The Secret Lives of Villains #295

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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: Emet Comics

Normally on this blog, we talk about a single comic book project that is trying to get funded through a site like Kickstarter or Patreon.  However, today we’re going to do something a bit different.  Instead of looking at a single project we’re going to be looking at an entire company called Emet Comics.

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Emet Comics is a Los Angeles based comic book publisher that focuses on comic books written and drawn by female creators about female characters.

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They have a relatively small, but incredibly diverse, line up of titles that include everything from science fiction to slice of life stories.

One series of note, this March they completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to continue production of a title called Fresh Romance, a romance comic anthology they had acquired from a publisher called Rosy Press after it shut down in 2014.

So technically this blog post still falls within the bounds of its original purview, it’s just about a comic that has already been funded.

Emet Comics website: http://www.emetcomics.com/

Why I like this company

Because I reached out to the head of Emet Comics, a wonderful lady by the name of Maytal Gilboa, and instead of either passing me off to an assistant or simply ignoring me she took time out of her day to actually talk to me about her work, and motivations.

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Mrs. Gilboa got her start in Hollywood as a development executive and as a leading voice in Hollywood for the advancement of women in executive positions.  She founded Emet Comics in 2015 and has been steadily growing and expanding a network of highly capable female talent as a way to draw more attention to female creators and to empower women by creating better role models in fiction and in its creation.

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Long story short, she knows her stuff.

While empowering women is a noble goal but one thing that Mrs. Gilboa made very clear during the time we talked was that she was an entrepreneur and this is a business venture.  It’s worth mentioning that Emet Comics does have an open submissions policy for female creators and female driven stories, which points towards a company policy that favors new ideas and expansion.

You can find the submissions page here

Now, I know from personal experience that this kind of work isn’t easy.  You have to manage your artists, make sure the website is in working order, find new and interesting ways to get people engaged with your product and paying attention, and if you’re creating something yourself?  Then you have to do all of that while cranking out an original story on a fairly regular basis.

For me, it’s exhausting…and all I do is write a couple of blogs and produce a webcomic!

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So what we have here is a company run by a capable, dedicated, and highly motivated founder with a clear cut mission and an ever expanding library of books and creators.

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I think I might have a new role model.

Why you should donate/be on the lookout for their books

We all know how the cutthroat, knuckle dragging, razor thin profit margin world of comic book publishing is dominated by male creators.  While that does need to change I’m not going to focus on that.  Instead, I’m going to talk about another buzzword that’s been floating around the comic book world for some time now: diversity.

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It’s a pretty powerful word.  In fact, it’s such a powerful word that there are some people who infamously said that diversity is the thing that’s actually killing established companies like Marvel Comics.

That is simply not true.  It’s not diversity that is hurting sales, it’s a lack of diversity (and a handful of other things but we don’t have time for that right now).  But not just in the racial or sexual identity of its characters, it’s the lack of diversity in the types of stories that are being told.

Want historical proof?  During the Golden Age of Comics, a time in comic book history where comic books were sold to boys and girls, publishers put out all sorts of books from superheros,

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to crime comics,

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to romance comics.

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It was this diversity of content that allowed the budding comic book industry make a tidy profit and become a pop culture phenomenon.

Today we have an industry that is dominated by a core group of superheroes owned by two companies that dominate over two thirds of the market.

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One could be forgiven for growing weary of the endless parade of costumed vigilantes.

Granted, there are a growing number of comics and comic book publishers who are branching out, but in an industry that is dominated by male creators creating stories for a male audience I would like to make the argument that if the comic book industry wants to survive, publishers need to start finding new stories and new audiences.

Emet Comics is a new comic book publisher that has made it their mission to destroy many of the long held assumptions about women in the comic book industry, even if they wind up being the only ones who do it.  They have new and different creators telling new and different stories across new and different genres.  It is the right publisher, doing the right thing, at the right time and more than worthy of your attention and money.

Emet Comics website: http://www.emetcomics.com/

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.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

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.

Comic Book Cover For Military Comics #1

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.

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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.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #58

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.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #60

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.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #60

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.

Comic Book Cover For Police Comics #20

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.

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #69

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

Comic Book Cover For Feature Comics #69

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: Alfred

Happy post Father’s Day everyone!

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For the non American readers of this blog, Father’s day is a holiday where we celebrate our fathers, and if marketing campaigns are to be believed it’s usually with MANLY gifts like ties and power tools.

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Last year I did an article comparing and contrasting two of comics’ greatest deceased father figures: Superman’s dad Jor-El and Spiderman’s Uncle Ben.

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This time I thought it would be time to break out the big guns and celebrate the career and achievements of the greatest living father figure in comic book history: Batman’s butler, Alfred.

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Side note: if you disagree with the above statement please write a well crafted and polite rebuttal in the comments.

Origin and Career

Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth made his first appearance in Batman #16 in April of 1943.

On the cover of the comic it says he was created by artist Bob Kane.

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Although it is much more likely that actual creator was writer, and the man who got royally screwed out of getting the credit that he justly deserves, Bill Finger.

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Artist Jerry Robinson was also heavily involved, since he was busy doing the actual drawing of the issues at this point in Batman’s career.

Jerry Robinson

Alfred made his first appearance on the cover of the issue, and he looked like this:

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The original Alfred was a bit of an idiot.  At this point in the story Batman and Robin had been doing their thing fighting crime in Gotham when Alfred showed up fresh off the boat and claiming that he was fulfilling the wish of his dying father Jarvis in serving the Wayne family as their butler.

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Naturally, Batman and Robin were not very keen on having a near total stranger snooping around the house with their secret identities at stake.

Despite his background as an intelligence officer Alfred was…kind of an idiot.

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I only say “kind of” because he was actually a very good butler.  He did his job, he was loyal to Bruce and Dick, and when it came time to defend the Manor he wound up discovering who he was really working for by pure accident.

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My favorite part of this scene is the dialogue that the two men exchange during the fight.

Of course Alfred reveals what he knows to Batman and Robin and the two gain a new ally in their fight against criminals.

You may notice that the original Alfred doesn’t look a thing like the way we normally picture Alfred.

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For that we can actually thank the silver screen.

See, the idea that comic books could be adapted to the silver screen is nothing new.  In fact, Hollywood was quick to jump on the wave of superhero popularity and started churning out short little movie serials staring the two most popular heroes at the time: Superman and Batman.

In 1943 Columbia Pictures began releasing short Batman serial movies with creative titles such as “Batman and the Electrical Brain”,

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The effects and costumes were…not the best.

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but one of its lasting impacts was hiring actor English character actor William Austin to play the Batman’s butler.

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The serials were so popular that the comics adapted and changed Alfred’s appearance to reflect the show.

So what happened?

Jesus, to describe everything that Alfred has done since his original appearance would take an entire book.

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Wherever Batman has gone, Alfred has followed.  He’s an integral part of the Batman mythos, and I would personally argue that he the most important supporting figure in any Batman story.  And yes, that includes figures like Robin and Batgirl.

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He has fulfilled the role of a caretaker, a guiding moral compass to a whole host of emotionally crippled children and warriors, and most importantly an eternally patient father figure.

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So, in an effort to keep this short, I’m going to break his long and storied career down into some of the more prominent highlights.

In 1964 Alfred was killed in Detective Comics #328 after heroically saving the Dynamic Duo from a falling boulder.

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He would be reborn as a mysterious villain known as “The Outsider” and fought the heroes off panel, usually using other villains as pawns and working behind the scenes.

His identity and appearance would be revealed two years later in Detective Comics #356.

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It…wasn’t the best look for him and I can see why they kept him out of the way.

In terms of backstory, Alfred’s has remained pretty consistent.  The comics have always given him some sort of military and/or intelligence background and in the 1960’s he worked as an intelligence agent during World War 2.  We know this because he had a daughter named Julia with a French co worker.

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In 1985 DC reorganized its comic books with the even “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and reworked the backstories of many of their most famous characters.

Alfred got a few minor tweaks but didn’t change that much.  He was an actor as well as an intelligence agent and instead of introducing himself to a much older Bruce, he became Bruce’s butler and confidant at a young age.

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The new Alfred had some pretty awesome moments as well and a lot of writers love giving him some really badass lines and small fight scenes.

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Seriously, the man’s gone toe to toe with Superman both in quips,

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and with fisticuffs.

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So he’s amazing in the comics but I would have to say that his film and television appearances deserve a special mention as well.

Alfred has appeared in every single movie, television, and cartoon adaptation of Batman since the beginning and has provided a steady stream of employment to classy senior British actors.

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All of them have been fantastic, but special mentions go to the Alfred from Batman: The Animated Series,

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where he was voiced by actor Clive Revill (who was actually the original voice of the Emperor from Star Wars)

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and the gloriously named Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

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Personally my favorite Alfred at the moment has to be the one from The Lego Batman Movie where he was voiced by Voldemort himself, Ray Finnes,

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but if you ask me the best Alfred of them all would have to be the late great Michael Gough from Tim Burton’s Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and the infamous Batman and Robin.

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I would actually go as far as to say that Michael Gough was so good that he actually made Batman and Robin halfway watchable.

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That’s right, I’m defending Batman and Robin, fight me.

Alfred is one of the greatest comic book characters ever created.  He is wise and talented beyond even his considerable years and has been at Bruce’s side through thick and thin.  Not only has he been a faithful and dutiful butler but he has been a kind, patient, and loving father to a boy who needed it most in order to become one of the greatest superheroes of all time.

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Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Can I Pet Your Werewolf?

Today we’re going to be talking about a project on Kickstarter that deals with a subject close to my heart.

PUPPIES!!

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Okay, okay, the project isn’t actually about puppies.  I said that so I could post pictures of cute pups.

That being said, today’s Kickstarter project is pretty close.  It’s a project about everyone’s favorite furry monsters…werewolfs.

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Can I Pet Your Werewolf is an anthology series created by Kel McDonald and a various number of artists who want to tell lighthearted stories about friendship, family, and romance between humanity and the furry incarnations of humanity’s animal instincts.

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At the time of writing this project has already reached over $10,000 and needs a total of $30,000 by July 14th, 2017.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1495959227/can-i-pet-your-werewolf?ref=category_recommended

Why I like it

In a word…PUPPIES!!

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Sorry…sorry that’s the last time I’ll do this I swear.

In all seriousness, I consider myself to be a dog person.  One of the greatest jobs I ever had was working at a doggy day care where I would babysit large groups of dogs for hours at a time.

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It was such a demanding job, I’m surprised I was able to survive.

That’s why I like this project so much.  For me, werewolves are basically giant, man sized dogs and having an entire book about the big fluffy pups?

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I am okay with this.

Another reason why I like this project so much are the artists that are involved with the project.  Having the right style of art in your comic is just as important as having the right words for your story.  It can set tone, mood, and the entire emotional layout of what you want to say.

Want proof?

This is how werewolves are normally portrayed,

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and this is how some of the artists from Can I Pet Your Werewolf portray them.

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There’s a pretty big difference in tone.

Now, you may be reading this and thinking that this may not be your cup of tea.  You may be thinking that this anthology is doing to werewolves what another, inexplicably popular book and movie series did to vampires (and werewolves), and in a way I kind of agree with you.  However…

Why you should donate

I’m not going to go into a long tirade about how modern literature and Hollywood are destroying classic monsters that used to be intimidating,

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But you have to admit that the landscape of modern horror is…changing.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad thing.  Horror movies are supposed to touch on modern day fears and terrors.  The classic horror monsters preyed on things like our fear of uncontrollable lust,

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the destruction of the barrier between life and death,

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and werewolves played on our fears of the bestial nature of man and uncontrollable rage.

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Now, these movies are classics for a reason but the simple fact of the matter is that times and tastes change.  As a result, horror movies have had to change and find different fears to exploit.  Things like modern day racism,

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the fear of being a single parent raising a child,

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or the fear of catching an STD,

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are the new monsters and worries that we have to afraid of.  As a result, the monsters of the past have passed from the realm of terrifying creatures of folklore to accepted members of the popular culture cannon and creatures that are accepted rather than feared.

We don’t fear creatures like vampires and werewolves anymore, we want to be them.

Hollywood noticed this and has answered the call,
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With varying degrees of success and acceptability.

The funny thing is that you can’t really blame Hollywood for taking the classics and turning them into something that ranges from decent to terrible and bland.  Movies are expensive and you aren’t going to spend millions of dollars on anything and not take every step you can to mitigate risk.  That’s why you see movies that have been workshopped, test grouped, and market tested to death until the final boring, lifeless, and joyless product is forced on audiences everywhere.

Can I Pet Your Werewolf takes the direction that the classic monsters are going and distills it into the focused artistic vision of a few creators, and that’s what makes it special.

What I’m trying to say to you is this.

Would you rather have this as our modern werewolf?

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or this?

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I’ll take the second option thank you.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1495959227/can-i-pet-your-werewolf?ref=category_recommended

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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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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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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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.

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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!