Oct 8, 2015

Reviews: Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: Treasure Under Glass

I got the latest Don Rosa collection, Treasure Under Glass, on a Tuesday. I was done that Thursday. That very same evening I acquired Treasure Under Glass, I was talking to a friend about another set of comics (that's not important right now), and the general criticism of "It reads like fan fiction." I expressed to him that I was not really comfortable using that particular phrase as criticism, since you could apply it to anything regardless of quality. Don Rosa continues to treat me with comics that could easily be regarded as fan fiction based on the works of Carl Barks, and why wouldn't they be classified as such? Clearly, he is Barks' #1 fan.

Three of the stories in this collection are sequels to classic Barks' stories (one of them is really a sequel to two, but you don't know it's a sequel to one of them until around 10 pages in). Here's what Rosa has to say about it:

"I'll be the first to agree that doing an add-on to some venerated Cal Barks classic does not necessarily do it honor! Those stories don't need sequels! They are complete and time proven! And yet... what could be more thrilling for me than to find myself telling a "book two" of a beloved tale that I grew up reading over and over again? Even now the idea gives me goosebumps!!! I am too weak to resist that offer... Sorry! Well... I'm really not sorry-- I love these sequels!"

Fortunately for us, Rosa despite his claims is a great cartoonist, and the end result is always entertaining and is always worth the read. Let's look at them one by one.

The stories in Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: Treasure Under Glass first appeared in various titles throughout Europe (Sweden's Kalle Anka & C:o,Germany's Mickey Maus, Norway's Donald Duck & Co., and Denmark's Anders and Ekstra), from November 1990 to January 1992.

  • The Master Landscapist. Donald gets a job as a landcapist, and he's actually pretty good at it! With an offer to decorate the Mayor's garden for a big fox hunt, Donald does a marvelous job. So of course, things go wrong. This story's short, but it's worth it just to see what Donald does with the garden. Very visually entertaining.
  • On Stolen Time. The Beagle Boys manage to find a way to freeze time — you have to be within 50 feet of them to be unaffected — so they use this time to steal money from Scrooge's money bin. Donald and the boys chase after them, trying to keep within 50 feet at all times. Again, very visually entertaining — at one point, the Beagle Boys climb a bunch of birds beginning to take flight as a stairwell!
  • Treasure Under Glass. Hunting for a lost treasure map in a sunken ship, Donald has the bright idea to create a dome that will keep the water away from the ship and let them explore as if they were on land. However, when pirates catch wind of this, they sneak into the dome and leave the Ducks stranded! I thought it was interesting that they were hunting for a treasure map,and I'd find out in the back matter that Rosa intended this story to be a springboard for several sequels. (Only one was produced, however.)
  • Return to Xanadu.  This story starts out as a sequel to an old Carl Barks story (yet to be rereleased by Fantagraphics) in which Scrooge and family find the lost crown of Genghis Khan. Turns out the crown is part of a larger treasure, and pretty soon they're on their way to find the rest of it, finding themselves in the middle of an underground river Alph, which the boys instantly recognize as the river that leads to Xanadu, the place where Kublai Khan held an empire, immortalized in a 19th century poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. But the closer they get to Xanadu, the more they feel that something is familiar! If you've read the Barks work this turns out to be a sequel to (and I have), it's quite trippy — they're legitimate mark-out moments that even had my niece laughing as she recognized the references. (Incidentally, I'm really surprised that she remembered every detail of the original story, since we read it months ago.) Another thing I find interesting is that this being a sequel to that unnamed story was supposedly an accident! Rosa wanted to set a story in Asia and use the Khan Empire as a starting point. This led him to Coleridge's poem, which just ended up describing an already established Barksian setting. Either Barks was aware of the poem beforehand, or it's just storytelling magic. For the fun of it, I will believe in storytelling magic!
  • The Duck Who Fell to Earth. The weakest story in this volume has Scrooge and Donald going into space to catch falling satellites. That's all I'm gonna say about it; I wasn't a fan of this one. It just felt like Rosa had an idea and had to fill some pages with it and he ran out of material pretty quickly.
  • Incident at McDuck Tower. Donald gets a job as a window washer at one of Uncle Scrooge's buildings, but, while showing off (a recurrent Rosa theme, even more than Barks: no matter how good Donald gets at something, actually being confident is going to ruin him) he falls. I could describe it further, but I'll just let this sequence speak for itself.

  • It's not my favorite story in the collection (that would be Return to Xanadu) but it illustrates what no other comic really gives me: that visual energy that goes into these gags for the purposes, really, of it looking amusing. It's great slapstick fun and this story has a great punchline!
  • The Island at the Edge of Time. A new island forms and its composition is basically all gold, bringing the two richest ducks in the world, Scrooge McDuck and Flintheart Glomgold, to go after it. Not much to write home about, although I will say that this story features the Philippines, and we weren't portrayed as racial caricatures, so... yay?
  • War of the Wendigo. Another sequel to a Barks story (that I haven't read yet), this three-parter may open up a can of worms. It's an environmental story (Scrooge's pulp mill in Canada is destroying the environment) that features the Peeweegah Tribe — a tribe of little Native American people. It's this story that caused the delay of the release of this book, since Rosa drew them in the art for the back cover, and Fantagraphics asked him to remove it. And they are stereotypically portrayed; they wear feathers and war paint and talk about the great nature spirit. If this offends anyone, I get it, but from where I sit, they're portrayed as the good guys, they teach good things, and they're incredibly competent. They bring out both the angriest and most valiant sides of Scrooge, and it's a dramatic story that tugs at the heartstrings.
  • Super Snooper Strikes Again. The sequel to Barks' classic, "Super Snooper," in which Donald accidentally gained superpowers has... Donald purposefully gain superpowers to impress the boys. But he keeps screwing up, and nothing he does to impress them goes noticed. It's only a matter of time before his powers run out, but the boys end up learning a lesson anyway with regular, mundane Donald.
    Treasure Under Glass is great fun, visually entertaining, and continues to be a beautiful tribute to Carl Barks' stuff. And yes, sometimes it reads like fan fiction, in the sense that Don Rosa is a fan doing a tribute to the works of his favorite cartoonist. And what's wrong with that? Quality is quality. And Don Rosa is great.

    Oct 7, 2015

    Seven Soldiers: Spinback and Synthesis

    Spinback and Synthesis
    Travis Hedge Coke

    “Some have seen the book as an ode to the King, Jack Kirby, and in so many heartfelt ways it is, but Seven Soldiers is also my personal hymn to the poetic imagination of Len Wein, whose 70s work turned me into a teenage fanboy. A great deal of Seven Soldiers – as with so much of the work I’ve done for DC – relates directly to, and expands upon, continuity established by Len.” - Grant Morrison from an interview at the Comics Bulletin

    A strong percentage of superhero comics fandom measure the success of an Event or tentpole situation by how many spinoffs there are and how many threads spin out into new comics. Seven Soldiers of Victory, seven four-issue miniseries bookended by two oneshots, and released parallel to the much more hyped and “integral to the universe” Infinite Crisis, did launch a few new miniseries, eventually, and an ongoing long down the road, but its biggest followups weren’t in to come after the last issue was released, but came out thirty years beforehand.

    Seven Soldiers is a tribute to 70s DC Comics. 70s DC, the so-called Bronze Era, is made of Jack Kirby, Len Wein, 100-page giants with new and reprinted material, anthology books, and backups. Marvel Comics had long been in the business of one story per issue, with only the rare exceptions, but DC liked to load their books up with shorter stories and more of them. If you didn’t have four stories in one issue, at least there’d be a five page backup story with a secondary character, the Young Gods of Supertown or showbiz sorceress Zatanna, intrepid young reporter, Melba.

    And, so Seven Soldiers mimics this model and loads us up with “main” stories and “secondary” that count just as much, with variety that then-current DC didn’t really have in their monthly publishing line. And, Seven Soldiers is explicitly a time travel story, showcasing the far future, ancient past, and stories that take place in the neverland of just a few years ago. When all is said and done, when the dust settles, characters are not only primed to move forward into new stories, but the scene is set for early Klarion, Silent Knight, Justice League of America and Frankenstein appearances from the 70s. We can follow up on Seven Soldiers by reading those comics anew, unchanged from their original releases, but now infused with new perspectives, new information that change everything.

    Seven Soldiers, also, is a synthesis of these different stories, these varied threads, being sewn together into something broader and prettier and like any good superhero universe, probably seeming a bit impenetrable on first glance from outside of it. In Seven Soldiers, the writers of DC comics who have entered the comics, themselves, are presented as a kind of ultra-cosmic tailors, and that’s what they do, really, the artists and writers, the inkers and colorists and editors of the DC Universe, they stitch it up, they sew it pretty. So, too, in this comic, Grant Morrison and his collaborators stitch in bits from various comics and turn out new patterns, patching continuity and extending the cloth to new lengths. The ongoing saga of Qwewq, from the 90s JLA, a baby universe that is probably ours, is sewn into the fabric of the 70s Justice League of America villain, the Nebula Man. The twenty-seven (rough count I just made up) Camelots of the DCU are synthesized into Camelots of many eras, into recurrent motifs of history and our future.

    None of this happens one thing at a time. Like any good tailor, the seams are hidden, the repairs are subtle, and often the thread dips below the surface and breaks back up a multitude of times, so tightly, so fluidly, we notice the effect, not the artistry or the stitch.

    One funny upshot (for Morrison) of this is that many innovations of other talent becomes attributed to him. In the 90s, Rachel Pollack and Tom Peyer did excellent work with the New Gods as avatars, inhabiting human bodies, inhabiting weather or situations in life, and they were riffing on Jack Kirby, himself, who did a bit of this in his 70s New Gods comics. But, Morrison does it in Seven Soldiers and, more people, probably, saw it there first, if anywhere, so when it’s discussed today (usually to criticize it as being out of the spirit of earlier New Gods/Fourth World stories) it is Morrison who gets the recognition.

    See, also: Zatanna in San Francisco; comics talent in comics stories; multiple threads dovetailing into a larger story we barely saw forming; Zor’s beard being a beard (because Alan Moore has a beard and no one else in history, so it makes beards a reference to Moore, always, obviously). While, for better or worse, such witty allusions as Ebeneezer Badde’s name inverting the Shamen’s song, Ebeneezer Goode or the various Welsh legends and poems adjusted to DC Universe superheroic counterparts often go uncommented on at all.

    “It’s completely baked.” - Elliot S! Maggin’s response to Green Arrow calling his story “half-baked,” from inside the DC Universe, in Len Wein and Dick Dillin’s “Where Am I?”, Justice League of America #123

    Slaughter Swamp

    The most obvious followup-in-reverse is the origin of Solomon Grundy, the zombified supervillain. We learn, in Seven Soldiers, how he is resurrected, but also that Solomon Grundy may not be, as previously thought, a miser or pedophile or murderer named Cyrus Gold, whom the good townfolk hate so much they murder him, but in fact, he’s probably Zor, an old Spectre villain who is also, secretly, a writer of DC comics who has inserted himself into the DCU and gone bad, the way Cary Bates did in Justice League of America #123 and #124 in the early 1970s.

    Slaughter Swamp is a magic, cursed place where “time has no meaning,” just like some other places we’ll discuss in a moment, and really, the DCU itself, which resets constantly to maintain a forever-now youthfulness on the edge of eternally-renewing crisis. Slaughter Swamp’s perverse and infected waters turned someone in Solomon Grundy, made manifest a bog god called, at times, the Swamp-Thing, housed the sometimes-there/sometimes-out-of-continuity Hall of Doom that housed a grand supervillain collective, and may be where Batman first encountered the sorceress, superhero, and stage performer, Zatanna Zatara, and where her father died. A lot of people, really, have died in Slaughter Swamp, and only roughly most of them have since come back talking and aware. It’s a weird space, Slaughter Swamp.


    Another kind of eternally-returning place, is Camelot or Avalon. Like the Arthurian court, this place has been more than once in the history of the DCU. Every so often, be it after tens of thousands of years or a billion, another Arthur, another Camelot, the whole shebang replayed with variations. Sir Ystin, the Shining Knight of Seven Soldiers comes from the First Arthurian Epoch, in the 81st Century BC. The Silent Knight of Ystin’s era is lost in battle and to time, and his armor may very easily be the armor that mysteriously shows up for the original Silent Knight to find whenever he most needs it.

    While Ystin is left, at the end of Seven Soldiers, in a private school in the modern day, he is told that there are recently uncovered artifacts from just after that Arthurian Age, of a queen who ended an age of darkness, named Ystina the Good. For that matter, with not too much adjustment, really, most of the original Shining Knight appearances might actually be an older, more mannish Ystin.

    But what of the other Camelots, other Arthurs and his knights, his Merlins, his enemies like Mordredd and Morgaine le Fey?

    Morgaine, as designed by Jack Kirby for The Demon, bears some strong resemblance to our major villain in Seven Soldiers, the evil queen of Fairyland, Gloriana Tenebrae. Kirby’s seems masked, the tendrils part of that mask, but how close are they to the fleshy tendrils of Gloriana’s own head? Quite a bit.

    And, Mordredd is almost explicitly Melmoth, husband of Gloriana, sometime King of Fairyland. (And, Melmoth is, too, both an eternal wanderer as his literary namesake, a riff on if not the inspiration for the Wandering Jew, and probably the original Shining Knight’s occasional villain, the Red Dragon, who shares something of the bald, destroyed face, pettiness, and obsession with getting what’s his.)


    The Merlins of the DCU, seem just as varied as their Arthurs, but with Seven Soldiers we see that they can all be a one, and that one, also called Gwydion, is a homunculus and a dragon, a thing made of language and seeming, which led the original Arthur to Unwhen, aka Fairyland, aka the very very very far future, and who, to combat Morgaine, bound the demon, Etrigan, to Jason Blood, whose descendant or copy, with facial hair almost identical to that of Zor, and other Zatanna enemies, the Tempter and Tannarak (and her father, Zatara, for that matter), attacked Zatanna in a Supergirl backup written by Len Wein in the 70s. And, as Seven Soldiers climaxes, Zatanna, having already used the Merlin to mimic Zor and defeat him, frees the Merlin to expand and become, in essence, the entire DC Universe.

    In Forever People #7, Big Bear, is thrown back in time to play the Merlin to Arta, a Roman soldier left behind in Britain, who becomes another Arthur inspired by the magic and advice of this New God he mistakes for a warlock. That same issue is the first time we see a mortal human subjected to the Omega Sanction of Darkseid, God of Evil, and thrown around time to live a happy life in spite of this life trap that haunts and humiliates until you die. In Seven Soldiers, it will be the human avatar of the New God of Escapes Shilo Norman (aka Mr Miracle), who makes it out of this life trap happily only to be shot in the face by Darkseid with a plain ol’ reg’lar bullet and buried.

    Echoes inside echoes. Spinback. Bass drops. God may not be a DJ, but the authors of the DC Universe, they’re scratching, playing, and remixing tracks.


    Ys, or Ysse, is a sunken city and unsunk, a realm in all and no time. The drowned land of Ys. “The other side of the world,” “an ageless land,” “came into being by a ‘steady state’ flow of primal matter in the form of a cosmic cloud. There is no time in that world, only a constant ‘now’ - an eternal present.” (Quotations via Zatanna’s Search, Gardner Fox, et al.)

    When we come to Ys in Seven Soldiers, both when Arthur and his knights journey there to die, and when Zatanna leads a cabal of mystics and cynics in, it’s the same Ys, the same moment she and Green Lantern journeyed there in her recent past and Arthur’s far future. The Red God of Ys, the Warlock, is eternally paralyzed and not paralyzed, he is forever being paralyzed. And, because Ys is the other side of where we are, where these characters always are, so too, is it that metaphysical aspect of the eternal recurrence, the small and grand echoes of narrative that become so crystalized in serial stories like these superhero comics. Battles are perpetual in Ys, death is forever, and lessons are constantly relearned.


    And, what of Witch world, where Klarion, in the Bronze Age of the 1970s hailed from?

    At the end of Seven Soldiers, Klarion, who hasn’t come from a weird other dimension, but from a small, repressed village vaguely underneath New York City, is given a major power upgrade and is now the ruler of a weird otherly dimension that just happens to be the magic-infused and mad mad mad fairyland of Earth’s own far future. He’s got time travel, he’s got bags of tricks, he’s got teleportation and creepy magics, and “"DC continuity freaks may also see how easy it is to imagine Klarion proceeding from the finale of SEVEN SOLDIERS and heading back in time to make his first appearance in Kirby's THE DEMON issue #6,” as Grant Morrison says in the backmatter of Seven Soldiers vol 2. (Though, Klarion doesn’t seem to show until #7.)

    Yup, Klarion, that weird outsider boy, has made Fairyland, as made The Future into Witch World, because of course it is. The quieter, slightly more mature, just as unnerving and gothy Klarion of early The Demon is Seven Soldier’s Klarion, pursued by the Judge and his Draaga, gone back in time to have some laughs.

    Teekl also seems to have had a sex change in the far, far future, but magic cats always will do what they will.


    Aurakles, also called Oracle, is in a sense the hidden hero of Seven Soldiers and the classic Justice League of America three-parter (vol. 1, #100-102) that brought the original Seven Soldiers of Victory back into the world. In 40,000 BC, the New Gods descend to Earth to give humankind “fire inspiration, and magic,” and to transform a man into Aurakles, the first superhero, a mighty god-king with seven treasures, four wonderful cities (including Gorias, which will become the golden city, Ta Ming, and the final resting place of the Seven Soldier’s eighth soldier whose self-sacrifice saved the world in the 1940s), and the first human-made time machine. His actions result in conflicts with the 666 Monsters of Chaos (of which, only Nebula Man is pictured, and as a universe with limbs, he may be all of them) and the Sheeda, who use his people’s time machine technology to go back to that glorious time and raid it.

    The Sheeda king, Melmoth, locked Aurakles away below what would become New York, in the guts of a time machine integrated, much later, into several generations of subway systems, where he became known as Croatoan. He is, eventually, unchained from this prison and sold by the now-despised Melmoth to Darkseid, who at the time is inhabiting a human body and life, as a high end gangster. The broken, tired Aurakles will be pitted against other man-gods or god-men, to gamble on them like abused dogs.

    But, Aurakles is freed by Mr Miracle, a man acting as an avatar for the God of Escapes/Freedom. Free walk with planets as his stepping stones, free to travel in space and time in all directions, settling in a “place beyond all places.”

    Eventually, he is called back in time to stop the Sheeda invasion we never knew was happening in Justice League #100-02, by fighting, again, a maturing form of the Nebula Man, along with the combined efforts of the Justice League, the Justice Society, and the original Seven Soldiers.

    Nebula Man

    And, the Nebula Man whom Aurakles comes in conflict with so regularly? The huntsman of the Sheeda? The nebuloid monster? What is this beast?

    Qwewq is the youngest form of what will become the Nebula Man, a baby universe first seen in JLA #12, and later in early Justice League Classified, we see a larger, cube form of Qwewq which is revealed to be, not any universe but, ostensibly, ours. Simultaneous to that, the mature, damaged form called Neh-Buh-Loh is attempted to soften up the DC Earth for another razing by the Sheeda, for whose queen, Gloriana, Neh-Buh-Loh works.

    Birth of a Universe

    Neh-Buh-Loh had, just prior to this, in his experience, let Gloriana’s step-daughter, Princess Arriachnon (or Errrhiahchnnon), escape into the “modern day,” into a quiet life as Misty Kilgore, apprentice to Zatanna.

    But, the modern-day immature universe, Qwewq, infected by rogue supervillains who entered our world/Qwewq from the DCU, and the inoculated by superheroes, is growing and changing, too. Qwewq is brought in by the Sheeda to be Queen Gloriana’s general, a huntsman, a leader of her hunts, an advanced scout, called the Nebula Man.

    This is the form that is called to Earth by the Hand’s trumpet in Justice League #100-02, to come raze the Earth and destroy the Hand’s enemies, the original Seven Soldiers, long before he has sympathy enough to let Arriachnon go, and - because time travel - before his eldest form of Neh-Buh-Loh fights with Aurakles in 40, 000 BC, making this, perhaps, the first time he and Aurakles have come into confrontation, from his perspective.

    Every form of the Nebula Man, as he matures, seems preceded by penetration. Superhumans entering Qwewq results in his shift from a cube of starry black mass to the humanoid Nebula Man. Nebula Man’s impalement by a high tech spear wielded by the robotic Red Tornado precedes his shift in appearance to the horned hunter called Neh-Buh-Loh. And, at the seeming end of his life, he is shot in the face and then impaled again, this time by Frankenstein in the year One Billion CE (give or take a few years), but a very similar-looking representation of our universe appears, again within the DC multiverse, as the mysterious fairy god in The Multiversity that also seems to be a cosmogonic suit for our-world author, Grant Morrison, to enter this DC comics story.

    Author Insertion

    Grant Morrison is also, undoubtedly, contained in one or more of the Seven Unknown Men of Seven Soldiers, the physical representation of all the authors who have inserted themselves into the DC Universe over the years, most notably the collective of men and women in the Justice League of America story directly after the one featuring the return of the Seven Soldiers of Victory, in Justice League #103. An unofficial, cross-company crossover with Marvel, comics talent Len Wein, Steve Leialoha, Gerry Conway, Glynis Wein, and (an “off camera”) Julie Schwartz are embroiled in an attempt to use costumed Halloween celebrators to attack the Justice League. Wein, herself, in costume as Supergirl, is possessed by a demon and does battle with our superheroes.

    Something about the DCU, it seems, can make villains out of the nicest writer or colorist. In Justice League #123-24, Cary Bates enters the DCU and becomes, almost immediately, a bloodthirsty villain set on destroying the Justice Leaguers.

    Are all these the same man?
    Perhaps coincidentally (but I doubt it), Bates sports a very similar beard and mustache to the Seven Soldiers villain, Zor. Zor is revealed to be one of the Seven Unknown Men, the eighth, the excised for being such a villain one. Bates doesn’t have to be unconsciously mimicking this Golden Age villain’s beard, which is also approximately Zatara’s beard, the facial hair of Tempter (from the Seven Soldiers Zatanna miniseries), the same one sported by Tannarak in the earlier Zatanna miniseries Come Together (written by the exceptional Lee Marrs, and featuring some visuals echoed throughout her Seven Soldiers mini, though it’s about the ghost of her mother as opposed to her father as SS is).

    Like the similar top hats of Zatara, Zor, the Merlin of the Ghetto, and the Red Dragon, it may be an echo without connective tissue. (It’s probably not.) It’s not an uncommon style, but given how many people thought that the beard meant this was an Alan Moore stand-in, I always feel it’s worth pointing out that it looks nothing like any facial hair Alan Moore has ever been photographed with, but does look like Tannarak’s, Zatara’s, the Tempter’s, and so on. And, it looks like Melmoth’s.

    “Read a mediocre book, and you come out knowing exactly what the author intended, and hat she wanted you to know. Read a great book, and you come out thinking things neither you nor the author ever thought of.” - Andrew Hickey, An Incomprehensible Condition

    Phantom Stranger

    The Phantom Stranger was there when Glynis Wein entered the DC Universe and became a possessed villain. The Phantom Stranger was present when the spawn of Frankenstein, disheveled and aged beyond himself in his primal Seven Soldiers appearances, wandered through a scene in Dr. Thirteen’s life, in The Phantom Stranger #26 and then disappeared. The Stranger was there to deliver bread and warnings to Cassandra Craft’s shop in Seven Soldiers.

    The Stranger shows up all over, when needed, sometimes without seeming need, and disappears just as mysteriously. Why? If we knew, it wouldn’t be mysterious, would it.

    Oct 5, 2015

    Secret Wars II: Not as Bad As You Remember, Part 6

    Secret Wars II: Not as Bad As You Remember
    Part 6: Dave & Beyonder’s
    Ben Smith

    They say that performing the same tasks over and over and expecting a different result, is the definition of insanity. From time to time, I decide that I’m going to do a multipart exploration on a particular series or character, to share my love and passion of those comics with anyone that might not be familiar with them. What almost always happens is that the level of effort starts to outweigh the pay (which is nothing) and my mind slowly becomes untethered.

    All of this is to say that a person can only type “the Beyonder” so many times before it takes a permanent toll on their soul, so the least you can do is read it, you selfish jerks.
    Heartbroken and borderline suicidal, the Beyonder was in a bad place last time out. Let’s see what crazy hijinks he gets into this time.

    Secret Wars II #6
    Scripter: Jim Shooter; Penciler: Al Milgrom; Inkers: Steve Leialoha; Editor: Bob Budiansky

    The Beyonder builds a new base of operations in Sparta, Illinois. (As a childhood resident of the state of Illinois, I always found it exciting when comics took place in my home state. I remember when Storm was de-aged after going through the Siege Perilous, and she showed up on Cairo, Illinois. My comic shop growing up, Campus Comics, made a special point to label those comics, since Cairo was near where we lived. Not everyone lives in New York, Marvel, you selfish jerks.)

    The Beyonder inspects each level of his massive new tower, to include the communications center, the garage, the conference room, and the gardens.

    Nearby, a reporter at the Daily Sun-Telegraph takes notice of the new addition to the city. The reporter, Dave, drives up to the edge of the tower just in time to see the Beyonder fly off (to assist Power Pack).

    The Beyonder handles his business (it’s weird to think now how big a push Power Pack seemingly got back then) and when he returns to his headquarters, Dave is still waiting outside. Dave tries to get his attention to let him in, but the Beyonder doesn’t seem to notice, until the door opens. (The fundamental flaw in Power Pack, for me, is that as a kid, I didn’t want to read about other kids. I never was all that interested in stories about kids. I didn’t like Robin. I didn’t care if Megatron stepped on Spike in one episode of Transformers or not. Kids were annoying.)

    Dave meets the Beyonder, and nervously begins to ask him questions. The Beyonder details his story thus far (cue the recap panels). Of note for those of us only reading the main series, is that apparently, following the events of last issue, The Beyonder met with Doctor Strange. Strange put the one from beyond on a path to enlightenment, so that he might become a champion of life. (Which is why he seems so much more upbeat than he did last issue. That can come from no longer hanging out with Boom Boom, who we’ve established as the worst mutant ever created. That’s not easy to do when Colossus exists.)

    The Beyonder goes on to explain that the universe is a constant struggle between life and death. In that struggle, are several participants, to include Chaos and Order, Eon, Death, Mephisto, the In-Betweener, Eternity, and the Living Tribunal. (I never got that into the cosmic beings. I need webbed boots on the ground in my stories, not the personification of justice or whatever other dumb shit you find in books like Silver Surfer. Only a fool genius would grow up reading Silver Surfer. A fool genius!)

    Conceptual beings that are so vast they can barely be comprehended by the human mind.
    Dave is sufficiently flabbergasted, and having recently been looking for a higher purpose in life, decides he’s going to help the Beyonder in his goal to be a champion for life.

    The next day, the Beyonder saves Perth, Australia from a massive tsunami. He returns back to his headquarters to find it bustling with people, all hired by Dave as part of their operation. (Dave is the Jack Haley of this operation. I’m sure he thinks he serves some purpose, but he really doesn’t.)

    Meanwhile, in that same ole’ suburb of Denver, Owen Reece (the Molecule Man) returns home from work more than a little troubled by the Beyonder’s recent activities.

    Later, as they’re trying to eat dinner, Owen is hilariously annoyed by the presence of the Watcher. (The Watcher is a cosmic being that monitors and records all activity on our planet, but has sworn never to interfere. However, he has interfered from time to time, and only shows up during times of great importance.)

    The Watcher is there to convince Owen to intervene in the situation against the Beyonder. (At one point, he claims that the entire history of the multiverse was merely a prelude to Owen’s rebirth as the Molecule Man. Which is something that I personally have always believed. All of our lives have a clear demarcation line of pre and post Molecule Man awareness. “Are you pre-Molecule Man awareness? Please call our helpful professionals at 1-800-MOL-CULE and they’ll put you on the path to enlightenment today. Call now, and you’ll get a free copy of Micronauts #23.”) Owen declines to help, preferring to be left alone to live his quiet, normal life.

    Elsewhere, the Beyonder continues his altruistic work all across the world.

    When he returns to his headquarters, he expresses some concerns to Dave about still not quite being able to discern his role in the multiverse.

    That’s when Captain America arrives, flanked by Mister Fantastic, to have a rousing discussion about truth, honor, and freedom. They are concerned that the Beyonder is doing too much, that he is upsetting the natural order of things. They’re fearful that the human race will come to rely on him too much.

    Dave inserts himself into the conversation and suggests that they are merely jealous that the Beyonder is going to steal the limelight from them, and become the greatest hero of all. (This is the point in which Dave would get choked out, if I were Steve, or even Reed. Of course, if I were Reed, I would have long ago quit the hero business to become a coked out porn star. Not only because of my special abilities, but because of the self-loathing of being Reed Richards.)

    The Beyonder promises to give their concerns a lot of thought, and the two heroes depart, still uneasy about this omnipotent being operating freely in their world. (It would be a noble cause, dedicating yourself to entertaining the world through filmed hardcore sex. The world should see what super powers can offer to the porn industry. I think I just gave Mark Millar his next story idea.)

    Dave and the Beyonder hold a press conference, in which Dave gets a little overzealous, and announces that they’re not going to stop fighting until death is vanquished. (Dave is overstepping his bounds. I have to imagine this is how Hitler or Mussolini started out. Was the Beyonder around during WWII? My world history is a little fuzzy.)

    Following the press conference, the Beyonder thanks Dave for inspiring him, and takes steps to do exactly what Dave promised.

    Meanwhile, Mephisto is presiding over his “stygian realm.” (I love that the thing that pissed Mephisto off the most was his subject using the word “jesting.” That’s the kind of random annoyance that I can relate to. Did I just say I related to Mephisto?)

    Mephisto is threatened by the Beyonder’s promises to murder death, and will do whatever he can to stop him. (Death is sort of a key component in his whole operation. Much like depression and the porn industry.)

    The next day, the Beyonder and Dave are enjoying a nice meal when they are joined by an unexpected guest, the personification of Death. (I’m positive that Dave was hurt that they wouldn’t be dining with just the two of them. Dave is that kind of friend. He’s a little too attached.)

    The Beyonder has decided to follow through on Dave’s boasts, by eliminating Death from the equation. He laces a cup of wine with his own energies, which when sipped, will remove the spectre of Death from the universe. Mephisto suddenly arrives with a pack of demons, in an attempt to stop them, but the Beyonder easily neutralizes his threat.

    They are then immediately joined by the Watcher and the rest of the conceptual beings discussed earlier. They plead with the Beyonder not to eliminate Death, because it will upset the natural balance of the universe. (There are these shows and movies that try and convince you that living forever would be a curse, not a blessing, but I disagree. I’m all for it, I’m in. I really hope that I’m a Highlander.)

    Dave, however, has decided to take it upon himself to make this important decision, and hands the cup to Death, despite the Beyonder’s warnings that he cannot reverse this action once it’s taken. (Which is exactly what porn star Hitler would do. Sorry, most of you know him as Reed Richards.)

    Death drinks deep, and disintegrates into nothingness. Now nothing will ever die again.

    At that same moment, far away, the Molecule Man takes notice of this event, and he is pissed.

     He instantly teleports over to confront the Beyonder and his lackey. He lectures the Beyonder about eliminating Death. Removing Death has removed the ultimate consequence from life, and therefore there is little purpose left in doing anything.

     (Interesting prospect. If you couldn’t die, what’s the point of eating or getting shelter? Therefore, why work a job you hate to make money to provide you with the necessary things you need to survive? Millions of garbage collectors or dishwashers would quit instantly. If you didn’t eat though, would your body just continue to shrink and get skinny until you’re basically just skin and bones? So maybe eating would become a cosmetic activity. Something you need to do to prevent yourself from looking like a zombie. Or your muscles would stop working, and you’d just be stuck stationary on your back, never dying, but never living. Like a coked out porn star.)

    Dave finally comes to terms with exactly what he did, and begs the Beyonder to reverse it. He cannot, but there may be a way to restore Death if a sentient being were willing to take on the responsibility of the role.

    Dave reluctantly agrees to accept that responsibility, in an effort to fix his mistake. The Beyonder kills him, and Death is reborn as an annoying, clingy dude named Dave. (That doesn’t seem like a good deal for the universe. Also, has Thanos been hitting on this dude Dave this whole time? These are questions the Infinity War movies need to answer.)

    The Beyonder disassembles his headquarters, preferring to wipe away this chapter of his life. He admits that even for an omnipotent being, he just feels exhausted.

    Things are not looking good for our wayward cosmic being. Everything he’s tried to do has ended in disaster. The woman that he fell in love with (Dazzler) rejected him. His only friend (Boom Boom) betrayed him. He followed Dave’s advice and it led to his friend sacrificing his eternal existence. He has a right to feel exhausted, and sometimes feeling exhausted can lead to a feeling of hopelessness. Which can only mean bad things when you have the power of a god.

    Next week, I type “the Beyonder” many more times.

    Oct 1, 2015

    Six Everyday Comics

    This week, I wanna talk to you guys about GoComics, the #1 site on the internet to offer the newspaper strips and some webcomics. I've got a GoComics subscription, and because of it, I get my daily reruns of Calvin and Hobbes, Little Nemo in Slumberland, and Tarzan, while getting material from new creators. I'd like to share with you some of them, and I'd encourage you to bookmark some of these or get a subscription as well (it's cheap, around 10 dollars a year) and see what else on the site appeals to you.

    Okay, let's go.


    Pickles by Brian Crane features clean and fluid linework, and follows an elderly couple who get on each other's nerves but you can tell love each other to pieces. The animals also have personalities. It's cute and adorable.

    Pearls Before Swine

    According to some newspaper polls, I'm weird for liking both Pickles and Pearls, because their demographics are very different. Stephan Pastis' strip is the first one on this list that I fell in love with, with me reading it every day on the way to work on the Washington DC Metro. Featuring a bunch of anthropomorphic animals simply named "Rat," "Pig," "Goat," and "Zebra," the strip simply clashes their personalities and makes for humorous observations and insights. Pastis is also fond of puns, which I love, so I'm an easy mark.

    Pooch Cafe

    Pooch Cafe by Paul Gilligan is a crazy ride. It follows the adventures of a dog named Poncho, who lives with his master and his girlfriend who happens to be a cat person. The animals in this strip are half-anthropomorphic, which is to say that they have human qualities and their own animal qualities, and Gilligan just so happens to find the balance. Poncho is intelligent and can walk on two legs, but he still needs to be taken out for a walk if he has to go potty, on a leash, and he's still scared of the retractable leash handle hitting him if it breaks free (see the strip above). He hangs out with other dogs and has to spray deodorant on his butt so that it doesn't get embarrassing. For fun, he'll walk outside on a sunny day and just bark at a squirrel. It's the right mix, it's crazy, and it's really entertaining.

    9 Chickweed Lane

    I've talked about 9 Chickweed Lane before, but at the time, Brooke McEldowney was in the middle of a World War II storyline. As of this writing, he's been having fun playing with panels. 9 Chickweed Lane goes in all directions. It's funny, it's naughty, it's exciting — and sometimes it's downright boring. But it's always pretty. So it's always a treat.

    Phoebe and Her Unicorn

    I've heard Dana Simpson's strip described before as "Calvin and Hobbes, but with a girl and a unicorn," and while I see it, I don't know if I'd agree with it just yet. But it is fun. Phoebe and Marigold Heavenly Nostrils (that's her unicorn) go through life together and share adventures, like being on the internet (where Phoebe's BFF is her bullying classmate in real life) or doing schoolwork (Marigold has to write a paper on the differences between glimmering and shimmering) or just learning about each other (Marigold has a large invisible thing. She doesn't know what it is.). The art is clean and full of character.

    Incidental Comics

    This isn't on GoComics, but I figured I'd include it anyway since I do find Grant Snider's work inspiring, to the point that I've used some of it in team building sessions. Snider always finds a way to look at something differently, and he presents it with such visual acuity that the words and pictures stick with you.

    Reading all these every day in your email won't take you more than a couple of minutes. It'll be an enjoyable time, and just a little something to look forward to. If you do subscribe to GoComics, let us know in the comments what you decided to add to your comics page, and maybe we'll give those a try as well!

    Sep 30, 2015

    Yes, We Live in The Twenty-First Century

    Yes, We Live in The Twenty-First Century
    Travis Hedge Coke

    Someone criticized the upcoming Blade book because it’s “ironic” that Marvel has a girl in it, since Blade was “already diverse,” being black. I’ve seen it suggested that Electricomics will fail utterly, because reading comics on a tablet is impossible for most people. Three different places online, this last week, have featured people complaining that there’s too much reference to twitter, cellphones apps, and pop music in comics right now. Peter Parker should not have apps on his phone.

    I don’t believe these people are eighty or ninety years old. Even if they were, my grandpa’s in his nineties and used a tablet happily until he went blind a couple years ago. When I told my grandpa that Jane Foster had the power of Thor now, he told me that happened before I was born (and he knew, because he bought the issue at the time). My grandpa knows who Ariana Grande and Beyonce are and he knows which he prefers. If you’re between the ages of twenty and forty and my grandpa is hipper than you while being blind, old, widowered, and subject to about as many strokes in a year as there are months, you’ve dropped some balls.

    This is the Twenty-First Century. The internet has been around for awhile now. The Daily Show is on its third regular host. Marvel’s Thor has been replaced by other people using the name Thor and/or the role of Thor at least four or five times now. Dick Grayson has been Batman for two extended periods. Commissioner Gordon has been a Batman at least twice in recent memory. Commissioner Gordon, right now, is of an age where, as a young beat cop, he probably rocked out to Prince.

    I don’t care if Gordon listening to Prince makes you feel old. Maybe you are old. If Jubilee listening to Peaches or Ke$ha seems like a shallow ploy to act new and hip, I want you to stop and count the years between the here and now, and either of those musician’s first albums. If the times have passed you by, don’t freak, don’t fret; it is correctable.

    You, too, can join the Twenty-First Century!

    There is no magic number of girls or women who can be present, as supporting or stars, in comics. Even superhero comics. Ms Marvel having a title, Blade’s daughter sharing a title with her father won’t stop any male character from otherwise having a monthly ongoing. Spider-Man having three or more monthlies won’t prevent Black Panther, Jubilee, or Leapfrog from having their own monthly solo comic. It does not work that way.

    Accepting this will help you enter the modern day without panicking.

    Peter Parker is in his early twenties. He’s vaguely single but usually dating one or more of the fantastic, intelligent, beautiful women he’s traditionally surrounded by. Peter, of course, feels neurotic and complains about this. But Parker is going to text those ladies. He’s going to text his boss. He’s going to text Aunt May. You know why?

    Twenty-First Century.

    Aunt May is old. She’s not a dumbass. Aunt May can work a cellphone.

    If this distresses you, ask yourself if you have a phone and use it. Ask yourself if your friends have phones and use them. If your mom or dad has a phone and uses it. If the answer to any of that is affirmative, then get over your weird hypocrisy against Aunt May and Peter Parker using their phones in comics set in the modern day. Chill. Let it be.

    Marvel’s not going to force you to read any more comics with little girls or adult women in them than you choose to. Not every Marvel comic has to be for you.

    DC is not going to make you accept Asians by shoving Asian characters down your throat until you surrender. You want to be racist, fine, you’re a racist.

    Dynamite is not actively trolling you by hiring Leah Moore. It’s not a conspiracy to make you accept that women work in comics.

    Bitch Planet is not a conspiracy against you. And if it is, boy, you must a done something to earn that.

    Sep 28, 2015

    Secret Wars II: Not as Bad As You Remember, Part 5

    Secret Wars II: Not as Bad As You Remember
    Part 5: Boom Boom
    Ben Smith

    The Beyonder’s experiments into the nature of human desire has left him in a low place. His plan to court the mutant Dazzler backfired when he fell in love with her, but she rejected him. Now he’s a supremely powerful being having to deal with the ache of romantic rejection (and the pain of a bad hairstyle).

    The first few issues of the series were interesting because of their ambition, and the overall approach Shooter was taking with the series, but the stories themselves were a little bit tedious to get through. The third issue got a little more entertaining, with all the strippers and pimps, but things really got going in the previous chapter, with the Beyonder thinking and behaving more like a normal person.

    Will that trend continue? There’s only one way to find out.

    Secret Wars II #5
    Scripter: Jim Shooter; Penciler: Al Milgrom; Inkers: Leialoha and Rubinstein; Editor: Bob Budiansky

    The Beyonder strolls along a railroad track, when a train comes barreling down behind him. He reacts in typical Beyonder fashion, disassembling the train and sending the parts, and passengers, soaring harmlessly past him (instead of, you know, taking a few steps to the side).

    In the confusion, the Beyonder continues along his path, and a young girl comes running up behind him. Her name is Tabitha, but everyone calls her Boom Boom. She’s a mutant (some would say the greatest mutant) and was heading to some school for mutants she heard about up in Westchester, New York (but they’re wrong, she’s the worst).

    Her father wasn’t too happy about her being a mutant, and tried to beat it out of her. (That adds child abuse to other topics such as suicide and prostitution that have been covered in this series. Those are topics you’d expect to see in boring movies nominated for Academy Awards, instead of the what this arguably should have been, the equivalent of a summer blockbuster “popcorn” flick. Personally I think it’s what makes it fascinating, but others probably disagree. They’re wrong.)

    Boom Boom’s mutant power is the ability to create “time bombs” made of energy (but her real skill is in never stopping talking).

    Boom Boom asks the Beyonder what his deal is, and why he seems so down (cue the obligatory recap pages). He relays to her his story, and how he fell in love with a woman that didn’t love him back. Tabitha is familiar with rejection, and the range of emotions it can create. You can try to fix yourself, thinking you’re the problem. You can pretend nothing is wrong, or wallow in your grief. (Or you can get drunk and watch a lot of nature documentaries. It’s all a journey. Life’s journey.)

    The Beyonder is frustrated with the nature of human desire, and wishes he had never come to Earth. Here, desire is a nuisance that has left him feeling incomplete, while back in his dimension he was everything, he was complete. Boom Boom disagrees, believing that you can’t just check out on life. You have to keep on trying, or else you just lay down and die. (There goes more of that suicide talk.)

    The Beyonder disagrees, and has deciding to return where he came from. She gives him a hug goodbye, and after he leaves, breaks down in tears at the prospect of being alone again.

    The Beyonder arrives in his empty dimension, but it’s not the same. He feels like maybe he should have brought some things, and then some more things, but it doesn’t matter because he can’t bring her (Dazzler). At least, not of her own free will.

    Just when he’s about to fully lose himself in self-pity, a time bomb left by Boom Boom goes off in his back pocket, breaking him out of his funk. (What are friends for? Hurting each other, to distract from the pain of life, that’s what.)

    The next day, Boom Boom is hitching for a ride on the side of the interstate, when Beyonder pulls up in a car and gives her a lift. To show he’s not mad about the prank, he heals her black eye.

    As he gives her a ride to Xavier’s school, he still insists that he’s going to return to where he came from, but she’s still not convinced he’s ready to quit on life. (What he should quit on is that hair and wardrobe.)

    They arrive at the school, and Boom Boom gets out, walks up to the door, and knocks. Before she can even finish introducing herself, the X-Men spot the Beyonder, and rush past her to attack him.

    He’s little more than bored at their efforts, and sends them all tumbling away from his car before speeding off.

    The X-Men chase off after him, leaving a distraught Boom Boom all alone, running off into the forest crying. Some time later, the X-Men return, unsuccessful, more concerned with their petty internal squabbles (a trademark of the franchise) than the young mutant that had been on their doorstep a little bit earlier.

    Boom Boom calls for the Beyonder, but he doesn’t come. She creates the biggest bomb she can, threatening to let it go off and kill her if he doesn’t show up. Tabitha clutches the bomb tight (please kill her) until it goes off in a flaming burst of energy.

    But the Beyonder finally arrives, saving her from certain death (damn you). This time she was the one ready to quit, after facing rejection at the hands of other mutants.

    The Beyonder decides to take them both for a ride, into space. Specifically the headquarters of the mighty Celestials. (Celestials are basically really old, supremely powerful “space gods.” In the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, the space station Knowhere was the hollowed-out head of a dead Celestial.)

    The Beyonder isn’t all that impressed with the Celestials, believing that they just stand around worrying about the universe but not actually doing anything about it. So, they go to “the boardwalk,” a tourist trap that alien races built around the Celestials.

    After having a few alien hot dogs and sodas, Boom Boom gets the Beyonder all riled up about how the Celestials didn’t seem to notice him. He claims that he’s all they’ve been thinking about, and flies up to challenge them by threatening to destroy the universe, unless they stop him.

    They surround him…

    …and in a display of his ultimate power, The Beyonder repels them all.

    I don’t care what you think of this series, that was impressive.

    In a cosmic battle that regular beings can barely comprehend the full scope of, The Beyonder eventually stands triumphant.

    Boom Boom is understandably shaken up, frightened of his willingness to destroy the galaxy to prove a point. He tries to win her back, by offering to make her more attractive, or older. But she wants no part of him anymore, and demands he return her to Earth.

    He does, and then after cruising around the universe for a bit, returns to his mansion in Brazil. He checks in on a few of his projects, like Algrim the Elf, before turning on his record (ha!) player to listen to some music.

    Little did he realize that Dazzler’s album was the record cued up to play. Beyonder sad.

    Meanwhile, Boom Boom calls the Avengers, to warn them of the omnipotent being that is more than a little bit unstable at the moment.

    Later, at the same campsite where they first spent the night, Boom Boom calls out for the Beyonder again. He’s very happy that she called. He had even contemplating giving up before she called for him.

    Unfortunately for the Beyonder, it was all a trap planned by the Avengers to attack him with the combined might of a collection of Earth’s most powerful heroes. After getting no resistance from the one from beyond, Captain America stops the assault.

    Rejected by the woman he loves, and abandoned by his only friend, the Beyonder is a broken man. That does not bode well for the future of the universe. The Avengers let him leave, not knowing what to do.

    Like I said before, this may not be the mindless slugfest that many fans were looking for in a sequel to the original Secret Wars, but I think it’s been a pretty interesting experiment in exploring aspects of human existence. Most of us regular humans might go through a phase of destructive behavior after getting our hearts broken, but it usually involves getting drunk and going to strip clubs, instead of threatening to destroy the universe and fighting Celestials. (When I got divorced I read a lot of Cerebus. Which is simultaneously the best and worst thing to read when you’re angry at life. If nothing else, it’s a pretty fascinating look at one writer’s slow descent into madness. Much like this weekly column.) Sometimes that destructive behavior might push our friends too far, causing them to abandon us, which only serves to make us feel that much more alone.

    The idea of a depressed omnipotent being feeling rejected and alone is an absolutely terrifying prospect. I can’t even imagine what I might have done with unlimited power during the periods of my life when I was wallowing in self-pity. Will the Beyonder finally break free of his prison of sadness, and enjoy all the positives in life, or will he start wearing lots of black and listening to the Cure?

    Only one way to find out, next week!

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