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.)

Oct 10, 2013

Techniques and Tricks: Thor Worldengine

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...

Techniques and Tricks in Thor: Worldengine
by Duy

Travis has talked  about Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato's Thor four-parter, Worldengine before, taking an in-depth look at the contributions of each creator, from Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato to Marie Javins and Jonathan Babcock. I can't really do a much better job of describing their synergy, so I'm not even going to try — just go read his piece — so what I'm going to do now is talk about why I like Worldengine so much.

For me, Worldengine is an execution-over-idea piece. That means I wouldn't go so far as to say that the plot and ideas were absolutely brilliant (your mileage may vary), but I would say that the execution and storytelling were handled masterfully. The creators all communicated with each other on this story, and the end result is really a very beautiful-looking product. Mike Deodato, known in the 90s for being given to excess (in terms of skin, muscle, design, and whatnot), manages to rein it in here just a little bit and channel those energies in the most appropriate moments. As a result, he was able to showcase some of his storytelling, compositional talents. Mostly, I find that these are particular techniques that when done well, they really work for me.

Let's take a look at some of them.

Oct 9, 2013

Pop Medicine: Five People You Should Avoid Talking With

Five People You Should Avoid Talking With
Travis Hedge Coke

Remember when Schwarzenegger’s character in Last Action Hero gets to the real world, and has a conversation with a woman for the first time? “It’s neat.” Talking to people is fun and you always learn something. Just, sometimes, what you learn is that the person you are talking to is a jerk.

There are essentially three kinds of jerk, those who are worth tolerating for everything not-jerk about them, those whose jerkiness is on its own temporarily amusing, and those you need to just walk away from (possibly after you destroy them, but that’s on you and your ego’s need for closure). The thing that doesn’t change is, they’re still jerks.

Here are five types you’re likely to encounter trying to have a conversation about just about anything. They’re all over the internet. They hang out at your local comics shop. If you and a couple friends get nostalgic and pop in Golden Eye on that console you have wedged between shoes in your closet? One of these chumps will magically appear to take on the remaining controller. Contact is inevitable. So, encounter, identify, and bug the hell out before you lose your mind and faith in humanity.

1. Dismissive Dude – When someone says, “you can’t tell me,” it’s more or less accurate. You can tell them, but they’re not going to hear it. They’ve locked you, and all potential thought not in agreement with them, out. If they are open to other opinions, just not yours, because you aren’t the right kind of human being for them? Same thing. The moment someone pulls the argument you’re not the right gender, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, political affiliation, fan, height, age, whatever to have a position on the subject at hand, just because, quit talking. Quit bothering.

Not to be mistaken for: When someone is saying your position is not the most valid at the moment or needs to take a backseat to someone who is more immediately affected by the situation, that is not being dismissed unfairly. You can have an opinion on ballistics, sexual politics, or Tim Drake, but if you don’t know how ballistics works, the definition of sexual politics, or who Tim Drake is, your opinion is probably of lesser value to the conversation than the person with facts or something genuinely at stake.

2. Lives in Fictionland – Beware anyone who acts as if characters make their own decisions or have their own tastes and will, but writers and artists are twisting them around. Once they cross over into being quite ready to threaten or blatantly insult real people but freak out if someone says “Batgirl is lame,” when they can’t forgive an artist for blowing a deadline when her dad dies, but they panic any time something bad happens to Spider-Man, just step away. The people who can’t stop complaining about a change from comics to the movie adaptation or from one comic to a relaunch, and how one has to be more real than the others.

Not to be mistaken for: When someone is addressing established behavior patterns in long-running fictions, or in-world rules and dynamics that have been clearly established. Being aware how things usually work in a fictional world, or really really liking a character is in no way the same as being incapable of emotionally discerning that Nick Fury is not a real guy.

3. Their Taste Is Truth – To continue with Nick Fury, if someone feels they have to insult you because you prefer any version of Nick Fury and obviously, the one they like is the “real,” the “true” Nick Fury and you’re confused and stupid and so is your stupid pretend Fury? Fuck’em. As soon as someone gets up in arms because your taste does not follow theirs, the second they get insulting because you don’t accept their taste as objective and your own as subjective and dumb, the conversation stops being viable as a conversation.

Not to be mistaken for: People just pissing around. Someone might make a joke about Smallville’s Clark Kent not being the real guy. “Wolverine isn’t even Wolverine anymore, he’s a robot with preprogrammed catchphrases.” Or, people who earnestly are asking what you like about a certain comic or character, which only reads sarcastic because you’re ready for it to read sarcastic.

4. Enemy of Pros – Some people just live to insult people who are more successful than they are. Maybe it’s jealousy, I don’t know. I just know these people are jerks. The kind of person who won’t stop themselves from going all over the internet to say horrible things about someone because that person wrote a comic they didn’t like or because that person draws comics they like, but not often enough and obviously the reason is that they are lazy, greedy, stupid, and playing too many videogames so they need to be threatened with death or the rape of their entire family. These people will steer any conversation you have with them around to why this pro is a megalomaniac or this pro needs to get raped (this kind of person is, in my experience, very very locked into rape as a corrective measure), and if you ever call them on the fact they’re talking about real people they don’t even know? They most likely will stare blankly or, if they are online, not address it at all. They don’t want to badmouth or threaten real people, just professional talent.

Not to be mistaken for: Someone with a legitimate grievance against a particular pro. Being a professional doesn’t make one a twenty-four hours a day seven days a week decent human being or a pass from being a decent human being.

5. Fallacy Addict – Some people don’t want to talk with you, they want to talk around you. When they’re not at a pick up artist seminar or polishing their debate team medals, they might want to talk comics, but it’s still going to be about steering anyone they are engaging with and they will use every cheap shot, any NLP doublespeke, and all the fallacies they can to direct you instead of listening to you. Watch for responses that don’t address what you said, but present a straw man that has nothing to do with what you said (or call everything and anything “straw man,” which is a way of doing the same). They will be fond of redirecting conversations to avoid any point anyone actually makes, while increasingly demanding evidence from you, that they will also dismiss by redirecting the conversation, rephrasing your position in an entirely incorrect fashion, and/or making personal insults all while being as condescending as possible, because negging drives people to respond.

Not to be mistaken for: Someone honestly confused by what you are saying, or who’s just having a bad day and responding to some other argument about something similar that they had with someone else earlier that week.

Oct 7, 2013

Back Issue Ben: The Best Rogues Gallery in Superhero Comics

Back Issue Ben is a column written by Ben Smith for the Comics Cube! See his archives here

The Best Rogues Gallery in Superhero Comics
Back Issue Ben

One of the most oft-asked questions in superhero fandom, and the most frequently incorrectly answered. A rogues gallery is a beautiful thing. The best superheroes that have been shat out of the womb of creation into reality, have always had a striking visual, a sound motivation, a solid supporting cast, and probably most importantly, a great collection of delightful villains to plague them month after month with their dastardly schemes (such as cake stealing, or paste-related crimes).

What follows is a colonoscopy-level examination of the best overall collection of villains per hero or franchise, all in an effort to finally answer that most important of questions in any walk of life, “who is the best?” (of primary importance when it comes to sexual prowess and anything to do with superhero comics).


Top Dog: A matter of some debate between Norman Osborn’s Green Goblin, and Dr. Octopus. The Green Goblin was the first to unmask Spider-Man as Peter Parker. He also, of course, managed to murder both Spider-Man’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy, and the innocence of the Silver Age, with one toss off a bridge. Even his subsequent death didn’t keep his overall menace from plaguing the book for long after, through replacement goblin after goblin. His eventual resurrection, led to him becoming basically the top villain at Marvel over the course of a year during the Dark Reign status quo.

Dr. Octopus on the other hand, was the villain that handed Spider-Man his first major defeat (aside from the whole Uncle Ben killing situation). He formed the first incarnation of the Sinister Six. He has been shown to be a formidable and frequent opponent throughout the years. All of which led to the long-gestating plan by Dan Slott to have Octopus switch bodies with Peter Parker, killing him while also taking over his life.

But now having typed all that, and being too lazy to delete it, I’m just going to call his top villain J Jonah Jameson and be done with it.

Best of the Rest: The Lizard, Mysterio, Electro, the Vulture, Chameleon, Kraven the Hunter, Aunt May, Tobey Maguire, bills, the Kingpin, and the Jackal.

The Worst: Spider-Man has certainly had his assortment of quickly forgotten clunkers like Mindworm and Banjo. All those also-rans aside, for my money, the most annoying and overrated villain in Spider-Man’s gallery is Venom. He’s one-note, had weak motivation from the very beginning, has changed so often from writer to writer to the point where the alien symbiote apparently makes people into cannibals now, or he’s the protector of the innocent. Every Venom story, for me, has been pretty much the same as the previous, which only leads to increasingly diminishing results. He completely represents the kind of character that looks cool, but has very little else going for him beyond the surface.

My Favorite: The original Hobgoblin. Menacing and mysterious, the original Hobgoblin under Roger Stern was a direct callback to the original Green Goblin’s bids for power amongst the criminal underworld. I just now realized he’s probably directly responsible for my ongoing appreciation of the color orange, and hoodies.


Top Dog: Flash’s top dog is a monkey, but don’t call him that because he’ll get mad. Gorilla Grodd, that devious telepathic ape from the wonderous Gorilla City. Even typing that sentence makes the world a slightly better and brighter place. Grodd is the 80-watt bulb in the living room of excellence.

Best of the Rest: Captain Cold certainly could make a case for the top spot, along with Abra Kadabra. Weather Wizard, Mirror Master, Heat Wave, and the Trickster have had their moments. Captain Boomerang would have at one time been tagged as the worst by me, but after reading the classic Suicide Squad, I have learned to appreciate this often misused character.

The Worst: The Top. For no other reason than that he’s the f**king Top.

My Favorite: The Reverse Flash, Professor Zoom, is just as capable of being the top dog of this gallery, but he’s my favorite so I’m putting him here (deal with it). He has a great opposite-colored Flash costume, and he goes around breaking people’s necks at super speed. He’s also from the future and decided to become a super-speed villain because he was bored, or at least that’s how I choose to remember it. Evil twins always have the advantage over the rest, unless they’re Venom.


Top Dog: Easy choice here, Brainiac. No, no, of course it’s that cake-stealing curmudgeon Lex Luthor. I happen to prefer full-on green battlesuit crazy Luthor, but I can appreciate the evil from within aspect of respected businessman Luthor. (Lex Luthor, much like Batman, has never been represented better than he was in the Timm-verse of the various animated series.)

Best of the Rest: The Parasite, Toyman, Metallo, and Mr. Mxyzptlk. Darkseid if you want to count him. Zod, while he exists. Bizarro narrowly misses out on being my favorite, mostly on the strength of opposite world Silver Age craziness that I pretend in my mind was probably better than it actually is in reality. Plus, he’s a very literal cracked-mirror evil twin.

The Worst: Terra Man. Seriously.

My Favorite: Brainiac, but only the animated version, not the ineffective pink pants version. Animated Brainiac was, I think, brilliantly tied in to Krypton, and had that really great voice that was just perfect, as so much of the voice acting was in those cartoons.


Top Dog: To the surprise of no one, it’s arguably the top villain in all of superhero comics, the Joker. I personally prefer my Joker poisoning fish and expecting to be paid for it, instead of your more regular run of the mill homicidal Joker. (Or your “staple my face back onto my head” kind of Joker.) But, that’s one of the great things about the Joker, you can practically do anything you want with him, because, hey, he’s crazy and unpredictable from one day to the next.

Best of the Rest: The Riddler, Catwoman (when she is one), Two-Face, Rah’s Al Ghul, Talia, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Clayface, Scarecrow, and Mr Freeze. I don’t think anyone would argue that Batman has the most famous villains, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best…

The Worst: The Penguin. Just because you’ve been around forever and are famous from television and movies, doesn’t mean your aren’t ultimately an umbrella-based character modeled after the world’s cutest shark food.

My Favorite: Since the Joker is already used thanks to my arbitrary classifications, I’ll have to say Killer Moth, based purely on the leggings.


Top Dog: Dr. Doom should not be relegated to the ghetto that is being Reed Richard’s arch-enemy, and instead be released into the greater wild of the Marvel universe (I know he frequently is already, but he always comes back to the FF). But since he’s here, he’s the top choice, because he’s the top choice in all of villainy, and sometimes he’s the top choice for dinner parties. Ole Vic can spin a good yarn, in the right environment. He also never breaks his word, unless he does, and he’ll kill you, or he won’t. Sometimes he just flat out doesn’t have time for your shenanigans, so he’ll send a perfectly programmed robot duplicate in his place.

Best of the Rest: Skrulls, Namor, The Frightful Four, Galactus (if you want to call him one), exciting comics, Mole Man, Hate Monger, Impossible Man, and Diablo. Annihilus benefitted by being used in the cosmic books during and after Annihilation, but that’s the case with most characters involved with the FF (Doom, Thing, and Human Torch are all better on their own). You could expand this list out to include the Torch specific villains, like the wonderful Wizard, Paste Pot Pete, and the Beetle.

The Worst: The Puppet Master, because he’s creepy looking, and plays with puppets. (Also my main criteria for avoiding Duy.)

My Favorite: Molecule Man. Not entirely sure he really counts as a Fantastic Four villain anymore, but I’m putting him here anyway. I know my love for the character started as a kid during Secret Wars, but I can’t exactly explain why it’s continued like it has. Maybe because he is so powerful, but also lazy, and rarely used. And he has those cool face marks that look like tattoos. He’s like the Mike Tyson of villainy.


Top Dog: Odin. Surprising, I know. I’ve been reading some of the classic Stan and Jack Journey Into Mystery as of late, and Odin is far more of a problem for Thor than Loki could ever be. He’s meddlesome, demanding, frequently irate. For an all-knowing omnipotent God, he’s tricked by Loki a lot. I mean, a lot! He banishes his son to Midgard, and then gets mad when his son falls in love with one of the natives, and spends most of his time trying to get him back to Asgard, or giving him a hard time about it. Odin, no question.

Best of the Rest: Mr. Hyde and Cobra, Absorbing Man, the Wrecking Crew, Executioner, Frost Giants, trolls, Surtur, coherence, Ulik, Ego, Malekith, and the Destroyer.  Loki would totally be my favorite now (thanks to the movies) if it wasn’t for the character I picked as my favorite.  (Is there any character that has benefitted more from the movies than Loki, and Hiddleston, for that matter?  Okay, maybe Iron Man.  All of us should get on bended knee and thank whatever deity you do or don’t believe in that Tom Cruise never made that Iron Man movie.)

The Worst: Grey Gargoyle, if only because he looks like the Hamburglar. (That may or may not be true, but that’s how I choose to remember it in my mind.)

My Favorite: The Enchantress. Mostly because she’s really mean, very (comic book) attractive, and she uses that sexuality to trick people into doing things for her. She’s like the comic book version of a Kardashian (only attractive, and fictional).


Top Dog/Best of the Rest/My Favorite: Batroc. (Shameless plug! -Duy)


I’m going to offer this up in terms of a bottom to top ranking process, as determined by a complicated grid of mathematical formulas broken down by categories that are totally relevant (just take my word for it). Please keep in mind that this is my opinion, and know that my opinion, as well as my word, is Odin-level in its importance and accuracy.

6. Batman – overrated bunch of one-note psychos

5. The Flash – overrated bunch of clowns (and not the killer kind)

4. Superman – how good can you really be with Superman as your arch enemy?

3. Thor – underappreciated collection of malcontents

2. Fantastic Four – up here on the strength of Dr. Doom alone

1. Spider-Man – without peer

There you have it. If you disagree, feel free to comment below. (Or email Duy repeatedly, and use strong insulting language. He loves that.)

Oct 3, 2013

Walt Simonson's Thor: A Retrospective

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...

Walt Simonson's Thor
by Duy

It's pretty much agreed upon that the definitive Thor run is Walter Simonson's, which ran from Thor #337–382 (November 1983–August 1987). It was made available in the 5-volume Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson trade paperbacks in the early 2000s, collected in an Omnibus in 2011 with retouches and recoloring, and is now being reissued in a new set of trade paperbacks.

Walt Simonson wrote the entire run and drew most of it, before Sal Buscema took over pencilling duties. Christie "Max" Scheele was the colorist, while John Workman lettered. For the most part, Walt and Sal inked themselves, but other inkers included Bob Wiacek, Terry Austin, Albret Blevinson (apparently Bret Blevins and Al Williamson working together), Al Milgrom, and Geof Isherwood.

Simonson's run is so historic and acclaimed that it gets special mention in Marvel's retrospective books like Peter Sanderson's Marvel Universe and Les Daniels' Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics. For you more casual readers, it's the Thor equivalent of Frank Miller being on Daredevil, or Alan Moore being on Swamp Thing. It's noted as the first great Thor run since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's run that established the character and his world. Without further ado, let's take a look at some of the things that make Simonson's Thor so good!

Oct 2, 2013

Pop Medicine: Dynamic Strictures, Moral Structures, Splodey

Dynamic Strictures, Moral Structures, Splodey
Travis Hedge Coke

There is difference between a likeable character, a relatable character, and a character we agree with. Much of the time, you’re not supposed to agree with Die Hard’s John McClane, but you are meant to relate to him and to like him. In most Conan stories by his creator, you aren’t supposed to agree with him or, necessarily, relate, but you should be entertained by him. The average character interacting with McClane will flat out call him an asshole in the movie, while the average character interacting with Conan in one of those short stories wears on their forehead, “Oh damn. Conan is still alive. And here. With me. Poop.” It’s a mix for any character, especially protagonists or major antagonists, sure, but one factor usually takes the fore and carries us along in our enjoyment of the character. It is not always about the intent, though, of those authoring a character (writers, artists, actors, editors, whoever and all), but our understanding of the character. I don’t know how much Steve Ditko or Roger Stern agree with Spider-Man or want me to like Spider-Man, I just know I find him more likeable than I am apt to agree with him. Spidey is usually wrong, and his wrongness increases the more he personalizes any matter.

The moral structure I see the world suspended in, that I understand to shape existence, is different than Steve Ditko’s. I love Mr. A. Mr. A is intense, direct, the comics and the character provide a wealth of depth and breadth for me, a power, but I don’t see heroism in Mr. A. I don’t agree with him, I don’t relate to him in any appreciable way. I find him entertaining in much the same fashion I enjoy watching fireworks or listening to John Zorn’s Masada 1. The meaning, significance, or consequences of Mr. A or his actions, the actions of others in a Mr. A story or the meaning of the stories, themselves, differ for me than they likely have for their author. This is not moral relativism as we commonly understand it, which is as a euphemism for excusing societal habits or expectations, but acknowledging that the metaphoric meaning behind a dynamic is only a metaphor, and that different societies do, indeed, have different expectations, people make different connections and have different responses regarding events or the positions people take than other people without either of those “people” being somehow less people-like.

The moral structures we agree with most are short-term structures. Most jokes are one-two punches, or at most three step violations of a moral expectation because that’s as far as novelty can stretch for most of us. When the hero gets just too tired to deal with a hypocritical villain any more and shoots them instead of arresting or restraining them, we can forgive it. When you tell the joke about the farmer who says to three young boys “go pick something from the garden as repayment for having sex with my daughter” and then he’s going to shove it up their back ends, you can’t go with more than three boys and you have to start with something small, like berries, or you’ve gone from a joke to gore-porn. The hero can’t just sigh and shoot every dude who stands in front of him menacingly before anything else happens. Fictional multiple murderers always vary up their method of killing, because after, say, two deaths, a single method gets tedious and with the novelty gone, so too, our indulgence.

Batman kills in almost every theatrical Batman movie. We, mostly, don’t care, because it isn’t highlighted for us. We are encouraged to watch the explosions he causes and not the deaths that most likely result. When he refuses to save his old mentor in Batman Begins, and lets him die, it is most clearly murder, as we know he can save him, we know that if a cop stood in front of someone they could save without appreciable harm to themselves and refused, the would face consequences for their inaction under most police organizations. Firefighter walks up to a fire, sees someone just inside where they could clearly get them, but that person is a criminal so they just throw up their hands and go, “well, fuck’em” and go for a beer instead. But, Batman does it just once, in a moment that is cathartic for the audience, so we, in the moment, are encouraged to overlook the violation of morality or (Batman’s expressed) ethics.

Remember when Tony Stark sexes that reporter in Iron Man and then, in the morning, he’s gone and Pepper calls her trash? People love that. Stark’s a mad player (until he gets all monogamous). Pepper has disdain for women who sleep with her boss (until it’s her). Rewards all ‘round. But, it only happens once. If Pepper spent the whole movie calling every woman who so much as looks over her boss, “trash,” or Tony was just bagging chicks left and right and the next scene, every time, is them with no Tony, it would be a very different movie. It happens once, we laugh or wince, and, as they say, people grow, people change.

There is a piece of received wisdom evidenced in the California sector of the 70s New Hollywood, Lucas and Spielberg and such, that is: Don’t finish an argument. Finishing an argument is like taking a joke past three steps. It’s definitive and requires us, the audience, to make judgment. Pop stories don’t want you making judgments while the story is in play, because some of you may stop right there and then.

Back in the 90s, Marvel and WildStorm both did stories about superheroes confronting domestic violence, in Wolverine and Gen 13. Marvel went the weirdest route, basing the dynamic in “heroes don’t use powers or force on non-costumed people,” and the X-Men restrain Wolverine from dealing with a man who is in the process of brutalizing his family because he’s a normal human and their neighbor. Woo. Great ethics there, Marvel. In the WildStorm comic, a guy who is abusing his significant other and hitting on her hot cousin in a generally creepy way, is intimidated into retreat by said cousin, the newly-superheroic Caitlin Fairchild. Realistically, both of those situations could, without the superpowers, happen. There are people who will tell you to ignore what your neighbors do on their property, because it’s none of your business or it’s a family thing. There are people who don’t care what anyone else is going to say, and take action to correct things as they see fit. There are douchey guys out there just being violent jerks and some of them have families or girlfriends, who have people near them who just won’t leave, or haven’t yet. Nothing in the interactions, themselves, in either comic is truer or falser, but one moral structure agrees with me immediately and the other, the one from Wolverine, is immediately unlikable for me, and whether it is agreeable depends on how it eventually pays out.

Whether or not the final consequences can make something all better for you, is always going to be up in the air. Most people like surprises in their entertainment, twists, revelations of motive or when it becomes apparent the evil villain who’s been succeeding for most of the story suddenly has their punishment, but these can be dragged out too long, too, and if the audience does not have the patience, or they aren’t being rewarded enough, the audience will leave and all is lost. The serial nature of many comics complicates this balancing act. Do you wait until the end of an issue? End of a collection? When an artist or writer leaves? End of the series?

People can, and do, get locked into serious habit, picking up issue after issue, in the hopes it will one day become the comic they want, that it will exhibit the moral structure they want placed on it. If you read enough Spider-Man comics, one day, all those magnificent women will realize Parker’s not worth it. Surely. So you have to keep reading. And when it does not happen, you keep reading for when it does. Batman, one day, will be healthy and stop saving lives in a cape and just be a super-rich CEO who sleeps at night and gets up in the morning. There are people who will read those characters to the end of their days under the assumption that one day, their moral structure will be proven out in these fictional dynamics. To a lesser degree, this is something we all do, otherwise we’d give up on a romance after the first two times the characters meet and don’t hook up.

But, neither the moral structure you are hoping for in Web of Spider-Man issue 27 or the one Dwight Zimmerman or the inker, penciler, colorist, or publisher intend is entirely “real” or “true.” They are all manufactured. The events, characters, relationships, the causes and effects in Web of Spider-Man #27 are all manufactured, from Parker to Headhunter to the streets Parker swings over and the weather that touches those streets. If there is an objective moral structure, it is not yours or mine, it is not Dave Hoover’s or Jill Thompson’s or Caitlin Kiernan’s. If there is an objective reading of Web of Spider-Man #27, none of us can accomplish it. The best we can do is to feign objectivity with best interests in mind, or to acknowledge the limitations of our subjectivity and try, simply, to enjoy the comic as we understand it or to put it down if we do not enjoy it. We can praise, we can criticize, but an author considering an action in fiction as right that we consider wrong does not make it either except in our understanding. If the action fails to achieve what the character desires it to, it may be a poor choice, an ill-advised action, but wrong? Even the intentions of the character are artificial, manufactured to entertain us, to communicate to us.

Fiction can direct our attention, it can implore us with reason, structure, emotion, but fiction cannot control or regulate us. And, it cannot establish itself as reality, any more than your perceptions, looking out your window onto a street make up all the reality of all things going on in that street, in the buildings along it, the sewer beneath, the sky above it, the world around it and all the parts of the world that will pass across that street or connect to it in some fashion at some point. Objectivity, if it is truth, requires a total lack of judgment especially of that most pernicious sort, the judgment of what is worth paying attention to, what is worth highlighting or can be removed, and that is something we just cannot do. Besides, if we could and did, it would be overlong and boring.
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