Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bracketology: Dressed for Success -- 5th Round (the Elite 8)

Doug:  I think the fact that we had to have a special run-off between Havok and the Man of Steel speaks to the thought and loyalty that people are putting into these votes.  This has been fun over the past few weeks, but now it's getting down to the nitty gritty.  As we've remarked in the past, there are some real icons left, as well as a couple of upstarts, in my opinion, in Dr. Doom and Phoenix.  I wished that Yellowjacket and Daredevil had had better showings, but I guess it was not to be.

Doug:  Man, I'm running out of costume related questions for us.  How about this one -- of the eight supersuits left, what is the most eye-catching feature of each one?  Is it the color scheme?  A chest logo?  A belt or the boots?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Red Sonja: She-Devil With a Chain Mail Bikini

Marvel Feature #1 (November 1975)
"Red Sonja"
Roy Thomas-Esteban Maroto/Neal Adams/Ernie Chan

Doug:   Since female fashion was among the lead conversations of our nominating process for our currently-winding-down Bracketology: Dressed for Success polls, I thought we'd check in on a couple of the ladies who were at the forefront of the discussion.  Today, and scattered in the coming weeks, I'll be checking out (well, you know...) the she-devil with a sword, Red Sonja, and the Earth-2 Supergirl known as Power Girl.  I'll actually give Red Sonja two reviews, as we don't see the penciler most associated with her, Frank Thorne, until Marvel Feature #2.  So shall we get on with it?

Doug:  Marvel Feature #1 contains two Red Sonja stories, each about 10 pages long.  Since Karen and I are working on quite a few comics reviews for the coming weeks, I'm going to cheat you out of one of those stories today and review only the first one -- by Roy Thomas and Esteban Maroto, with Neal Adams and Ernie Chan on the inks.  You're so deprived...  By the way, the second tale was produced by Roy Thomas, Dick Giordano, and Terry Austin, with the title "The Temple of Abomination!"  I'm using Dynamite Entertainment's The Adventures of Red Sonja, Volume 1 tpb as my resource; you'll notice that it's been recolored, similarly to the content in Dark Horse's Chronicles of Conan series of trades.  Due to the panel lay-outs of the story (which was originally presented in the B&W mag The Savage Sword of Conan #1 -- Red Sonja's fourth overall appearance), I'll be providing a few full-page samples for your viewing pleasure!

Doug:  We pick it up with Red Sonja on mount, leaving the gates of a city.  As she rides slowly by, two guards try to draw her attention; but she's in no mood to converse -- instead her mind drifts back to her arrival in the town of Pah-Dishah, and a meeting with its king, Ghannif.  King Ghannif was served by an albino strongman, Trolus, ever by his side.  Red Sonja was charged with going to the sister-city of Makkalet and stealing a serpent-tiara, that had been part of Ghannif's daughter's dowry.  Ghannif charges her to bring it back -- and she'll get the richest reward he can bestow.  Ever the mercenary, Sonja accepts the offer.  She rode with other mercenaries, and arrived to Makkalet as if she was its protector.  However, meeting a northerner named Conan, she tricked him into burglarizing the city's treasure tower -- here we get a recap of "The Song of Red Sonja", complete with images of Red Sonja in the full chain-mail shirt.  As others have commented during our Bracketology series on Bronze Age costumes, this is a much more practical look.

Doug:  Once the tiara was in her hands, and not without much trouble, she rode back to see King Ghannif and collect the fee owed her.  Unfortunately (for someone, you know), Ghannif orders his guards to seize Sonja.  Her prize will be to become a member of Ghannif's harem!  And to show that he has a heart of gold, Ghannif offers Sonja's "services" to Trolus, after the king has had his own way.  Trolus seems somewhat reluctant...  Ghannif orders Sonja to be taken away, to be cleaned and prepared.  Once with the handmaidens of the court, Sonja still displays her fire, but soon decides to go along with it all -- for now.


Doug:  Brought back to the royal chambers, it's a new Red Sonja who begins to cuddle with King Ghannif.  She questions why Trolus remains in the chambers, but is told that he is never out of Ghannif's sight, nor vice versa.  Sonja rolls with it and begins to press up against the king.  There is much innuendo in this portion of the script, and I was surprised at how steamy it was getting, given that this was on sale in a standard four-color comic -- it certainly played as if it was created for the B&W line (which, as I said above, it was).  Sonja asks about a "small dagger" tucked in Ghannif's mid-section -- he tells that he only uses it for "certain ceremonial purposes".  She draws it, and jumps away.  He reacts, but she asks why one appointed by the gods should need fear such a small knife.  The next thing Ghannif knows, that small knife is embedded in his throat and he breathes his last.

Doug:  Trolus comes near, screaming at Sonja for her actions.  He is furious, not so much for Ghannif's death, but because of his death he fears he'll lose his place of privilege.  He fights as if possessed.  Sonja steals a broadsword from a guard, guts him, and engages Trolus.  The albino slave really never had a chance.  While he rails against her, saying he'll die now a toothless beggar, Sonja says she'll spare him a long life -- and crashes her sword against the back of Trolus' waist.  After leaving the royal bedchambers, she locates and changes into her own "clothes", then mounts her horse and rides through the city gates -- where this tale began.


Doug:  This was a nice story -- nothing out of the ordinary for a Marvel sword-and-sorcery mag.  I was a little disappointed that the plot never twisted -- I thought it was pretty predictable all the way through.  I think it would have been a good entry point for readers who'd missed Red Sonja's earlier appearances in Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword... -- it's all here:  her seductive looks, the bit about no man being allowed to touch her lest he best her in combat first, etc.  The art was very good; this is Esteban Maroto's first work to be discussed on our blog -- further research shows that he began his career with Warren's magazines before moving to the Marvel line around 1973.  I'd almost have rather seen him inked by someone other than Neal Adams -- I see so much Adams, it's difficult to tell anything about Maroto.  I'd solicit some help from our readers in finding any presence by Ernie Chan on the inks -- I just don't see him.  However, it's possible that he only inked the backgrounds while Adams did the figures.  That was not uncommon as practice back in the Bronze Age.  At any rate, I'll be back in two weeks with a look at Red Sonja's second solo outing, this time under the penciler most associated with her.

Post script (Thursday evening, 9:30 PM) -- I just purchased a used copy of The Chronicles of Conan, volume 4 (on after a week of searching both online and through a couple of LCSs in the Chicago southland.  While I have a B&W reprint of "Red Nails", I'd wanted the color version -- and this book also contains "The Song of Red Sonja" -- be looking for a review of that story in the coming months!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bracketology: Dressed for Succes -- 4th Round (the Sweet Sixteen)

Doug:  Whoo!  After weeks of 16-match-up polls, we're down to just eight head-to-heads.  I'm a little surprised/disappointed in some of the costumes that have gone by the wayside, and can't imagine what keeps the good Doctor Doom rolling along.  I think I've voted against him all three times -- and that's not to say that he doesn't have a good look; he does!  But there have also been some nifty costumes up against him.

Doug:  Discussion point for today -- what's the best costume still on the brackets, and what's the best one to go out in the previous round?


Monday, September 24, 2012

Building a Better Legacy: The Man of Steel #6

The Man of Steel #6 (December 1986)
"The Haunting"
John Byrne-Byrne/Dick Giordano

Karen: We're back with the final issue in this re-imagining of Superman. I'd invite everyone to comment on the series as a whole, as well as Byrne's run on Superman, and also how many of the ideas he came up with which were ignored or re-written by later writers.

Doug:  Ah yes -- the discussion of what was/is/and shall be canon.  Not much in any direction for modern comics, huh?

Karen: As with most of the previous issues, this one focuses on another Superman cast member, Lana Lang, but also on Superman's Kryptonian origins. The story begins with Superman returning home to Smallville for a visit with his parents.  Superman flies into the tiny town at super-speed, but it's Clark Kent who appears to emerge from the local bus station. He thinks about how Smallville hasn't changed, and how he doesn't want it to. Ma and Pa Kent are there to pick him up, and when he asks them what's new, Pa starts to say something, but Ma gives him a quick elbow to the ribs and he shuts up.

Doug:  Byrne's splash page is excellent -- that cannot be an easy perspective to draw.  The Kents are fun, aren't they?  For those of us with grandparents still around, they are sentimental characters and really serve to humanize Clark for us.  Byrne draws Clark as a giant, doesn't he?

Karen: He's huge! Makes it even harder to explain why no one realizes he and Clark are one and the same. You're right, that splash page is striking -in fact, Byrne does a great job with all of the flying sequences.  After dinner, Pa asks Clark about Lois. He says he hadn't realized his interest in her was so obvious, but with the way he scooped her on Superman, Lois hasn't exactly been fond of him. But Clark acknowledges that he would like her  -"or someone like Lois" -in his life. He tells his folks that when he returns to Metropolis, he's going to do something about this. But as he lies in bed that night he can't sleep. He wonders what it was that his parents aren't telling him. As he goes to raid the refrigerator,  he is surprised by a ghostly figure. It is Jor-El, his Kryptonian father, as we saw him in the first issue. However, Clark has no idea what's going on.

 Doug:  Byrne raises an issue we've discussed on the blog before, and that is -- who is the "real me": the man or the mask?  Clark emphatically states that he is the real, while Superman is the cover.  I found that interesting, as I really think that in the past it was "Clark Kent" that was the disguise while the Man of Steel was real.

Karen: I haven't read enough Superman comics to speak with any authority, but I always felt Clark was the 'real' person, whereas with Batman, his heroic identity seemed to be the true one.

Doug:  I also thought it was interesting, and spoke to Clark's upbringing and moral fiber, that when he was fretting about the "secret" that his parents were keeping from him he intimated that he could use his powers to reveal whatever it was -- but chose not to.  We had questioned just what sort of kid he was back in our review of issue #1; this sort of answered that question that perhaps he was just a brash kid on the football field, immature and in love with his budding abilities.  And in regard to the refrigerator splash, that's just a heckuva waste of a rhubarb pie...

Karen: You know, I don't even now what rhubarb pie is. Never had any. Anyway -The phantom-like Jor-El smiles broadly at Clark and speaks to him, but Clark can't understand him. Jor-El places his hand on Clark's forehead and suddenly, Clark is no longer in his kitchen, but in a strange place, wearing his Superman outfit. He begins to speak the language Jor-El spoke to him, and asks where he is. He looks around and quickly realizes, based on the landscape, and the three moons, he is not on Earth! A woman approaches him -readers will recognize her as Lara from issue one. She looks at him and recognizes that he is her son. Her image dissolves into that of a red-haired woman -- Lana Lang. We pull back and see that Clark is crouched in the field outside his parents' home.

Doug:  This again was a scene borrowed from Superman: The Movie, where Clark is able to interact with his father, or at least a hologram of his father.  I guess we should assume that the image of Jor-El is recorded, but it is creepy to think that perhaps it truly is a two-sided exchange.  I recall waiting, at the time of the first read, for the Kryptonians to show up in insignia similar to the Superman "S" -- but I guess the similarities had to stop somewhere.  And what of the scene with Lara?  Why would something like that be pre-programmed?  

Karen: Apparently Clark was 'super-sleep-walking,' and Lana heard him and found him. Clark is surprised to see her back in Smallville. She tells him she had left for a long time, because of "what you did to me." We then flashback ten years, to the night that Clark decided to start using his powers to help people. Before he left Smallville, he visited Lana. They went out for a moonlit stroll, and he talked to her about the world and all its problems. Unfortunately, Lana was thinking, hoping, that Clark might be about to propose to her. Instead, he tells her he thinks one man might be able to help the world, and it might be him. She's taken aback; more so when he grabs her and flies into the sky with her!  Clark revealed his powers to Lana that night, and flew her around the world. She was absolutely thrilled -and then it ended. he dropped her off on her porch with a brotherly kiss on the forehead, and then vanished from her life. She wasn't stupid; once she saw Superman on the news she knew it was Clark (wouldn't everyone from Smallville??). She pined for him for some time, but eventually came to accept the situation and came back home.

Doug:  Some people might not consider this to be a very exciting or even necessary part of this mini-series; after all, the cover touts this ish as "the epic conclusion!"  Well...  But seriously, this issue is all about characterization -- we titled this post "Building a Better Legacy" for a reason.  Byrne, for my money, really shows his strength as a writer over these five pages.

Karen: Some things of note here. Byrne clearly draws Lana as attractive but not glamorous - she's a real counterpoint to Lois. Secondly, Lana's longing for Clark is well-done. Many of us have been on one side or the other of such a one-sided relationship. Clark seems a bit clueless but not a cad.

Doug:  This Lana Lang is a far cry from the Lana of Curt Swan's Adventure Comics, who was as pretty as any of the exotic Legionnaires.  But her depiction here really humanized Superman, and was necessary for it to come off.  While Lois is integral to the story as a whole, I would have a hard time imagining Superman/Clark having this sort of a conversation with her.  I don't see Lois as too deep emotionally, at least in the limited time we've seen her.  Lana's just more down home, honest, earthy (man, sounding like a hippie all of a sudden).

Karen: After his talk with Lana, we next see Clark as Superman. He's decided he has to face up to some things. He thinks about wanting Lois in his life, but then recalls Lana's words -that Superman belongs to the world, "not one woman." This segues into the Man of Steel wondering about his origins. He flies off to find the rocketship that brought him into the world. He heaves up a large wooden panel from a field -but shockingly, the ship is gone! Superman wonders if Pa might have moved it, but using his super-vision, he sees tracks from a piece of heavy equipment. Before he can pursue that line of inquiry further, Jor-El appears again in his wispy form. He calls Superman his son, and then blasts him with some sort of ray. Superman falls to the ground, clutching his head. The Kents come tearing up in their old pickup truck, and Pa tries to hit Jor-El with a shovel. There's a flash of light and the alien disappears -as does half of Pa's shovel! Superman realizes that it was a holographic projection. After making sure Pa is all right, he tells his parents he needs to go away somewhere to think.

Doug:  Say, I need to interject this -- did you see that it was mentioned at least twice that Clark is 28 years old?  Correct me if I'm wrong, but I sure thought it was said earlier that he went public when he was 25, and just last issue Lois said she'd been wanting a kiss from Superman for five years.  I wonder why they decided to cut two years away, somewhat arbitrarily?

Karen: Doesn't quite add up, does it? I do recall reading somewhere that, pre-Crisis, DC insisted that Superman was perpetually 29.

Doug:  So, the rocket's gone; do you recall also seeing a shadowy figure at the same site, back when Clark was a high school senior and Pa first showed it to him?  If I recall, some of this comes to light in the first issue of Superman.  It's interesting that the first time Clark encounters the Jor-El projection, it isn't until he's "touched" that his mind goes awry; here, apparently Jor-El is getting to him wirelessly.  But back to the movie -- this scene is similar to the rocket scene in the film, but when Kal-El was an infant.  He learned all of Kryptonian history and culture from the recordings his father had installed in the ship.

Karen: As Superman flies off, far above the Earth, he realizes who he really is. He knows now that he is not a mutant or a Soviet science experiment, but an alien.Not only that, he is the sole survivor of his species. He swoops down into a frozen, mountainous region (no, there's no giant golden key!).  He thinks about how all the knowledge of Krypton has flooded his head; he knows of his people's history, culture, religion. And he decides that all of it is meaningless, as Earth, and America, are the places that shaped him, and made him into who he is. And so, at the end of this mini, Superman learns his true origin as an alien being, but embraces his humanity as being more important to him.

Doug:  And I want to step back a week, to some of the comments that were made concerning the plot and placement of the Bizarro encounter.  I didn't say anything at the time, as I was awaiting this issue.  But I do not find issue #5 out of place at all, and instead feel that it's integral to the whole of this six-part story.  If you even take the second half of it, we see Luthor defined, which presents the major antagonist for Superman -- in that story, we see Superman's feelings for Lois, learn a little about Lois and how she operates, and see Superman's morality and heroism; then in issue #5 we get some straightforward superheroing but with a heaping helping of Superman's powers on full display.  So we then come to this issue, which is really an epilogue to the entire story, not a chapter in and of itself.  For me, this issue is almost an antithesis to issue #5; where it was about brains and brawn, this is about heart and soul.  That's my take, anyway. 

Karen: I was struck by how this version of Superman really doesn't feel all that different to me than the previous one. But then, I was not a big Superman reader. 

 Doug:  I felt at the time that the promise of a somewhat depowered Superman was all-too-quickly abandoned.  If he was no longer a god, then he sure was a strong candidate for demi-god!

Karen:  I did think it was interesting that the Kents were still alive. That was a new element to play with. But in general, this Superman was the same upstanding guy he'd been for most of his existence. And he focused on his human heritage. I'm really surprised to hear that the Superman of the New 52 is much more centered around his Kryptonian nature -and that DC has no plans for him to have a romance with Lois Lane! That is just insane. To me, that relationship is one of the keys to Superman. It defines the character. Without it, well, it's just not Superman.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bracketology: Dressed for Success -- 3rd Round

Doug:  On, then, to the 3rd round of voting in our quest to choose the best costume of the Bronze Age.  Remember, it's the threads, not the character in them or storylines in which they were featured.  We're all about sartorial splendor around here.  My apologies for the seeming error in numbering on the 14th and 15th bracket spots; apparently an over-zealous reader/voter began casting before I could get everything proofread and in place.  Once someone votes, the polls cannot be edited.  Rest assured that in spite of my typographical boo-boo, the polls are listed in order.

Doug:  So we may as well have something to talk about today (in addition to the brackets themselves -- some interesting match-ups in this round!), because that's what we do around here.  How about this one?  Can you name a favorite Bronze Age story or cover that featured one of the characters on the list?  Not just any story or cover, but one that is especially memorable or significant to you as a link to your younger years.  As an example, I'd offer up the cover to Champions #11, featuring a very cool Gil Kane offering of a quite large Bill Foster about to go splat after a pummeling from the Champs' flying car!  That should get us going.  And as always, thanks in advance for playing!

EDIT:  Hey, all --

It just occurred to me that I set the end date wrong for this round.  To stay on schedule, I'm going to cut this off early Tuesday evening -- the polls have been ending at 5:00 pm CT in the States.  So I'll be filling out the brackets for the purpose of advancement around that time, and then posting the next round late Tuesday evening.  Sorry for the confusion (which was all mine!).


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Discuss: Elton John

Doug:  Did you know that Elton John was the best-selling solo act of the 1970's, behind only the King of Rock 'n' Roll?  Elton John released 12 albums in the decade...

Friday, September 21, 2012

Four Fried Chickens and A Coke

Karen: Last week we talked about a film by John Landis called An American Werewolf in London. This week, I'd like to offer up another one of Mr. Landis' works. You might have heard of it: The Blues Brothers.

This is a movie that grew on me. When I first saw it in the theater, I thought it was just OK. But with repeated viewings, somehow, I came to enjoy it more and more. The utter absurdity of it all first put me off, but once I embraced it, I loved it. And of course, there is the music: James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and great sidemen like Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn. Lots of memorable scenes and lines: "How much for the little girl?" "I hate Illinois Nazis." "Are you the police?" "No Ma'am, we're musicians." And of course, "We're on a mission from God."

I still think it is overlong and excessive (car crashes anyone?), but I'll stop and watch it any time. Oh, and I have the DVD too, which has gotten some play.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Who's the Best... Avengers Writer?

Doug:  What a hall-of-fame!  Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, Jim Shooter, Roger Stern, Kurt Busiek.  Glad you're making this call and not me!


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bracketology: Dressed for Success -- 2nd Round, part 2

Doug:  Welcome back -- you know the drill!  But if you don't, we're voting on the best costume of the Bronze Age -- all of the polls for this go-round are on the left.

Doug:  For discussion today, I'd ask you to survey the full bracket below and choose a character or two.  In your mind,who drew the definitive version of that character and maybe also toss out a few pencilers who got it wrong.  That should (hopefully) liven things up in the comments section!  And have a great day!


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