 2.  This deserves special mention because I feel that it did a very good job of showcasing the ugly reality of that conflict,

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despite the movie’s PG-13 rating.

But is it a good Wonder Woman film?  Does it live up to the ideals of the original hero and deliver a positive and upstanding message to comic book fans?

Well, if we’re going to do that we have to talk about her history and what inspired her.  So with that being said….

Origin and Career

Wonder Woman’s real name is Diana, Princess of Themyscira and ruler of the Amazons.

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The comic book Amazons are an immortal race of warrior women, but they have an actual basis in real world history.

Believe or not, the Amazons are mentioned in actual historical documents.  The Greek historian Herodotus claims they were a tribe of warrior women who lived near the Thermodon River in modern day Turkey,

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and the Amazons made appearances in Greek mythology.  The two greatest examples were the Amazon queen Penthesilea, who fought and died in Homer’s Iliad,

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and her more famous sister Hippolyta, the lady who gave up her girdle to Hercules and is Wonder Woman’s mother.   

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According to the legends the Amazons were fierce warriors, something that translated well into comics.  Also, they were known for cutting off their left breast in order to draw their bowstrings better, which is not something that translated to the comics at all.

Historically, they may have been related to a group of people known as the Scythians, who were a group of nomads who lived near and around the Black Sea and weren’t above letting their women fight along side the men.

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Back to the comics themselves, Wonder Woman made her first appearance in All Star Comics #8 in October of 1941.

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While she wasn’t the first female superhero published during the Golden Age of Comics she was clearly the most successful.

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The funny thing is that, if you take a close look at the original Wonder Woman’s power set, a lot of it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

For starters, her costume isn’t exactly what you would call practical, or even remotely reminiscent of what the ancient Greeks or Scythians wore.

And then there’s her invincible gauntlets which she uses to deflect bullets,

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and a lasso that compels people to tell the truth.

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It all seems strange (some might even say…wondrous) but a lot of it makes sense when you take a look at Wonder Woman’s creator: William Moulton Marston.

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Marston was a psychologist and was especially active during the 1920’s and 1930’s.  Aside from Wonder Woman he developed a way to measure people’s heart rate and blood pressure, an important aspect of modern polygraph tests.

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See those black bands across the man’s chest?  Isn’t it weird how man of the people who get lassoed by Wonder Woman have the lasso on the exact same spot?

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So that’s the Lasso of Truth explained, but what about the bracelets?  Well, take a look at this photo.

You see the lady on the far left taking notes?  You see the bracelet she’s wearing on her wrist?  That’s Olive Byrne, one of the main inspirations for Wonder Woman.  She and Marston were engaged in a…deeply personal relationship.  Oh and by the way, this is his wife Elizabeth.

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That’s Olive in the background, bracelet and all.

By all accounts the three were happy together, and that’s how Wonder Woman got her indestructible bracelets.

Aside from living in a poly-amorous relationship the Marstons were huge fans of bondage and submission, which I will not show here because there may be kids reading.

You don’t need to take my word for it, it’s all over the early issues of the Wonder Woman comic.

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And we thought Fifty Shades of Grey was controversial.

Speaking of controversy, you know how a portion of the internet became inexplicably upset when a movie theater chain announced an all female showing of the Wonder Woman movie?

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Well, if he was still alive today Marston would have approved of the theater’s decision.  In fact, he probably would have encouraged more theaters to do just that.

Marston was a feminist.  In fact, he wasn’t just a feminist, he believed that women were inherently superior to men in every single way.

It’s subtle, but if you look closely you can see it in his work.

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Normally this is the part where I talk about her adventures but first, we’ve already talked about many of her adventures before and second, there are only so many ways “fights and beats Nazis to a pulp” can sound interesting.

So there you have it, a pretty convincing explanation for Wonder Woman’s appearance, equipment, and world outlook.  It’s a bit crazy and kind of awesome.

So what happened?

Despite the incredibly progressive and forward thinking ideals that Wonder Woman set for the comic book industry in the early 40’s the industry wasn’t exactly the most accommodating to William Marston’s super heroine.

Want proof?  When she joined the Justice Society of America, the first superhero team up of its kind, Wonder Woman was the secretary.

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In fact, secretary and nurse seemed to be the only jobs she was capable of holding in man’s world.

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This lady can bench press a goddamn tank and they have her typing.

Maybe it’s Marston’s sly critique of the way women were treated?  I don’t know, but it makes sense to me.

William Marston died in 1947 and while Wonder Woman remained one of DC Comics’ biggest heroes, things did not get much better for her.

The Silver Age of Comics in the 1960’s had her fighting with her boyfriend Steve Trevor a lot, and these arguments often ended in tears.

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Yep…really empowering.

I won’t go into everything that happened to Wonder Woman over the years but I get the feeling that a lot of the writers and creators at DC didn’t know what to do with her.  In the 60’s and 70’s she ditched the star spangled corset and skirt,

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and at one point she lost her powers and was trained by a Chinese martial artist named I Ching.

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You’ll notice that she cries…a lot.

However, through all this she remained a female icon in the industry and was the star of a pretty popular tv show in the 1970’s starring Lynda Carter.

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Thankfully it wasn’t all bad.  Wonder Woman got a revamp in the late 80’s, along with the rest of the DC universe.

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Ever since then DC has realized just how important, and marketable, Wonder Woman is for them.  If you ask me they’ve done a pretty good job at accommodating the quintessential super heroine and her weird mythology into the regular DC universe and she remains an important part of DC’s so called “Trinity”.

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Personally my favorite adaptation of her is in the excellent Justice League cartoon series where she was voiced by Susan Eisenberg.

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So what about today?  Did the Wonder Woman movie live up to the legacy and message of the original Wonder Woman and is it a worthy addition to her long and storied career?

I think so, and I highly recommend that you answer that question for yourself by going to go see the movie if you haven’t already.

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Golden Age Showcase: Etta Candy

WARNING!  THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS FOUL LANGUAGE USED FOR COMEDIC EFFECT!  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Today is the third day in our coverage of the new Wonder Woman movie, which comes out this Friday!

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I am so goddamned pumped for this movie!

Now, while it would probably make sense for us to talk about Wonder Woman this week we’re not going to.  Don’t worry, an in depth discussion of Wonder Woman is coming next week but for now I want to talk about a member of our heroine’s supporting cast.  She’s a redheaded (sometimes blonde) powerhouse who takes no lip from anyone and if this was any other comic book movie she would probably be the focus instead of the heroine.

Today we’re talking about Etta Candy.

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Origin and Career

So remember when I said there would be foul language in this article?  It’s mostly here.

The character was conceived by Wonder Woman’s original creator, William Moulton Marston.

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She made her first appearance in Sensation Comics #2,

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the issue that also gave us Dr. Poison who we talked about last week.

Her backstory is pretty simple.  She was  skinny, scrawny girl who Wonder Woman met in a hospital, waiting to get her appendix removed.  When she was cured she put on a few pounds.

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How do I describe Etta as a character?  Simple.

Etta Candy gives no fucks.

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Etta Candy takes no shit.

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Etta Candy once helped defeat an ENTIRE NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMP with nothing but a box of chocolates because she heard there were starving children being held there.

Etta knocks out a Nazi guard as she takes down the power grid.

Etta Candy is amazing.

Some of the more eagle eyed readers might observe that Etta Candy is a rather large women, some might even say she isn’t all that attractive.

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Etta hears your comments and doesn’t give two shits about what you think.  She’s large and damn proud of it.

You will also notice that Etta has something of an…unhealthy obsession with sweets.

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I love how in this universe filled with super humans, monsters, and legitimate gods that walk the Earth, Etta takes it all in stride and treats it just like nothing is out of the ordinary.

She needs no gods or men,

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chocolate is the only god she needs.

Despite her awesomeness, even Etta realized that she can’t take on the entire Nazi war machine alone, so she brought along some help in the form of her sisters from the fictional Beta Lambda sorority of Holliday College.

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Naturally, Etta was their leader.

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The girls proved to be incredibly helpful to Wonder Woman’s mission and kicked all sorts of ass.

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They would have given Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos a run for their money.  Why the Allied war effort even bothered to send regular troops to Europe is completely beyond me.

We even got to learn a bit more about Etta’s life after the war.  It turned out she had a family who lived on a Texas Ranch.  She even had a boyfriend.  His name was Oscar Sweetgulper.

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Are you picturing these two getting it on?  Because that is what I’ve been imagining for the past week.

Naturally, Wonder Woman brought Etta back to her home, where she was adored by her sister Amazons.  Also, she had no trouble going up against the more mythological creatures and villains of the comic series.

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In short (pun not intended) Etta was one of the greatest sidekicks in the early days of comics and remains one of Marston’s most fantastic creations.

So what happened?

You see this man?  The one smoking the pipe?

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That’s Robert Kanigher, a comic book writer who took over writing the Wonder Woman comic from Marston when he died in 1947.

Now, Kanigher is pretty well known and did some cool stuff over his career.  He wrote some of the early Blue Beetle adventures and he wrote what is widely considered to be the first Silver Age comic, which saw the introduction of Barry Allen as the Flash.

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However, when Kanigher took over Wonder Woman not only did he barley use Etta, he changed the character to the point where she was no longer the leader of her sorority and she was insecure about her weight.

To make things even worse, she was relegated to the position of idiot secretary in the Wonder Woman tv show, where she was played by actress Beatrice Cohen.

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BOOOOOOOO!!!

POOR FORM!

WHAT THE SHIT DC?!

She became so obscure that I can’t find a picture of her from the 1950’s all the way to the 1980’s.

Thankfully, the writers and creators at DC realized what they had done and managed to bring Wonder Woman’s best friend back from the grave…sort of.

In 1987 artist writer/artist duo Greg Potter and George Perez revamped Wonder Woman for the modern age and brought Etta back.

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She was no longer a large woman, but she was a capable Air Force officer and an aid to Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman’s former love interest.

I say former, because Etta and Steve wound up getting married.

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She still had reservations about her weight and even developed an eating disorder.

During the New 52 revamp, DC brought Etta back again.  This time she was a black lady who was Steve’s secretary and close personal friend.

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She would also make a comeback in DC’s Rebirth series, where she’s still Steve’s secretary.

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That’s how she’s appeared in the main continuity of DC comics.  Some of it was good, most of it made it seem like DC was embarrassed of the character which is just…a crying shame.

Thankfully there were plenty of spin offs and interpretations of Wonder Woman that brought Etta back into her original role.

For example, here she is in the non continuity of DC’s Earth One timeline.

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and more recently the comic series The Legend of Wonder Woman brought her back to her original Golden Age appearance.

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She will be portrayed by British actress Lucy Davis in the Wonder Woman film,

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and if the trailer is any indication, I think she’ll be amazing at it and do the character justice.

Etta is an amazing character and a good friend to Wonder Woman.  In an industry that gets a lot of flak for not being very friendly to women, especially large women, Etta takes those critiques and smashes them over the head.  All with grace, poise, and a box of chocolates in hand.

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Golden Age Showcase: Hippolyta

So this little movie is coming out in a couple of weeks.

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I’m excited.

The funny thing about this movie is that it promises to be huge but strangely enough, DC and Warner Brothers aren’t doing a whole lot to market and promote the film.

Granted, there is a precedent for this lack of marketing push, but I like to think that part of the reason why the film isn’t getting a lot of love is because the producers and film makers are banking on the hoards of angry nerds who are so desperate to see a female superhero succeed that they are willing to give this film a bunch of free advertising.

Thankfully, I am incredibly desperate and angry and I intend to do my part and contribute to the madness.  For the next couple of weeks leading up to the release of Wonder Woman I intend to devote this blog to Wonder Woman and her supporting cast.

And since yesterday was Mother’s Day, I thought it might be fun to talk about Wonder Woman’s mother: the Greek Amazon Hippolyta.

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Origin and Career

Unlike almost all the superheroes of the Golden Age, who can trace their origins to the popular culture of the day, Hippolyta has one of the most accomplished and famous pedigrees in comic book lore.

In fact, probably the only modern day superhero who has changed less than DC Comics’ Hippolyta is Hercules himself, and that’s only because Hercules is an integral part of Hippolyta’s story.

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Hippolyta was the queen of the Amazons, a group of savage warrior women who claimed to be descended from Ares, the god of war.

As part of his twelve labors, Hercules was tasked with stealing an item called the Golden Girdle, a belt that gave Hippolyta incredible strength.  Hercules was successful in seducing Hippolyta into giving him the belt,

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but sadly perished when he goddess Hera convinced her battle sisters that Hercules was kidnapping her.

This story must have struck a chord with a man named William Moulton Marston,

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because he used this exact myth to inform the creation of Hippolyta in All Star Comics #8 in October of 1941.

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We’ll save the specifics for later but for now all you need to know is that the story of Hipppolyta remained relatively unchanged from its classical roots.  Hippolyta was the queen of her people and the mother of the book’s main character so she was tasked with talking to the ancient gods, looking after the welfare of the Amazons, and trying to control her daughter without much success.

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So what happened?

What do you mean “what happened”?  She went on to have an illustrious career as the mother of one of the most successful superheroes on the face of the planet!

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Granted, there have been some changes to her story.  Various versions of the character have her as a blonde badass,

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and at one point she actually took up the mantle of Wonder Woman,

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(yes that is actually Hippolyta and not Diana with a different hair do)

Her origin story with Hercules was changed up a bit in 1987 by writer George Perez.  It was a bit more…uncomfortable than the original with the new version of Hercules forcing himself on Hippolyta after he drugged her and her Amazons.
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It’s worth mentioning that he did this after she beat him in fair combat and attempted to reason with him.

Hippolyta has played an integral part in the DC universe, both in the comics and in other forms of media as well.  She has made regular appearances in a whole bunch of cartoons and animated movies,

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and is often treated with the respect and reverence that a queen and leader of her stature deserves.

In the upcoming movie the director decided to go the blonde route and have her played by the actress Connie Nielsen.

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To list every achievement and important event that Hippolyta has been part of would take forever and I highly encourage you to do more research on your own.  All that I really have to say is that while Wonder Woman is considered to be one of the greatest superheroes in existence, she would be nobody without the strength and wisdom of her mother behind her.

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Happy Mother’s Day everyone.

Golden Age Showcase: Captain Battle

Warning, there are some pretty awful depictions of Japanese people in this article.  

 

We all know who Captain America is right?

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Good.

The phrase “success spawns imitators” is something that applies to all art, but it is especially true with comic books.

You have an super strong human who fights for truth and justice?

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Rip him off to huge success and have the inevitable court case bankrupt your company!

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The Superman/Captain Marvel story was one that played out a lot in the 1940’s and Captain America’s shtick of “soldier who goes off to Europe to fight thinly disguised Nazis”,

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was one of the most popular setups of the time…for pretty obvious reasons.

Today we’re going to look at a super hero so similar to Captain America that when the creators were deciding a name all they had to do was look at the next letter in the alphabet: Captain Battle.

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Origin and Career

Captain Battle was published by a company called Lev Gleason Publications, a company that is most famous for publishing the first true crime comic: Crime Does Not Pay.

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Our hero made his first appearance in another title Silver Streak Comics in May of 1941.

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The character was created by artist Jack Binder and writer Cal Formes.  Of the two, Jack is the only one who had a picture,

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Jack is also the more famous of the two, since he helped create another superhero for Lev Gleason Publications called Dardevil.  And no, it’s not THE Daredevil.

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Like most Golden Age heroes, Captain Battle’s origin story is quick and dealt with in a single page.

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He was a kid scientist in the first World War and lost an eye to the conflict.  He vowed that a war like that should never happen again (spoilers: that didn’t go so well) and resolves to use his inventions to stop conflicts from happening.

To help him he has inventions such as the “curvoscope”, a telescope that can see anywhere in the world…somehow.

Also, he has the help of a pretty lady secretary, because this is the 1940’s and apparently that was all women were good for.

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In his first adventure Captain Battle fights off a race of giant birdmen who are attacking a group of battleships.  He uses this opportunity to showcase two of his other inventions: the Luceflyer jet pack and the Dissolvo gun.

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Full disclosure, I think “Luceflyer” is probably the coolest name for a jet pack I can think of.

These birdmen who are attacking the ships belong to a villain named “The Black Dragon” and are called “deaglos”.  They’re big, strong, and kind of intimidating,

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wait no…no, no, no, no.  When you fly around and refer to your commander as “your cluckness” you lose all sense of foreboding and terror.

Naturally, Captain Battle swoops in and saves the day.  He showcases his Dissolvo gun on some of the birdmen and it is goddamn terrifying.

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This isn’t a one and done thing, the Dissolvo gets used pretty often throughout the series when Captain Battle decides to fight actual Nazis.

Call me old fashioned, but I’m willing to bet that using a weapon that dissolves your enemies into goo is a violation of the Geneva Convention and human decency.

The Captain is kidnapped and dragged before the Black Dragon, who attempts to turn the hero into a birdman.

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He discovers that the birds fear radio beams and uses this knowledge to kill them all in the final page.

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It’s worth mentioning that these creatures used to be humans, a point that the Captain brings up two issues later when he invents a serum that changes them back.

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He even picks up a subservient Asian man who helps him rescue all the other men.

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Captain Battle proved to be a popular hero, so popular that he wound up getting his own kid sidekick and cover appearances.

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Also, he fought Nazi cultist skull unicorns,

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no…I am not joking.

This was the sort of stuff that would define Captain Battle’s career.  He fought real threats that were portrayed in strange occult ways in order to make them more intimidating and fantastic.

So what happened?

Captain Battle made his last anthology appearance in Silver Streak #21 in 1942 and his final solo appearance in 1943.  I guess having a superhero trying to stop WW2 from happening is kind of a bummer when the actual war just got bigger.

Lev Gleason Publications continued, but folded in 1956 after public outcry over excessive comic book violence and changes to the industry led to decreased sales.

While Captain Battle’s publisher went down the tubes the character did manage to live on.  While his post Golden Age career wasn’t as big or as flashy as some of his counter parts, he did get a movie.

It was called Captain Battle: Legacy War and…

let’s just say that Marvel probably won’t be banging down the door for the rights to this movie.

Captain Battle did actually make a return to comics in 2009 when Image Comics republished Silver Streak Comics in an effort to showcase what Golden Age comics could be if the creators were allowed more artistic freedom.

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It was edited by Image founder Erik Larsen and if you’re reading this Mr. Larsen…I have some ideas you might like.

Captain Battle was a cheesy, over the top, impractical, and mildly racist superhero who was born out of a pretty blatant attempt to rip off more popular superheroes.  With that being said, he possessed a unique charm and flagrant disregard for convention and common sense that actually made him a bit endearing and a pretty cool superhero.

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