Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Heroes of the Public Domain.

Today we’re going to talk about a Kickstarter comic called Heroes of the Public Domain.

Regular Edition Cover

This project is seeking funding to create a catalog of superheroes that are in the public domain.  This means most of them are from the Golden Age of Comics, a time period that many historians place between 1938-1952 where comic books exploded onto the pop culture scene and superheroes became incredibly popular.

The project is being led by a Canadian group called Temporal Comics and is seeking $1,776 USD in funding.  At the time of writing the project has reached $1,432 with 23 days left in the campaign.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1973136011/heroes-of-the-public-domain-golden-age-guide-issue?ref=discovery

Why I like it

If you’re a fan of this site than you know that we at Cambrian Comics love writing about Golden Age superheroes.

Image result for cambrian comics golden age superheroes

For anyone who doesn’t know, over the past three years we’ve been running a blog series entitled “Golden Age Showcase”, where we talk about old school heroes from a time when comic books were new and superheroes were somehow even more popular than they are now.

Image result for golden age superheroes

While it’s fun to study the absolutely ridiculous characters from the Golden Age of Comics,

Image result for silly golden age superheroes

it’s also important.

The Golden Age gave us many of comics’ most important and recognizable heroes.  Characters like Batman,

Image result for golden age batman

Wonder Woman,

Image result for golden age wonder woman

Namor the Submariner,

Image result for golden age namor the submariner

and the one who started it all, the one who inspired every modern superhero in existence, and the one who just turned 80 years old this year: Superman.

Image result for action comics 1

But it wasn’t just a time where every superhero became a pop culture icon.  After the success of Action Comics #1 it seemed that every two bit publisher and pulp magazine auteur thought they could make it big by creating a superhero of their own.

The results were ridiculous and hilarious with heroes such as Dynamite Thor,

Image result for dynamite thor

Lady Satan,

Image result for lady satan

and The Fin.

Image result for golden age comics the fin

Sure, many of these heroes were silly, poorly written, or even blatant clones of Superman,  But there is not denying that the Golden Age of Comics was a time of exploration, experimentation, and glorious cheese that built the industry we know and love today.  A lot of people worked very hard to bring us these characters and their legacy is worth remembering and studying.

Also, full disclosure: We’re probably going to use the list provided in the Kickstarter description as a resource for more names.  It really is amazing that we’ve been doing this for over three years and still haven’t run out of heroes to talk about.

Why you should donate

Because the culture of the past informs the culture of the future, mostly by ripping off stories from the past and using our familiarity to open our wallets and giving artists our money.

At some point, I’m sure many of you have expressed your frustration at the endless sequels, reboots, and adaptations that make their way into our movie theaters and Netflix queues every year.

Image result for sequels reboots adaptations

I know because I am one of those people, but I also understand that one of the most prominent and important aspects of art is the ability to emulate and expand upon past works.

We may complain that Hollywood lacks originality when it comes to making movies, but it’s not a modern issue.  Over half of the movies that Hollywood has ever made are adaptations of some sort.  And let’s not forget that the most successful movie of all time,

Image result for gone with the wind

was adapted from a book.

In a way it makes sense, movies cost a lot of money so producers would want something that already has enough mass appeal to get people into the theaters.

What’s funny is that this isn’t even a modern thing, artists have been doing this for centuries.  The Renaissance artists were avid lovers of Classical art and blatantly ripped off the style and practices of the ancients.

Image result for renaissance vs greek art

Michelangelo once tried to scam the Catholic Church by carving a statue and trying to sell it off as an antique.

Even the great William Shakespeare ripped off the work of his contemporaries.

Image result for william shakespeare

It’s true, Romeo and Juliet was inspired by the works of Italian author. Masuccio Salernitano and his two doomed lovers Mariotto and Giannoza.

Yeah, copyright laws didn’t really exist back then.

While we can moan and complain about how originality in art is dead the simple fact of the matter is that it works.  The unfortunate truth is that, at the end of the day, most artists are looking for the kind of success that allows them to get paid, and borrowing from what is familiar can be an incredibly lucrative option.

Don’t believe me?  Just look at Disney, the current owners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the empire they built with stories and characters from the past.

Image result for classic disney characters

Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, Alice and Wonderland, Robin Hood…the list goes on.  All of are well known, all of them were borrowed and revamped by the Disney company, and I’m willing to bet that most of these stories made up a healthy portion of your childhood.

Even though comic books are a relatively new medium, it hasn’t stopped companies like Marvel from taking one of their earliest characters.

Image result for timely comics captain america

and giving him a modern update.

Image result for captain america

So if giant corporations and famous artists can do it, why can’t we?

There are thousands of fantastic superheroes out there who are free to use and have so much potential.  This Kickstarter gives us a head start by giving us a list of some of the best.

 

All-Art Variant Edition

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1973136011/heroes-of-the-public-domain-golden-age-guide-issue?ref=discovery

 

 

Golden Age Showcase: Superman and the Clan of the Fiery Cross

WARNING: This article contains a frank description of the history and politics of the American hate group known as the Ku Klux Klan. This group has a long and ugly history of racist violence that unfortunately continues today.  Also, this article contains images and descriptions that many people will find offensive.  If this bothers you, it is perfectly okay to not read this article.

Superman is 80 years old today!

Image result for superman

Today I want to talk about one of Superman’s greatest, and most important, stories.  It’s not a comic book, it’s a radio show, and it is one of the most important pieces of superhero media ever produced.

It’s Superman and the Clan of the Fiery Cross, the story where Superman literally, not figuratively but LITERALLY, helped bring down one of the most vile and awful hate groups in American history.

Image result for superman and the clan of the fiery cross

Background and History

The KKK was a white nationalist group that was initially founded just after the American Civil War in 1865 by a group of former Confederate soldiers.

Image result for first kkk

Their goal was to intimidate newly freed black slaves and prevent them from voting and trying to improve their lives.

Image result for kkk attacking former slave

The Federal Government cracked down on them, declaring them a paramilitary terrorist organization and forbade them from assembling.

While this version of the group was crippled, they would make a comeback in the 1920’s with the premiere of D.W Griffith’s Birth of a Nation: a fictionalized and highly romanticized account of the original klan.

Image result for birth of a nation

Unfortunately, the movie was an incredibly effective recruiting tool and the new version of the klan exploded in popularity.  They adjusted their message slightly, instead of targeting black people they became anti immigrant and for the prohibition of alcohol.

They even managed to become involved in politics.

Image result for 1920's kkk primary source

By the 1940’s the Klan returned to form, campaigning against equal rights for black people across the American South through violence.

One of the people who saw all these horrible things happen was a man named Stetson Kennedy,

Image result for stetson kennedy

Kennedy was a writer and activist from Florida who saw what was going around him and decided that he didn’t like the KKK very much.  So he decided to do something about it by infiltrating the organization and finding out as much as he could.

Image result for stetson kennedy in the kkk

He discovered that the Klan was less intimidating and had some really stupid customs and rituals, not really surprising considering that it’s a bunch of guys dressed in sheets, and decided to make them look as ridiculous as he could.

Image result for stetson kennedy in the kkk

Sadly, there was a problem: how was Stetson going to share his information with the public?  What could he use to reach as many people as possible?

This is where The Adventures of Superman radio show came in.

Image result for the adventures of superman radio show

The show was produced and syndicated by the New York radio station WOR and starred a man named Bud Collyer as Superman and Joan Alexander as Lois Lane.

Image result for the adventures of superman radio show

In 1946, Mr. Kennedy approached the radio show and asked them if he could use Superman to share his findings about the Klan with the world.  DC comics was more than happy to oblige since the Second World War was over and Superman couldn’t fight German Nazis anymore.  Now he would fight the American version.

Here’s the first part of the radio special for your listening pleasure.  I skipped the first two minutes of the video because it’s an add for a discontinued breakfast cereal called Kellogg Pep, but it’s still pretty good and I highly recommend tracking down the rest of the series and giving it a listen.

So what was the impact?

The effects of the radio broadcast were immediate and massive.  Within two weeks recruitment into the Klan was down, and by 1948 people were openly mocking its members at their rallies.

Kennedy would go on to share the rest of what he learned about the Klan with the authorities, and even wrote several books which led to arrests and prosecutions for several chapters.

Image result for stetson kennedy kkk book

So the Klan was substantially weakened, thanks to Superman.

Image result for superman and the clan of the fiery cross impact

Sadly, while the Klan was substantially weakened it wasn’t killed off completely.  The organization maintains a violent anti immigrant and white nationalist stance and holds rallies to this day,

Image result for modern kkk

and there’s a former low level politician named David Duke who is a member of Klan who has gained an unfortunately large amount of attention.

Image result for david duke

It’s worth mentioning that the FBI has reported a rise in hate crimes and hate groups in America over the past couple of years, it’s not a very large rise and can be attributed to a small number of very vocal fringe groups.

A lot of people say that Superman is boring, too powerful, and too much of a goody two shoes to be interesting in the modern world.  But in a world that is filled with some awful people and vile ideologies,

Image result for modern kkk

it’s good to know that we have characters like Superman who stand for what is true and just.

Image result for superman

Here’s to 80 more years.

 

 

Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Olive and the Underworld Vol. 2

Today we’re talking about a comic book Kickstarter project entitled Olive and the Underworld Vol. 2 Part 1.

This is the second book in a series about a girl named Olive.

Olive is an orphan and finds herself bouncing around foster homes due to her…unique views on life and death.

Naturally, her school and social life isn’t much better.

However, her self imposed hellscape is turned on its head when she and several of he classmates die in a bus crash and are sent to Purgatory.  While her classmates are desperate to move on to the afterlife, Olive discovers that she loves Purgatory.

The second volume picks up where the first book left off and follows Olive’s quest to stay in Purgatory, despite the powers that be insisting that it’s supposed to be temporary.

At the time of writing the project has reached $1,833 of its $2,995 goal and has fifteen days left in its campaign.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1058532910/olive-and-the-underworld-volume-2-part-1

Full disclosure: I actually wrote about the Kickstarter for the first volume of the series a few years ago.  I received no money for that article or this one, but the creators were unbelievably nice and decided to use a quote from my article on the front page of the book’s website and on the back of the first book’s cover.  Also, I got to read the first volume and I can assure you that it’s awesome and well worth your time and money.

Image result for olive and the underworld

You can read the quote, and buy the first volume, here.

Why I like it.

I like this book for the same reason I liked the first book, it takes a very old and well established story and turns it on its head.

I’m a big fan of ancient history.  More specifically, I’m a big fan of ancient Greek and Norse mythology.

Image result for greek and norse mythology

Now, all three of these cultures may be from different locations, different time periods, and have different cultural norms but their mythologies have certain things in common.  For example, they all have a deity who presides over the after life.  The Norse have Hel,

Image result for norse hel and greek hades

The Greeks have Hades.

Image result for greek hades

Now, this is to be expected.  Death is one of humanity’s universal constants and it would make sense for cultures to develop their own ideas of what happens after we die.  However, the similarities can get a bit spooky.  More specifically both cultures have stories about heroes to travel to the afterlife while they are still alive.

The Greeks have heroes such as Orpheus, who charmed Hades into returning the soul of his wife with his music.

Image result for orpheus

The Norse have Hermod, a son of Odin who traveled to Hel to beg for the life of Baldur after he had been killed by Loki.

Image result for norse mythology hermod

So Olive’s journey to the afterlife puts her in pretty unique and interesting company,

Image result for olive and the underworld

but there is one major difference.  In every other story about travelling to the afterlife, the heroes come back.  The land of the dead is a place you’re supposed to be uncomfortable around and a place where you don’t want to stay.  Olive doesn’t just want to stay in Purgatory, she’s genuinely happy to be there.

Image result for olive and the underworld

I can’ think of a single instance where the hero of a story wants to stay dead, so that makes Olive and the Underworld one of the most unique and interesting stories I’ve ever seen…and I love it.

Why you should donate

Because if our ancestors could create eternal stories about death and the afterlife, why can’t we?

Myths and legends aren’t just stories, they were a way to process emotions and events that human beings could have never understood otherwise.

Stories like the Illiad weren’t just stories about people fighting each other, they were peppered with morals and lessons on how to act and what is proper way to behave in certain situations.  Heroes like Achilles weren’t just bloodthirsty maniacs, they were scholars and noble warriors who embodied traits and emotions that the ancient Greeks thought were important.

Image result for achilles

We may think we have grown out of our understanding of the world has progressed, but we still have fantastic beings who embody certain virtues and use their actions to demonstrate proper behavior.

Image result for superman

Myths and legends are still talk about important stuff, they’ve just changed their appearance and what’s important to adapt over the past several thousand years.

We’re in the process of creating a new mythology and Olive and the Underworld is a story that brings a new and different approach to how we view death to this new understanding.  It’s a fun, friendly, and important book and well worth your time and money.

Image result for olive and the underworld

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1058532910/olive-and-the-underworld-volume-2-part-1

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,

Image result for golden age batman

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

Image result for golden age dollman

Superman was the first hero to have a secret identity,

Image result for golden age superman clark kent

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.

Image result for golden age fantomah

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.

Image result for olga mesmer queen margot

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,

Image result for early comic strips

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

Image result for the adventures of nemo in dreamland comic

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.

Image result for pulp magazines

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,

Image result for pulp magazine the shadow

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

Image result for john carter pulp

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.

Image result for spicy mystery magazine mesmer

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.

Image result for adolphe barreaux trojan

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”,

Image result for adolphe barreaux sally sleuth

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

Image result for adolphe barreaux the enchanted stone of time

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

Image result for olga mesmer

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.
Image result for john quincy adams mole people

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.

Image result for olga mesmer queen margot

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.

Image result for olga mesmer queen margot

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.

Image result for action comics #1

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.

Image result for olga mesmer queen margot

Comic book showcase: Black Lightning

So I just watched the season premiere of CW’s Black Lightning yesterday.

Image result for cw black lightning

It’s pretty good.  The effects were great, the character dynamics were well thought out and have a lot of potential, and it pulls absolutely no punches when it comes to dealing with the…well let’s be polite and say “strained” relationship between black Americans and the police.

Image result for black americans and police

By all accounts the CW has another hit on their hands and it looks like Black Lightning is here to stay, so let’s look at his origins and see what’s changed and if the show can learn anything from the comics.

Origin and Career

Black Lightning was created in 1977, a few decades after the Golden Age of Comics and the favorite time period of this blog.  This is going to require a little explanation.

It’s widely believed that the Golden Age of Comics ended in 1956 with the publication of Showcase #4 and the introduction of Barry Allen as the Flash.

Showcase4.JPG

This brought along the Silver Age of Comics, a time period that was known for comics that focused on a more sci fi and technological oriented appeal.

Image result for silver age comics

Magic had been replaced by space science and monsters had been replaced by aliens.

This was also the time when Marvel Comics came into the world as the comic book company we all know and love today.  A little known creator named Stan Lee decided to create a super hero family that traveled across time and space to defeat strange and fantastic threats.

Image result for fantastic four #1

It did pretty well and helped kick off the Marvel Universe that we all know and love today.

However, by the 1970’s things were changing again, and comics were moving out of the high concept science fantasy of the Silver Age.  Times were changing.  There were protests,

Image result for 1970's protest

racial violence,

Image result for 1970's racial violence

and there was a general sense of doom and gloom.

Image result for 1970's urban decay

Yes, the 1970’s were a unique and special time that we will never have to live through again.

The great thing about these changing times was that in the comic book industry restrictions on what comic books could be talk about were becoming looser and looser, and in 1970 we entered a time that comic book historians called “The Bronze Age of Comics”.

This was a time where comic books got darker and edgier, talking about issues like drugs,

Image result for dc speedy drugs

not shying away from violence,

Image result for marvel the punisher first appearance

and launching an explosion of black superheroes.  Luke Cage is probably the most famous and successful of these heroes.

Image result for famous bronze age comics

Anyway, DC had a problem in the 1970’s, Marvel was growing too fast and taking away a huge portion of their business.  So DC decided to try and beat Marvel by flooding the market with a slew of new titles.  One of these titles was going to be DC’s first black superhero and they eventually decided to publish….the Black Bomber.

The Black Bomber was supposed to be a white bigot who hated black people, but thanks to an accident he gained the ability to turn into a black superhero when under duress.

Image result for dc comics the black bomber

This is the only picture I could find of him.  The only other reference he got in a comic book was a small reference in a Justice League of America comic written by Dwayne McDuffie.

Image result for dc comics the black bomber

Yeah, this was probably not a good idea.

So what convinced the editors at DC to change their mind?  Why one of the writers of Luke Cage of course!

Image result for tony isabella comics

The guy on the right is Tony Isabella, one of the early writers of Luke Cage.  DC had hired Tony to create their first black superhero and in 1977 he partnered with artist Trevor Von Eden,

Image result for trevor von eeden

to create Black Lightning.

Image result for black lightning number 1

Black Lightning’s real name is Jefferson Pierce.  He actually grew up in the poorest part of Metropolis known as Suicide Slum.  After becoming a highly successful athlete an scholar he returned home and he used a newly created power belt that helped him shoot bolts of electricity to clean up the streets of drug dealers and gang members.

Image result for suicide slum metropolis

Where was Superman in all of this?  Probably saving Earth from aliens but whatever.

Black Lightning did initially play up a lot of stereotypes that were prevalent among the black community in the 1970’s.  His costume and accent were over the top and almost comical but his intentions were good and he proved himself to be a respectable hero in his own right, gaining the trust of Superman and several other figures in the city in his battle against the gang that had made Suicide Slum their home, a group called The 100 and led by a large man known as Tobias Whale.

Image result for dc comics the 100

Aside from changing the location, the show appears to be pretty loyal to the comics.  Granted, in his early appearances Black Lightning isn’t married and doesn’t have kids, but that would come later.

So what happened?

Unfortunately the individual series for the character only lasted 11 issues.  While DC had high hopes in regaining its market share by flooding the market with new comics, it didn’t work out so well due to rising printing costs, the 1977 blizzard, and an awful economic recession.  A year later the company cancelled 40% of its titles in an event known as the “DC Implosion”.

Image result for implosion

Black Lightning survived, although he would only show up in other books for the next couple of years.  In 1983, he joined a group called the Outsiders, a group of superheroes led by Batman and featured mostly new characters like Katana and Geo-Force.

Image result for black lightning the outsiders

So yes, the idea that Batman is everything is nothing new.

In 1989 it was revealed that his powers weren’t the result of his power belt, but they were actually derived from a genetic abnormality known as the “Metagene”, a plot point that has been used throughout the DC universe as the source of power for a large number of their heroes.

DC’s first black superhero would get another crack at a solo series in 1995, and they even brought back Tony Isabella to do the writing.

Image result for black lightning 1995

Unfortunately, history has a nasty way of repeating itself and the series was cancelled after 13 issues.

Black Lightning has continued to exist in the DC universe as a hero making appearances in other books.  At one point, Lex Luthor actually made him Secretary of Education when he was elected President of the United States.

Image result for black lightning secretary of education

But let’s not delve too much into the fact that a comic book company had a corrupt businessman elected to the Presidency, that’s just too unrealistic.

He would also get a family and two children to look after.  Their names were Anissa and Jennifer Pierce and they have been a staple of Black Lightning’s identity ever since.

Image result for dc comics black lightning children

Even though he’s never had much of a solo career, Black Lightning is a capable and talented hero with a great backstory and plenty of potential.

Image result for black lightning secretary of education

He is a teacher, a mentor, and a very capable role model for everyone in the DC universe but most importantly of all…he has the respect and attention of Batman.

Image result for black lightning secretary of education

I think this CW show is going to be awesome.

Image result for black lightning secretary of education

Golden Age Showcase: Lady Satan

I’ve been wanting to do this one for a while, but I just couldn’t find the right time.

But now, I figured we’ve gone long enough on this blog without talking about a lady superhero so let’s talk about one of the more interesting, and quite frankly more terrifying, lady heroes who donned a mask and kicked some ass in the Golden Age of Comics.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Lady Satan.

Origin and Career

I’ve talked time and time again about how this blog was created to showcase the early superheroes who didn’t make it past the 1950’s and Lady Satan is the textbook definition of that kind of heroine.

One of the most interesting things about her is the story behind her creators.  She was part of one of the earliest comic book producers out there, a man who was actually pretty important to the comic book medium: Henry A. Chesler.

 

While Chelser got hist start in advertising he is actually something of an important figure to the comic book medium because he is regarded as being one of the first comic book “packagers” in the business, founding a studio which would develop and produce comic book material to sell to publishers.

One of his first publications was Star Comics first published in 1937.

It was a fun, relatively harmless piece of work for kids and Chesler did well as a comic book packager.  Then everything changed in 1938 with the arrival of Seigel and Shuster’s Action Comics #1

Being the prudent businessman, Chesler seemed determined to ride the superhero hype train and created his own publishing imprint Dynamic Comics in 1941.

A month later Dynamic would publish their second issue, featuring the debut of the heroine of the hour.

Her backstory was a simple one (one of the great hallmarks of the Golden Age is that someone’s backstory didn’t need entire issues, they could tell the entire story in a page or less): she was on a cruise with her husband in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and her ship was sunk by soldiers who aren’t technically Nazis but come pretty darn close.

Unlike many other heroes we’ve talked about on this blog, Lady Satan didn’t waste a single second guarding the homefront from saboteurs and spies, she went straight to Europe and started spying for the forces of democracy.  She wasn’t afraid to use her…feminine wiles to get close to the enemy,

and she was not afraid to get violent either.

Basically, during the war she was the female equivalent of James Bond, only with a much better wardrobe and no chronic alcoholism.

Also, she had a chlorine gun that she could use to incapacitate people, which is funny considering that chlorine gas is actually pretty deadly and was banned from use during the Second World War.

She would make her final appearance in Dynamic Comics #3, fulfilling her Nazi kicking quota and disappearing off the face of the Earth for a couple of years.

So what happened?

The heroes that made it out of the Golden Age are some of most iconic and well loved heroes of our time.  They were trend setters and pioneers in the genre that we all know and love.

Lady Satan was not one of those heroes, despite the fact that she would have a pretty good Golden Age career.

Lady Satan was revived after WW2 ended, only instead of fighting Nazis she took after her name sake and adopted a more…mystical theme.

Chesler Productions had taken a huge hit during the war with much of its staff needed for active duty.  While Chesler would continue producing comic books, even doing work for Marvel in the 1970’s, Dynamic Comics was no more and Lady Satan made her second debut in a title called Red Seal Comics in 1946

With that being said, it’s safe to say that Lady Satan was more of a trend follower than a trend setter.  Comic books after World War 2 had taken a turn for the grimmer and darker, preferring horror and crime stories over superheroes.

Lady Satan demonstrated this better than almost any other superhero at the time, with her new adventures she would use black magic to fight and punish occult threats such as warewolves.

Sadly she would only last a couple more issues, no doubt falling prey to the rising tide of distrust and paranoia surrounding comic books in the 1950’s (well, what would you expect with a name like Satan?)

Since then she hasn’t had much of a career.  She’s appeared in a couple of reprints of old issues and while she does have something of a reputation as a bad ass super heroine, she doesn’t quite cut the mustard when compared to the heavy hitting super heroines like Wonder Woman.

It’s worth noting that as far as I can tell she is in the public domain, and she did appear in a low budget action movie called Avenging Force: The Scarab in 2010, so if low budget cheese is your thing feel free to eat your heart out.

Here’s a link to the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QlmKRDYwvM

Lady Satan was an interesting idea with a cool costume and a lot of potential for fun stories.  It’s just to bad she doomed to be a trend follower instead of a trend setter.

4th of July Special: My top 5 Superman stories

Happy Fourth of July everyone!

and what better way to celebrate American independence than to look at the greatest American superhero ever created.

Is there anyone in modern fiction that embodies the ideals of truth, justice, and the American way?

Well, technically that last part isn’t exactly honest.  The “American Way” part of the motto wasn’t added until the 1950’s in an attempt to make Superman more politically friendly and “safe” for kids.  The original Superman had no problem threatening politicians and destroying homes in the name of justice and fair treatment.

Still, all things aside, Superman’s commitment to fighting for the little guy does make him an important figure in American pop culture.  He’s been dissected, discussed, and re interpreted countless time throughout the decades and today I would like to talk about five of the most important and/or interesting Superman stories ever told.

I believe that these five stories focus on a major aspect of Superman’s character and attempt to explain who the Man of Steel is and why he is, and must remain, the way he is.  This list is not designed to be an extensive description of the plots of each of these stories and I highly encourage you to check them out on your own.

Note: This list is my opinion and my opinion only.  If I left out your favorite Superman story please feel free to let me know in the comments.

5. Superman: Red Son

Writer: Mark Millar

Artists: Dave Johnson and Killian Plunkett

Date published: 2003

A huge part of Superman’s personality and character stems from the fact that he grew up on a small farm in the middle of Kanses, the heartland of America.

His parents raised him the best way they could and gave their adopted son Clark the values and moral compass that made him the hero he became.

“Red Son” asks the question: what if Superman hadn’t landed in Kansas?  What if he had landed in America’s ideological opponent: the Soviet Union?

Without going into too much detail it’s safe to say it doesn’t end very well for America and instead of being instilled with values that promote freedom and individual liberty the new Soviet Superman becomes something akin to a Big Brother figure, watching over the people of the world as an authority figure rather than a benevolent guardian.

4. What’s so funny about Truth, Justice, and the American Way?

Writer: Joe Kelly

Artists: Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo

Date published: 2001

Unlike most titles on the list this is not a stand alone story, rather it’s an arc in the Action Comics title, which is the long running Superman series that started in 1938 and only ended in 2011 (we’ll get to that).

This story is a discussion on one of the biggest questions a lot of readers have about Superman: why doesn’t he just kill his enemies?

Now, some superheroes do kill,

and some superheroes used to kill

but had that part of their character changed due to editorial mandate and the need to keep a running stable of villains.

While Superman has had his fair share of violent streaks, he has remained pretty committed to not killing his enemies for a very long time.  Even though he has the power to wipe out entire solar systems

and many people have pointed out that, by letting the bad guys he captures live, they have gone on to cause even more death and destruction.

Seriously, in order for a villain to present a threat to Superman they either have to have enough power to rack up a body count in the billions or wield enough intelligence and influence to control countless numbers of people.

“What’s so Funny about Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” answered that question and gave a pretty good reason as to why Superman doesn’t just kill his enemies, no matter how much they may deserve it.

The story starts with Superman coming face to face with a group of heroes known as “The Elite”

They are a group of erstwhile heroes who have no qualms about killing the villains they capture, much to the delight of the people of Earth and the dismay of Superman.

Things come to a head and the Elite and Superman wind up fighting each other.

It is very much an ideological battle that asks a whole lot of questions.  What is the purpose of a hero?  What is the proper use of power?  How far should a hero go in order to keep the peace?

All of these questions are answered in a fight that I believe is one of the best fights in comics.  Granted, the story can be a little heavy handed and self serving at times, but the story shows why Superman must remain the way he his, why he is still relevant it today’s society, and gives us a glimpse into the terrifying vision of a Superman who has no problem killing people.

3. All Star Superman

Writer: Grant Morrison

Artist: Frank Quietly

Publication date: 2011

This is the most modern Superman story to appear on the list and one that answers the OTHER big question about Superman: how can you make a man who is literally invulnerable interesting?

Morrison tackles this question by doing something brilliant: he kills Superman.

Basically, an accident near the sun saturates Superman’s cells with radiation and he only has a short while to live before he disintegrates into energy.

The story is about the last days of Superman on Earth as he says goodbye to Louis Lane.

manages to defeat Lex Luthor one last time,

and comes to grips with his own mortality and several of the stranger bits of the Superman mythos.

This is Superman at his most basic essence.  He’s not protecting a cause, he’s not working with any other hero, he’s a God among men and he is doing everything he can to help.

This series is also home to what I consider to be the greatest page in all of comics.

I tear up every time.

2. Action Comics #1

Not only is this the first appearance of the Superman we know and love, it’s the first American superhero comic ever published.

We owe so much to this comic it’s difficult to describe.  Everything from the costume,

to his secret identity,

To his strange origins define so much of what it means to be a modern day superhero.

Granted, there were other masked vigilantes around before Superman and yes, there are plenty of heroes who have gone on to eclipse the Man of Steel in popularity but I think it is important to remember that without this,

there would be none of this.

1. Superman and the Clan of the Fiery Cross

This isn’t a comic book, it’s a story that ran as a radio serial between June 16th, 1946 to July 1st, 1946 and I believe it is the single most important Superman story ever created.

Post war America had a problem with a group called the Ku Klux Klan.

For anyone who might not know, the Ku Klux Klan (or KKK for short) is a vile hate group that was formed by white men in the American South in order to protect American societ, just as long as that society was white and Protestant Christian.

Unfortunately they are still around and while they used to campaign against the inclusion of black people into American society

they continue to exist today as a force campaigning against immigration and what they perceive as an invasion of America by foreigners.

So why am I talking about this?  Well, in the 1940’s a human rights activist and investigative journalist from Jacksonville Florida named Stetson Kennedy decided to go undercover and investigate the Klan.

He uncovered a whole bunch of the Klan’s secrets from how they ran their meetings, to how they were organized, and even what their secret handshakes looked like.

He actually discovered that beneath the violence and horrific racism the Klan was pretty stupid and after a while he was ready to report his findings to the world.

Unfortunately this was going to be difficult since the Klan was big and Kennedy had no idea if the police of newspaper editors he could share his findings with were members.

So Stetson went to the writes of the popular Superman radio show and together they came up with a 16 part radio drama where Superman fought and defeated “The Clan of the Fiery Cross”.

I won’t talk about the story, you can read a synopsis here and listen to it here if want the original serial complete with ads for Kellog’s Pep, but what I do want to talk about is the real world impact that story had.

The story claimed to expose real Klan codes and practices and in 2005 a book called Freakonomics stated that this single radio serial was the biggest contributor to the decline in Klan membership in the 1940’s.

Whether it’s true or not the fact remains that Superman helped fight and bring down one of the worst and most vile hate groups in American history.

No other hero in popular culture has had that kind of impact on our society and way of life, and that is why this story is the greatest Superman story ever told.  It doesn’t matter how many people like Superman or if people thing he’s too powerful or boring.  What matters is that he is there for us as an example of pure, unadulterated good in the world and worthy of being the champion for the ideals of truth and justice that America was founded on and strives to live up to.

 

Happy July 4th everyone.

Comparing the two greatest father figures in comics

Happy post Father’s Day Monday everyone!

For our international readers, Father’s Day is an American holiday where we celebrate the role and achievements fathers play in all our lives.

Some would say it’s a chance to give dads the recognition they deserve after Mother’s Day (Mother’s Day was a federally recognized holiday before Father’s Day) and some would say that it’s a cynical attempt for the card companies and power tool companies to sell more stuff.

Whatever you believe in it’s important to recognize that fathers have a huge impact on our personal lives and world view and comic books are a medium that is filled with fatherly influence.

Now, being a dad in a comic book can be rather difficult.  It’s even more difficult when you realize that in mainstream American comic books fathers either wind up dead or have to go through hell for their children.

But whether we like it or not, comic book dads fulfill an important role in comic book story telling: they help the main character become the person he/she needs to be in order to become a superhero, and what’s really interesting is that more often than not there are many different ways fathers can teach their biological/surrogate offspring to become a hero.

So today we are going to look at two of the greatest father figures in comic book history: Pa Kent and Uncle Ben.

Pa Kent

Within the Superman mythology Ma Kent is usually the one that’s portrayed as the principal caretaker of Clark considering that Pa Kent winds up dead in quite a few variations of the story.

With that being said, while Ma Kent is usually the one who gets to be the principal caretaker and moral compass for her adopted son, Pa Kent has the honor of being the wise old man that the world’s most powerful being looks up to.

The Kent family has been by Superman’s side since the very beginning.

What I find most impressive is just how capable these two are.  In fact, if it wasn’t for this guy

I’d say they were the most capable parents in all of comics.

They are kind, dedicated, and somehow they took the strongest being on Earth and not only managed to keep his existence a secret for a very long time, but they managed to install a moral compass on kid who was practically immune to all forms of punishment.  After all, a spanking seems kind of pointless when you have a son who can deflect bullets.

The results speak for themselves and Superman grew up to become one of the most selfless beings on the entire planet instead of the ruler and dictator that so many would expect from a being who possesses such power.

One of the things I like about the Kents is how they’ve managed to go through so much and still remain the kindly couple they are today.  They have no trouble hosting aliens who actually look like aliens,

to helping their son learn how to fly.

By the way, the page above is from a series called Superman: American Alien by Max Landis.  It is an amazing series and I cannot recommend it enough.

Whether it’s dealing with the emotional loss of Jonathan Kent

or dealing with yet another alien invasion that decides to take place on their front doorstep.

The Kents have remained one of the most steadfast and loyal families in all of comics.

Uncle Ben

You know him or more specifically you know his line.

Say it, say it now.

There used to be a famous saying in the comic book industry: “Nobody dies in comics except Jason Todd, Bucky Barnes, and Uncle Ben”.

Then 2005 happened.

and it just became “Nobody dies in comics except Uncle Ben.”

Uncle Ben has taken a more relaxed attitude towards instilling heroic ideals in his children.  Granted, it’s mostly because he’s been dead all this time but the results speak for themselves.

In the brief time we get to see Uncle Ben alive in the comics he comes off as a kind, caring, and compassionate person who only wants the best for his adopted son.  In fact, he’s so nice and so good that after he dies Peter is wracked with so much guilt that he decides to dedicate the rest of his life to being one of the most helpful and dedicated superheroes in the Marvel Universe.

Which is saying something considering the amount of pain and suffering Peter has gone through over the years.

So which father figure is better?  Honestly I don’t think it matters.  Both men provide their adopted sons with the necessary moral guidelines that are needed for being a superhero and both are great father figures.

While Father’s Day may be over it is important to recognize the roll that fathers have in our lives and even though we may not live in a comic book universe, they can help all of us become superheroes.

Golden Age Showcase: Labor Day special

Happy Labor Day everyone!

For our non American readers Labor Day is an American holiday where we celebrate the social and economic achievements of the American worker by taking the first Monday of September off to celebrate the end of summer and eat even more than we should.

gI_148652_Screen Shot 2013-08-06 at 1.08.02 AM

In all seriousness though, Labor Day was created in honor of the American worker in 1882, during a time when American labor was going through something of a rough patch involving quite a few labor strikes and even more strike breakers.

325px-AmericanRailwayUnion

It was an important time in American history and I strongly encourage anyone who reads this to look into it further.

But we’re not here to talk about labor politics, we’re here to talk about Golden Age superheroes.  And what better day than Labor Day to talk about the big blue Boy Scout of comics, the one who made it all possible, and the one who everyone looks up to.

download (4)

Origin and career

Do you really need me to explain the origin story of Superman?

Okay, really quick for anyone who doesn’t know:  Superman is an alien, his planet blows up but not before his father sends him away on a rocket ship just before the planet explodes.

Kryton

After crash landing on Earth, the baby boy is taken in by a loving family in the middle of Kansas and adopts the persona of mild mannered Clark Kent.

lois_clark_1st_meeting_goldenage

He becomes a newspaper reporter and dedicates his life and powers to uphold the idea of

Truth, Justice, and the American Way

See, one thing that might be a bit off putting to comic book readers who are used to  lot of moral ambiguity and complexity in their stories is just how sincere that phrase was in the early Superman comics.  The character of Superman was created by childhood friends Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster.

download (5)

They were two first generation Jewish immigrants who fervently believed in the idea that America was the promised land of opportunity and was a chance for anyone to make a life for themselves regardless of race, religion, or creed.  Superman was created to be the embodiment of that ideal.

1253845-superman_steel

However, while America was the land of opportunity for many, there were still quite a few problems that had to be sorted out.  Superman was created in a time when the food lines and horrific unemployment of the Great Depression was still fresh in everyone’s mind

0204_BW_Depression_630x420

Europe and Asia were undergoing massive and terrifying social, political, and military changes.

download (6)

AJ201212200007M

and there were many people who believed that the American dream should only be limited to those where worthy and racially pure enough to deserve it.

download (7)

As a result, Superman had to fight for his existence in his new adopted home and fight for it he did.  Thankfully, Superman was gifted with extraordinary abilities of strength, speed, and durability.

Action_Comics_1

These gifts allowed him to wage a one man crusade on behalf of the common people and against anyone who sought to undermine the welfare of the common man in order to preserve their own selfish interests.  And protect the common man he did, in the very first issue he brings a wife beater to jail

action1shuster

Saves a woman from a death row execution

Superman_ActionComics1

And sends a terrified corrupt politician to jail by walking across a telephone wire leaping from incredible heights

action-comics-1938

It should be noted that the Golden Age Superman was kind of an asshole.

Superman16

But his original purpose still stood.  Superman was the great hero for the times, a tireless social crusader who campaigned for the rights of the common man against anyone who would take advantage of someone less powerful than themselves.

goldenagesuperman

So what happened?

Time.  Time happened.

Let’s be perfectly clear here, Superman never died.  He’s one of only two superheroes (the other being Batman) who survived the superhero dead zone of the 1950’s due to his massive popularity, even becoming the first superhero to appear on television.

download (8)

Despite everything that was going on in post war America people still gravitated towards the idea of Superman because he was above all else, a good man.

With that said, while Superman remain unchanged that didn’t mean the times changed around him.  The 1960’s saw the rise of Marvel Comics and the Silver Age.

fantasticfour-1r

Comics became more focused on two things.  First there was an emphasis on science fiction and the fantastic adventures many of these heroes could go through.

Flash-and-Green-Lantern-Silver-Age

And more importantly, the Stan Lee led Marvel Comics introduced the idea that superheroes didn’t just have to be gods among men, the could be normal flawed humans just like us.

ditko1

These new ideas were the complete opposite of Superman’s original purpose but the massive popularity of these ideas resulted in several changes to the character that took him away from the original vision.  Not only was Superman incredibly overpowered and boring, but distrust in the American government in recent decades even resulted in Superman renouncing his American citizenship.

superman-citizenship-1303916053

Bear in mind, the ideas that Superman stands for are still there.  He’s still an incredibly powerful individual who stands up for those who cannot defend themselves, it’s just a little bit different and usually on a much larger scale.

download (9)

In my own personal opinion there are still some fantastic Superman stories out there, and one of the best is Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman.

All_Star_Superman_Cover

I won’t go into details, you can read it on your own if your curious, but if you ask me the reason why this story is so great is because Grant Morrison gets Superman better than almost anyone in the past couple of decades.  Superman was created as an incredibly powerful being who stands against oppression, tyranny, and despair on behalf of the common people and at his core, he still stands for that.

supermanrooftop