Monday, December 18, 2017
Television specials on comics are usually pretty lame. The broader populace doesn't grok the real nature of comic books and of superheroes which they (for obvious reasons) exclusively identify with the genre. But there's some small glimmer of hope and it comes in the for of the recent Robert Kirkman's Secret History of Comics on AMC. This show wouldn't have happened without the fusion of Kirkman and AMC over the comic The Walking Dead. That comic-book inspired TV phenomenon allows the folks associated with it a glamour which the powers hope will support spin-off events like this show and others starring folks like Norman Reedus.
To be frank I expected this to suck and beginning with the tired debate about who was the true creator of Marvel Comics didn't give me much hope that I was wrong. But I was.
With the second show which explored the deviant and somewhat shadowy origins of Wonder Woman the show won me over a bit. This was largely brand new territory for TV when it comes to comics. Usually television cannot deal with comic books without copious amounts of "Bop!" and "Zing!" and "Zowie!" as the impression still left by the vintage Batman TV show still permeates the popular imagination.
It was back to familiar territory with the show on the creators of Superman and how they got screwed, a fundamental fable of injustice and (sadly) the American way, which all comics fans know by heart.
But the focus on those comics and creators who responded to the events of 9-11 made me realize for sure this was a show which was plowing some new territory. It was about more than just comics, but how comics reflected the times in which they happened and were shaped by those times.
And the focus on the important Milestone Publishing effort of the early 90's confirmed it. This was stuff I'd never seen discussed on TV before and really interesting and fresh and spoke to the original American sin of racism which bristles as always in our culture.
Somewhat less so was the show on Image, but it made sense since Image is where Kirkman landed and launched his highly successful zombie comic. This is an above average series, not perfect by any means, but better than what usually happens. Imagine a TV show about comics without "Zowie!". Now we can.
Sunday, December 17, 2017
In his final four issues of the Challengers of the Unknown, Jack Kirby continued to knock out some fantastic imagery aided by inker Wally Wood. The stories were a weird amalgam of techno-adventures and outright sci-fi weirdness. In issues five the heroes living on borrowed time match wits with a criminal named Vreedl who circuits the globe looking for obscure jewels which combined with a strange meteor grant him offbeat powers such as the ability to cast heat and fame, to fly, become aquatic and ultimately vast strength. The boys are just able to fend off his attacks and chase him down and use their wits to defeat him.
Then things get really bizarre in the sixth issue when the Challs are kidnapped by an outer space circus and made part of the alien acts. They lead a revolt of the assemble aliens and seems to have skills which are almost dreamlike. Then unofficial Challenger June Robbins gets captured by a hood hiding in a lost city and she becomes a sorceress of prophecy who tries more than once to kill the Challs before they are able to return her to normal.
In the seventh issue the Challs find themselves forced to round up escaped alien monsters from a crashed zoo ship. They confront a strange enormous armadillo-like creature, a peculiar jellyfish like beast that consumes metal and a flying bird that breathes flame. Then on the Isle of No Return they confront Anton Zammer who has control of incredible inventions by a famous eccentric scientist. Among the many gimmicks he uses is one which reduces the team to doll size. June once again has to save the day when she is able to rescue the boys and defeat the villain.
In the eighth and final issue by Kirby and Wood, the team comes to the rescue of a friend of June's who has inherited a castle which comes with three mysterious boxes, each of which hides a dangerous secret. A villain named Drabny gets control of the boxes and uses them to control the local area. One box makes folks young again and Ace and Rocky fall victim to it. One box has a helmet which allows a person to control matter and another has goggles which let a person see the future. Despite their loss of manpower the team nonetheless work together to end the menace. The Challs last adventure under the hand of Kirby has them travel to a distant planet where robots have taken over form the local populace. The Challs battle the robot menace and succeed a final time to bring back order to the universe.
And that wraps up Kirby's third and final year on the team. He would not take them on again until he returned to DC a decade later and would draw a single cover. Later he'd supply some art for their Who's Who appearance and draw a crossover with Superman, but for the most part Jack Kirby was done with the Challengers of the Unknown, his first and in some ways most brilliant quartet of Silver Age heroes.
Next week, we take a look a the extensive reprint life of the Challengers. For guys living on borrowed time, it was most ironic.
Saturday, December 16, 2017
As The Fantastic Four series enters its third year, it is as a fully-developed comic book. The characters of the key foursome are vivid and and starkly drawn. Reed Richards is truly a phenomenal genius but a man with regrets about what his experiments have done to his comrades as well as a shy man who loves his teammate and seeks more. The Invisible Girl gets a greater power as her force shields become a significant part of the team's firepower and she as well must confront her role as a woman in the 60's who wants to do more than the stereotypes of the day permit. The Human Torch is maturing, albeit slowly, his teen-age tirades giving way to a frisky repartee with his partners but a fundamental need to prove himself a worthy teammate. And finally The Thing has become a wonderful powerhouse, but fundamentally tragic man who has found love but who nonetheless needs to prove that he's a man to everyone on his team and in the larger world.
These four people are thrust into a wild and wacky world of danger and discovery as menaces both vast and small find them. The year begins with a propitious journey to the Moon where the team finds a menace in the form of the Red Ghost and his deadly Super-Apes, but also a comrade in the enigmatic Watcher. The mysterious "Blue Area" of the Moon is one of the coolest concepts in all of Marveldom.
Then the Sub-Mariner returns to kidnap Sue, who does reveal an affection for the undersea lord, but who ultimately confirms her love for Mr. Fantastic. Soon thereafter the Mad Thinker invades the Baxter Building and uses Reed's own experiments in creating artificial life to create his "Awesome Android".
Doctor Doom, who had become a villain for all the young Marvel Universe, returns for a two-part misadventure as he attempts yet again to bring the Fab 4 to heel. First he brings them into the Microverse where the Ant-Man is crucial in helping to defeat his menace and later he tries to trap the team in their own house.
The nearly forgotten Skrulls attack, sending the Super-Skrull to Earth to defeat the team and erase the shame the Skrull emperor feels for having been driven away from the planet before. But the team is able to contain a being with all their powers.
Then it's time for an epic as Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner at long last finds his lost people the Atlanteans and turns their military might against the surface world. The first Fantastic Four annual describes is elaborate detail the saga of this mighty incursion and how the Fab 4 are able to turn the undersea armies back.
The team travel into time ancient Egypt to find a cure for the blind Alicia Masters and find Rama-Tut, the time-traveler who according to some renditions of the saga would become in due course Kang the Conqueror in the pages of The Avengers.
Next, the Watcher appears with a warning for the Fab 4 as the amazingly powerful Molecule Man makes his debut. The incredible power of the Molecule Man is only limited by his lack of imagination and he too is at last defeated.
Nick Fury, of World War II fame makes an appearance in time to help the FF confront the vile menace of the Hate Monger. It's a another shout out to the "Big One" when the Hate Monger's mask is at last removed.
Finally the very first FF villain, the Mole Man makes his second foray against the team. This time he seeks them out as he attacks the very city in which they live. The Moloids are seen for the first time as the underground villain proves he's not to be taken lightly. Doc Doom shows up yet again, with another scheme, this one ends up in his defeat and sets up a most important story in the team's fourth year.
The year closes out with one of the strangest FF stories as the wildly powerful Infant Terrible appears on Earth. Quickly the intellect of Reed Richards figures out the nature of the amazing menace and gambles to save the Earth from a truly bizarre alien menace.
The artwork during this year was a really strange mix. Dick Ayers inked several yarns, but also Steve Ditko inked a few. George Russos (under the pen name "George Bell") was the mainstay in this year, freeing Ayers to pencil more as the Marvel Universe continued to expand.
And that's a wrap. The fourth year of the Fantastic Four comes next week and it's a hummer indeed.
Friday, December 15, 2017
The second Hulk Epic collection dubbed "The Hulk Must Die" collects nearly all of the Hulk's appearances in Tales to Astonish. After the Hulk debuted soon after the Fantastic Four, his series sputtered after a mere six issues. But too powerful to be contained he became the consummate guest star appearing several times in the aforementioned Fantastic Four and becoming (briefly) a member of The Avengers and then almost immediately their antagonist. His saga sprawled across several comics, including even the Amazing Spider-Man and eventually eventually even Tales to Astonish where he battled Giant-Man. This was a weird house warming though as the Hulk took up residence in Tales to Astonish in issue sixty. He'd never leave the title, instead eventually taking over its venerable numbering and making it his own for many decades.
But it begins with Steve Ditko who drew the last issue of the Hulk's original series and takes up the mantle of artist here. After Ditko leaves, Kirby returns in a manner of speaking eventually just offering up breakdowns for other artists to complete. Then come incredible talents like Bill Everett, trying to rekindle his career in the Marvel Age of Comics, and Gil Kane looking for new places to ply his trade after some success at DC. The saga of the Hulk continues...or perhaps it's better to say it is "Hulkinued"!