Oct 31, 2013

Three Thor Crossovers That Should Happen

Thor: The Dark World is coming out soon, so all my articles for October 2013 are about the God of Thunder! Some call it OcThorBer, but I'm just gonna call it Thor Month. This week, we're talking about...

Thor Crossovers That Should Happen
Written by Duy
Artwork by Benjamin Bartolome

Thor's a great character, but he hasn't been in many intercompany crossovers, although he did fight Conan the Barbarian in a Marvel comic once.  That's a real shame, since there are a lot characters from various companies that he'd interact well with. So for Thor Month, I contacted my friend Benjamin Bartolome, artist of the first two issues of the webcomic 20 Vikings and the upcoming Fallen Ash, and creator of the local comic Team Tag Team, and he drew some pairings that we thought would work for a whole story. In fact, if you like his work, feel free to let him know at abiku009@gmail.com!

Thor and Wonder Woman!

Thor is Marvel's premiere myth-based hero, and Wonder Woman is DC's premiere myth-based hero. They come from different pantheons, but no one from their circles loves the Earth more than they do. In this scenario, they'd foil a crime together and hit it off right away, when Eros, the Greek god of love, puts a spell on the two of them. They'd go on a few dates, and it'd be cute... until their enemies decide to band together, they snap out of it, and they realize it's probably better off if they just remained friends. Still, just imagine what Thor would do to woo Diana, and how Diana would react. It'd be a fun 40 pages!

Thor and the Sandman!

Neil Gaiman's Sandman series has already featured a version of the Aesir, and those Asgardian gods were closer to the original myths than Marvel's version. Since Dream of the Endless is about the variety and power of story, and there's an opportunity there to see the contrasts between the two versions. It would be interesting to see Dream just figure out the basic mechanism for how the Marvel pantheons function. Also, I just want Thor to give Dream a flagon of mead and tell him to lighten up.

(Just in time for Neil Gaiman and JH Williams III's new Sandman: Overture miniseries, you say? Never. I would never go for cheap hits!) 

Thor vs. He-Man!

Lou Scheimer died recently, so this works as a tribute to him, but even if he didn't, this is still a no-brainer. No plot here, just a good old-fashioned competition, which Benj turned into a boxing match! Somehow, some way, the audience would include Skeletor and the Loki from the 1966 Marvel cartoons, who sounded like Skeletor.

Thanks again to Benj for the artwork! (Especially since he did this on such short notice — he'd have colored them if I had given him enough time. Well, either that or there'd be more pairings, whichever. Still!) Let him know you like it at abiku009@gmail.com!

Oct 30, 2013

Eight Great Follow-Ups

Eight Great Follow-Ups
Travis Hedge Coke

With Kazuo Koike doing a sequel to Lone Wolf and Cub soon (thank you, Dark Horse for facilitating that!), I’m feeling reenergized in my displeasure with the myth that follow-ups by nature are crap. Some do, sure, but many projects that have no follow-ups of any kind also suck. Being a continuation (forward or backward in that ficto-history) is not the deciding factor of quality, and the best follow-ups are great on their own and improve their source material that, hopefully, was pretty good to begin with.

(Since Travis is recommending stuff, I'm gonna place the Amazon link, if there is one, for each recommendation right under it, in case you folks're interested. -Duy)

Flex Mentallo

The reputation of Flex Mentallo has pretty much nothing to do with the fact it’s a Doom Patrol spinoff. That’s how good it is, because it is a sequel, it is a follow-up by the same writer of a character and concepts used in the Doom Patrol series, but it’s strong enough, tight enough on its own, that this status does not matter.

Only recently made available again, Flex is beautifully and explosively drawn, and Grant Morrison was really coming into his own just then, breaking out of the emotionally-restrained theatre-influenced collage guy he’d been for much of the 80s early 90s. Symbols and hints are hung brashly naked all over the comic, with the universalistic happy Hollywood ending and the tug at the heartstrings styles of depression and angst that makes us rejoice in that kind of happy ending.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface

There are three lights like stars, two of which are close together, but as you approach those, the third is always distant. All three must be reached at once to progress. And, in the middle of trying to do that, the protagonist of Ghost in the Shell 2 is caught up in forty page distractions, the vaguest ancient prophecies, weird psychic traumas, and colleagues who get colds, forget to send emails, and put up a cheery avatar of working hard to disguise the fact they’re chatting with you while on the toilet.

Ghost in the Shell and the immediate follow-up shorts (collected as Ghost in the Shell 1.5) are complex political intrigue with cool fight scenes, chases, and the occasional assassination. Good stuff. When they adapted the first comic to a movie, they had to strip 87% of the narrative, characterization, and artistic flourishes to to what’s otherwise a pretty decent minimalist action flick. But, GitS 2 takes all the unpredictable intensity of its predecessor and explodes it like a cross between the flash on the ceiling of a disco ball and a planetarium with black lights.

Ben Grimm & Logan

Ben Grimm & Logan was part of a series of prequels to the Fantastic Four ongoing, all of which had decent talent on them, but the other two comics just aren’t that hot. This one, however, is on fire. Featuring pre-“Marvel Age” versions of the Nicky Fury, Black Widow, and pre-superheroing Wolverine, Thing, Black Widow, and Captain Marvel, it’s a taut actioner about stealing and transporting top secret goods behind enemy lines, filled with aerial shoot outs, drop of the hat fistfights, heroism, patriotism, and honor amongst soldiers. Short, fast, and cool. The references and prior-versions are interesting if you know the current-day characters but everything works on its own as a cold war period thriller without having ever touched a comic where Wolverine wears a mask in the shape of his hair or Tony wears a suit of armor to fight the Melter.

Just Another Saturday Night

A short Sin City comic that revisits the final night of That Yellow Bastard from Marv’s perspective, that really opens up Marv by de-heroing him in the extreme while still making him interesting as a character study. It simultaneously changes a lot of implication from the first Sin City comic, now called The Hard Goodbye, but reads great on its own, as well, as Marv hunts down a guy he vaguely cares about with aggressive ferocity, because that’s how Marv does things, by having less than half the information and way too much drive.

Dark Knight Strikes Again

Big, loud, colorful, DKSA is definitely not just a retread of its more famous predecessor, The Dark Knight Returns. In a world run by an asshole alien and a thuggish businessman (Braniac and Lex Luthor), and the American President is a digital simulacra, where superheroes work like slaves under constant threat or get imprisoned in isolation, Batman has come out of retirement to put together a team and free the planet. It’s funnier and cooler if you’ve read DKR or are familiar with the Atom, but no foreknowledge is necessary and if you’re afraid of radically cartooned characterization, it might be best if you don’t have expectations.

The art, the coloring, and the pacing all change at a moment’s notice, and occasionally multiple styles will be noticeable on the same page, in the same panels. Miller seems mostly to have drawn straight from passion, and is laying down on the pages what won’t make him bored. 9/11 happened partway through production and the comic takes a heavy swing to address it head on. For half a page, there are rampaging triceratops and Flash announces “We’ve got dinosaurs” before they’re not addressed again. Cartoon types of news commentators and politicians are slowly replaced by caricatures of actual personalities and politicos. And, Miller fighting the comic to keep himself from boredom keeps us from getting bored as there’s always another bang, each page a new surprise, a new punch, a new derailment in life.

The Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix

The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix is alright. It’s a bit po-faced, a story that by necessity will be quickly forgotten (as it gives the title characters decades of life experience they cannot have in later stories), and it’s ultimately just about filling gaps between other stories anyway. It’s sequel has two things the first one did not, and those make worlds of difference: John Paul Leon and Peter Milligan. Milligan and Leon, along with Kevin Somers’ grand colors, really up the ante, heading straight out of deadly-serious and understated and playing as mad pantomime melodrama, dropping a couple naked superheroes into 1859, one in a sewer, the other, a church.

The Further Adventures…
knows it’s absurd and goofy and just runs with it, everything blown up and monstrous, opening with a woman in the rain, in the night, unearthing a child’s coffin that turns out empty as she suspects her husband of foul-doing and is haunted in the dark by a gigantic creature she does not notice. It ends with the funeral of Charles Darwin and that same husband, his crimes made evident to many but hidden from history, evolved and changed, arrested in a kind of sick immortality, his skin white, his face scarred with a perfect red diamond, the future before him.

Galaxy Express 999

With the same title as the first work, Galaxy Express 999 is both sequel and continuation, and it acts accordingly, throwing us straight into new adventures, a new journey, without taking any kind of “catching up” or “getting the band back together” routes. Maetel, that beautiful and tragic mother figure with her iconic fur cap and long blonde hair, busts her young charge out of prison on an Earth overtaken by mindless entertainment and aggressively wiping out any pesky flowers or cats that might disrupt the orderliness, and they immediately take off for a train trip through space just like before. Tetsuro, despite being imprisoned for several years, as neither appreciatively aged physically nor matured socially, overmuch, which means rarely having the feeling that you missed out if you have not read the older comics (none of which are in print in English, anyway).

Galaxy Express is out of print in English and it looks like replacing copies is pricey, but it’s worth it. It’s so worth it, that when I moved, I gave mine to my nieces, who’ve read it more times than I have. Leiji Matsumoto has been doing comics a long time, and they just get stronger and purer, so this one really is full of relevance, artistry, characterization and ethics, but it always appears casual and almost slapdash in a very welcoming way. Its just-so nature might annoy me if I didn’t agree with the ethics and moral structures, but in a general way, I do, and my nieces do, so it plays to us fine. It is just-so.

The Kingdom

Never before has a sequel corrected so many things I disliked about the first thing than with this comic, where Mark Waid just fixed everything. That alone is goddammed awesome. But The Kingdom steps up higher than even that by being really cool and having a great range of stories with strong characterizations, excellent fights, goofy sweet bits, and more novelty than you can shake a whack-a-mole hammer at.

A sequence of interrelated short stories sandwiched between a time travel two-parter in which a man decides to murder Superman repeatedly, every day, one day at a time, but working backwards, so he kills Superman tomorrow, then today, then yesterday, and after awhile, last year’s Superman, and so on. In between we see great men became terrible dads, a screw up might be an awesome father, and Batman kicks ass with a waitress in a novelty restaurant while witnessing the ghost of Kathy Kane, all drawn by some brilliant artists.

Oct 28, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Kid Loki

Back Issue Ben contributes to Thor Month, covering...

Loki and Leah: Excellence in Teenage Mischief
Ben Smith

I could make yet another futile attempt to wax poetic about the subject of this week’s amazing selection of comic books, but you and I both know I’m about as qualified at that as Balder is at stand-up comedy. Look, among my veritable sixes of readers, I think I’ve engendered a certain amount of expectation about the level of quality in my writing, and that is none. With very little research acting as the side salad to my meaty entrée of incompetence in words aligned to form read-y things.

Regardless, this time out I am recommending with the utmost highness, as I usually do, Kieron Gillen’s Journey Into Mystery, starring kid Loki, running from #622–645. Since this is one of those books I can’t possibly encapsulate in any competent way because it’s fairly complex (for me, since I’m not entirely confident I ever learned to read) I’m going to share with you some of my favorite panels from the series. Favorite because they are the ones that made me giggle the most, like a children’s toy that just won’t shut off, until you smash it into pieces and hide in the trash before the kids get home (not that I would know).

“Kid Loki?” you may ask. Yes, following the event s of the crossover event Siege, Loki found himself dead and then resurrected as a young boy, with no recollection of his previous evil existence (this was all established during Fraction’s fairly decent run on Thor, which isn’t covered here). After the launch of The Mighty Thor title by Fraction and Olivier Coipel, the title of the Thor book was changed back into Journey Into Mystery, with Gillen and a rotating cast of artists (with Richard Elson being the artist during my favorite stretch of the run).

Gillen’s run starts out somewhat unfortunately as a Fear Itself tie-in, but let that not deter you my friends. While Fear Itself was so bad that when I sacrificially burned the issues and it released ghouls into my basement that still plague us to this day, the JiM tie-ins were actually quite entertaining. Not as good as later issues, but the events of the issues are relevant enough later on that I can’t bring myself to recommend that they be skipped.

It’s established here at the beginning that kid Loki is still very much the clever schemer and trickster, but from all appearances he seems to be working for the good of Asgard, instead of against (it could definitely be interpreted that he is just as self-serving as ever, but I choose to read it as him acting with the best of intentions). The trick however, seems to be that he ends up causing probably more damage with good intentions than he ever did with the worst. Every problem that he solves ends up creating yet another bigger problem for the future, which creates the impression that he’s kind of working one problem at a time (again, it could be interpreted that everything was all part of one grand scheme, but I choose to believe that he was scheming on the fly).

As anyone that finished Fear Itself knows (and why would you ever submit yourself to such torture) Thor died fulfilling his destiny to defeat the Serpent. Kid Loki’s schemes behind the scenes ensured the prophecy would take place, saving Midgard but effectively signing Thor’s death warrant.

As a result of one of his actions during the conflict, Loki came into possession of a litter of Hel-wolf pups. One-by-one he found homes for six of the seven pups, with him deciding to keep the final and most unruly (and most hilarious) of the wolves for himself, rather than destroying him. Loki, distraught over the loss of his brother (and only advocate and protector) names the Hel-wolf Thori.

Along the way, Loki also obtained an unwilling ally in the form of Leah, hand-maiden to a certain caretaker of Hel (it’s an anagram, figure it out). Leah is absolutely fantastic, with her deadpan angry comments never failing to amuse me (think Aubrey Plaza on Parks and Recreation).

Many of the more humorous moments involve Loki and Leah talking about discovering modern technology, like the internet or Starkphones.

Loki’s next mission finds them working with Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan, to prevent Nightmare from harvesting all the fear energy left over from the Serpent’s attack on Earth.

One of the more entertaining aspects of the run were the recap pages at the beginning of each issue. Gillen seems to have a real skill for making the recap pages of his books something you actually want to read, and these always managed to amuse me (not that that is difficult).

Thori is so weirdly cute.

Next, Loki and Leah are covertly sent to Otherworld, to settle a conflict before it spills out into any of the other pantheons. Here we witness another instance of Loki doing what he believes to be the right thing to do, reinforcing the belief that he is trying to act with the best of intentions.

Plus, Loki and Leah put on Guy Fawkes masks at one point.

At this point Thor had been returned to the living, and the book ended with an inter-title crossover with The Mighty Thor books titled Everything Burns, where all of Loki’s recent actions converge into yet another Ragnarok-level crisis for Asgard. A highly entertaining tale that manages to expertly weave every previous story of Gillen’s run all into one massive conflict.

Journey Into Mystery wasn’t just a collection of moments of dry humor and clever scheming though, as there were some real moments of genuine emotion and heartbreak throughout. None more so than the final issue of the run, where Loki’s bird Ikol (also an anagram, figure it out) plays a bigger role than anyone could have imagined. A truly emotionally devastating end to a spectacular run that is guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye. (Unless you happen to be an emotionless robot, in which case, let me go ahead and state now that when you and your race of mechanical overlords take over the planet, I am more than willing to assist in exchange for my survival. Even if it means some kind of slave position, or even a zoo type of scenario, whatever it takes.)

Kid Loki’s run on Journey Into Mystery was immediately followed up by an equally excellent run featuring Sif. During my recent obsessive binge-reading of all things Thor, I’ve arrived at several truths, one of which being that I believe Thor has one of the better supporting casts in all of superhero comics. I never would have believed Loki, or Sif, or the Warriors Three, or even Thor himself would be favorite characters of mine, but now they very much are. Not only that, I think they are some of the stronger and therefore easier characters to spin-off into their own solo adventures, especially against a wide canvas like Asgard or the Nine Worlds. (Much more so than the overrated cast of Batman, who have rarely had a memorable storyline outside of the main Bat-books. As much as I love the concept and idea of Nightwing, his comics have been fairly boring outside of the Teen Titans or Batman. And don’t even try to come at me with Tim Drake, those comics where terrible.) Unlike Iron Man or Spider-Man, who might get lucky if they have a really engaging love interest or best friend capable of supporting their own book, the Asgardians are all warriors and heroes in their own right, making them that much more capable of supporting comics on their own.

Unfortunately, I can only assume most of the comics reading audience has never discovered just how wonderful and entertaining these characters really are. I certainly was one of those readers up until very recently, with me saying on many occasions throughout my existence that Thor is a character I couldn’t imagine ever reading on a consistent basis. Now, every time I think I’m done digging into back issues for adventures of the mighty Thor, I wind up finding myself going back for more, and more, and more.

What better recommendation could you ever need?

You can read the adventure of Kid Loki in the following books:

Oct 24, 2013

Ten Things About Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Thor

Thor: The Dark World is coming out soon, so all my articles for October 2013 are about the God of Thunder! Some call it OcThorBer, but I'm just gonna call it Thor Month. This week, we're talking about...

Ten Things About Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Thor
by Duy

In Journey Into Mystery #83, in August 1962, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby unleashed the Marvel version of Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, around the world. The original concept was a bit different from what the movies show: Thor is sent to Earth by Odin to learn humility ... as a crippled doctor named Don Blake! One day, Blake finds a walking stick, stamps it on the ground, and becomes Thor (again — don't ask. It's pretty confusing, kinda).

From #83 to #100, various creators tried their hand on the character. Lee and Kirby then reunited and went on a 79-issue run (with some annuals), from #101-#179 (It was retitled to Thor from issue #126), and, well, it was a rise. In Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics, comics historian Les Daniels noted that it went from being a superhero comic into a "spectacular saga."

Let's take a look at some things I observed while going through Stan and Jack's Thor.

Oct 23, 2013

News Agency

News Agency
Travis Hedge Coke

I can get genuinely incensed at the way certain occupations are handled in entertainment. Comics, in particular, can be overwhelmingly poor in their portrayal of, for example, anyone in the military who isn’t a white man with a good chin, and especially with the whole rank thing. Sex work gets a cockeyed look much of the time, though the word “whore” or statements about the general worthlessness of women will inevitably show up in a conversation about Sin City more than they ever will in a Frank Miller comic. Pilots are dismissed as glorified cab drivers. What really burns me up, though, is the almost deliberate ignorance that can go into journalism in comics.

I romanticize journalism, but I know what journalism can be, at its best, and I know what great things journalists have done in the world. When I was a kid, I didn’t think about how newspaperman Clark Kent was secretly not that loser but dun DUN DDDUUUUUNN Superman. Superman was a journalist. Superman can juggle elephants and push the Earth back into orbit; that’s cool, but anyone with Superman’s powers ought to be able to do those things. Superman didn’t work out to be super strong. He didn’t study to fly. He’s not honing his skills all the time. Supermanning is mostly easily within his biological reach. Anyone with Superman’s inheritance can change the course of mighty rivers, but changing the tides of public awareness, of public opinion? There is effort, there is agenda and agency that has to be striven for.

Superman can use x-ray vision to look through walls and super-hearing to listen in on secrets. Clark Kent, when he sees crime hidden behind walls, when he hears lies obfuscated by business and red tape, shows it to all of us. At his best, anyway. I haven’t yet forgiven anyone involved – fictional or real – for how long a lid was clamped tight on the whole President Luthor debacle. (Because, clearly, it’s important enough I should still be holding a grudge that Lex Luthor was the US President and everyone tiptoed around him, instead of just tearing apart the White House, dragging him out on the lawn, and explaining in detail every horrible thing he ever did. “Bow to your evil psychotic President while he’s in power, because he has power and it keeps things stable” is a sick lesson and I’m glad my nieces and nephews never caught much interest in that era of DC.)

The hell with objective reportage. Journalism should ethically subjective. Superman, is ethically subjective. You don’t see Superman pretending he isn’t hurt by something, that he isn’t bothered or doesn’t find something pleasurable or disgusting. It is our valuation that gives agency to reportage, and fair judgment has to be subjective to be honest. It’s a post-gonzo world. Post-Schrodinger. We affect the world by recording it, by judging or analyzing. Journalists cannot be any kind of prime mover standing apart from the world, but turning it. When journalism turns the planet, just as when Superman pushes it back into its proper orbit, there are handprints left in the dirt.

Fictional journalists are great for handling this transformative element, because the affect can be condensed or made immediate, but also because we see with them what can be left off the page, we see ethical (or unethical) erasure in action, we see the potency of a spin, the delicacy of implicit threats, we can see immediate examples of clear and present danger and how they are utilized or subverted. Whether a journalist outs a superhero’s secret identity opens a cornucopia of politics for us to consider, the least of which is the mythological supremacy of the secret identity in the worlds of those stories. Are they protecting more people, holding the secret, or endangering more? Is a journalist’s role to protect or to endanger for the greater ethical good? How to gauge the keeping of a secret or the indulgence of questioning because one lacks solid answers?
Sally Floyd

I like the lead in Abnett and Kordey’s Conspiracy and Paul Jenkins’ Sally Floyd, because they’re driven messes. Sally Floyd gets a lot of grief from fans, because she’s reflexively critical. She asks unfair questions, sometimes, in the hopes the answer is important, to see what is revealed besides the answer, alongside it. But, some fans don’t see questions as tools to facilitate answers, they see questions as implicit insults or attacks. She, by asking Captain America or Jubilee a question, is threatening them. And, yeah, sometimes her questions are specious. But she’s not threatening Captain America. She can’t threaten Captain America. She can’t steer his answers.

Why the fear of questions?

“Is Matt Murdock Daredevil?” was the headline used in Fall from Grace, the story that finally blew up Murdock’s secret identity. It’s posed as a question because they have no concrete evidence, and we’re meant to hate them for even asking. Money-hungry tabloid weasels. The really ethical and serious journalist buried it, because one of the most successful attorneys in New York City dressing in leather and beating the shit out of people every night isn’t news. That’s his private life, which he just happens to visit, unlicensed, on citizens he deems worthy of hitting really hard.

“Is Matt Murdock Daredevil?” can feel invasive.

“Captain America, when was the last time you did anything like mainstream Americans?” can feel invasive.

“Did anyone say why [the ambulances] didn’t come?” can feel invasive.

But where does not asking get us? None of those are a judgment. They are subjective questions, yes, but they are there to facilitate answers that we can judge, the questions are not leading us to a moral conclusion. The answers may.

Oct 21, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Thor

Ben continues to contribute to Thor Month with...

Thor in the 1960s
Ben Smith

Thor was never a character I was all that interested in, beyond his appearance in the classic film Adventures in Babysitting. All his adventures, his friends, his home, all seemed way too otherworldly and therefore uninteresting to me. Now that I’m an adult (in age if not in actions) I have branched out more from my early days as a Spider-Man and Wolverine addict. The excellent Thor motion picture, and Hiddleston’s brilliance as Loki in that and the even better Avengers movie, have made me interested in the four color adventures of Marvel’s resident Thunder God.

What better place than to start at the (somewhat) beginning. Reading Silver Age comics can be a gamble, to say the least. Having mostly only experienced the gold standard of Silver Age Marvel in Spider-Man, I’ve mostly been bored or unimpressed with any other forays into the early days of comic’s greatest universe. Thor would prove to be different. You can’t really go wrong with a sustained Stan Lee and Jack Kirby run, so I should have known.

My quest began at Journey Into Mystery #103, with the first appearance of the Enchantress. I felt this would be a good place to start, as I figured the early appearances of Thor would be as rough to read as they are for most other Marvel characters, and I like the Enchantress. The Tales of Asgard back-up stories were in place by this time as well, and they did not disappoint.

As of the writing of this, I made it all the way to Thor (renamed from Journey Into Mystery) #132, and the stunning arrival of Ego, the Living Planet. (If Ego had first appeared in the ‘70s, I would almost certainly chalk him up to heavy LSD use, but I don’t know that Stan and Jack were doing a whole lot of drugs, so I have no idea where Ego might have come from.)

There was a manic energy in the early Thor comics, a never-ending forward momentum to the stories. Thor never gets a chance to rest, moving from situation to situation without pause, sometimes getting sidetracked into other problems in the middle of whatever current struggle he is in.

It was throughout this run that we would be introduced to most of Thor’s cast of colorful supporting characters, if not in the main stories, then in the Tales of Asgard back-ups.

Here we see Balder putting forth maximum effort to help save the life of Jane, for his buddy Thor. I’m pretty sure I’ve never put this much effort into anything in my entire life, so for Balder to do it for the lady love of his comrade, it goes with his whole motif as Asgardian Jesus.

This particular Tales of Asgard tales sees Thor straight up launching a guy into space, mostly for just being annoying. (Thor calls him evil, but the guy was little more than an annoyance trying to carve out his own place in the world.)

Thor had a much more colorful cast of villains than I ever realized. Cobra and Mr Hyde hook up as a villainous duo during this stretch of stories. Here you see the worst of the bunch, the Grey Gargoyle, getting Krakk’d in the head with Thor’s hammer. I found it amusing (be prepared for more of the same as we continue).

One of the great things about Thor is that he really is just a noble person. Here he is sticking up for his step-brother Loki, even though all evidence points to Loki being no good for him or anyone. Thor, to me, is the kind of guy that has every reason to feel superior to almost anyone he meets, and yet he rarely treats anyone like he is. He’s like the star high school quarterback that is super nice to all the other kids, when he could totally be the stereotypical jock jerk of a guy.

The Absorbing Man is a formidable foe when first introduced, almost too formidable. Initially his power made him capable of absorbing anything instantly, so even if Thor tries to smash him with his hammer, Crusher will just absorb the properties of Mjolnir before it can do any damage to him. Made him a little tough to figure out ways to defeat. Here he is imagining lofty goals of himself as a dictator, or maybe even emperor of Earth.

I’m easily amused, so Stan was at his silliest with some of the creator credits he wrote up for Thor.

Odin was overbearing and manipulative to the point of downright villainy with his son Thor. Banishing him to Earth, getting mad at him for loving an Earth woman, taking away his power. Odin was a prime example of bad parenting (relatively I guess, he didn’t get drunk and beat him that we see). Duy really enjoys Odin in this ridiculously uncomfortable looking bathtub, but I really enjoyed the following panel of him in his robe and slippies.

Thor shattering this goblet on that guy’s head, and foiling Loki’s scheme, made me laugh.

Jane Foster was your typical Silver Age damsel in distress. I felt while reading these that Thor having a secret identity, Dr Donald Blake, was the least fitting superhero comic trope for the character. I know it kind of added a love triangle between the three characters, in a sense, it just didn’t seem to fit. Thor should just be Thor, much like they did in the movie.

Here they are making Jane forget yet another incident where she got involved with Asgardians. You would think she might come to suspect something was up with all the villains that take her hostage, and all the Asgardians she interacts with. (Also, I’m sorry, but Thor looks like he’s going to fall down in that bottom panel.)

Stan frequently took some good-natured shots at the letterer in his credit boxes.

An interesting thing about Silver Age comics, is that any time they actually used a splash page, it was so much more effective. Nowadays, you’ll have five or more in any single issue. This splash of the returned Absorbing Man was the first one I remember coming across, and it’s pretty fantastic.

Along with Balder and Heimdall, we would also eventually meet the Warriors Three of Volstagg, Hogun, and Fandral. Volstagg was instantly the stand out, with his boasts of competence often contradicted by his ineptness in battle. At the very least, he was accidentally effective in a fight, like in this sequence where he takes a “Bwaang” to the head.

Thor had an entertaining couple of issues fighting against, and then for, the Marvel version of Hercules. You would think it would be mentioned more often how Thor saved Hercules from an eternity of servitude as the caretaker of Olympian hell.

Thor, having already revealed his true identity to Jane (I wonder if that was the first instance of abandoning the love triangle is superhero comics), and finally getting Odin’s blessing to pursue his love, almost immediately gets non-commital with that last word balloon. (Also in the background was Tana Nile, a colonizer that I wracked my brain trying to remember why she seemed so familiar. It’s because she showed up in the Ronan tie-in mini-series to Annihilation, proving even more that those creators dug deep into the Marvel well when revitalizing the Marvel cosmic universe. I mean, who pulls Groot out of the ether?)

Here is a well-drawn and also amusing panel of Thor booking down the rainbow bridge to go see Jane.

Thor would briefly find himself captive of Tana Nile and the colonizers, leading to a humorous if clichéd scene with an old lady down the hall.

Here we get Volstagg being effective for once, but still always to comedic effect. Volstagg was basically an old-style slapstick character in comic form. I dread the day anyone ever tries to make him “realistic.”

And that all leads up to Thor travelling to Rigel to save the Earth, and Rigel employing him to save them from the approaching menace of Ego, the Living Planet.

Overall, these Thor comics have been highly entertaining to read. I usually approach Silver Age comics with a sense of dread, not knowing what to expect, but Thor combined the action and adventure of the era with a touch of silliness, all based around one of the truly great characters of the company in Thor. Never at any point did I regret my decision to read these books, or feel the need to admit defeat and quit. I plan to continue on and finish the Stan and Jack run, so maybe there might be a follow-up to this in the near future.

That’s it for this week. Always remember that Thor’s rank is Prince of Asgard, and that his heritage is God of Thunder.

You can buy Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Thor via the following methods (These will only take you to the first volumes of each edition. Feel free to surf Amazon for more afterwards.):

Oct 17, 2013

Six Thor Characters That Should Show Up in Movies

Thor: The Dark World is coming out soon, so all my articles for October 2013 are about the God of Thunder! Some call it OcThorBer, but I'm just gonna call it Thor Month. This week, we're talking about...

Six Thor Characters That Should Show Up in the Movies
by Duy

One of the things I loved about the first one was its willingness to go all out on the cast. Sure, I already expected to see Loki and Odin in addition to the God of Thunder, but who would've known they'd give a good amount of screen time to Heimdall, Sif, and the Warriors Three (Fandral the Dashing! Hogun the Grim! Volstagg the Voluminous!)?

So I figured, what the hell. If they're gonna be willing to go all out on who shows up, then here are five guys I'd love to see adapted to live action at one point or another!

Oct 16, 2013

Pop Medicine: Representational Awareness

Representational Awareness
Travis Hedge Coke

Representational and Abstract are not as distinct as we might sometimes prefer. Most art is a mix of the two and like intent or accident, they will not save your ass if the end product is bad, unappealing, or strikes the audience as wrongheaded. The motives for a call are always of less significance to an audience than their own, individual reaction to the product of those motives. Whether you choose to represent, for instance, Superman via a classically representational figure, with care to accurate scale, biology, features and style, or you choose to represent him symbolically by outline or chest emblem, to dramatically cartoon him with exaggerations, or you just scribble from the gut and name it Superman, if the audience doesn’t intuit a true and proper Supermanness from the art, you are sunk.

Luckily, humanity is a forgiving species, though we may not look it at all times. We understand that sometimes, drawing, writing, storytelling, characterization, costuming, that sometimes art can just suck. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we do things on purpose, but the call was bad. It doesn’t end the whole thing. A bad representation of Superman, an awkward version of Clark Kent, it’s not going to ruin Superman forever.

Superman is a long-running, omnipresent character marketed dozens of different ways across the globe. We know Superman in a way no single representation can devalorize or take away.

George McGee? Not so omnipresent.

I just made up George McGee, who happens to be an Italian of Korean descent living on a high school teacher’s salary in a small town in the south. Now, there are some things about people, about small towns, about high school teachers that are easy enough to generalize. We could do that. Take some generalities and apply them as visual and characterization. What do Italians wear? And, the moment I ask that, I’ve got nice suits in my head, and Leonardo DaVinci. Small town Italy? Small towns have to have no skyscrapers, probably two lane roads, and… I don’t know. His name, by the way, is George McGee because he’s in a European country and George and McGee are European names. So, that works, right? Maybe I could base the town on small towns I’ve lived in. So, everyone has nice suits, my guy has a European name, and the town is a New Mexico pueblo with less adobe. Or, do they have adobe. Most of the Italian movies I’ve seen are crime movies or westerns but my audience, likely, will mostly have also only seen such from Italy, if anything.

I’ll aim for my target audience, then.

Alternately, I could take twenty minutes with Wikipedia and Google and check stuff out.

Guess which method most folks in comics take when doing a character or place they are unfamiliar with?

In brief, here’s seven representational choices I could do with a lot less of (less, people, not that they should be removed entirely, because, hey, it’s entertainment):

1. Implausibly Hot – Let your schlubby guy be a schlub, your plainjane, plain. If someone is hurt or distressed, make them look hurt or scared, not orgasmic or come-hithering the reader. They’ve been living in a van for a year? Their clothes better have some pit-stains and their hair can’t be producty. If someone is massively strong, go ahead and put muscle on them. Yes, even the women.

2. Anachronismo – It’s easy to forget how long we have had bifocals or when a foreign empire actually was, but try to get at least the modern day stuff looking modern day. Hint: Most places on Earth now have both shirts and cars.

3. Mechanical Tracing – When you are photo-referencing, do not simply copy details without planning or agenda. Those details, themselves, may be accurate without being functional and you want them functional. Same for characterization or actions. Being drawn from life, drawn from reality, does not defend poor narrative or entertainment choices, even in nonfiction works.

4. Earthy Ethnicity – How do you know an X-Man is not white? They go on some kind of ancestor-connnecting, feeling the earth spirit journey. Yes, all of them. And they’ll probably wear something more ethnic-y just for the trip. You’ll never see Professor X half-starved in his ancestral lands learning his connection to the dirt or indigenous animals because you probably shouldn’t see any of them in this scenario.

5. Posing For Us – Not just butt-n-bewbs fight stances, but any sort of cheesecake that isn’t sensible in the moment in any fashion. Somebody stands there as a badass, give us a badass. Somebody being tortured? Grieving at a tombstone? Show it. If they want show off, know if they are doing it for themselves or for someone watching and then make sure it contextually works. They can’t show off for us, because we are not there.

6. Ignorant Assumption – We have so much access to information, it is so easy right now to network with people from nearly any country, any culture. Making ignorant assumptions about a society’s prominent religions, style of dress, subcultures, weather, or how many feathers they stick in their hair is no longer even as speciously defensible as it was fifty years ago.

7. Clone Stamping – Different people, even background people, should look like people, not one or two guys who cloned themselves to fill a background.

Oct 14, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Thor Comics You Absolutely Should Kinda Read If You Want

Back Issue Ben contributes to Thor Month, with a list of...

Thor Comics You Absolutely Should Kinda Read, If You Want
Back Issue Ben

With the upcoming release of the second major motion picture starring Marvel’s resident God of Thunder, Thor: The Dark World, I have decided to give you the least imaginative column possible this week, as I am sure there are many “read these books!” pieces strewn about the internet, like body parts after an especially horrible (and tragic) plane crash. My goal is to at least give you some oddball picks to go with the requisite classic runs that everyone probably already knows, but I will talk about anyway.

First off, before we get started, I highly recommend you watch the first Thor movie, if you’re the one person left who hasn’t already seen it. Spectacular performances from an all-around great cast. Tom Hiddleston, of course, is the standout as Loki, but I don’t think you can underestimate Chris Hemsworth as Thor, as that could very easily have been a disaster. I don’t know why there are some people that criticize Natalie Portman’s performance in the first Thor. I thought she was charming as Jane Foster, and portrayed the appropriate amount of smitten. Never let it be said I am all that hard to please when it comes to movies and acting though, I did initially enjoy Transformers 2 in the theater.

(For my money, there have only been two acting performances said to blow me away upon initial viewing, and those are Val Kilmer in Tombstone, and Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. While Kilmer is still amazing in Tombstone, Ledger gets less impressive every viewing, mostly because of The Dark Knight Rises. Yes, The Dark Knight Rises retroactively ruined my initial enjoyment of Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. That’s how terrible it is.)

(Duy here. Ben is recommending runs throughout the piece, so I'm linking each run's title to the  volume of it available on Amazon, if available, that Ben is primarily recommending. Hopefully that'll make it more convenient.)


As tempted as I am to say just read #103–177, like I did recently, I will at least try to give you some highlights to focus on, if you’re the type that is spare time challenged. Stan and Jack had quite a lengthy run on Thor, which for some reason gets overshadowed by their Fantastic Four. FF was certainly longer, but Thor was an impressive run in itself, and seems largely unrecognized in the annals of time.

Thor #124-130 sees the Prince of Asgard up against Hercules, and the wacky denizens of Olympus. First Thor finds himself in a titanic bout head-to-head with the Lion of Olympus, before he later has to fight on his behalf because Hercules is a moron and got himself in a tight spot. It’s one of the longer storylines, and is at the peak of the silliness that makes those Silver Age stories so charming even to this day.

Thor #160-162, #168-169 guest-stars Galactus. The first storyline pits Galactus up against his oft-most requested foe (I’m sure), Ego The Living Planet, but it turns out to be a bit of a disappointing affair. Later on, in the second storyline, we get the origin of Galactus for the first time.

 These comics are decent, not great, but #169 has a great cover, and I’m a sucker for early Galactus.

Thor is pitched in furious battle against Him (later known as Adam Warlock) in Thor #165-166. Him was even more of a tool initially than Adam, with no further evidence needed beyond that haircut of his. He kidnaps Sif so that he can mate with her, which Thor takes exception to, as Thor is wont to do.

A few more thoughts:

I love the idea of Balder and Karnilla. Ever since reading it, I have been thinking about it for three straight days. It’s distracting me from daily tasks.

Jane is written out of the book and replaced by Sif in the span of about 3-4 pages (# 136). This is how real life dating should work.

The Wrecker and the Absorbing Man were much more formidable (and entertaining) in their first appearances.

Thor has not one, but two stories pitting him against the Circus of Crime.

I don’t care if she barely ever does anything, Hela just looks awesome.

The cover of Thor #154 utilizes that collage background effect, which I hold so dear to my heart. An underrated cover that you never see referenced anywhere.

WALT SIMONSON: THOR #337-355, #357-369, #371-382; BALDER THE BRAVE #1-4

This is a bit obvious, for anyone that has a little bit of knowledge of the history of Thor, but that’s okay. I’m nothing if not obvious. This is another run you should just read in full, but I’ll throw out a couple highlights at you, to make things interesting (or not).

The first four issues, #337 – 340, see Thor meet the horse-faced Beta Ray Bill, who not only surprisingly beats him in battle, but is also able to lift Thor’s enchanted hammer Mjolnir.

Because of his awesomeness and worthiness (Bill is basically a horse-faced version of ROM Spaceknight, with the powers of Thor; if that doesn’t grab you I don’t know what will) Bill is granted an enchanted hammer of his own, and he and Thor bring many whippings to the demon horde that plagues Bill’s people. (He even gets the love of Sif, because she is a “hammer chaser.” No seriously, take a gander at her dating history, it is hilarious, wondrous, and kinda sad.)

Thor next fights Fafnir, which prompted me to consider what an advantage subsequent writers had over the guys that blazed the trail on Marvel characters. Sure, Stan and Jack were co-creating wonders month after month, but there were just as many duds in that ammo pack of greatness. A guy like Simonson can come along years later, and build off of all the successes, cherry-pick some of the forgotten gems like Fafnir, and ignore all the mistakes, like the Thermal Man, or Replicus. A little something to consider next time you’re berating someone about the virtues of comic creation (how dare you berate others!).

The second must-read out of the myriad of wonderful little tales by Walter Simonson is obviously the Surtur Saga (Thor #349 - #353), widely considered by many to be the greatest Thor story ever. The most ancient-est evil of all, Surtur, has found his way out of the prison Odin and his brothers trapped him in an eternity ago (thanks to the efforts of Malekith, who, word is, will be prominently featured in the second movie). Now, he seeks to dip his mighty blade into the Eternal Flame that is safeguarded within the great hall of Asgard itself, and then use it to set the nine worlds on fire.

All of Asgard assembles to stop Surtur, even villains like the Enchantress and the Executioner. The Avengers also answer the call, with Thor and Beta Ray Bill leading the forces of good to save all of existence. I love it when the writer can really make you believe, and feel, the weight of the situation, and Simonson is able to do that in this story splendidly Epic is a term thrown around all too often, but I can never think of a proper replacement for it, so I’ll use it here again. It’s an epic story, one that befits the tales of Gods and legends. It’s an absolute can’t miss.

Plus this is one of the greatest panels in the history of superhero comics.


This is a Secret Wars II tie-in, which features the Enchantress telling a behind the scenes tale of her and Thor together during the first Secret Wars. I’m as much a mark for Secret Wars as I am for Dr. Doom, and both are part of this story here.

Also, I really love Frenz’s work on Thor. He was able to do his own rendition of a creepy Spider-Man in the Ditko mold when he worked on that book, and here he does his best channeling of Jack Kirby.

There’s just something about his art on this series that hits me in the right spot. It’s got a classic comic book kind of look to it, and yet it’s clean and powerful.


Loki makes his final attack on Asgard, followed by an army of Thor’s greatest villains. We see Thor’s greatest allies killed or maimed (poor skinny Volstagg). It’s Ragnarok in the truest sense of the word, as this really could serve as the last Thor story (and did, for a couple years). But it’s as much about the nature of storytelling itself, if not more so, than a rollicking disaster epic. Divito’s art has never been better than it was on this series.

Plus we get to see Thor pull Loki’s head off.


There was a time when I thought JMS might have been a competent comic book writer. In my early days upon my return to comics, in my naiveté, I may have thought his Spider-Man run was okay (until Sins Past) with its mystic totems and old guy with spider powers, and that his Thor run was pretty good (even if it was really a Loki book). Like I said before, I’ve been known to get distracted by the shiny quarter that is Coipel art, who was his artist on Thor. Sometimes it’s kinda hard for me to accurately gauge the quality of the writing anytime an artist like Coipel is on a book, because I find his artwork (and his Thor in particular) just so beautiful. Naiveté plus Coipel, equaled me enjoying JMS Thor comics.

But I say thee nay. Having sped through the perpetually-moving-forward-without-taking-a-single-moment-to-catch-your-breath Stan and Jack run, the non-stop talking of the JMS Thor run is even more unforgivable. I may be letting my complete dislike of the man’s online persona color my perceptions here, many people enjoyed his Thor comics, but be prepared for lots of talking, is all I’m saying.

(JMS should not be allowed to write corporate comics any more. If he wants to come up with more abysmal creator-owned comics that never get finished, by all means, let him do that. But keep his out-of-character moralizing, and terrible dialogue away from my most beloved of superhero characters.)


This was the beginning of Gillen working in the Thor-verse (his Journey Into Mystery run with Kid Loki I’d probably recommend over any of this stuff, but it’s Loki, not Thor) and the thankful end of the dreaded JMS era. The story opens with Balder as king and Thor in exile thanks to the machinations of Loki. The Asgardians have relocated to Latveria, where Dr. Doom has been secretly abducting and dissecting Asgardians to determine the source of their power. There’s a great little scene where Balder and the Asgardians confront Doom, only to be beset upon by grotesque creatures formed out of their dead comrades.

Thor intervenes, and we get some great scenes of Thor versus Doom. Up until Doom enters the Destroyer armor and the battle is renewed.

Altogether not the greatest story ever, but I’m almost always a sucker for Dr. Doom, and this is a nice little story many people may have missed following the end of a long and celebrated run by the previous writer.


You can tell Fraction definitely did his homework by reading all the old Thor comics before taking over as writer of the book. I can imagine he found the Stan and Jack stories with Galactus to be less than they could have been as well, so he pits Thor vs the Silver Surfer, and Odin vs Galactus in this six issue story drawn by the legendary Coipel. Like I said before, I can’t judge the quality of the writing on this story accurately with Coipel on art duties (I know Fraction has his detractors) so if the story sucks than at least you can be dazzled by the pretty pictures, as I was.

Just know this, Thor hits Galactus in the head with his hammer, so Silver Surfer throws him into Mars.


This, probably more than anything else, is the series I would give to any new reader interested in the exploits of Thor. Free of years of comic book continuity, and full of delightful writing, as well as the amazing art of Chris Samnee (this is the first time I witnessed Samnee art on a book, and I loved it from the very beginning) this book is definitely well worth digging up.

The first issue is nothing special, which is why a lot of people probably missed out on the rest of the book, ending up in it getting cancelled. But immediately after that you see him in adventures with and against characters like Giant-Man, Namor, Fin Fang Foom, and Iron Man, all wonderfully rendered by the fantastic Samnee.

The fourth issue is the standout, as the Warriors Three join Thor for a night out on the town of Oxford, including a brawl with Captain Britain. One of the great things about reading Thor over the years is the friendship he shares with Hogan, Fandral, Volstagg, and Balder. I could read stories about them going out and getting drunk non-stop, and that’s exactly what this one is. A can’t miss.

(Balder is absent this issue, as he’s often the odd man out when it comes to accessible stories. I also like to think he’s the odd man out in their fictional group as well. I imagine him as the friend who doesn’t drink, but always offers to be the designated driver so he isn’t excluded. They like him well enough, but he’s a bit of a drag sometimes, what with him always crying about his abusive relationship with Karnilla.)

That’s all I’ve got.