Comic book showcase: The creators of Thanos.

So I saw Avengers: Infinity War over the weekend.

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The only thing I will say about it is that it’s one heck of a turning point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and an epic way to cap off this giant experiment that Marvel and Disney have been running for the past ten years.

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Other than that, I’m not saying anything else about the movie.  The internet is filled with enough spoilers as it is.

No, today I want to do something different and talk about the behind the scenes history of big bad guy of the film, the villain who has been teased for the past five years: Thanos.

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The character is pretty simple.  He’s in love with the Marvel Universe’s personification of death and he attempts to prove his love by killing off half of the universe using the Infinity Gauntlet.

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He’s one of Marvel’s most powerful bad guys and a big part of the strange and weird cosmic stories that Marvel produced in the 70’s and 80’s.

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Sadly, Marvel’s cosmic stories were never a big seller for the company when you compare them to their mega hits like Spider Man and the X-Men.  Stories about characters like Ronan the Accuser and Adam Strange weren’t very popular, even though they’ve been getting more attention nowadays with the smash success of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

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This is really sad since these are some of the weirdest, most bizarre, and high concept storytelling the company has ever produced, and most of this insanity was created by the other legend working at Marvel, and a long time favorite of this blog series: Jack Kirby.

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You know him, you love him, he helped create nearly every single superhero on the big screen right now, and he loved him some crazy far out aliens and space stuff.

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You can see a lot of his

design aesthetic on display in Thor: Ragnarok.

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While Marvel had Kirby to thank for some of the most fascinating and bizarre aspects of their superhero universe, he didn’t create Thanos.

Thanos was created by writer Mike Friedrich,

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and writer/artist Jim Starlin.

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Both of these artists have had long and storied careers at both Marvel and DC and came into their own in the 70’s and 80’s, reinventing what comics could do and giving us some of the greatest characters and stories today.

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Starlin in particular is the prince of the Marvel cosmic universe, and his resume is only dwarfed by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby themselves.

He helped create Thanos,

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Drax the Destroyer,

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Gamora,

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

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and Captain Marvel (who has a long and interesting story that I’m not going to talk about here, but long story short he was created in the 70’s and was reinvented as a lady in the present day).

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Yes people like Kirby, Friedrich, and Starlin were some of the most prominent and successful names in comics in the 70’s and 80’s, and were responsible for many of our childhood favorites.

And they all hated Marvel with a burning passion.

Long story short, the mega publisher decided to continue the long and sordid history of comic book publishers screwing authors and artists over.  Kirby followed in the footsteps of hundreds of his Golden Age co workers and was famously screwed out of most of the credit and royalties of his work, watching as his co creator Stan Lee would go on to become the biggest name in comics.

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Starlin in particular hates Marvel with the burning passion of a neutron star.

 

So they decided to quit Marvel and move on to greener pastures.  Kirby would move to DC Comics and create the characters of New Genesis and Apokalips, the latter being home to one of DC’s most powerful villains: Darkseid.

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Starlin and Friedrich decided to create their own comic, an anthology series known as Star Reach.

Star Reach is an interesting bit of comic book history.  It may seem like the comic book scene is dominated by Marvel and DC, and for the most part that’s true, but there has been a long running independent comic book scene that really took off in the 1970’s with the work of underground super stars like Harvey Pekar,

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Art Spiegelman,

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and Robert Crumb.

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The independent “comix” scene has its own separate and unique history and you could write books about it,  but for the sake of time and simplicity all you need to know is that it was characterized by its own unique art styles, adult themes, and subject matter that was absolutely NOT for children.

Star Reach was a comic anthology that collected short science fiction and fantasy stories and shared and helped bridge the gap between mainstream comics and the independent comix of the time.

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The first issue was published in 1974 and fans described the book as a “ground level publication”, sharing the distinction and aesthetic with a similar European publication we know today as Heavy Metal.

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Perhaps it was the lurid material, or the crossover appeal bridging the gap between mainstream comic books and the underground comix scene, or maybe it was the famous names attached to the book.  Either way, Star Reach was a hit and had a pretty solid five year run.

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Also, it helped set off a boom of independent comic books published in the late 70’s and early 80’s which helped shape the pop culture landscape we know and love today.

You know what?  I think this might be the perfect segue into a new age for this blog.  Sure, the 40’s were a fantastic time for comic books and produced some of comics’ most endearing characters and crazy stories, but the late 70’s and 80’s had some pretty insane characters and were a pretty fascinating time for the comic industry as well.

All good things must evolve, and I think now might be the time to change it up a bit.

This’ll be fun.

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Golden Age Showcase: Jill Trent, Science Sleuth.

It’s funny that popular culture doesn’t associate women with the sciences, and it’s especially interesting when you consider that women have been responsible for huge advances in science from early mathematics and astronomy,

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to creating the genre of science fiction,

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to taking us to the moon,

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and basically inventing the whole idea of computer sciences and programming.

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Interestingly enough, the comic book industry had a female science hero to call their own in the 1940’s, and I thought it might be fun to talk about her today.

This is Jill Trent, Science Sleuth.

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Origin and Career

Jill Trent made her first appearance as a back up story in Fighting Yank #6 in 1943.

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She was created by artist Al Camy, a man who had done a lot of work for Standard Comics including work on one of their most popular heroes, the Black Terror.

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The setup for each story followed the standard Golden Age setup with not a lot of attention paid to the backstory and not a lot of effort being put into explaining how Jill makes a living.  She’s just a genius who invents stuff and solves crimes with them.

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As you can see from the page above, Jill Trent was a genius inventor and scientist.  Not only did she develop a way to see through walls, she presumably figured out a way to defy gravity as well.

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To help her with her adventures Jill had a friend named Daisy Smythe, who was her confidant and sidekick throughout her adventures.  This were their sleeping arrangements.

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Sure those are double cots placed side to side and it’s no different than what Batman and Robin were doing around this time,

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but let’s face it, your mind already went there didn’t it?

Not only was Jill a genius, but both ladies were actually very capable fighters and had no qualms about defending themselves by any means necessary.

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Also, they weren’t above the use of guns either, especially in one particular adventure when they were fighting off a bunch of goons over a copper bedframe.

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Granted, the crooks were trying to get the bed back because it had a large stack of money in it but still, it certainly puts a vicious spin on customer complaints.

Despite being a bit controversial Jill and company were actually reasonably successful.  They appeared in two issues of Fighting Yank and were then moved to a title called Wonder Comics where they appeared in twelve issues.

So what happened?

Her publisher suffered with the rest of the comic book industry in the 1950’s and she was cancelled in 1956.

With that being said, she may have been cancelled but she hasn’t been forgotten.  She’s actually in the public domain and free for anyone to use, although the sources I’ve checked have said to be careful since there still might be some legal issues.

However, legal grey area or not, that hasn’t stopped the independent comics scene from reviving the two heroines.  In 2015 a Kickstarter was launched to give Jill a modern update and it was incredibly successful.

Cover art by Rafael Romeo Magat.

Sadly, I have no idea where you might be able to buy this if you’re interested.  If anyone knows, please post a comment.

Jill Trent isn’t just progressive and potentially subversive, she’s pretty awesome as well.  She throws down like Wonder Woman, she’s dedicated to the pursuit of scientific knowledge like Einstein, and she has the ability to come up with more gadgets than Q from James Bond.

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She would make a genuinely fantastic modern heroine and more people deserve to know about her.

Comic book showcase: The Flaming Carrot

You know what?  I think it’s time to take a break from the Golden Age this week.

The Golden Age of Comics was an age of ridiculous comic book characters and a “well let’s just throw things against the wall and see what sticks” attitude, which is the main reason why I started this blog in the first place, but I’d like to branch out and see if there might be other characters that could be just as ridiculous and crazy.

Sure, we’ve talked about comic book characters from different time periods before, but there has to be something there that’s crazy, bold, and…

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oh hello, where have you been all my life?

Screw tradition, this is the Flaming Carrot.

Origin and Career

The Flaming Carrot made his first appearance in a small comic called Visions which was published by a convention called the Atlanta Fantasy Fair in 1979.

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A bit of context here: the early 1980’s were a time when the independent comic book scene was really starting to take off.  Creators were often ditching the big publishers of Marvel and DC to self publish their own stuff or with smaller publishers who were much more generous with their checkbooks and willingness to share credit.

For a bit more context, this was the time period that gave us the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

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The Flaming Carrot comic would later be self published through a company called Killian Barracks Press and then find different homes through various publishers over the next thirty years.

He was created by comic book author and illustrator Bob Burden.

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The hero was meant to be a parody of superhero comics at the time.

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he got his powers by suffering from brain damage after reading 5,000 comics in a single sitting.

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Just goes to show you, comics are bad for you and will rot your brain.

How did his head turn into a carrot?

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Don’t ask such stupid questions.

The Carrot lived in the fictional neighborhood of Palookaville in Iron City.  He didn’t have any superpowers but he would often win the day through grit, determination, and sheer dumb luck.  Also, he had a toy chest of gadgets to help him along with a gun, which he used without hesitation or remorse.

His enemies were equally ridiculous, as you can see below.

You’ll notice that a lot of the interior artwork is in black and white.  It was like this to cut down on art and printing costs.  Believe me, I know.

Over the course of his career, the Flaming Carrot developed a cult following and became pretty popular.  He even found some time to create a team of working class heroes known as “The Mystery Men”

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We’ll touch on that later.

So what we have here is an independent creator, publishing a black and white comic, that parodies super hero stories, and is self published without any help or support.

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Can’t imagine why I would relate to something like that.

Side note: did you know that we actually have another web comic up and running?  It’s called “Questing 9 to5” and it’s on our Tapastic account which you can find here 

So what happened?

It’s actually kind of difficult to pinpoint the exact time and moment when Flaming Carrot ceased publication ended.  Despite its success as an indie hit, it ceased being an ongoing title when issue #31 was released in 1994.

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The hero would make various appearances in one shots and crossovers over the course of the 1990’s, including a crossover with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 1993.

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Sadly, this did not make it into the show.

In 2004, the character was picked up by Image Comics and four more issues were published.

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His last appearance was in 2006 and to this date, Bob Burden hasn’t published anything else.

Thankfully, Flaming Carrot was just crazy enough, and just popular enough, to garner attention from Hollywood, and in 1999 Burden helped create a movie based around Flaming Carrot’s teammates.  The movie was called Mystery Men,

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and it failed spectacularly.  It’s actually kind of sad really, the movie has some great actors who would go on to better things, so it was clear that there was SOME effort put into it.  Although, it had Dane Cook in it which was just…

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ugh.

However, there was one thing about the movie that has stayed with us and has gone on to pop culture immortality.

You know that one song by a band called Smash Mouth?  The one that was really REEEAAALY popular in the early 2000’s and everyone knew as “that song that plays at the beginning of the first Shrek movie”?

Yep, this is the movie where that song came from and why the introduction has a whole bunch of ridiculous superheroes…and Dane Cook.

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You’re welcome.

I’m going to level with you, Flaming Carrot is that kind of ridiculous cheesiness that makes comic books the unique and wonderful medium that they are.  He was a rough and tumble, blue collar, scrappy hero with the kind of gimmick that would make you roll your eyes and groan.

But it was very clear that there was a lot of heart and effort put into The Flaming Carrot, and although he was ridiculous, he was drawn proof the the wonderful and heartfelt insanity that could only occur in comic books.

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Golden Age Showcase: Olga Mesmer

When writing about the Golden Age of Comics, one of the fun little treats is discovering and sharing the origins of the tropes and ideas that permeate the genre to this day.

Batman was the the first superhero to have his parents killed,

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Doll Man was the first superhero who used his ability to change size as a superpower,

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Superman was the first hero to have a secret identity,

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the list goes on.

We’ve talked at great length about the impact that female characters have had on the comic book industry, and while Wonder Woman may be the most famous super heroine of the Golden Age,

there were several lady superheroes who came before her and a woman named Fantomah is considered to be the first female superhero in a comic book.

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However, today’s entry comes from a time before we knew what superheroes were.  Heck, it comes from a time when we didn’t even know what comic books were.

Today we are going to talk about a woman with strange and mysterious powers and who some consider to be America’s first super heroine: Olga Mesmer.

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Origin and Career

Before comic books were a thing there were comic strips, serialized stories that were published in newspapers across the country and could range from a strip with a few panels,

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to grand and complex illustrations that could take up an entire page.

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While the comic strip industry laid the groundwork for an entire generation of comic book artists, it was the pulp magazines that laid the foundation for the themes and tropes that would define the future of superheroes.

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The pulps were fiction magazines that were really popular for the first half of the 20th century.  They got their name from the cheap pulp paper they were printed on, one of them many ways they cut corners and lowered production costs.

They made up for the cheap quality with lurid and fantastic stories that helped influence the heroes that came after.  The Shadow was a pulp vigilante who prowled the streets at night and hunted criminals,

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and John Carter was a war veteran who found himself transported to Mars, where the planet’s gravity gives him superpowers.

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While it’s impossible to pinpoint it exactly, it’s easy to see how the creators of Batman and Superman must have been influenced by their popularity.

Olga Mesmer was an interesting case.  She was a comic strip that was initially published inside a pulp magazine.  Specifically, she appeared in a magazine hilariously titled Spicy Mystery in September of 1937.

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The book was published by a company called Culture Publications.

As for the art itself, nobody really knows who created the artwork or wrote the stories, since old timey publishers didn’t give a damn about creators rights or credit.  However, we do know that the artwork was contracted out to an art studio known as Majestic Studios, which was owned by a man named Adophe Barreaux.

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Barreaux was a well known and established comic book artist from Charleston, South Carolina who worked for several ad agencies and drew other comic strips for Spicy Mysteries such as the raunchy “Sally Sleuth”,

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and his own syndicated strip: “The Enchanted Stone of Time”

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As for Olga Mesmer herself, her origin story is actually quite interesting.

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She was the daughter of a royal family originally from the planet Venus and ruled a secret kingdom under the Earth.

It’s really interesting to see how people in the past were convinced that there was a whole different world underneath our feet.
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Olga’s mother was the queen named Margot who had been removed from power during a coup d’etat from a villain named Ombro.  She lost her memory in the escape and met a scientist named Dr. Hugo Mesmer.  The two fell in love, married, and had a child together.  But while she was pregnant, the Doctor began to suspect that his wife was different and his curiosity led him to exposing her to “soluble x-rays”, which left her blinded and bedridden.

Yeah, real father of the year material there.

Margot eventually recovered and discovered that she had the ability to see in the x ray spectrum and could see through walls.  This gift wound up killing her husband (people didn’t really understand x-rays back then) and Margot fled back underground.

Olga was born shortly after and inherited her mother’s ability to see through walls and super strength.

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It’s worth mentioning that there aren’t any pictures of Olga where she doesn’t have ripped clothing.  In fact, there aren’t that many pictures of her at all.

She wound up rescuing a man named Rodney Prescott from a group of assailants, which she dealt with by casually killing them.

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However, Rodney was seriously wounded and was only saved by a blood transfusion from Olga, which granted him a small measure of her power.

Yeah, people didn’t really understand blood transfusions either.

The two became a duo, traveling underground to rescue her mother and defeat the evil machinations of Ombro.

The story ended in 1939, with the two traveling back to Venus and being proposed by a prince of Mars named Boris.  Apparently the two planets were at war with each other and their union would hopefully bring peace to the two cultures.

I have no idea what happened next, although I would like to assume everything wound up fine.

So what happened?

Action Comics #1 came out in 1938 and pop culture and entertainment was changed forever.

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Comic books became the new literary fad for young boys and girls and while comic strips continued to exist through syndication, the age of the pulp novel as a dominant cultural force was over.

Adolph Barreaux went where the work was and wound up producing comic book art for a whole bunch of publishers.  He ended his career in 1953 after working as a children’s book illustrator for a company called Trojan Publications.

Olga Mesmer is less than a footnote in pop culture history.  She played a small part in a fairly small magazine that was part of a culture that preferred to read her stories and then throw them away.  Even her status as America’s first super heroine is up for some debate since she doesn’t display many of the tropes we associate with heroes today.

However, it is my honest opinion that Olga Mesmer was a hero and that she deserves far more recognition than she is currently getting.  Plus, it’s kind of cool to see a woman from the 1930’s kick so much ass.

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