Sep 16, 2019

First Appearance Flashback: Moon Knight

It’s always interesting to look at a character’s first appearance and see what aspects of that character were in place from the very beginning.  Batman was famously machine-gunning vampires and executing criminals in his early appearances, while Spider-Man debuted basically as the same character we know and love today.

With that in mind, this ongoing series will be taking a look at the first appearances of notable comic book characters, to see how they hold up with the modern-day depictions.  First up is the upcoming star of a Disney Plus television show, Moon Knight.

First Appearance Flashback: Moon Knight
Ben Smith

I’m not going to go into the full details, but once upon a time comic books were considered to be very bad for kids.  So bad that comic book companies self-censored their content by establishing the Comics Code Authority.  It was the code’s job to ensure comics were not too scary or stimulating, and so one of the many rules under the code was that no werewolves or other horrific characters could appear.

Following the success of Stan Lee and Marvel publishing a Spider-Man story without the approval of the Comics Code, about the dangers of drugs, the Code was revised to be less restrictive.  Thus, the ‘70s saw the launch of several horror comics with a superhero twist, like Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night. The latter featured a, surprise, werewolf by the name of Jack Russell (that name is a little on the nose, I know).  Jack was in conflict with a shadowy organization named The Committee, which is where Moon Knight gets involved. Werewolf by Night #32 was released in 1975, written by Doug Moench, with art by Don Perlin.

The story begins mid-fight between Jack and this new Moon Knight character.  Moon Knight would later regularly be compared to Batman.  Like Batman, Moon Knight has several identity-themed throwing devices.  Unlike Batman, Moon Knight’s crescent-darts are depicted as far more deadly.

As Jack fights for his life, he flashes back to recent events in his life, to when he discovered that he had seriously wounded his best friend while he was a werewolf.  He returns home from that hospital visit to meet Moon Knight, who we learn in a different flashback (within this flashback) was hired by The Committee to capture Jack Russell.

Marc Spector is a highly-decorated mercenary with several dangerous combat tours on his resume.  The Committee gives him the Moon Knight costume and pays him to capture Jack.

We then return to the current flashback, where Jack escapes from Moon Knight, but before he can get too far, the moon causes him to wolf out once again. Moon Knight tracks him down thanks to his sidekick Frenchie and his helicopter, and we are now caught all the way up to the beginning scene of the comic.

While the werewolf tries desperately to fight back against the ruthless Moon Knight, Frenchie kidnaps Jack’s sister and friend, presumably to use as leverage.  It ends up being unnecessary, as Moon Knight manages to successfully subdue and capture the werewolf.

The story is continued in the next issue, but since this isn’t second appearance flashback, you’ll have to seek out that comic on your own, via your device of choice. (Pssst, here's Marvel Unlimited.)

What aged the best?

Moon Knight’s costume has mostly remained the same since this first appearance, with the all-white color scheme and hood making him instantly unique.  His real name, Marc Spector, and background as a mercenary have remained as well.  Frenchie is still his partner in most incarnations.  Helicopter would also be Moon Knight’s standard mode of transportation, though it would evolve into a mooncopter later on.  His ruthless fighting style would become even more pronounced over time.

What’s aged the worst?

The involvement of the Committee in creating the Moon Knight costume and identity would later be retconned.  Moon Knight would evolve into a heroic figure, an agent of vengeance, in subsequent appearances, not a hired mercenary.  Moench and legendary artist Bill Seinkiewicz would eventually give him a better origin as “the fist of Khonshu” as well as reveal he has a multiple personality disorder. In this first costume design, his cape is attached to his forearm gauntlets.

Overall, the costume, name, and background were in place from the very beginning.  If I had to guess, Moon Knight was created to be an one-time antagonist for Jack Russell, perhaps with the hope of him becoming a reoccurring villain or sometimes ally.  However, they did far too good a job designing that costume for him to be relegated to that status.

The common perception of Moon Knight as “Marvel’s Batman” has consistently managed to attract a higher level of talent than a character of his status would probably otherwise demand, to include Charlie Huston, David Finch, Brian Michael Bendis, and Warren Ellis.

Personally, I believe he is one of the most consistently entertaining characters Marvel has, and it all began in an obscure horror comic about a werewolf.  You can never predict what will happen in comics.

Sep 11, 2019

Spider-Rama: Amazing Spider-Man #42

Welcome to Spider-Rama! Each Wednesday, Ben and Duy will look at a Spider-Man issue from the very beginning, in chronological order, and answer questions for various categories, inspired in large part by one of our favorite podcasts, The Rewatchables by The Ringer. Our goal is to make it to Amazing Spider-Man #200. Will we make it? Grab your Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus or crank up your tablet to Marvel Unlimited, and then tune in every Wednesday to find out!

by Stan Lee and John Romita Sr.

John Jameson gets superpowers and fights Spider-Man, who looks like he was robbing a bank (he was actually trying to get rid of a bomb)! Also, someone shows up at the end.


BEN: Villain appearance count:
  • Green Goblin: 7
  • Doctor Octopus: 5
  • Sandman: 4
  • The Vulture: 3
  • Mysterio: 3
  • The Enforcers: 3
  • Kraven the Hunter: 3
  • The Chameleon: 2
  • Electro: 2
  • The Ringmaster: 2
  • Scorpion: 2
  • Molten Man: 2
  • The Rhino: 2
DUY: First appearance of Gwen Stacy's trademark headband.

BEN: First time John Jameson gets superhuman powers.

DUY: I feel like we're missing something.

BEN: Oh yeah, first full appearance of Mary Jane Watson.


DUY: Jameson trying to rationalize to himself that there's a difference between John having superpowers and everyone else. The thing is, he's not wrong; it's about the character of the person instead of the powers. (Quick sidenote: getting powers isn't the same thing as buying a gun.) He's just generally wrong about everything else.

BEN: His previous stance was that all superheroes are dangerous.


BEN: John’s suit isn’t what I would call dynamic.

DUY: John Jameson is the Joe Smith of superheroes.

BEN: Am I being overly critical, or is “you hit the jackpot” a really weird thing to say? it’s more like she’s describing the situation directly to the readers.

DUY: It's in character for her, for better or worse. To be fair.

BEN: Spider-Man gets rid of a bomb but everyone thinks he was robbing a bank. Does it really take all that long to explain there’d a bomb in the vault? Or even show it to someone ?


BEN:  How would the bank manager know “proportionate strength of a spider?”

DUY: Not just that, but this is now a universe at this point and it's been established that New York has a lot of superpowered beings. Not a single one of them can have super strength other than Spider-Man? Or does everyone in New York just jump to conclusions?

BEN: Maybe Jameson’s rhetoric is working.


DUY: Even as someone who didn't like Mary Jane's eventual character trajectory, there's no way the answer to this is anything other than the reveal.

BEN: Has to be. It’s iconic. So iconic, my mind remembered it as a full page splash.

DUY: I also keep thinking it's a full-page splash. I think because in Parallel Lives, it's drawn as a full-page splash.

BEN: Maybe in Spider-Man Blue too?

DUY: Ah yeah, although in that case, MJ is wearing a different outfit and a slightly different pose. Which is weird. This the iconic MJ outfit, same as Gwen's death outfit. When people cosplay MJ, this is the default outfit.

BEN: It's incredible how unremarkable the rest of the comic is. I’m sure he felt some pressure to deliver on the buildup by Ditko, but there’s no way these guys thought anyone would care about these comics in 60 years. Especially not a supporting character.

DUY: I wonder when this panel really took on a life of its own. It's been replicated, cosplayed, adapted in the cartoons, over and over again. I'm sure there's no way John Romita could have foreseen that. And to close off this section, here it is from the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon from a decade ago, because I'm not going to subject anyone to the 1994 cartoon.


BEN: John Romita. There’s no way Ditko could ever pull off the Mary Jane reveal as effectively

DUY: Absolutely. Even Kirby would have had a better chance than Ditko.


BEN: So, while fighting Jameson, Spider-Man compares him to the Goblin, saying he doesn’t know what he’s doing. We’ve always known Osborn was brain damaged, but we’ve never really thought of him as innocent, a victim of an accident.

DUY:  I think a difference is even before the accident, he was kind of a jerk.

BEN: Something we’ve already noted will get overlooked as time goes on.  I also completely misremembered Foswell’s history. I could have sworn Ditko killed him during a Crime Master story.

DUY: I actually don't remember what eventually becomes of him.

BEN: Me either.

DUY: That's it for Spider-Rama this week.

BEN: Thank you, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko—

DUY: —for telling us we aren't the only ones.

Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page. See you next week!

Sep 9, 2019

Trese Book 7 Preview, with Budjette Tan

If you're from Manila, live in Manila, or are going to Manila this week, you should know that the annual Manila International Book Fair is happening this Wednesday, September 11, to Sunday, September 14. It'll be at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay, next to Mall of Asia, and among other things, Trese 7: Shadow Witness by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo will be released at the Visprint booth.

Alexandra Trese is an investigator of the supernatural, and the series is a mix of crime and horror. It's steeped in Philippine mythology (one of Alex's friends, Maliksi, is a tikbalang — a legendary Philippine creature that is a horse that walks and talks like a human) and history (there's even a boxer character named Manuel who is really familiar).

We caught up with Budjette Tan to find out what to expect, and get some preview pages.

CUBE: What can fans expect in Book 7? 

BUDJETTE: Simply put, you get one “old story” and you get three new stories. Well, it’s an old story if you already bought a copy of either Manila Noir or the Abangan anthology, because we’re finally including Thirteen Stations in the “Trese continuity”. When I wrote that story for Manila Noir, I wanted it to serve as an introduction to the world of Trese since I knew new readers will get to pick up that book. When I sent Kajo that script, he made a comment about how it’s actually “set in the future” and that we should include it in one of the books. And so, we’ve finally reached this time.

Table for Three had a limited release in KOMIKON back in 2016 and I’m happy that we’ve also included that short story in this book. This case is all about a pop-up restaurant run by an aswang-chef.

The other two stories puts the spotlight on Father Matthias Trese, the exorcist / demon hunter of the family. And the last story introduces Jimmy Trese, the art collector / gentleman thief / magic item hunter.

How would you say your writing process and collaboration with Kajo has changed since you started Book 1? 

Not much has changed in our collaboration. Kajo let’s me write the stories. I let him draw the stories. Occasionally, he’d send a thought / idea / plot line over Viber and I’d pick it up and run with it.

I guess the new thing about this book is that for the Jimmy Trese story, I wrote it Marvel style – sending him just general scenes and a story-flow, with very minimal page breakdowns. After I got the pages from him, that’s when I started to write the dialogue and other word balloons. The delightful surprise in the trying to find a voice for this story is how it ended up being narrated by Jimmy Trese. At first, I was trying to write it like I usually write TRESE cases, with a  third person narrator. But there was something about Jimmy. It was as if he demanded for his voice to be heard. And I think we ended up with a very unique sounding story compared to the other three cases in the book.

How do you respond to people saying comics shouldn't be political, considering that you use actual real human beings in your stories? 

If people don’t want politics mixed with their comics should read … I don’t know… a cook book!

In some way or another, comics will end up making a statement about society or politics or religion or all of the above. Some will just be more overt than others.

I’d like to think that when I include these “political characters” that I do it in service of the story and not because I’m promoting a political agenda. I leave that up to the reader to interpret.

Would you say that Alex's politics aligns with yours? Or I guess another way to ask this question is, how personal is Trese for you? How much of Budjette is there on the page?

Yeah, I guess I'm there somewhere ... all over the place... bits and pieces of me. My brother pointed out to me that the Kambal are actually me and him. One is the serious guy and the other is the fun-loving guy. Which is something I never thought of. But that's how I wrote them. I guess these are the times when the old saying "write what you know" comes into play.

As far as the politics are concerned, I think I'm just showing "the world outside out window" (borrowing that from Stan Lee), that we do live a country that have corrupt cops and politicians and at the same time we have cops like Guerrero. We have corrupt politicians and public servants /lawyers who just want to do good, but sometimes go too far when they get a little power in their hands.

Trese's four brothers are based on the four uncles I grew up with and yes, one of them is a priest who told me stories about the exorcism rites he's heard about it in his encounters with other priests.

Any updates you can tell us about the cartoon? Will it adapt the stories as is or go its own way?

No update for now. Maybe we can give you an update early next year. I have read the scripts. I think they work very well in introducing Trese to a new audience. And if you’re an old time reader, then I think Jay Oliva and the writing team have found ways to still surprise you.

And now, without further ado... preview pages!

Sep 3, 2019

Spider-Rama: Amazing Spider-Man #41

Welcome to Spider-Rama! Each Wednesday, Ben and Duy will look at a Spider-Man issue from the very beginning, in chronological order, and answer questions for various categories, inspired in large part by one of our favorite podcasts, The Rewatchables by The Ringer. Our goal is to make it to Amazing Spider-Man #200. Will we make it? Grab your Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus or crank up your tablet to Marvel Unlimited, and then tune in every Wednesday to find out!

by Stan Lee and John Romita Sr.

It's the first appearance of the Rhino!


BEN: Villain appearance count:
  • Green Goblin: 7
  • Doctor Octopus: 5
  • Sandman: 4
  • The Vulture: 3
  • Mysterio: 3
  • The Enforcers: 3
  • Kraven the Hunter: 3
  • The Chameleon: 2
  • Electro: 2
  • The Ringmaster: 2
  • Scorpion: 2
  • Molten Man: 2
  • Rhino: 1
BEN: First appearance of the Rhino, second appearance of Colonel John Jameson—

DUY: —dating all the way back to Amazing Spider-Man #1, no less. Also, animal-themed villains: 5 at this point, with Doc Ock, Vulture, Chameleon, Scorpion, and Rhino. 6 if you count Kraven the Hunter as "animal-themed."

BEN: The official end of Peter and Betty, and the first appearance of Peter Parker's motorcycle.

DUY: What do you think of the Rhino? I feel like he's at most a serviceable villain if Spider-Man needs a brute, but not an unbeatable brute like the Juggernaut. I know they've tried in recent years to give him more personality, but I don't know if I'll ever see him as anything other than third-tier.

BEN: Third tier is right. He's not the best and he's not Joe Smith.


DUY: Peter and Betty breaking up for good, and Peter admitting that it was just because Betty was his first girlfriend. That's how it works, but I didn't expect that level of self-awareness. Also, Anna Watson saying "If Peter Parker were MY nephew, I'd try to make him more independent." I'm glad the comic is putting in another elderly character that calls out how annoying and smothering Aunt May is.

BEN: There’s no reason for her or May to think Peter and MJ would get along.


DUY: I don't know what motorcycles are supposed to look like in the 60s, but that's a moped.

BEN: I might be willing to give it dirt bike status, which is what some kids got to play around with when I was younger.

DUY: Also, wear a helmet.


DUY:  John Jameson's narration of the rescue from the first issue has a thought balloon from Spider-Man.

DUY: If a kid living in Marvel's New York saw the Rhino, and thought any superhero could beat the crap out of him, that superhero in his mind would not be Spider-Man. Thor and the Hulk live there.

DUY: And why does Spider-Man need a bike?

BEN:  I was actually thinking that too. Dude, you can swing across the whole city in 15 minutes. Maybe he gets tired?

DUY: Maybe he just finds it really cool, but it's out of character for him to pay money for that.

BEN: You're not his mom. Leave him alone.

DUY: He's worried that Aunt May will have a heart attack if she finds out he's Spider-Man, but driving a motorcycle is fine?!?

BEN: It's barely a motorcycle. As Peter B. Parker would say, conserve your energy.


DUY: Mine is a Jameson, as usual:

BEN: Mine has Betty and Peter seeing each other for the first time in a while:


BEN: Gwen Stacy!

DUY: It might be Gwen, yeah. Peter's clearly into her at this point. Interestingly, this is a referenced issue for Spider-Man Blue, the six-issue miniseries by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale that recaps a portion of Peter's life under Romita and focuses on how Peter and Gwen fell in love. In that one, when Peter gets his motorcycle, he immediately takes Gwen for a ride.

BEN: It seemed like maybe the original plan was to always have him moving on to a new love interest, but that went away quick if so.

DUY: That's it for Spider-Rama this week.

BEN: Thank you, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko—

DUY: —for telling us we aren't the only ones.

Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page. See you next week!

Sep 2, 2019

By All Means, Give Me a Black Superman. But...

Earlier this year, one of my favorite actors, Michael B. Jordan, likely best known to readers of this website as Erik Killmonger in Black Panther, expressed interest in playing Superman. Some months later, Dwayne Johnson, better known to most comic book fans (due to the medium's logical but largely unexplored overlap with professional wrestling) as The Rock, said, "Hollywood is ready for a black Superman," and followed it up with, "You're looking at him."

And by all means, yes. Give it to me.

Let's get the practical, economic, job-related reasons out first. Before anyone cries out about "racebending," I will remind everyone that bending has been going on in fiction at least since the days of Shakespeare, when boys regularly played the parts of women, and continued to all the times in recent history when a white actor played a character of color (e.g., Liam Neeson as Ra's Al Ghul in Batman Begins, Scarlett Johannson as Major Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell). The difference with it going from colored character to white actor and the other way around, is the simple fact that the former benefits the privileged. The system naturally benefits white actors simply because, consciously or subconsciously, that's the default we work under. And since most big movies these days are adaptations of things that predominantly feature straight white males, some racebending in the latter direction is needed to even out job opportunities. Virtually all multinational companies have this policy of at the very least considering a diverse pool of talent before hiring; why wouldn't Hollywood movie studios?

Okay, now that we can all agree that everyone deserves equal opportunities regardless of the color of their skin, let's focus on Superman the character. Here's the thing. Superman on the screen has been, since Christopher Reeve, for better or worse, been held up to the standard of Christopher Reeve.

I don't know if that's really fair or not, because as loved as Reeve's portrayal is, I don't really find the movies that great. He is incredibly charismatic in the role though, and carried around him a natural presence and an earnestness that would not be matched until Chris Evans showed up as Captain America, four decades later.

Ever since then, Superman has been played by Dean Cain, Brandon Routh, Tom Welling, and Henry Cavill, and if you combined all their faces, it would look like this:

And I'm not saying they keep casting people just because they look like Christopher Reeve, but at the very least, they're casting people that have a resemblance to Christopher Reeve because they're casting people who look like Superman and they get Christopher Reeve conflated with Superman. And yes, Christopher Reeve absolutely, totally looks like a classic, tried-and-true version of Superman...

...but still just a version of Superman.  Here's the thing, I don't think Zack Snyder was entirely wrong in wanting to make his version of Superman as distinct from Reeve as possible (he was just entirely wrong in the whole "let's make a good movie" thing). Creativity, Alan Moore once said, is basically taking an already existing situation and changing the parameters, giving the example of him going to a restaurant and saying, "I'd hate to be a waitress here tonight," switching, in that case, the parameters of his gender and occupation.

The DCEU Superman tried doing that, but unfortunately, one of the parameters they moved was "Have him be raised to want to help people", and that's so core to his actual character that to change it is to remove his power as a symbol. For all that they tried in his appearances to jam it down our throats that he was a symbol of hope, and an almost religious one at that, it never really landed because of the sheer overkill on the destruction and a lack of actually showing why he was a symbol for hope. (There was a lot of telling though.) And maybe, just maybe, one of the solutions to restarting Superman is to get someone who doesn't look like Christopher Reeve as much as possible.

However, Superman is such a powerful symbol that within two years of being introduced as a warrior for social justice, fighting the establishment when he had two, he was posing with classic American iconography:

And in 1986, in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, he was fully reimagined as a government agent, following the rules of a senile President Ronald Reagan, and even though it wasn't Miller's intention for that portrayal of Superman to be so widespread in the public consciousness, that ended up happening anyway, because the association is so easy to make.

Over the decades, we've seen many interpretations and inversions of the Superman concept, both in-house in DC and among other publishers. Among them are:

What if Superman landed in Communist Russia? (Superman: Red Son)

What if Superman retired because the public found him outdated and came back to set the kids straight, becoming a de facto world leader in the process? (Kingdom Come)

What if Superman was an evil world conqueror? (Injustice)

What if Superman was Batman? (Speeding Bullets)

What if Superman landed in Arthurian times? (Kal)

What if Superman was a mouse? (Supermouse)

What if Superman was a mouse, except we don't want any copyright infringement? (Mighty Mouse)

What if Superman was constantly being revised, open to many different interpretations, because the entire story was actually a metafictional story? (Supreme)

And more relevant to our conversation today are four very specific, three of them recent versions of Superman. One is Calvin Ellis, who hails from an Earth where Africans are the privileged race.

The second one is Val-Zod, who basically has his own story on a parallel Earth called Earth-2.

And the third one is an original work by Boom! Studios called Strange Fruit, in which a dark-skinned alien lands rural America in 1927 to help with the Great Flood.

The fourth one  is Icon, the Superman of the Milestone Universe, a publishing line for showcasing minority characters, which might be notable to most of you as the line that created Static of Static Shock.

So in case Michael B. Jordan, The Rock, or any black actor worth his salt wants to give any of these — or any new — interpretations a shot, I'm there. I'm watching. Except...

...I'd kinda want them to play Clark Kent.

I don't want them playing Calvin Ellis, or Val-Zod, or a new type of character. I want to see them play Clark Kent. I want to see what happens when an alien baby who looks like a normal African-American baby lands in predominantly white (84% according to the 2010 United States Census) Kansas, in a little town called Smallville, gets found by a good-natured couple (Whether they're white or black or another racial mix altogether is a different discussion), and see what happens when they start to develop powers. How does growing up black change the experience of Superman?

The entire history of everything would dictate that the world would not accept him the same way Superman has traditionally been depicted as. As Clark Kent, he might even have a harder time getting a job at The Daily Planet, and of course he'd be faced with a lot of racism, casual and otherwise, growing up.

But what I really want is for him to see what all that adds into his provenance as that earnest symbol of hope. How does Superman deal with bigotry when it's something he grew up with? Would he still be the earnest beacon of hope despite the lack of privilege we're accustomed to seeing him have?

I think that that would be an interesting story to tell, and a set of interesting dynamics to explore. And just potentially, it would have something real and of value to say to the world.