Sunday, January 20, 2019

Would you leave her if she left him to die? How an incisive writer got it all wrong: Steve Englehart, West Coast Avengers

Your husband gets separated from you on a time-travel adventure. You don't know if you'll ever see him again or make it home, but you make a friend- who drugs and rapes you. He fights you later, and slips off a cliff. Do you help him live?

Well, here's some additional context:

So, you and your secret agent-trained wife (or, you and your swashbuckling husband and AVenger team leader) get separated while traveling through time. Just as you've given up hope, you find her again. Stranded with only faith that her team will find her, she was betrayed, drugged and raped by a vigilante in the Old West. He was stupid enough to fight with her afterwards, fell off a cliff, and she let him dangle there and die.

And then the two of you break up because she let an enemy die whom she could've saved?
Apparently, you split off into two factions on different sides of an ethical dilemma. But I mean..
after all that, you break up?

First, I've got to give it up for the excellent Back Issue #110- Denny O'Neil and Daredevil fans in particular, but everyone who liked Marvel Comics Presents, would be well-served to check it out! I want to say STeve Englehart was a clever, nuanced scripter with a keen eye for making sense of existing plotlines and tying them to new events, so take this as from a fan.
I actually don't like Englehart's ideas about Mantis, as presented for the 80's in his interview, for some reason. Truly, I could see any creator who has a character they created with a strong voice developing a similar desire to bend entire plotlines around her. I rather liked her at the time with the Silver Surfer! It was his insistence on pairing her with Hawkeye next that turned me off. You also start to see a pattern of Steve constantly busting up existing relationships to insert Mantis. Or at least, with Vision and Scarlet Witch, trying.

What I don't get is, as you can read in Back Issue, he said he loved Clint (Hawkeye) and Barbara (Mockingbird) together, unique, quirky...but he broke them up over her, stranded via Time Machine in the Old West, letting her rapist fall to his doom! Bullshit! Let other Avengers assume their high horse position about killing/ not saving people, but Hawkie should've been like, "well, I'm glad you're OK, baby...at least he''ll never rape anyone else!"

Now of course, this is an argument, in part, with the proposed direction of a comic book, over thirty years ago now (wow). But like any story with timeless qualities, I feel it evokes a fun debate we can still enjoy today- not precisely about whether or not the writer should've kept his job (it was based on more than the one book), but on the fable's merits. Mythology's meant to explain wondrous phenomena and provide history and culture. But it's also intended to embody discussions we have about human behavior and the nature of the universe.

I think it's awesome Steve Englehart was generous enough to share his vision of where he wanted the strip to go. I'll add that the writer doubtlessly sees his job is to generate all the emotionally-involving drama possible. It's not enough to identify him with Clint and say that's his voice; he gave a voice, after all, to Bobbie and her cohort, too. So I think Steve's seeing both sides of the coin, and the nuances that emerge from each character's decision. It was great to dramatize the emergent debate about what sort of code regarding killing best suits the temperment of heroes, super or otherwise. I think, however, he put Clint on the wrong side of the matter. Why didn't he see even the headstrong archer- determined would-be leader, would-be paragon- more accepting of the difficult paradigm encountered by his team? I understand, the humane point of view is a necessary corrollary to preventing the more fascistic side of vigilantism embodied by these self-styled protectors. He may've been avoiding espousing a commentary of creating a version of the 'Thin Blue Line'- where teammate loyalty trumps moral idealism, because this person has to have your back in the face of danger. A good dramatist can empower more than one argument- can evoke variations. He did a good job with empowering the tne tensions of both answers. It could be that he just couldn't finish the job without ascribing the polar opposition to the team's resident husband and wife.

But when you factor in plans to pair Clint thereafter with Englehart's creation, Mantis- who I don't honestly see as a strict 'no-killing' proponent, either, despite her spiritually-evolved trappings- then suddenly, you've got me asking how strong did he think this love the writer professed to admire, really was.

But that's my critique- I suppose it's emotionally based on the failure of comics to build resilient romantic relationships between mature characters. I take it a bit personally!



I would've been more glad than anything in the world to get my wife back, my team mate, back, For one, I'd have been torn up I wasn't there to help her! And to that point, Clint never should've given Barbara any guff- he wasn't the one assaulted, and the Rider, rest assured, would've done someone else who couldn't fight back, that way!

I know Clint felt tremendous weight to measure up to the previous examples of leadership, and that did deserve representation in his thoughts. But he and Mockie, even with that unpleasant reality addressed and factored in as a sore spot one day, would've had a better story if they'd stood side-by-side with the person they love. |

I mean, isn't a relationship of that sort precisely the kind of value in life that makes all this derring-do matter? You're not just saving people's lives...you're saving them for their loved ones and relationships that are integral to those lives. People miss the real point of what matters, that's realistic enough. But I think this may've been myopia exacerbated by Mantis fever.

You can read Steve Englehart's side of this for yourself, in the pages of 1986-7 West Coast Avengers published by Marvel, and his graciously-provided interview in the excellent Back Issue #110, by TwoMorrows Publishing- on sale now!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Back Issue #110! Englehart's lost West Coast Avengers, Mark Waid and Ann Nocenti's Daredevil, Marvel Con '75 and more!

My biggest leap forward in freelance writing in a long time. I talked to such great people, too. That's Back Issue #110! Steve Englehart and Annie Nocenti fans shouldn't miss it.

How do you not miss it? Here! http://twomorrows.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=98_54 The site! Order yours! Ships January 16th.

My thanks again to John Workman, Scott Edelman, Sam Maronie, Harold Parker, Will Alovis, Ken Segal (now there's a sound guy), the Marvel Comics Fans 1961-1986 page on Facebook (for bringing me together with fans and photos)
- and especially our hard-working editor, Michael Eury, who also pulled off a move in the middle of a hurricane and got this one out in fine form. NOw that's how you Face Front!



I was wrapping up burritos and wrapping up wrapping up burritos when I pitched for this assignment. I tried Marv Wolfman, John Workman...even hovered over a possible phone number for John Romita, Sr. I stayed on the trail, one lead to the next. I remember the snow outside, the day Harold and I talked. I was scarfing dinner when Ken called, as can be heard in the first part of my audio on Creating Marvels podcast. HEck, check'em out: I posted even more interview material there than I wrote up for Back Issue. I held some of the photos in reserve, but even still, seeing what Michael has done with the issue was nonpareil. Where else are you going to find three Sparklin' Scott Edelmans in harmony- with enough hair on his chest, alone, for any two modern day Marvelites?

Along the way, I discovered Sam Maronie's wonderful work on his own nostalgia-interview book, Tripping Through the Pop Culture. (Its cover was created by Joe Phillips, with whom I collaborated on an exciting IDW comics original project and a cartoon that really, really deserves to see the light of day, too.) Sam was the photographer of note, on his own recognizances, at that hoi polloi organized chaos that was Marvel Con. Scott was the point man organizing said chaos, into a pleasurable jamboree made especially for the fan of that era. Together, the interviews and photos re-create the panels and the panic, the random meetings with comics luminaries. Ken told me about some rare footage screened there, including the pleasure of uncut King Kong! I had a good laugh with all the above gentlemen. It was a real pleasure, bringing that time to life! Other than a few random fanzines, there were precious few chances for fans to actually meet in person, much less listen to their artistic heroes. The first Women in Comics panel, demonstrations, back issues, and some of the very first cosplay ever caught on camera? What a gold mine of experiences! You can listen to Creating Marvels- and these interviews- right here: https://creatingmarvels.podbean.com/page/3/
HEre's one of many:


I look forward to settling in this rainy cool evening, drawing, catching up some notes, and thumbing through the single most exciting magazine release I've ever worked on. It's so funny, I enthusiastically wrote about 10, 000 words without awareness that wasn't the actual word count, but it shaped up nicely with some help from Sgt. Eury.

But Steve Englehart was always a classic comics writer with more plans than ever saw print, and from the remote future here, you can enjoy his vision for the West Coast Avengers, an offshoot title conceived right here in my hometown, over by the duck pond, Roger STern and Mark Gruenwald, probably walking off a local lunch during an early Civic Center convention. Ann's work really broke the mold on Daredevil- she had a more literary, Symbolist take, a step away from simply cloning the Miller success. Same Pro2Pro John Trumbull feature interviews Mark Waid on the same panel- that's almost 120 issues of Daredevul writers!
Not only that, but Carmine Infantino is celebrated, too, for some work he did at Marvel- in fact, he drew a few issues while my pal David Anthony Kraft wrote the title, including the first appearance of Ali- er, the Lunatic, from DAK's Friday afternoon design. You probably know his Nova and Spider-Woman work there best. We also talked with Denny O'Neil, editor of so much of the work I've gone on to review with its creators, including a legendary tenure on BAtman, which he previously wrote into modern, fan-favorite arcs. His interest in Zen and its influence led me to some good books! You can search my posts to find me discussing his Iron Man and Spider-Man runs in brief- but this article is better yet.

I don't think you have to be a Marvel comics fan, and not even one from the 70s and 80s, to enjoy this issue of Back Issue. You could just join me for a rather interesting day at 'the office'! But unwrapping my copies today was a special treat. It's the very first extended interview profile article in the issue. It really sets the tone for a bang-up read!

It's also one of the first in depth printed posthumous tributes to the work and influence of Stan Lee, as Scott Edelman shares his memories of working with Stan The Man to make Marvel Con '75 a reality!



With limited resources dictating our comics work await a cycle to blossom, it's been our work with the existing creative field that's been our lifeline. I am no less proud of my recent contribution to Back Issue Magazine #110, by TwoMorrows Publishing, than any other single work in that aspect- and I highly recommend you treat yourself to my article, the first feature piece. It's an attempt to re-create, in comics' trope, the time and place and feel of attending Marvel's very first comics convention.

I was thanking contributor Ken Segal when I felt inspired to share here a brief exegesis of its origination, from the wonderful people yielded by my questions. I think DAK is to thank for me approaching Scott Edelman, and Scott pointed me to photographer Sam Maronie. The fans came to me through Marvel Comics Fans, 1981-86 FB page.

I actually hope someone enjoys the creative writing approach I took, as many of you professional creative industry people read such things. What I saw was, I wasn't just interviewing a person or peeps, but through y'all, could re-create the atmosphere of a specific event. I had a time and place and atmosphere available; why not employ them?
HOnestly, in talking to anyone about the past, I'm very engaged in reconstructing the conceptual experience, rather like an excellent documentary might. The existential landscape! Your pass, and the point of view of an isolated nine year-old fan, set the entire conceit in motion. Then, I'm blessed with the photographer, Harold's random encounter, and the event coordinator- so I tried to 'use the whole buffalo' respectfully.

I felt like the event was created precisely for people like you, so I built my article around your experience as proxy. I had just enough people and photos to imitate the texture of individuals milling about in an excited crowd. Finally, Marvel characters inhabit the same city- and Doom's time machine is one of the perennial concepts of creative Marvel. So in a sense, if I'd done anything less with the generous gifts offered me by research and request- it would've been a waste! And somewhere, back there, a Native American would've shed a tear with a crumpled program at his foot...

Monday, December 31, 2018

My First Work at Marvel Comics Group: an interview with David Anthony Kraft


Working at Marvel Comics has been a job dreamed of by so many young people, every since the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man and the original Avengers made it the cool, connected, offbeat place it was in the Marvel Age. Virtually every one who came to work there, from the late 60's onward, was a massive fan of some (or nearly all) Marvel character.


So here's the story about one of those young people.

(And here is Glam rocker Marc Bolan- who once interviewed Stan Lee for a BBC show-holding the first comic scripted by DAK! Yeah!) Stream or download, and happy 2019!


DAK: Everyone likes to use the phrase, “break into comics”- but I like to say, I was invited.

Not that I wouldn’t have broken in!

Lue: You already had taken on work, in high school, as a literary agent for the work of pulp writer Otis Adelbert Kline. You simply wrote, expressed some knowledge and interest- boom, you got it.

DAK:
I put an inquiry to see if I could work for Marvel.
One day, I went to the mail, and found a letter from (Marvel Editor) Roy Thomas.
I’m excited because hey, it’s Marvel ! Their response was:
‘Problem is, not enough work for the writers we have but you’re welcome to write a script.’
Practical person that I am, I didn’t!

Before going to Marvel, I published Robert E Howard and Jack London and L Frank Baum hardcovers. I edited sf writer A E Van Vogt's autobiography in trade pbk, along with an Otis Adelbert Kline original trade.

Years later, Roy Thomas was looking for an assistant. I was editing a metaphysical magazine editing in Raburn County. I got this letter going “you should work for Marvel”- so I agreed!

Part of the deal was, and why I mentioned this was, I didn’t know how expensive New York was. By today’s prices, it would look inexpensive, but- money bought more! How do you know that as a teenager? How could you not want to go to work for Marvel.

The offer was : a salary, to edit books on staff. Roy was editor-in-chief over about forty color books, and he was busy writing his own books, but didn’t waste time nitpicking. So the only other two editors in color at that point are Don McGregor and me!

A Wolf's Story: Jack London

DAK's present baby, Yi Soon Shin:

And some of DAK's later work.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Never Say Die: Immortal Hulk #8 pieces together a fascinating series


IMMORTAL HULK #8: Victory in his cold, dissected hands!


The Hulk's survival crosses a line that dissolves any feel-good simplicity of the gamma giant-as-superhero. I recommend you see for yourself how his vengeance comes together, just as his predicament- one I never saw before, for any character!-verges on becoming insurmountable. For this Hulk and his dizzying powers, what seems like ultimate defeat, physically, just plays into his cold, dissected hands!

I don’t keep up with every very good comic series or individual work in the genre. The day I bought my wonderful What If? Comic, I also realized the sun was setting on our local store- What If? Comics and Collectibles. Here I am, reliable vehicle secured, savings, best job yet and freelance articles- I’m ready to get some comics! Are you ready to get some comics, too? Well, when the sun goes down, if you want at least one monthly comic that touches upon rich Marvel history, superhero suspense in a horror-fix atmosphere in visceral stories, one gives new meaning to 'never say die'! It's this year's THE IMMORTAL HULK series.

There's something different about this Hulk, if I could just put my finger on it...ARt: Joe Bennett inks by Ruy José

The pencils by Joe Bennett (inked by Superman's Ruy José) depict a gruesome take on the gamma-irradiated adventures of fugitive Bruce Banner. Like the classic TV series, the creature is pursued by an investigative reporter named McGee (a woman working for an Arizona paper). Yes, the world knows Bruce Banner’s dead: he’d conspired with Clint Barton, his friend the Avengers marksman Hawkeye, to put an arrow through his vulnerable human brain stem. Great zombie Hulks! His Other resurrects in the night. He points this loaded weapon, the Hulk’s ruthless vengeance, at injustices he discovers along the way.

Writer Al Ewing’s realized a post-mortal-damage Banner who cannot touch the ethereal heights of his own former intellect as yet. Moreover, he’s resigned to the fact that his objective, scientific mind is not quite so smart as the intuitive cunning of the Hulk. Now is the trigger: when Bruce loses his life, he returns as the unstoppable creature, who embraces an identity as a sort of ‘Devil Hulk.’ But there’s something more fearsome yet, capable of reducing him to a scared child...and it takes the face of the man who hated him first, his father Brian.

Beneath it all is the mystery of The Green Door, a link to the spawning of Marvel’s gamma-powered beings. Behind that door may well lie what Shaman of Alpha Flight knows as a deep and abiding evil beyond even the terror of the Great Beasts of the Northlands. It’s here we get Walter Langkowski involved- that’s Sasquatch to you longtime Marvelites- at least, it WAS Sasquatch until Immortal Hulk #5. Walt’s a supporting cast regular. The unconventional thing about this initial supporting cast? They have very little contact with the dual-identity lead. It’s a staple of old-time Hulk adventures, these lives parallel to the elusive monster. The impressive Carol Danvers Captain Marvel leads the superhero end of the search for the Hulk. What can she do but work with the forces of Shadow Base to find and secure this national security threat?

It hasn't the comedy of the Peter David era, but the unpredictability, mystery and fugitive status of those initial Grey Hulk days is matched by art as gnarly as Todd McFarlane’s, but amped to gruesome proportions, and frankly, with better depictions of day-to-day life than early McFarlane. Not to say it lacks witticisms, but the humor’s very dark. Issue eight is both funny and mind-blowingly horrific at once, as Doctor Clive morbidly examines the living, dissected pieces of the gamma giant. He really gets consumed in his work.

Shadow Base itself is on the run in this one, thanks to Captain Marvel’s anonymous press leak via McGee to pressure the government on the missing Hulk’s whereabouts. Her struggle to hand over the Hulk peacefully resulted in an issue seven battle royale with the present incarnation of Avengers- very core, familiar members, with the somewhat incidental inclusion now of a badass old muscle car-driving Ghost Rider. There’s a personal dimension when the She-Hulk is unleashed. She now embodies the brute Hulk who was so long a mainstay. I’m impressed how this offbeat horror book has embraced Hulk history, a composite of its most successful approaches, kept the pulse of its contemporary superhero scenarios and its mainstream, even given a home to the present space station incarnation of a slimmed-down Alpha Flight affiliated with Colonel Danvers as her cinema turn approaches.

Issues one and two tied more nicely to the classic television series than anything at least since Bruce Jones’ run. They refer to the gamma-irradiated scientist whose experiments killed his son “The First” and even made him a “Frye Hulk”- a callback to easily one of the most intriguing and cool Incredible Hulk television stories, the famous two-parter about the terror of an earlier gamma spawn. I don’t want to spoil it, but the issue’s predicament at his son’s graveside makes an awesome dark reflection of the present Hulk’s status.
Dark psychological reflections have been the bread-and-butter of Hulk stories for most of the character’s existence. I love the literary quotes that open on the black splashes of each issue. Without resorting to a didactic reading, we get that fine intellectual line embracing Jungian philosophy in its dichotomy of science (as science fiction) and mysticism, a discussion pondered often by the introspective Banner. Paul Jenkins’ Hellblazer-style psychology, valuable details of the present legacy of the MU- I can’t say enough how skilled a composite of all things echoing from the original sinister Gamma Bomb blast this is! That special something that made Hulk perhaps an odd fit in the original launch of Marvel in the 1960s- that sense of an anti-heroic, self-serving menace and potential for wickedness and mayhem, embedded in the suppressed scientist- has been resurrected. “Is he a man? Is he a monster? Or – is he both” : Indeed.


I wanted to say more, yet, it seemed important to try to recommend Immortal #8 while it’s still fresh off the press, and that means no spoilers. What a wild comeback scenario!
I'm sorry my local comics shop had to die for my love of new comics to return so monstrously.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

What If? Spider-Man One Shot by Gerry Conway, Diego Olortegui, with Chris O'Halloran

Flash Fiction: What IF? Flash Thompson Became Spider-Man One-Shot

The opening narration’s the first feint. Longtime-fans familiar with military vet Flash Thompson will think they’re reading captions describing how his time in the service taught him the difference between heroes and “a thug with a gun.” But the chaos unleashed towards our perspective by Diego Olortegui’s art stems from ‘the good guy.’ For this is not the mature Flash cultivated by this very writer on his original groundbreaking Spider-Man run. This is no friend of Peter Parker, who walks up to our intrepid shutterbug spitting menace. The narrator? Our new version of Colonel Nick Fury, standing in for The Watcher after the events of Secret Sins as The Unseen, with a very different formula for seeing Infinity. His words are the weigh station to a parallel Earth, and the times have picked up in the heart of Spidey’s roots, where our writer discovered Spider-Man, himself. It’s Midtown High’s football hero, with great power- and little responsibility.

Gerry Conway recently revisited with me how he inverted the Peter Parker formula- and the science nerd/ jock bully dynamic- while discovering the story engine for his creation (with Al Milgrom on design & art on the brief initial run), Firestorm, the Nuclear Man. I wondered: would the writer who so fully humanized Flash in the Vietnam-era pages of Amazing Spider-Man, who delved into the athlete hero-as-underdog, bring him along gracefully to the duties of a true super-hero? The double-splash tableau tells us he’s gone all the way back to the Lee/Ditko conception of Thompson- and for that matter, Parker and Jameson- to unleash a self-styled hero who’s every bit the actual menace portrayed in the pages of the Daily Bugle! Watch the reactions of the innocent bystanders as Peter takes photo after photo of unbridled brutality. This is a modern story about the mind of a bully- once again delving into a less-understood perspective, and arming said bully with powers that mean, no military service, not even an Empire State University scholarship. Flash Thompson’s bitten by the radioactive spider, and now has everything he’ll ever need.


Why wouldn’t he think so? Without a chip on his shoulder – he is, after all, already the big man on campus- he’s prepared to respond with physical prowess and get the glory for stopping a runaway heist man. So Uncle Ben need never die, either. In true What If fashion, one life’s exchanged for another, and what seems a more likely pairing with Fate ultimately yields horror. No one saves John Jameson, astronaut, and so JJJ pours his grief into praising the new, violent vigilante to the skies. You can tell Conway thought about every trope of essential original Spider-Man, and asked how the change beneath the mask would invert them. He took everything that could streamline into a one-shot, and, as the veteran creator in the pairing, set the course, probably page-by-page, for Flash’s rise and fall.



It’s actually tradition with What If?: classic scenes return in their rejuvenated forms. The actual origin of May’s illness gets a gentle nudge away from being caused by Peter’s radioactive blood, but the need for ISO-36, and its theft by the Master Planner, remains. Before we ramp up that climatic arc, cue up the tale’s moments of profound despair and shocking horror. The O' Halloran coloring matches the foreboding, pervading mood. There's a hint of brightness and four-color wonder, but those expecting more vivid colors miss the tone. Even the difference in detail between the angular spider and the graceful silk-screened webs fit the level of skill and attitude of the costume creators. Peter, who invented his own web-shooters, would take the time to emphasize the marvel of spider-silk webs. Flash takes a rushed, unfriendly approach reminiscent of the era of violent protagonists. Nice job, Diego.

Let me pick up that remark I deliberately dropped about Fate, in the words of our recurrent narrator, Fate’s a flimsy pattern we affix to events based on our decisions. The Unseen, portrayed in his own Machiavellian heroic fashion, speaks more humanly about this that we might expect even than from an observant Watcher. He speaks eloquently of who we dream to be, and how we might wake to discover we are, what we truly are. How do we lose ourselves again in the dream? Is it attainable? Not without knowing who we are, what we’re working with- no. Flash begins with the assumption the cheering crowds were right; this excuses his methods and denies consequences in flagrant youthful fashion. His triumph brings an epiphany as deep and climatic as did Peter’s in the original scenario. Will the bully discover what makes a good guy? Check out What IF? Spider-Man One Shot, 2018.

(Sadly, it was the first thing I picked up when I was finally able to make it back to the last comics store standing in my hometown - the birth place of the West Coast Avengers, actually. But the store, filled with comics goodness, was in its last month. The name of the store? What If? Comics and Collectables.)

Monday, November 5, 2018

Mercurial Freddie: A Queen story arc in the hit film, Bohemian Rhapsody


We save the movies for our favorite larger-than-life heroes- that's Freddie Mercury! Rockin' time, sweet date.

The story of Bohemian Rhapsody from Fox jibes closely with biographical Queen lore. Freddie was a sweet guy, prone to life in huge, dramatic, colorful strokes, and it's fair to say, this was because he wrestled with the tedium and unrest of life off stage. I've long thought the adoration and adrenaline and bombast of a fist-pumping live show is surely such an addiction, it's really little wonder those who attain its heights find life away from the spotlight nearly unbearable. The gifts wrapped up in the making of a song are an internalized transporting feeling that rivals, and for some, surpasses the stage. But for rock's super-talented full-blast front man, the stage was also a place where he could be loved, seemingly unconditionally, and his shared creative prowess with Queen, known and loved. But there are things about a person that are terribly lonely without a constant companion. I love having a cat as much as the next guy (and his affection for his cats actually helped land this film all the more squarely in my own delight). But the heart of this film is about Freddie and the concept of "the love of my life"- revealing his vulnerability and gentleness, to be sure. The mammoth stardom of a 70s rock god, however, has shown itself many times over to be cruel to intimate relations.

Especially if you already know his story the way I did going in, I feel I've not told you anything knew, but I know I've spoken something basic about how many of you feel about Freddie, Queen, stardom, and the tragedy of not only the shadows of homosexual life in those perpetually closeted days, but the additional complications of true love for a bisexual person. ON that matter, I may have more to say. But here, I will not. It's Freddie's movie, about drifting into and out of a creative nucleus, the family bond, how kids and developing a personal life takes its toll on most families, all the moreso ones not tied by blood, customs, and common lifestyles. "Don't Stop Me Now" is such a joyous sounding tune, but I came to see its darkness, chasing after the fairy lightness of Freddie's heels. All those good times can equal running from ennui, and worse, from self-discovery. If you've ever been hurt by someone who tried to live free of responsibility, you may find it all less glamorous. From his perspective: When you are offered a chance to live hedonistically, without regard to sacrifice of self for the sake of others (the way Family can ask and elevate), you have no gravity to make a compact of tension with your transcendent power. The more freedom you seem to have, the less free it sometimes feels. If you lose the authentic opportunity to relate, your freedom's only a fantasy to envy. We find ourselves as much in service as we do in our liberty. But if no one walked free of day-to-day duty, perhaps the loss to us all would be the greater.

But it's for us to muse on the Queen that never was. It was this movie's job to tell about the Queen that Was.


So, Bohemian Rhapsody: The Movie.


First, your actors are spot-on. So much of it's well-documented that I feel it couldn't or didn't take artistic license with being very ...what's that quality that elevates scripts sometimes? It stuck to sounding like what everyone really said, which, at least you had some fairly witty participants. We were not disappointed in the slightest at the theater. I felt the emotional reality of key moments and am a massive fan of the soundtrack. I actually bob my head and pump my fist to these songs, so I was going to love that aspect, going in! It will play excellently on VH-1, true. They dramatized as much of the story as they could without it dragging, and wisely avoided trying to reproduce meeting Bowie
It's somewhat melodramatic, but that was the name of the game, since it's a quasi-musical. I'm always inspired watching scenes about putting together great songs. You got a genuine sense of mercurial Freddie- and we weren't going in as critics, anyway.

The origin story of at least one key Queen song, by each member, generously shares the credit for the band’s diverse genius. Their other musical contributions and tensions are well-depicted, especially considering the movie’s dedication to Mercury’s point of view.

It's moving in places, never dull, fairly true to what I've read of Queen- and we had an involving, great experience!

Yeah, even if it was just a mash-up of kitsch and Queen, it'd be worth watching... not a lovely fairy tale but things end as feel-good as possible. Well, fairy tales come to think of it were originally quite scary! I could see a person being hard on it, but I never planned to read those reviews. :-D The bad guys are maybe a bit too clear cut for some tastes but their motivations were realistic. If they'd invested a bit more in the motives of the love of Freddie's life, Mary, they still might not have made their relationship much clearer...love and friendships are funny, and people need what they need, that's a fact. It's such a clean biopic arc, but it's a commercial film and not an Art film. I'm glad it's been a hit!

I think you can see the Singer influence in shots like the one that rolls through the tour bus and out the back window over partied-out Roger Taylor. It's one of the only really unconventional moments visually. The 70's-style montage, fonts, animation, everything, is the other. There's already enough captivating visually in watching faux-Queen strut their stuff!

There's probably some argument about the seedy depiction of 1980 'clone culture' but that's how I learned it myself from pro-gay writers. Freddie was complicated...he never set out to live as a movement's icon. A good conversation can follow seeing this, but a good time can be had the whole time you watch!


So, it's not a movie with a lot of new insights, and maybe it's tethered to its inspiration too deeply to be very experimental or artsy. But it's succeeding as a commercial film for many reasons: After nearly thirty years, we miss Freddie Mercury, and recognize how irreplaceable he is. It's not the first movie to discuss the alienation of Genius, Stardom, nor, by the lights of its day, unconventional sexuality- but these things come together in the middle of such a satisfying, changing soundtrack! It's held together, despite its dual directors, by the star turn of Rami (Mr. Robot) Malek. He morphs through the different Mercury looks with brilliant costumery and make-up, to arrive at such a dead-on interpretation of the man by the time they arrive at the Live Aid climax- which is as good as any ever in the history of biopics! A grand statement, to be sure. But you would not be off-base considering that twenty minutes in real life a contender to be Rock's greatest moment of humanistic Salvation, a contender for the peak experience arena rock ever had to offer, in both delivery, internal narrative, and purpose.



Rhapsody- which contains the genesis of that epic tune, even its critical failure upon release- is loaded with one of the strongest catalogs of songs in pop music history- aside from its memorable hits we've lived with all our lives, they even reference a line from my favorite ever Queen album cut, "Spread Your Wings." It succeeds because it carries within it a recognizable set of conversations. It's going to be, for more people than not, an introduction to the band behind the mask, the tyro beneath the tiara. It's emblematic, to me, of the complications that arise from a life, not only of a certain gender role fluidity, but of preference fluidity, a conversation that's only fairly recently become commonplace, as we've shed the desire to place people under labels. It's still important, too, as a large part of society's still very uncomfortable with that idea. It's a story in part about where a man can turn when he must deny his complete identity, regardless of fame. It's a story about not understanding what you ask of the love of your life, and cliche as it may also sound, one about never being able to like yourself when the admiration for whom you are known to be seems shallow. Would Freddie have found service to bringing gay life to light, to humanizing gay people, or moreso, smashing the barriers of love for whomever you want to love, a liberation worth the career-crashing implications? Would he have been the pioneer of a lifestyle of true freedom? Can we read his interpretation of homosexuality, for the longest time, as somehow one requiring debasement and clone-like erasure of one's dignity?

Now I'm Here...Now I'm There

It's a conversation too large for even this quasi-musical to encapsulate. Remarkable aspirations, though, and quite coherent, even if, like Mercury himself, we don't seem to stop long enough to contemplate the motivations and feelings of others. I think I admire it all the more for what it captured, rather than deride it or nit-pick it for what it could not. Art is meant to raise questions; it's rarely at its best when it opts to tell us what to do. Sometimes we find examples in our heroes. Maybe the one way to relate to this titanic talent is in seeing him a all-too-humanly trying to find his own way, in a time and place more devoid of honest conversation. It's too easy to judge him for not spending his decline as an activist for those dying in the shadows of plague misunderstood and so pointedly considered a superstitious punishment for our lost boys. To change him after the fact into a paragon of anything but briliant performance and a cohort to one of pop song writing's classic teams- why, you'd simply have to create a new character. And then, you are shed of all that brilliance and the heartbreak cannot be the gift to us it truly is, as given so generously by this movie.

There's so much you'll never know without being tested, even if you think you feel a certain way, or want some type of life, or want to be part of something less conventional in life or creativity. If the commercial slickness of the story seems to resolve in a too-pat happy ending like some Hallmark flick, the denouement is known to be such a sad one, as Freddie struggled to the very end of his life to shoot the video for "The Show Must Go On."

The pressures that crystallized Freddie Mercury will never be replicated. He's not a case study. He had outrageous, if baroque, talents. A baroque Farouk. It' s nothing new to say he was in tension with the legacy that shaped his existence at every turn. Fame like that was never going to stay at that peak forever, even if he became a continuing celebrity or even continued writing new songs with or without Queen, like the enduring Elton John. Elton lived to see a way to devote himself to others as well, and finally found happiness. Maybe we cannot help but loathe ourselves for achieving so much more freedom than the masses will ever know, in part because of how divorced from relating we become, or how possible it becomes to lose one's self in materialism. If AIDS had not dimmed his living flame, it's possible to see a Freddie at peace. Would it have been a respite in the end, to leave the addiction of fame and its sycophants and glamor, possibly sacrifice it all for a chance to speak one's truth? To stop and learn it, rather than flitting from one chain reaction after another? Less we forget, Queen was indeed a done deal in the minds of many; even with the ever-evolving sound, so impressively versatile, the time was coming when their sun would not shine at noon.

There's a fun moment leading into the movie's climax where his ever-active opposition within Queen, Roger TAylor, tells Freddie "you're a legend." (It's fair to infer Freddie resented the wink to Roger's infidelities as he seemed to have all the things Mercury really wanted. Well, except cats.) Freddie magnanimously tells Roger and all his fellows in Queen "you're all legends...I mean, I'm a legend, yes, but..."

No matter what Freddie had chosen, Queen were already legends.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Larry Lieber: an early Marvel legend and Spider-Man newspaper strip writer!


Larry Lieber started working for Marvel when they were still, technically, Atlas Comics, on June 26th, 1958. Do you know him as the writer and scripter of stories like: the origin of Thor? Iron Man? Writer of Ant-Man, or the Rawhide Kid? Larry gives his story, from the earliest days mentored by his famous brother, Stan Lee, through his Western comics writing, the monsters, the early Marvel superheroes, to the shortly-lived Atlas Comics of 1975, and back to Marvel, where he worked on The Hulk newspaper strip. He finally landed the daily Spider-Man newpaper strip, which he wrote for thirty years!


I love Epic Marvel Podcast- they still have a Steve Englehart series about Dr. Strange I've just remembered I want to hear! They inspired some of my writing last summer about the Heroes For Hire, just as they hit Netflix together. I began supporting Epic Marvel on Patreon. They're well-produced and land so many terrific interviews with classic creators.

Take a listen! https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/thunderquack-podcast-network/the-epic-marvel-podcast/e/55305895



Happy birthday, Larry! Hope we get a chance to talk to you, too.


Rawhide Kid #89 splash and Hulk strip by Larry Lieber.

OH yeah, copyright Marvel Comics!

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