Thursday, November 7, 2019

Gave My Helmet to Rhodey: an Iron Man folk song

Gave my helmet to Rhodey
With loose circuitry
Said, “I can’t be Shellhead
Would you do it, please?”

He put on the armor, gave Magma what-for
Forgive the few windows he made into doors

Kept warm in the Bowery
burning Ayn Rand
almost killed by irony:
death by Firebrand

With advice from Morley, Jim did pretty well
Until those damn headaches gave poor Rhodey hell

I love Indries Moomji
But met her disdain
Too late found the Chess King:
Obadiah Stane

I built my own armor from a box of spare parts
It helped me quit drinkin’, those ‘lectronic arts
Confronted the Bad Guy
At trillionaire's cost
I did save the baby
But somebody lost.

Monday, October 21, 2019

My first comic book

I wAS four when Mom bought me my first comic book, when they were Still Only Thirty-Five Cents. Spider-Man? Doctor Octopus? Oh, yes, make it happen, please! So on that walk one summer day, up Spring Circle, she made it mine. Years later, I found out where the story originated, and then realized what must've been on sale up on Old Lindale Road. Marvel Tales, I discovered.

I didn't get anymore for quite some time. But wow. Big scary explosion at the end, suspense in the snow, helicopters, and some strange business between some pretty friends at a party Peter's missing. "My Uncle...My Enemy?" is sheer ridiculous fun. Aunt May inherits a nuclear reactor? She thinks Doc Ock really wants to be her loving companion? It made her seem such a doddering ol' dupe! But I was four, so it worked just fine.

I didn't know then, but one day I'd find out Gerry Conway was a big fan of the same cartoon I loved back then, too: SPIDER-MAN! Reruns of the ABC SAturday morning show aired from 1967-70 were a WGNX afternoon staple. It was the one cartoon I loved more than G-Force, on Battle Of The Planets. One day, Gerry himself would tell me, some professionals want to deny it, but there is an absurd element necessarily present in these adventure comics. That's why he loved Spider-Man's snarky humor, and created Firestorm to capture, in a new character, the spirit of what he enjoyed most in Spidey's classic days. After all...after two science fiction novels and an apprenticeship briefly writing whatever Marvel titles Roy Thomas couldn't catch, Mr. Conway, age nineteen, succeeded Stan Lee as the second long-term scribe on the flagship magazine, The Amazing Spider-Man.

I guess, with Gwen Stacy's peril not even a year in the rear view mirror, there was quite a bit of concern about May getting into a deadly crossfire, with Hammerhead and his gang hot for Ock's secrets. (I don't mean wedding night gossip- obviously, the bad Doctor had an angle in marrying this "geriatric dame." Yeah, this was when the idea of elderly women was fifty years behind what you see in movies today.) Aunt May and Ock harkened back to a very good story around issue #54, where Peter discovered Doctor Octopus hiding out by her leave in their kitchen- and then, go back to Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 for May's impression of Otto Octavius as a gentleman. Holy instant Stockholm Syndrome! What I didn't realize for a long time is how very lonely May would be, after years with Ben Parker. Loneliness does open people to situations they take with blinders on, because they want the loneliness to end.

Spider-Man fought Doctor Octopus, both gangs, and they, each other- a calamitous visual feast by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, if memory serves, (It doesn't- Franck Giacoia inked it, with Dave Hunt inking the backgrounds.) there was no fault whatsoever from the action angle. So very exciting, I took it around a bit too much, and doubt it survived intact into 1979. I don't think I had much of it left by the time we got more, a year later- one for my sister, Debra, and one for me. Luckily, both Spider-Man!

I loved my Aunt Linda, as favorite an adult as Mom and Dad at that point. I remember telling her around this time, I'd like to build a log cabin, where she could live with me and cook me pancakes.

You would fight to save your Aunt!

Spider-Man even flies a jet, somehow. It made him seem so very awesome!

So, for its purpose at the time? Right on the money, for its twenty cents. Too bad, the next month, they'd go up twenty-five percent!!!

Oh, did I say Twenty cents instead of thirty five? Here's inflation: Marvel Tales, throughout the decade, reprinted stories published in Amazing Spider-Man, four years earlier. In five years, the price of a comic on the newsstand or spinner rack or magazine rack, doubled. No wonder creators thought they might be out of a job the next year, nearly each year!

But that issue of Marvel Tales, my first, was originally Amazing Spider-Man #131. It was published the first week in January- apparently, the day before I was born, in 1974.

I don't know what that means, just that it filled me with awe when I figured that out, in those dig-around days before the Internet.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Circus of Lost Souls: the Incredible Hulk teaches me Romanticism

I only had a single issue of Hulk - #217- for a long while. "The Circus Of Lost Souls" was similar in theme to the epic where he finally loses Jarella- an echo, through a one-shot character. I came into the Jarella stories later. Jarella's passing and the epilogue with the Defenders are just heartfelt enough to move you beyond the usual Triumph and Tragedy in the Marvel Manner. I wrote that Marvel marketing cliche before seeing the cover again, editing- it left a strong impression, as slogans are meant to do!

Welcome back to the legendary twilight land of the Bronze Age, a.k.a. the affordable old comics, growing up. This one ran my folks no more than cover price- they may've cut a deal for the three dozen they picked off the racks at D & L Salvage Supply, for my single most memorable Christmas present, in 1981.

We get to know Rex, Stilts, Blossom, and the Major a little by the fire. There's many ways the Hulk finds happiness for a time, and he enjoys their companionship. After facing Bi-Beast and falling to Earth, Bruce is back in the middle-of-nowhere, when he finds our freak contingent. My sympathies, and Hulk's, were drawn effortlessly to the fragile Miriam. Hulk and the gang stick it to the Circus of Crime, before the melancholic ending. Marvels loved ending on either a cliffhanger or a real bummer. They fed my budding maturity in a way cartoons of the time couldn't.

As for "Souls,"even then, I knew it was an inconsequential story. The Hulk had the Circus outclassed, so I was aware that was less thrilling, through no fault of the artists. I was maybe a bit disappointed not to meet some new colorful costume menace with a track record. That only mattered because I still had very few comics, and I kept getting The Gibbon, the downtime Mad Bomb issue of Cap, the wedding of Doc Ock and Aunt May, the feel me? The one issue of Hulk my sister chose had Bruce strung up on a big cross in mid-transformation the entire issue while the villain ranted! (Maybe more fun if you had track of the secret oves of They, mostly years before, but other than the cool chess board of characters...geez!)
Where was the really really good stuff?

But the art has some subtle surface textures, and it's well-depicted by Ernie Chan. I think this is the sort of story Len Wein did very well.

What was a four-color story that particularly moved you as a child?

NEXT: Discovering the original Deathlok!!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

More Marvel Team-Up dreams- without Spider-Man!

Imagine if Marvel Team-Up could’ve been more experimental and not had to rely on their mascot Spider-Man nearly every issue: more stuff like this cool Deathlok/ Devil-Slayer story I’m about to read, in the last issue of Marvel Spotlight.

One imagines a decent tale, for every era of the title, without Spidey, easily, at least, potentially- so, it’s too bad they were locked into that mold, and make their black and white magazines print better. Granted, they didn't want to break an unbroken thing, trying to fix it.

1972 team-up? Ah, Black Widow and Iron Man, by Gene Colan
Luke Cage and Iron Man, by Billy Graham and Ron Wilson.

’73? Conan the Barbarian and Dr. Strange.
The Cat and Shanna the She-Devil, guest-starring Night Nurse.
’74 The Vision and the Scarlet Witch versus Dracula!
I thought of lots of interesting things about Dracula and Vision, but then I got one helluva Hex Wanda could throw that seemingly cures Dracula. I'll say no more.

’75 The Black Panther and Iron Fist. Or: Ghost Rider and Satanna.
’76 Shang-Chi and Captain America (Capt. America / Iron Fist was an awesome suggestion with good notes by Alan Barberi- yes, Byrne and K'un L'un and the Living Legend needed space to thunder!) (Yes, Byrne and Team-Up Anything, like Brian Talley said.)

’77 Warlock and Howard The Duck Steve Gerber and Jim Starlin's 2nd collab. Or maybe bring back Val Mayerick?

(If Jack Kirby couldn't be sweet-talked into teaming up Thor with Machine Man...yeah, can't imagine..)
(If Jack Kirby can’t be sweet-talked into teaming Mighty Thor w/ Machine Man..) I don't have much better ideas of what to do with anything fresh in '78 than Marvel did.

’79 The Incredible Hulk and Star God
Just take Spidey out of one chapter of that Black Widow four-parter so another co-star, like Shang-Chi, could interact with her. Their backgrounds would’ve made a compelling match-up. That might’ve made a very cool ‘downtime’ epilogue?
’80 Moon Knight and the X-Men a Hellfire Club tie-in with Claremont/Byrne/ Austin.
’81 Daredevil and Dazzler by Frank Miller

(I love it that Devil Slayer was in my first MTU – one of the first three comics I ever bought with my very own change- but I know I had to have it because Spider-Man. That was late the summer of 1981.)

Imagine if one of those Stern/ Miller Doctor Strange strips we were teased got finished and published in humble Marvel Team Up?

1982 Paul Smith draws Kitty Pryde teaming up with Power Man and Iron Smith, with Jo Duffy writing.

1983 would've been a great time to spotlight G.I. Joe with X-Men.

1984 would've been an awesome year to team up Captain America with one of the Further Adventures of Indiana Jones. At this stage, a cover with Magneto and The Submariner would've had a different context, given where those characters were that year.

Or maybe, to be story-driven, imagine
a 1974 Rick Jones Rock Tour
, taking him and Captain Marvel to the 'round the way heroes of the era, like:

St. Louis - Daimon Hellstrom
Detroit- Iron Man
Atlanta- Man-Thing, during his brief rampages there.
Austin- Ghost Rider
Los Angeles- Werewolf By Night
Jersey City- Namor

maybe culminating in NYC with a Hulk and Captain America teaming.

Comment! Comment! Go for it.

The Joker (movie): popcorn and proletarians, from two corny contrarians

The Joker review: of popcorn and proletarians, from two corny contrarians

Johann Balasuriya: I do not understand why people say this is a violent movie that promotes gun violence. I mean, I have watched Arnold Schwarzenegger comedies with more violence than The Joker. Although, it goes without saying, the Joker is less tragic than “Hercules goes Bananas” (A.K.A. Hercules in New York) or some other DC movies.

The Joker is the story of Arthur Fleck, an average Joe, chilling in his life, doing the best he can to bring joy and happiness to the world. He's also dealing with a condition that makes him suddenly break out in unaccountable and uncontrollable laughter. Surrounded by mentally ill people, bullies, and manipulators, he does what he can to take care of his Mother, in a world where there is great wealth inequality.

C Lue: The insidious slope canters, under his unearned trust, and faith in the everyone who Society says we should reasonably rely upon.

Johann: He takes wonderful care of his ailing Mother while honouring her wishes and having unhealthy fantasies about a neighbour lady, while making inroads into the career of his dreams and due to his condition failing miserably.
Meanwhile, the system lets him down. Due to cut-backs, he has to confront the fact that the elites really don’t care about the wellness of the little man.
C Lue: But his luck is, in a way, the worst imaginable, on his way to becoming a harbinger of ill fortune.
The humanity of The Joker, is the way we're challenged to ask ourselves: where is our empathy? What is the difference we could make towards the real pain of those downtrodden in life? It's the eventual failure of the Joker's ability to care that switches him from desperate good guy to a darker-than-Dark Knight.

His ability to inspire others to give up on their humanity, too, is, I think, his most deranged and consequential power. The final execution lies not with the Joker- his existence is expressly delusional- but the choice, in the end, of the Joe chillin’ on the street.
The danger some fear in this movie is an inspiration to those in pain to take their own dark powers, by force. But the most earnest danger, my friends, is that we play any of the unkind roles. It's a thousand little cuts. The danger some fear is feeling powerless before an individual carelessly dealing death, dehumanizing all involved in an instant way that, in a decent society, would be unthinkable. It's like a four-color version of Taxi Driver. Scorcese might not call this cinema, but it's gangster af.

Johann: The film craftsmanship that supports the world built by Joaquin Phoenix's acting does not let us down. A technical run-down by those more expert than I will be illuminating, though the story wins me over to find no fault with the filmmaking.

C Lue: It's the superhero movie done as a horror movie, but the probable scale of the events, however outlandish a spectacle, is chilling. It’s bleak, but I think it illuminates, rather than glorifies, nihilism. It stands with a strength of its own, but I think it could be a marvelous cornerstone for deeper storytelling, in the midst of enthralling comics-inspired spectacle, if this was the Joker character, going forward. (But is that desirable for Phoenix?)
If superhero tradition were about restoring the status quo from fantastic threats, The Joker cinematically kicks open uncomfortable questions. Fittingly, I find many of the same real life problems in the original, earliest, unique Superman comics.

The Joker has a well-told, plausible formula for what makes the Joker character, but in detailing its theme, it's quietly pleading with your conscience to defuse the explosive human.

The Joker suggests, in garish fashion, an indicting line of causality, without really justifying anyone's wrongdoing. We have a morality play, a grown-up's fable, that asks us to honestly take vigilance of where our society of fractured communities and broken individuals is brewing its own indiscriminate punishment. If, in the end, you find fault with its plausibility, well...the Joker habitually fabricates a past of lies.

Johann: I’ve woven most of my commentary into a longer plot synopsis, but to stay spoiler-light, I’ll come back to that, down the road.

Two points:
First, I was highly amused that the Waynes had taken their son to watch “Zorro the Gay Blade” I mean of course this is the Jokers story so obviously, as to the Joker, all shots are cheap, they would take a semantic dig at Batman's origins 'being Gay .' But Zorro the Gay Blade is a comedy about the serious, Macho Zorro being injured (he took over from his Father as Zorro) and passing the mantle temporarly (with some reluctance) to his openly homosexual brother-- who wears outfits of more flamboyant colours than the drab black camouflage the old Zorros used to wear.
C. Lue: So it's a sly thematic nod to the' In' the Batman's story has now given us a star turn examining Joker.

Johann: Second: The comedian/ actor Marc Maron plays a character that is the assistant to the Talkshow host in the penultimate part of the movie. I thought that was very interesting for a few reasons. Marc Maron started his career off as a ventriloquist, but did not make it. Also if watched the three season web bio series titled “Maron,” you come to the realization that had Marc not had friends, occasional female companionship, and his career not taken off, he may have ended up similar to Arthur.

C Lue: Well, if anyone argues they saw a different film than I have, at this point, we know they probably did.

Friday, October 4, 2019

"Trapped In A World He Never Made!" - What did that ever mean?

A pal online pointed out this tagline, not only prominent on the covers of Howard The Duck (the overground/ underground comics phenom of its time, released late in 1975), but also, paraphrased and referenced and out-right quoted in other Marvel stories, captions, titles, and cover copy- like, Doctor Strange #2.

"Trapped In A World He Never Made."
I can't say for certain Steve Gerber came up with the idea to use this on the cover, though it was certainly his plan to do so. He had increasing editorial control of the newly-established, popular comic series, co-created with Val Mayerick. It just might've been a play on life in New York City then, a comment on earning a living and trying to stay sane in America, or maybe just, this is the challenge of publishing anything witty and original within the strictures of the mid-Seventies comics industry.
You could say the phrase was inspired by A.E. Housman's Last poems XII 'the laws of God, the laws of man'

"I, a stranger and afraid
in a World I never made."

I do have a friend to ask who was around and may know.

I got the impression they were riffing off Existentialism, which was making its way into hip American circles gradually after France was liberated.

That central conceit - Howard's ongoing plight, the story engine- feels like exactly where the Duck lines up with Joe Schmuck. Not one of these institutions to which the world seems beholden was established by me, when I was born here, and I didn't make the customs I find wherever I go.

He's as weird for being so anxiously self-aware in how he witnesses events, as he is for being a talking duck who gets around so ably, isn't he? So why then does he grow to care intensely about anything, amidst this chaos? He can't help butting into injustice, try as he might to start no crusades. He's compelled.

He's "trapped in a world he never made!"

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, 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'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!

Gave My Helmet to Rhodey: an Iron Man folk song

Gave my helmet to Rhodey With loose circuitry Said, “I can’t be Shellhead Would you do it, please?” He put on the armor, gave Magma wha...