Thursday, March 31, 2011

If You're Not Reading Shooter's Blog...

Doug: should be.

Spotlight On: Frank Miller

Doug: Hi, and welcome to the inaugural installment of a new ongoing series of posts. This series was inspired by a post a few weeks back on the Blog Into Mystery. Our friend Jared ran a review of Nova #18, and a discussion ensued on the merits of the Marvel work of Carmine Infantino. So I thought we'd hopefully move some of that spirit over here for an examination of the work of today's spotlight creator, Frank Miller.

Doug: Miller is of course best remembered at Marvel for his re-imagining of the Man Without Fear and the creation of Elektra. Along the way he did some other spot projects and graphic novels. His best work, for my money, was at DC on the Dark Knight Returns, although I'll stand by my assessment that this created an immediacy for companies to rush out "grim and gritty" material -- which only sunk to new "grim and gritty" depths as everyone tried to out-do the other guys! And the Sin City material of course bears mentioning here.

Doug: So the ball's really in your court -- feel free to open up about your opinions, attitudes, musings, et al. of Miller's career. His work in comics at both of the Big Two as well as his Dark Horse stuff, and even his efforts in the film industry are all fair-game topics. Have fun with this, stir the pot a bit, and pay a little homage to one of the gems of the Bronze Age (and beyond).

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1978

Doug: We're downhill on our examination of the 16 years that, at least in some circles, comprise the Bronze Age of comics. The past few years have been high-water marks for many of our readers, as it seems like we've hit a run of 3-4 years when people are really taken back to those first few years of comics buying. The year 1978 saw the birth of the world's first "test tube" baby in the UK, and the ascension to the papacy of John Paul II. The Son of Sam, David Berkowitz, pleaded guilty to six murders, and the Camp David Accords were signed between Egypt and Israel. The mass suicide in Guyana at the direction of the reverend Jim Jones occurred. The comic strip Garfield debuted, and the Sony Walkman debuted. And at the theaters, we believed a man could fly; other major pictures included Grease, The Deer Hunter, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Halloween (egad, was that a fright fest!!).

Doug: National Periodical Publications kicked off the first quarter with
GL/GA #100 which introduced the new Air Wave. Had that one -- and I know just where I bought it! One of my faves (you wouldn't know it from reading my reviews!) was canceled but went out in style when Teen Titans #53 ended the book's revival. Steve Englehart's and Marshall Rogers' Joker Fish story was in Detective Comics #'s 475-476. Maybe the biggest going-on to come out of DC was the introduction of Firestorm the Nuclear Man in the eponymous #1, cover-dated March. As I said in a previous Open Forum, this is a character that's done nothing for me over the years. Maybe I just don't get it. Same thing for Steel, who also debuted that month in Steel #1. The Don Heck art alone would have kept me away from that one! But All New Collectors' Edition C-55 did get my hard-earned $2.00, as it was a treasury-sized dose of the Legion of Super-Heroes and featured the wedding of Lightning Lad to Saturn Girl. Great story! And they weren't done yet, as the Superman vs. Muhammad Ali treasury (All New Collectors' Edition C-56) shipped in March as well. Man, was March 1978 DC's best month in a long time, or what?

Karen: I remember that DC biggie well! I think the Legion one was the only treasury-sized book I had from DC. Doug: However, the House of Ideas was in no way caught napping! Wendell Vaughn debuted in the pages of Captain America and the Falcon #217 by Roy Thomas, Don Glut, and John Buscema --Vaughn would of course later become known as Quasar. Also in January, Captain Britain made his American debut in Marvel Team-Up #65 (which also introduced the villain Arcade). Jim Shooter and George Perez kicked off the "Korvac Saga" in Avengers #167, one of the classic storylines involving Earth's Mightiest Heroes (EDIT: Jim Shooter has recently entered the blogosphere -- see the link on the sidebar. Interestingly, a recent post discusses how the Marvel Method led to the now-decades old personification of Hank Pym as a wife-beater). In February Weapon Alpha, James Hudson, showed up in X-Men #109 to bring Wolverine back to Canada. He failed.

Karen: I believe I had all those Marvel titles you just mentioned. For some reason, I really wanted to see more of Captain Britain after this team-up, but I don't think I ever paid much attention to Excalibur.

Doug: The Captain's costume pictured at right is, in my opinion, far superior to his later duds. I especially like the mask.

Doug: As spring sprung, Showcase turned 100 -- issues, that is. Many of our readers have implored your favorite reviewers to give this one a whirl. Trouble is, neither of us own it! That ish was cover-dated May, and featured somewhat of a prelude to Crisis on Infinite Earths as writers Paul Levitz and Paul Kupperberg and artist Joe Staton combined the powers of five dozen heroes to combat an intergalactic menace that threatened to pull the Earth from its orbit, and in the process disrupted the time stream.
At Marvel, the month of April showcased four major events: Jack Kirby put another two #1's on the shelves with Devil Dinosaur #1 and Machine Man #1, the debut of Spider-Woman #1 by Marv Wolfman and Carmine Infantino, and Luke Cage shared billing with his new partner in Power Man and Iron Fist #50.

Karen: I recall at the time thinking that the pairing of Luke Cage and Iron Fist was just crazy; it reeked of desperation. Yet 30 years later, they're still hanging out together -and both Avengers (although who isn't an Avenger now?).

Doug: DC's summer saw Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes begin the Earthwar in SLOSH #241 in July. The next month Superman began his monthly team-up series in DC Comics Presents #1. And perhaps one of the most well-known (though rarely seen) collectibles was "published" in the summer months, as DC's editors decided to make available many of the stories lost during the so-called DC Implosion -- but only to DC personnel. This was in two volumes of Cancelled Comic Cavalcade, which carried a price tag of 10c, even though it was never sold. On the frontispiece to this chapter of the DC Comics Year By Year, the author writes that in spite of the December release of Superman: The Movie DC dropped 31 titles. Blame was tossed toward the recession, increasing printer costs, and spotty distribution due to blizzards on the East Coast. Maybe... but how about the fact that Marvel was kicking the snot out of DC for shelf space?

Karen: Earthwar was one of my favorite Legion stories -I prefer it to Great Darkness actually. Jim Sherman did a fine job as Legion artist but seems to be forgotten by many. I'd love to get my hands on a copy of Canceled Comic Cavalcade; I keep reading things about it. I wasn't that aware of the DC Implosion at the time as I was still mainly a Marvel reader, but it was obviously a very painful period for the company. On the other hand, we did get Superman:the Movie, which I think is still one of the best super-hero films.

Doug: Marvel's summer of comics love included the introduction of Mystique in a story that ran through Ms. Marvel #'s 16-18, and the renaming of the Rampaging Hulk black-and-white magazine to simply The Hulk! as it attempted to tie-in more closely to the television show.

Doug: As for DC, the
DC Comics Year By Year does not have any entries for September-December. I guess that's because everything was canceled! But Marvel gave fans a costume revamp for Ms. Marvel by noted costume revamper Dave Cockrum in Ms. Marvel #20. The "Korvac Saga" ended in Avengers #177, and David Michelinie and Bob Layton began their classic collaboration in Iron Man #116. In December Marvel's first graphic novel, by none other than Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, hit the shelves and was entitled The Silver Surfer. Incidentally, 1978 was another watershed year at Marvel personnel-wise, as Kirby departed for the last time to enter the animation field. This perhaps also coincided with the ascension of Jim Shooter to the position of Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics.

Karen: I'm shocked by how many times the DC book has nothing to say for a given time period. There can't have been nothing happening. Seems like laziness to me. I was glad to see Ms. Marvel's costume change. The black outfit is much better than her Capt. Marvel-lite version.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tales of Asgard Tuesday: Journey Into Mystery #98

Tales of Asgard -Journey into Mystery #98 (from the Tales of Asgard TPB)
"Odin Battles Ymir, King of the Ice Giants!"
Stan Lee -writer
Jack Kirby -artist
Don Heck -inker

Karen: This story picks up immediately after our last mini-saga, with Odin facing the wrath of the ice giants in combat. The All-Father flies forth in his chariot, pulled by two winged horses (he must have borrowed it from Apollo) and draws his sword. This is a very effective panel, with Kirby showing Odin's sword flashing with lightning.

Doug: I thought it was interesting that way back at the beginning of the Silver Age Jack Kirby drew winged horses, yet in the case of Aragorn, there is no Asgardian backstory at all. If my Avengers memory serves, Aragorn was a normal white horse that was scientifically mutated by Nathan Garrett, the original Black Knight. Once Dane Whitman, the second Black Knight, got control of Garrett's secrets, he (Dane) used the science to mutate another horse, which he named Aragorn. So it just strikes me as odd that when the care of that horse came to the Valkyrie, she of Asgardian origins, the horse had nothing at all to do with these horses of Odin.

Karen: Odin rains down meteor bolts (?) on the hapless giants. Still, some of the giants manage to stay upright and wail at him with their humongous ice clubs. When that fails, they all cut loose by blowing a gale at him. This does unseat the mighty Odin and he falls from his chariot.

Doug: Truly, in these legends of old, one doesn't even need a suspension of disbelief. It's a totally different sort of reading with different expectations as far as I'm concerned. And hey -- another comment on the re-coloring. I've read ahead a few stories, and I must say that I feel badly for lambasting this collection based solely on a few page samples I'd seen. I almost hesitate to say that I am beginning to feel that this is how Kirby's Tales of Asgard should always have appeared. The coloring gives it a real illustrative, storybook feel. It works perfectly, in my opinion.

Karen: Odin lands on the top of the mountain where the giants are standing. He takes his sword and with all his strength, cleaves the mountain in two! The coloring of the flames in this scene and later is so vibrant and lively, it really stands out. The frigid fiends tumble into the chasm that has been created. All that is but Ymir, king of the ice giants. He attacks Odin, and shockingly, the All-Father runs away!

Doug: Not only is Odin all-strong, but he's all-dexterous as well. He cleaves the mountain right between his legs, yet maintains his balance to one side so as not to fall in himself!

Karen: Of course, Odin has a plan: he lures Ymir to a volcanic area, and again uses his sword to penetrate the ground, releasing flames! Ymir is trapped in a circle of fire, and Odin returns victorious to Asgard.

Doug: But I guess Ymir never melted, since we'll hear from him again. One other thing of note in this story -- Odin's helmet/crown bears a striking resemblance to the helmet Thor will wear. Guess it was a hand-me-down?

Karen: Indeed it is very similar. I also thought that Odin's throne in this story might have served as a guide to the Thor film-makers, as it looks similar to shots I've seen of the movie throne. Short and sweet, another fun little tale that brings a little more of the mythology into play. It was fun to see Odin in action; most of the time in the comics, he's either sitting around brooding or yelling at Thor for something Loki actually did.

Doug: I agree -- in the times I've seen Odin actually do something, it always seemed sort of strange. Here, he is the hero of his time.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Letter Worth a Read

Doug: Hey, armadillos, I just saw this over at It's Clobbering Time!, and Josh recommended other bloggers make it known, so here it is: a letter from the widow of Jerry Siegel to the CEO of Time-Warner, owner of DC Comics.

Leave a thought below.

Spidey's Zoo: The Grizzly!

Amazing Spider-Man #139 (December 1974)
"Day of the Grizzly!"
Gerry Conway-Ross Andru/Frank Giacoia/Dave Hunt

Doug: This, kids -- this is a Bronze Age Spider-Man issue. You know, when we picked out this 5-week theme of Spidey's Zoo, I'll admit that I knew the super-baddies were going to rate pretty high on the lame-o-meter. But this was one heckuva story. Seriously, if I had to give someone a Spidey book that would get them up to speed on all-things-Spidey, this would be it. Let's check out why I have accolades coming out of my ears for this book.

Doug: We see Spider-Man on the first page or two of this book, and then it's nine full pages until we get some Spidey butt-kicking going on. So you may ask -- "Why does Doug like this stinkin' book so much??" Well let me tell you -- it's because of Gerry Conway's script. Every time we do a Spider-Man review, it doesn't seem to matter if the author is Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, or Conway --Karen and I always remark on the soap opera aspects of the story at hand. To do Spidey right, an author has to mix action, suspense, and (to me) more importantly -- the human element. In those first nine pages, we read Spidey's thoughts on his relationship to Flash Thompson, his attitude over the loss of his true love Gwen Stacy, his feelings toward his job and his boss, his trepidation at moving out on his own and how little he can afford, his relationship to old classmate Liz Allen, his relationship to Mary Jane Watson, and his friendships with Betty Brant and Joe Robertson. That's a lot of characterization to squeeze into less than half of a 20-page comic! So you see what I mean about handing this over to a complete novice?

Karen: Yup, Conway tells you all the things you need to know about Peter, and we get to meet about half his supporting cast! Of course, back then they had these wonderful things called thought balloons and captions,
so that you could find out what people were thinking or what was happening. Apparently they're considered no-nos now.
Doug: But after all of that, it is, after all, a super-hero book and that means we have to have the obligatory longjohn slugfest. Difference here is, the super-baddie du jour ain't wearin' longjohns. Oh no -- instead he looks like an escapee from the Build-a-Bear Workshop! I wish I still had my Spectacular Spider-Mans, because we could cue up Razorback, another member of Spidey's Zoo who looks about as silly in his duds.

Karen: Oh my. I thought the Kangaroo looked goofy. This guy is just plain weird. Sort of like a Teddy bear on steroids.
Doug: As Pete was at the Daily Bugle schmoozing with Betty and Robbie, the Grizzly suddenly burst out of the elevator and began to ransack the place -- hard.
He was on a total binge of destruction. Robbie ordered Pete to run for help so that he could protect Betty; Pete ran fast to change, as the Grizzly worked his way toward Jameson's office. Just as Spidey swung around the building, Jonah was jettisoned from his office. Acting quickly, Spidey caught JJJ with his webs, and left him in a web hammock. As usual, this was the comic relief in the mag -- there are so many priceless moments through the years!

Karen: I love Jonah's reaction when he realizes where the 'net' came from -"Oh no! Not you!" And then Spidey: "Neither of us will ever forgive me for this." Classic.

You know, I've long thought that Robbie knew Pete's secret; could he have told Peter to "go get help" in order that he could change into Spider-Man? One of these days I will have to ask Mr. Conway.

Doug: Time-out for a comment on the art. Many of our regulars have commented lately on the detail with which Ross Andru drew the New York cityscapes, and this issue is certainly no exception. There are just some beautiful renditions of Manhattan landmarks. I can see why those who have and even those who have not been to NYC would love this aspect of Andru's art. I'd also remark at how massive the Grizzly looks. Andru really did a nice job of showing us what a humanoid bear would look like.

Doug: So, Spidey engages the Grizzly, who was at the Bugle specifically to get at Jonah, who "ruined" him. Spider-Man cannot believe the Grizzly's strength as he hammers away -- the big ol' bear seems impervious to pain. That is, until he gets a Spider-kick to the gut. That seemed to hurt him. But in the end, the Grizzly proves too strong and knocks Spidey into la-la land.
But instead of doing more damage, the big guy just stalks off. But not without a Spidey tracer. And then we get another moment of Spidey/Jonah fun.

Karen: Gotta love those spider-tracers! I never had any idea how Pete could build something that his spider-sense could detect, but whatever, they were fun.

Doug: Later, Pete decides he might be able to get some information if he confronts the Grizzly not as Spider-Man, but as photographer Peter Parker. Heading to the place where Grizz is holed up, Pete's surprised that it's in a posh neighborhood. As he rings the doorbell, he's immediately invited in. The Spidey Sense goes off the radar, Pete's karate chopped on the neck and knocked down, and then hauled into a parlor. As he clears his mind, he's confronted by the Grizzly and... the Jackal! To be continued!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

5 Albums to Love: The Sounds of 76

Karen: For me, there's a certain year that always brings up a very specific group of albums when I think of it. The year was 1976, the bicentennial, and for a variety of reasons, it was a year that generated a lot of strong memories for me, particularly about music. I turned 12 that year, and was becoming much more interested in music and different artists. For the first time, I was really aware of what was popular. There were certain albums and artists that just seemed to be constantly played on the radio (no MTV yet!) and they define that year for me more than any other. Let me say that these are not necessarily albums I love -in some cases, I don't even like them! But they evoke a warm fuzzy feeling for me because they are associated with a particularly good time in my life. In no particular order, and in keeping with our 'five' rule, here they are.

1. Fleetwood Mac, by Fleetwood Mac. Yes, this album did come out the year before, 1975, but it hit number one on the charts in 1976, and you could not escape it anywhere! Rihannon, Over My Head, and Say You Love Me were huge hits. Personally, I always preferred Christie McVie's singing over self-absorbed flower-child Stevie Nicks, but I thought Nicks' song Landslide was actually the best song on this album.

2. Frampton Comes Alive, by Peter Frampton. Holy cow, was this huge! I had no idea who Frampton was, where he had come from, but just about everyone owned this album. I can specifically recall a summer night cruising around with my older brother and his friends, and this album playing. It's amazing that a live performance from a little-known English guitarist could take off the way it did. It probably didn't hurt that Frampton was a pretty boy either. I saw him on TV recently, and sadly, he has lost his long curly blond locks. But he's still playing guitar.

3. Rocks, by Aerosmith. One of the first albums I ever bought myself, back from when Aerosmith was actually good, and not just cranking out drippy power ballads. Last Child seemed to be on constant rotation on the radio for months, and Back in the Saddle and Sick as a Dog really kicked some a** too. The band really seemed like they were the the American answer to the Rolling Stones back in 1976. Too bad they wouldn't be able to maintain it.

4. Fly Like An Eagle, by the Steve Miller Band. OK, not a fan here at
all, but damn if Fly Like An Eagle and Take The Money and Run weren't catchy tunes. Another couple of songs that were simply inescapable that year.

5. Boston, by Boston. OK, here's an album I really have no interest in, but I swear, every
time I hear More Than A Feeling, I'm swept up in a huge wave of nostalgia. Although this came out late in 1976, when it hit, it hit big. For the most part, its success did (and still does) elude me. It just doesn't do a lot for me. But again, it was everywhere that year, with "Peace of Mind" also playing all the time it seemed.

Now I can hear you saying: where's Hotel California? Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers? The Pretender? Well, those all came out pretty late in '76, so they're not tied to that year for me. Another album that I listened to in 1976 was Presence by Led Zeppelin, but sadly, Presence had little presence, although I love Achilles' Last Stand. Albums from 76 that I discovered later in life include the Ramones' debut album, and AC/DC's Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. But when I think back to this year, the albums above instantly come to mind.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Face-Off: The Disco Super-Groups

Doug: If any of you remember WLUP disc jockey Steve Dahl's "Disco Demolition" at Comiskey Park in Chicago on July 12, 1979, you'll recall how a publicity stunt actually led to the downfall (temporarily, you could argue) of a musical genre. Dahl is perhaps one of the original "shock jocks" and has been a fixture on Chicago radio before and ever since.

Doug: But I'm here to confess... I liked disco then, and I still have quite a collection on my iTouch. I don't like all of it, but let's face it: some of those songs just have a great hook. Boogie Oogie Oogie -- you don't like that one? Shake Your Groove Thing? C'mon. The name alone drags you along. And of course there's the extended version of the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer, smash I Feel Love. It's all toe-tapping, rump-shakin' singalong nostalgia at this point, but I'll go just a bit further -- it was innovative for it's time, and at the beginning of the era the musicians played their own instruments. And the vocals weren't augmented by synthesizers. So there... Why do I sound like I'm apologizing for this? Sheesh -- you'd think I was reading a funnybook in public!

Doug: Anyway, today -- for those of you who want to play -- let's have a little tussle between two of the most successful acts of the disco period: the Bee Gees and KC and the Sunshine Band. The Bee Gees were of course successful long before disco landed, and both bands enjoyed at least a fair amount of success into the 1980's. But what did you like during the mid- to late-70's?

Doug: KC and the Sunshine Band has a website, and from it I post the following information. All I can say is -- this is a pretty darn good resume'...

Their first record, BLOW YOUR WHISTLE, made the top 15 on the R&B chart.

Their second album, KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND, was released in 1975, went triple platinum and contained the #1 hits GET DOWN TONIGHT, THAT’S THE WAY (I LIKE IT), BOOGIE SHOES and ROCK YOUR BABY. Also in 1975 he won the American Music Award for Best R&B Artist.

KC & The Sunshine Band became the first act to score four #1 pop singles in one 12-month period since the Beatles in 1964. Three of those singles crossed over to become #1 R&B, as well.

KC’s third album, PART 3, released in 1976, also went triple platinum and contained the #1 singles I’M YOUR BOOGIE MAN, SHAKE YOUR BOOTY and KEEP IT COMIN’ LOVE.

Doug: The Brothers Gibb are probably recognized as the premier act of the disco era. Again, successful before, they re-invented themselves and created a style that branched over into other artists. And what a lot of people don't know is that Barry Gibb has served as songwriter and producer for many, many other hits for other artists.

Doug: You can click this link to that bastion of historical accuracy, Wikipedia, to see a table of the Bee Gees hits and chart positions from around the world. Consider this my disclaimer in the event any of the information within is incorrect - I don't want anyone ripping on me like back in the solo Beatles comments. While I don't think the Bee Gees swept in and dominated as KC and the Sunshine Band did with seven #1's in quick succession, the success of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack is undeniable in the annals of popular music.

Doug: So who ya got?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Battle of the Sci Fi Flicks: the 60s

Karen: We're back for more cinematic debate, this time centering on the greatest science fiction films of the 1960s. Honestly, I'm more comfortable with genre films from either the 50s or 70s, so I may mis-step here. While it was easy to come up with a bunch of 50s films off the top of my head, with the 60s, I struggled a bit. But I think we've got some winners here. So in no particular order, here are my picks for the best of the 60s.

1. The Planet of the Apes (1968): It was pure allegory, and a bit goofy at times, but what a fun and exciting film. Things that immediately stand out are the spectacular crash sequence at the beginning, the amazing make-up designs of John Chambers,the fantastic soundtrack, the bizarre architecture of the Ape City, and of course the shocking closing scene. There are also splendid performances here from Charlton Heston, Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter, and Roddy McDowall. By far the best of all the apes films, and a classic.

2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): I've always had mixed feelings on this film. While it was certainly visually compelling and far more intellectual than most science fiction films, it also drags quite a bit, in my opinion. Still, it's ambitious and spectacular. There are so many different -yet interrelated -things going on here: the evolution of man, the rise of artificial intelligence, and man's journey to connect with another intelligence. The film also ushered in a new era in special effects, with its incredibly detailed spaceship models and new filming techniques.

3. Fantastic Voyage (1966): Some would rank this as outstanding simply for the presence of Raquel Welch, but let's look at the rest of the film, shall we? A submarine-like ship and a crew are micro-miniaturized and injected into the body of a Soviet scientist who is defecting, but due to an assassination attempt, lies in a coma with a blood clot in his brain. The real selling point of the film are the wonderful visuals as we travel through the human body. It might not stand up to close inspection today, but I recall being completely enthralled with it when I first saw it.

4. Five Million Years to Earth (1967): This British film is also known as Quatermass and the Pit. I absolutely love this film, although it's a bit hard to describe. It involves the discovery of a buried alien spaceship, and these same aliens messing around with the evolution of human beings, species memories, psychic phenomena -there's so much more to it than that. It's smart, and scary at times. I wish I could get a copy of this on DVD. If you have a chance to see it, do it!

5. Day of the Triffids (1962). Another product of Great Britain, this film is sort of like a zombie film but with the zombies replaced by huge, ambulatory plants. I'm not kidding. It sounds hokey but believe me, these plants were pretty darn frightening. Actually, the zombie connection is even more appropriate when you consider that both 28 Days Later and the recent Walking Dead TV show essentially stole the beginning of Triffids - where the protagonist wakes up in a hospital room, alone. In triffids however, there is an even more interesting twist: our hero is one of the few people alive who can still see. The plants arrived on our planet during a tremendous meteor shower, which also had the effect of blinding most of the populace. As in zombie films, society has begun to collapse and the survivors are fighting it out amongst themselves, with the plants coming off as a lot less threatening than our fellow men.

OK, what do you think deserves to be on the list? What film did I overlook?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1977


Doug: The King is dead; long live the King! The King of Rock 'n' Roll, Elvis Presley, passed away in August of 1977 -- truly a date and time that most Bronze Age babies can mark the where/when in their lives. Jimmy Carter took the oath of office as President of the United States earlier that year, in January. New York City experienced a 25-hour blackout, the Alaska Pipeline (which I'm sure you can see from Sarah Palin's home) was finished, and smallpox was eliminated as a disease of epidemic proportions. Roots began its epic six-night run on American television (truly, that was "can't miss" tv -- wow -- still impactful after all these years) and Fleetwood Mac released Rumours. Oh, and a movie named Star Wars was in the theaters; followed closely by a pic called Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Sort of a down year at the cinema, ya think?

Doug: Speaking of
Star Wars, the introductory material to 1977 in the Marvel Chronicle hails the year as a breakthrough for Marvel in mass media, and I'd have to agree. In that year, Stan Lee and John Romita debuted the Spider-Man newspaper strip, which runs to this day. It's still written by Stan, with art by Larry Lieber. Spidey's advent would pave the way for other, shorter-lived series, such as Howard the Duck, Conan the Barbarian, and The Incredible Hulk. That same Hulk (well, sort of) found his way to the small-screen when CBS television aired two made-for-tv movies starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. And yeah -- I said we were speaking of Star Wars: Roy Thomas convinced the powers-that-be to let him license a Star Wars
comic, months before the motion picture debuted. Sight unseen, Marvel began to publish an adaptation of the film before it even hit theaters. I guess it worked out all right...

Karen: There are some who claim that the Star Wars deal saved Marvel from bankruptcy, but I don't know enough about it to comment on that. I will say that it was a brilliant move. There was really no way to know that the film would be so huge, but it was a good risk to take. However, I think the licensed comics for the most part were fairly lame. Stuff like Micronauts and ROM were interesting books, but a lot of the other stuff was pure junk.

Doug: I had a few issues of ROM, but no Micronauts. Like you, I've heard good things about both books. Michael Golden art on Micronauts? And hey, what's up with Darth Vader on the cover of Star Wars #1?

Doug: As long as I'm on the subject of the "cover sheet" material, in the DC Comics: Year By Year book, the authors state that by 1977 DC had introduced 49 new titles since 1975, largely in an effort to supplant Marvel atop the market share. We've remarked at the spate of first issues with which DC had been bombarding the public; we'd see more this year. We'd also see DC diversify a bit, with the introduction of Dawnstar to the Legion in
Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #226 and of Black Lightning in the eponymous #1. For some of us, though, we fondly recall that many of DC's books became "Dollar Comics"; however, the page count in the regular books went down again, this time to only 17 pages!

Karen: Ah yes, the DC Explosion -soon to be followed by the DC Implosion! That's a lot of books. As for bringing some diversity to their characters, it still seems like they had a ways to go to catch up to Marvel.

Doug: "Diverse" characters at both of the Big Two still lingered in stereotype-land, though, didn't they?

Doug: To begin 1977, Marvel introduced a couple of future Avengers in Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman. Although Carol Danvers had been around since 1968, she didn't become super-powered until
Ms. Marvel #1 (by Gerry and Carla Conway on the words and John Buscema and Joe Sinnott on the pictures). Spider-Woman showed up in Marvel Spotlight #32, a tale crafted by Archie Goodwin, Sal Buscema, and Jim "Madman" Mooney. Her origin was sort of goofy -- a spider evolved to human form by the High Evolutionary; it's had a few revisions since. Oh, and one more "girl power" debut came from the pages of The Invaders #12 when Spitfire, the daughter of Union Jack, joined the Allied heroes.

Karen: While it was good to see more female characters coming out of Marvel, I wasn't that impressed with these particular characters -I'm talking about Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman - since they seemed like obvious efforts to play off male characters. Plus Ms. Marvel had that silly stomach cut-out on her uniform! I will say though that both got better over time, although I was never a regular reader of either character. Now Spitfire I did like immediately -she had a cool history and a great personality.

Doug: Yep, in regard to Ms. Marvel, even when the book was supposed to be about liberated women, it was still mired in sexism and the above-mentioned stereotypes. I think overall Marvel always knew that the "girl power" books were still going to be bought by males.

Doug: Over at DC, the company unveiled a smart new logo, the DC Bullet.
It's since gone by the wayside, but for those of us reading DC's in the latter half of the 1970's it's quite a familiar friend. On the telly, Wonder Woman had been set in the years of WWII. In a big case of the tail wagging the dog, DC instructed creators Martin Pasko and Jose Delbo to do likewise -- a change that lasted for 15 issues.

Karen: I still think of the bullet when I think of DC logos!

Doug: In the spring, the House of Ideas showcased another hero who would be retconned into Avengers history when the 3-D Man took his bow in
Marvel Premiere #35. Jack Kirby introduced us to the quite-weird Arnim Zola in CA & the Falcon #209. In June, Marvel had acquired the license to the Edgar Rice Burroughs stable of characters after DC let it lapse. Thomas and John Buscema told their version of Tarzan of the Apes, and Marv Wolfman and Gil Kane brought us John Carter, Warlord of Mars. At DC, the aforementioned Dawnstar debut hit the stands, and two western heroes got books of their own: Jonah Hex #1 was out in April, and Scalphunter took over Weird Western Tales #39. Black Lightning #1, by Tony Isabella and Trevor von Eeden (presently locked in a he said/she said about the character's creation) was available the same month.

Karen: The 3D Man was a lot of fun; it was a chance for Marvel (Roy Thomas really) to do a hero set in the 50s, a decade that really was a blank slate (other than the 'fake' Cap from that period). I'm glad they brought the character back and have used him in the Agents of Atlas, even if it is not the same person under the mask.

Karen: I recall getting some of those John Carter comics, as this was around the time I had started reading some Edgar Rice Burroughs. But I never bought it regularly. Wikipedia tells me that there were 28 issues and 3 annuals! I might have to revisit this one.

Doug: Marvel continued to publish licensed properties as the summer began. In July, Godzilla was on the spinner racks, by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe. The series brought the radioactive lizard into contact with the Marvel Universe, notably SHIELD and the Avengers. September saw me looking like a giddy fanboy when two of my childhood favorites, KISS and Marvel Comics, collided in Marvel Super Special #5. Man, that was SO cool! By the way, the Star Wars series lasted well past the first trilogy of films, all the way to 1986! Oh, and one other event was worth mentioning that summer, although I'm sure we didn't think it was a big deal back then: Sabretooth debuted in Iron Fist #14. At DC, Kirby's New Gods received new life from the hands of Gerry Conway and Don Newton with The New Gods #12 in July. The same month Steve Ditko's Shade the Changing Man #1 was on sale, and Steve Englehart wrote a new origin for the JLA in Justice League of America #144. But August is where Englehart perhaps made his biggest impact at DC, when his teaming with artists Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin led to the so-called Dark Detective run through Detective Comics #'s 471-478. To conclude, Aquaman moved out of Adventure Comics and into his own monthly (Aquaman #57) and Paul Levitz and Joe Staton gave us the secret origin of the Justice Society of America in DC Special #29.

Karen: I've read all of those Englehart-Rogers-Austin Batman stories now, years after they were published, and while I think they're excellent, I don't think they are earth-shattering. It makes me wonder what was going on in Detective to that point -had it been plagued by years of mediocrity? I like the stories but I feel like I am missing something here.

Doug: To tie this one up neat as a Christmas bow, October and December (because the
X-Men was unbelievably bi-monthly!) saw Dave Cockrum's homage to his own Legion of Super-Heroes work. In X-Men #107 he introduced us to the Shi'ar Imperial Guard, and then inexplicably (to us young'uns at the time) left the title! John Byrne came aboard in X-Men #108 to finish the story, and I guess he worked out OK over the next few years (you think?). Zan, Jayna, and Gleek made their comic book debut in October in Super Friends #7 and the Huntress, who had premiered shortly before, got a "secret origin" in DC Super-Stars #17 in December; I used to have this book, and it was one of my favorites. Tales of the Golden Age Batman and Catwoman, married, were a prize.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tales of Asgard Tuesday: Journey Into Mystery #97

From the Tales of Asgard trade paperback: Journey Into Mystery #97
Writer: Stan Lee
Artists: Jack Kirby and George Bell

Karen: Recently both Doug and I picked up the Tales of Asgard trade paperback. Marvel recently re-published all of the Tales of Asgard back-up stories from Journey Into Mystery and Thor in a regular comic format, although recolored by Matt Milla using modern techniques. Although we've both had issues with such recoloring of older comics in the past, we both agree that in this case, it really works. The almost-painterly style gives the art a real depth and a timeless look.

Doug: Agreed on everything you said! I was very, very skeptical about this book and the re-coloring, until I saw all of the splash pages showcased on the Grantbridge Street blog a few weeks ago. Seeing all of them in one place really made it grow on me. In fact, I guess I'd liken it now to taking Kirby's powerful stories and giving them a high-quality "children's book" illustrative quality. The colors are lush, and do create a real mood for these tales.

Karen: Before we get to the first tale, I want to mention some things about this paperback. Besides all of the Tales, it has a nice section in the back that includes the first Thor story from Journey into Mystery #83, plus Marvel Universe entries for Asgard and its various gods, expanded entries for Balder, Odin, Loki, and a few others, and of course one for Thor. There's also the double page spread by Jack Kirby of Asgard from Journey Into Mystery Annual #1. To top it off, there are several covers from various issues, as well as a pullout gatefold section of all the Oliver Copiel-penciled covers for the redone Tales of Asgard reprints, and a guide to all the characters on those covers (63 characters all together). So some very nice extras.

Doug: Yep, Karen bought this first and to
ld me I was in for a pleasant surprise with all of the add-ins. She didn't lie!

Karen: The first story is from Journey into Mystery # 97. Titled simply "Tales of Asgard," it opens with a depiction of the hard life of the Norse people, having to battle elements, beasts, and outsiders simply to stay alive. The Vikings are the bravest of all, taking on the threats of the sea. We are told about the myths they created, and the birth of the gods. I used to read a lot of mythology as a kid, and this all seems pretty accurate as far as I can tell. The frost giant Ymir is born from the ice, along with a gigantic cow (while Stan doesn't name her, I believe her name was Audhumbla). They travel about a desolate plane of ice until something begins to appear from the frozen ground. It is Buri, the first of the gods.

Doug: It's just your basic creation story, isn't it? I also read some of the Greek and Norse myths, and the creation tales were always interesting as a contrast to the Judeo-Christian telling. Kirby, although for the most part pretty straightforward, does manage to convey a majesty and a mystery about this section of the story. By the way, this is retold by John Buscema in Thor Annual #5, which has been on my to-do list forever!

Karen: Buri marries (where did his wife come from?), and they have a son, Borr. Borr also marries and has three sons, one of whom is Odin. A panel depicts Odin in all his glory, sword in hand, fighting frost giants. We are told that Odin and his brothers loved Earth and planted the gigantic magical tree Yggdrasill on the planet, so that its limbs could protect the young world. Just an aside: I thought the tree was actually like a universal column and the worlds laid around it in stacked planes, but whatever. The tale ends with a promise that next time we will see Odin's battle against the frost giants.

Doug: Your comment on Buri's wife gets to the root of why, despite my faith, I can't be a biblical literalist. There are just too many holes in stories like this. But I guess that's what faith is in the first place, isn't it? Most stuff like this is beyond human comprehension! But it's a decent backstory, and looking ahead necessary to frame what's coming up. And you mention the tree -- I thought the graphic toward the back of the tpb was better.

Karen: This initial start was very promising, bringing some actual mythology to Thor. Some of the early Thor tales in JIM seem to have little basis in the Norse myths, but with this new back-up, we'd get a real feel for Asgard.

Doug: Thor has always been a character who existed in two worlds. While I love him as a superhero, and especially as a part of the Avengers, I really look forward to reading the stories set in Asgard.

Karen: It'll take a few more issues, and then we'll get to Thor's childhood -and Loki's as well!

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