Tuesday, February 28, 2017

In Love With Kirby!

It's easy to forget that among all his many accomplishments, that Jack "King" Kirby in tandem with his longtime partner Joe Simon largely invented the "Romance Comic" when they put out the first issue of Young Romance for Crestwood Comics in 1947. Kirby went on to draw a lot of romance comic covers in his career, a lot of great art by the King I'd bet was mostly ignored by the boys who devoured his super adventure yarns in comics like Challengers of the Unknown and Fantastic Four. Here is a cover gallery of some of Kirby's great romance covers, some of them from comics not immediately famous for that kind of sappy thing.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

The Golden Derby - February 1967!

Fifty years ago this month what just might be my all-time favorite Rocke Mastroserio cover hit the stands. While the interior of Charlton's War and Attack #59 is pretty standard the cover is awesome. The combination of explosion caught in a sight and the decision to make this a muted-color cover really allow this masterpiece to pop right off the stands. In addition to the standard war fare we get another issue of Judomaster, this one the second half of a rare Charlton two-part tale, this one introducing Tiger. This issue along with its predecessor are likely apogee of his Frank McLaughlin series and to a great extent reinforce Judomaster's similarity in some broad ways to Captain America. Go-Go offers up another zany installment with focus on Blooperman, Bikini Luv and Petula Clark, In the romance corner we get something a bit different as Career Romances dabbles in a cross-genre offering dubbed "Tiffany Sinn - Undercover Agent". This romance is really quite fun as it blends the usual angst of a pretty girl searching for love with the dangerous elements of minor espionage, a shout out of course to a genre which was still vibrant in the pop culture of the day. And finally we get more race car adventures in Hot Rods and Racing Cars as Clint Curtis and Road Knights step in along with another regular feature Rick Roberts. Charlton really seemed to have found a groove under the editorial leadership of Dick Giordano with some great things just around the corner, though February itself was indeed a very slender month. But more on that next time.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Day In The Anti-Life - Retrograde!

I will never forget the amazing sense of pride I felt nearly a decade ago now when my country rose above its centuries of shame to elevate a black man to the highest office in the land. It was hoped in that grand moment that finally, at last the United States, a country built on ideals had in some small way made good on promises long ago imagined and codified but almost always ignored in the grim reality of a grudging history. A nation conceived in liberty but for too long beholding to rank slavery  was a nation which suffered the gravest of cognitive dissonances when it came to offering freedom to men and women. The progress of liberalism, the notion that freedoms and opportunities should be spread to an ever wider array of different kinds of peoples has been the hallmark of a country which often ignores these ideals for the convenience of a moment. What was once imagined and fashioned to be a nation for the benefit of white men has slowly become a nation built for the benefit of women and peoples of all races and ethnic backgrounds.

Or at least that was what we thought.

So long ago now it seems on that chilly day when Barrack Hussein Obama took the oath of office to become President. It was like watching a dream I never imagined I'd see in my lifetime, and I was filled with pride that my fellow Americans had finally done such a thing.

Now we know different.

The election of our current "so-called" President can only ever be seen as a backlash directed at the grand achievements of that time now seemingly so distant though less still than ten years gone. While the goal of seeing a black man lead our nation was inspiring it clearly filled many folks with dread. and even unspoken they fabricated all sorts of fanciful fables of fear to justify their irrational animus. They will tell you now that they were just motivated by his "radical" ideas, ideas such as attempting to modify the healthcare system in the United States using a Republican template as the model, continuing to press the wars begun under Republican leadership against terrorism in dozens of nations across the globe, and of course deporting the invidious aliens who have penetrated the sacred veneer of American society and thrive in our midst, more than any Republican in modern times. Yeah, those kinds of ideas. Obama was a centrist President in a country that no longer seems to understand what that word means; Obama promoted policies which once would have seemed commonplace in any moderate Republican administration. For the most part he governed like Nixon.

And now we have another one inspired by Nixon.

The current "so-called" President looks to Richard Nixon not for policy guidance but for a model on which to fashion a secretive cult of personality inside the oval office which attempts to skirt the normal practices of lawmaking and invest the executive with supreme power. That attempt at such overwhelming power has been to no small degree rebuffed by the courts, and so the nation will survive I suspect and dearly hope. But will it thrive? Our current "so-called" President is lost in a nest of personality ticks and his avaricious desire to keep access to his personal wealth even as he "serves" the country,  could well be eventually undone by the nature of his campaign which appears to have been infested with foreign interference. Some speak blithely of what could be the greatest scandal in American history. I've heard reporters who I know are calm and careful, state with what appears to general understanding that our current "so-called" President is compromised in the most fundamental ways. That remains to be uncovered.

But in the meantime we lose sight of the hope inspired by that election nearly a decade gone which filled me with pride. We now have a leader who seems eager to gather up as many brown people as he can locate and usher them out of the country so that those of us of the proper complexion who are left can cower behind a fence which in the end will keep us in more than it keeps anyone out. In a country which is producing not enough children to replenish the population  we depend upon the great wash of immigration to refuel our mission to make life better for everyone. Now the country seems intent on just the opposite. Under obscure phrases like "economic nationalism" the nativist impulse has found yet one more shadow box to hide within as cowards, afraid of the wide world seek to make of America one enormous gated community.

Progress is not an easy thing and it's the nature of things that as they move forward they will move back a bit. But the cause of freedom in the United States, for all its limitations has moved forward over the years and will continue. Going back might occur for a moment in time as those afraid of what's to come take hold of the fear change brings, but we must always believe that despite the retrograde nature of change that change will come regardless.

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Astro City 100!

Astro City turns one hundred. It's been a fascinating trip. I well remember as a kid with my mitts on the one hundredth issue of Fantastic Four, then Spider-Man and later The Avengers calculating that it would take a monthly comic a little over eight years to achieve this milestone. To my boyhood self eight years seemed an eternity, now it seems like a pittance. It's taken Astro City considerably longer to hit this mark and it's done it in a weird and winding way. I wrote about Astro City when it returned to Vertigo several years ago and relaunched yet again with a new number one issue. I like what I said then, so I represent it here.

The first issue from Image Comics hit the stands in 1995 and ironically helped break the hot hot fever of horribly written comics with infantile artwork. The adventures, misadventures, insights, and reflections which comprise these beautiful comics have been gracing the stands off and on since. Image, Wildstorm, and DC have published these graceful deconstructed yarns about what it must be like to live in a world filled up with superheroes. Perhaps most famous for the Alex Ross covers, these are well-wrought comics which touch the heart and tickle the mind.

I'm not going to reprise the saga here by any means, but Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson have told some utterly touching stories over the years about regular folks who just happen to have superpowers or who just happen to know someone who does. These are by and large gentle stories about all too mortal human beings trying to find a way forward in a world that doesn't always make the most sense. It's just like real life, but more colorful on occasion. That's the real secret of Astro City, that despite the likes of Samaritan, Silver Agent, The Confessor, and more, the world is very much like the one outside most of our windows. It's world of hard choices and difficult decisions made by regular folks with limited information and imperfect understanding. It's just like here and now.

It seems I always balk a bit when Busiek revives the series, but for whatever reasons, I always relent and dive in again. I did this time too, and enjoyed the first several issues of the new run immensely. We've met many folks, but most charmingly an older woman with some cool superpowers who just wants to live a relatively normal life, and a beautiful  and brave young woman who cherishes being close to the action by working in the communications network for the superheroes. Whether it's cosmic threats or crumb bum crooks on the prowl, Astro City has its share.

That was me three years ago. One of the reasons, the main one I guess that the series has taken this long to reach this milestone is that Busiek's health remains a bit fragile. Nevertheless he presses ahead and joined by Brent Anderson and increasingly other talented artists, the series continues to impress. For more go here. I'll keep getting it as long as it comes out. I'm a fan for life, or eight years which ever comes first.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Panther's Rage - Jungle Kings!

"Panther's Rage" comes to a climax in issue seventeen of Jungle Action as Erik Killmonger finally launches his all-out attack on the heart of Wakanda. Leading his assembled troopers and a multitude of giant dinosaurs he brings destruction and mayhem to the settled and industrialized center of the kingdom. It has been a full year since the Panther returned to Wakanda and first confronted Killmonger atop the great waterfall. Since then he's had to do a lot of soul searching and confront many weird menaces, some created wrought by Killmonger's science and some the result of palace intrigue within his own ranks. But now T'Challa is galvanized, no longer plagued by doubt or second guessing and owning his own responsibility in the rise of the rebel Killmonger. So it is with a righteous anger on behalf of his suffering subjects which motivates the king to battle the usurper. The fight as the injured W'Kabi and his family see destruction rumbled toward them and Taku comes under threat but Venomm steps in. Some of Killmonger's allies are killed but many more are captured and atop the falls where it began the war between T'Challa and Erik Killmonger comes to an end and a small boy, still grieving over his lost father has a role to play.

Two months later in the epilogue we find the kingdom of Wakanda still recovering from the events of the war with Killmonger. Taku takes Venomm home to America and W'Kabi's family still leaves despite their developing understanding of how they feel.  But the danger is not over as the mistress of Killmonger seeks some measure of revenger and aided by her mute giant ally captures the Panther. It is W'Kabi, now possessing a metal arm to replace the one he lost in the war is instrumental in saving the Panther and despite some rough treatment T'Challa emerge triumphant again, his kingdom safe for the moment, but as we now know that is all the safety any of us has.

In the end "Panther's Rage" is a massive story told over the course of two real calendar years and over one year of literary time which attempts to explore the feelings and thoughts of people dealing with change and living up their own responsibilities. We meet T'Challa, a man less certain of his own goals and ambitions, a sign of maturity, but also something of a deficiency in a leader who appears to dither. He is surrounded by advisors, some who are overly intellectual and some who rely to heavily on emotions, but few who are able to blend these aspects of human nature to full effect, that is until the end of the story when he has been tempered by the many battles he has fought.

Erik Killmonger is a fascinating figure, a charismatic and brave leader who like most of his ilk has limited regard for his acolytes and an overweening confidence in himself. He wants revenge for what was taken from him and fights the Panther and all he stands for to attempt to balm that hurt. Out of that anger and sense of betrayal his rebellion has taken over the thinking of the those around him and consumes the concerns of everyone in the kingdom.

In the end McGregor's writing is so luxuriously dense that it's a chore to consume, his overly rich descriptions becomes a little bewildering as your eye rushes to decode the pictures which drive the story ahead. "Panther's Rage" is a work of art more significant because of how it is structured, a long continuing tale with a heavy reliance on interior analysis, than how effectively it does what it does. Now it seems all stories are like this, but then it was a relative rarity to find a story that pushed ahead so relentlessly month after month.

It was very very memorable though and one of Marvel's highest achievements during the Bronze Age of Comics.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Panther's Rage - Serpent Kings!

In the fourteenth issue of Jungle Action by Don McGregor and Bill Graham things really kick into a higher gear. The artwork to my eye improves as Klaus Janson (who had done a fine job establishing mood and atmosphere) is replaced first by Pablo Marcos, then Dan Green and finally what appears to be Graham himself on inks. The art is lush and has a real flowing movement to it.

(Unused cover for issue fourteen by Graham)
The Black Panther pursues Killmonger and his forces into Serpent Valley, an isolated world surprisingly close to the heart of Wakanda but unknown to its residents. It's a strange world where time has stopped and ancient beasts from Earth's long past still roam the swampy mists. Dinosaurs are the target of Killmonger and his men as they seek to capture several behemoths who have descended from Brontosaurs.They hope to use these giant creatures as part of their ultimate attack on the central section of Wakanda. The Panther follows Sombre but has to switch plans when the latter dies in quicksand. Later the Panther battles a Tyranosaur-like monster and is able to use his skills to defeat the inhuman monster.

Left behind by Killmonger's forces he attempts to follow them again but is stopped by another of Killmonger's transformed allies, this one a thorn laced enemy named Salamander Kruhl.

After being struck by an arrow he is strung out and made helpless for an attack from above when Pteranosaurs descend upon him.

He actually displays great skill in not only surviving the attack but actually seems for a moment to wrangle the flying monster before dashing out its brains in a perilous descent to the ground. He finally heads for home.

Finding his way home at last the Black Panther recovers from his many many wounds and as time passes he and Monica Lynne renew their love affair.

Meanwhile Taku continues to try and develop a friendship with Horatio the man code-named Venomm by Killmonger. But both Take and W'Kabi are unable to stop Venomm from escaping after long months of capture and W'Kabi is seriously injured.

The Panther pursues Venomm to his lair where he keeps his snakes and the two battle it out. But the fight is a stalemate when Taku is able to convince Venomm to leave the Panther alive as the villain stalks off.

And that sets the stage for the exciting climax of "Panther's Rage" which lands tomorrow.

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