Comic book showcase: The creators of Thanos.

So I saw Avengers: Infinity War over the weekend.

Image result for avengers infinity war

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.

Image result for marvel ten years

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.

Image result for thanos

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.

Image result for thanos and death

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.

Image result for marvel cosmic

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.

Image result for guardians of the galaxy

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.

Image result for jack kirby

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.

Image result for jack kirby

You can see a lot of his

design aesthetic on display in Thor: Ragnarok.

Image result for jack kirby thor ragnarok

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,

Image result for mike friedrich

and writer/artist Jim Starlin.

Image result for jim starlin

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.

Image result for 1970's marvel

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,

Image result for thanos

Drax the Destroyer,

Image result for drax the destroyer

Gamora,

Image result for gamora

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

Image result for adam warlock

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).

Image result for captain marvel 1970s

 

 

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.

Image result for stan lee and jack kirby

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.

Image result for jack kirby darkseid and new genesis

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,

Image result for harvey pekar

Art Spiegelman,

Image result for art spiegelman

and Robert Crumb.

Image result for robert crumb

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.

Image result for star reach and heavy metal

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.

Image result for heavy metal comic

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.

Image result for starlin star reach

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.

Advertisements

Crowdfunded Comics that deserve more attention: Prison Witch

Today we are going to talk about a comic book project seeking funding on Kickstarter called Prison Witch.

Image result for prison witch kickstarter

The project is a seventy page graphic novel about a woman who works to control her latent magical abilities in prison with the help of a secret coven of witches.

At the time of writing the project as already hit its funding goal with $8,651 out of $8,500 raised and has 14 days left in the campaign.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/248241887/prison-witch-a-graphic-novel-about-magic-love-and?ref=category&ref=discovery

Why I like it

For starters the artwork is fantastic.

Image result for prison witch kickstarter

The comic is created by husband and wife team Pat and Amy Shand, with Erica D’Urso providing the artwork.  Her ability to convey tiny little moments of great emotion is awe inspiring and you can tell the book is going to be an emotional roller coaster without any words.

But what really intrigues me about this book is the possibility of combining the subject matter with the setting.

I like to dabble in storytelling from time to time and for me, magic is a way to build a character without having to rely on boring exposition.

Image result for magic

A wizard who controls fire will probably have a different personality than a wizard who can raise the dead.  Magic is an extension of its user and can be used as a sort of visual shorthand for their personality and beliefs.

Prisons are supposed to be a place where people who have done something wrong go to reflect on their deeds and work towards reforming themselves.

Image result for prison life

In some countries the intention is to turn criminals into functioning members of society, in others it’s a place where dissidents and critics of the status quo are sent to…change their mind.  Here in America it clearly isn’t the case because if it was, we would be the most introspective and thoughtful nations on the planet.

Image result for american prison system

Yes, the land of the free does put way to many people in prison.

So what happens when you have a collection of people who have their personalities displayed through spells and witch craft stuck in a place that is designed to change and mold a person into something different?

Image result for prison witch kickstarter

I have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out.

Why you should donate

I don’t know if anybody reading this post knows this, but during the 1970’s there was a very specific and popular genre of films specifically about women in prison.

Image result for prison exploitation movies

With a poster like that it’s quite apparent that these movies were somber, thoughtful affairs that talked about the harsh realities of prison life and gave a voice to some of the most vulnerable people in modern society and…

Image result for prison exploitation movies

nope.  The movies were porn with a bit more attention on the plot and slightly higher production values.

Now to be fair, it wasn’t like all the films were total trash.  Johnathen Demme, the man who made Silence of the Lambs,

Image result for silence of the lambs

got his big break after directing a Roger Corman prison film called Caged Heat.

Image result for caged heat

The film was actually pretty well reviewed and it did delve into some actual social commentary, but it was still a bunch of pretty women with no hope, no way out, and almost no clothing.

Image result for caged heat

Rather thankfully, times and tastes change and I say it’s time for the women in prison genre to get a modern update that treats its characters like actual human beings and uses its subject matter to talk about important and socially relevant issues.

Image result for orange is the new black

Okay, so there’s that but I bet there isn’t a comic that does…

Image result for bitch planet

dammit.

Okay, so revising the women in prison genre for modern tastes is well trodden ground, but Prison Witch takes the genre and does something different with it.

Image result for prison witch kickstarter

By combining the wonder and mystery of magic with the drama and emotional pain of prison life, Prison Witch is set to create a story filled with wonder, mystery, introspection, and one hell of an emotional gut punch.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/248241887/prison-witch-a-graphic-novel-about-magic-love-and?ref=category&ref=discovery

 

Golden Age Showcase: Waku Prince of the Bantu

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

Image result for black panther movie poster

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

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

That was Waku, Prince of the Bantu.

Image result for waku prince of the bantu

Origin and Career

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

Image result for atlas comics jungle comics #1

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

The character was created by artist Ogden Whitney,

Ogden Whitney Self Portrait.jpg

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

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

Image result for 1950's romance comics

Image result for 1950's western comics

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

Image result for 1950s america racial segregation

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

Image result for ebony white golden age of comics

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

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

Image result for waku prince of the bantu

Certainly sounds familiar.

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

Image result for the bantu migration

You can read more about it here.

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

Image result for waku prince of the bantu

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

G-840 The Pool Of Doom Page 1

to evil shamans capable of raising armies of the dead.

Image result for waku prince of the bantu

In all of his appearanc

So what happened?

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

Image result for jann of the jungle

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

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

Related image

I’m sure they need no introduction.

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

Image result for stan lee and jack kirby

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

Image result for marvel comics characters

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

Image result for fantastic four 52

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

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

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

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

Image result for waku prince of the bantu

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

Golden Age Showcase: The Eye

Last week we talked about a superhero known as “The Hand”.

Image result for the hand harvey comics

Everyone seemed to like it so here’s a write up about another body part that decided to become a superhero.

Yes, there was more than one of these, and this one was actually a bit more successful.

Say hello to The Eye.

Image result for the eye centaur comics

Origin and Career

The Eye made its first appearance in Keen Detective Funnies #12 in December of 1939.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

The book was published by a company called Centaur Publications, one of the earliest comic book publishers in American history and the company that helped Bill Everett get his start in comics.

Bill Everett is the man who helped create Namor the Submariner and Daredevil.

Image result for bill everett comics

The character itself was created by a man named Frank Thomas.

Image result for frank thomas animator

You may not know the man’s face, but I’m willing to bet that if you’re an animator or a Disney fan you know his his name and his work.

The man was one of the original animators on Walt Disney’s creative team when the company was just starting out and helped produce some of the most recognizable classics in modern animation history.  One example?  He animated this scene from Snow White.

Image result for snow white being carried by the dwarfs

 

He also helped write a book with a colleague of his named Ollie Johnston called The Illusion of Life,

Image result for frank thomas disney animation

a book that remains one of the most important milestones in 2D hand drawn animation to this day.  In fact, the two men were so influential that they were given a cameo appearance in The Incredibles, one of my favorite movies of all time.

Image result for frank thomas the incredibles

Basically Frank Thomas was a big deal, and The Eye was his contribution to the comic book world.

As for The Eye itself, his first adventure starts with the whitest Afghani family on the face of the planet.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

The old man laments that he was once a prosperous businessman but had his livelihood stolen from him.  Suddenly, a disembodied eye appears in the room.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

Meanwhile, in Kabul we’re introduced to the vain and pompous villain of the story, a man named Herat, who wants the old man dead.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

You know, I can’t help but wonder how differently this story would play out if it was published today.

Anyway, the villain tries to hire two hitmen to take out his rival.  Fortunately The Eye stops them with his ability to travel anywhere and shoot heat blasts out of his…well eye.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

Boy, I know red eye flights are a pain…but this is ridiculous.  (wait don’t go…come back!)

The story resolves itself quickly and just in the way you would expect.  The villain is defeated, and justice is served.  The Eye has saved the day and the old man and his daughter are free to return to their business.

Comic Book Cover For Keen Detective Funnies v2 #12

The Eye would go on to become something of a regular back up feature in the comic.  The stories weren’t connected, it was more of an anthology tale where The Eye would drop in on a group of criminals committing a crime and use one of his many ill defined powers to save the day.

Image result for the eye centaur comics

He was also given a sidekick, a young attorney named Jack Barrister who would assist The Eye whenever it needed a hand.

Image result for the eye centaur comics jack barrister

The Eye ran for eight issues in Keen Detective and must have been popular because he was given his own series in November of 1940.

Comic Book Cover For Detective Eye #1

So what happened?

The Eye may have been popular enough to get his own series, but his publisher wasn’t so lucky.  While Centaur may have been one of the first comic book publishers ever, poor distribution and business sense saw the company go under in 1940.

While the company folded, it did retain something of a legacy.  In 1987 one of his stories was reprinted in a book called Mr. Monster’s Hi Shock Schlock by Michael T. Gilbert.

Image result for michael t. gilbert hi shock schlock

And in 1992 a company called Malibu Comics revived a bunch of Malibu characters into a team known as The Protectors,

Image result for malibu comics the protectors

and the Eye was cast as a supporting character.

The Eye was a genuinely interesting idea and character for a superhero.  He had an interesting gimmick and he had a legendary creator behind him.  If it wasn’t for his publisher going out of business I’m willing to bet it would have gone on to become a staple of modern comic book superheroes as well.

Image result for centaur comics the eye

It’s a real shame to see an idea like that go to waste.