Oct 19, 2017

On Weezie and Fabe: Creators of Cable and Deadpool

Rob Liefeld is easy to make fun of. The dude is known for lazy artwork, omitting details such as feet and more than a couple of facial expressions. But there's a reason he sticks to the style that he's had since 1990, and that reason is that back then, that style brought him money. With an established fan base, there's little incentive for him to improve because of critics' preferences. He's also a co-creator of Cable and Deadpool, making him one of the single most successful creators of all time. Seriously, can you name five people post-1970 who created not one, but two successful characters that have an established fan following, and be recognized for it?

But he didn't do it alone. Let's make sure we recognize Louise "Weezie" Simonson and Fabian Nicieza.

Louise Simonson and Fabian Nicieza: Credit Where It's Due
by Duy

Let's start with Deadpool, who debuted in The New Mutants #88, February 1991. This is a character that Rob Liefeld designed. Deadpool looks like this.

He gave this design to Fabian Nicieza, who reacted just like anyone who read comics in the 1980s would. One of the biggest comics of the previous decade was Marv Wolfman and George Perez's The New Teen Titans, a title that will forever be connected to the X-Men, and their biggest enemy was Deathstroke the Terminator. Who looks like this.

So Fabian basically told Rob, "This is Deathstroke from the Teen Titans," and then gave the new character the real name of Wade Wilson, as an inside joke referring to Deathstroke's real name being Slade Wilson. Nicieza then gave Deadpool the exact opposite personality as Deathstroke, making him a bantering loudmouth who loved puns (the logical extension of Spider-Man) as opposed to a superserious mercenary with a lot of pathos.

Deadpool is probably the biggest superhero character created after 1990 (the competition: Spawn, Harley Quinn [who wasn't created in comics], and... that's it. No, really.) and Rob Liefeld gets most of the credit for creating him. But what makes Deadpool special is his personality, and for that you should thank Fabian Nicieza. I've actually made the joke that Deadpool was really created by Fabian Nicieza and George Perez. It's really only a half-joke.

This post isn't meant to disparage Rob, however; he still brought these characters to life. In the case of Cable, who debuted 11 issues and 11 months earlier, Rob said in a 2009 interview:

I was given a directive to create a new leader for the New Mutants. There was no name, no description besides a 'man of action', the opposite of Xavier. I created the look, the name, much of the history of the character. After I named him Cable, Bob suggested Quinn and Louise had Commander X.

Walt Simonson gave a comprehensive recounting of it back in 1991 for and reposted it on his Facebook group here. You can read it in its entirety, but the whole point is that Cable was a collaborative creation, borne out of Bob Harras's desire to create a new leader for the New Mutants, Weezie's desire to have that new leader be "a kick-ass, take charge kind of guy who would treat the team as a squad of soldiers," and Rob Liefeld's designs for Stryfe. Stryfe was a villain whose design, Harras thought, would do well for a good guy.

The working title, as Rob pointed out above, was Commander X, but the name was never going to be final. Rob suggested "Cable" and Weezie, who has a reputation for making artists happy, agreed.

Cable was a mystery man and there wasn't much known about him. Later creators added more layers to him, and in the 1993 Cable ongoing series, in which neither Weezie nor Rob were involved, they decided to make him the time-traveling older version of Nathan Summers, Scott "Cyclops" Summers' son from his first marriage to Jean Grey–lookalike Madelyne Pryor, who was given up in 1991, because the X-Men are complicated and they hate me. Point is, that's a defining and vital aspect of Cable's character, and none of his creators had anything to do with it.

Rob Liefeld gets most of the credit for these two characters, and a part of that is just because Rob Liefeld is the most famous person in this whole equation. But if you love these characters, be sure to thank Fabian Nicieza and Louise Simonson. Besides bringing them to life and making sure they had personalities beyond your standard 90s badass, they're both very excellent — and very underrated — writers.

Friendly reminder that Fabian Nicieza also co-created Gambit and the New Warriors, and Weezie Simonson also co-created Apocalypse and Steel.

Oct 18, 2017

Fear, Guilt, and Anxiety: The First Year of the Fantastic Four

The first twelve issues of Fantastic Four stretch from horror to farce, body dysmorphia to power fantasy. It was a freaky book, released in a heady time, and our memories of it now, our received idea of the early issues, they’re often so off the mark that many people are convinced it was The Incredibles or Harvey Birdman. The first year of the FF was sick, weird, silly, middle-aged avant-garde.

Fear, Guilt, and Anxiety:
The First Year of the Fantastic Four
Travis Hedge Coke

That first issue has many potentially true origins. There is a pitch ostensibly by Stan Lee, which, if believed, promoted a far darker comic than we got, wherein Susan Storm was not merely inconvenienced by periodically uncontrollable invisibility, but constantly invisible and forced to wear a fake face, a mask and wig at all times, flesh-toned gloves. There is evidence, in the amount of paste up and collaging, that the first story may have been a mash of two or more distinct tales. Maybe, the publisher wanted a title to compete with National’s renewed interest (and success) with superheroes. What we got was freaky, bastard-strong, unpredictable, and exciting.

The “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” above the title wasn’t only hyperbole or sell, it was a punk FU in a pre-punk world.

FF #1

In the opening eight pages of their first tale, the Fantastic Four aren’t cool, they’re not admired, they’re not funny or chummy or daring. They’re scary. People are frightened. They’re causing public damage simply by existing, by walking down the street or receiving bad news. They break stuff. They terrify people. Cab drivers, clothing store clerks, police, the United States Army. All terrified. And, deservedly so.

Yes, these four freaks will come to fight monsters who are deliberately attacking people; bigger, scarier monsters, maybe. But, this is not superhero versus monster. This is monster versus monster. This is throwing two sets of horror show creepies at one another and may the smartest set win.

The Four aren’t superheroes. They’re a response team for horrors. There’s no costumes. No heroics. Ben very quickly tells Reed to can it, when Reed tries to make a traditional superhero speech. They go to Monster Island to discover the root of a monster problem and stop it.

FF #2

It’s bad enough you’re invisible or a rock monster, that you burn things when you get excited or accidentally tear the door off a car because you got frustrated with the latch. Now, there are shape-shifting aliens specifically in conspiracy to mess with your life? What’d you do to them? Why you?

That’s the drive of the second issue, opening with four straight pages of these ring-eyed green aliens ruining the already tenuous reputation of our beloved Four. Getting them declared public enemies, setting them up to be hunted and despised. And, do the FF run out and make a press announcement? Do they suit up and punch the aliens? Nah, they hide out in a shack and Johnny, the youngest, comes packing. They’re on the run for their lives and that’s what’s going to get them through. A pipe; sunglasses; a rifle.

Then, they get arrested, escape, threaten each other, sneak up on the aliens, beat them up, and then defraud their masters on the mothership. So far, the most superheroic things the FF have done are surviving an earthquake and lying to aliens.

FF #3

Three issues in, they get costumes. A special vehicle. Headquarters.

But, the villain, the Miracle Man, is almost note-perfect, the terror of the 1970 cinematic bloodbath, The Wizard of Gore. Same look. Same powers. The Miracle Man is simply (exceptionally) less gory about it. Through chapters like, “The Flame That Died” and “In the Shadow of Defeat”, the FF are outshone by their enemy, mocked as frauds, belittled and threatened. The threats are not physical feats, but conviction. Belief. The Miracle Man hypnotizes people into believing he has incredible strength, into seeing giant monsters, into believing they are his slaves, completely under his control.

FF # 4

At the end of the previous issue, Johnny, fed up with the adult members of his group, has run away, and his now living in a shelter, hiding out a friend’s auto shop. We’re four issues in, and we’ve gone from giant monsters and alien imposters to the story of a teenaged runaway… who, when one of the adults find him, is threatened with being smashed under a car held overhead. The FF can’t stop breaking things or threatening people.

Four issues about losing yourself, losing your identity, your good name, losing hope. And, in the flophouse, Johnny discovers an amnesiac bum is… Namor, the Sub-Mariner, Prince of Atlantis, hero of WW2! Who, getting his memory back, his identity back, immediately declares war and brings on the giant monsters because, darn it! this is gonna be a giant monster book.

FF #5

Doom! Dr Doom! They have to be superheroes now, right?

They are kidnapping victims, hostages, pretend pirates, actual thieves, and they absolutely lose their fight with Doom, except inasmuch as they do escape his clutches with their lives.

It’s an awesome comic, but the opening illustration of Dr Doom with his Demons and Science and Sorcery books and his blood-red-headed vulture say it all.

FF #6

Doom and Namor! That’s how you keep things alive, half a year in. There’s more smiling in the book — Reed smiles! Namor! — and more grand relaxing - Johnny and Ben read hate mail for a laugh; Namor is the king of leaning back in his chair. But, the comic also starts throwing us for a visual loop. Panels draw our eyes up and down like tracking a game of table tennis. When the Baxter Building is lifted high above Manhattan, we look down on characters staring up out a window towards us, as jet planes zip below them, between miles of sky and the city dangerously, crazily far below. When Reed stretches far to grab Johnny and prevent his lethal descent, the Earth has receded so far it is only a tiny blue and green ball.

Even with a couple grins and gags, the comic insists on tales, not of humor or adventure, but anxiety. The heroes hate themselves, more often than not, and their allies, and the enemies who hate them even more, except when it’s Namor and he’s trying to sleep with one of them.

FF #7

What if aliens made us all assholes? Kurrgo of Planet X has a hostility ray that does just that, turning society upside down by removing our basic and our manufactured decency. Strangers assault one another in the street, a wife slams a hot dinner over her husband’s head, and once again, someone in power declares the Fantastic Four are a threat to the land.

FF #8

This issue introduces one of the longest-standing supporting FF characters, a romantic link for two of the FF and a dead ringer for another. But, that cover! That ain’t no romance cover. It’s not a superhero cover. That’s horror, baby. That cover is why early Fantastic Four is every sound clip in every Rob Zombie song you could ever hear.

The villain, the Puppet-Master, is making a guy commit suicide at the beginning of the issue, just ‘cause. The lulz. And, when Johnny and the FF stop him, he decides he’ll mess with them next. That’s the sort of comic that Fantastic Four really was, back then. It’s the book where, do a good deed, some psycho murderer starts destroying your life. And, he’ll dress up his blind daughter like your sister to do it.

Eight issues in, and identity hasn’t stopped being under attack once. There is no sanctity of self. There is no surety in identity or identification. And, everyone wants to hurt you, or even if they don’t, they will given the chance.

FF #9

The Fantastic Four get evicted on the cover! They are so broke, they’re selling their stuff and they are going to have to take straight jobs. Show of hands: Who thinks Superman or Batman got evicted ever before this?

And, like a true nightmare, they get their jobs, working for a movie mogul, who turns out to be Prince Namor. In a pinstripe suit, loaded with cash, smoking from a cigarette holder. Namor can’t just make money off them, either, he’s got to try to murder them as well. So, he’s taking this Hollywood producer schtick all the way.

Like Godzilla in so many movies, Namor, at the end, just walks back into the sea. No punishment. No gain. Namor just leaves and the FF have enough money to not lose their home.

FF #10

The FF haven’t begun to plumb the depths of weird, yet, as they introduce the writer and artist on the cover, making a shocking announcement for the readers. And, Reed’s all evil. What?

What’d I say, up above? You can’t trust anybody. They’re all jerks. Or, can be turned into jerks.

Dr Doom comes to the Marvel offices and threatened the makers of the comic, before he swaps bodies with Reed. Of course, the FF trust the face, not the person, as most of us normally would. Doom, as Reed, proceeds to lie to his apparent teammates, manipulating them into dangerous scenarios. Evil smart guy with the face and voice of your boyfriend? Your best friend? Father figure?

FF #11

Serious-looking cover? Check. Our first almost entirely comedy issue? Oh, yes, check.

I love both of this issue’s stories.

“A Visit With the Fantastic Four” is the FF seeing their fame up close. Kids imitating them in the street. People buying their comic. Fan letters. Ben gets a prank present that punches him in the face, and Sue gets some hate mail, but they handle it with aplomb. They also compare Sue, who so far has been fairly handy in actual fights, to Abraham Lincoln’s mom, but they mean it in a good way. And, the art shows her kicking ass while they say it, so basically, conflict between dialoguer and artist/probable-plotter.

The main tale, “The Impossible Man” is a straight gag run. Impossy is a pointy-headed green alien who can be or do whatever he seems to want. He comes from the planet Popup and he just wants to have a good time and be noticed. He turns to steel, eats watermelon, turns to flowers, eats cake, flies around and makes bad jokes. And, the FF are stuck with him until he leaves. Which, they accomplish by simply and aggressively ignoring his antics until he’s bored and goes.

FF #12

Having gone from thriller to horror to drama to farce over a dozen issues, they cap off the last year with a guest appearance by the Incredible Hulk and open by having the FF, once again, attacked by law enforcement because of something someone else did. They are famous now, though, and they have some money, and Ben has a girlfriend. Things are way better than they were in the first issue, or even six issues ago.

But, there’s a Hulk on the rampage, and they’ve got to stop him. We’re almost, genuinely, to superhero territory here. They’re going to put on costumes and fight for truth, justice, and the American way. It even goes the extra mile, when we and they learn… the Hulk is not the threat! The real threat is Soviet communism. (Isn’t it just always, though?) They still have to physically fight the Hulk, but they have to beat back communism and the international enemies of America. Ends with a salute and everything.

And, that’s that. That’s the arc done. They spent twelve issues largely upset, anxious, doubting themselves and being doubted by the public, attacked by law enforcement, blocked at every turn, constantly impersonated and maligned, and occasionally beating each other up or running away to live on the streets. Greatest Comics Magazine. The Fantastic Four.

Oct 17, 2017

Shazam Proves Why We Can't Have Nice Things

I've long said that Captain Marvel (the Shazam Billy Batson one, not any of those other guys) could be successful today if they adhered more to the character's whimsical roots, and if they gave him his own universe instead of trying to put him next to Superman and Wonder Woman.

Demand What You Love
by Duy

The biggest change that hurt Captain Marvel is the insistence that he be a part of the DC Universe. I've covered this before, but the whole point is that Cap is built to be the primary superhero in his universe, while putting him in the DC Universe puts him right up against Superman, and he's never going to break that glass ceiling. Superman and Batman are too protected in that hierarchy, so the only solution is to find a niche for Cap. Traditionally, that's been as "the magic guy," which is what the modern version as established by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank does.

Johns and Frank ground their character, named "Shazam" and not "Captain Marvel," in a cynical world where Billy Batson is a jerk with a heart of gold. His character arc is about putting that heart of gold on his sleeve and learning to, you know, not be a jerk. That characterization has been there to some extent since 1987 and Roy Thomas and Tom Mandrake's A New Beginning. Jerry Ordway's Power of Shazam had a version of Billy Batson who bragged about how he was hardened by the streets and, upon his first getting his powers, tossed around the wizard responsible for giving them to him in the first place, because when realism is done lazily, realism is stupid.

It doesn't work for the most part for most longtime fans. Captain Marvel, the most popular and successful hero of the Golden Age of superheroes, who outsold Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman and Captain America at their peaks, was established as a story of whimsy. The high adventure and science-fiction fantasy and wish fulfillment make for a great package. I can understand why longtime fans do not want a cynical, realistic version of Captain Marvel.

And yet, when DC Comics finally gives us not one, but two versions of Captain Marvel that's closest to Otto Binder and CC Beck's versions, people in several Captain Marvel fan groups I'm in still complain about the version of him with the hoodie that's running around in the DC Universe, instead of exhibiting more demand for either of those two versions, each of which place him in his own universe, where he thrives, where the modernization aspect is on the trappings and the science fiction, while keeping their personalities as close to the Golden Age versions as possible.

DC literally gave us three options. One is the current in-DC Universe version, which was never going to work because his basic premise does not work in that universe.

The second option takes place on Thunderworld, in Grant Morrison's The Multiversity. Illustrated by Cameron Stewart, the tale centers around the evil Dr. Sivana colluding with other versions of himself throughout the multiverse to create a day that never was! Captain Marvel saves the day with ingenuity in addition to his usual set of powers, and it ends with this jolly, smiling shot of the Marvel Family.

The third one, Convergence, is the best version, and I ranked it as such when I listed DC's takes on the Marvel Family. Each entrance is momentous, every punch is felt, and they just capture the magic of the Marvel Family. The sense of wonder I feel when I read an Otto Binder/CC Beck Captain Marvel comic is the same one I felt in Evan Shaner and Jeff Parker's Convergence.

And yet, in my experience, all the noise and conversation comes from that first one. It's been three years since Thunderworld and two since Convergence. Fans of the DC version support the DC version. Fans of the original Captain Marvel would rather complain about the DC version rather than demand for either of the other two.

No wonder DC keeps trying to sneak in cynicism. At least that way, they know it'll at least get talked about. We fans can't even support the versions we say we'd enjoy.

If you would like to support Thunderworld or the Convergence versions, here are the trades:

In Search of the Lasso of Truth: An Interview with Christie Marston

I wanted to believe in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, even though I know little of the filmmaker, roll my eyes at the title, and tend to be disappointed by fictionalizations in biopics, which are, of course, often full of heightened drama and good people turned into villains, etc. A woman of color taking an explicitly queer look at a family who changed comics? I want that to be good, not only to have good intentions, and quality production, but to get it right.

In Search of the Lasso of Truth:
An Interview with Christie Marston
Travis Hedge Coke

The more I saw Christie Marston express concern, frustration, and disdain, the more nervous I got. Because, I’d gotten it wrong, at times, too. I totally accepted that, for instance, Olive Byrne Richard and Elizabeth Marston were lovers, in addition to being romantically/sexually involved with William Marston. I’d seen it discussed in print, I had heard it from trusted acquaintances more in the know that I was. And, it seemed agreeable to me. It was, when you look how long they were connected and their lives, adorable. I like amazing couples, and even without William Marston’s living presence, Byrne and Marston were an amazing couple. Except, they weren’t, because it was not that kind of relationship.

So, what was it? What was going on, back then, and with this movie, right now? If I couldn’t rely on academics, comics critics, or writers and artists who’ve seen the depths of the DC archives, who am I going to turn to? Christie Marston, of course, the woman who started me worrying about the picture in the first place, and whose forthrightness has inspired me to steer a clearer path since becoming acquainted with her.

This interview is, in the interest of full disclosure, compiled from waves of question and answer, conducted through private channels. I have rearranged the order of some answers, but kept her statements intact as much as possible. I have not injected any new questions or speculation beyond what you have already read above, though I have reworded myself, for clarity’s sake.

Travis Hedge Coke: Are you looking at Professor Marston and the Wonder Women with any kind of optimism?

Christie Marston: No, I have been looking on with dread. Nobody had ever been in touch with the family to research and gather facts, which was a strong indicator that it was likely to be far from reality.

HC: The title of the movie bothers me. Maybe it shouldn’t, but even a cursory googling shows that Elizabeth Marston were on their own, very very accomplished. “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women,” to me, reads like, “Professor Marston and… um, some women.” Am I reaching?

M: LOL! No, I'm with you on that, but the reason for it is to use Wonder Woman's name in the title.

HC: What kind of negative effects do you believe can come of inaccuracies represented in the film?

M: Both the relationships portrayed and the story of Wonder Woman's 'origin' are sheer fantasy.

What people think about the relationships is pretty incidental. But Wonder Woman came about primarily because of Gram (EHM), and in the film she is doubting and negative. The truth is very much the opposite. My grandfather was hired as a psych consultant to help ease comic books into the mainstream. Charlie Gaines suggested (somewhat jokingly) to WMM that he write a comic book. He went home and discussed it with Gram; she said to go ahead and do it, but that the hero needed to be a woman. The real origin of Wonder Woman should not be obscured!

HC: Where would you suggest people go for the truth about Wonder Woman and about your family? Any particular books, websites, or museums?

M: The best book is Travis Langley's Psychology of Wonder Woman. Tim Hanley did a good job of researching his book; we disagree on a few things but he worked very hard to stick to reality. The Lepore book is pure poison. The Daniels book is pretty, but none too accurate.

HC: What was your grandparents' romantic/domestic situation, as you understand it? (And, are you tired of people asking that? I feel so rude asking, but I admit, I think it matters to be accurate, both historically as notable people, and as part of the roots of Wonder Woman as a concept and character.)

M: It is popular belief that WMM sired Dotsie's (OBR) children. I will not address that; that story belongs to Dots' side of the family. However, the kids were adopted by WMM and EHM to protect them from societal pressure, so they ARE his kids! Gram and Dots were as sisters.

HC: Are your branch and the Olive Byrne Richard branch of the family still close?

M: Really, it was always Gram and Dots who kept us connected, since we lived far apart. After their deaths, there were no regular updates. Dad and Byrne were on the phone frequently, now I talk to Byrne fairly often. I finally met his daughter — my cousin — for the first time last year. (She is wonderful!)

HC: For clarification, is Richard, in Olive Byrne Richard, an adopted surname?

M: Yes. She added that at some point around her first son's birth, and kept it. We all tended to shorthand names (WMM, EHM, MM) and I forget that strangers often refer to her as just Olive Byrne. She was OBR.

HC: I am amazed by Elizabeth Marston and Olive Byrne Richard, but there is so much speculation when it comes to Wonder Woman. How involved were they in the creation of the character and world, but also, in the serialized Wonder Woman stories?

M: EHM was the role model for Wonder Woman's character. She was fair minded, compassionate, intelligent and strong. She was also very determined; born in 1893, she earned 3 degrees and marched forward in life politely ignoring society's norms of the day. She was unfailingly positive and maintained her sense of humor no matter what obstacles got in her way. Dots was also an amazing woman, sharing many of the same characteristics. As to the appearance of Wonder Woman; she had Dots’ height and Gram's curves, and sported bracelets which Dots always wore. There is no doubt that both of them had much to do with Wonder Woman as she was portrayed in WMM's comic stories. Attitude is everything…

HC: What was childhood/family life like? Did you, or any of your family, experience any bullying or difficulty because of public stemming from your grandparents life or work?

M: When I was a kid, the Wonder Woman comic was barely known. It had changed drastically after WMM's death in 1947. Few friends even knew the connection; it just wasn't something that would ever have come up in conversation. The tales of the personal relationships were not hatched until the Les Daniels book was published. I can safely say, however, that I would have set straight any bullies on that or any subject!!

HC: That is the best answer!

M: Well, yeah...there was no bullying anywhere near me in school - if i saw somebody doing that to somebody, I put a stop to it. And made clear that I'd best not hear that it ever happened again. LOL.

HC: Is there any positive value, that you can see, in doing a “true life” movie about your family that is largely fictionalized for effect?

M: No, I see no value in doing a fictionalized movie about this family or any - I have an enormous respect for truth. There is, however, a positive value in doing a true movie or series about the family and Wonder Woman. The real people (and the generations that produced them) were interesting and very much open minded forward thinkers. They did not conform to silly societal norms; they simply worked around them. Like Wonder Woman, they can help people to open their minds, and to stay strong in being true to themselves and others.

HC: Given that the filmmaker wants to promote this as a feminist and queer-positive movie, what would you rather she have focused on, in terms of your family?

M: As far as involving the Marstons in a feminist and queer-positive movie, that would have been easy! All involved very very much pro-choice in all matters. The respect for women went back generations, so the feminist thing was already part of everybody's psyche. There was a lesbian who was very much part of the family who could have been included. The TRUE story would have been SO much better...and true!!

HC: Would you be open to working with a filmmaker on a movie about your grandparents, if they involved family in the vetting process?

M: At this very moment in time, there is a project being pitched which I will endorse if it comes to fruition. It comes from many, many years of very extensive research by a woman of integrity. Over the years of research we have become good friends, and I trust her. I have answered countless (countless!!! That woman wants to know every detail of both facts and personalities!) questions over the years, and will certainly continue to do so. She really does know the people involved, even though she never actually met them. I really hope that this happens. The true story is actually pretty fascinating!

Oct 15, 2017

Ranking the Wednesday Comics

So a while back, my girlfriend gave me this for a special occasion.

Originally published in 2010, Wednesday Comics was a true DC Comics art project and was the brainchild of Mark Chiarello. Attempting to recapture the magic of early 20th century newspaper comics such as Little Nemo in Slumberland and Krazy Kat, it was published in newspaper format and came out weekly. This hardcover edition is oversized and on glossy paper, and is gorgeous.

There are 14 features in Wednesday Comics, and while many reviews of the material have come out since, I haven't really run into any reviews that have ranked these 14 features. So you know what? Let's spend the next few minutes...

Ranking the Wednesday Comics
by Duy

There are only 12 pages in each Wednesday Comics feature, and thus not a lot of room for exploration in terms of plot or story. There's a lot to be done in terms of characterization though. But at the end of the day, this is still a book that celebrates the art of comics, and so my judgments will by its very nature be based on how much each story maximizes the artistic potential of these oversized pages.

15. Teen Titans by Eddie Berganza and Sean Galloway

Even if Galloway's art worked for me without the usual black outlines, Teen Titans would be dead last because Eddie Berganza is Eddie Berganza and he shouldn't make any list.

But props to Galloway, who worked on Spectacular Spider-Man, still the best version of Spider-Man outside of the comics.

14. Batman by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

This mystery by the 100 Bullets team never really comes together, especially when you consider that Batman's probably unethical attraction to dangerous women is played upon and never addressed head on. Still, good mood-setting stuff from Risso.

13. Demon/Catwoman by Walt Simonson and Brian Stelfreeze

This should really be called "The Demon, featuring Catwoman," since Selina Kyle spends most of the story under the spell of Morgaine Le Fay. Etrigan the Demon is really the hero here, but what I find most fun about it is that the entire story starts off with Selina going on a date with his alter ego Jason Blood, just to case his house for possible things to steal.

12. Green Lantern by Kurt Busiek and Joe Quinones

Serviceable story with fun art. Nothing to really write home about, I think, but it's pretty much the benchmark of what these things should be like, at the least.

11. Superman by John Arcudi and Lee Bermejo

The Superman arc is a fun one where Superman is forced to doubt himself and he has to go to Smallville to find his motivation again.

Points off for this, and I know it's personal preference, because Lee Bermejo's art just isn't the kind I think of when I think of these big newspaper-style comics. There's room for experimentation, of course, but something about it just didn't seem to fit.

10. Wonder Woman by Ben Caldwell

Talk about experimentation in Wednesday Comics, and this is it. Caldwell goes the exact opposite route of most everyone else and packs as many panels as possible in his strip, instead of going for money shots. Unfortunately, this led to some confusing panel flow and made it tough to read at points.

9. Supergirl by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner

With Streaky the Supercat and Krypto the Superdog going frantic and wreaking havoc on the city, Supergirl has to find out what's going on. With a twist ending that will put a smile on your face, it's easily the most fun of the strips.

8. Deadman by Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck

Deadman wants to help out a beautiful woman, and then gets sucked into Hell! Dave Bullock's art is a visual treat.

7. The Flash by Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher

Kerschl and Fletcher really play with the form here and for the most part cut each installment into two strips: The Flash and someone else, like Iris West. Narratives intertwine, and the story involves time travel and therefore multiple versions of The Flash. It can get confusing, but the playfulness is worth it.

6. Sgt. Rock by Adam Kubert and Joe Kubert

This Sgt. Rock story isn't as good as Joe Kubert's in DC Legacies, but it's Adam's first turn scripting, so we'll let that part off the hook. This is one of Joe's last works, and it's as good as ever. The scratchiness and the mood are perfect for wartime-era comics. Just like Kubert's art always was.

5. Metal Men by Dan Didio and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

My favorite artist in the entire book is Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, so this was always gonna rank fairly high. The story is nothing really to write home about, with its most ostensibly impactful moments lacking much oomph. But the art has Garcia-Lopez at his draftsman's best, with his big trick of characters breaking out of panels to emphasize power and momentum being used multiple times. I actually thought he was holding back. I'd like to have seen more.

4. Metamorpho by Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred

This type of fun sci-fi stuff isn't the kind of thing Gaiman is known for, but it's one of the most experimental comics in the entire collection. Metamorpho the Element Man has to go to The Antarctic to dig up some treasure. Allred's art is drop-dead gorgeous, and the two of them take risks with the form. There are two pairs of installments that form a polyptych, or a continuing picture, which is something I'm surprised I've never seen actual newspaper artists do. There's also a sequence where Metamorpho and Element Woman go through each element in the Periodic Table, which doesn't sound like it should be a fun read, but it is.

3. Strange Adventures, Featuring Adam Strange, by Paul Pope and Jose Villarubia

Not counting Jonni Future, a genderbent analogue of Adam Strange, this is my favorite version of DC's premiere spaceman. Paul Pope's art really shouldn't grab me as it goes against so many of my usual tastes, but I love it. He has so much quirkiness and so much momentum that it's a pleasure to look at.

His reinvention of Adam Strange is also something of interest. Traditionally, Adam Strange is an Earthman who gets taken to the scientifically advanced planet Rann via a Zeta Beam, where he becomes their superhero and falls in love with Princess Alanna. Pope turns Rann, into a wartorn planet, and Alanna into a Dejah Thoris–type warrior woman. But the biggest change he makes is the idea that the Zeta Beam translates you from your Earth self into your Rann self. So whereas in the regular DC Universe, Adam Strange is a superhero on Rann but normal on Earth only because he's surrounded by other superheroes on Earth, in the Popeverse, he's a superhero on Rann and a tired old man on Earth. This twist leads to the resolution of the conflict, but also raises questions. What would Alanna be like on Earth? And if they were on Earth, would they still be in love?

It's a really interesting take on the character that may not be sustainable in the regular DC Universe, but I'd love to see it explored more.

2. Hawkman by Kyle Baker

Kyle Baker is more known for being a humor cartoonist, so seeing him draw this way was a revelation. I've always liked the look and visual of Hawkman, so this was perfect. I really would like a more substantial Hawkman run from Baker or an artist with a similar tone. Plus, he really won me over with that dinosaur.

1. Kamandi by Dave Gibbons and Ryan Sook

Pretty much all of the Wednesday Comics are well drawn, but Ryan Sook's rendition of the Last Boy on Earth is evocative of a specific classic newspaper strip: Hal Foster's Prince Valiant. The prose style also allows him and Gibbons to develop the story more than the other strips did. It even includes a romance, as we're introduced to Orora, possibly The Last Girl on Earth. With the beautiful art, the callback to a classic strip, and more development than the other strips, it's hard not to make Kamandi the top Wednesday Comic.

Oct 14, 2017

Did Mars Ravelo Really Read Captain Marvel?

I've made many comments over the years about how Mars Ravelo must have based Darna, the Philippines' #1 superhero, on Captain Marvel, he who says "Shazam!" Since Darna's alter-ego is a young girl who says a magic word to turn into Darna, she's more like Captain Marvel than she is like Wonder Woman, who she looks more like. But recently I was asked...

Did Mars Ravelo Really Read Captain Marvel?
by Duy

Well, honestly, although I do vaguely remember reading somewhere that he definitely read Captain Marvel, I can't find it now. What I do find are some unsubstantiated claims and references to Superman, specifically this, pertaining to Varga, his pre-Darna creation:

Alam mo naisip kong gawin yung Varga para itapat kay Superman. Lalake yung sa mga Amerikano, babae yung sa atin. Di ba ayos?
(You know, I thought of doing Varga to put up against Superman. The Americans have a guy, we have a girl. Wouldn't that be cool?)

However, I would find it really difficult to believe that he didn't base Darna on Captain Marvel. Let's just look at some facts.

1. Mars Ravelo created Varga in 1939

Varga was the original Darna, and was created to be a counterpart of Superman. There isn't much more to her beyond that and the fact that her costume is based on the Philippine flag:

That's because Varga wasn't actually published until 1947. So although her creation precedes the release date of Captain Marvel (1940), there are no details about how her secret identity would have worked in 1939. When Varga was released in 1947, rights disputes forced Ravelo to give her up and then create Darna with the legendary Nestor Redondo. (Side note: Isn't this basically what happened with Walt Disney and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, leading to the creation of Mickey Mouse with the legendary Ub Iwerks?)

2. By the time Varga/Darna was released in full, Captain Marvel was the most popular superhero in the world. 

Superman was created to be a two-fisted champion of the oppressed. He was a grounded hero who just happened to have a crapload of superpowers. By 1950, he was participating in fantastical sci-fi adventures, and that's because Captain Marvel was outselling him, and everyone else.

As Michael Uslan put it:
If you go back and look at when Captain Marvel first started outselling Superman, this was a huge, huge turning point in the Golden Age of comics. And the way DC responded was by ordering a more comical, silly direction for Superman. 
All of a sudden, you started to see one-after-another covers of Lois dropping the pie she’d made on Superman’s toe, or Lois cutting Superman’s hair in a barbershop. They started to switch it over, since Captain Marvel had the lighter tone and was outselling Superman.
So Varga may have been created before Captain Marvel, but by the time she was published and had a secret identity, Captain Marvel had already been firmly established as a young boy named Billy Batson who said one magic word and then turned into a superhero. That's a bit too much of a coincidence.

3. During World War II, American soldiers got comics in care packages
Many soldiers who had read comics overseas found them to be a comfort item on their return. Maybe it was escapism, maybe it was a habit, but either way they were a solace to many of the soldiers who would later introduce the comics to their children.  -From History Rat
And a huge portion of American soldiers were stationed here in the Philippines. If Captain Marvel was the biggest comic book of the time, and American soldiers got comics in care packages, it's incredibly unlikely that Captain Marvel didn't make it to the Philippines. I mean, Plastic Man did:

Larry Alcala's Siopawman, playing off the three
most famous heroes whose names end with "man."

And we know Ravelo based a superhero on him:

The not-so-imaginatively-named Lastikman,
on a much more imaginative cover for Aliwan

4. Mars Ravelo created Captain Barbell, for crying out loud.

After her release in komiks, Darna had two movies in the 1950s, and Ravelo was a legend. He created more in the 1960s, most very probably because the superhero genre was getting revitalized in America. And next to Darna, his most famous creation was a young scrawny asthmatic boy named Tenteng, who'd lift magic barbells to become Captain Barbell.

C'mon. That's pretty obvious. The names even rhyme!

So Therefore...

It's possible that Mars Ravelo never had Captain Marvel on the brain when creating Darna. It is. It's also possible that the name of your favorite search engine has nothing to do with Barney Google. Meaning it could have happened that way.

But it would have been extremely unlikely. And I really, really wouldn't believe it.

Oct 12, 2017

Private Eye: A Dip Into Pay What You Want Comics

As (nonexistent) fans of the (infrequent) column will know, I have an affinity for Brian K. Vaughn’s work. I’ve read most of his non-Big 2 canon and have found it worthwhile enough to continue returning again and again to this writer. For a slight change of pace, i.e. not just reading trades from the library, I delved into the world of pay-what-I-want comics and devoured Private Eye.

A Dip Into Pay What You Want Comics

The premise is simple, the execution is remarkable, and the ending is competent (for me, a compliment). All together, a good use of whatever you choose to pay.

The story takes place more or less 50 years after everyone’s every move on the Internet is made public. The result is that privacy is paramount and visual gags are plentiful.

I am nominally less interested in visuals than story, but this story made me take heed of the visuals. The first chapter does an efficient job of showing that what being presented on the page should not be taken at face value. Other than that, the story is a basic whodunit noir murder. The dialogue is heavily influenced by this decision and the number of gags in the first four pages let you know that no matter how closely you pay attention, something will get by you.

Despite this cautionary statement, pay attention to the words. They are dense and full of playful allusions. The words can be preachy coming from the PI, but it’s effective and usually terse. Now you know everything about the world necessary to pull you in and read 9 more chapters about a murder you already know the solution to.

The visuals sprinkled throughout the 10 chapters, particularly in crowds and as asides, are what make the world immersive and worth wanting to explore. Perhaps one of the biggest conceits is that in a world with elaborate and manifold gags hiding people’s identities, our hero uses basically a domino mask.

The story is basically Chinatown with a bit of the Maltese Falcon thrown in. The bit of difference is that the Cloud was the Internet and not Los Angeles water rights or the most famous McGuffin. This fact does nothing to diminish the effect of the story, because while we know who killed the dame, we don’t know who (nom) de Guerre is after. The villain’s name is perhaps my favorite bit of wordplay in this entire story, followed closely by all the PI references.

For me, what distinguishes this work from prior BKV efforts is the believability of the world and the characters. It’s a good example of the synthesis of images and words that I often find dragging down other works. The dialogue make sense coming from the established characters and the pontificating is held to a minimum - except for the villain, he gets to pontificate to the genre’s fullest extent.

The fact that everyone is in some sense wearing a literal mask and not who they appear to be can lead to some interesting thought experiments. Who is PI actually kissing? How much do we know about the protagonist? Is he really a protagonist? The audience knows more than our main cast, but we still don’t know everything. It’s a difficult trick to pull off in any medium, but I think it works well in this limited series.

The story asks one questions two ways: how well do we know the people around us? It does so with its visuals and its dialogue. In this tale, the society enforces strict public privacy. In public, you are effectively anonymous once an adult. However, even in private, people exercise the privacy that ultimately led to the Flood. They keep secrets - non-forgotten flames, research into famous figures, activities outside the home - from those ostensibly closest to them. By the end of the first volume, we know that the missile we’ve seen is probably not missile, but rather a satellite to bring back the Internet. Or at least make Gramps’ cell phone work again.

Volume 1 set up this action, now it’s time to run to the conclusion. Volume 2 kicks off with some good, old-fashioned noir beat ups and rising action and tension. The first issue is about racing toward these 2 groups meeting and it’s done effectively. As is the violent cooler/fridging of someone who got too close.

I don’t speak French, so half of what the mercs say in this series I have to pick up from context.

As you wind toward the climax, the groups of hidden people, come together and their masks fall away. The last sentence was both clever word play and also a way to move along PI meeting de Geurre. Plus, we get plenty of comic violence along the way throughout the opening chapter.

Despite the action rising, as they move from a confrontation between protagonists and antagonists, there is still time for character development and how PI meets his Jimmy Olsen — or whatever Mel is supposed to be. It’s a nice piece of work and elides well with Melanie moving in and out of consciousness, enough of a slide to make you think the Frenchman is going to off her, but not enough to confirm it at this juncture (there are still 3 chapters to get through people). You also get 2 fakeouts for the price of one, plus a blowup doll. So, definitely an adult comic.

One thing the book is consistently good at doing is adapting the noir movie stylings with hardboiled fictional structure. So, of course, PI steals a ride, gets to shoot someone and rush away. It was at this point in the book that my strong suspicion that Gramps is what BKV sees himself becoming was largely confirmed.

At the point where the Press become involved more actively in the story, the allusions to the critical reader who is also a mild connoisseur of grammar, reporting, and the history there of becomes apparent. These are definitely a 1-3% type of reference, but I appreciate the appearances of Strunk and Bly in the book. If you don’t know who they are, well, use the Internet.

However much I might appreciate these references, I do realize that unless a reader is well versed enough in journalism to understand basic newspaper terms, it hamstrings understanding of what’s going. The flip side, is naturally, it encourages you to re-read the books. Which is how I picked up on at least half the details.

The appreciation for making the future Los Angeles a place that is lived in by a society only at a slight right angle to ours is peppered throughout the book. In Chapter 8, though, just dropping what the Wonderwall does in between all the group shots is perhaps the one element of the future I appreciated the most.

It’s nonchalant and simply a part of the new LA. So much so, the characters don’t care about it enough to make the reader think it’s of any importance. At first, I thought it was some cheesy boardwalk-type place.

After this point, it becomes a race to the finish. Chekhov's rocket is about to go off. But is it going to actually bring back the Internet? Is Melanie going to die? Since this isn’t an ongoing and it fits in with the noir theme of few bright, shiny outcomes, any outcome is really possible.

Naturally, before we fully get to the concluding scenes, we need to establish PI’s need to get to actual truths. The surface ones haven’t served him since he was kid. The flashback does a nice mix of showing and telling before plunging back into the action. There is always time, though, always, to rag on old smartphones.

To finalize the noir arc, PI and Raveena must engage in some gruesome hand to hand combat and anti-heroic theatrics. I find fist fights and knife fights to be far more stomach churning than simple shootouts. I find this feeling true in comics and on TV. There is a kinetic aspect of those kinds of fights that is simply too fast with a gun. Basically, in this final stretch of action before the denouement, I received my fill of people getting punched and stabbed with stuff.

The finale of the whole event is both blockbuster epic and also anticlimactic. However, the anticlimax is not a let down. It’s more a reflection on the fact, stated repeatedly throughout, that the new normal of the book’s universe is difficult to shake. At the beginning of the book, the Flood was a flood of information that ruined society and reshaped the entire country. At the end of the book, a different flood occurs.

It’s a stunning set of pages, with few words and some earned emotion and reactions. The whole section is straight out of Hollywood, but it’s earned. The Deluge is a more literal flood. The outside world, or in this case the higher Pacific Ocean, could not be kept at bay. However, it also sends out the message that the truth of what was going on will probably never get out. It does end on a paranoid note, which is fitting with the overall style and goal of the effort. The simpler answer is plain terrorism and not a return of a past the future is convinced was a nightmare.

While I am a frequent reader and booster of BKV and his associated artists, I do often critique him for flubbing the landing of his limited series. Often, the final chapter is ham handed and undercuts the points he had been making. I think this of Y The Last Man and Ex Machina, despite otherwise possessing a strong affinity for these series. Private Eye does not suffer from this problem. Even if the prose of the final exchange with Gramps (aka future Brian) is less eloquent, the series served, in this crotchety, very occasional blogger’s opinion, as one of the best blends of noir detective stories with the crazy, bonkers visuals comics can pull off. I want to see and play in this world more, but I also know that this limited run — at a price I chose — is enough.

Oct 11, 2017

Remembering Our Batman

Being a comic book, animation and movie fan runs in the family. Most of our family members loves pop culture. I am what I am today because of my family and I think I won’t be a big comic book fan without the influence of my late aunt, Jo.

Remembering Our Batman
by Migs Acabado

Tita Jo loved comic books. When I was still young she used to give me comic books whenever she gets home during weekends. Even when I was already in college and she was already working in Singapore, she still bought comic books for me.  I remember the expensive trade paperbacks or hardcovers that I cannot afford to buy then, she bought them for me. She told me while working in Singapore that she made sure that she bought at least one graphic novel every payday. We always had our geek talks whenever we read or watched something.

Batman and Phantasm, by Jo R. Santos

She was a big fan of Batman. She loved Batman: Hush, Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, and The Killing Joke.  She also had other Batman merchandise ranging from toys, utensils, stuffed toys, playing cards and anything that you can think of. Her favorite Batman artist was Jim Lee. She told me that Jim Lee is the perfect Batman artist because he draws Batman beautifully. She was a DC guy and she rarely bought or read comics from Marvel. Besides Batman and DC, she was also a very big Vertigo and present day Image fan. She introduced me to the Vertigo titles as well as Saga and Tokyo Ghost from Image. One of the major things that I have adopted from her is that I learned to read and love nonsuperhero comic books. She made me a certified comic book fan by introducing me to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man (one of my favorite comic books of all time), and the works of Alan Moore. She also introduced me to world of indie comics. She also loved attending comic book conventions. In 2012, it was a dream came true when we met Mark Millar and got our comics signed.

A few years back, we were joking and she told me that someday I will inherit all her comic books. During that time, I was thinking that it’d take a very long time to inherit those because she was very healthy and very cheerful and you wouldn’t notice if there were any problems. I never thought that they’d be left under my care very soon. Last year, she got ill and one Sunday last October, she never woke up. It was a very rough year for me and that was the biggest blow of 2016. Up until this day I still cannot believe that she is gone. She was also a talented artist. Before she passed away, she was supposed to do a comic book with my youngest brother. It was meant to be released during the 2016 Komikon, but sadly it will never see the light of the day.

Her sickness did not stop her love for the medium. She continued to read comic books when she had the time. The last comic book that she read is Saga volume 6, the end of the first arc. I am glad she was able to witness the reunion of Marko, Alana, and Hazel. The last comic book that I gave her is the 2016 Batman Day free comic book. Unfortunately she was unable to read it. I now have her comics and I still get emotional whenever I get my hands on them. Every time that I touch them I cannot help but to think of Tita Jo. Those were her most prized possessions. It makes me sad to think that I can no longer see the owner of those books.

I know she is in a better place now. Even though she is no longer with us, I always think of her every day. Whenever I read comic books, she is alive. I know that she is watching us from afar. Just like Batman does.

Oct 10, 2017

Thor's Replacements, and Going Back to Basics

Thor's got a movie coming up soon (and it's gonna be the best superhero movie of the year, natch), and with that, Thor Odinson is gonna get his hammer back, taking over from Jane Foster, who's held the hammer for the better part of four years. Thor's always getting his hammer taken from him though, ever since 1978, and it's only going to be matter of time before he loses it again.

Thor's Replacements and Going Back to Basics
by Duy

As far as I'm concerned, Jane Foster is the best replacement Thor. That's not even close for me — she's far and away the best one, not just as a character, but also because of what she does for Thor Odinson himself.

In Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's run on the character, which I will maintain forever is better than their more-lauded run on The Fantastic Four, Mjolnir has a very specific enchantment: "Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor." That's established in Journey Into Mystery #83, the first appearance of Dr. Don Blake, who holds the hammer and gets the powers of Thor. That he was always the real Thor to begin with isn't revealed until the 159th issue, six years later. That's kinda nuts.

The first replacement Thor was a human cameraman named Red Norvell, created to resemble the Thor of myth with his red hair, beard, and barbarian-like stance. There's a bit of a "cheat" in this one, as the story specified that Odin was specifically trying to create a substitute Thor to die in Ragnarok, rather than his own son. In this story, Red wasn't "worthy," but rather needed to wear a bunch of Asgardian paraphernalia to lift Mjolnir. He was later rewarded a hammer of his own, called a "War-Hammer." There isn't really much to Red, other than being a dude with the powers of Thor.

The second replacement Thor is Beta Ray Bill, introduced during Walter Simonson's incredible run on the character. Bill is, in fact, introduced in the very first issue as an antagonist, and I can only imagine that if you were there at the time, the moment is very powerful, seeing this horse-faced monster beating the hell out of Thor, and then lifting Mjolnir. Bill never actually "replaced" Thor, unless you count the fact that during Simonson's run, he had adventures on Earth, while Thor had adventures in Asgard.

Bill was eventually rewarded his own hammer, called Stormbreaker, and has been a fixture in the Marvel Universe since. This is also where Odin removed the enchantment that could change Thor to Don Blake and gave it to Bill, in effect ending Don Blake's existence.

Despite his vocal fans though, he's managed to co-star in a couple of team books and a few miniseries, never really holding down a title of his own. This strikes me as strange, and I always wonder how he got such a loyal following since even his appearances under Simonson were limited. (It might also be a numbers thing. Beta Ray Bill fans tend to be the hardcore Walt Simonson fans, and there are currently just under 7,000 members of The Walt Simonson Appreciation Society, if that's anything to go by.) In the end, I think a lot of it is the fact that Simonson really showed us how awesome Bill was, making us want more, but no one since has really taken that ball and run with it.

Instead, once Simonson was off the book, Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz did a one-off story introducing Dargo Ktor, a punk kid from the 26th Century who finds Mjolnir when Thor is missing.

How does one take an iconic costume and ruin it?
You become Dargo, that's how.

I actually really hate Dargo, as he's so late 80s/early 90s while talking in pseudofuturistic speak. But Bill broke the wall down, is the thing. At this point, anyone can tell a story about someone worthy holding Mjolnir. The difference? With Bill, it was legitimately new.

DeFalco and Frenz later would remove Thor Odinson from the book altogether for two years, giving the hammer to New York architect Eric Masterson, who, like Don Blake, was lame. By lame, I mean they needed canes to walk. But in the case of Eric Masterson, I mean the other, more colloquial meaning of lame. He was a generic everyman who doubted himself, and it frustrated me to no end, even as a kid, that he wasn't the real Thor during the Infinity Gauntlet and the Infinity War.

Such... bad... dialogue

I should make it clear that I actually love the DeFalco and Frenz run in the middle of these two stories. I just can't sit through these two stories.

Masterson would eventually get his own hammer (see a pattern here?), called the Thunderstrike. His name was... also Thunderstrike. And his costume was a vest and a ponytail, because that's just how the 90s rolled, baby.

The mass destruction known as Onslaught, which removed the Avengers and the Fantastic Four from the Marvel Universe for a year, came soon after, and in Thor's final issue at the time, Jane Foster, who had not been a regular in decades, showed up to say goodbye.

This was also a good time to remind us that Thor was once a doctor.

Upon his return, the changes in Thor's world after that came not in the form of people replacing him or lifting the hammer, but in the changes of his alter egos and his roles. Dan Jurgens and John Romita, Jr. brought back the Don Blake dynamic, this time merging him with a paramedic named Jake Olson.

It's also in this run that Jane Foster is brought back as a supporting character, and where we learn that she'd become a doctor. I think this is where the most character development for Jane Foster came prior to the current series.

Also, can we just take a minute here to appreciate how perfect JRJR was for Thor?

Olson started out as a decent idea, bringing the character back to basics, but then got unbelievably convoluted. Y'see, he was really a drug dealer who was pretending to be a paramedic cop and his partner was trying to get the goods on him and somehow Loki was involved and there may or may not have been a twin brother...

Soon after that, Thor took over as King of Asgard, and then Ragnarok happened and Marvel shuffled the Asgardians away for a while. Then they got brought back by a writer who somehow overlooked the fact that what made landmark Thor runs great were momentum and nonstop action, and made the title the slowest and talkiest it's ever been, so let's just skip over that.

And then Jason Aaron got on the book.

Look, the greatest Thor run of all time is up for debate. It's either Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's run, which introduced Thor to the Marvel Universe, or it's Walt Simonson's run, which broke all the rules and infused the title with a level of high fantasy that had never been reached. It all depends on what you're looking for. I could go either way on that debate.

What I'm not going either way on? Jason Aaron is number 3.  With Esad Ribic providing gorgeous painted art that looks positively mythical, Aaron worked with the concept of Thor being a god that doubts. Fighting Gorr the God Butcher, who goes through time killing gods, it takes three Thors to win. These are Thor the Avenger of the present-day; young Thor, back when he was still unworthy of Mjolnir and held on to the axe named Jarnbjorn; and King Thor, far off in the future when the Earth is dead, the last god of Asgard. This gives current-day Thor cause to doubt everything, including the place of gods in the universe.

Can I just say I love this so much?
"Then struck Thor.
With the fury of a billion storms."

And that's what causes him to lose Mjolnir. Being told that Gorr was right, Thor immediately becomes unworthy. The person who ends up picking the hammer is Jane Foster.

The first time we see Jane Foster in Aaron's run is in the excellent 12th issue, which shows a day in the life of Thor. We learn that Jane has been diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing treatment, so Thor, attempting to make her feel better, takes her to the moon.

I've talked before about how I think it makes sense that Jane was worthy, but I'll just do a quick recap: this is a woman who's been through Thor's side and devoted her life to saving people. She's brave, she's caring, and she's hung with the gods. She's worthier, and certainly more interesting, at least, than Eric freaking Masterson, and we've been through more with her than we have with Beta Ray Bill. And Dargo is better left unmentioned. Let's never mention Dargo again.

What makes Jane more interesting for me than Eric Masterson, which, really, is the only one we can compare her to, is the overall package. She's a doctor, which kind of brings us back, full circle, to Don Blake, but she's also a cancer patient, and becoming Thor reverses the treatment of her chemotherapy every time. It's an interesting twist and underscores her bravery, in that she would pick becoming Thor and saving people rather than saving herself. And there's the fact that Odin has always hated her as Jane, and hates her even more as Thor. Compare this to Masterson's generic New York everyman persona, and it's easy to see Jane win out.

Aaron and Jane's artist, Russell Dauterman, have also introduced a new aspect of Mjolnir: the Mother Storm, which is a retcon to explain how the hammer can control the thunder to begin with, and how, in this run, the hammer is able to defy the wishes of Odin. It's always weird to introduce retcons, but remember, Thor always being Thor and Don Blake not being real was a retcon they did as early as 1968. There's no Marvel hero, and very few characters, that I find lend themselves to retconning as much as Thor. I actually think the contradictions give the tales an air of myth. The visuals of the new dynamic with Mjolnir are beautiful.

I think it's pretty awesome that Thor Odinson is still around, holding Jarnbjorn, being a badass, doubting himself and working himself out of that doubt. Seriously, read The Unworthy Thor. You'll know that Thor Odinson doesn't need the hammer to be a positive role model.

And yes, I think it's pretty awesome that a woman is holding Mjolnir, because I think it's a great visual and I think it's empowering. My niece's favorite Marvel hero is Thor, and although I have not given her these books to read, I look forward to doing so when the run is over. Whether or not she processes it consciously, she'll know that a woman can be Thor as well.

And yet...

It's disconcerting to me how many people in the Thor fandom seem to have an issue with that last part. There's a frequent commenter in several Thor groups, whose first name on Facebook is meant to sound like the primary male hormone, who continually says that women shouldn't hold Mjolnir because women weren't warriors and women aren't Thor, says that Odin doesn't like Jane and therefore she isn't worthy since Odin has to approve, and complains that Thor has been shuffled off the stage and is going through too much hardship. This person also takes issue with the Mother Storm retcon, which, since it was revealed around two years into Jane's run, makes me wonder why this guy stuck with a book he had already decided he didn't like. When I brought up the fact that he was a fan of Beta Ray Bill, he dismissed it by saying that Bill is a warrior and therefore was worthy. When I brought up the fact that Dargo and Masterson weren't warriors, he brought up that they were worthy — Mjolnir said so. Plus, they were going through hardships that proved they were worthy.

This person is an extreme example, of course, but those sentiments in general seem to permeate an undercurrent of fandom. Let's look at those sentiments one by one.
  1. Thor isn't a woman. Well, the mythical Thor isn't a woman, no. But if you count alternate realities, Thor's been a woman in at least two of them, and here's one. But more importantly, Thor isn't supposed to be a crippled doctor, a lame architect, a horse-faced alien, a cameraman, and a punk kid from 2588 either. If we're complaining about Thor being a woman because of what Thor isn't, we should be prepared to complain about those too.  If we're not, then there's really only one thing that separates Jane from the others, and I don't have to tell you what that is, and I don't have to tell you what it looks like to complain primarily about her if the complaints apply to the others just as much.
  2. Women weren't warriors in the Viking era. Well, archaeologists are continually finding exceptions. But even without that, this is a genre that's supposed to stick up for the underdog. The hammer is meant to turn you into Thor if you're worthy. Are we going to say all women aren't worthy? How does that sound?
  3. Odin doesn't like Jane and therefore Jane shouldn't be worthy because Odin is in charge of the enchantment. This is addressed within the story, making Odin himself unable to lift the hammer, because of the Mother Storm retcon.
  4. Thor Odinson is off the stage. Thor Odinson is still around, making appearances here and there, recently headlining his own miniseries and returning to the pages of Thor. Back when Eric Masterson was Thor, Thor Odinson was gone for two years. You know where he was? In a bag.

    No, literally, he was in a bag.

    Spoiler alert: he's not really in the bag. They just teased it for two years.

    Don't complain to me about Thor being gone because of Jane if you were okay with Thor being in a bag for two years.
  5. Jane has been established as not a warrior. Of all the replacement Thors, exactly one was a warrior: Beta Ray Bill. But being a warrior was never specified in the worthiness clause. That's kinda the thing with magic; it's all subjective based on how you interpret the text. It's like in Gargoyles, when they say that the Gargoyles will remain stone until the castle reaches the clouds, so Xanatos just literally lifts the castle and rebuilds it on top of his tower so it touches the clouds. Or on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where it says no weapon known can kill the Judge, and Buffy realizes that was written centuries ago and fires a rocket launcher at him. Jane Foster saved lives. Jane Foster fought for her life. Jane Foster has been with gods and stood up to gods. Jane Foster is worthy. The Mother Storm said so.
  6. The Mother Storm. Granted, there's always going to be resistance to a retcon, and you either ride with it or you don't. Me, I ride with this one because when they introduced it, I'd been entertained up to that point.
The Mother Storm also gives us an easy loophole, one that I hope is used. The Warhammer, Stormbreaker, and Thunderstrike exist. I want Thor Odinson back as Thor as much as anyone. But I also want Jane to stay. Isolating the Mother Storm and creating a hammer out of it? That'd be fun. It'd be a lot of fun.

Jason Aaron has written the third best Thor run of all time, and at this point more than half of it has starred Jane Foster. I can't wait for him to resolve the Thor-doubts-himself angle and bring him back, but he's made me love Jane as Thor so much, that I hope he keeps her on board.

Let's close this column off with the greatest line in Thor history:

"Today my hammer comes for your face!"