Thursday, July 21, 2016

Black Magick: Coming To TV! Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott, and Groundswell

Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott's creator-owned Black Magick comic series will go into TV development, as reported by The same company behind "The Magicians" on SyFy, Groundswell Productions, made the deal, which sounds so far like a creator-owned property dream come true! They're producing a new show starring Hugh Laurie, Chance , for Hulu.
I've enjoyed Nicola's artwork for years now- when we couldn't afford many comics, which was Our Entire Time in Cali, Secret Six was a must-read. She's busy with alternating issues of Wonder Woman '75 now. Did you know the Australian artist was an actor before she became a pro at the drafting board? That's one more thing to ask her when I interview her after Comic Con. I think? I hope! I think she's agreed to it. I wasn't kidding. Throw me good juju!
Black Magick's the story of Rowan, who has inherited witch abilities she's put aside to concentrate on homicide/burglary cases as a police detective. Wouldn't you know, the proverbial past catches up with her, and soon the life she leads and the life she left aside come into direct conflict, necessitating Rowan integrate both sides to save her loved ones- and possibly, the entire world.
(All art, Nicola Scott) Rucka's famous for a lot of comic book writing, but I particularly enjoyed his novelization of Batman: No Man's Land. The comics are on my hit list- watch them become scarce as this TV show nears its debut! Meanwhile- jump aboard for a new twist on The Olde Ways!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Jan Duursema's Hexer Dusk interview with me!

Here's the Hexer Dusk interview as it was published. I'm trying to get the link to show, sorry! Try! From my interview, Jan had this to share on moving from Star Wars to her own publishing venture:
JD: Somewhere inside most comic book pros is the idea of a doing something indie and creator owned. I'd approached doing something partly creator owned with other companies, but each time the course of the company changed direction and the project fell through. That's why I think that Kickstater and Indiegogo are so important to the pros in the comic book industry. They give creators a platform to put those indie projects out there for the fans and readers to decide on. What I like most about what I am seeing on Kickstarter is that most of the comics looking for funding are outside of the mainstream--you'll see Western, Horror, Sci-fi, Fantasy, Comedy or a mashup of different genres. It's a creative candy store! I think that the ability to be able to create something different was the thing that appealed most to me about doing something indie. 
For a long time, John and I were able to call the Star Wars comic universe at Dark Horse our home. When Disney took the franchise to Marvel, they brought their own teams onto the books. Totally understand that--and we got to play in the GFFA for far longer than most creators ever do--so I'm happy with my time there and with what we accomplished. When I think about all of the characters we created for Star Wars Legacy, Republic and Dawn of the Jedi that fans still love, it's a very gratifying thing! Seeing someone at a convention dressed as Darth Talon, Cade Skywalker, Darth Krayt, Darth Nihl, Darth Maladi, Deliah Blue, Bantha Rawk, Nyna Calixte/Morrigan Corde,  Quinlan Vos, Aayla Secura--nothing beats that! I am awed by the time and attention that the costumers give to their creations. It's a love of what you've created that comes back to you. It's confirmation of a job well done!
At the same time, the franchise changing hands was a bit of a wake up call. John and I spent over 10 years creating for Star Wars, but when it was over--there was, of course,  no ownership of any of the characters--no way to take them on further adventures. When something like that happens you can feel a bit lost creatively  My take-away from that is that you have to re-make yourself as an artist, writer--and creator. You have to find a new home where you can create new characters whose stories you are burning to tell. I'd initially gotten the idea for Hexer Dusk back in 2013, sketched it out a bit--and John and I talked about it, added to the characters and story--plotting out the first graphic novel--both agreeing that this would be great for that indie project we'd always promised ourselves we would do 'someday'/ Would we talk to some companies about it? What about ownership? What's the best way to bring this book to fans and readers to READ? That's the most important thing about creating comics--getting the book out there so people can read it. Otherwise what good is telling a story? John and I both did lots of thinking about what we wanted to do. Other projects came along for both of us, but Hexer Dusk was always on my mind. 
Fast forward to the New Year 2016. Creating Hexer Dusk is still at the front of my mind. I'm tired of looking wistfully into the drawer of art I've produced for this book and closing that drawer and waiting. I've got so many sketches, characters and storylines and 13 pages of storytelling nearly done. The plot is written and waiting for me. It's time to make Hexer Dusk happen. So Kickstarter--which is doing well thanks to all of the amazing backers who have shown their support so far! We're funded for the basics like printing, postage, Kickstarter fees, manufacturing, the art rewards and perks. But I'd love to bring Hexer Dusk to a lot more readers. I know that fans of John's and my Star Wars comics will enjoy this story and these characters very much. I also think that fans of our Hawkman series will dig the art and story of Hexer Dusk. Right now, we're working on Stretch Goals--and as these levels are achieved backers of the project get even more rewards added to the reward they pledged--like a Black and White unwrapped version of Hexer Dusk as well as more story pages added to the graphic novel.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

There's just one DAK: David Anthony Kraft creates comics Pt. 1 (1970s Marvel)

The story goes, a motorcycling youth fresh from a stint traveling with the carnival came to New York City, all of 20, 21, hoping to join Marvel Comics Group. David Anthony Kraft arrived with counter-cultural rebellion and a head full of imagination.
His high school years spent reading science fiction paper backs in the back of the classroom led straight to a professional status: he took the initiative and inquired about becoming estate executor to pulp writer Otis Adelbert Kline! (I discovered Kline's initials presented as OAK and wondered if that wasn't the inspiration for the "DAK" nomenclature.) Science fiction writer Leigh Brackett (who famously drafted The Empire Strikes Back script) and Marvel's Stan Lee were also formative influences. Fictioneer also published hard back editions of Jack London, Frank Baum, the autobiography of A.E. van Vogt, Robert E. Howard, and E. Hoffmann Price, a colorful ex-soldier and pulp writer who became an early mentor.
The every-ready editor got in touch to share:
Fictioneer Books didn't become a publisher -- it began as one. Before going to Marvel, I published Robert E Howard and Jack London and L Frank Baum hardcovers, plus editing and publishing sf writer A E Van Vogt's autobiography in trade pbk, along with an Otis Adelbert Kline original trade. Then, I got busy with comics, and when I got back into publishing, it made sense to publish what I knew, hence: Comics Interview mag and the various original comics series, also under the Fictioneer imprint.

If you were a Friend of Old Marvel in the 1970’s, DAK was editor for FOOM, Marvel's 70's fanzine, a precursor to his 80’s career with Fictioneer’s David Anthony Kraft’s Comics Interview, and began picking up writing assignments, such as GIANT SIZED DRACULA #4 , SPIDEY SUPER-STORIES, and CREATURES ON THE LOOSE #33-37, the strip where his writing career for Marvel Comics Group began.
His earliest writing for Marvel was Man Wolf, in Creatures On The Loose. One must marvel at writing the son of a character so important as J. Jonah Jameson, much less to work side-by-side at times with JJJ and Spidey co-creator Stan “The Man” Lee himself! Only recently did a photo, courtesy a post by Sean Howe, reveal his first scripting job at Marvel ended up in the hands of Marc “T-Rex” Bolan himself.
After some time at Marvel, he decided to try writing stories for the new company around the block: Atlas Comics, created by Martin Goodman and edited by his son, Chip. DAK envisioned a career and lifestyle turn not unlike Steve Englehart, on the West Coast. There, he helped create Demon Hunter-a character later reincarnated, so to speak, as Devil-Slayer at Marvel, illustrated by Rich Buckler.
He and best friend Roger Slifer took over scripting chores for DEFENDERS on Gerry Conway's sole story arc following Steve Gerber's departure, with #44. His first solo arc there would become perhaps his signature story at Marvel: "Who Remembers Scorpio?" His first arc paired him up with gifted Keith Giffen, an auteur who went on to great commercial and critical successes at DC.
Dave Kraft, or DAK as he came to be known, continued utility writing stories for annuals, while writing Defenders full-time in the late 1970s. In the next few years, Kraft went on to write nearly every major Marvel character, in comics, activity books- even a Sunday circular story, Spider-Man meets the Dallas Cowboys. Thor, Cap, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, The Hulk, Tarzan, Dracula, and adaptations of the most memorable science fiction/ fantasy movies of the day were often adapted by Kraft, who also fondly recalls the get-togethers that broke out in off-the-cuff plotting sessions between Marvel creators. Trish Walker, aka Patsy Walker, who appears on Netflix's Marvel's Jessica Jones television series, was recruited to become a Kraft favorite in The Defenders, easily one of the most successful feminist heroines without resorting to text-book cliches in place of a vivacious, worldly personality! .
His philosophical Scorpio- with fears of aging, loneliness, and a decidedly Everyman demeanor, offering beers to his captives-is discussed a couple of posts back along with his Soviet Union/ environmentalist storyline featuring Red Guardian and the Presence. Here were my observations for #51 (1977) and its surrounding storylines, as related personally to Dave "The Dude" himself. I know the drama and comedy of "Who Remembers Scorpio?" gets a lion's share of love, but #51 packed more story into its first half alone than a lot of modern comics do in nearly two!
The Ringer was in one of my very first comics, but here his dialogue made him even more original! Val trying to enter college was a hoot! I think Stern- a writer I've enjoyed a lot from the 80's- got a lot of his riffs from you (Peter trying to leave grad school was similar to Val's entrance). It may have been one of those things where one internalizes the feel of stories or songs that impress you; Gerber was inspirational that way, too (and I'd love to talk about how some of his stories reflect conversations with fellow writer friends).
Here's one thing I just love about Nighthawk vs. The Ringer: you were deconstructing comics long before Alan Moore, and did it in a less sadistic & cynical way. I'd love to have seen Kyle internalize more of his unusual experiences, like with the Sons of the Serpent, the hilarious "Bring Back My Body To Me" plot, and this, for another, and reflect them in his quirky character, as it does rescue him from his Batman rip-off origins. You seem to maybe have identified with Moon Knight as a rougher-edged sort of hero, and pretty much have to confess you like Nick Fury; I imagine Steranko has something to do with that! Patsy's talk with Jack has some nice undertones- she's a really good character in and out of costume. Even with a double page spread, you got SO much into #51. Your fans really got their money's worth.
I adored JLI when I collected it in high school and college; there was Keith Giffen again, always creative and off-center but capable of straight-ahead derring do. Your Defenders issues, to me, anyway, and I'm back up to #54, seem to have inspired that JLI approach. I know you weren't the first guy to write witty superhero dialogue, but you really killed in 1977. I also enjoyed the 'Man Who Fell To Earth' reference (a 1976 sci fi movie starring David Bowie, directed by Nicholas Roeg) from Dollah Dollah Billz y'all, and I think with your double bill movie marquee in #53, you used the juxtaposition of that movie with Death Wish as a foreshadowed analogy between Val and Lunatik. Granted, Bronson didn't say "a hero ain't nothin' but a sandwich!" Maybe I'm reading too much into the choice, but I doubt it: that would be subtle. It did coincide with Prof. Turk & Val sharing a theater viewing! Tastes may vary, but these issues really speak to me and my personal aesthetics- it's fair to say they must've shaped them, which, since I read most of these outside #58-61 as an adult, suggests their quality and endurance as pop literature.
I don't know if Giffen was the one who suggested bring back Subby or if it was just a mutual convo in answer to letting go of Stephen a while, but between him, the Hulk and The Presence, there's some strong evocation of classic Marvel. And that was the idea at the time: keep what worked and endured from classic Marvel, but tell new stories that reflect the times and sometimes more sophisticated ideas, without losing the wonder. Val's college stint- I've got to guess that's your idea, and once again, you were writing better, stronger female super heroines before Claremont, who has that rep-that's so in keeping with what I love about classic Marvel: the mix of fantasy/ sci fi elements with quotidian themes. The Quotidian- how did HE not get made?
I don't want to leave out discussion of Scorpio and the Zodiac- they had some clever nuances, especially Jake Fury (or was that an LMD too?)- but you probably hear less about #51. Ringer crushing Kyle's flight backpack made for a terrific scenario- so much commentary without beating you over the head with the obvious. The scene was about stripping away Nighthawk's understanding of himself- grounding him, as it were. The callback to Scorpio in the aftermath was ingenious. Knowing how concepts work, I imagine some of this came together subconsciously, and it'd be interesting to hear how much of the process was set intention, and how much was found inspiration from the process.
As 1978 began, he also created his Blue Oyster Cult homage storyline in DEFENDERS, transforming lyrics and song titles into a saga about half-human, half-demon Vera Gemini's bid to rebirth the Demon Race on Earth as in ancient days.
Here's where he brought Dr. Strange back to the title and also brought Devil-Slayer into the Marvel mainstream. Look up my early blog "The Cult and the Kraft" from 2010 for more.
His departure in 1978 from Marvel followed a creative attempt to give Marvel another prestige format magazine story based on popular music idols, after the KISS Marvel Super Special became a runaway smash. On Marvel Super Special #4: The Beatles, with art by George Perez, Dave Kraft made a successful pitch of a deluxe, higher prestige format magazine at the board room level to James P. Galton, the publisher. Stan Lee took him on a shopping trip, to trade in his biker hippie look for a snazzy business suit, as chronicled in Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. When he could not get the same deal for his other Marvel work, he left the company as a matter of principle. Before he left, he wrote an answer to the unyielding requests for various B- and C-list guest stars in the form of "Defender For a Day," chronicled in #s 62-64. When Wizard spotlighted the story as "The Best Comic (For All The Worst Reasons)" Kraft took their tongue-in-cheek article and framed it on his wall of celebrity and friend photos in his office in Krafthaus!
DAK bought his home in the mountains of northeast Georgia with his earnings. "Land was like $5000 an acre at the time," he recounted. One of his earliest guests while building his mountaintop home "Krafthaus" was David (Kung Fu) Carradine, shooting a movie a couple of miles away. He came by to pose for a picture and shoot the breeze with The Dude, balancing on the precarious balcony overlooking the valley below Screamer Mountain. He surprised DAK by telling him his two favorite Marvel characters were Dr. Strange and pop-lyric-reciting vigilante Lunatik. Who knew Carradine was a comics fan? Hearing a writer-much less the writer for these two characters, and creator of Lunatik- lived in the neighborhood where he was shooting, Carradine couldn't resist meeting him in person.
He no doubt heard, visiting Krafthaus that day, how Lunatik was quickly created one Friday afternoon at Marvel before Kraft and company left for dinner. Artist Carmine Infantino, who created the modern style and uniform of the Flash in the Silver Age seed of Showcase #4, turned up, asking for the plot and characters for the next issue, "to give him something to draw over the weekend." While Salicrup and Slifer waited, Kraft drew and colored the next nemesis. DAK modeled Lunatik on Alice Cooper, particularly the face painting, gave him a head of reddish-purple frizzy hair and a green jumpsuit (villain colors!), and set Infantino loose with a Lunatik designed on the spot!

Maybe you have to understand 70's cool to get the full-on vibe, but DAK and other creators broadcast the NYC feel in their comics and magazines read around the world. It is good to know someone came away still able to laugh! I can only imagine being there, just like I did as a child. We'll explore Kraft's 80's work and fortunes next time, when we establish who truly made the She Hulk as we've come to know her, plus the establishment of fandom staple David Anthony Kraft's Comics Interview! Have a look at my entry on the first Yi Soon Shin four issue series, for his present-day efforts with Chicago's Onrie Kompan. Don McGregor himself, replying to my happy birthday wish to him this year, mentioned his fond memories of the two of them editing The Variable Syndrome (novel, 1981) and Dragonflame and Other Bedtime Nightmares (1983) in The Green Kitchen restaurant to the wee hours of the morn. So! There’s still an awful lot to uncover, and that’s a fact! So pick us up the next time we talk about DAK! But meanwhile, give the moon a howl, and remember to wish DAK happy birthday wherever you are each May 31st. May your deadlines be undead lines, and may you slay’em!
-C Lue The Poet

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Man-Thing-Splaining? A quick review of Essential Man-Thing Vol.1 featuring Steve Gerber

Essential Man-Thing, Vol. 1Essential Man-Thing, Vol. 1 by Steve Gerber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Steve Gerber did not always have a very optimistic viewpoint on humanity, but he wrote honestly
and believed in our best values. If you want to read a thoughtful- not to mention occasionally horrific- graphic novel, this collection of serialized stories does the job.
IF there's one glaring weakness, it is the strength that makes the stories unique: the protagonist is essentially mindless. This means the other random characters are necessary to give dimension to the conflicts, and they change over time. Richard Rory, hippie Everyman, is as close to a constant as the title has, and he's an interesting ordinary guy, never transformed by the usual power fantasy plot twists, but often swept up by them.
This volume features his origin by Gerry Conway and Gray Morrow, and with a stop off by Jim Starlin along the way, by FEAR #10 we get to Steve Gerber, with stories about pollution, free spirits, shady developers, Native American protesters, and other-dimensional demons. In the middle, it's a pure fantasy saga, and from there it evolves into bizarre slice-of-life, offbeat tales from the fringes of society.
I enjoyed this volume, but Gerber really turns up the heat in the remainder of the series. The weirdness, of course, is not to everyone's taste, and these stories were not often of the straight-ahead adventure variety. They were more involved in soul-baring character sketches.
How dare I forget Val Mayerick and Mike Ploog? They turn in some terrific art. Ploog in particular has become an in-demand fantasy artist with a cartoony style here that was not simply a Kirby/Romita Marvel House Style. What can I say? If you enjoyed Neil Gaiman, particularly on Sandman, this is probably right up your alley! The black and white palette does little to mar the appeal and keeps the price nice.

View all my reviews

Burning Steve Rogers: Captain America #1 and my personal adventure into fear

Hmm, so fans are sending videos of their flaming copies of the new Cap #1 over Twitter to Nick Spenser, writer. Anything could come of a twist; I just happened to read a review stating why the issue wasn't particularly well made. The truly offensive idea here is that Captain America- co-created by a Jewish artist who joined the Army to fight the military oppression of the Nazis- would be a deep cover member of an organization founded, fictitiously,by Nazis (Hydra).
Could I ever burn a comic book? I did.
When I was a child, I burned a brittle old copy of FEAR #21 my Dad found tattered in the floorboard of a '56 Chevy. My imagination and Morbius the Living Vampire did not play well, lol- I eventually took my object of morbid fascination to the trash fire in the back yard. I'd never burn another comic book, though. Irony? It was written by Steve Gerber, a writer I now really love! In other synchronicities, the issue went on sale the week I was born- as did the issue of Amazing Spider-Man reprinted in the first comic book I ever got.
I have one insight into why a person would burn a comic book, or any other item of popular art they've purchased. The object at hand represents revulsion and fear, a dread on some level that makes their feelings so strong they don't even want to touch it! I am trying to imagine, that's how people down here in the South took The Beatles in the wake of John Lennon's cheeky comment about their popularity. That was a reaction built on one personal system of belief, taken to a mob level in some cases.
When you burn one of your possessions, that is a rather strong statement. To reach out to people online and share the burning is a type of political statement. What makes this statement a bit unique is that the comic's being burnt because it's apparently intended to undermine a fictional symbol of freedom standing against coercion, fear, and control. Not that Cap's putting on a disguise- there are some possibilities as to what's going on, which we'll find out in a few months- but that tyrant-busting Captain America was somehow a member of an anti-freedom subversive group, all along. Did you know Joe Simon received many negative letters when Cap debuted? Many Americans were NOT anti-Nazi in 1940, but rather, many isolationists believed we should stay out of what became World War II, and others were German sympathizers.
Interestingly, in 1965, the Red Skull- a villain also created by Simon/ Kirby, intended to represent a Nazi-created menace, was clearly depicted taking control of Cap with the Cosmic Cube and forcing a Nazi salute- to Adolf Hitler! This was two decades after the Holocaust ended. Tales of Suspense #67 was a straight-forward story where Cap is the victim of mind control and Bucky, his partner, figures out how to save him. Today's story will apparently be quite different, as writer Nick Spenser wants to engage in a rumination on people who join hate groups, in an attempt to discuss the present political climate. It's clearly brought Marvel a tremendous amount of publicity, more than money could buy. I think the longer the discussion goes on, the better it will go for them, but I don't think they foresaw the massive negativity, as opposed to surprise and wonder, in the initial feedback. This may have hurt their sales, but it has caused a conversation including people who haven't been buying Cap's comic, or possibly any new comic books. That makes this a genuine pop culture moment- right on the heels of a massively successful movie featuring the character, so LOTS of every day people know about him, outside comics fandom.
The destruction of your belief in your favorite characters is a sad concession to make. I would argue nothing can take away your memories. If you don't want your dollars to go towards a company's portrayal of Cap or Spider-Man or My Little Pony, that's a legitimate choice. In this case, I think the rebuttle statement is that portraying a character created by two Jewish artists/writers as a deep cover Nazi is trash. A comic you find made badly is potentially garbage, just like any old magazine you don't want to keep. Your mothers and their mothers did this all the time- leaving us with yard sales of under-valued old comics and of course, the rarity that comes with items going in the garbage. By the time I was a kid, the idea of comics as collectibles took hold.
I haven't found anyone's reaction yet towards this comic book to be particularly positive. And arguably, it's a waste of free speech to make comics about Captain America always being a Nazi, especially in light of how his portrayal has always been of a man trying to do the right thing against the odds, standing up against fascism. It's even worse if you believe, for a sales-driven story beat, the sacrifice of 11 million Jewish lives has been trivialized. Cap may be fictional, but what he stands for is real indeed. He was created in a controversial time, from artistically-inspired desperation, by men who actually served in the Army in hopes of saving their people and the freedom of everyone.
The disappointment of true blue Cap fans to get a new #1 and receive this sort of fictional slap in the face is telling. Apparently, when playing with the possible scrapes you can think up for your heroes, this one was a bridge too far.
My one caveat would be, burning literature is the province of fascist thinking. In fact, the writer of the issue of FEAR my Dad found and gave me wrote a story in MAN-THING about a year later where the paranoid citizens of Citrusville, Florida, gather disagreeable books and, as a mob, throw them into a bonfire, in the name of decency- in the face of their fear that they were losing control of their children to new ideas. Even in their in-story actuality, I can pretty much guarantee, their kids weren't particularly apt to read those books anyway. But it was a great period piece on fear of the changing times.
I didn't burn my copy of ADVENTURES INTO FEAR #21 because I disagreed with the portrayal of a beloved character. I burned it because its yellowed pages and flaking cover- and its story of a contradictory character who was not inherently heroic, because he continued to live at the blood-thirsting expense of his victims-were filled with terrors I could not shake. I didn't even like touching the comic and kept it hidden in the bottom of a drawer- I would wash my hands repeatedly after I'd given in to my terror-filled fascination to look at it. The art was by Gil Kane, one of Morbius' co-creators (in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #102 of course).
I was seven at most when Dad got that old Chevy from his Dad. We'd gone to Atlanta to pick it up, so it was a Sunday evening much like this one when he found the brittle comic crammed into the stale, leaf-covered floor board. The comic bore the same musty smell as the slightly-rusted vehicle. How it got shoveled beneath the floor board after being published seven years earlier, I couldn't know. Dad, being the good guy he was, thought "free comic book!" and gave it to me, because he loved me and knew I loved comic books more than any single material possession in the world of toys. I know he never read it- I can barely imagine what he would have thought of artificial people being grown by the Caretakers, but without anyone to explain otherwise to me, its contradiction to Biblical principles just added to its verboten nature. Morbius, a science-based vampire with a blood condition he's failed to treat, is sent to attack someone in a limo in the previous issue. Steve Gerber picked up Mike Friedrich's story to make the limo's occupant a little girl- genuinely chilling!
Then the girl is mystically replaced by an adult named Tara, drawn by Gil Kane to be every inch the fantasy warrior woman; in any other title, she'd probably be the hero! When Morbius battles then bites her, she begs him not to do so because the action will also harm the child; Tara is apparently the future-self of the little girl. Lots more science-fiction mystery piles up before Morbius, caught between two factions, fights some type of Cat Demon. To a kid going to church three times a week, the demons, the artificial humans, and blood drinking were terrifying and vivid. I slept with my neck covered up for two years, in dread many nights that the blood drinkers in my imagination were coming for me! Everything was unspeakably vivid in my turbulent imagination.
So after we moved out to the country, at some point I took the offending comic book out of its hiding place and tossed its fading visage into the trash fire. I can tell you this: I immediately felt some remorse, because for one, it was a gift, and for another, it was a comic book. My action meant my fear had overwhelmed my senses. The comic book was soon ashes, but I felt a sense of failure- I realized I had let my imagination turn this paper pamphlet into an artifact of evil and dread. I was probably too young for such a tale. I was glad to be rid of it, but disappointed at the same time that I had let fear have such abiding control of my nights and my eventual actions.

Monday, May 16, 2016

1970s pop culture with humor and brains: Marvel's Essential Defenders vol. 3 by Gerber, Kraft, Buscema, Giffen and the gang

Marvel Comics Group- in its phase as a slightly anarchic bastion of experimentation and creativity- published the comics reprinted here from 1976 to 1978,
Leading off this volume we have the second half of Steve Gerber's run. The Steve Gerber stories are SO creative and smartly-written, with Buscema's competent layouts and nice superhero art. The ideas are so weird and original! The inks vary a bit in their outcome, but overall I like the Buscema/ Janson combo. If anything, a bit more subtlety in the art would better compliment Steve's restless wit and canny observations. These are not standard sorts of stories on the whole- the villains are strange but thought-provoking. Plots are both bizarre and driven by commentary about the modern world and individual struggles for identity in sublime pop form. Steve Gerber continued writing in comics and cartoons; after he authored Howard the Duck, Omega the Unknown, Man-Thing, and the team-up adventures of the Fantastic Four's The Thing, he was chief editor for G.I.Joe and Dungeons & Dragons cartoons, as well as writer for cult classic Thundarr the Barbarian. He won an Emmy writing for Batman/Superman Adventures cartoons. He returned to comics at DC with the enjoyable Nevada for Vertigo and the harrowing Hard Time, which picked up his "secretly super child in the system" theme -in prison! He even authored a humorous BBS For Dummies computer guide with a coterie of other writers. The world lost Steve to pulmonary fibrosis- the same poorly-understood disease which took my father's life at 59- in February, 2008. The influence from these comics is understated compared to some of their more famous counterparts a few years later, but both Gerber and Kraft later write good ensembles. Slifer and Kraft team up to script Conway's plot (following Gerber's departure) for a cool Red Rajah arc that, for the first time at Marvel, gets the "female team" concept right! (Slifer himself went on to create DC's Lobo and become show-runner for 80s cartoon classic JEM.) The scene where the heroines converse about their resistance to The Star of Capistan's mind control is the arc highlight. I can't miss talking about Luke Cage's appearances here- still a street-level hero-for-hire, but a distinct voice with a set of experiences that reverberate nicely beside white privileged Nighthawk and the brainy Soviet heroine, Red Guardian. (Dr. Tania Belinsky, aka The Red Guardian, comes into the story through her civilian identity as a surgeon, to conclude the most bizarre hostage situation of the Marvel Age- involving Nighthawk's brain!) The awkwardness of down-to-Earth Luke (and to some extent, Jack Norriss) alongside the bizarre nature of their capers really accents the stories. A parody of 70's self-help fads turns out to be a terrific, if byzantine, villainous plot. Luke's language is less weighted down by "jive" Blaxploitation slang and reflective of a street-smart, self-taught intelligence, beside the wise, bookish and fatherly Stephen Strange.
Deep-dyed comic fans often recall "Who Remembers Scorpio?" as a highlight of 70's Marvel.
Scorpio himself, dark while still comic-book-colorful, has more of a real personality in his arc here than maybe any single antagonist before him in Marvel history. In his self-awareness and personal disgust with the inhumanity of society and its commercial systems, he's a clear precursor to acclaimed modern writing, with motivations and expressions that are both misguided yet realistic and understandable. Dave Kraft writes inventively, no less so here, where even the confrontation in the mighty Marvel manner comes about unconventionally. He nails the Defenders' classic non-team description so well there, as you'll see. Scorpio must've been puzzling and haunting to many young fans, but his existence inspires a sort of introspection that fits squarely with the "college campus crowd" that lent Marvel its early cache of pop coolness. It's unsettling how this young writer poses a comic book super villain- a goofy cliche in the minds of dismissive adults- with authentic depression struggles that seem drawn from some real fifty-two year old. You can be forgiven rooting for his bizarre plan to make his mark work- despite its villainous incarnation, he seeks a society of his own, as he feels profoundly disconnected from socializing. Their issue-long awakening in #50 is brief, but a hint of some offbeat characterization- especially in Gemini, divided in loyalty over the conflict- shimmers through in the most interesting take on the Zodiac I ever read. Perhaps it's just as well the mystique behind his origins remain unrevealed. DAK is still busy drawing realistic characters from real life in his co-writing and editing effort, Yi Soon Shin, a trilogy of comics with Chicago's Onrie Kompan. The draw to the real world in the midst of fantastic entertainment reflects in Kraft's decade-plus long career editing and publishing Comics Interview- now available in hard back volumes.
Kraft gets the advantage of Keith Giffen on art for a while
- the results are uneven, but dynamic! Kraft picks up the intelligent and unconventional, creative vibe from Gerber, having proof-read his books and become friends with Steve, himself. "The Dude" particularly writes great female characters. His Hellcat is actually a successful feminist role model without falling into didactic, manifesto-laden agendas- instead, she (and her teammates) has an actual personality! A sex drive (hinted with a confident wink)! A sense of humor- and empathy! Kraft even turns in a subtle Nighthawk story-and a parallel to the Scorpio-driven critique of modern commerciality- that sets him up with a unique perspective in a way that jibes with Gerber's efforts to distinguish Kyle Richmond from his Batman-clone origins. He sends Valkyrie to college- a storyline that reflects the way classic Marvel would mix the world outside your window with the fantastic. It's cool because both his female leads are not cookie cutter women- they've both moved on from early relationships in an attempt to define themselves. Val's campus forays spark an attempt at collecting some supporting characters besides Jack Norriss for Dynamic Defenders.
Both Kraft and Gerber use the Hulk to great effect
- the hook for little kids to enjoy the book. Hulk also provides comic relief under both authors in his unbridled-id way. His limitations work well within an ensemble. He still maintains the "self-awareness" tone, even in his brilliantly simple dialogue. Kraft seemed to have an affinity for the workings of Marvel's green people-his She Hulk run is different and rather daring for its time, setting another standard, not only for her personality, but as a bench mark for a new kind of heroine. The return to Russia- following an old school misunderstanding battle between Hulk and Namor, with Kirbyesque panache and callbacks to Jack's Fantastic Four work- is also a brilliant way of displaying the changing attitudes from the days of bland evil Commie enemies.
If The Presence isn't a Mao-inspired poet-super-villain, what is he?
There's also an environmental theme about radiation contamination and the oceans, tied by Atlantis to world politics- ambitious, yet still a straight-ahead superhero adventure. The collaborations with Carmine Infantino go from rather ultra-smooth and slick (this may have been Janson's finishes) to an awful, distorted look the next issue. That's too bad, because this is the introduction of Lunatik, a pop-culture-quoting scofflaw with insane and violent vendettas of his own against rule-breakers. This Alice Cooper- inspired menace deserved return engagements; other writers could've constantly updated Lunatik's lyrics-driven lingo to cool effect. No shit, he and Dr. Strange were David (Kung Fu) Carradine's two favorite Marvel characters. The return of Dr. Strange in the last stories is pretty awesome; the rock and roll vibe of the book reaches its climax here, and also brings us Devil-Slayer- another obscure Marvel character with quirky unmet potential. Ed Hannigan turns in pretty solid work, too. My 2010 posts dive into the wealth of Steve's work; I have a couple of new ones referencing DAK's run. This volume's very cool for giving you a glimpse at some under-appreciated efforts to transition from the Marvel of Stan Lee to the modern interpretation. It's better than nostalgia- it's written to entertain all ages, in a way that bears a standard for the sort of comics the late Darwyn Cooke championed famously. Keep in mind, these can also be had at a modest price, as the original singles in color- the black and white reprints here are a decent way to get the stories and see what you like best!