Monday, September 18, 2017

DA-Koom! 5 minutes with She-Hulk: writer David Anthony Kraft

While we're rapping about deep identification with the characters one writes, DAK and I switch over to She-Hulk. He wrote the series, passed straight to him and Mike Vosburg after #1 with John Buscema and Stan Lee doing that one The Marvel Way. DAK's approach, since this wasn't a hero seen before- and to keep her from seeming overly much like something done before-was to instead emulate the world of the Marvel Age, as the stories that originate it appeared in their forms from 1962-1965, basically. If She-Hulk were made then, what might her arc be like? How would she then be an utterly modern woman, too, to create the vibrant contrast with her and Marvel's superheroes?

You can bet there's more to say, but here's a podblast w/ DA-Koom, enjoy your DAK-attack with the original She-Hulk series writer.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

X-Men 169: Introducing the Morlocks, the hidden street people by Chris Claremont, Paul Smith

Uncanny X-Men #165 was both the debut of artist Paul Smith on the title, and a psychologically-rich characterization story. Faced with their ghastly coming death as incubators for the Brood’s larvae, the X-Men realize it’s suicide or a horrid death of self, becoming Brood themselves. While trying to find some other way- at the very least, making their inevitable deaths count by eliminating Brood World- each of them turn to their humanity: religion, friendship, romantic love. How will they respond? How does one behave? They become so vivid as people, interacting. It’s a new era for depicting their personalities outside the pulse-pounding battlefield: still suspenseful stories, but now, who they will become as people, what their adversity reveals about each of them gains a new independence from the conventional wisdom that action requires a certain amount of space each issue. It’s an environment that brings greater dimension to their villains, too. Antagonists increasingly behave like supporting characters with story arcs their own. After great action artists in Byrne and Cockrum, a new level of nuance opens with pencils by Paul Smith- the right guy to introduce: The Morlocks!

Jason Powell in his exhaustive and engaging Claremont posts on the blog Remarkable by Geoff Klock, describes Paul Smith:
 With a line as smooth as Byrne’s but softer, as bold as Cockrum’s but possessing more dimensionality, he delivers the series into an entirely different artistic realm. Inspired by the quiet versatility of his new collaborator, Claremont takes the storytelling into new levels of psychological complexity, which seemingly draws less from the tradition of superhero comics and more from the darker and more nuanced independent comics of the day.

Their rich character development as ‘people’ sets a nifty contrast when meeting a new, mysterious group of characters that represent a profoundly alienated group, a concept as outsidery as the X-Men but without the posh mansion or Blackbird or fortune. The development of the X-Men – a group of friends who are also a quasi-family, moving towards more family-like status with things like Kurt’s flirtation with marriage-promises a rich roll-out of the Morlocks as more than shadowy villains. We’ve moved from a concept like Alpha Flight, introduced to be superhero antagonists with little investment in their personalities, to this four years later, where subtle hints of their hard-luck lives and misfortune-forged bond.

So here we go: Uncanny X-Men #169, introducing a new concept- sort of the X-books’ answer to the Fantastic Four’s discovery of the Inhumans (particularly in FF #45).

A move like this evokes the invention characteristic of the blooming Marvel Age; it’s very much in the spirit of Stan Lee’s interest in humanizing characters with thoughtful stories. The differences in the feudal Inhumans, complete with a royal family in superhero costumes, and this Claremont/ Smith innovation reflect a change of the times, a kind of post-punk take on the ‘hidden tribe’ blowing up the naturalistic depiction of gritty urban reality to science-fiction proportions.

The conflict- set up as a sort of genre-requirement- also reflects the outlaw alienation of the Morlocks. We first meet them as a mystery group of mutant-powerful subterranean invaders, breaking, entering, terrorizing. There’s no mutant more antithetical in lifestyle from what we’re about to discover of the Morlocks you could choose, than trust fund baby, glamor boy, winged superhero Warren Worthington III, aka the high-flying Angel. It’s such an intentional contrast, one cannot help reading statements about economic class into Claremont’s choice of kidnapping victim. Previous stories don’t seem to indicate a great love of The Angel on the writer’s part, but Warren’s also a convenient symbol of all the Morlocks cannot have, cannot be. He’s no aspirational figure, because the Morlocks feel, as a community, resigned to the shadows underneath the capital of the World. The single broadest stroke by which their identity is painted is their shared compassion for their exiled, freakish nature.
With that comes a bitterness equal to fueling their villainy- which is aspirational in the only way they know how: rip down someone epitomizing all to which they are forever barred, recast him in chains as consort to their cunning leader, Callisto. Make him an Angel cast from the heavens. In their anger and anguish and jealousy, there is no crime that can be committed against a man who has it all that is worse than the fate in which they’ve been dumped to squirm and survive.

Now, there are problematic undertones: in today’s terms, we’re on the verge of depicting disenfranchised terrorists. The Morlocks are a deviation of the culture from which they feel excised. They are not direct victims of ongoing aggression from the establishment, but rather, of neglect, and personal exclusion, bigotry. This does upend the X-Men’s role in the series as champion of the disenfranchised- a point more often than not lost to this juncture. They are typically portrayed as superheroes in the interest of all humanity, a sort of ambassador of the emergent genetically-redefined race. From the start, their role as superheroes- an undercurrent of all superheroes- makes them protectors of the status quo. They are also protectors of mutants facing discrimination and fear, as per their mission to explore new mutant appearances via Cerebro. That story engine’s largely been abandoned at this point.

AT any rate, what do you do when those you wish to protect, those with whom you would be conciliatory, engage in violent anarchy? It’s hard to champion those who kidnap and terrorize your friends- but that’s how they’ll meet the Morlocks.


We open with Warren’s’ girlfriend Candy Southern, a nice, even brave person, returning home in a life of privilege. By the simple expediency of the very tall wall framing Candy, Smith tells us the penthouse is enormous. The scattered feathers- addressed with nervous humor in “Lover, are you molting?”- kick off the threat, the defilement- taut suspense comes immediately. She calls Xavier, a humanitarian who lives in a mansion, for help- with an automated phone system that also reflects, in 1983, status. The massive figure, who introduces himself menacingly as Sunder, looms over her, like any home intruder, promising unequivocally: “I am here to hurt you.”

Candy no doubt hoped to come home to a scene not unlike the one shared next by Kurt Wagner and Amanda Sefton. They flirt in a bubble bath, teasing an openness about marriage. His blue skin and outre yet handsome appearance represents an idyllic acceptance- happiness for someone marked by his very looks as a mutant. Danger separates them now, too- for Kurt is an X-Man. When it comes to hurrying to the aid of one of their own- as conveyed by Professor X’s telepathic communication-Kurt doesn’t even stop for clothes. Nakedness-not just bikinis on females-begins becoming a X-Men specialty, a covertly salacious means of conveying more mature themes. We see a lot more nude X-Men, only recently including male teammates.

Demonstrating his ability to cling to surfaces and most importantly, to teleport, Nightcrawler’s rescue of the waning Worthington in Sunder’s arms departing the subway halts. Candy’s sent smashing out a window to fall to her doom, save for his power. With his skill, he is fortunately within the couple miles’ proximity limit of his ability to move through extra-dimensional limbo and reappear somewhere else he can clearly visualize with a “bamf!” We get a hilarious, unceremonious dumping of Candy into Amanda’s bath, with further titillation in the form of his still-nude protesting girlfriend. They know the way to their adolescent fans’ hearts. Don’t kid yourself, it was never just the specter of Death alone that sold X-Men like nothing else. What’s better, too, than having powers and a girlfriend than to interact with both, nude? What liberation, right, in using reality-defying powers, also while unclothed?
It’s fair to say, a physical, warm relationship with an attractive person (to say nothing of the taboo where Kurt and Amanda were raised together, unaddressed here) represents as a vital an adolescent yearning as the more juvenile power fantasy.

Every serial needs a suffusion of new characters, along with a continuing development of interesting ongoing ones-we’ll get to the latter point shortly. Introductions, when I first chose a theme for this discussion, stuck out as a good one, with the care and flaws implicit in introducing the Morlocks. For one, unless you have a one-off of deep reverberating effect on the lead character, why not introduce concepts and characters that can flourish in future interactions- with your title character (s), in this case with the shared universe? Editorially: who fits what story, how do you cast them, what pieces of information do you wish to share in framing your concept, and how patient are you and how much space do you have for subtle tease-outs exploring both the concept and characters?

Claremont, of all Marvel writers, doubling down on a plotting style like Wein’s Spider-Man webs in the 1970s, loves introducing new concepts, nearly with a Kirby-esque lack of regard for the space he’ll need to develop them all. He’s already busy developing story lines for previous antagonists, now seen as quasi-supporting characters. As Powell cleanly noted, they’re all dealing with the fall out from epics past: Mystique & the Brotherhood (Days of Future Past), and the Hellfire Club (Phoenix Saga), the latter of which we encounter in their own sympathetic scene. The captions, and the silhouetted Sebastian Shaw appearing twice, make no mistake of his level of menace-how the Hellfire Club is a mutant-infiltrated opposite to the Morlocks. They seem haunted by madness within their own catacombs (also a metaphor for hidden conflict as well as the past). I don’t recall who was behind laying White Queen low, comatose as she lies beneath Tessa’ ministrations. Shaw’s musings provide a false foreshadowing, as does the look at Mystique coming soon, to increase parallels of the suggestion that Madelayne Prior will turn out to be the returned Dark Phoenix. Perhaps it’s a consciousness about space, rather than a lack of ideas, that will precipitate the X-Men’s brush-off of their alienated counterparts. It’s unfortunate that these are also unglamorous characters that echo some real life awkwardness, for anyone who’s opened their eyes in most urban American settings. In this case, their limited contact will yield disastrous consequences when the Marauders come calling around #210.

How do you set loose the X-Men on a quest for justice-when you know their foes will turn out to live not just on, but under, the streets- and not have them ideologically align with, say, the Los Angeles Police Department of that era? (You know, too, some of your readership wouldn’t have a problem with that- they like superheroes because they are extra-legal agents of law and order.) You have to make it personal; first things first, they gather in a living room to prepare their search for their helpless, endangered friend. He’s very fortunate, indeed, he has powerful, courageous friends. The fact that he is a mutant- and that’s why they’re friends-happens to be what marks him for kidnapping, adding a level to the exclusion-borne angst of Callisto and her followers.

We get a neatly layered reference, the sort Claremont did so well, where Amanda offers to guard Candy and watch after Lockheed- after all, her (sorcerer) mother taught her about caring for dragons. Every detail’s a potential story. Storm, Kitty and Kurt discuss Lockheed’s alien nature. It’s very relatable, comic relief: who is who’s pet? Appearances don’t tell the whole tale. The X-Men will have to leave their resources, their perch of privilege- the hand-held Cerebro’s only keyed to Angel, Xavier can’t penetrate the catacombs psionically, and he won’t loan them Wolfsbane – no New Mutants on missions. Descent, from penthouse to the catacombs- a clear psychological metaphor. From the point Nightcrawler exposed the cold..they’re coerced out of their safety, a plausible point of identification for most readers poised for vicarious excitement. The back cover advertises: Become a Jedi Master Without Ever Leaving Home. But in the Catacombs arena, for our mutants it’s no game!
For the second storyline in a row, the X-Men are essentially invaders, albeit provoked in both instances. In both cases, the setting introduced is integral to the concept. On the trail of the violent kidnappers, Claremont/Smith/Wiacek now introduce the Morlocks in earnest.

Strategic use of their home turf, and the mysteries of their powers, will give them an advantage. Nightcrawler recalls the token booth operator had taken sick, swarms of paramedics- “the opposition plays rough.” The rushing train, the smells: it’s antithetical to Storm, as concerned Colossus notes. Kitty’s phasing unveils a hidden door in the wall. We get Storm’s musings about life as an outcast, hints of her past-all throughout, the other X-Men will be concentrating on unraveling her thoughts, centralizing her. Kitty’s posture as she ponders Storm’s distant bitterness: introverted, sad. From the stairway’s high ground, a wave of menacing Morlocks rush down, testing the X-Men’s powers. And Kitty’s spying is betrayed to Callisto’s hyper senses- suddenly Plague’s left a touch of death, even through her intangible state. Concerned as ever for one another, as their skirmish concludes, the male X-men feel emotional distress at Storm’s careful leadership call- a revulsion she resents. Necessity’s busy pushing Ororo from serene goddess to hardened warrior, a knife’s edge removed from madness.

We discover Caliban- obscured at first, a recurrent mutant tracker introduced in #148-lives at some remove among the Morlocks. His desperation to help the ailing Kitty Pryde presents a step deeper into what will be a moral catacomb: Kitty will save herself and her friends through a Hobson’s Choice next issue, and it will embroil them all with the Morlocks again. Caliban, a decided contrast to regal Medusa, parallels the way we met one Inhuman before the rest- as an antagonist-before the rest.

Dwarfed beneath the surprisingly well-maintained tunnels-in real life, I believe they’re there to relieve flooding such as from Hurricane Sandy, beneath the subways- the three X-Men are blinded, spotlighted- then confronted with the sadistic sight of Angel, nearly naked and unconscious. Finally face-to-face, leader Callisto explains she’s chosen him, “the most beautiful Man in the world,” as her consort. Her turgid desire evokes more haunting memories from Ororo- of the time she was twelve, when a man’s advances caused her to become a runaway, an outcast, herself. Peter’s moral apprehension frames his character and invites us to further outrage in assessing these otherwise pitiable sub-city dwellers. Then she apparently begins trying to cripple his wings, as though for his own good!

This time, the nameless hordes somehow overwhelm both Kurt and Peter through sheer numbers, and some hinted hidden power leeching. Storm’s taken down with a simple slingshot and steel ball bearing, dangerous, efficient, in Callisto’s sure hands. From their darkness to Kitty’s queasy emergence from her sickened sleep, we see her deliriously confused that she’s safely at home. And if her would-be savior Caliban has anything to say about it...these catacombs will now, indeed- be home.

When Storm makes her breath-taking challenge for Morlock leadership next issue, the drama for her very soul will heighten. Moral compromise abounds, as I believe Claremont intended: he knows Rogue will come desperate and helpless to their door in #171. He does not intend for heroic choices, even right ones, to come easily. He will let the X-Men walk away from the needs of the Morlocks at their own peril. He seizes upon a sublimated fear of what we cannot do for those we might pity; only those with time and resources and will ever volunteer to make life better for real life street people. Even the sickness transferred by Plague’s touch strikes a nerve with prejudices and class distinctions, as if somehow the calamities that have befallen the less fortunate, or those they brought on themselves in addiction, might somehow infect one’s secure, healthy life.

The moral obligations don’t factor into this introduction in so large a way, but re-reading this and thinking on the social caste question- side-stepped initially by the nature of Marvel’s best-selling comic, which taught tolerance so many times in its adventures- I reflected on the hard reality on the sidewalks of my former big city life. I gave away, with my wife, over a thousand dollars on a big city street over the years: food, conversation, flowers. You rarely have the personal resources to address every single beggar. I assure you, even in temperate San Diego, it never gets easy to simply ignore the homeless, sleeping in the shadows of barely-filled condos, with needs overwhelming what any two working class people can do. It is human to shut the door to a one-room apartment, conflicted you can’t do more, grateful for what you have, hopeful you made any difference. It makes socialists or libertarians of us. Even a degree of desensitization cannot go ignored by any person of conscience.

Further, as several homeless people over time told me in our talks, the greatest threat, aside from being moved along by police, is that another street person will steal from you Why do the Morlocks work together? Even when, as Sunder states, it seems wrong to attack people you recognize as your own? They are bound by need as well as prejudice. They embody Stan Lee’s model of sympathetic villains to a T. A strip from their perspective might not have yielded action figures and lunch boxes and back packs, but even Marvel-style escapism would evolve past these halting steps.

Powell praises Smith’s psychological complexity and inventive sense of layouts; he considers his assignment to X-Men “serendipitous” to Claremont’s writing evolution prompted by his work with Miller on the Wolverine mini-series.

The two-parter inaugurated here has been convincingly deconstructed by Neil Shyminski in his essay “Mutant Readers, Reading Mutants: Appropriation, Assimilation, and the X-Men” for its dismally simplified identity politics, wherein, as Shyminski says, “[the Morlocks] are figured as villains as a direct result of their refusal to conform to non-mutant norms.”

Actually, in more prosaic plot-terms, they are figured as villains because inside of the first five pages they commit breaking & entering, kidnapping and attempted murder. But the point is well taken, nonetheless.
Once again, there’s a modern corollary in society that makes our choice of these comics relevant: one might interpret today’s mission by ICE agents as an effort to step amid the immigrant community to find the criminals within. One might find another between the sanctuary cities situation and the Morlocks. Depending on their leadership, what identity would these Morlock survivors choose: a haven for those who refuse to join a gang? A gang themselves? A force to stand against crime, themselves? What would happen to someone who wants to leave the Morlocks? They’re a durable story concept. It’s not enough that they be villains, nor victims.

I certainly wish we had more than five initial issues of Hero Duty, because early on I wanted at least one scene that mixes the legally-deputized superbeings (and one very controversial, satirical villain I created in an acrimonious moment of inspiration) with the troubles of policing in a community mixing some gang activity with illegal immigrants living beside legal ones. How does one address civil order and justice? My antagonist would, of course, go overboard taking the law into his own hands. Perhaps I can find the way to feed that modern difficulty deftly into my novel, The Butterfly. At any rate, I don’t doubt that if the Morlocks debuted today, they would be a home not only to dejected, angry outcasts. Their catacombs would be a haven to those otherwise hiding from the law, as almost certainly, criminals who found the Morlocks would’ve chosen a life with them as opposed to expatriate exile. It’s problematic territory, leaving the safety of fantasy to interact with harsh realities. Doesn’t your mind sparkle with the possibilities?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Original Creator's Intention: Podblast with comics' Ron Frenz

Ron discusses here how the storytelling elements that make comics great were mostly developed in the work of Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko, and how he works with the earliest versions of characters to tap into their essence.

Art from my earliest Ron Frenz comic, Marvel Team-Up #140, and a commission such as you'll find at

Monday, September 11, 2017

Intimate Knowledge: Alpha Flight 1983 Marvel (Tragedy in the Twin Towers)

Alpha Flight was, of course, the second spin-off from the best-selling Uncanny X-Men series at Marvel Comics Group. 1983 first brought The New Mutants, written by the Chris Claremont half of the classic X-Men team that took those characters to the top. A lot of attention went into making these titles unique from their parent series. New Mutants told stories of the new teen recruits, whose existence as a team grew organically out of an X-storyline: the Brood-possessed Professor Xavier would bring fresh blood to his academy, candidates for Brood egg-implantation. (Promise I’ll be back for New Mutants, especially for you fans of Legion X!)

New Mutants’ origin grew out of one of Marvel’s earliest graphic novels; distinct from the original team, yet costumed and trained similarly, they weren’t intended to be a combat unit. The emphasis on dealing with their powers and place in the world reminds me a lot of Hero Duty, this creator-owned property I’m writing with artist Joe Phillips for IDW Publishing. He specifically wants not to take cues from any previous series for its identity, but concepts- even with the twist of a city government-recruited volunteer group meant to serve temporarily, like jury duty-bear echoes of their predecessors. Dr. Smith and Will Robinson once went inside The Robot for repairs, but you wouldn’t mistake that for Neal Adams’ fantastic voyage into the android Vision with Ant-Man. That’s the difference between Irwin Allen’s tv show and a Marvel Comic crafted by ambitious young Roy and Neal. There’s room for Twilight Zone AND The Outer Limits. Unless you’re veering off into truly experimental mode like Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol or The Invisibles, just search your story’s mix of familiar elements and highlight the chemistry unique to its interpretation, in fresh language and characters that ring true. A flip through the art can grab a new reader; a compelling mix of characters’ stories can make a talked-about fan favorite read and re-read dozens of times. Heroes have been assembling since Homer’s Illiad.

Like in that classical Greek epic, the blend of Canadian traits and differing personalities in Alpha Flight also present an heroic assemblage for the honor of a county. It’s a well-known true life origin: the Alphans first appeared in X-Men #120 created as sparring partners with the mighty mutants over the fate of expatriate Wolverine. Like Alpha Flight, Phillips’ original idea for Hero Duty was to create the volunteers as cyphers that illustrate a distinct concept (and both are government-founded by a reluctant leader), though I stress Joe never mentioned Alpha or any other comic as a guiding light, and my dissection of story-telling principles in Creating Marvels simply recognizes general patterns.
Canada itself is a great inspiration to each original member’s powers and personal background. Readers instantly recognized them as a cool mix of abilities and a distinct visual presence. I always found their color scheme a different response to many fundamental approaches of the proliferation of characters to this point. When demand for their own series built over the next few years, only creator John Byrne had the answer. Yet, he confesses he had no idea what to do with them. I wonder if the announcement that Claremont was striking out with a second team of mutants did anything to stir him to push his new team out onto their alpha flight. We’re nations apart from the ‘training teens but not to be super-heroes’ approach over in New Mutants. With his run of Fantastic Four now securely moving along, it’s possible he simply had time, ideas, and a decent-enough royalties agreement. With Denny O’Neil editing, Alpha Flight #1, cover date August, 1983.

Perhaps another spur to the series’ creation was the handling of various team members in guest shots after their second appearance in X-Men #142 & 143. Sometimes you see what you don’t intend, spelled out, and grasp the proper reply. Those rough drafts, like Machine Man #18, get a very thoughtful response. Structurally, Byrne tries something that not only helps build the characters to last, but tells their first year in a way like nothing before in mainstream comics. After reliving it with a creator’s analysis, I would love for John Byrne to tell me how much of his doomed themes was a personal statement about the trials of working with people, and how much was a dramatist’s calculation to produce well-illustrated popular art through the Alphans’ suffering.

For issue one, the entire team’s called together for one of few full-unit field missions, to deal with one of the Great Beasts, related to Snowbird’s (and as we’ll chillingly see, Sasquatch’s) origins. It’s established soon that the Alphans don’t live together at a headquarters like most teams; in fact, their government funding’s cut, so they will only assemble on whole in times of great threat. This means they won’t be training to work together. They resemble another concept: the non-team, an idea sometimes successfully applied to The Defenders. Their relationships, however, bond various members closely- or not, in the case of mysterious newly-promoted Marrina. What they don’t know about one another- and themselves- becomes a fount of Drama.
From the start, danger comes from within: Snowbird’s tormented father, Richard Easton, calls forth the Great Beast, Tundra. The Great Beasts are part of the magical fount that provides powers to so much of the team. I also like how the one member who’d be nearly useless against a Great Beast on the scale of Tundra, Eugene Milton Judd, a.k.a. Puck, arrives at the end. Yet, he also nails down the identity of the team for which he’s trained to join: name change? No way! Government or no, “Alpha Flight’s the team I busted my buns to join!”
While Marrina’s the youngest at nineteen, presented as still a naive country girl (albeit, she discovers, from space), the relationships are between adults, half of whom are practically middle-aged! Each has their own life, and all have a fairly fine degree control over their abilities. What’s different is they are still inexperienced working alongside one another- not just unfamiliarity with abilities, but more crucially, only in the field do they, time and again, uncover weaknesses, abrasiveness, even madness, within each other’s personalities. Threat after threat arises, throughout Byrne’s 28 issues, from vulnerabilities and animosities of team members.
Perhaps it was ever meant to be thus. At the risk of Flanderization- that venerable trope where an early distinguishing characteristic forever more defines the handling of a character-from the original appearance of James McDonald Hudson as Weapon Alpha in X-Men #109, Alphans were set against their own heroic kind. Weapon Alpha blows a mission to bring back Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine, as a Canadian special services agent, and in the process, nearly accidentally kills Storm, too! The storm manipulated by Dr. Michael Twoyoungmen as the Sarcee Shaman threatens to annihilate Calgary in the first showdown of the two teams in X-Men #121. The second issue of Alpha Flight nearly features Puck’s demise, when a training get-together ends in the triggering of Marrina’s hitherto unknown Plodex heritage, manipulated by The Master. In the process of the follow-up rescue mystery, mutant Jeane-Marie Beaubier, Aurora, panics and slips into her subliminated second personality brought out by torturing nuns after her mutant powers first appeared. Her twin brother Jean-Paul’s lifelong ignorance of Aurora’s existence and chauvinistic attitudes produce an Achille’s Heel that breaks up their partnership in #8, depriving them of a valuable incandescence power, too, generated only by their hands joining. Snowbird’s life force, bound in her birth to Canada, as depicted in Alpha Flight’s origins back-up, shrivels up in the middle of the fight of their lives in #12. Shaman’s daughter Talisman discovers the tiara he produces in conjunction with her implicit powers cannot be removed, and she thereafter rebuffs a man she already blamed for not saving her mother. What becomes of Walter Langkowski, Sasquatch, as the true nature of his powers becomes apparent will be the last blow Byrne deals the team, with, initially, his shocking death in #23.

As the back-up origin stories had carefully uncovered at five to seven pages nearly each month, Hudson was the closest thing to a man with the answers. The Alpha Flight story binds a year of mostly solo adventures that give Byrne room to spotlight powers and personalities, none of which are more straight-forward than leader Guardian. He doles out what he knows of each member to the others-often regrettably too late to avoid dangers. Hudson’s story is also Alpha’s origin, in #2 & 3- not superhero battles, but character development, the focus of Year One. He’s dedicated to science first, then to his helpmate, Heather. His college loans cover him as a retro-active Canadian employee; James assumes the duty of founding the program, then sees the emergence of the Fantastic Four as inspiration. If the most respected scientist in the world becomes leader of a band of adventurers, maybe that approach can shape Hudson and company too!

Each origin’s tied to others as Hudson finds his recruits, starting with a Logan cameo. Marrina’s origin folds into the actual adventure in #2, unveiled in layers during her captivity by The Master. The Invisible Woman and Prince Namor team up to answer a call crossing over in FF #257 and essentially save AF’s hash in the cataclysmic #4. The Shaman origin in #5 leads out of his medical treatment of Puck at the start of Puck’s solo in #5; part two becomes the birth of Snowbird, born of Hodiak and Nelvanna- star of the experimental “snowblind” #6- which also returns Kolomaq from perennial nemeses The Great Beasts. Heather figures into the Shaman origin as baby-sitter to little Talisman and family friend to the Twoyoungments. The twins become main feature and origin back-up stars next, complete with a past and friends. Next we get Sasquatch in a two parter that seems to guest star The Thing (with a plot that nods to the sci fi suspense movie of that name). He ends up in a revealing battle with Super Skrull, whose story continues from John’s stint years before on Marvel Team-Up.
“The Beast Unleashed” in #11 also underscores Langkowski’s friendship in college with Bruce Banner, ties Snowbird into his salvation after the initial transformation, and foreshadows ominously troubles to come. All along, we’re led to their common thread in Guardian, the likeable maverick scientist, shown putting together and working with Alphans, their differing personalities contrasting beside James, grounded by his relationship with his feisty wife.
In a very layered presentation, subplots link independent adventures. We get a mix of two or three Alphans every issue, original enemies in Deadly Earnest and Nemesis, and yes, the emergence of Omega Flight. From issue two’s opening training session in the Alberta wilds, a very real danger from one teammate to another’s present, as Northstar and Aurora’s attack cripples Hudson’s forcefield, and the throw from Sasquatch comes close to totaling their leader! Like Omega Flight, Marrina’s explained to have been the very first Gamma Flight recruit, promoted to Beta in months-and this explanation comes only moments after she’s nearly disemboweled fellow Betan Puck and escaped! The others demand any explanation; how, Walt of all people asks, could such behavior slip past psychological testing? Hudson’s destined to be endangered from the start by the programs, the suit, the friendships he’s forged. He gets a big job offer that will finally land him in New York City. But like the polar space ship headquarters of The Master in #4, beneath appearances, our heroes discover ever-deeper levels full of menace. Like that ship, their paths shift and grow organically, changing subtly in ways that leave them lost. Intimate knowledge backfires: when Walt tries to approach Jeannne-Marie gently and tells her of his romantic relationship with her as Aurora, she’s repulsed. After all, the personality within hates the person she is as a superheroine- hates her disregard of inhibition and cold discretion.
An enemy lurks within.

The offer to unemployed James Hudson looks like an opening to new intrigues and opportunities. It looks like the entire series is about to shift. For a team leader, he’s still somewhat a rookie superhero, starry-eyed at whom he’ll meet. Cap’s one-time artist adds one very nice touch when Steve Rogers and Bernie pass Hudson outside Steve’s apartment. He gets a sense of Hudson as “a man used to wielding power”-all the while, James daydreams of the heroes he’ll help, the excitement that’s changed his mind entirely about this superhero business. Love the moment- if Captain America could’ve known...alas, the two countries’ flag-wearing icons pass in civilian guise...more red herrings, memorably done differently. Once inside, the sinister maze shifts.

Moving Day: we get a cool glimpse back at their years together in sleepy Ottawa. She’s leaving behind their VW, hearing echoes of their voices from the Logan days, even her request they have no children. The word was out: that sales ingredient, Tragedy, closes Year One’s story. Depending on your sense of impending ironies, the offer from Roxxon- an industrial power known to regular Marvelites to engage in villainous power plays- either telegraphs his doom, or sets up shock surprise: surely, so much potential won’t be flushed away!

The theme’s well-established by now, but the most telling cut began with the origin of Guardian- Hudson’s eventually identity, by #2-and the man who cultivated his construction of the prototype exploratory suit for Am-Can, Jerry Jaxon, ruined by Hudson’s refusal to hand over the helmet design to the American military, secret sponsors of his four-year development of the cybernetic armor. Jaxon will manipulate the training program Beta Flight to become arch-rivals to Alpha, particularly for vengeance on Hudson. (Their motivation’s the story’s weakest point; that’s why Byrne reveals Courtney’s thoughts about her“Influencer” tech-another threat from within.) Jaxon uses a business card dropped deliberately by Delphine, then intimate knowledge-the helmet’s frequency- to lure Hudson to the World Trade Center. Marrina’s away being wooed by the Submariner; one match after another crosses over in chaos, taken one attack at a time by Byrne. Already divided by Northstar’s fight with Sasquatch over Aurora, the Alphans answer Mac’s call and teleport there to confront Omega Flight.

That Pyrrhic victory introduced me to Alpha Flight. I never forgot it. Sexually tantalizing Aurora, physically imposing Sasquatch, insightful Puck, subtle and dangerous Shaman-in a single episode, I became intrigued. In an exceedingly rare comics shop visit, the first dollar I spent on an actual comic book in Gordon Lee’s Amazing World of Fantasy, brought me the shocking double-sized conclusion.

The battle itself’s awesome- confined to a huge room, their powers clash dangerously. Aurora’s vulnerability after Wild Child’s attack leads to intended lethal force from Northstar. Smart Alec grabs the Shaman’s bag, peers within, and loses his mind; once again, someone’s destroyed by mysteries that lie within the source of an Alphan’s great power. Snowbird crumbles from the start, her life force severed from her homeland. Why? Her life from birth was bound to the land of Canada, by the man who delivered her, Shaman-to come to New York City is an isolation inviting death! A future version of Flashback’s killed in the melee, meaning his own demise awaits in a terrible moment that could arrive any moment.
Insinuated between arguing Northstar and Aurora, Sasquatch already went berserk; now he holds back against Box, setting up the critical moment where Box is free to isolate Guardian with a tackle that crashes through an empty shaft. Box: the remote-controlled robot Bochs credits to Hudson, who turned it “from a toy into a superhero!” The power made greater by Hudson now shorts his force field, smashes his suit to bits.

Box has the ultimate surprise- he’s not Robert Bochs, Jim’s personal recruit: he’s Jaxon. Once again, a mystery within a power fells another member of the program. Head to head, the leaders, the old friends, battle to the death. Heather’s entangled one last time in their machinations. Themes continue their haunting echoes.

Brutally beaten by Jaxon-controlling-Box, James shorts out the robot (killing Jaxon), then hurries to fix his damaged power supply, primed like a bomb now. A complication within the source of power itself- wrapped inside the symbol of his reluctant choice to play the leader the hero: the power pack is the source of doom. (Did some cheeky soul agree to run that silhouette advertisement on the letters page following, for Power Pack?)

Held hostage by Courtney-revealed as an android-Heather McNeil Hudson finds an opening left to freedom. The woman who discovered Logan berserk after his escape from Program: Weapon X, the awe-struck admirer who opened the door of the Prime Minister’s office to Hudson’s freedom after stealing back his suit- opens another door. She interrupts Mac in the countdown of frantically-depicted seconds as he frantically repairs his volatile suit. Before her very eyes, her husband’s incinerated.

A door opens. A door shuts forever.
Just like that...Jimmy Hudson’s gone.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Marvel 1982: Fantastic Four Integr8d Soul: the shared universe

Integr8d Soul: The Shared Marvel Universe, as seen in

FANTASTIC FOUR #232, 241 & 242

The interweaving of the fictional world depicted by Marvel Comics Group was always, when observed, a strong suit, and things at the turn of 1982 reflected wonderful integration! I happened to be writing up the guest appearances in Fantastic Four #241 and 242 about the time I kicked back with a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #229 to analyze the Stern/ Romita, Jr. run. Spider-Man’s desperately brainstorming with Madame Web, the imperiled psychic, for help protecting her from the Juggernaut. The footnote, as her efforts fail, refer us to Fantastic Four #241 and Avengers #219. Very cool! I’d covered the Avengers some years back, battling renegade Moondragon on a planet she’s taken over in collective style like Unity on Rick & Morty. The Fantastic Four happen to be exploring an anachronistic colony pervaded by an alien power in Wakanda alongside King T’Challa, the Black Panther. By the next issue of Fantastic Four, the meta-story goes one better: Spider-Man’s one of many superheroes responding to the invasion of Terrax the Untamed, as he rips Manhattan itself into the sky! So how great is that: our story tells us when the community of superheroes are absent, when they are trying to help!

FF #241 and 242 represent two different kinds of guest appearances I want to discuss. One features Black Panther as guest star, and expands the fictional world inside his kingdom, however briefly, another of the Twilight Zone/ Outer Limits- style tales Byrne favors so often in the first year he writes Fantastic Four. #242 falls into a category more closely represented by his first effort on the title, #232. What John does there is something seen often in the third year or so of Marvel, after the Marvel Age began with Fantastic Four #1 and continuing from FF #12 and Amazing Spider-Man #1: the heroes, and villains, even supporting characters, interact with one another across titles, giving the effect of a textured meta-story incorporating all Marvel’s titles in a time line and a shared setting. More specifically, we get unannounced appearances where characters play minor roles in one anothers’ stories. Diablo- a refugee from Marvel in the Silver Age if ever there was one, a villain Stan Lee himself found a bit of a misfire-sends his elemental proxies in a coordinated assault against the quartet. Given his mystical, rather than scientific, source of abilities, it’s a cinch that Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, would pinpoint his location. His intervention provides a surprise ending to the story- perhaps, after all that action, it’s anticlimactic. It’s an imminently logical solution, however, for Reed to contact an expert at detecting a practitioner of those magical abilities. The FF won’t face a lot of mystically-based enemies during Byrne’s tenure, but it’s both a great call-back to Doc’s early aid to the Four in stories during their third year and a cool example of how sometimes, these heroes ARE around to help each other with problems outside their usual wheelhouse. It’s too bad for Spider-Man that trick didn’t work against the Juggernaut, before Madame Web was ripped from her life support/ communications “web” chair, but at least he took the clue “Cytorrak” she gave him and followed up! “This trick never works!” he fumes there to Wong, comically.
Now what’s so interesting about #242 to me is how other heroes are depicted dealing with the fall-out of Terrax’s attack. To have Thor and Iron Man themselves on clean-up duty underscores the level of threat the FF faces. They’re both roused from their civilian identities, in which they’re depicted, and happen upon one another to work together to save lives. Their relative power levels are obviously of interest to Byrne, too, which is why Iron Man’s saving stranded cars while Thor’s using his mighty storm powers to deal with the crashing waters in the wake of the physically-displaced city borough. It’s such an eminent danger, they haven’t even been contacted directly by the Four! That’s what makes it different. When Daredevil is depicted assessing the danger, Byrne’s filling his story with Marvel New York- and it’s right in tune with something we saw so much in the mid-60’s and not so much since. There’s great care taken to depict many city blocks at a time, subway tunnels, the harbor- it’s catastrophe and danger on a New York City-wide level, against a foe who can readily punch The Thing himself straight through several apartment building floors.

But what I like best: Peter Parker’s shown hanging out with Aunt May, building snow men for the holidays much like Reed and Sue wrap up their Christmas celebration, with Reed’s hilariously practical mechanical tree folding niftily in place. (Why that bothers Sue? I guess it’s meant to be funny while contrasting their approaches to such traditions as Christmas trees.)
AS though we’re in an issue of Spider-Man, he can’t go investigate the sense-tingling problem until he’s slipped away without alarming May. The scale of the problem, however, excludes his inclusion- at least, without direct help from the Four. It’s both an argument for closer collusion between heroes (it’s unclear what he could’ve done, but at least he cares) and an example of how, without a coincidence to put them on the scene together, street-level heroes, especially loners, as they usually are, operate on a different scale. He very nearly dies trying to catch the runaway borough! All he could think of was helping. The Galactus-level of trouble, however, takes the matter out of his hands, despite his best efforts.

In both #241 and 242, there’s trouble in the neighborhood in question that brings out the local superheroes. Black Panther runs into a level of difficulty and science fiction-style bizarreness that invites a larger team-up. He just might’ve been able to handle it- and while Jungle Action took things down to a more personal level of tribal intrigue, from his first appearance, Lee and Kirby clearly intended Wakanda to be a jungle locale that blended in high technology. In fact, S.H.I.E.L.D. contacts the Four and brings them together with king Panther- another guest appearance, mixing up Marvel!

In contrast, #242 gives us a similar confederation of forces, but cleverly, they converge on the problem by happenstance. (And they will all get their crack at the problem in #243!)

The show’s heading way out of town, however. The farther reaches of outer space are very nicely described in the opening page captions, which are good throughout, but especially inspired, as Terrax rides a meteor of his own devising towards his target. Guest member Frankie Raye- another symbol of cross-referenced Marvel, daughter of the creator of the original android Human Torch- will be changed forever by her encounter with Galactus and his wayward, vengeful herald. And Galactus starred in perhaps the central saga of the Fantastic Four’s peak Kirby/ Lee year. Everything old was new again, twenty years after the whole Marvel Universe as we know it innocently began, at the start of 1982.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Marvel's Defenders: with writer David Anthony Kraft!

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David Anthony Kraft tells the story behind the story about writing The Defenders for Marvel Comics Group.
He goes into the heads of some of the characters and provides some unique insights as well as some creative background. It's actually part two! Take a look at my August posts.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man (talks with Spider-Artist Ron Frenz)

Part One asks what has been special about choosing to become a comics creator, to the man who broke in as regular Spider-man artist with maybe fandom's most beloved short story!

Ron had drawn KA-ZAR, STAR WARS, and some issues of MARVEL TEAM-UP when he was tapped to turn Roger Stern's dream into the eleven page "The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man." Now we revisit its creation with Ron, who talks about stewardship of long-time characters, but also introduces us to his very latest co-creation (with TV comedy writer Darin Henry): The Blue Baron, from Sitcomics (click and see!) (And it's inked by Our Pal Sal Buscema, can you dig it?)

(It's not the Swing Era Band Leader, lol, but it's pretty swingin'!) Darin wrote on Seinfeld as assistant and did in fact write a few episodes, too, to say nothing of his work of Futurama ('nuff said!). And Ron? Only the long-time artist on Thor, Spider-Girl, and so much more in a thirty-five year career, doncha know?
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We have tons more coming up from Ron, who spent his Saturday night with us graciously and talked about storytelling as an artisistic collaborator. He answered a mega-ton of Spider-Man questions no true fan will want to miss, and before we called it a night we even had a sleepy discussion of memorable moments of Mighty Thor. Come back for next month's batch and be amazed by this humble, funny, thoughtful craftsman.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Daredevil meets The Punisher

The use of limited color palette, monochromatic figures- the stark artwork by Daredevil #183 opens with a claustrophobic set of horizontal close-ups in the disastrously splitting psyche of the school girl on angel dust, whose fall implied by the wide white panel completing Page Three sets off the grimness of the crime story ahead. The one aspect in which it’s escapist resides with Daredevil’s limited super-senses abilities- still amazing-as he explores the hidden layers of the world around him, and the fact that through him, the reader can imagine doing anything graceful and powerful about a very ugly problem caused by very ugly people.

"and there will be...a Pun Assured!"
So begins the first appearance as written by David Anthony Kraft...wait, no, I can't Gerrymander that origin, in some con way. (They're friends, people, don't get uptight.) Let's just be Frank. Miller.

I haven’t gone for preview dirt on The Defenders, save for our convo with Ed Pettis in Hall H during Comic Con International. Yet I seem to recall word that of course, the Punisher, who for some upstaged the second Netflix season of Daredevil, would cross paths with this confederation of heroes. (Just a simple trailer at the end of the Defenders episodes, but Punisher Season One? November!)
He’s bound to be a fascinating epicenter for moral tremors and earth-shattering action. He also addresses something I mentioned in our talk, Uniting Luke Cage and Iron Fist: the consequences that befall characters limited by human ability, as opposed to those who can defy tragedy with supernal power. The Punisher, along with an exploration of the physical damage that alters his psychology- perhaps-bears the armory he does precisely because, other than extraordinary soldiering skill, he possesses no inhuman advantage over his foes. For him, tactical evaluation and lethal force are the barrier between him and fatal failure. There remains a certain recklessness to his approach that allows him a fighting advantage not available to those whose caution requires more thought for self-preservation. It’s an approach nearly indistinguishable from heroic bravery: fearlessness pushes him towards unpredictability. The convenience of certitude, however, is all that separates his valor from villainy, and his tactics make it harder for him to engage foes who might require less than lethal force to discourage their erroneous ways. Not that he wouldn’t just knock out a guy mugging a couple, but he’s less likely to show up in random crime fighting or rescue situations; he’s only around to fight the worst of the gangs with gang-style tactics. There are few chances to see the light following his justice.

Miller/ MacKenzie’s take on the Punisher adds a dimension found in the spirit of his Netflix incarnation. Yet, from his second appearance, Gerry Conway clearly had him going after criminal revolutionaries- others who fight with extreme tactics and extortion-so Amazing Spider-Man #134-5 has the War Journal strategist who plans his campaigns based on intelligence, and that side of him is apparent, too. The version in Daredevil #183 is repositioned most clearly as an antagonist because he’s after criminals now who aren’t crime soldiers; Daredevil considers them unshaped thugs, not organized- people who might grow past the hardened state fueled by drugs, rather than careerists. To this point, he’s never seemed less than a superhero. For one, his early forays in color comics often reference non-lethal weapon use like rubber bullets, but even with the break with Code-approved heroic behavior, open to lethal force, it’s this change in opponents- who are standard trouble for the non-lethal Daredevil-that makes him seem more brutish and unreasonable. The cause and effect that lends people in real life to fantasize about cleaning up the streets with murder and mayhem on the side of right, the wounded sense of justice with its pronounced lack of forgiveness and grave cynicism, becomes the added element that sets him against others living a different heroic code. Spider-Man’s always tried to rein him in during their team-ups, but they are team-ups nonetheless. The Punisher was simply an edgier, provocative ally.

Daredevil #183 and 184 are interesting the more because Daredevil, from his moral high ground, makes an error in judgment. A pacemaker is not a problem that could fool Matt every day. Since it hadn’t been done before, Daredevil could then also make a decision, based on his modus operandi, that is a costly mistake that dedicates his abilities to a compromised position.
This is a gripping way to tell a tale: the figures who might seem heroic to different people are all making morally compromised mistakes. When you know the Elektra saga preceded this- that the title just made a sacrifice play of its most morally ambiguous supporting character- you know Miller’s going beyond tales of heroes and villains. Many DD readers did not see Elektra as a hero of any sort!
And she wasn’t: she was a character, a person, and going forward, this was a pioneering advent. Villains had been portrayed with sympathetic thoughts, backgrounds- compelling motivations (like Kraft’s Scorpio, a sort of Byronic Hero, and of course even a regal Doctor Doom or ideologue Red Skull champions..something...sometimes). It’s the methods, the negative modus operandi, and their collateral consequences that brought them into conflict with the heroes. Elektra by that definition’s certainly an antagonist, and one who drew Matt into a morally grey area- but she’s a post unto herself, is she not? And heroes to follow would often be unheroic by previous modern standards, although, say, Ulysses was a Greek hero that Dante puts squarely in the eighth circle of Hell. Firmly might be a better word, but to say such characters are square pegs in round holes is a simple metaphor to convey their ambiguous classification. The letters page reflects a wide invocation of deep-running emotions.

What I said about where the title’s coming from at this point? DAREDEVIL’s next two issues feature a noir version of Foggy “Guts” Nelson, unaware of his guardian angel present at every turn, and the Stilt Man, who he says it best in his next appearance: “No one takes me seriously!” How’s he supposed to walk, anyway?

The choice of images is one overlapping the discussion of characters. The evil sneer of Peter Hogman opens the first panel-”of course, I’m smiling, I’m always smiling!”- and as we zoom out, we see his grotesque face framed in the Punisher’s scope. We actually start with a cover with Daredevil angrily sneering- and pointing out a pistol, beside the logo: No more mister nice guy-no punctuation needed. So turn that cover- which really makes you wonder, when will anything so shocking happen?-go to Hogman’s sneer- a visual fixation by which Miller will again and again identify him. Evil’s here to laugh at us, to laugh at the law, and decency. Turn the page again, and over the shoulder of the Punisher comes a Ditko-inspired multi-image of the title hero’s graceful violence. The title virtually leaps above his mobile figure, as if meant to be punctuated by the “thwock!” to Punisher’s midsection. And what a title: “Good Guys Wear Red.” They may well end up with blood on their hands.
We’re challenged with the clash between Daredevil and Punisher-type moralities, head on: the bounding hero, skipping right into the face of a man prepared to take out a criminal depicted from the start with no positive qualities. This defense of the criminal gradually unfolds as the mission truly dear: defense of justice.

Graphically, we’re in masterful hands, doing things only comics can: the dropping of unnecessary backgrounds to generate striking graphic design as each page meets your eyes. Speaking of eyes, they’re well-drawn here: Heather’s, full of doubt, searching for discernment; tired assuredness in Mr. Spindle’s; darkness around Frank Castle’s; fear in the eyes of Billy and Coach Donahue in court. Speaking of court, the jury assembled above and left in front of Matt, monochromatic sameness, while Matt offers charm and careful words. His smile’s almost always warm, never angry. Graphics again: that old-time phone cord, connecting and dividing Matt and Heather’s tiers of panels, simultaneously.
Shadows on her face, as she’s looking for love and connection while passing through a shady business world. And hope, man: that last splash page of DAREDEVIL #183 in the park, the lovers, such a ray of goodness. Shadows: sihouettes in alternating panels, as drug-crazed Coach tries to silence Matt.
Dimly-lit unnatural colors on Hogman’s close-up admission of guilt; light, dark divided on Matt’s sickened, worried response. Shadow: DD’s falling fast towards Hogman, who knows: I’ll walk free.
Eyes and that sneer again, stacked to make a three panel monster. And the tower of black lording over the boy Billy, betrayed by law- by the title hero’s error!- stalking the featureless street with a gun.
Daredevil #184. Script, Roger MacKenzie. Art, Frank Miller, Klaus Janson
A gun: Daredevil’s surprise- the cover’s shocking premise- shatters the offered truce with Punisher. Stark color-held figure: backgrounds flee again, Miller centered on the fallen vigilante- whose very gun ends up in Billy’s hands to nearly finish its job. Guess who’s not smiling now?!?

What would be justice for the little boy? In some stories, the stain on his soul would proceed, vengeance, his. But that is no kind of justice in Daredevil’s world. He’ll close with those lines to the little boy (whom he just saved from attempting murder) about the laws we put in place.

Every line of this makes me wish The Punisher crosses paths with Season 2 of the Defenders!

The Punisher was a character I enjoyed, but other than the vicarious thrill of his tactical battles under Mike Baron and Klaus Janson (and later, in War Journal under Jim Lee), I didn’t feel the full sense of pathos for him as a person until I saw his Netflix appearances. Circumstances were crafted to give us some moral cover- as Daredevil uses to his own tactical advantage in #184, the Punisher didn’t kill those he deemed innocent. The level of loathing for human wretchedness invited us over the line to a conservative fantasy of Frank’s courageous odds-defying elimination of villainous scum (though I particularly liked the initially-sympathetic preacher man in The Punisher #4 & 5- after all these years, I remember more details of that adventure than most of his). Politics aside, I think anyone ever picked on or, especially, who felt helpless against a criminal act can find a seductive bit of daydreaming in Frank’s no-holds-barred war against those insulated by force and power from retaliation of their victims.

What I loved was the television show pairs the visceral catharsis with a reasonable suspicion of physical illness damaging the discernment of a courageous man dealing with grief. I thought it was an excellent motivation that made Frank that much more realistic, while drawing into question the audience’s blood-thirsty desires. It went a further step in making a character many of the divided viewers found reprehensible, sympathetic, zeroing in on excellent point-of-view feelings from Karen Page, who has been redeemed from her fallen woman in the thriller/noir ‘Born Again’ comics arc in this interpretation (played so well by Deborah Anne Wohl), where she’s now a crusader inspired by another terrific Miller-era support character, Ben Urich. (I love how Roger Stern also puts Ben into play in several Amazing Spider-Man stories of the time. Lots of Bugle employees are visible throughout the Marvel Universe, but Ben really got in the thick of things!)

Traumatized and threatened, and having already crossed the line herself killing her kidnapper (in a really great scene!), Karen’s still a person representing a sort of norm, despite being recently ripped out of her safe world into the fringe madness. She will doubtless remain a contrasting character, compelled by the Punisher’s methods and the ruthlessness of those they face, yet tethered to thoughtfulness. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but at one point will she surely be tempted to take up the latter?

One last thing: I think everything comes up a notch when you throw these fascinatingly-motivated characters headlong into one another’s paths. The Punisher’s more of a grim cypher of his mission, here, but he’s such a perfect foil for Daredevil. I don’t doubt the field will be pretty well cleared of his heroic cohorts when Punisher Season One arrives this fall. But let’s remember a minute the world from which these ideas sprang (to say nothing of his origins in Amazing Spider-Man under Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, John Romita). In this case, it was a landmark of vital comics storytelling.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Luke Cage/ Daredevil: Brother in a STrange Land/ Marked for Murder by Miller podcast

Part of the book where you'll find most material and so much more story telling companionionship,
Creating Marvels
by your host C Lue Disharoon. Coming out soon!
Podcast 5:
A fun discussion about keeping characters distinct in a larger cast, and finding stories that serve to highlight their uniqueness. Example: 1975, Steve Gerber/ Sal Buscema & co.'s Sons of the Serpent guest shots in Defenders #24 & 25. How did that story depict Luke, keep him unique and speak to his identity as a character, rather than random cypher super heroes? It touches upon some frighteningly contemporary elements, too.
20 minutes in, we highlight the issue of Daredevil that began the tone and visual presentation of the title that most inspired the Netflix iteration of the character, today.

Bonus link: All found on this blog

Original texts of the podcast can be found here:

luke-cage-and-defenders-brother-in a strange land
The inker of this portrait by Doc Bright, Joe Rubinstein, has agreed to be one of our future guests soon! Awesome!!!! He inked SO much of Marvel, including work by another of our lined-up guest shots, Ron Frenz, whose work can be found and hired at CAtskill online.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Marvel's Defenders with writer David Anthony Kraft!

Listen up! His first day at Marvel, his wild adventures with Roger Slifer coming on board The Defenders, and more!

Creating Marvels 1 H is for Hall H Heroes For Hire and Hip Hop =San Diego Comic Con previews of TV, movie

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Luke Cage and Iron Fist: United by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

Luke Cage and Iron Fist: United by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

You can listen~

By Luke Cage, Power Man #47,
Chris Claremont’s already in place as the scripter, with George Tuska taking us through Cage’s last Chicago adventure on the run from the Treasury Department. A huge train wreck forces Luke into action- and it so happens his costume’s the only set of clothes he’s got. (But it always seemed like those were his only clothes back in the day, didn’t it?) His Fugitive rift as Mark Lucas mixes him up with a lady scientist named Alex who becomes the center of a triangle that returns Zzaxx, the electrical monster. It’s not a bad story- Zzzaxx at this point always comes back as different people, so it’s more of a concept than a character in the strictest sense-we at least get a familiar villain seen over in HULK. But when things get much more personal, they also get much better!

There’s an interesting argument Matt Linton makes as part of his series of articles, Social-Justice-Warriors-On-the-Road-to-The-Defenders---Luke-Cage. The nearly all-black cast of TV’s Luke Cage offers better use of the opportunity to depict the racial clash aspect of policing, Black Lives Matter, even commentary on the death of Trevon Martin (especially in the scene soundtracked with Method Man’s “Bulletproof”). Obviously, drifting off into the market necessities of 70’s superhero comics – like wild science-based villains- means we were never going to focus on a serious discussion at great length, but Matt also points out the character’s always had the origin of a wrongly-incarcerated black man. That’s the aspect Claremont resolves in Power Man #48-50; it will take us out of the ‘fugitive’ storyline and away from a prime defining characteristic of Luke. As a product of an entertainment company for adolescents, the book’s always been more of a Shaft-as-superhero take that digs into the fun of Blaxploitation and its escapism, moreso than social commentary.

One can over-estimate the power of a single story, but maybe if we’d had more uncomfortable but necessary discussion of these issues back when, we’d be further down the road of understanding and have saved a lot of pain. That’s always the question: how to serve the purpose of entertainment without being crippled by self-importance, even inspired by the righteousness of the mission. It’s hard to say how many stories about these very real problems it would’ve taken and how far into the mass media they could’ve been elevated, but the diversity of media is definitely opening such stories like never before! Obviously there’s a set of personally effecting stories that also inspire racial divides.
Power Man was already suffering greatly in sales before being merged with Iron Fist. Would it have sold better, if it’d been guided lovingly into greater realms of expression (or pretension- it’s somewhat in the eye of the beholder!)? Was the comic suffering from too much formulaic emulation, or just the lack of a steady creative team?
And it’s not that Matt’s wrong about the pieces all being in place when Luke’s interpreted for an adult-inclusive audience- but I do think it might’ve been heavy baggage, plot-wise for an action drama to carry in thirteen episodes. Between white nationalists, police, Black Lives Matter, elected and appointed administrators, and less militant observers along the spectrum personally, there are many conflicting points of interest. Imagine this complexity embodied within a cast, much less contained within an episodic storyline starring a single lead. It’s not implausible to resolve such an identity. Other shows these days are going for it, usually with a much wider, soap opera-structure level of cast, but they’re not trying to participate in building a superhero story-verse, which tends to aggregate around the actions of an individual. So, thinking about it, perhaps structure’s the issue.

The blackness of the Luke Cage cast, soundtrack, and cultural references is still fairly novel, especially for superheroes, but yes, that, and reasonable motives, do transform Luke’s interaction. Rather than routine patrols and policing, the spur here comes from a specific murder of a black officer, so the avenue explored becomes the resentment felt in a police department when one of their own is slain- albeit serving action’s premises with its revenge motif.
And what I’m getting at is that dealing squarely with racism and the complexities of community relationships with police departments -an excellent basis for a novel, I might add-would’ve deserved all the plot focus and careful nuance in building everyone on each side. Not necessarily a bad use of Luke Cage, or popular entertainment, but something hard to embody in the actions of a single being whose powers change the rules of consequences. A story with that much social freight would’ve required a lot of thought to carry over into The Defenders. It’s hard to do The Wire, but with superheroes. Impossible abilities erase tragic boundary lines, but not necessarily precluding other drama, nonetheless. The criticism that CAGE starts out kind of slow in its first episodes might be a bigger problem. I’m not in a good position to discuss the Netflix show at present (I will need to acquire Netflix again to even participate in the shows after Jessica Jones more fully).

My point of reference here primarily uses the original comics, refracted in the culture of those times, and the present. Unless I get a helpful editorial fiat to motivate it, it’s outside the scope of this book, though I like thought-provocation. Much of this book depends on my luck with already-collected comics and memories that stir reflection. Here, we reference the modern incarnations-and more often, today’s news- but tie them back to their comic book roots moreso than critically explore the shows. Maybe it’ll spin out into a book that more specifically attempts that conflation. You can find Matt’s brief article yourself online- as well as the show, on Netflix- and think over his points as you will, as it’s a worthy contemporary discussion, and one I’ll revisit as a writer, no doubt.

A 70’s comic book has demands that require a very visual approach, a bombast that sometimes upstages the character moments, but if you can punch a character through a few walls and still maintain good internal conflicts, go for it! That’s what happens when Power Man’s set against the Living Weapon and his best friends Misty and Coleen in Power Man #48. He’s presented with a violent line to cross that makes even his freedom fall into perspective: how could he become a murderer and ever truly be a free man? We get no explanations- we’re dropped in the middle of pure action. Luke feels like he’d kill to be free of the frame-up that put him in Seagate. But who’s he kidding? There’s a place for the story of a person willing to cross that line, but that’s not Luke. Besides, Claremont and Byrne have handily made his targets detectives and a super hero, so there’s hope!
I think, for all its genre concessions- which widen its young audience-the story, starting with a wrongfully-imprisoned black character, illegal and inhumane experimentation, and leading into a multi-racial cast of heroes and villains who differ in methods, accomplishes something memorable, alongside the sheer enthusiasm and talent of the tellers. They gamble on leaving us as much in the dark as the characters, all danger, menace and action--with explanations left to next issue! What a remarkable device for increasing our emotional identification with the characters in their confusion. This pacing technique works smoothly when presenting a multi-part story with the same writer and artist, who can know the explanations, and how much space they’ll need. In a graphic novel you’re more likely to find it nowadays, but for issues of a bi-monthly comic featuring a first meeting of characters-impressive idea. I’ve seen a single issue start with confusion later explained- Amazing Spider-Man #43’s “bank robbery” comes to mind- but I can’t think of an example of it adapted to entire issues, previously. The then-recent seventeen page limitation probably sparked the innovation.

Back to the story itself: peace amid remaining tension and questions rules the splash page of Power Man #49, as Luke broods in the living room of the trio with whom he’s just called off a life and death struggle. Recapping, we see him flashback to breaking in on Colleen Wing, nearly killing her after skilled evasion. Misty- his real target-comes in to be taken out quickly. One at a time, they’ve fallen- until Iron Fist shows up and literally knocks him through the brownstone’s wall! It’s soon after Luke’s berserker fury overwhelms Danny’s skill that he finally comes to his senses. I like the darkened countenance on Cage as he considers now telling them the whole story, while Misty sneaks off with his tea cup to run fingerprints through a crime base from a computer in the study.

Cage finishes telling how Bushmaster shadily recruited him, unveiled evidence gathered by henchman Gadget that proves Wilis Striker planted the heroin that got Cage sentenced to twenty years, and offered a deal to kidnap former undercover agent Misty Knight in exchange for the exonerating photos. Shades and Commanche appear at Bushmaster’s behest, to complete the threat against kidnapped Dr. Temple and Dr. Burstein. Misty’s giving Luke one last chance to come clean when Luke confesses his prison escape, winning the trio’s cooperation.

Seagate Prison, it turns out, was closed a year after Luke’s escape, and sold. In an impossibly full moon’s light, Luke speed boats to the prison, which Misty reveals is Bushmaster’s hideout now; his mind alternates between worry for his two friends and the awful memories, imprisoned there. A tricky paragliding invasion’s nicely depicted; Misty’s bionic arm’s apparently solidly enough attached to her body to survive her stopping her overshoot with a jutting stanchion, while Fist KO’s the guard. Nice vertical panels for the drop-in, the paragliding laid out neatly over Luke’s shoulder in panel one. Somehow on the next page, Danny manages to whisper emphatically enough to get a “burst” balloon after Misty finds, then nerve pinches, Doc Temple. All this covert action’s laid out in tight little panels- as small as can still be very nicely rendered- before Power Man “Kthoom”s -in the doors. Feet in action, from worm’s eye we clearly see his targets, sent flying next. Just terrific Byrne storytelling!

Turns out, Misty’s knock out came too soon: Claire wakes up to tell Cage that Noah’s been hidden in the solitary confinement levels, under day and night operations. This next door goes to Iron Fist, who discovers the advanced laboratory and Dr. Burstein, again in an economy horizontal layout.
Bushmaster’s been transformed into a figure even more powerful than Luke, who nonetheless wades into him while Noah tries reviving Iron Fist. Their fight manages to unleash boiling hot liquid, which then hits the main power lines! Fortunately, Fist finds Luke, who’s survived, and with Gadget captured and the evidence in tow, a vindicated Cage leaves with his new allies, victorious.

Issue 50’s where the new dual logo reflects the Marvel Event. Judging by the letters column, the change was anticipated by a few keyed-in fans in those pre-Internet days. So where will our former solo title star go now? Even if the Frank Miller cover promises a startling new duo, how do we get there organically?
Start with a bit of bubbly, celebrating Luke’s legal exoneration and official name change to Lucas Cage. The man he was, he explains, died when he went to prison. The “montage behind the face over the head space” motif- which makes me think of Neal Adams- follows. He revisits his last date with Riva, enjoying dinner and a show at the Apollo, when he returns home to find he’s been framed with two kilos of uncut heroin! The few panels of his trial speak volumes for the wrongfully accused Everyman- his peer jury is a joke, his lawyer’s unconvinced, and just like that, a man’s life’s thrown away. We complete the trilogy by finally depicting his incarceration, the experiment that empowered him, his desperate escape, and his Hero For Hire professional career gambit- at a place where its telling represents the lowest low, the trial that set him completely free, followed now by what he calls his rebirth! You know what’s interesting? He was freed from Seagate, but he wasn’t truly free- he dresses as an escape artist, but he still bears bands, chains-it’s a nod to his cool, unique design.

The warden who showed him the one ray of kindness (he’s a deeper, subtle factor) is present at the party, as are Misty and Colleen, fashionable and smashingly rendered by John B. Their offer to join Nightwing Restorations is answered with a touch of chauvinism and some honesty about his long-held loner status, but as Jeryn Hogarth and Misty explain to our Muhammad Ali-look-alike, the past six weeks’ proceedings have left him free to pursue the life of his choice- whatever!

Claire Temple, his squeeze of late before his fugitive run, has a nice, brief chat with him that underscores they’re not facing this new life together. The art perfectly backs her reasoning: we see their intimate embrace through a rifle scope on a nearby rooftop! Then Stilletto and Discus, who’d like him to pursue a choice of death, more like, crash the party. (How they heard Misty’s offer of emotional support while smashing through the window- and responded? Just one of those tropes- hah!)

So these are law-and-order vigilantes who think Luke’s acquittal is a fraud? The brothers’ disregard for human life terrorizes the high society party, smashing Jeryn’s phone in a nice horizontal panel capturing cause and effect- absolutely repulsing Danny Rand, who slips off his sweater in time-honored fashion, ties on his Iron Fist mask. In the midst of their assault on target Cage, we get a maniacal close-up of Stilletto- when Iron Fist comes in punching! He argues with Misty Knight about evacuation, hard-headed tension between warriors- it’s just like Archie Goodwin observed, this group of heroes themselves come with built-in conflict! This moment matters because regard for bystanders elevates their purpose. Fist matches skill for skill as he draws fire. Stilletto’s flechettes, he catches between his fingers with spooky reflexes-depressing and impressing appropriate parties. Claremont’s caption uses “scythes” to describe the arc of Discus’ weapon as it explosively buries Luke and a woman I believe proves to be model Harmony Young. Danny takes that rather personally! And she might not have her samurai sword handy, but in yet another useful horizontal panel, Colleen Wing introduces a bare foot to “Disco”’s face. He’s not dead- it’s still only New Year’s Eve, 1977.

Cage manhandles a fallen concrete beam- in Casanova fashion, Luke consoles Harmony’s broken fifty dollars-a-nail manicure (“for a commercial I’m doing tomorrow!”) with a kiss that says, “Claire who? Meh!” One thing you gotta love: Iron Fist proves as reckless as you imagine hot-headed Power Man to be in his pursuit of the re-positioning villains up a slanted roof. The freezing cold leaves his hands too numb to be sure of his grip-until they’re smashed. Now it’s Danny’s on-the-spot turn of reflection, as he sees his dad’ s killer in Stilletto, as he rants about “making things safe for decent people” and “winning” ! I love how you get what haunts the past of both heroes without slowing down a lick. Cage charges “Disco” too hard for the roof’s infrastructure, and boom, crumbles- to his sense of panic at failing the man who put it all on the line to help him win his new freedom!

Danny’s now sliding off to his doom, wondering on his three-hundred-foot drop if this was how his dad felt. Ever the warrior, Danny thinks: there’s a roof on the way down, and he’d asked Jeryn what it covered. Now we get Luke folded into the Danny omniverse folded into the X-universe! Fist (love calling him that) sky-dives his way into an indoor heated pool, where Amanda Sefton ’s answering Betsy’s teasing question about her date with “Kurt”- as in Kurt Wagner, aka Nightcrawler. Yes, it’s the two girls Kurt and Peter somewhat creepily approached in Times Square in a contemporary issue of Uncanny X-Men- maybe the first X-characters Byrne ever draws, published-and it makes a nice splash with me, it does. Amanda even flirtily hints her date might’ve been...X-rated. All in four panels!

Now speaking of fists, an enraged Cage has one ready for Discus when Lieutenant Scarf- Misty’s old police department partner- rushes in to become a new target. One last time, we get a hero horrified by a friend’s apparent murder, as Misty’s thoughts, via caption, now flash back to her own lowest low, after a terrorist’s bomb mangled her right arm. Before her bionic replacement, she lay hospitalized by her heroic effort to snag the bomb and throw it safely away from innocents- and Scarf was right there at her bedside. (Yes, it’s a shame he got tapped for villainy in the TV show.) We are one big gunshot away from execution justice, eyes wide for the begging Discus and the onlooking Luke Cage! A last act of heroism: Power Man dives forward to catch the Magnum slug, saving his attacker’s life and Misty’s conscience. Young writer Claremont never imagined anyone would think Scarf’s badge stopping the bullet was cliché, but the way it ends this violent choreography? Worth it.

Rafael Scarf completely understands Misty’s hair-trigger response: “she’s proving she’s as human as the rest of us.” Misty admits she takes a chewing-out for her recklessness, gracefully. It bonds her with Luke, who started this trilogy damn near killing her- and that makes one very nice ribbon atop this inaugural present to edgy action-adventure with Seventies style. Murder’s called out for its moral turpitude, but mayhem, admittedly, gets a slick, cathartic pass- even the villains have their loyalty to one another, their disgrace at seeing their father (the aforementioned warden!) among the party-goers, so there’s a current of emotion and meaning within the violence. It can’t encompass every contradiction inherent in its depiction: the villains are heroes in their own minds, though their methods and assumptions in place of analysis, to say nothing of endangering innocents, betray their righteousness. The fantasy, however, heightens a reality of identifiable human opinions and passions.

You might think I liked it. Yeah, it was pretty okay.

Not every team is Claremont and Byrne taking their single best shot, but it’s such a breathless high point for Marvel’s unconventional new ensemble. Teams on this title ever after try to hit this wickedly-precise mark. It’s storytelling of this caliber (.44, I believe) that speaks to the dramatic possibilities, and how very cool, it gives us a home for Marvel’s first “inter-racial” romance, the best gender-bending duo of female action heroes to come to the Big Apple for a long time- a tense group of uneasy-riding warriors whose makeup also carries in its appearance a feel-good message, about bonds that transcend learned societal divides- of entertainment, and real life friendship.

Not to attach too much freight to comic books- anywhere that strikes imagination can start conversations, as seen online with provocative creative essayists one encounters-but without pretension, heck, based out of two cultural pop fads, even, Power Man and Iron Fist (and their cool female cohorts) had a tremendous personal influence! I was giving a friend, Crystal, a ride home and pointed out the box of their comics returned to me last night. I told her about Luke’s comic spinning out a tv show I thought she’d like, but also, how it meant a lot to me as a kid growing up in a time still slowly crawling out of Southern segregation to read adventures of a black guy and a white guy being best friends. My version was the James Owsley/ Doc Bright run-I still remember the day I dropped off #118 at the lunch table of the kids of the other class, more the gang I got on with than my own class. Those stories deeply humanized people of color for me. Their simple symbolism, when I was still so shy and capable of a couple of close friendships at most, opened the way to a time when I’d be quick to make friends, and they could be any color or national origin- like my best guy friend, born in Sri Lanka- who taught my best gal friend and I martial arts, at that. Self-defense and skill are true emotional bonds. So is humor, so is kindness- and so are the vast array of well-told stories.

Incredibly, as I paused writing this, the news featured live footage of Emancipation Park, where white nationalists march, fighting anti-racist protestors in Charlottesville today at a protest removing the statue of General Lee, while Virginia State Police stand by at the edge of escalation. I reflect on my opportunity to grow up exposed to an embrace of tradition and a love of history, as well as eyes opened to the need to get along and to realize consequences, a superposition to see the reasoning across the spectrum. As a writer, I strive to comprehend how everyone came to their point, yet, “we should call evil by its name.” You quickly see how an examination of consequence, the necessities of rationality and progress, overloads almost any discussion of entertainment. As it should, the points address something more serious that needs its own focus- and perhaps from there, more innovative entertainment. As real life confusion breaks out, I look at that alarming throwback of irrational rhetoric and emotion about the rights of peoples’ place in America, and realize, we very much need our stories. We need to see bonds of love and friendship, soul-searching, courage. We very much need to keep talking. You never know who needs to hear it- most of all, the young, shaping their opinions.