Saturday, December 31, 2011

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth part two


If you want explanations of a sort that fill in the fast-flying edited story in Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death, the dvd extras go in-depth about terminology and the cast of characters, and that's the crux of what we'll discuss today.



NEON GENESIS

Event One in this storyline is the meteor onslaught of four billion years before, which massively transformed the Earth. Event Two struck on September 13, 2001, heralding the creation of Adam, a cosmic being in an embryonic form in Antarctica, from a place called White Moon. Its counterpart Lillith arises from Black Moon, in a mountain on the island of Japan. The Angels and EVA units make up the puzzle. Dr. Gendo Ikari, father of Shinji, Third Child (all EVA pilots are referred to as The Children), played a role in Event Two that’s gradually unveiled over the course of the movies.


Adam and Lilith are the first two Angels, from a translation of the Japanese “shito” for “messenger” or “apostle,” as “angel” is from the Greek for “messenger” as is the word “Evangelion”. Humanity’s descended from Lilith; Adam and Lillith are the progenitors of the Angels, who appear to be great monsters, attacking Tokyo-3. The Angels are, in fact, another evolutionary path which might have produced humanity.

The EVA units appear to be robots, but have a creature component within. Stephen Chung has written about the connection, the analogy, he sees with the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, as found here: http://www.evamonkey.com/writings_chung01.htm. He equates each character with an individual Sephira. It’s an interesting way of looking at Director Hideaki Anno’s work, and Kabbalah itself.


Apparently, souls exist inside the Angel technology used to create the Evangelions. This is why Rei Ayanami, First Child, has been cloned: to provide alternate pilot bodies as well as empty vessels. This character expresses few outward emotions, but probably has connected with the most fans. Dr. Ikari is also behind the experimentation done on Rei. Few know the secret of the nature of the EVAs, created by the scientists of NERV. The EVAs designs are drawn from Japanese folklore images of Oni, according to Wikipedia’s entry on Evangelion (mecha). EVAs are descended from Adam, except for EVA-01, piloted by Shinji, derived from Lillith, like Man.



This series is literally the stuff of scholarship, and as such represents the continued evolution of story in anime. The philosophical complexity of the work deserves much more than an index entry; if you’ve enjoyed the rest of my work, I recommend this from what I’ve so far found. I’m sure to come back one day with a richer analysis. Each character could literally take up a blog post! I look forward to seeing the entire series and movies, exploring Chung’s analysis (the Kabbalah relationship originated in fandom before his theory), and embracing the pinnacle of what art and story and sound can create.


We’ve gone from stories inspired by superheroes inspired by the simpler days of 1970’s attempts to generate meaning in what was considered children’s pop art, to rich analysis that welcomes the adult intellect. Two ends of my work, these classic comics blogs and my philosophical, life-story and music oriented Be Chill Cease Ill, are intersecting, through magic, science, and story. It’s such an intriguing theme on which to wrap up Integr8d Fix in its present incarnation.
---Lue Lyron December 31st, 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth



Masayuki’s Neon Evangelion Genesis: Rebirth and Death (1997) illustrates the vast difference in kid-oriented narratives for which cartoons are known, and the bold paths blazed in later years. Nowadays, very adult material can be found in the anime world; this strikes a balance between its adventurous roots and psychologically complex drama.

If you watch N.E.G.: Death and Rebirth, as we just did, you notice the multiple episodes edited into one form---a typical strategy in anime movies based on a series. The heroes have barely entered puberty---a condition of their ability to merge with the fantastic technology that gives the world its savior super robots. The Angels---the 17 gigantic monsters---have their own secrets, but along with vaguely religious imagery and analogies, we’re mostly centered on three teen protagonists.
It’s a heroic drama, but all three of the young pilots have more complicated relationships with their mentors. Shinji‘s reluctance to be a pilot contrasts with his imminent natural skill; Asuka‘s a brash figure of the sort long associated with male super-robot pilots (isn’t there one in each super mecha movie/series?). Rei is almost emotionless, treated much like a science experiment. In fact, we find she’s been cloned for the sake of providing human pilot material. The scene where she’s shocked by her own tears moved me. Asuka’s described as self-involved and pushy, but while her taunting’s not particularly nice, her cockiness and liveliness contrasts nicely with the more emotionally self-contained pilots. She has her own struggle when her confidence and interface skill don’t match; her arrogant comparison to other pilots lends her to misery eventually. Just from her description, I liked her instantly: she’s full of life. Shinji’s shy, retiring personal decency appeals in a different fashion. Rei, you can’t help worrying about, as she seems so withdrawn. We become aware she’s been the subject of experimentation, troubled by her emotionally distant mother.


The mystery of the AT field that allows the pilots to interact with their mechs, called EVAs, has spiritual dimensions that initially evade the NERV project directors and the pilots. Life, death, betrayal, an awkward fascination with the opposite sex (based on genuine hearted friendship---but with hilarious results) as well as hundred-foot tall mechas make it a lot of fun and very involving. The robot designs, for their part, are alien, slender, agile, and in the tradition of Mazinger Z and company, rather frightful.

I think most teens would enjoy the story, which doesn’t pander or talk down. In fact, the stormy relationships with the adults probably contain significant emotional familiarity for its audience. Shinji’s father puts him in an awful, difficult decision when he overrides the EVA to counter a threat from a mysterious “fourth child” pilot, but then he tries to save Rei later. He’s not a villain exactly, but his cold streak makes him ambiguous. Misato seems to have a deeper vested interest in the kids making it through their strange evolution psychologically whole and holds the center, ethically.


The movie’s a simple enough affair for previous fans of the 24 episode series, but there’s not much time for explanation if you’re new. The second “Rebirth” part’s 27 minutes of new material, later incorporated as one-third of a sequel movie; it’s essentially the 25th episode. Comatose Asuka’s placed in her EVA for her own safety when shadowy Seele organization attacks the home of the EVA project, NERV. Black op soldiers meanwhile attempt to hunt Shinji and Rei like wild animals. The action seems overwhelming in the first minutes---the explanations may not be clear---but when the movie settles into the characters, it’s well worth unraveling their troubles. I’m sure a post based on the spiritual analogies would be fertile discussion ground.

Appleseed: the new generation


This is an index entry about Appleseed, the 2004 anime directed by Shinji Aramaki.






Appleseed’s a remake of a 1988 original video (OV as they call it in the anime world). Danen Knute’s the superb human soldier retrieved from the battlefields of the global wars and brought to the utopian Olympus community. She takes her host Hitome hostage momentarily, only to discover her former lover, Briareus, is now a cyborg soldier on their side. Essentially, he’s almost entirely a robot on the outside; his emotional distance based largely on this fact helps not a bit. His place in the deadly game between the human-run military and the Olympians involves dramatic reveals, late into the movie.



The point of contention: the bioroids, artificial humans designed with emotional controls in place to keep them from passion and violence. The hope? These bioroids, which are half the population, inspire peace among the humans. Their life cycles are curtailed as well, and they cannot reproduce; in fact, they require chemical boosters, without which they, including Hitome, will expire in three days. Danen Knute joins the Olympus special forces, using her combat skills at one point to pilot a wicked cool robot in defense of the banks containing the genetic material used to preserve the bioroids. Watch this fight carefully!



Hitome’s friendliness at first led me to think she found Danen attractive, but you realize over time she’s got an admirer in the brilliant mechanic Yoshi. Her questions to Knute unveil her evolving sense of passion; whether this is part of a natural progress in her, or is perhaps abetted by her forestalling of the regenerative booster, it’s not said. The admiration of artificial life here is futuristic and thought-provoking, if perhaps playing into a science fiction cliché. Rest assured, the forces guiding the bioroids have cagey intentions as well. The appleseed and its location become the primary drama, for the life of the bioroids, and for the journeys of Knute and Briareus.

Heroines in particular have come a long, long way in the Japanese mind: no panty flashes or hostage situations for Danen Knute. One thing that's continued on in the best tradition is the thoughtful science fiction, exploring the world that could be, telling us of the world that is. Appleseed's at our end of the great line of Japanese superheroes. With the new Space Battleship: Yamato cartoon coming in 2012, pieces of the beginning of anime return with beautiful nostalgia and untold explorations to come from concepts standing the time test.

The music and drama here satisfy nicely alongside terrific animation. The robot designs by Shiro Masamune were the draw for me, at the suggestion of my friend DJ Parnell, who enjoyed our work on Danger Bot.

G-Force! Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (index)



Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (科学忍者隊ガッチャマン Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman?) is a 5-member superhero team that is composed of the main characters in several Japanese anime created by Tatsuo Yoshida and originally produced in Japan by Tatsunoko Productions and later adapted into several English-language versions. It is also known by the abbreviated name Gatchaman.

The original series, produced in 1972, was eponymously named Kagaku Ninja Tai Gatchaman and is most well known to the English-speaking world as the adaptation titled Battle of the Planets. The title is unofficially called G-Force!

Best described as a science fiction action anime, recurring themes of Gatchaman involve conservation of nature, environmentalism, and responsible use of technology for progress and advancement. The series is centered around five young superhero ninja in the employ of Dr. Kōzaburō Nambu of the fictitious International Science Organization to oppose an international terrorist organization of technologically advanced villains, known as Galactor, from trying to take control of the Earth's natural resources. The operational leader of Galactor is an androgynous masked antagonist named Bergu Kattse, who is later revealed to be a shape-shifting mutant hermaphrodite who acts on the orders of an alien superior, Sosai X. The most common recurring plot involved the Gatchaman team opposing giant monster mecha dispatched by Galactor to steal or control various natural resources (water, oil, sugar, uranium, etc.). These Mechas were often animal-based.[3] The Science Ninja Team is often aided by a mysterious squadron of combat pilots led by the enigmatic Red Impulse, who is later revealed to be Ken's father.
http://www.veoh.com/watch/v9875189derDHMS?rank=42&jsonParams=%7b%2522numResults%2522:20,%2522rlmin%2522:0,%2522query%2522:%2522battle%2520of%2520the%2520planets%2522,%2522rlmax%2522:null,%2522veohOnly%2522:true,%2522contentRatingId%2522:2,%2522order%2522:%2522default%2522,%2522range%2522:%2522a%2522,%2522sId%2522:%25225341500679356796928%2522,%2522offset%2522:40%7d&searchId=53415

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kamen Rider (the Masked Rider)


An index piece on the live action Japanese superhero.

The early tokusatsu character Kamen Rider was a famous part of Japan's super-hero explosion. The 1971 weekly live action series created by Shotaro Ishinomori became a cultural fixture, living on through sequel movies, video games, and toys. Takeshi Hongo, a college student with a motorcycle becomes an insect-themed crime fighter! Think of it as the progenitor of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers craze in America two decades ago! A contemporary program called Super Sentai was actually the basis for that one.
In Japan, however, as with much of the pop culture, novelty's a part of the game. American audiences may develop a decades-long relationship with its super-heroes (like Superman and Batman!), but Japanese superheroes tend to come and go.

Wiki says:


Kamen Rider 1 (仮面ライダー1号 Kamen Raidā Ichigō?) is a fictional character and main superhero or henshin character featured in Japanese tokusatsu. He first appeared in the television series Kamen Rider, the first in the famous Kamen Rider franchise of tokusatsu programmes. The primary protagonist of the series, Kamen Rider 1 is a motorcycle-riding superhero modeled upon a grasshopper. One of the most recognizable and iconic characters in Japanese entertainment, Kamen Rider 1 is as easily distinguished as the series itself.
In the original series, he was portrayed by Hiroshi Fujioka, who also performed most of his own stunts. Later, he was portrayed by Masaya Kikawada in the film Kamen Rider The First and its sequel, Kamen Rider The Next, as well as making a cameo of the character on the Cyclone in an episode of Kamen Rider Kabuto. In the movie, Kamen Rider Decade: All Riders vs. Dai-Shocker, Rider 1 is voiced by Tetsu Inada. Kamen Rider 1 will appear again as a main character, alongside Kamen Riders Den-O, New Den-O and OOO, in the 40th anniversary film OOO, Den-O, All Riders: Let's Go Kamen Riders, Fujioka will reprise his role as the voice of Kamen Rider 1.[1]

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cyborg 009



Index entry on early Japanese superheroes Cyborg 009.http://i1220.photobucket.com/albums/dd455/smokinbomb17/cyborg.jpg

Our Bronze Age Comics feature has concentrated on American comics, but their contemporaries in Manga (such as the four BATTLESHIP YAMATO Manga) will wrap up our discussion. They represent a new discovery for me, just as our earlier discussions were born of childhood familiarity with the characters, whose stories I could finally explore in full as an adult. Cyborg 009 films inspired live action Japanese super-heroes in the late 1960s. You can see the original 1966 film---made before the term 'anime' came into popular usage---here:
The film's a contemporary of SPEED RACER, popular here in syndication throughout the 1970's.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ultraman!




From Wikipedia:
Ultraman (ウルトラマン Urutoraman?) is Japanese television series that first aired in 1966. Ultraman, the first and best-known of the "Ultra-Crusaders," made his debut in the tokusatsu SF/kaiju/superhero TV series, Ultraman: A Special Effects Fantasy Series (ウルトラマン 空想特撮シリーズ Urutoraman: Kūsō Tokusatsu Shirīzu?), a follow-up to the television series Ultra Q. The show was produced by Tokyo Broadcasting System and Tsuburaya Productions, and was broadcast on Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) from July 17, 1966 to April 9, 1967, with a total of 39 episodes (40, counting the pre-premiere special that aired on July 10, 1966).
Although Ultraman is the first series to feature an Ultra-Crusader, his is actually the second Ultra Series. Ultra Q was the first. In fact, Ultraman opens with the Ultra Q logo exploding into the Ultraman logo. A major pop culture phenomenon in Japan, the show has spawned dozens of imitators as well as numerous sequels and remakes

Grave of the Fireflies


Now, we follow anime to a most serious, haunting, yet childlike celebration, a very mature story with a noble goal and some of the most beautiful combinations of story and art I've ever seen.

Hotaru no Haka (original Japanese name of film, 1988)


http://www.ghibliworld.com/graveofthefirefliescollection.html


Grave of the Fireflies is based on the partially-autobiographical book of the same title by Akiyuki Nosaka. It takes place in the latter part of World War II and is a somber film about Seita and his younger sister Setsuko, who lose their mother when she dies during a firebombing. Their father is serving in the Japanese navy, so Seita and Setsuko try staying with a distant aunt who soon grows to resent them. Things proportionally deteriorate and they strike out on their own. As we follow Seita and Setsuko doing their best to survive in the Japanese countryside, battling hunger, prejudice, and pride in their own personal battle, the film unintended results into one of the best (anti)war movies ever made.






Monday, December 26, 2011

Ruth Hart Breaker (Steve Gerber's biker chick who found a real life)



“Ruth Hart Breaker”

She rode into town with trouble, and found herself into yet troubles more. A swamp’s a strange asylum in which to turn one’s self around, but Ruth Hart’s looking for salvation now, not trouble- and any place can turn out to be quicksand, when you’re not mindful of your path.
Supporting characters come and go, sometimes with vocal fan support or enmity, sometimes by creative fiat. It just might be, however, a good writer knows when to listen, and by no manipulative design of his or her own, a character brought in for a story might stick around, might decide to go, might even return in another story---it’s a sign of life.

That’s how you know you’re a loser: the best girl you can meet has a gang of bike toughs on her tail, and your best friend’s not even sentient. At least, that’s how you know you’re Richard Rory. In a way, you can’t really afford to lose this time, or someone’s going to die---but what can YOU do about things? No, the loser card was dropped for you the day the doctor dropped you on your newborn behind in the floor. When you gave your fiance’s mom a heart attack while wearing a Halloween fright mask just to be funny, you just might feel you can do nothing right. Being fired from your job and then buying a map that deposits you in a swamp with no gas is really just another day in the dark night of the soul. Surely the day something goes right would have to be the shortest one of the year (like today when I write this).

But here’s this woman, looking for adventure (and whatever comes her way), double-crossed by a boyfriend she knew in her heart didn’t really love her, and now he’s set her up for stealing the bike gang’s money, with which he’s actually purchased heroine, while telling the other two guys and their bitches they can track her down and get it back, along with her life. What she was doing in company that goes by the name “Skullcrushers” is a little hard to justify, but “Snake” is President of the Skullcrushers, and they’re not in a mood for democratic compromise. What could you expect, though, from a dude who insists on carrying a thick chain around everywhere he goes? Named Snake? A year of riding with him and loving him has left her in tearful despair of her life.

“Gee, a gang of speed-freak hog-riding anarchists---with a president. Don’t tell me he ran on a Law and Order platform!” Richard retorts. Ruth’s completely serious.



She’s already in touch with the instincts of a new life; she bandages Richard, who she finds unconscious, his life freshly saved from a ‘gator by the Man Thing, empathic, mindless muck monster at large. Admittedly, she does this knowing she’s got to find herself help---if not a savior. Still, she couldn’t have known what Richard would be like upon awakening; it may be karma, it may be a new appreciation of the fragility of life. Maybe she was always the nurturing type and just over-looked the rough edges of her free-wheeling friends. At any rate, she keeps the one piece of Snake she’s got---his gang colors, on his denim vest…maybe a piece of psychological power…”Because it means something to HIM, I guess…! All he cared about were his colors---his chain---his bike--! I Was just something to DO at night.”

Richard can’t do much one-on-one with the bikers---he nobly takes some roughing up in buying her time to book it---but he’s a good listener, and funny---she loves funny. Accusing the guy sitting on top of him of his wrong doings in front of his gang shows an awful lot of guts. But then, Richard may consider his life an unending parody of hopes and dreams set to really good music, but we care about him because he’s willing to think of more than simply his own skin, and is as brave as a man who doesn’t have a lot of fighting skills or a sizeable death wish could be.

Ruth happens to run straight to the place developer F.A. Schist and his engineering mad crony attempt to kill the Man-Thing, with an early 70’s sci-fi flavored death trap. Snake meanwhile mixes his chain up in the Man-Thing’s muck beforehand, so while Ruth’s troubles follow her straight to the death trap, the chain’s handy for the Man Thing’s reflexive use, smashing his way free. Then the mentally-submerged former chemist in a monster’s body relaxes, casually throwing the heavy chain straight into the bullying Snake’s head. To him, a meaningless victory in a meaningless life---ever the Man-Thing irony. For Richard, it’s irrefutable proof: his luck’s finally going to change. Ruth’s blunt: “You silly fool! It was all in your head from the start!” “No—NO!” Richard gratefully insists; “I’m FREE now! For the first time in my life---“

Dream ON, Richard. Dream until your dreams come true.

Ruth runs through just enough further adventures with Richard for you to begin to get comfortable with the idea she’s here to play the female lead…and we’ll crack open those adventures in part two and see how they might’ve led her to the conclusion to discard that entire status quo idea. Ruth Hart is a search for real life---a fugitive from the middle class concerns considered so swallowing when those conditions seemed inevitable---and so she can never simply do things just to remain part of a serial story line.

She learns something she needs to know, she tries something she rather likes, but maybe the danger in her previous transgressions magnifies in her a need for the straight and narrow she just can’t find in a bizarre life shared with a small town Florida disc jockey (in those pre-automated station days) who has a scary, reeking best friend who burns people that feel fear. She doesn’t use the get-myself together reason when the Fool Killers and Dead Clown Theater have made life all too-interesting, in a way you just have to roll with to even hope to understand.

No, it’s not him, though, she explains, it’s guess-who. (Not to be confused with the Guess Who, hit rock band of the times.) There’s no sugar tonight, Richard. It’s not the swampy shacking. She’s just not ready to play house.


http://ceaseill.blogspot.com/2011/12/brighter-days-ahead-iwanago.html


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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Several Stern Moments: Avengers, Marvel Comics Group


Here’s Seven Stern moments I’ll never forget, from the early part of Uncle Rog’s Avengers run:




#230 Hank Pym’s defense of Hawkeye/ his goodbye words to the Wasp
“I never expected to speak before you again. And now, I can think of no finer final statement than this: it has been my sincere pleasure to have known Hawkeye’s fellowship, as it has been to know yours.”
His quote of Mark Twain as he commends the ashes of Egghead’s just another great moment in #230.



#232 Code Name: Star Fox
Wasp: Frankly, the President was hesitant to approve anyone named “Eros.” He would rather you were called something less provocative in public. You’re a pretty foxy guy…and you’ve been out among the stars---how about Starfox?”
Captain America: “Well, it would makes things easier---and you’d still be Eros to your friends! After all, Captain America’s not MY real name!”
Starfox: “It isn’t?”


#235 The Wasp figures out how to re-assign her teammates to do the most good.


#236 Spider-Man’s very spideriness: washed out of the tunnel, webbed onto the bottom of the Quinjet


#237 The “Man” side of Spider-Man saves the day…right before with typical Parker luck, he’s rejected on national clearance terms. It’s strange he doesn’t let Cap make a personal appeal to the President, but he’s already discovered himself questioning if he can really fit into a team.


#238 The Vision wakes up from his coma
Usually, a character becoming conscious again is a glossed-over detail; even returning from comas sometimes feels forgotten with the next month’s storyline. The Vision, however, has a consciousness quite unlike any other, and when he regains it, Roger Stern launches into a year’s worth of stories about the changes in his nature, with consequences echoing throughout his run!
Starfox: “I didn’t come all the way to Earth to watch over some infernal android in a stasis tube! Ah, forgive me, Vision…”
Vision: “ I sympathize. But it has been no picnic for me, either.”
“I’ve been able to hear everything since regaining consciousness.”
Starfox: “Everything? Vision, I…I am deeply sorry for what I said earlier!”
Vision: “No offense taken. It was entertaining, in a way…I hadn’t heard such vitriol since the Beast found himself stuck on monitor duty during the opening night of a Roger Corman film festival!”
“As a matter of fact, I have enjoyed all the one-way conversations that have gone on about me. Captain America’s war stories were most informative…and the She-Hulk’s stories were amusing…if a bit tawdry!”


#240 Tigra and She-Hulk worry for Janet (holding it all in, holding it all together)
She seems to know when she’s taken the work load too far, which is to her credit: she’s not power-hungry, she’s a servant---but as a servant, she has to serve herself, on the most basic level of sanity maintenance.



#246 Monica Rambeau reveals her secret i.d. to her parents.

Some favorite Avengers moments, written by Jim Shooter




I had to give it up for some of my favorite Shooter moments:



1. Linnea mourns her husband while blasting flirtacious Iron Man (#212)
“A flying man in armor! Gorn would have marveled! But he is dead!”
“That does it! I have GOT to do all my flirting as Tony Stark…and keep my mind on fighting when I’m Iron Man!”

2. Ghost Rider grabs Thor’s returning mallet for surprise attack (#214)

3. Thor exits men’s room into a restaurant after transforming ("By Odin! The window's too small! I cannot get through!" "There was a god in the men's room!"(#215)

4. Don Blake punches Molecule Man! (#216)

5. Tigra talks Molecule Man into seeing a therapist (#216)

6. Yellowjacket fights the Avengers to save Trish Starr (plus the Wasp turns the tide) (#217)

7. Ann Nocenti thinks Steve Rogers has jumped out a window to his doom while waiting to have his portfolio seen (#219)

8. The naked Wasp wears a handkerchief to answer Moondragon’s summons (#219)

9. The Wasp puts on Don Blake’s jacket to grow to size and wallop Moondragon ("I don't know any martial arts; will this do?" (#220) Honorable mention: Cap commemorates Drax as they send his pyre into space.

10. Hawkeye puts an arrow in She Hulk’s pink Cadillac after she cuts off his cab--then he walks in late to discover she's his new teammate (#221)

11. She Hulk kisses Hawkeye instead of punching him for teasing her about the new outfit from the Wasp (She fights in her underwear later when the Wasp forbids her to tear up the same outfit in battle: "it's a design original!" (#222)

12. Thor and Iron Man talk about him dating Janet Pym ("Thou hast done no wrong in Thor's eyes.") (plus Tony's “I do NOT sing off key!”) (#224)

There were many, many good character moments. That’s what redeems a story, whatever its faults may be. In a really great plot, character moments are built organically; they may be surprising, yet logical in light of the depiction of the subject.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Moondragon Mindtrip: Shooter Style Avengers, part three






I love writing these things from memory, so I can emphasize the most memorable parts and keep emphasis on the characters, rather than plot summary. It IS good to check back when I have the issue on hand (thanks, Joe Braband and David Holt, again!)---that way, we don’t miss bits like “Mechano-Marauder.”

We could make this small role a spotlight, too; after all, he re-appears in #221 in the middle of the membership drive! I don’t think Assistant Editor’s Month would’ve been complete without him, either; it’s there we discover he’s an inventor who won the lottery. Here, he attacks Avengers Mansion in his exo-skeleton. Iron Man casually engages him in combat while the Wasp, Captain America, and Thor arrive!


(It’s this meeting where the returned Wasp nominates herself as chairperson in “an election that’s long overdue.”) Shellhead greets them each in turn while addressing the ranting would-be…what IS he trying to accomplish, anyway? So if he beats an Avenger, he will get a rep? I think he’s spent more time working out his armor than his intentions.


Moondragon kicked off Shooter’s run, and she’s back again to start us off. She is an example of more time given to intentions, but a questionable amount devoted to means. #218 features a fill-in by the ever-thoughtful J.M.DeMatteis, who may’ve been the first writer in comics I noted and memorized as a favorite, for his Marvel Team-Ups with Reed Richards, the Vision, and Scarlet Witch. (Steven Grant was the first name that sank in, for a Werewolf By Night MTU I borrowed from a big DC fan!) Before I digress on the tale behind buying my first JMD comic, I’m going to put this back on track as Jim Shooter’s Avengers---one of the few runs he had time for as editor-in-chief over the massively fun decade of Marvel Comics Group from 1978-1987.

Now I wish Big Jim nothing but happiness---it’s easy to feel that way about everyone at the moment---while I wonder what he was thinking, regarding his role as Overlord at Marvel editorial and the subsequent mixed reactions to his activities, and contrasting that with Moondragon’s editorial fiat of peace, enforced by a degree of mind control of which you just know every boss has dreamed at some point! A great comic book’s never just a comic book, but some implications only arise in hindsight. Sometimes, Groucho said, a cigar is just a cigar. Well, I’m sure Freud said that, too.


Moondragon plants a doubt in everyone’s mind by manipulating the catalyst of the Avengers’ issue 211 cast changes. She spurs numerous heroes there to ask for membership, at the very time Cap’s just called for a six-member team as a management decision for safety and efficiency in the field. This is more of the type of somewhat unpopular planning a real life boss may face; taking charge, making a stand, is business for someone thoughtful who may yet act---not the vacillation of the narrator of Notes From the Underground (Doestoyevsky: another deMatteis shout out!). Once she reveals her hand and engages the Avengers in combat, they begin wondering if she didn’t plot the whole thing. In fact, are they as yet free of her mental influence? This echoes as late as the actual ending of that story.

You see, Yellowjacket’s one of the ones manipulated into arriving to request membership; he then explains “my research was going nowhere!” and sticks with the idea of he and the Wasp joining. Only at the end of this saga, issue 230, will the mind-control counter device---developed in these stories by an exhausted, near-to-breaking Iron Man in #228---finally be tried by Hank Pym, as they desperately hope for some alleviation in the truth of Hank Pym’s actions.


His life will continue developing, under cameos by Roger Stern and WEST COAST AVENGERS stories by Steve Englehart. Remember how Tigra couldn’t stand his stinging abrasiveness from the start? That’s his very next girlfriend!



Considering she’s an Avengers candidate at one point, obviously she has some great power or skill, as well as a general desire for peaceful ends. There only needs to be one or two fatal flaws in the whole package to make the most earnest of heroes a menace. Here, we have an Earth girl, Heather Douglas, saved from a car crash along with her father, abducted to the Saturnine moon, Titan (with its near-Earth nitrogen-rich atmosphere, altered for life by what we find in #247 are expatriated Eternals). She’s raised in a fashion reminiscent of one-time Celestial Madonna rival Mantis (see my August blogs at integr8dfix!): trained for mental and physical perfection, to excellent results. She achieves, rather than acquires, her powers, similar to Iron Man, but instead becoming a telepath and telekinetic of the first order. If you think manipulating a roster change at Avengers Mansion is something, ya ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

This time, she provides us a subtle hint of cheesecake that brought to mind my own lady: she calls the Avengers out of the business of their daily lives and summons them to a ship for a distant planet, Ba’Bani.

Turns out, Janet Van Dyne doesn’t wear “unstable molecule” outfits that provide for shrinking into the Wasp at all times---certainly not on this trip to the hairdresser. I don’t think any other superhero’s used a bow-tied handkerchief for a costume! It’s just the kind of thing an impressionable youth might recall with fondness---like She Hulk answering the emergency alarm in #236, hollering at Jarvis for a towel! It’s a sly wink at the older audience, too. It’s one of those moments like Don Blake rushing into the men’s room to stamp his cane and become Mighty Thor, only to discover the trellis is much too small for an exit, leading a Thunder God to step out of the gents into a busy restaurant…reassuring himself no one would think the crippled fellow would be connected with the superhero. Iron Man’s showing off as Tony Stark, multimillionaire pimp (before inflation meant he’d have to be a billionaire?), telling his latest interested ---er, bimbo--- about blackjack strategies when he gets the irresistible urge to change! But Steve Rogers is about to hook an invitation to a yacht party from none other than Ann Nocenti, while soliciting for a commercial art job. She believes while her back was turned, he’s dived out the window! See, the freelance life is an anxious one, indeed.



Soon all are aboard the ship sent by Drax the Destroyer (Papa Douglas, as transformed by opponents of mad Thanos into a flying powerhouse.) Upon arrival on Ba’Bani, they’re asked to quell a violent revolution, on a planet led by Moondragon, as priestess, to peace. This, the Avengers do in spectacular fashion; they’re thanked and shown the door. Yet some lack of mental acuity leads Cap to request they stay a couple of days, so Moonie asks Drax to take them on a quick tour.


Janet, by the way, avails herself of an old tarp; she won’t get a costume until she goes shopping after the action---“Since I doubt they’d take my Amex here, I charged it to Moondragon!” While one Avenger’s getting dressed, another’s getting undressed. Thor answers an invitation for his hammer, extended by Moondragon. Considering he’s about three millennia old, the fact she can show him an unusual time leaves a lot to the imagination. The less obvious purpose is to set up a pliable Thunder God to join her quest for universal peace; she appeals to their fellowship as gods. Thor’s now ready to fight his friends to the death for her cause!



He may well have to: Iron Man’s taken the initiative to bend some girders around Drax to make the point he’s become pacified to a suspicious degree. Then, they watch a monitor replay of the battlefield, clearly demonstrating Drax watching impassively when Captain America needed, at the very least, a heads-up. When he gets through to Drax, he has doubts about the force he’s unleashed now!

There’s a level of ambiguity, indeed, to the Avengers’ counter-mission.

Moondragon’s mental powers have quelled a planet-wide war. Her Machiavellian means, however, make Drax call the Avengers. She then stages the revolutionary take-over battle to give the Avengers something satisfying to do, so they can leave without questions! Cap and Jan find yesterday’s insurgent leaders, contentedly cleaning up after the conflict, clueless, they say, as to why they abandoned their shops to incite violence!


Thor provides an ample challenge to the Avengers; it gets pretty personal, with Iron Man---a guy who knows a thing or two about ego---delivering an exasperated punch, powered by a massive lightning attack on his armor.




What Iron Man’s called “benevolent psychic tyranny” here shows its claws, as peaceful means of protecting her plans end when the Avengers resist. Still, if you had Moondragon’s powers to influence people to your ends---wouldn’t you use them? She may not live up to our ethical ideals, but I think she accurately reflects just how people would respond if they could change intentions with a thought!


Spoiler alert:


While Thor can’t be dissuaded, there’s another side of the hero: mortal Don Blake, who continues to be as important to Shooter’s writing as Tony Stark’s ingenuity figures into the character of Iron Man. Thor makes the decision to change, and so resist. As Moondragon prepares for all-out assault, the Wasp borrows Don Blake's coat "for modesty's sake!" then quickly grows to full size, using her momentum and surprise to belt her! After all, "Cap and Iron Man may be too much the gentlemen to hit a woman! I don't know any martial arts; will this do?"

Then, her decision to act as a god is taken to a worthy court: Odin, All-Father, will decide Moondragon’s justice. I’d love to know how that played out! I’ll check into it; surely it came about before her stint in deMatteis’ Defenders (our THIRD shout out to J.M.; just who’s featured in this blog?)





I MAY well find the time to discuss 221, 222 and 224 further, but you can see the Wasp’s entry in Stern’s Avengers posts around Thanksgiving to get the story on Janet Van Dyne and Tony Stark. AS for #221, there’s a membership drive, planting the seeds for Spider-Man’s two part appearance the next year and once again stirring up triple the letters! Janet Van Dyne invites super-heroines over for tea, only to meet up with the return of the Mechano-Marauder (who meets similar disdain, not to mention encountering a design problem with pratfall consequences).

#222 features Egghead’s return with the new Masters of Evil and the first new adventure with members She-Hulk and Hawkeye. It's scripted by Steven Grant, so there's HIS other shout-out! The appearance of the re-assembled Masters of Evil also sets up the confrontation that will involve Hank Pym being still further framed by the Shocker---an unwitting Egghead pawn. Now, what about #223 by David Michelinie? Well, that’s a matter for fans of Hawkeye and the new Scott Lang Ant Man to explore! The new Ant Man may be a painful reminder of Jan’s old days with her hubbie as the original, but he pops up a lot in this run (and in IRON MAN) as a supporting character.

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2011/12/06/the-abandoned-an-forsaked-who-caused-hank-pyms-mental-breakdowns/hmm

Tomorrow, you get a few of my favorite Avengers moments, then we index a couple of classic Japanese anime/ tv classics, a Steve Gerber reluctant heroine, and if we’re really good, the script to Mystic Order of Defenders #1! I’m finishing some original pieces and re-writing some of the long fiction from Integr8d Fix---hopefully, the book will be ready for you Bronze Age fans next month! Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Loveable Lue

Friday, December 23, 2011

Molecular Madness at Marvel Comics Group

Now, the remaining two in our quartet both made their comic book names with molecules; the founding blocks of any chemical identity, smaller than the eye can see, yet a part of all things!



In these stories, both are quite psychologically troubled, as well. It’s no accident Jim Shooter suggests therapy strongly in the sagas of both Hank Pym, a.k.a. Yellowjacket and Owen Reece, a.k.a. the Molecule Man. Both suffer from mental illnesses exacerbated by their fantastic powers. Their contrast is extremely instructive: despite their similar alienation and the soft science fiction basis of their powers, one, Hank, feels he is not truly powerful enough, while Owen’s driven crazy by the nearly unlimited abilities! By the end of these stories, one’s on his way to hope, while the other, in trying to do the right thing under duress, falls deep into the belly of the beast---an accused traitor to the United States



Tigra’s the star of the first pages of #215, with her misadventures at the bank and the local singles bar ending with her sticking up for a scrawny street musician aboard the subway. Along the way she’s already thinking of teasing Jarvis some more! She’s not the first bad girl type to take up residence at Avenger’s Mansion, but she’s the most happy-go-lucky and without a doubt, the one to which the butler claims the worst allergies! One of my favorite moments in an earlier issue, when Jarvis asks the irrepressible Greer Nelson “how did you come to be this way?” She replies with her near-death experience and her mystic salvation by the realm of Cat People, who make her one of their own. His response? “I was actually inquiring about your upbringing!”



Tigra, who disliked psychotic break Pym intensely, shares a problem with him: does she have the courage, raw power and/or skill to stand beside the other Avengers? In her case, she sets out to prove herself first by hopping up on the Silver Surfer’s board, sent to the empty Baxter Building to signify a need for help (they eventually will try, without success, to save the day next issue). They find he’s a prisoner of the Molecule Man, unleashed from his wand to swap stories with the Surfer until the tale of Galactus inspires him to try eating the world! All their efforts make only a miniscule aperture in Molecule Man’s force field, but it’s just enough to make Tigra the first intruder to his fortress---pulled from pieces of New Jersey at whim! She knows Iron Man thinks she’s hot-dogging it---he’s right. But she’s still embarrassed by her freezing fear in the face of the Ghost Rider, perhaps a day before.




Tigra tries a personal appeal---playing to her strength---but he’s not mature enough as a man to be interested in her. He offers to keep her as a pet! Unfortunately, when the Avengers and Surfer arrive, the board, the shield, the hammer and the armor all disintegrate at his behest! (I’ve skipped some neat character bits, but hopefully you’ll read up yourself one day.) Suddenly Cap’s privy to the secret of Thor and Iron Man’s i.d. but their bravery stands true---until, apparently, Molecule Man squashes them with a serrated steel boot of Very Large Size! Now, the most dubious Avenger’s the Last Avenger. To top it all off, he doesn’t understand how to construct plumbing.



Disgusted and frightened out of her mind, Tigra keeps Molecule Man talking; he’s spared her life on the chance she “might like him if they talked.” He’s emotionally stunted, still struggling with his mother’s “protection” and abusive ideas. He sleeps in a grand version of a water bed with stuffed animals! The thirty year-old virgin sets an alarm based on monomolecular filaments, waiting for her eventual attack, but she can’t bring herself to kill him, without any idea he’s prepared for her.



Fortunately, the Avengers are alive, even if two of them are powerless; kudos the Surfer’s “power cosmic which is mine alone!” Tony’s already assembled a new gadget…which disintegrates before his eyes. Their distressed assault plays upon his poor fighting skills; his belief he can’t affect organic molecules means he doesn’t simply disintegrate them, as well. Lame Dr. Blake---Thor’s alter ego---lands a good punch, and they get over on him against all odds: but what will they do now? Tony argues they have to be practical and take his life. Now we get a surprising conclusion; Tony’s argument with Cap ends with Tigra bringing a recalcitrant Molecule Man forward to surrender and request a therapist! She credits her quick thinking to luck. Tigra turns in her Avengers I.D. and gives Jarvis a kiss goodbye. She's just too much the everyday person, in her mind, to play for Avengers stakes.








Meanwhile, as they used to say, we’ve seen Hank groveling before Janet Van Dyne, who still sports a black eye from his anxiety attack. She sends him away with a car and offers him whatever money he needs, but she’s through with their marriage.


Overwhelmed now with guilt, test failed and behind him with nothing left to prove and seemingly no redemption, Hank Pym’s struggling to find himself without any badly needed help when his oldest foe comes hat in hand, begging for help to make amends. Of course, the world thinks Egghead here is dead---yet here he is, offering a bionic arm to his niece, Trish Starr (any Gerber fans recall Kyle’s model girlfriend?), to atone for maiming her in a petty act of vengeance. Pym looks over the apparatus and decides to deliver it---but in a scene that will be paralleled in their confrontation told a year later, all’s not what it seems, and the circuitry shifts its assemblage to reveal an elaborate mind-control device and bomb! Pym’s only hope is to aid the hypnotized Trish in stealing alloys of adamantium, the Marvel Universe’s strongest constructive substance.




The battle with the summoned Avengers pays off a great deal of suspense. The Wasp rejoins them and becomes their leader; in this first skirmish, her estranged husband’s the apparent wrong-doer they must stop. An inventive use of powers, surprise and perhaps excessive restraint leads Hank to surprising success---the move where he shrinks and hides within Cap’s shield takes him off Iron Man’s radar and brings him close enough to grow suddenly and deliver a stunning blow on the shield’s return!


Ah, but for all his momentum, the Wasp points out: “you’ve basically got one good trick---and I can do it too!” as she enlarges herself and gets the drop on Hank. He’s batted from hand to hand by the team, and groggily surrenders in an effort to save Trish from Egghead’s bomb. But the crafty Elias Starr’s programmed her mind to forget his involvement and remember only Hank Pym’s compliance and coercion. Egghead? But he’s dead! The parts inside the bomb disassemble to leave an apparently ordinary artificial limb. Hank Pym’s had one nervous breakdown too many; his saddened ex-teammates take him into custody for conspiracy to steal the top-secret alloy, and the frame by his supposedly dead arch enemy ends with Hank Pym headed to prison!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tigra, Ghost Rider---Shooter's Marvel Comics Group: the Avengers


Courtesy the Tigra Picture Page http://www.thetigrapicturepage.com/




FALLEN ANGELS


Tigra the Cat Woman, demon hero Ghost Rider, emotionally-backwards Molecule Man, and Hank Pym, hero no more: these four center our next discussion of Jim Shooter’s 1980’s run on THE MIGHTY AVENGERS by Marvel Comics Group. Specifically, we’re examining these four in light of issues #214-217, published in 1981.

First: the Ghost Rider. Johnny Blaze is so emotionally troubled at this point, he’s brooding out in the desert, homeless, aimless, hopeless. It’s no accident we meet him on the heels of Hank Pym’s breakdown chronicled over the two months before. Shooter really nails this character: in his despair, his envy over the speeding playboy with the girl and the two hundred mph beautiful auto sparks anger at the injustice of his now- nowhere life. So, he unleashes the Ghost Rider, flame-skull vigilante now virtually free of human influence. He still has Blaze’s champion rider skills and uses them to first provoke a car crash, then challenge the driver to a race---for it’s Warren Worthington, the high-flying Angel. They defy death with their powers, but the Angel ends up seriously hurt, a coma patient in the next small town! Shaken by her unbelievable circumstances, girlfriend Candy Southern calls in the Avengers. Captain America, in the middle of trying out an early Battle of Britain computer game, answers and reassures grieving Candy they’ll come out to hunt the Ghost Rider.



Meanwhile, Ghostie’s human half couldn’t be sorrier. He realizes he’s done a terrible thing, and snapped out of his plight long enough to get a job pumping gas and stay around to see how Worthington recovers. Then Blaze sees Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and Tigra (Wasp is on leave, briefly). None know his dual identity, but now becoming his hell-fire tossing demonic alter ego would be a high-stakes gamble of a different order. In human guise, he completely evades the Avengers’ search.



Cap’s decision to give a guy fifty dollars a day for his freely-lent motorcycle is a nice character touch, leading naturally into the admiration of the local young people. A meeting at the local café scares off the adult regulars, however. I did enjoy the joke about Al’s chili “will make them THINK their heads are on fire!” The mayor/ post master/ local hotel owner’s a hoot, too, without throwing the plot off-track; in a call back to the Avengers taking the bus during the Korvac Saga, now we get our quartet riding in a locally-rented pick-up truck. That alone’s worth the price of admission, folks. Tigra’s newfound pleasure at trying out the Avengers’ expense account gives us a quirky shopping scene ending with her in ridi-cute cowgirl clothing, riding with the Captain.




Ghost Rider’s unleashed in a desperate moment: a little boy named Kim’s trying to play Thor on a water tower, bringing the earlier scene to a surprising but logical new place while building the plot and demonstrating character. Blaze’s desire to try to do something good with his terrible curse, going horribly awry here as the Ghost Rider declares there’s nothing to avenge and leaves the little one dangling!) The limited spiritual warrior in Blaze results in a Ghost Rider without conscience.
Ghost Rider’s increasing unpredicability and Johnny Blaze’s basic decency in turmoil with his frustrations really shine through; it’s one of the best guest spots in any Marvel Comic.


His fight with the Avengers is loaded with surprises. You just might never have expected the out-classed Ghost Rider to put up this kind of battle, but with his speed and ruthlessness he puts back each Avenger on his/her heels. The three mortal Avengers, and Tigra in particular, experience the Hellfire, induced fear of a sort she’s never known. She really relates how tough it would be for a regular person, unused to psychic attacks or confronting overwhelming fright, to stay on the playing field. Even Iron Man is most assuredly glad he can now seal his armor (though with artistic license, the emotional quality of his Hellfire might really still give Ghostie a weapon, as it’s not usually manifested as actual flame). I am going to say you have GOT to see how he takes advantage of Thor’s weapon’s enchantment (remember, the returns to its thrower) to give the Thunder God a rude surprise!


Yes, the Ghost Rider’s meant to be a super-hero, albeit the most popular survivor from Marvel’s Monster Craze in the early ‘70s. Despite his rough handling, the Angel returns to the scene, provoking a climatic showdown with emotional pathos. The internal states of the characters, in the best of these stories, seek resolutions alongside the fantastic action.


These stories are SO jam-packed; interactions with regular people, build-ups, thoughtful interludes, loads of surprising action, and COMPLETE stories with an actual ending, in this case, done-in-one!

Tigra’s not the first heroine that comes to mind when you say “Avengers” but she comes across as an interesting person, while still very much a classic Marvel hero with monster-type problems. Anywhere she goes, she stirs attention; some of it, she makes clear, has no place in her plans. Her interactions with the public are comical yet disruptive; her unusual appearance makes a simple bank trip a lot of trouble.


These issues (#211-216) complete the arc of Tigra’s stay with the Avengers. Admittedly, as she says, she’s “heroic enough” but she feels like a character for a very different kind of adventures than the straight-ahead super-heroics. Maybe for some she’s a statement here on how Captain America, Iron Man, and Mighty Thor, with the Wasp, represent the foundations of Marvel Comics and its fictional universe, serving as an indictment by contrast as to the less enduring characters created on the backbone of work by impressarios Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and then other dedicated craftsmen.


I think for Shooter, it’s this simple: in what she is not, we clearly see what these established characters ARE. It’s no accident that those three all star now in blockbuster summer movies, while Tigra’s at best a cult hero figure; it’s by design.

In a different fictional world focus, however, Tigra, like She-Hulk, could be a figure in the pop culture.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

JIM SHOOTER SHAKES THE AVENGERS




Tragic Linnea. Quirky Tigra. Emotionally stunted Molecule Man. Troubled Ghost Rider. Comical Stankowitz. Imperious Moon Dragon.
One volatile mix of core Avengers, set against the perils of Pym. Shake well with renderings by Bob Hall, Alan Weiss, and embellish it with Brett Breeding. Drink in Jim Shooter’s 1980’s Avengers.



I found an absorbing depiction of Pyrrhic victory in the guest-filled Michael Korvac saga, but when Shooter returned three years later, working with sub-plots and strong characterization, the stops were truly pulled out!



I haven’t made it through every issue of the late 1970’s incarnation of AVENGERS---I found the entirety of the 1980 issues sadly unreadable, with art that
looked like its figures are melting and one fill-in writer after the next. Mr. Shooter himself has detailed the end of Gene Colan’s run, coinciding with the membership shake-up that began a year of Jim Shooter’s Avengers. Everything fundamentally funky 70’s about the title starts to vanish; Wonder Man, the Beast, Jocasta, Scarlet Witch and the Vision all depart. With the unlikely ingredient of Tigra added to provide a regular person perspective, everything really, really old was new again: founders Thor, Iron Man, the Wasp, and Henry Pym (in his psychosis-inspired Yellowjacket guise) and Captain America (the member replacing the Hulk, in #4) become the players in an emotionally-volatile continuing saga of the sort which traditionally never included such standardized stalwarts. Granted, the great catalyst is member Hank Pym, as volatile changes are usually reserved for the individual books of Cap, Iron Man, and Thor, but everyone’s connection to Pym and the foundations of the team itself set off deep characterization and drama reflective of the sorts of adult difficulties which had not driven the comic in years.



The first thing I noticed was how annoying the Beast was in #211, bouncing on top of everyone’s heads joking. Then from the Vision on, heroes are all acting dickish; in Vision’s case, he tells desperate Jocasta he is NOT a fellow robot and can’t help her with her problems fitting in. Granted, he’s about to make the decision to split with Wanda and finally try having a normal life together, nor is it out of character for Hercules to begin his friendship with Wonder Man by testing his “Thor-like strength and invulnerability” with a brawl. Wonder Man confesses earlier he’s maybe less inured of facing mortality “a dozen times a week,” as a witness to death being no fun! Wondy’s likeable here, though I was horrified by what he did to that poor tree; he challenges Hank McCoy’s assertion they are living the ultimate high-life, contrasting that satisfaction with the Beast’s mostly-ignored brain power. Granted, all he does is run off to join the Defenders in the meanwhile, but at least it’s a credible, if rushed, consideration in him leaving.



Moon Knight and a changing blob purported to be Ice Man get into a testy conflict just before Tigra chases the Angel, but it’s not long before we realize the mental might of Moondragon’s behind some of this excessive aggression. Unfortunately for the team, her manipulation’s not a one-off occurrence. It’s sad to see Jocasta’s lonely feelings drive her away unbidden, though it’s quite in keeping with early Marvel. Nonetheless, the entire purpose of the issue is a set-up for the real drama to come. Many elements---such as the “wow, they do this every day? I can hardly believe this is happening!” point of reference character, which is Tigra here---are fundamental to what Roger Stern will do in his years scribing the Avengers. In fact, the initial resolution of Hank Pym’s troubles provides Stern his first emotionally-gripping storyline.



Hank Pym’s troubles are probably the center of the most memorable Avengers storyline in fandom, and while the push occurs quickly, it’s set up in a very rich story. Hank’s disgruntlement and inferiority complex, and how they shake up his life with Janet, is paralleled beautifully with warrior Gorn and his enchanted Elf Queen, Linnea. The issue, #212, is jam-packed with panels, easily containing the content of two or even three of today’s issues, so it starts off with a relaxed pace, demonstrating the daily lives of the Avengers as they rise in the morning. That’s how we get the scene with the Pyms and the Elfqueen in striking parallel. Gorn and Hank both wish to leave the quietude of their “happily ever” lives, each feeling a moribund existence. Both fit very poorly as they emerge into the world, testily blaming their lovers for their dissatisfaction, both clumsily engaging with those around them. Without the long-standing affection accorded by the other Avengers, Tigra clearly sees troubled behavior. Hints of domestic violence creep in when Hank destroys one of Janet’s costumes.



The ill-fated adventure of the Elf Queen actually moves my heart each time I read it; her husband is slain on the streets of Washington, D.C., as he provokes the police into firing. In her grief, Linnea terrorizes the capitol, bringing the Avengers running. With his disruptor beam on the fritz, Hank still manages plenty of disruption, intimidating Janet, who stays behind to retrieve his working device. He clearly resents her wealth now and blames her coddling for his apparent mediocrity, leading us to the lesson one should never hinge happiness on comparison to others, with a companion assessment that love deserves appreciation.



Linnea’s got this one line when Iron Man shows up, flirting like a himbo, though separated by a language barrier. “A flying man in armor! How Gorn would have marveled…but he is dead now!” She evokes the other side of her apparently brusque husband’s personality, makes us sorry a real person has died through a misunderstanding…makes us feel her grief. Her singular appearance here truly moved me.


Cap puts his life on the line to show Linnea he means no harm; at this point, Yellowjacket attempts a star turn by blasting her in the back! Adding insult to injury, the Wasp saves his life when his sting fails on the counter attack. Cap’s nobility wins the day; the reader’s heart aches for the fleeing Elf Queen; Hank finds himself court-martialed.


Hank’s plan to attack the Avengers with his own robot, complete with vulnerable spot to guarantee his heroic victory, reflects his nervous breakdown. If he had but once stopped to talk to the Avengers, they are all considering how his mistake was one any of them might’ve made…how they sympathize with his vulnerability. Unfortunately, he’s fed himself an unhealthy diet of what makes them heroes, what makes them admirable…what makes him unworthy. When he strikes his own wife---in a blow, in Shooter’s later writing, amplified in its horror by the artist, beyond his written intent---we see a hero destroyed. Domestic abuse is an appalling crime, rarely reported, rarely confronted. Anyone committing beating in their own home needs serious help, as though it is the most serious problem in that person’s life, because this undermines all that love is about, and all being a hero is about.


Here is one crucial thing: he runs away after this because that is what he’s doing on every level: turning his back on all he has ever loved.
Here is another: when he does come back out of hiding, he’s involved in very convoluted circumstances setting him up to fall for his arch enemy, the ingenious Egghead, Eliah Starr, and this detours the possibility of coming back to his home life with Janet Van Dyne Pym, and this remains long delayed. The next time he is free of all other machinations, however, he’s claimed his own problems.
Here is one last critical thing: The Wasp doesn’t get the opportunity to let him back in, but even with time and sympathetic circumstances, she decides not to get back together with him. If Janet and Hank had attempted to go back into their relationship and resume as though nothing had happened, this would have been a terrible example to any impressionable readers, of which there were still many in 1982. The truth is, when you cross a line like Hank did, your rectification is going to take time. The more times he had denied his problem and hit her again (can you even dream of them depicting a heroine in a chronic abuse situation?), the more shame and stupidity would’ve necessitated both of them losing all they had.



Instead, Janet keeps helping people as an Avenger, and soon volunteers herself as the leader, which satisfies her generous nature while challenging her to know herself, others, and for what to stand, when. She discovers she does not need him to be strong. She does not forgive him and let him keep doing it. The change is his own responsibility, the reality of who he should be, his own. It’s my understanding in today’s Marvel he’s gone on to become a teacher of super-heroes, and I would say his disgraceful experience serves him with a wisdom in the ways of people that is effective now, not only because he has being a hero in mind, but he has let it grow all the way from deep inside himself.


NEXT: Fallen Angels and Molecule Madness, AVENGERS #214-217.



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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Starvengers



Dragun of the Shogun Warriors starred in another of my coloring books, which probably came in a three-pack from Gold Key at a local drugstore. Dragun derives from another early Go Nagai cartoon, one I recall fondly from some hazy point in childhood. When I found this, memories of playing pretend with the tri-colored vehicles combining as super robots flooded back! It's yet another fresh, original concept we would see copied by more famous American cartoons---particularly cool for its formation of three different robots, dependent on the order of combination.

Three young pilots each flew a red, a blue, and a gold ship. Depending on the situation, they combined to become Air, Land, and Sea specialist robot giants.

I remember less of its plots even than Majinger/ TranZor Z, but the concept put me in touch with hours of play---a mental environment I hope will aid me in the busy writing and editing period here to Christmas.

Getter Robo G (ゲッターロボG Gettā Robo Jī?) is a super robot anime series created by Go Nagai and Ken Ishikawa and produced by Toei Animation. This direct sequel to Getter Robo was broadcast on Fuji TV from May 15, 1975 to March 25, 1976, with a total of 39 episodes (some episodes were rebroadcast, erroneously giving the impression that there were 43 episodes).
People familiar with Mattel's popular Shogun Warriors toy collection will remember all three of Getter Robo G's robot formations in that toy line: Getter Dragon (Dragun), Getter Liger (Raider) and Getter Poseidon (Poseidon). As a result of the popularity of these toys in the US, Jim Terry included this series in his Force Five anime lineup under the title of Starvengers. Some Starvengers episodes were redubbed and released by FB Productions under the Robo Formers title. The original Getter Robo series, however, has yet to appear in the US (although the Shin Getter Robo OVAs have appeared). In the UK, Starvengers episodes were released on video by Krypton Force under the name Formators.


The Starvengers' Force Five mates included cartoons by influential SPACE CRUISER: YAMATO co-creator , responsible for CAPTAIN HARLOCK. He was involved with two of the five entries: the SPACEKETEERS and DANGUARD ACE: PLANETARY PROTECTOR. The slot filled by SPACEKETEERS was originally intended for GREAT MAZINGA.









Meanwhile, our remaining t-shirts are available at Convention Special Price, for $12 each plus $3.00 for shipping & handling.














Saturday, December 17, 2011

Go Nagai: Mazinger, or Tranzor Z




As a little boy, I got a coloring book featuring the Great Mazinga of the Shogun Warriors. The invasion of the Japanese robot toys ran into a commercial dead-end initially due to injuries from their projectiles, but when in time I got a comic book or two with full page ads about the Shogun Warriors, I was enthralled!

Great Mazinga is another identity for the first human-piloted super robot, whose adventures ran on Japanese television starting in 1972, to many encore series. Week after week, the characters I knew as Devilene, the male/female, and Count Decapito worked to spread Dr. Hell's reign of terror in the form of great bio-engineered monsters and mechas. Only the rocket punch, hurricane breath, and other weapons announced by pilot Tommy as they were deployed stood in 45 meter form between humanity and oblivion. The giants were inspired by a Mycenean Empire discovery which has spurred Dr. Hell to take over the world.


By the time a version of the cartoon reached America under Three B studios, it followed Voltron (Go-Lion in Japan--where it performed with mediocre ratings) and the Transformers (based on the direct descendants of what became our Shogun Warriors, a variety of toy lines merged into a concept developed by Bob Budiansky at Marvel Comics). The American version, TRANZOR-Z, did not receive much praise, but some of us remember it fondly, while its original counterpart thirteen years before was a ratings smash in Japan. Story and violence were edited; almost a third of the serial episodes were dropped. The full version of the cartoon was wildly popular in Mexico.

Its creator, Go Nagai, holds the view that violence debases man, and reflects the ambiguity of force in the original name, Ma jing er, a merging of the words "God" and "Demon." Born in 1945, he founded Dynamic Productions in 1970. He went on to produce the horrific "Devil Man" (which, like Mazinger Z, began as a manga) and the adult-oriented Cutie Honey, which brought us the "magical girl" genre signified by Sailor Moon.

Tranzor Z gave us the first female super robot in Aphrodite A, as well as considerable humor regarding the other member of its central love triangle, who piloted a giant built from junk called "Bobo Bot." The franchise went on to many further incarnations as animation has increased in sophistication and remains a part of international pop culture. A version called Grendizer became popular in Europe in the 1970's, also featuring the same pilot character in its story line.

The following can be found at Wikipedia.

In his Manga Works series, Go Nagai reveals that he had always loved Tetsuwan Atom and Tetsujin-28 as a child, and wanted to make his own robot anime.

However, for the longest time he was unable to produce a concept that he felt did not borrow too heavily from those two shows. One day, Nagai observed a traffic jam and mused to himself that the drivers in back would surely love a way to bypass the ones in front. From that thought came his ultimate inspiration: a giant robot that could be controlled from the inside, like a car. In his original concepts, the titular robot was Energer Z, which was controlled by a motorcycle that was driven up its back and into its head (an idea which was recycled for the Diana A robot).]

However, with the sudden popularity of Kamen Rider, Nagai replaced the motorcycle with a hovercraft. He later redesigned Energer Z, renaming it Mazinger Z to evoke the image of a demon god (Ma, 魔, meaning demon and Jin, 神, meaning god). The motif of the Hover Pilder docking itself into Mazinger's head also borrows from Nagai's 1971 manga Demon Lord Dante (the prototype for his more popular Devilman), in which the titular giant demon has a human head (of Ryo Utsugi, the young man who merged with him) in his forehead. Interestingly, Koji Kabuto takes his surname (the Japanese word for a helmet) from the fact that he controls Mazinger Z from its head.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mecha



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Friday, December 16, 2011

The two Star Blazers: Iscandar at last!

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As a boy, Yoshibnobu Nishiyaki, the producer of the original series that gave us STAR BLAZERS, used to daydream about a ship flying through the air.

In a fascinating interview found at starblazers.com---which I could not more highly recommend!---Nishiyaki tells about the increasingly regimented phenomena of Japanese life, its constraints reaching more and more deeply into childhood. He envisioned this anime (a term coined in the wake of the boom kicked-off by SPACE CRUISER YAMATO) as a wild romance, “to help children realize they can become who they really are.” Outer space seemed the one setting capable of presenting the boundless scope of both human daring and imagination.


Keisuke Fujikawa, writer of about half of all first season episodes, turned in the mostly fully-realized plot before the involvement of manga creator Leiji Matsumoto (Sexdroid), who made the vital designs we’d come to know and love, also serving as director. Aritsune Toyota, a novelist and TV writer, created his draft for “Asteroid 6” after Nishiyaki had read Methuselah’s Children by SF Grandmaster Robert A. Heinlein and proposed a space saga. Their vision relied on several studios, including an early, tiny Sunrise Studios, not to mention iconic theme composer Hiroshi Miyagawa, who scored pieces for up to thirty instruments in his modern, popular music style, inspired somewhat by Stravinsky.

The plan book developed in 1973 by Nishiyaki went on to incorporate at least three more drafts; Toyota’s incorporated the Iscandar voyage into a trek of quarreling young people of international origin, and introduced many of the space-based perils that appear in Season One. Matsumoto’s take on the characters, however, bears the closest resemblance to the finished show, which debuted October 14th, 1974. After the original production supervisor, Eliiji Yamamoto, left to pursue another project, the reins were handed at last to Leiji Matsumoto, who wrote a new draft on May 21st, 1974.



STAR BLAZERS itself is a group story, with middle episodes devoted to fleshing out secondary characters such as gutsy science officer Sandor, nervous communications officer Homer, and the all-too-human IQ-9, with his massive crush on the one featured girl character, Nova. Sandor’s instrumental in tracking down the source of the Reflex Gun, and upon capture, has quite a surprise up his sleeve for the bio-organic Gamelon computers. (I won’t spoil it here, but he’s revealed to be a cyborg at a very critical moment in plans.) Homer keeps secret communications with Earth that cause his mind to deteriorate, as the Star Force is much too far from home to help anything that happens there. (Marc Kane thinks the scene where he puts on a suit and helmet and desperately swims for Earth too hilarious, but the actor plays it with sufficient pathos.) IQ-9’s antics harassing Nova are mostly toned down for the American audience, but their adventure on the Bee planet reflects his genuine, unrequited crush in a rather sympathetic light of his humane service programming.
Below: Captain Avatar's just the kind of guy to keep his skipper cap on through surgery.
I have no intention of duplicating the truly terrific, notes-rich episode summaries by Arthur Painter and Tim Eldred (part of the webcomic team, and formerly, a regular Star Blazers comic book!) which you can find on witty, informative starblazers.com. That’s where I learned of the production team giving their all for a weekly deadline, only to see single digit ratings while other Japanese animation flourished on a rival channel. Yet for something, it seemed, almost no one cared about, Yamato would three years later become the cultural flagship of Anime: Japanese animation that could strive for storylines challenging to young and old. Best yet, the movie-led revivals bring most of the original cast back for the sequel series.



The two versions, Japanese and American, each accent different nuances of storyline, the American version given overall to more chatter and the Japanese version, more violence. By comparison, Sandor’s thoughts as he prepares to sacrifice his cyborg limbs as bombs to destroy the Gamelon magnetic gun reveal different shades of meaning. The Japanese original depicts him as one who once loved art and painting, who lost his limbs to technology out of control (an amusement park accident that originally includes his sister Mio!). For him, science is a challenge, a game to master, a foe to defeat through understanding.

The Japanese audience doesn’t know the Gamelons are deliberately aiding Homer’s hidden, maddening communications with Earth until the satellite’s found, while the American audience knows it’s part of a plan to demoralize the Star Force, who are much too far from home to do anything of consequences besides see their mission through. Yamato series reveals Gamilon as a clearly-labeled twin planet awaiting the Star Force, beside Iscandar; Star Blazers keeps this dread secret hushed until the Argo flies straight into the confusing, untrustworthy scenario. Yamato carries IQ-9’s harassment of Nova to a supposedly funny, panty-flash fun place you may simply find creepy. After all, before the series began, IQ was meant to have a human half that combined with his droid self.







Nova teases Derek about the photograph they're taking together after Starsha's congratulation message; in Star Blazers she says "it will be something to remember our first date by" while in Yamato she says the photo's "something for the children so they can see how Mommy and Daddy were when they were young!" Nova cries at the end of the battle on Gamelon, to be fighting all the way to the end of a mission born entirely in peace; her counterpart Yuki actually cries about facing God with blood of so many foes on their hands, even in self-defense. In subtle ways, you have the advantages of two parallel developments, sometimes highlighting strengths and providing explanations, sometimes robbing little pieces of logic from the puzzling events.



Mr. Nishiyaki says he grew up watching ships fly through his private skies. He thought of that as an image that surely belonged to everyone, at some time. Now another generation can board the star-borne ship, and journey beyond new limits of imagination.



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