Dec 17, 2015

Wishlist: Non-Marvel/DC Comics That Should Be Movies or TV Shows

Recently, I was asked what non-Marvel or DC properties I'd like to see as movies or TV shows. I don't actually watch many movies or TV shows, but I can't deny there are some things that I either want to get a wider exposure, or things that I'd like to see with music added or with actual motion. So, here they are.

Explorers of the Unknown

There is an Archie TV show in the works, but I've always been a fan of Explorers of the Unknown, which in the Archie Universe is a series of novels about a team that just really strongly resembles the Riverdale gang. The adventures of Red, Angel, Nitro, Squint, Wheels, Gizmo, Spike, F/X, and Blaze would be a way to get the Archie gang up on the big screen and still pack it with action and adventure.

Neil Young's Greendale

Greendale was originally a concept album by Neil Young that he turned into a comic, a play, and yes, a movie. But all three of those things had different enough narratives. I love the comic so much, and it's my favorite thing Cliff Chiang has ever drawn, that I would like to see it moving one day.


Presto! Bandette is delightfully camp, wonderfully funny, and incredibly charming. This series about a thief with a heart of gold in not-Paris has got cartoon written all over it.


The adventures of Princess Adrienne, who's all about taking her own fate into her own hands, and her friends would offer a good alternative to Disney Princesses (not that I have a problem with those) and the lesson of learning to rely on oneself would provide good role models for young children, girls and boys alike.


I like Westerns, and Jeff Marriotte and John Cassaday took the genre and infused it with the supernatural at the turn of the millennium. It's hard, it's gritty, love is unrequited, and anyone can die. The Western genre may not dominate the cinema anymore, but it's no reason not to make a movie.

The Phantom

I first encountered the Phantom in the 80s cartoon, The Defenders of the Earth, which is really just the King Features superheroes (Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Mandrake, and Lothar) put together. The Phantom was my favorite, since he was the badass (and I'd also find out later he was a legacy hero, which I am a sucker for), but he also had a power that the others didn't: the ability to call on the strength of 10 tigers. The next time I saw the Phantom was in the Sunday comics, and although he's been in some American comics over the years and the star of a Billy Zane 90s movie that's not as bad as it's made out to be, he hasn't been big in the American comics circles since Lee Falk created him in the 30s. Still, a Phantom movie would be intriguing and a good international seller, since the Phantom is apparently huge in a bunch of countries, like Australia and Scandinavia, the latter of which he's second in comics popularity only to Donald Duck.


If you don't know who he is, Supreme is an Image Comics character who is basically Superman. And I want a Supreme movie because Warner Brothers refuses to give me a Superman movie I actually want to see.

Charles Barkley vs. Godzilla


Dec 16, 2015

Good Drawer, Frank Miller

Frank Miller Can Draw
Travis Hedge Coke

Frank Miller has had poor health lately. We can all see that. He has politics or has expressed opinions that you may not agree with in part or in whole. He may write or draw characters or genres you would rather he did not, and sometimes maybe you prefer the way he does this comic with this character, but not this other character in this other comic. None of that is “why” Miller has worked in more than one style over the course of his career or even, sometimes, within the same comic. Frank Miller draws different things differently, not because of his health or his politics, but because Frank Miller can fucking draw.

I am not a great artist, but I did my time at CalArts, I’ve drawn and painted enough, and I have certainly read enough comics to know when someone can draw and when they can lightbox only, or cover their weaknesses with stock flair. I know some of you ooh and aah at a guy who can airbrush Michael Jackson upside down, but in general that’s all that guy can do. You’re still allowed to like it, and as a trick it’s pretty good, but I see that, I see that level of technical skill and control and wish they’d push it a bit and do more. Not everyone can do more. As I said, I am not a great artist. I can try all sorts of things, but especially as I age and my hands get more and more claw-like and twitchy. the days where I could passably ape early 90s Jim Lee or do reasonably good naturalistic portraiture is behind me.

Frank Miller can draw. He can do what Michael Jackson portrait guy and I don’t, and probably can’t. He can apply himself in a variety of styles, to specific ends, and he’s continued to push himself for decades.

Is his art good? This doesn’t mean “Do I like it?” but it also cannot be, consistently, based on any outside criteria. It’s seemingly competent. It appears to achieve the goals that Miller has set, for the majority of the audience. If he’s drawing a big-eyed manga caricature of a newsreader and a more human figure in the next panel, we can understand that the big-eyed figure is a cartoon, even if the human figure, too, is broadly cartooned. We can tell a horse from a dragon. But, at the same time, his musculature or anatomy are not so accurately representing reality that we could lay a photograph of the same scene over a panel and it would fit perfectly into place. Miller exaggerates muscle, hair, size, clothes and scenery, removing aspects or extending them to make them loom larger or recede into the overall image, and even in examples that I’m not super in love with, I can’t say I’ve ever seen him cartoon something incompetently.

So, whether his art is or is not good, I’ll say he is a good artist. He knows how to control style, levels of exaggeration and type of cartooning, how to shape a panel or page so that everything flows in the right directions with the right kind of energy for what he’s trying to achieve. You can look at a scene and go, “I don’t like what happens in this scene,” or “it’s ugly,” but I don’t believe anyone who reads a Frank Miller scene and claims they don’t know what was happening. When Frank Miller draws sex, you know it’s sex, you know what kind, you know how the different characters feel, you can feel the disparities and collusions. Same, when he draws a fight. Or, a car chase. An argument. An hallucination. A death.

To-scale replication of forms is not good drawing. It’s not good art. It can be, but what it is, is just a technique, it’s the equivalent of a finger-picking exercise on guitar. That’s not a song, it’s not playing, it’s practice. It’s refinement. It’s loosening up your fingers and your brain so you can get to the real good stuff. (And, yes, sometimes you get the real good stuff by playing a finger-loosening exercise and putting lyrics over it, but even that takes mad skill and the right moment.) Frank Miller isn’t a copy machine. He is not trying to bit-by-bit recreate genuine human forms and accurately replicate shadow over brick in Sin City or show us photo-realist human beings in a Batman story.

Frank Miller can try and fail. Everyone can. Everyone does. But, if you are going to judge his art and express your judgment, don’t pretend he tried to be Alex Ross and failed. Or, that he tried to be Gil Kane and failed (although the recent Atom mini-comic does feel very Kane to me, it’s Miller working in an idiom, if that, not Miller failing to be Kane). The Atom and Superman cover had a Superman that distressed more than a few people, but that standing-in-air-askew stance? Reminded me immediately of how Gene Colan used to draw Superman in the air, in the Seventies. The way the muscles are, the face, the chin, the crotch, it all comes together to a package. From package to spitcurl, that Superman is a guy. It’s not generic Superman. It’s not a vague stab at classicalism or naturalism. It’s a very specific person. We know, in that pic, who we’re supposed to root for, you know? Immediately.

Frank Miller doesn’t have to do generic versions. He doesn’t have to house style. Rely on nostalgia and clean, commercial vacuous style.

Frank Miller can draw.

Dec 14, 2015

Karnilla: Where's Balder?

Karnilla, The Norn Queen: An Irrational Love Story
Part 4 – Where’s Balder?
Ben Smith

1964, a landmark year in American history.  The 24th amendment was passed.  “Meet the Beatles!” was released.  The Winter Olympics are held in Innsbruck, Austria.  But most importantly, Karnilla the Norn Queen made her debut in the pages of Journey Into Mystery #107.  The world would never be the same.  Never before, or since, has a character been so evil and yet so hot at the same time.  At least, not until the Baroness spent an entire episode of G.I. Joe in a bikini.  But I digress.

Its part four, you know the deal.

THOR #199
Scripter: Gerry Conway; Artist: John Buscema; Inker: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Sam Rosen; Editor: Stan Lee

While Hela battles Pluto (a fantastic idea, by the way) Thor leads the Asgardian heroes against Pluto’s legion of warriors.

When Balder is mortally wounded in battle, Karnilla appears to magically restore him to life. They argue a bit about Balder ignoring his pledge to serve only her, before he returns to battle.

THOR #201
Scripter: Gerry Conway; Layouts: John Buscema; Finished Art: Jim Mooney; Lettering: Artie Simek; Editor: Stan Lee

Karnilla pleads with the Vizier to help Thor prevent Pluto from stealing Odin’s sacred soul.
Hela appears before them, and in an effort to see that Odin does not fall, returns all of the power she had previously taken from him (I assume that’s what she did, like I said before, I’m really only following the Karnilla parts).

On a side note, I have a great deal of affection for Hela too.  All the women in the Thor comics are pretty great.

THOR #202
Scripter: Gerry Conway; Artist: John Buscema; Inker: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Artie Simek; Editor: Stan Lee

It seems that Odin and Karnilla have reached a mutual non-aggression pact.  Karnilla is now able to be in Asgard without incident.  Karnilla asks the Vizier to give her the current status on Balder.

The Vizier tells her that Balder is fighting alongside Thor on Midgard, against a creature known as Ego-Prime, and that they are destined to lose.

THOR #203
Scripter: Gerry Conway; Artist: John Buscema; Inker: Vince Colletta; Lettering: John Costanza; Editor: Roy Thomas

This marks the official end of Stan Lee’s tenure on the Thor books.  Even though I doubt he was doing much editing over the previous stretch of comics, it’s still a pretty significant transition point in the history of Marvel.

Karnilla bursts into Odin’s chambers, demanding to know what he has done to Balder.
Give him hell, Karnilla!

After her anger subsides, and swayed by her genuine emotion, Odin agrees to show her Balder’s current whereabouts, still in battle against Ego-Prime.

Uh oh, I’m beginning to sense a recurring theme for our favorite witch here.

THOR #204
Scripter: Gerry Conway; Artist: John Buscema; Inker: Jim Mooney; Lettering: Shelly Leferman; Editor: Roy Thomas

Based purely on how long he remained on the books, I’m guessing Stan Lee’s favorites were Thor, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man.  Conway succeeded him as writer on Thor and Spider-Man.  Maybe Fantastic Four too, I’m not going to look it up.  Regardless, I find that interesting.

Karnilla is once again pestering Odin over the status of Balder.  Odin, rightfully, kicks everyone out of his chambers.

After a great stretch of comics last week, she’s beginning to repeat the same thing issue to issue this week.  Seeing as how she found Balder pretty easily on her own in #199, I don’t know why she needs to constantly harass everyone around her to give her an update on where he is.  Even I’m getting annoyed by her, and I adore her.

THOR #206
Scripter: Gerry Conway; Artist: John Buscema; Inker: Vince Colletta; Lettering: John Costanza; Editor: Roy Thomas

The Vizier and Karnilla continue to wonder about the Asgardian heroes exiled on Midgard. Odin has become increasingly more erratic, issuing royal edicts against even mentioning the names of Thor or the Warriors Three.

From time to time Odin gets a bug up his ass and denounces his son and his friends for some perceived slight.  Odin is a bit of an ass.

THOR #207
Scripter: Gerry Conway; Artist: John Buscema; Inker: Vince Colletta; Good Works: Marie Severin; Editor: Roy Thomas

DC Comics heroes Batman and Superman make a covert appearance as part of a Halloween parade.

Karnilla finds Sif on Midgard, and offers to help Thor defeat Loki in exchange for her help in finding Balder.  Sif declines, believing Thor is better off left to his own devices.

But when it looks like Loki might actually win, Sif changes her mind and agrees to Karnilla’s bargain.  Karnilla summons a furious thunderstorm, which tilts the odds back in Thor’s favor.

That’s my girl, taking matters into her own hands.  Sure, she’s doing so in an effort to find Balder, the world’s most formidable clown, but let’s not split hairs.  She’s doing stuff.

THOR #208
Scripter: Gerry Conway; Artist: John Buscema; Inker: Vince Colletta; Editor: Roy Thomas

Thor reflects/recaps the recent events of the series, including how Sif agreed to leave Thor’s side and assist Karnilla in her search for Balder, in exchange for helping Thor in his fight against Loki.

For those interested in the overall storyline of the book in recent issues, feel free to read this panel in full.
Or go buy the comics for yourself.

THOR #209
Scripter: Gerry Conway; Artist: John Buscema; Inker: Vince Colletta; Editor: Roy Thomas

Karnilla only appears in a recap of events from the previous issues.  Disappointing.

THOR #214
Scripter: Gerry Conway; Artist: Sal Buscema; Inker: Jim Mooney; Editor: Roy Thomas

Thor, Odin, and the Warriors Three fight against the Fourth Dimensional Man and his loyal warriors.  At the end of the issue, they are shocked to discover that Sif and Karnilla are captives, held motionless in a crimson crystal.

THOR #215
Scripter: Gerry Conway; Artist: John Buscema; Inker: Jim Mooney; Editor: Roy Thomas

Sif and Karnilla learn that the crystal they are now trapped in is alive, and was once a planet.  The God-Jewel plans to drain their life energy, so that it can be restored to its former glory.

Thor eventually is in a position to smash the crystal and free his beloved Sif, but he is too late.  They have merged with his crystalline flesh, and to kill him would kill her as well.

THOR #216
Scripter: Gerry Conway; Artist: John Buscema; Inker: Jim Mooney; Editor: Roy Thomas

Long story short, Thor and the 4-D Man find a way to successful remove Sif and Karnilla from the God-Crystal without killing them.  Mercifully, the story is over.

With that, Karnilla would not appear again for over 30 issues.  After a very promising stretch of comics last week, Karnilla fell into some annoying patterns over the course of this week’s comics.  Despite being very capable of finding Balder herself, she was stuck in Asgard, harassing anyone and everyone about where he might be.  It’s the Asgardian equivalent of waiting by the window for Spider-Man to return.  Smoking cigarettes, and making out with that blonde-headed dude.  Things started to pick up in the middle, with her taking an active role in the fight between Thor and Loki.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any of her teaming up with Sif (which sounds like the greatest buddy comedy ever conceived).  Instead, they show up trapped inside a crystal in a story so dumb, it made me mad just having to skim it.  So far, the odd numbered parts to this retrospective have had the best collection of stories.  Hopefully that pattern holds and next week isn’t quite as dismal.  Only one way to find out.

Next week, yep, more Karnilla!

Dec 10, 2015

Lamenting the Lack of Landmark Looney

Man, I sure have been writing about Disney Ducks a lot in the last few years. Donald, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Uncle Scrooge... I seem to be able to talk about them a lot, especially if it's the works of Carl Barks or Don Rosa. In fact, this post about Della Duck from January of 2014 is one of the Cube columns that is constantly getting hits. Donald Duck is a great character. Scrooge McDuck is a great character.

Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck are not my favorite funny animals. Not even close. That honor is reserved for one rabbit, and one rabbit only.

Yes, that rabbit.

Bugs Bunny cartoons were some of my favorite cartoons growing up and were some of the first voices I ever started trying to imitate. I watched a bunch of those cartoons a number of times, and to this day, I can still sing pretty much the entirety of "What's Opera, Doc?"

I didn't mean to memorize that entire thing. I just watched it so much and it just imprinted itself in my brain. Beyond that, there's the Duck Season/Rabbit Season trilogy, the Rabbit of Seville, the ones with Marvin the Martian, and a whole host of others, and that's not even counting the ones that don't star Bugs (my favorite of which stars Michigan J. Frog).

Now Looney Tunes has had its share of comics over the last half-decade and more, and there are some websites that put up scans of them. They've been filled with fun moments, like this one:

And even some funny moments they didn't intend, like this one:

And there have been some really great talent that's worked on these comics. Hell, Dan Slott was one, and he's in the middle of writing what is probably my favorite Spider-Man run of all time. For one story in 1944, Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny got the king of funny animals working on them: Carl Barks.

Despite the sheer volume and talent though, I find it weird that Looney Tunes are rarely, if ever, talked about in the "greatest comics ever" conversations. There does seem to be a lack of landmark Looney Tunes comics, especially when you consider that the Disney Ducks are not only among the greatest comics of all time but also the biggest sellers in certain sections of the world, and I'm wondering really why that is. I've racked my brain for reasons, and I can only think of three.

Reason #1: Carl Barks and the Disney Ducks were a lightning strike

When Disney's comics people handed the pen and paper over to Barks, they gave him what was essentially free rein (or as such that passes for Disney) to do what he did. Barks, realizing that there was absolutely no way to replicate Donald's voice, also realized what a blank slate he was essentially working with. So he turned Donald into a regular working-class Joe (who happened to be an anthropomorphized duck) and had him take odd jobs that led him to adventures. And when Barks created Donald's Uncle Scrooge McDuck and cousin Gladstone Gander, the ball really started rolling. Those characters took on lives of their own, even if it did take a while for Barks to perfect them.

Dan Slott has said that when he was working on Looney Tunes, he actually got a lot of latitude, but it would take just the right eye to see how a character such as Bugs Bunny or even Daffy Duck could expand in the role given to them. Barks himself didn't figure it out in the one story he did, and really, as much as Barks' work on Barney Bear is pretty and entertaining, it's not as praised as the Duck books either.

Carl Barks and Donald Duck were a perfect match. Barks gave Donald Duck a life of his own, and so Donald Duck for the most part in the comics is a vastly different character from the cartoon Donald Duck. That was the right twist and it may not have worked with any other creator or with any other character. To hold the funny animal genre to that standard, which I am now doing because I am unreasonable, is to hope for a very specific lightning strike of creative freedom, the right creator, and the right character.

Reason #2: There is a distinct lack of promotion

Supposedly the Looney Tunes comics do well enough overseas, but there just seems to be a lack of knowledge of the existence of these comics. No trade paperbacks are in print, and hell, the DC series just came out with their 227th issue this month, and the general comics fan seems to be unaware or uncaring about the existence of the series. I'm not saying that the lack of landmark Looney Tunes comics is a direct consequence of the lack of promotion, but the lack of such recognition may also come with a lack of incentive to create beyond the box.

Reason #3: Mel Blanc is irreplicable and irreplaceable

Before I start this paragraph, can I just say how dumb it is that "irreplicable" isn't actually a word? That's really dumb.

Anyway, Mel Blanc, whom I believe is widely recognized even within the voice acting industry as the greatest voice actor of all time, gave a bunch of Looney Tunes characters, including Bugs and Daffy Duck, their voices. Their voices are a huge part of their personality, and they're not really easily rendered in written dialogue. Barks did away with the voice altogether, but aside from having a quick temper, Donald's generally a blank slate. With the Looney Tunes characters, their voices are their personality.

Could the right creator discard those voices altogether and come up with the right twists? Maybe. But I'm not holding my breath. The chances of someone really doing to Bugs Bunny and company what Barks did with Donald Duck are incredibly small, especially when you consider the fact that what Barks and Donald Duck was a match made in heaven to begin with.

But while not the same, the current Looney Tunes series is still entertaining. I was also a big fan of The Looney Tunes Show, as well. And it's nice to see things like DC doing a variant cover theme month integrating their characters with the Merrie Melodies characters. So I may as well close with this cover by Terry and Rachel Dodson, featuring Wonder Woman and Elmer Fudd.

"Oh Diana, yo' so wuvwy."
"Yes, I know it. I can't help it."

Dec 7, 2015

Karnilla: The Torment of Balder

Karnilla: An Irrational Love Story
Part 3 – The Torment of Balder
Ben Smith

I was never that interested in Thor as a child. I preferred the exploits of Spider-Man, or the X-Men (Chris Claremont versions only, thanks). My first foray into the character of Thor was thanks to Wizard magazine, who did a feature on the best storylines ever per each major Marvel character. They picked the Surtur Saga by Walt Simonson, and in the interest of expanding my reading horizons, I eventually purchased the second volume collecting Simonson’s Thor run. As much as I enjoyed that trade (and it has arguably the best Thor stories ever created in it) I didn’t feel the need to explore further into the Thor universe.

In the excitement leading up to the second Thor movie, I did end up reading all of Walt Simonson’s Thor comics, as well as the original Stan Lee and Jack Kirby comics. It didn’t take long for me to become a full-fledged fan. The comics are full of so many great characters you probably will never see outside of the Thor universe. Sif, Hela, the Warriors Three, Lorelei, and Enchantress to name but a few. However, for some reason, one character stood out more to me than the rest. Karnilla, the Norn Queen. I’ve spent the past couple weeks highlighting every appearance of the character since the very beginning.

The journey continues.

THOR #187
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Illustrator: John Buscema; Embellisher: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Sam Rosen

All of existence is under threat from an entity named Infinity. Balder and Sif travel to Nornheim to request Karnilla use her powers to free the Warriors Three from Infinity’s spell. Her headdress is a little clunkier here than I remember it being, but Buscema was definitely the better illustrator of pretty comic book women. No more witch-hag for Karnilla.

She is unable to release them on her own, but combined with Loki’s power, they are able to break the spell on the Warriors Three.

THOR #188
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Illustrator: John Buscema; Embellisher: Jim Mooney; Lettering: Sam Rosen

Infinity seeks to claim the body of Odin, making himself invincible in the process. In the interest of self-preservation, Karnilla uses her magic to try and revive Odin.

It does not work, so she again tries to combine her powers with Loki, to see if that will get the job done.

Even their combined sorcerous might is still unable to wake Odin. Karnilla tells Loki to stop his crying, since she should be the one upset having to wait for the end next to him. I love Karnilla.

THOR #189
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Illustrator: John Buscema; Embellisher: Joe Sinnott; Lettering: Sam Rosen

Balder pleads with Karnilla to help Thor escape Hela’s grasp. She offers to help as long as he renounces Asgard.

Balder actually admits he loves her back, but as long as she is an enemy of Asgard, she is an enemy of his.

Balder fights off her troll warriors, until Karnilla has finally had enough. Either he swears loyalty to her, or Thor will die.

Take command, Karnilla! Don’t take any crap from this clown.
Balder finally relents, renounces Asgard, and pledges to serve the Norn Queen. (An interesting turn of events. I wouldn’t have expected him to give in this soon. I know he did eventually. Like most things in comics, his loyalty probably cycles back and forth a few times.)

To fulfill her end of the bargain, Karnilla reveals that Loki is plotting with Hela against Thor, and she sends Balder to the realm of death to help stop it.

THOR #190
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Illustrator: John Buscema; Embellisher: Joe Sinnott; Lettering: Sam Rosen

Balder fitfully dreams of his true heart’s desire, the evil (but oh so sexy) Karnilla.

Dream gives way to reality, when she arrives to warn Balder that Thor is still very much in danger from Hela. Balder pleads with Odin to intervene, but Odin refuses. Hela is the natural order of things. Balder has Karnilla cast another spell, so that Odin may see what transpires with his own eyes. It works, and the sight of his son in danger propels Odin into action.

But during the subsequent conflict between Odin, Thor, and Sif against Hela, Loki has used their absence to seize the Odin-Ring, and take control of Asgard. King Loki rules, with Karnilla and Balder by his side. (It never fails to amuse me that one ring can be used to rule them all. I wasn’t even planning on making a Lord of the Rings reference there, it just came out. Premature ring-ulation. It’s normal, happens to everyone sometimes.)

THOR #191
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Illustrator: John Buscema; Embellisher: Joe Sinnott; Lettering: Sam Rosen

The heroes of Asgard attack Loki, but fail, due to his now awesome power as ruler of Asgard. With Thor and friends on the ropes, Loki commands Karnilla to use her power to create a new warrior to finish off Thor once and for all.

Given form by Karnilla, and life by Loki, Durok the Demolisher is born.

THOR #192
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Illustrator: John Buscema; Embellisher: Sam Grainger; Lettering: Artie Simek; Costumes: Forbush’s Funky Fashion Factory

Loki and Karnilla rejoice in watching Durok fight Thor on Midgard. Balder manipulates Karnilla on the side, in the hopes that she will help him reach Midgard. She agrees to help, out of curiosity.

While Loki is distracted by the Warriors Three, Karnilla and Balder disappear to Midgard.

 Once there, Balder uses his sword to send a signal far into the sky, to summon an ally to Thor’s side. Help in the form of the Silver Surfer!

Okay, you can’t tell me that doesn’t get you pumped.

THOR #193
Scripter: Gerry Conway; Illustrator: John Buscema; Embellisher: Sal Buscema; Lettering: Artie Simek; Editor: Stan Lee

(This is where Gerry Conway takes over as writer from Stan Lee. It would take until Walt Simonson’s run for the book to again reach the peaks of the Stan and Jack era. Walt would surpass it in my opinion, but that’s a debate for another time, another place.)

Balder pleads with the Silver Surfer to aid Thor against Durok. In the process, he claims he would give his own life to save Thor. This angers Karnilla greatly, as he has already pledged his life to her.

As punishment, she sends boulders tumbling down upon him.

Silver Surfer orders her to remove the stones, but she does not. After quickly realizing she cannot harm the Surfer, Karnilla relents and removes the stones.

Silver Surfer uses the power cosmic to revive Balder. Karnilla is instantly remorseful over having almost killed the man she loves so dearly.

Later, Loki catches them in their treachery, and brings them forward to explain (and accusing Balder of hiding behind a “female’s flowing skirt” in the process).

Side note: Sif shows up dressed like this, all dolled up to unwillingly become the bride of Loki. Mmmm, Lady Sif.

THOR #194
Scripter: Gerry Conway; Illustrator: John Buscema; Embellisher: Sal Buscema; Lettering: Artie Simek; Editor: Stan Lee

Thor and the Warriors Three make their way towards the throne room of Asgard, fighting off attackers, in the hopes of preventing Loki from marrying Sif. Balder laments his inability to assist them (impotence is something I’m sure he struggles with often).

Karnilla attempts to comfort him with a kiss, but Balder, being who he is, cannot even enjoy that (because he’s a clown, you see).

Incidentally, Odin finally steps up and reclaims the throne from Loki.

That’s a good place to stop. Karnilla was given much more to do over this run of comics. They finally broke out of the cycle of her trying to seduce Balder and failing, and it created a much more interesting dynamic. Now they can have Balder trying to convince her to help the heroes of Asgard, instead of Loki. I’ve always thought of Karnilla as more self-serving than she is evil, and this is a start in that direction. Balder also admits for the first time that he has feelings for her, except he is far more guilty about it, because he would be. She also gained a consistent design from issue to issue under Buscema. It’s interesting to consider that she was the resident evil witch of this time period, as the Enchantress hasn’t been seen for a long time. (I’m pretty sure she was regularly appearing over in Avengers instead.) As much as I also love the Enchantress, I’m fine with Karnilla getting the opportunity to play. (Of course I am, you’re reading part 3 of what might become a lengthy recap of her history.) You can never have enough Karnilla, as the saying goes.

On that note, next week, more Karnilla!

Dec 3, 2015

Irrational Love: Spider-Man's Michele Gonzales

While Ben is covering his irrational love for Karnilla for the next who-knows-how-the-hell-long, I figured I'd spend a column talking about my irrational love for another character: Michele Gonzales from Spider-Man. One of the new characters and potential love interests introduced after Marvel reset Spider-Man as a single guy (which they had been planning to do since almost from the moment he was married in 1987, since they didn't really plan on marrying him off anyway), Michele was a lawyer of Latina descent and, probably stereotypically, the temper to match. She was really more of a cartoon character than a fully realized supporting character, and wasn't really meant, I think, to be taken all that seriously.

She was also entertaining as hell. And she's not around anymore! So let's look at her and see if she's worth bringing back.

The first time we officially meet Michele is when she comes to New York to defend her brother Vin in court. Vin, a police officer who just so happened to be Peter Parker's roommate, was involved in a massive conspiracy to frame Spider-Man, but due to a classic case of having a change of heart at the end, he could get a reduced sentence.

That's the first time we the readers officially meet Michele, but it's not the first time Peter Parker meets Michele. That happens much later, after Peter gets back from another dimension. Although months have passed, Peter's apartment is well-kept and the rent is fully paid, meaning someone must be taking care of it. Peter just assumes it's his old friend/ex-girlfriend Betty Brant, but... no.

Unfortunately for Peter, the first time he does meet his mysterious benefactor, he's in the unfortunate position of being sans clothing.

Already not the best start for Peter and Michele, it gets even more tense when he finds out that she actually co-signed the lease to the apartment with Vin, so she has more of a right to stay there than he does. So they decide to be roommates. Completely platonic roommates, who just end up going together to Aunt May's wedding to Jay Jameson because Michele wanted free food and Peter was going stag.

Unfortunately for Peter, that wedding also happened to be the day his longtime girlfriend Mary Jane Watson decided to come back into his life, which, as anyone who's been around a former significant other who was actually really significant knows, leads to bad decisions.

Several issues later, I guess because maybe Marvel had complaints about Peter being drunk, Michele would say
that she was just filling Peter's glass with apple cider and making him think it was an alcoholic drink. That's fine.
But I choose to believe that as Michele screwing with him. Drunken hookups happen. Additionally, it really weirds me out that Steve Wacker, the greatest American comics editor of the 21st century and the best
logistical editor of the modern era, couldn't somehow tell the artists of two succeeding books to keep
Michele's dress consistent.

And all this drunkenness of course leads to him waking up the next day, realizing that someone is beside him, and of course he thinks it's MJ, but...

This was a moment that really made me laugh partly because it was so unexpected, and partly because, come on, it's hilarious! Peter Parker's always dating these supermodel types that the average fanboy would consider themselves lucky to be dating, but somehow it always goes wrong for him. Now that's partly because he screws it up, but not even remembering it happened is on another level altogether, making this one action uncharacteristic of Peter's actually characteristic.

So Michele gets pissed and Peter goes out web-swinging for a while, and when he comes back, there's a freshly baked batch of cookies, which he thinks of as a peace offering, but then Michele has added a twist: the fridge is locked up.

This incredibly elaborate act of revenge/spite made me love Michele and want to see more of her. And it's really quite the exaggerated ending, the type that only really works as an ending (I'm reminded of the classic Seinfeld episode, "The Marine Biologist," in which the cast says that the ending only works as an ending because it's so ridiculous, and wouldn't work at any point earlier in the story). This era of Spider-Man's, entitled "Brand New Day," was already the era in which I began reading Spider-Man again after a near-decade long hiatus, and part of me not dropping the character since was because of lighthearted moments like these to punctuate the gravity of Spider-Man's adventures. Michele was a walking, talking personification of that level of exaggeration.

Which is exactly what makes what happens next problematic. Peter gets caught by the Chameleon and trapped while the Chameleon takes over his identity and life. It's while the Chameleon is pretending to be Peter that Michele tries to get serious.

Although they'd mention later on that they were just making out, this scene sparked some outcry when it came out. Today, in 2015? It would absolutely get taken apart. It's sexual assault, plain and simple, an exaggeration of what would today be called catfishing, all made worse by the fact that Michele is completely unaware of what's going on. My take? It's such an implausible situation (what's the closest thing that could happen in real life? A man posing as his twin brother to sleep with someone?) and it's also something that's been done in genre fiction in the past. one of my favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example, has Faith the Rogue Slayer switching bodies with Buffy, and in the process she sleeps with Buffy's then-boyfriend Riley. It emphasizes how messed up the Chameleon really is, not that writers should have to resort to depictions of sexual assault to emphasize such a thing. Ultimately, I think this scene fell during the cusp of the higher awareness of rape culture — a few years before and outcry wouldn't have happened, and a few years later and the writers themselves wouldn't have gone to that device. I prefer to think of it in the same context as Hank Pym's slap: superhero stuff is melodrama, and the Chameleon is a horrible human being. If it's too much for someone reading it for real reasons, that's understandable.

Apparently Chameleon is pretty good in the ways of the flesh, because now she thinks she and Peter are dating.

When Peter tries to be honest much later on and tells Michele what really happened, she doesn't believe him and responds the only way she knows how.

This makes things incredibly (more) awkward for the roommates, and Michele uses her Latina temper as an excuse to do certain things, like putting Peter's microscope down a sink.

Still, despite everything that goes on, Michele's got a soft heart when it comes to Peter and she thinks maybe something can be salvaged from all of this...

....unfortunately, it's at that exact moment that Norah Jones, another excellent creation from Brand New Day, comes in....

...and things get catty between Norah and Michele, when the worst possible person who can show up does show up.

 Peter and Michele continue to live together awkwardly and with a lot of yelling, but when a new villain threatens Michele's life, Peter still make sure she's safe. Near New Year's Eve, my favorite moment between the two of them occurs.

These two pages are everything I love about Michele Gonzales, the spunk, the crazy exaggeration (having a shotgun), the sarcasm, and, in that one almost-silent panel, the regret at the situation because despite all that, she can't just force her way to get what she wants.  It's almost a contradictory set of traits. and I love it and think it shows room for development. In fact, soon afterwards, after Peter saves Michele from a bunch of crooks, he finally apologizes for what happened (one could say that neither of them was at fault since they were both drunk, but there's no way you don't apologize for freaking out the next day).

And although she accepts his apology, she's still Michele Gonzales, so when Peter forgets to pay his rent, she sells his clothes. Again, it's one of those things that's funny and you just shouldn't think about it too much (where did Peter buy new clothes afterwards? Who cares? Do we need to go down to that level of detail? It's funny.).

The next time we see Michele, it's just to show that Vin has finally been paroled. We then catch a glimpse of her dressed up as Firebird during Harry Osborn's farewell party.

And then, in the very next issue, the first issue of Dan Slott's run on Amazing Spider-Man, Michele closes the lease on the apartment and, with Vin paroled, leaves New York for Chicago.

Michele Gonzales was a fiery, funny character with hints, every now and then, of actual human emotion. There was a lot of room for development, and I think she could be a useful supporting character in the Marvel Universe. When Mark Waid's Daredevil launched, they said that a female character from the Spider-titles would show up. When the preview art for the first issue was released and showed Daredevil interacting with someone who looked like a lawyer, I thought it'd be Michele. That's how much I really wanted Michele to show up somewhere. (It turned out to be new character Kirsten McDuffie. The Spider-related female was the Black Cat, in the only storyline from Waid's run that made me uncomfortable.)

In a shared universe where Mary Jane Watson can become a supporting character in Iron Man (starting next month!), why can't the lesser-known characters get some love? Get Michele and She-Hulk in the same law offices! It doesn't matter. Just get her back on the printed page, and make this audience of one happy.

You can read the story of Michele Gonzales in the following collections: