Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Breaking in at Marvel Comics Group: becoming a comic book writer, as told by David Anthony Kraft

Breaking in at Marvel Comics Group: becoming a comic book writer, as told by David Anthony Kraft

Happy Birthday this week to DAK- Many happy trips more 'round the sun, many howls at the moon!

Part One: Man-Wolf! Wait...Man-Wolf?

Lue Lyron: So the story goes, one day working as an assistant editor at Marvel Comics Group, you’re walking past Roy Thomas, after hearing you’d get a series to write one day for a while, and he stops his conversation with Steve Englehart, who was visiting from California. Roy just turns casually to you and says, “I’ve been meaning to assign you a book. I have your first series for you to write.” Then he picks right up talking to Steve, while you walk away savoring that bombshell.

(DAK’s account of how he and George became the new creators on the ongoing Man-Wolf series appeared in Creatures On The Loose #33, a personable text piece of that sort that delights we readers. This is the team’s introduction in their first color comics issue at Marvel in 1974.)
DAK: Everyone likes to use the phrase, “break into comics”- but I like to say, I was invited.

Not that I wouldn’t have broken in!

Lue: You already had taken on work, in high school, as a literary agent for the work of pulp writer Otis Adelbert Kline, and published several books under your own Fictioneer banner.

DAK: Before going to Marvel, I published Robert E Howard and Jack London and L Frank Baum hardcovers, plus editing and publishing sf writer A E Van Vogt's autobiography in trade pbk, along with an Otis Adelbert Kline original trade.
During that time, I put an inquiry to see if I could work for Marvel.
One day, I went to the mail, and found a letter from (Marvel Editor) Roy Thomas.
I’m excited because hey, it’s Marvel ! Their response was:
‘Problem is, not enough work for the writers we have but you’re welcome to write a script.’
Practical person that I am, I didn’t!

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

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

The offer was : a salary, to edit books on staff. Roy was editor-in-chief over about forty color books, and he was busy writing his own books, but didn’t waste time nitpicking. So the only other two editors in color at that point are Don McGregor and me!
I’d written for Skywald the year before. They gave me lots of assignments on the black and white magazine line. People don’t intend to do it, but they stereotype. Since I’d worked on monster books at Skywald, they started me on monster books. But that’s not what I wanted to do: I wanted to do the Marvel Super Heroes stuff.

I admired Will Eisner for what he could do with a six, seven page story. Characters, plot, dialogue- all in a short space. It’s a special skill. It’s not what comes naturally to me. I’m better in a longer format, where I have more room to develop ideas. I assumed my break would come eventually.

When it did, it was probably one of the brightest days of my life.

I’m really curious whether I talked as fast as Roy back then as now or if that was a New York thing. He’s talking to Steve Englehart, who was just in from the Left Coast, and he says “I’ve got your first color assignment,” for which I was elated. That’s what I came to Marvel to do.

So I have my first color comic at Marvel, and it’s Man-Wolf.

Remember Xerox? The more you copy it, the more it loses integrity. So, with Marvel cashing in on versions of the Universal Pictures monsters, they already had Werewolf By Night.

Lue: So how did you go from Xerox to Moon Rocks to Space Opera?

DAK : Well, let’s start with the timeless werewolf trope: change when the moon is up, then menace people: this was like the third generation Xerox, and it’s sort of a third rate werewolf. I can’t just be an echo of other things. So I was simultaneously elated and dismayed.

When I’m the audience, I want to be entertained. When I get an assignment, it’s my turn. When I start, I have no ideas! Then I’ll get one. Then another. Then I’ve got too many ideas for the book!

I wasn’t given any limitations or parameters. It’s possible (Roy) forgot to tell me, but he gave me no direction. It’s not like he said ‘you need to put JJJ in the book.’ Since he’d been running around menacing people and J. Jonah Jameson was in it, I assumed that’s what they wanted- but not what I wanted. Roy would stay home and write in the mornings, then come in and deal with the creative types. Basically Roy and Stan would raise hell if you fucked up, so I made it a policy not to!

You assume the norm of your time period’s the norm, and when I came in, Roy was too busy to worry you about the plots. I went in, co-editing Hulk and Spidey, and when I was writing Man-Wolf, nobody was editing me- I was editing me! Since I was copy-editing by day, then writing nights and weekends, I was copy-editing and writing my own stuff and it’d go straight out. I thought it was normal! So I was my own guy. I went in to Roy- I thought he was going to shoot me down on this: “I think it’s a boring idea to have him running around menacing people. I want to make him a science-fantasy character. I want to take him to space, other dimensions- I want to make him a god. I wanted to make him a legitimate Marvel character. I’m at Marvel, I’m going to make him a real Marvel character! So I told him, and he said: “sounds good to me!”

If you use an established villain, you have to check in- he kept the characters on cards. You had to coordinate with other writers- not that you couldn’t use them, but you didn’t want to step on what was done that month. So I used the Hate Monger- no one was using him. I was editing and writing my own comics- it was a dream come true!

In the shuffle, Tony Isabella had done the plot for issue thirty-three, so I worked from there. I dropped hints of what I wanted to do with this shadowy partner (of Kraven), both here and in The Defenders, Professor Turk. Basically, the same character.

So there’s this portal on the moon, and when the moon was full, more of its radiation was there. I created the stone as this mystic symbiote. When I eventually got him where he was going, he was the wolf man all the time. When this happened, these elements weren’t wide spread in the media at the time. This is why Dino De Laurentis, I think, wanted to option Man-Wolf for a movie. Thank God that wasn’t made at the time- it would’ve sucked!

“wall-crawling weasel”
First rule when you write established characters: research how they speak. So I went back to Amazing #1 and read them all, trying to capture Jonah’s voice.

I was writing off of the artwork when it came in. I think Tony (Isabella) had plans, had he stayed on the book, to bring Spidey in- which would’ve pumped sales. But it wasn’t my vision.

I wanted to segueway into the space fantasy stuff, rather than jump right in. Tallulah Gorge is the largest gorge this side of the Mississippi. Since I’d just come from here, see, it seemed like an excellent locale, thinking visually.

It isn’t like you experience the book as a reader; creatively, you work over here and there on different things, write three pages here, then deal with the plot you need today now, and so on.

When George was ready for work, I didn’t have the plot ready. George had been an assistant to Rich Buckler. I decided I wanted to keep this guy. So they were trying George out on my plot, and when it came in, it was kinetic, visually active. He didn’t draw like Kirby, but less imaginative artists would take Stan literally. He was known for getting up on a desk and showing you what the heroes were like.

He would tell you he had a long way to go when it came to perspective and anatomy, but the key important thing is to tell an exciting story! Once I saw that issue from George, he really captured the feeling I thought Man-Wolf needed. So I Mom and Dad’d Roy and John Romita. Softball in the park

He gives the book a whole different feeling. I’m OK with it if John is. So I went to John and said, “Roy is down with it.” I didn’t do it altruistically, it was to make the best show. Thinking visually is what comics is all about.
So, the second George Perez issue- where they come down to Georgia- came up and I didn’t have a plot. It was easier to show him, so I took some sheets of paper- I have no idea how things were being done before. I put him on the bike: he’s that kind of primitive beast, how does he handle that? But then, I’d had a motorcycle crash, on a Kawasaki 750.

I had a Norton, so I made it that. I passed a sign and wondered what it said, which was “T-section.” Uh oh. So I had some people behind me who gave me some perspective. My friend Brian told me “you were like a jockey riding side saddle, but the cycle wouldn’t stay up! You did everything you could.” I could see the pavement- I thought I was going to lose my eye, my face! Talk about hyper awareness. I’m doing 60 miles an hour. My helmet was all that kept my face off the pavement. I flew off the road. I flew upside down and hit the embankment, but my face was still on. AT first I’m so relieved, even though it also tore up my knee; I almost lost my leg. I turned around then and here came the bike at me! So I did very basic layouts. I have a very good storytelling sense, and I did these Keith Haring-type drawings.
More of this interview will be transcribed later.
You can find some of Kraft’s new work in the first issue of the newly-revived quarterly Tales From The Crypt! DAK wrote “Zombie Bank” along with his co-writer, Onrie Kompan- who is also co-writer on the series Dave edits, Yi Soon Shin. Yi premieres its third volume this year.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Power Man and Iron Fist: Old School Fresh Tip (Christopher Priest & David Walker)

I just re-read, for the first time in decades, Power Man and Iron Fist #118. When it first came out, this was my first exposure to the book. What was not to love? Solid artwork- with just a problem here and there which would be ironed out by the creative team, under the ever-improving hands of Mark “Doc” Bright and Jerry Acerno. The panels of supporting character Colleen Wing were the ones that grabbed me most effectively; she looks SO cool with her samurai sword. The martial arts combat with Chiatang versus Luke Cage and Colleen- his temporary partner-had me reading and re-reading the pages, following the blocking carefully. The long vertical panel where Cage speaks with steel about this “force” that’s warning them away, according to Danny, in K’un L’un’s secret language is one of the best in the series, much less this issue.

Story? Engaging, mysterious, suspenseful, and wonderful characterizations by Jim Owsley, soon to be known as Christopher Priest. What I didn’t know is that no one had ever had a better handle on Luke Cage. Here, he’s blustering, intimidating, funny, caring and insightful. His best friend’s dying, and he’s willing to dare the unknown, as is Colleen. If anything, Cage has been to K’un L’un before, city of Danny a.k.a. Iron Fist’s youth, and he knows it to be mystical and dangerous. Even Dr. Druid, the most remote of the seven main characters here, is inobtrusive in his help, substituting for a Master of the Mystic Arts. Luke’s lines are often funny, but not clownish; you can’t help respecting his courage and his intelligent observation of his friends. And what great tough guy cadence.

We open with Gordy, Agent of S.M.I.L.E., spying on the Heroes for Hire, a great way to drop us in with informative observations and draw us in, through his curiosity and posture of over-confidence, to the circumstances of their visit to Boston. Soon, we’re given a mystical threat in the form of Druid speaking tongues while summoning a vision of Danny’s extra-dimensional home. In fact, DR. Druid’s home itself has a TARDIS-like disconnect between modern outside and “Bela Lugosi flick” inside- noted by Power Man. His familiarity with the superhero world trappings and street-wise demeanor give us a colorful description that underscores that while this all is not shocking to him, it’s unmistakably weird- perfect identification point for the reader!

The concern for radiation-poisoned Iron Fist, as also reflected by his teacher, Lei Kung the Thunderer- one of the only two survivors of ravaged K’un L’un upon arrival, gave the issue its emotional hook. Luke’s additional concern for Colleen’s edginess gives us the title: “What’s Eating Colleen..?”
As the story unfolds, we find out just why she is so troubled: her best friend, Danny’s girlfriend Misty Knight, is seeing another man! Her less-than-flattering description of him betrays an anti-authoritarian point of view about cops, as does her encounter with the spying federal agents that gives us the opening action. That rebelliousness, in our unconventional heroes, gives them another appealing dimension, particularly for a young reader with their own occasional brushes with parental and teaching authority.

The superior characterization of Luke was probably the most appealing factor for me on first encountering the book. I was very excited to share how good this comic was with my best friend, my first genuine friend at school, a fellow comics fan. I remember seeing my comic passed around at the lunch table- we were in separate classes- happy to share a big hit. And what’s not to love?

The concepts won me over. In my racially-divided rural society, the idea of a black man and white man being best friends was nearly subversive- but hopeful! A tough woman able to stand on her own bravely was also still somewhat culturally revolutionary. She was really pretty, too- I didn’t catch on that she was of partial Asian heritage. The line associated with her twice, “the samurai sword...only drawn to be used...only used to kill”- so tough! Martial arts in pop culture was enjoying a surge in popularity, too, so an insight like that, even if it rings now of pulp fiction, felt so macho and cool. How amazing was it that a female character should bring it my way? Pretending you knew things about fighting and martial arts was the order of the day, so I’m pretty sure even shy Me had something to share about that one. The notion of self-healing through spiritual power was also imparted to me here. Mystic cities? Out of sight! When comics and books are a gateway to new, strange ideas that hint of more possible than seen in day-to-day life, you can’t help but fall in love.

I found myself anticipating certain lines as I turned the pages- solid proof of how many, many times I must’ve read this comic originally. How unfortunate I was discovering the title both at its creative height, but also, this height had been reached by a new creative team that had, in fact, few issues left in which to make their point. Was it sales, or simply how connected to images and concepts of the 1970’s like blaxploitation and kung fu action, that put it on the block for the chop?

OH, and the title’s a double entendre: not only does she finally unburden herself about her best friend’s secret and its sorrows, but on the last page we do find out what’s very likely to be “eating” Colleen. Great cliffhanger!

I’d found PM/IF issues purchased on Ebay in California, of late. Completing the last of these I had handy, #120-122, I had to go looking at the local comics shop, What If? I talked to my old friend- I told him “easy on the ‘old’ compadre!”- on the way there, and we agreed about the high quality with which this overlooked series had ended. The two dollars each I gave for PM/IF’s #118 and 119 was money well spent. Reading the story out-of-order didn’t bother me much- that’s the way comics fans in the old days usually discovered their respective comics universes. I’m sure I’ll have more to say in another installment- you know how Integr8d Fix loves to dig out the lost gems!

I tried and enjoyed several issues of the Pm/IF revival that saw print last year; this same trip to the shop yielded me a copy of #11, so I could pick up after the crossover, whose content I couldn’t yet recall. The storyline continues smoothly out of that, inspired by the precognitive crime-prevention vigilantes and the computer program they used- tested for someone else, who we meet-to muck with criminal records. The concepts I mentioned above are still alive in its pages- the writing’s different, with much more face-time given to the villains, who are fairly rounded characters on their own, some of whom need the help of Heroes For Hire. But that’s something else PM/IF did well back in the day, at times: good stories about the “bad guys,” the complications in their lives. If anything held the title back before Bright and Owsley, it was the series of one-offs: pretty good single issues on their own, but without the connective tissue, nor development of supporting characters’ storylines. The new comic remedies both those weaknesses while continuing all the themes I enjoyed in some fashion. Now, David Walker’s been hitting upon that strength of telling the bad guys’ stories well, too, with a more authentic hip-hop flavor of street adventures and its high rollers and big losers- a turn away from the 80’s reflection of popular, kid-beloved detective TV stories. It’s not trying to be ‘Magnum P.I.’ or Remington Steele anymore. So, for now, no foreign government intrigues. And a big move away from ‘realistic’ art styles like Doc Bright’s to an expressive cartoon-style in Sanford Greene.

-Lue Lyron
Probably, the new issue earns a post all its own. I’ve got space slated in July to go back to the first year of PM/IF, if I’m not covered up writing Hero Duty from IDW and Z-Monkeys.
Maybe I should write-up both ‘first years as a new title’?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Iron Man #134 and #135 (1980)- Iron Man #14 (2016)

Iron Man #134 and #135 (1980)- Iron Man #14 (2016)

My revival of Integr8d Fix -and I’d love to restore it to its original pastiche fiction form, but I’m busy with a novel and a series from IDW Publishing, so yay, it accomplished its pupal phase- kicked off with the impulse to write about a 1980 comic book (which sucked), and returned to me the thirst to write about classic comics stories again while awaiting my partner’s return from his furlough.
The first thing that came to mind was Iron Man #134 and 135, well-made favorites of my back-issue collecting youth. I made note of that intention. With the Guardians of the Galaxy movie coming out, I got to their revival in Defenders first (and on Free Comic Book Day, the Defenders title got revived in the Guardians freebie!). Since I accompanied the movie review with a peek at All New GotG#1, I thought I’d continue the trend as I wrote about Power Man and Iron Fist, so I bought a new Iron Man to go with the classics I’d review in the tradition of this blog!

Well, as a guy who loves character development, I’ve had to twist my guts a bit working on a series where the artist fears the appearance of “talking heads.” It’s still hellacool, though- I think we’re on our way to the winning balance for this year’s Hero Duty. Funny- I also got a 2014 X-Factor #12 for a buck, and so it became the second comic I read this morning-the second in a row that had not one punch or leap or blast, but conversation between fictional, colorful adults throughout!

The first one was Invincible Iron Man #14, which appears to be the last Tony Stark Iron Man comic now on the stands, as the title picked up in Infamous Iron Man 1- Dr. Doom as Iron Man- and Invincible Iron Man 1, with Riri Williams as Iron Man. This entire issue was very low-key: Tony absorbing the after math of Civil War II, and features his debate with Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel, about the precognition approach and its fallout.

The plot hinges heavily on Stark and Danvers both dealing with their alcoholism. His grief over the deaths of James Rhodes and Bruce Banner weigh heavily, and his fortune and company are bottoming out, to boot, as he cursorily discusses with Mary Jane Watson, who apparently was a series regular now as his secretary.

The comics I intended to rhapsodize about are Iron Man #134 and 135, from a very different era, yet, similar in fundamental ways. For one, Stark’s struggle with alcohol- a new element at the time- is addressed after his apparent recovery for the first time (it all came to a head in #128). In the older issue, instead of going to an AA meeting, Stark leans on a quasi-romantic friendship with Beth Cabe. He’s also giving, in the opening, a systems check for his armor, after its software invasion by Justin Hammer over the previous year’s issues. His armor was used to murder a Carnelian ambassador posing for an admiring picture with him, in my very first issue of Iron Man (#124).

From there, he surrendered a component-less version of his armor, retired the identity long enough to track down Hammer with Rhodey’s help, and battled, in Hammer’s headquarters, an army of minor villains whose tech had been financed by the nefarious industrialist. The conversation with Cabe is hinted at, suggested as a soul-baring sort of which Stark rarely engaged in those days. It was a step towards using Iron Man, at Marvel, to entertain a more sophisticated audience, with suspense and menace building between these scenes, as a mighty form stalked towards a confrontation with Iron Man. He even interrupts the Fryer’s Club! (And Rodney Dangerfield!)

Sure enough, on the last page splash, the foe who had engineered a previous encounter with the Unicorn as his pawn stands revealed: The Titanium Man! T-Man, another armored counterpart to Iron Man, probably the best, wishes to regain the graces of the Soviet Union, which in the real world is entering its last decade as a superpower. The massive emerald menace provides a callback, himself, to the 1960’s, when Iron Man was conjured as the capitalist champion for America, a free enterprise agent battling the Soviet’s man in a kind of formalized duel. They reprise those duels in #135, which is practically battle royale all the way across the streets of New York City.

#134 was quite unusual for the times in that no fighting went down. It’s hard to call it a “downtime” issue, yet that is what, for its era, it was. The latest issue of Iron Man I found on Free Comic Book Day 2017 fit a much more common mold for these days, when story arcs drive on longer, crossover much, much more, and in that process, contain all-talk issues. The bits of character insight involved in Bendis’ story provide a more adult product overall- and after the heavy technology-driven stories under Warren Ellis and Matt Fraction that I have sampled over the past decade, it’s pretty different to see technology set aside for pure human vulnerablity.
From a modern throw-down of the two
Honestly, when I was a kid, I love those sorts of insight-filled offbeat issues, even as today I still enjoy terrific action scenes. It would be disingenuous to say one thing appeals to one age more than the other, really. But I do love the density of the older comics, with their writerly (sometimes over-written) captions. I didn’t feel shorted by the new comic, but then, it served a purpose of supplementing my observations for the 1980 comics.

Stark’s dealing with yet another turn that has rendered him criticized, even unheroic, in the eyes of the public, as news casts suggest in-fighting in the usual reality-show-dirt-fest fashion and his absence in Rhodey’s honors ceremonies. In 1980, Stark’s identity as Iron Man’s a secret, if you newer fans can imagine that, before Downey took the character to the obvious step at the end of the Iron Man movie- a first for superheroes that lent to the elusive charm.

In “The Challenge!” and its second part, we also get a pay off to a fairly long-running plot: the criticism of Iron Man after the ambassador’s death! But Micheleinie and company depict a totemic clear-cut endorsement of Shellhead in his eventual defeat of the Titanium Man. That fluttering Soviet flag that comes to rest on the fallen figure on the cracked ice of Rockefeller Plaza brings cheers Iron Man had recently never hoped again to hear. It had been a long and wearying journey for our hero over the year of issues leading to this moment, and when you read it coming at the end of that path, the scene has much more impact than it can in isolation. So long as you understand the circumstances, however- and with only this issue, it’s still possible for a young reader to grasp-you get how there’s much more potent and personal motivations to this battle than many of the good v. evil encounters depicted in the fifteen years before.

With only 17 pages of story, things required tremendous economy. There was also a strong newsstand/ spinner rack presence that assured the company of many child fans, drawn naturally to the color and kinetic action. I wasn’t able to follow up 124 with another forty cents for many a moon- my personal Iron Man reading days didn’t pick up again until I was borrowing the issues where Stark makes his second comeback from alcoholism, to defeat the menace Stane, who inspired the Bridges villain in the first Iron Man. My first new purchase followed shortly afterwards, along with a choice to collect back issues of Invincible Iron Man- more affordable overall than my favorite, Amazing Spider-Man. Fortunately for me, in the bargain bin were, I think, both of these character/ action classics. I literally think my copies are in a box 200 miles away, but recall them SO vividly.

Tony didn’t get to be the playboy in Invincible I.M. #14 this time: no romance, and a very difficult friendship. This time marked the end of Iron Man as Tony Stark...for now.

Comics, in classic incarnations and fresh off today’s racks, with a touch of movie discussion to boot. That seems to be a running theme of late around here! Hope you’re enjoying. - C Lue

Friday, May 19, 2017

Interview with J.M. DeMatteis! On his Marvel & DC hits, his latest at IDW, and more!

I just wrote a feature on J.M.'s first superhero work in the post before.
Here's the questions John Marc DeMatteis graciously OK’d:
1. I think one of your thematic abilities involves discovering a character that might have been, alternative takes of who they might have been, when corporate trademarks were editorially guided to be written “a certain way.” “Going Sane” is a story that became a Batman/ Joker story before it became the essence of “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” which then transformed once more essentially into “Going Sane”: your favorite mainstream superhero story.
Stories, like people, have a natural growth curve and we have to honor that as writers. That story led me from Batman to Spider-Man and back again (with some other twists along the way). Since “Going Sane” and “KLH” are two of the best superhero stories I’ve written, I’m glad I had the sense, and patience, to let them guide me along, instead of trying to control them.

2. Tell me about another one of those kinds of discoveries that started on one character, and found its way to another:
Your Life and Times of Savior 28- your favorite superhero story- began as an aborted story arc leading to Cap #300. I know you’re glad with how things turned out anyway for the story- so poignantly built with 9/11 amidst its plot.
Scooby Doo Apocalypse, with Keith Giffen and Howard Porter

Savior 28 did indeed begin life as a Captain America story, one that, I think, would have been revolutionary for its day. But the Powers That Be said no and I crept off into my little corner and sulked for a while. But the story wouldn’t let go and I continued to play with it, rework and rebuild it, for something like twenty five years. By the time I pitched to IDW, with my friend Mike Cavallaro attached as artist, it had evolved into what I think is a far better story. By creating a new universe for the story, as opposed to placing it in the Marvel or DC universes, I was able to tell the story with complete freedom. Also, the changes in the world conspired to make it a better story, as well.

Come to think of it, I’d like to see what Savior 28 would make of Donald Trump!

And, yes, I think this is the single best superhero story I’ve ever done…and one of my all-time favorite projects. I’m very proud of it. Happy, too, that Mike Cavallaro and I will be doing a new project for IDW this year. Not related to S-28, but I think it will be a lot of fun.

(I also love that you wrote the first two Batman/ Spider-Man team-ups.) But for company boundaries, Spider-Man – what kind of Leaguer you think he might’ve made for a four, five issue arc? Ooo, around #41-44.
Given his sense of humor, I think Spidey would have fit right in with our League. He’d have a blast with Beetle and Booster.

3. What was your source of Blue Beetle’s voice? (My money’s on “you at 23-27 or so” :-D)
He’s a comedy character masterpiece.
My source was him. The goal for me is to get the characters talking and then follow their voices. That said, I think all of the League banter was influenced by my life growing up in Brooklyn; especially a gang of friends I hung out with in my late teens/early twenties.

4. Was Despero’s attack one of your favorite stories? Ooops, I meant the first one, but it must’ve been one of Keith’s at least, because by Breakdowns, guess who was back in town?
That Despero story is a favorite of many people. I think the fact that the seriousness, and the scale, of the story created a stark contrast with the lighthearted nature of the book. I have to admit that part of me viewed that story as a satire on the “grim ’n’ gritty” stories that were so popular back them (including my own work!). This interior monologues—“I am Despero, I am death”—were a slightly tongue-in-cheek riff on Kraven’s Last Hunt. At the same time, the story worked as a straight adventure and I always loved the ending, where J’onn, making a huge sacrifice, telepathically convinces Despero that he’s won.

5. What was it that made Mercy so different than most comics offerings of the time?
You’d have to answer that. For me it was a continuation of what I’d begun with creator-owned projects like Moonshadow, and Blood. A way for me to express my thoughts/feelings about (to steal a phrase) life, the universe and everything.

6. I’m sure what you learned from Rod Serling could inform an entire interview.
His work is there, but today, someone could come learn straight from you! October features another of your workshops.

If I were new to Twilight Zone, got any favorites, and how might an Imagination 101 workshop aid in people who envision TV and film scripts. I mean, you build towards the best medium available, but it’s always down to “tell one good story.”
You just answered your own question! The forms are different, and each form has specific requirements (no matter what anyone says, there’s a vast difference between writing a comic book script and writing a movie or television script), but, once you master those forms, the story is king. And the essence of story—the big themes, the involving characters, the deep emotions—remains the same, no matter what form you express it in.

As for favorite Twilight Zone episodes, there are too many to list, but a few favorites are “A Stop at Willoughby,” “Walking Distance,” “Nightmare at 20000 Feet,” “Time Enough At Last,” “A World of Difference” and so many, many more.

7. A Spider-Man Q: A character that works well in stories with very personal stakes- the kind to which a reader could relate. Did you in the mid-90’s ever foresee it possible that fans might be happy with single Ben and Pete and MJ with child? When they lost the baby, my wife was so disappointed- and when they dumped MJ after you were gone to other things, she dumped collecting Spider-Man.
The plan, from the beginning, was for Ben to become the one true Spider-Man (and all the books to be rebooted with new #1s). Peter and MJ would go off to raise their child and live happily ever after. We could have periodically visited Peter and MJ while building a whole new Spiderverse with Ben. The Powers That Be had other ideas, but I’m happy to hear that Ben is back and getting his own book.

8. We Loved Augusta Wind : The Last Story #1! The recapped history fits a clear introduction of the characters as they prepare for their new peril together, and it’s witty, imaginative. What’s something to look for among the Fallers?
Well, all the issues are out now—and the Last Story collected edition will be out in April—so I don’t want to give away specifics. I’d like people to enjoy the book on its own terms. What I will say is that I consider the entire Augusta Wind sagas to be one of the very best things I’ve ever done. Every once in a while a story comes along that really allows me to really get to the core of my beliefs, my views about (and here’s that phrase again) life, the universe and everything, and express them in what is, I hope, a big, cosmic, engaging adventure. I’m so happy with the way this series turned out and I hope that people seek it out. The art alone, by the great Vassilis Gogtzilas, is worth the price of admission.

9. Was The Last Story was planned as a sequel alongside the genesis of the 2013 series?
Yes. The first series was meant to be part one. We structured it so that you would get a complete adventure in those five issues, but I knew that there was much more to tell.

10. What’s it like when you’re asked an on-the-nose question that touches on something you can’t talk about, but is, in fact, deeply exciting in its unsettled possibilities? That just happened to me with some Luke Cage questions for Sanford Greene. He laughed and admitted he had a lot of “no comments”- which are exciting in themselves, because cool things are happening.
No comment. : )

An aside: I loved Luke in Steve Gerber’s Defenders: I wish he and Red Guardian could’ve teamed-up at least once more in NYC, they were cool together!

11. Your 1997 pop rock album How Many Lifetimes is a great listen. How might your visit to India this November generate material, energy, and perspectives that will go into your double album return to the studio?
Sadly, we weren’t able to make it to India in November: a personal situation came up that prevented it. I’m hoping that we can return there sooner than later as I love India and was really looking forward to meeting the fans, as well as making a personal pilgrimage to Avatar Meher Baba’s Tomb-Shrine.

As for that double album…I’ve got so many songs ready to go, I just need to find the time, the money and the right musicians so I can bring the next album to life in exactly the right way.

Cecil (regarding Justice League)
One new thing I’ll take to it: the idea that, at some point, Batman knows how the role goes, and he’s playing the straight man in his undistracted-from-the-case manner, but he’s filling out the scene with things like “Zip it, Beetle!” instead of laughing- yet he appreciates where the humor comes from in his own way. He acknowledges inside when Beetle’s got a good one, even if it’s one more thought to be put aside in his Zen-like manner. He also relies on the way the team mates think and what they know in a terrific fashion. With Beetle, he knows it’s good to have along someone thinking outside the box: they may have a valuable insight born of that tendency.
My feeling is that Batman was always in on the joke. He loved being with those crazies, although he’d never come out and admit it.

I wondered if there could be anything like your very favorite Justice League story arcs, from your late 80s-early 90s team, but I could see you enjoying each step in its evolution in wholly satisfying, changing ways. Until it was time to let it be a while- let other creative opportunities happen.
I did enjoy the entire evolution, but there are, naturally, favorites. “Moving Day,” the JLE in night school, Justice League Antarctica, Koeey-Kooey-Kooey, all the Guy and Ice relationship stories, “Aliens Night Out” (if that’s the correct name), anything with G’nort in it. Lots more. The less superhero action, the more character-oriented, the more I loved the stories.

By the time you did the Deathlok issues, did you have the kernel of your run to Cap #300 in mind – the one that was vetoed, but became Savior 28 in another era?
The Cap story started to form right after the Deathlok story; right when Paul Neary came on the book. It started subtly, then led me on and became something of an epic which, as you know, was truncated in the end.

What’s your favorite issue of Man-Thing?
I loved the whole series, and working with the amazing Liam Sharp (who’s getting such well-deserved praised for his work on Wonder Woman), but my favorite story was the two-parter that featured Sub-Mariner and the journey back in time to ancient Atlantis. I think we blew the roof off with that one. And the art? Astounding!

Cecil: Spider-Man questions: which do you personally prefer, Kraven’s Last Hunt, or your Spectacular Spider-Man issues with Harry Osborn? I would say your Harry stories were inspired by your favorite and first Spidey comic, ASM #40 (right?) in a big way! I think I”ve found a deeper question, though.
Much as I love KLH, that run of Harry stories in Spectacular Spider-Man forms what I think is my best run with the character. Spec #200, with Harry’s death, may be my single favorite Spidey story. (Sal Buscema, one of the greatest superhero artists of all time, knocked it out of the park with that one.) The multi-part “Child Within” is another high-point. But I’d love to see that entire Spec run finally collected. I don’t know what Marvel’s waiting for! And, yes, I’m very fond of Amazing #400—as well as Spider-Man: The Lost Years. I love Ben Reilly, as you surely know.


While J.M. wants readers to enjoy Augusta Wind: The Last Story, released since last fall as a five-issue series by IDW Publishing, it’s such a unique undertaking, and so reflective of its author’s philosophy about storytelling and our future, Outright Geekery feels it deserves mention.
Why Augusta Wind? A lot of novel and impressive archetypes are identified along the way, anthropomorphized in the twisted fairy tale cartoon style of Vassili Gotzillas. Snabbit may turn out to be a reflection of the Creator His/Her Self. Mrs. Plumpkin’s ominous house and yard beside the Valley of the Fallers (from Nightmare) may hold the secret of the Omniphant, whose purpose creates the final peril that makes this The Last Story.

The adventure’s told in insightful details, such as: children LOVE nightmares, they enjoy being scared. But Fallers are people who fell in their nightmares and became trapped in the Valley. Some have climbed out, says Mrs. Plumpkin in #1: “many of those became writers.” Insights move the concepts along, unveiling themselves in each conversation and twist of the plot!

Augusta’s brave struggle to protect her friends and all the stories ever created provides an accessible mode of reconsidering the very nature of the stories we tell. But kids of all ages can follow some part- the visuals carry along a surprisingly clear but evocative story that children can enjoy and follow, but any level of reader could find things rarely, if ever, spoken.
The word play, reflected in the punny names, provides wit and whimsy, and you should really check it out!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

1st Marvels: J.M. DeMatteis, Eternity, Defenders #92 (1980)

Defenders 92 “Eternity...Humanity...Oblivion!”

So, Defenders #92 becomes the first regular superhero series assignment for John Marc DeMatteis, who had taken over Conan The Barbarian for a few issues. J.M. went on to write ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt,’ script the wildly-popular and hilarious Justice League series starting in ‘87, and pen many original, thoughtful tales, from his novice Marvel Team-Up efforts to this year’s Augusta Wind: The Last Story series for IDW Publishing (where novice me joins the ranks of pro comics writers with Hero Duty). He’s written cartoons like Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans Go!, and somber comics like Mercy, one of the first Vertigo Comics, and Savior 28. And I do believe I saw his son Cody’s name in the credits for Rick and Morty last night, a William St. Production Manager.

J.M. took over for Ed Hannigan, whose last story in #91 was probably my favorite from his run, along with the intriguing ‘Inquest’ from #87. Ed’s tale involved nuclear power hazard- topical stuff in 1980 after Three Mile Island. Here we go in a genuinely fantastic direction that borrows a great Steve Ditko/ Stan Lee creation, Eternity, introduced in Strange Tales #138. J.M. ties into his story in Marvel Team-Up #101, which recalls Gerber tying his MTIO run to his new book, Defenders #20. J.M. began his career writing for the anthology House of Mystery over at DC, with some success with his ongoing series of his creation I, Vampire. He’d been both a rock musician and rock journalist before- and what I think was his second published Marvel letter resides in the letters pages of the Guardians guest-appearance I chronicled, from Defenders #26-29!

He’d been both a rock musician and rock journalist before- and what I think was his second published Marvel letter resides in the letters pages of the Guardians guest-appearance I chronicled, from Defenders #26-29!

J.M., thought it took him a while to get down the art of comics writing, but the story itself here is pretty great! I suspect if he had any problems with it, they reside with the pacing, which I’ll comment about further down, translating the story paced as a more modern two-issue tale. It may’ve been editorial fiat that made his first two issues “one and done,” or those may have been his pitches for the series. J.M. makes his mark from the start, though, embedding favorite topics throughout this debut. Like Gerber with #20, from the first page, you get iconic language and images that foretell his concerns as a writer.

First page impressions: loneliness, gentle side of the heroes, what makes Defenders unique. It’s even funny: the Hulk is playing with dolls that resemble Dormammu (“fire head”) and someone he calls “big wizard”: “Want to come to my house to play some songs?” Hulk and other heroes together was always the most endearing and memorable part of this incarnation, the Savage Hulk with child-like mentality and caveman speech. Clea and Dr. Strange look on, observing his docile sweetness, yet his hair-trigger potential for devastation. From this start, we get a hint of Strange’s avuncular role, as Gerber developed him. The caption describes how Hulk (instead of turning to Banner?) comes to Dr. Strange’s house as an anchor in a life of drifting ephemera. Perhaps it’s the loneliness that also makes him too angry to change back? I’m never sure with these Hulk downtime scenes, but writers couldn’t resist them as they play against his superheroic type. Compassion and figures of pity are a constant in DeMatteis’ series work at Marvel, so yes, from page one, we’re getting a capsule of not only what makes The Defenders unique among team books, but also, trademarks of the writer’s approach to the series and in general.

With magical awareness, Dr. Strange anticipates Nighthawk’s arrival, with more low-key humor. Kyle Richmond, aka the high-flyin’ Nighthawk, is in a very low-key mood. We get, in his spew of confession about the soft spots in his psyche hit by encountering his old girlfriend Mindy (in MTU #101, natch) the set-up for his arc, the defining one of this tale. We also get a taste of what people don’t like about Kyle’s self-pity, which, paired with his less-than-outstanding super powers, made him a largely-ignored or reviled character, with a few diehard fans that tuned in to this book for him. Granted, J.M. has just thrown him a blast-from-the-past, 1980 comics style, with robots re-creating his college days, where he seriously screwed up: he thought he killed Mindy in a drunk driving accident, as chronicled by Gerber in #32. What bugged me about Kyle is how he didn’t seem to learn from his out of body experience after all- but that’s Life. (I like him a bit better under Kraft’s pen, where he acquires a bit of temper, charm, even at least one good story unveiling his philosophical side in #51.)

His existential crisis segues into the more dire universal one; Existential angst and more callbacks to Gerber’s influence are implied. As in the next issue, for single-issue stories, we get sudden high stakes- not much space to build suspense. It’s a pretty unique one, though: existence will be finished if humanized pieces of the embodiment of conceptual being Eternity, sent forth to experience life at a smaller scale across the cosmos, are not reunited with Eternity himself in eight hours. Directly on the heels of Kyle unburdening himself, Eternity’s desperate call reaches the Sorcerer Supreme.

One of the winning qualities of DeMatteis’ rookie tale is the use of classic Ditko design and imagery. The initial description Ego gives Peter Quill of his star-spanning spawning in Guardians 2 remarkably resembles Eternity’s plan in this tale! We also get the Star Eyes effect on both Quill there and here, in Stephen Strange. I love Metaphysical description of closeness of vast multiversal passages; it’s one thing I’ve discovered in Yogic practice personally, its appeal to the imagination to envision contact with the vastness of existence while gaining presence in your body, here.

So, without a nefarious subterfuge on Eternity’s part, he states he wanted an experience outside the loneliness of his totality, so he embodied himself as many beings throughout the universe. But darn that stubborn, individualist place called Earth, three of his fragments there have not returned, and the veil by which they experience individuality also keeps him from finding them.
Seems like a failsafe should’ve been in place before risking all existence- I’m looking at you, Eternity! (With Star Eyes!)

In classic non-team fashion, Dr. Strange sends his astral self to gather Defenders for the mission. Yes, a group has come to hang together regularly for personal reasons- mostly Kyle, and here, we see Val and Patsy, aka Valkyrie and Hellcat, having a cuppa tea while probably commiserating over Patsy’s recent loss of her Mom. (Yep, writers picked up the stories before and kept going- that was what helped make Marvel, Marvel!) While assembling those two, and picking out Son of Satan, who anticipates his call, I feel he let Surfer off the hook too easily! Nice tie-back to the tapestry w/ Hulk #250- where trying to cure Hulk leaves Surfer again doomed behind Galactus’ earthbound barrier but...Reality! Reality is in jeopardy, man! Give it a rest, stop moping! But, this does allow the writer to keep his “non-team” idea in place: it’s strictly a volunteer group each time, and a reluctant one, traditionally. Strange now vows to contact his magician friends- his Psychic Network?- so they might help hold Eternity’s fragile fabric together while he sends six Defenders in pairs, JLA-style, to seek the three missing “little E-ter-ni-tys” (as Hulk calls them). If this were paced as two issues, I would’ve definitely included a scene of two of that effort.

This issue brings back Daimon Hellstrom, aka the Son of Satan; his pairing with Hellcat underlines just how long it’s been since he appeared in The Defenders. This guest appearance actually portends an ongoing stint throughout DeMatteis’ run on the title. He analyzes Strange’s teleportation spell aloud, part of our introduction to his powers and background. Patsy’s not interested. We see a compassionate side to him as he puts a hand on her shoulder while she apologizes for her un-Hellcat-like brusqueness. What he senses is her personal angst over her mother’s recent death- the grief at their lifelong lack of reconciliation over Mom’s push to make Patsy a celeb. He’s explaining that he understands “conflicting feelings towards a parent” when he’s humorously interrupted.
“As Strange may have told you,” he says, “my father is the –

“ Devil! Devil!” shouts the temple acolyte. Heh.
Let’s pause here to mention the three settings; our first one here is a Hindi temple, adequately drawn to include its deity statues, but also here begins the tiny figures and long shots of action necessary to squeezing in this sprawling tale. We’re introduced to DeMatteis’ personal interests in Hindu myth and Eastern mysticism. The second, with the child Ivan in the village of Rodinsk, is probably a callback to Russian lit too; its Hulk-friendly villagers present more Cold War glasnost, which is reminiscent of Nighthawk and Hulk’s last visit battling the Presence in #56, Kraft’s story. That one also carried concerns about nuclear devastation and radiation poisoning- with Banner, often the victim of Hulk’s black-out-drunk-like travels, able to save the day. The Greek setting of Patras Isle is, at least, a chance to bring in Greek mythological images for the monstrous antagonists.

As it stands, there’s enough illustrated to evoke one’s imagination, to fill out the scene. Patsy gets Daimon to cool it with the scary bit, as she might say; the innocence of her eyes, as noted by the frightened female acolyte, causes her to relax, trust, divulge the apparent intervention of Hanuman, the perfect servant of the gods, as he spirits away their guru- the disguised aspect of Eternity.

These days, a good first installment might’ve included this battle- which displays Hellstrom’s fearsome hellfire powers, as run through his trident- and a couple of pages afterwards where Daimon goes from scary Darksoul-influenced inquisitor to opening up to Patsy- then the first strike from Hanuman, the gigantic psychic construct. The episode with Nighthawk and Hulk could’ve filled out the rest of the issue, along with an expansion of material beforehand. The trip through the ice-protected palace could’ve concluded their portion- then the next issue could pick up with Namor and Valkyrie, conclude Hellcat and Hellstrom’s takedown of the antagonistic avatar, depict the Psychic Network’s efforts to recap, and everyone could meet about halfway through!

With his Netharanium trident leading the vibrationally-attuned way, Patsy bonds over Daimon’s travails with him, as glimpsed for a couple of panels. They battle the Hanuman construct, and find the first of what will be portals to the extradimensional plane in which they’ll encounter the Eternity personas. Each of them- guru, special needs peasant, and lovingly married island dweller- represents very different experiences.

Hulk / Kyle is a classic Defenders pair; since his de facto leadership turn, Kyle’s normally unable to persuade the Hulk to do anything constructive. Their snow monster battle turns this on its head; DeMatteis clearly thinks it’s played its course. Reading along, after they encounter the Eternity-child’s adopted parents, you don’t know this is single-parter, so you might not anticipate where they’re going after they avoid a frozen fate.

Namor/ Valkyrie: similar personalitiesm subtle differences; more mythology-based foes. Namor is recognized by the Eternity-man’s wife, from her days in England during World War II- a topical reference that still worked at this time and provided a cool layer of Submariner’s history in a single panel. Valkyrie pokes at Namor’s very vocal reluctance: perhaps, since he rarely turns Strange’s pleas down, he likes things this way? Namor’s anti-social manners continue where, with cold logic, he discards the kind of hesitation Nighthawk showed replying to the concern for the missing person, and flatly tells Lady Elizabeth: I’m sorry, but your husband’s dead. Perlin and Marcos also have him extend the hand to the shoulder as Hellstrom did before, but while that was the beginning of a long-standing relationship between the two Hellions, Submariner doesn’t bother with further interest or emotional cushioning, as he knows these beings must be returned to Eternity or Non-Existence follows.

Again, we have an interesting-sounding setting, ancient Greek ruins on an uninhabited island after a too-tiny battle with a suggested conclusion between panels. We buzz through it; like the outposts before, this leads to the otherworldly encounter with the ones behind the abductions:
the fugitive pieces of Eternity themselves!

How do you describe the weird final battle place? I ask because I tried something a bit similar in my Defenders pastiche, one of the earliest Integr8d Fix multi-post epics. Not a conventional team, everyone attacks without coordination, falling one-at-a-time. Each goes down due to an illusion, direct attack, or misdirection. Questions of individual experience plague the remnants, who curiously would choose the End OF All That Is over surrendering their unique experiences. But where would those experiences GO if there’s no Eternity to exist?
Strange reaches through to Kyle, the most conscious one remaining, as time runs out. “Speak from your heart,” he encourages Nighthawk. That’s a very DeMatteis sort of climatic battle detail!

After the action, the ending revolves around a non-violent resolution, based on Kyle’s character. His insight questions the selfishness of individual experience, for how can it have value without context of loved ones? Here, the remnants, moved by his words, rejoin Eternity- facing their greatest fear, in a spiritual sort of conjecture resonant of the artist’s view of life after death.

“Three human forms dissolve, and streak through the dimensional sky.”
As Eternity knew, the moment of reunion is not one of intransigent (?) horror---but ineffable bliss...of beatific and boundless joy. For in their sacrifice, these three have found HOME.”

Strange congratulates Kyle, as all eight heroes resume their exhausted forms in his Sanctum Sanctorum. But Kyle, moved deeply by problems aside from his own now, admits he wasn’t listening. “I was just thinking,” he says, in melancholy, “about two sweet old people in Russia...who are going to feel very alone, tonight.” We’re back to the theme introduced symmetrically and sustained throughout. There’s always strange leaps of logic in any myth-making, but for any flaws, it’s a nicely Humanistic piece, combining old-fashioned team epic with thoughtful pathos. Well done, team!

Very entertaining! Defenders #92 is a milestone in the beginning of a lifelong dream to write for Marvel Comics Group, and a big step for one young writer, taking the opportunity to put his work out there, chance the vicissitudes of the creative process. Always hardest on himself, J.M. worked with veteran craftspeople in the form of Perlin and Marcos, display the handiwork of colorist George Roussos (who does vivid, creative work here) and letterer Diana Albers, who keeps our rambling bard neat and clear, with guidance from a veteran of cosmic fare, editor Al Milgrom.

The end result became a fun experience for over a hundred thousand people, and many more of us in the years to follow, since it’s part of a larger tapestry, of which the creative team makes skilled use. Some readers passed through for an issue; some found dull aspects; others found it in a discount box somewhere. For many: thrills, discovery! Some came away influenced by its thoughtful creative language: a fine achievement for a piece of disposable, commercial pop culture. When the battle of creativity against deadlines was finally won, a comics creator, by 1980, realized, in hope and anxiety and joyous satisfaction, they just might have made a little corner of memory- a tiny piece of Eternity? A tale of humanity? A speck of Oblivion? Some may be penning their fan letters, decades later!

For J.M. quotes on his Defenders run, and on aspects of his entire career since
- read his interview with me, May 20th! For more of his ongoing work, check out Scooby Doo: Apocalypse with Keith Giffen and Howard Porter, and updates from the man himself at his Creation Point blog. Read On, C Lue

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Drawn and Quarterly: Hostage, Poppies In Iraq Free Comic Review

Drawn & Quarterly Presents: Guy Delisle Hostage
Sometimes a simple cartoon, when there’s a single character, can convey your story perfectly. How you feel about one desperate person chained to a radiator, held hostage, will equate to how much you’d enjoy this comic. It’s a well-done attempt to evoke empathy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite of the usual escapist fare that dominates American comics. The monochromatic palette demonstrates the hazy, monotonous feeling of two days, after an entire month previously, of being a hostage in an apartment in Chechnya. You know the little the hostage knows; you appreciate the things you do with your freedom, especially your free time. Delisle’s work even in so brief a sample does leave an impression on which to linger. The situation he wishes to convey is not very detail-intensive. I recognize the craft, but I think I’d be more attracted to some of the other real-world-inspired offereings from D & Q more.
3 ½ stars of 5.
Poppies of Iraq

Here, the cartoons are even simpler.

Childhood’s evoked by a story that looks drawn by a child. If you want to understand a society robbed of its freedoms gradually, this autobiography does the job from a very personal viewpoint. You don’t get a lot of multi-character dramatic interaction, and the plot’s a combination of recollection and national events. Poppies, however, humanizes the people of a very misunderstood part of the world- helps you see how government censorship and control shapes opinions by leaving its people in the dark for information. The drawings do add some effective emotional texture to what is mostly hand-lettered text- one I would’ve enjoyed, anyway, but they do work together in a legitimate comic book fashion.
I salute Drawn and Quarterly’s work overall for stretching the bounds of adult, editorial, awareness-enhancing content. 4 *s of 5 C Lue

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Defenders: One Bad Mother of an Origin

Hope your Mother’s Day is happier than most superheroes. I’m sure you can think up someone with a good relationship with their mom, but in the four color fictional worlds there’s usually missing parents, if not downright antagonism! It’s true of their cinematic variations as well, as per witness Iron Man/ Tony Stark in Captain America: Civil War. I’ll skip the Stark ending pun.

But sure, Batman, Spider-Man- maybe it’s the removal of the single most comforting relationship of more childhoods than not, or removing authority figures from the story, but Mother’s Day’s twisted in some way for most super heroes. Our mother, after all, is part of everyone’s origin story, you know. And speaking of both mothers and origins, let me pick up with the Defenders, and their run by writer Steve Gerber, as mentioned in my Gawdy Yarns of the Galaxy Original Volume Two post.

First, I’m not sure Stephen Strange’s mom’s been in a story-when a character’s kicked around this long, there’s little way to avoid that story-well- but the Defenders in their classic incarnation collectively have very tough mother stories, besides being tough mothers. (Pop culture aficionados may realize the Defenders, conceptually, are in for a remake on the order of the Guardians, as you’ll see in Netflix and in Marvel Comics. In fact, it relates to some other heroes I’m featuring!) Hulk’s never-mentioned Mom eventually gets a tragic part in his story that sets up the origin of alter ego Bruce Banner’s repressed rage. Prince Namor’s mother loved a surface worlder; that star-crossed union led to their hybrid issue who grew to become the savage Submariner. Nighthawk’s personal origin as Kyle Richmond becomes a tone-changing tale that sets the existential guide post for Gerber’s second year on the book, in #32; his anger issues and callow maturity also date back to a mother who dies during his childhood.

Rebirth of the Valkyrie, Defenders #3, 1973.
But Valkyrie’s mom’s story, either way you slice it, takes the cake. Things start out mythologically swimmingly for the Viking chooser of the slain, but in the character’s comic book debut, Avengers #83 I think, it’s the Norse schemer Amora The Enchantress who “creates” her as a guise to destroy the Avengers (and lead the first all-female heroic team- I wish it had been as cool as that sounds!). In Steve Gerber’s debut on the Defenders, however, we learn the story of the mother of Barbara Norriss, the woman to whose body the Valkyrie’s powers and spirit and persona are magically grafted. It’s not pretty.
Also in the bargain, we get the very subtle origin of The Defenders group itself!

As I mentioned in the Integr8d Fix post about the Guardians before, this story grows out of Gerber’s Marvel-Two-In-One #’s 6 &7, with Defenders Dr. Strange and the Valkyrie teamed with The Thing from the Fantastic Four. AS recapped in Defenders #20, a harmonica emblazoned with the word ‘Celestia’ holds the potential to destroy the world, and we meet five beings tied to its fate. One of them is Alvin Denton; in the course of the story, we discover he’s Barbara Denton Norriss’ father! He dies trying to use the harmonica’s powers to save her. Meanwhile, Valkyrie’s alarmed to begin discovering the origins of her human body, who had, before, parents, a life-and shockingly, an estranged husband!

But as Defenders #20, Steve’s debut on the title, opens, she’s only briefly met Alvin, who lies dead before her and Ben Grimm, the Thing. Steve opens with a dismal caption about winos dying unheralded on the streets of ‘70s New York City, leaving, in retrospect, no doubt to a fan of the period who’s telling the story. Continuing in very Gerber fashion, he sets the scene on the splash page, with the grieving depicted by Sal Buscema’s layouts and Vince Colleta’s finishes- which play to his strength for pretty feminine faces in this issue. Quoth Steve: “The Answer to that most basic question of all---’who am I?’-for the Valkyrie was created full-grown, by the Enchantress’ magic, without a past---and inhabits the body of Barbara Denton- a person she never knew.” His interest in Existentialist philosophy shines gloomily through, then, from page one.

Even Ben sheds a tear at Alvin’s passing, though The Enchantress’ super-strong bully lackey The Executioner provides an Asgardian-powered rumble in keeping with the comics of the era. His mistress sees no further point in battle with the mystic harmonica’s power spent, however, so she teleports them away to fight another day. Ben’s compassionate attempt to take Alvin’s body for interment is rebuffed by Val, but he understands. It’s during his snooze we get the recap of how things came to this impasse. Humorously, he believes it’s FF boss and best friend Reed Richards awakening him later, but he’s being roped in further to help Valkyrie by the de facto leader of the non-team, Doctor Strange, who soon returns with Kyle Richmond, Nighthawk. Ben correctly surmises Kyle’s more than “ a mutual friend”- which carries a couple of meanings, as Kyle’s presently also crushing hard on Val- and then hears Kyle bemoan the team/ non-team status of a group with a name, headquarters, “and six or seven members who never want to get together!” Always poking fun at the apparent absurdities without a filter, Ben observes “if the FF worked like that, the world woulda been blown up ten times over!” But in typical Defenders fashion, Doc senses sinister forces, and personal appeals hold together a crew of heroes to investigate.

Now we continue with the part Steve Gerber obviously really cared about: Val/ Barbara hefting Alvin’s body solemnly into town. Observers’ thoughts allow us to pick apart the mystery of Val’s human guise- a situation, in regards to Tom the Sheriff, that makes Val very uncomfortable. Subterfuge is not her typical tact, yet she must quietly play up the ruse of being who she appears to be. IN point of fact, Gerber even declares, in a caption, that the theme of the story, if there is one, is “things not as they seem.”

There’s a couple of other carefully-included points written in that distinguish his writing here, in this medium that was not contemporaneously known for subtlety. Still in character, The Thing observes the apparent logic of the story’s plot til now- “Enchantress must’a figgered the Harmonica’s power wuz all used up..after Alvin blew it and the world fell apart. Yeah...that sounds stupid enuff ta be right. (Alvin died of a heart attack during the cataclysmic climax of MTIO #7.)” He concludes that thought in a very Gerberian fashion: “Sure, who said life hadda make sense...that there hadda be a reason for lvin’ and dyin’?” It’s an essential Existential question, and a nice observation of how we form stories and then expect in them to find those sorts of answers.

There’s one tiny detail I also want to include, after a man soon revealed to be part of “Nyborg”’s cult has spotted her displaying the atypical strength to carry a grown man at an unimpeded pace: “The little man races away, as Val halts, gazing at a word on a shingle.” The word is Sheriff, and the sheriff will soon lead the woman he perceives to be Barbara to her family home. “A word on a shingle” is such an non-intrusive way to make the detail seem almost pitiable in its fragility, like her fragile hopes of uncovering her identity while feeling a grief that should be personal, but is felt at a certain remove.

We get into the contents of the house more in the next issue. But just as Val feels Barbara’s presence gently moving within her psyche in this place of stirred memories, she’s zapped, as Ben might say, by Nyborg’s cultists. Over the course of more action hijinks, Strange and Val become mystic hostages; only the unique set of mind of the Thing, we’re told, as opposed to usual Defenders partner The Hulk, provides the game-saver that foils the sacrifice for the materializing Nameless Ones.

But on the way into the house, Dr. Strange discovers a lovely portrait of the woman he discerns to be Barbara’s mother: Celestia! The name on the harmonica is a solved mystery. But the hideous figure who appears in the basement with the cultists stands unveiled as the cultists reveal how the Hulk, Submariner, and Dr. Strange “two years before” had rescued the body of Barabara Norriss, in their first adventure together. Barbara, a member of their cult, had been bartered away by her mother to become a mate to the Nameless Ones, who would then restore her beauty and youth. Her forced uncoupling in Defenders #3- the origin point for the present incarnation of The Valkyrie- drove Barbara Norriss mad! Her psyche shattered, the Valkyrie was chosen to fill the now-vacated vessel of her mind.

As narrated by Steve over the somewhat-hasty action conclusion: Consider: Barbara’s husband happened to be a member of the cult and induced Barbara to join. The cult then “happens” to be responsible for bringing the girl, The Hulk and Dr. Strange together for the first time (Hulk #126). Years later, the same mage and same monster free the same girl..and “happen” to encounter the Enchantress.

She changes Barbara- and the girl in whom no magic had dwelt, who was therefore useless to the nether-god’s objective of earthly domination..becomes a living vessel of Asgardian sorcery! Chance? Coincidence? Or the designs of a being who knew that Dr Strange would meet again...who knew of the Enchantress’ plight?”

So there’s the secret origin of the Defenders!

Ben destroys the harmonica, rather than fight the demons, as Hulk might have. The plan comes undone. Celestia Denton’s life force, bound to the harmonica, dissipates; her body disintegrates to ashes.

Happy Mother’s Day!


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Spill Night / Spill Zone: Free Comic Book Day Review 5/5

Scott Westerfeld/ Alex Puvilland Spill Night


I don’t think Free Comic Book Day is meant to display, necessarily, how talented a creative team is at tying up a big story. You want a complete presentation, but ideally, a free comic should leave you excited, practically dying to find out what happens next!

Spill Night delivers. MK and I were in accord: we wanted to spend money collecting more of this series. It’s a preview to the graphic novel Spill Zone, which is serialized on spillzone.com; it’s also available in comics shops and book stores in print.

A little girl and her doll, Vespertine- which holds the voice of her imaginary friend- see a bizarre, colorful energy altering her hometown. With a street-wise voice, Vespertine criticizes absent older sister Addison while guiding the little sister through the enigmatic, encroaching menace. The doll helps her escape, searching desperately for its allies that may have come over from the other side in this energetic invasion. Darkly, they observe adults fall victim to the Spill, while fleeing on foot and bicycle, alone. What seems to be brightly-colored cats, the doll says eerily, are really scavengers such events conjure.

Three years later, Addison re-visits the Spill Zone on a regular basis, risking her life to photograph its bizarre, dangerous effects, with Vespertine riding inanimately along. We switch from observing a dialogue to a narrated monologue, as Addison hints at the conditions with her six ominous rules of survival.

Spill Zone art- check out Spillzone.com!

With so much left unexplained, amid so much intrigue and vividly-colored cartoon art by Dreamworks animator Alex Puvilland, Spill Night sucks you in at the point of view of the two sisters, vulnerable, the innocent and her young protector, with claustrophobic horror and imaginative, child-like fun.

Five *’s of Five!

C Lue

Rick and Morty: Free Comic Book Day!

Free Comic Book Day!

Rick & Morty by Oni Press (2 stories)

“The wubba lubba dub dub of Wall Street”

Zac Gorman, CJ Cannon colors, Ryan Hill Letters, Crank!

You DO know the show, don’t you? If not, you get a pretty good introduction to the sarcastic, insightful science-fiction-flavored adventures of reality-hopping grandpa Rick Sanchez and his hapless grandson Morty. This sample has a get-rick-quick scheme involving the stock market that goes tits-up on the pair thanks to Morty’s weasel dad, Jerry, granting access of the grounds to the Time Police. Turns out Rick’s invention has a twist, so it’s NOT time travel, but I won’t blow it all for you.

The art’s mostly on model; we don’t get a lot of the show’s signature aliens. We do get a lame-o antagonist in Detective Tock. The language, perversion, and substance abuse don’t go as overboard as some episodes, but the real difference is the lack of a B-plot with the supporting cast, which is where the show gets a lot of its texture.

If you don’t care about that, the A-plot’s a good match for the show’s tone, and the dialogue’s on-model with the banter between Rick, Morty and their foe. Marc Kane read this with me and laughed out loud at the end of the pages a couple of times. There’s sufficient callbacks to the show, including some extra-dimensional improvised TV news. We don’t get a conclusion here, but it’s a reasonable effort to win over your trust of the handling of the property. How you’d feel if you’re not a regular viewer- and who isn’t?-depends on your taste in surreal comedy. Perhaps the usual subversion of would-be-good guy Morty’s ethical expectations would’ve played as too formulaic. The story’s got a handle on the dynamics between Rick, Morty and Jerry --- it’s on the lighter side, but still tense.

The choice of how to present a smaller installment equivalent to about half a program, without subplots, meant the free sample couldn’t match up to all the show’s most endearing qualities. It may not be fair to judge it by that standard, but it’s inevitable. Good production values.

Morty: I dunno. That seems too easy. Are you sure it’s legal, Rick?
Rick: I’m completely aware of how legal it is, Morty!

“Pocket Like You Stole It”- Tini Howard, Marc Ellerby colors, Katy Farina letters, Crank!
The bizarre but funny mini-series introduced in the few pages for story two looks promising. Mer-Morty is one of many alternate timeline Mortys, a concept from Season Two. MK turned the page bringing in Rick and had a good chuckle.

Pocket Mortys?
Rating: 3 ½ of 5

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy: volume two movie and All-New #1 reviews (unspoilered)

Reviews: Guardians vol 2 movie and all-new Guardians of the Galaxy #1

We kicked off our 5/5/17 Guardians experience with the new comic book, All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #1. This first chapter was a good value; we just wanted more story because it was fun! The artwork’s modern cartoony style suited the out-of-the-ordinary subject matter, so hats off to Aaron Kuder. Ive Svorcina’s colors bring to mind the cinematic Guardians’ world.

Gerry Duggan’s story, “Smash and Grab,” meanwhile, hints at Earthly adventures- where they must always eventually visit- and subtle changes to most everyone. So why, as Rocket notes, is Peter Quill “the most put-together of all of us?”

In Groot’s case, there’ll be fairly serious consequences. He looks just like the cute lil’ Groot of the movies, but there’s a reason he’s still tiny. If you’ve ever planted cuttings of a plant, you’ll get it for sure- but why does this weaken what we’ll call Prime Groot?

The humor’s there all the way, along with cosmic comics grandeur. The Galactus ruse that opens the adventures of our hired scavengers is laugh-out-loud funny, as is Drax’s conversion to pacifism. This guy laughs at violence and defying death- you have to wonder why he’s playing so against type! What seems to be “a profoundly stupid death” turns into a rendezvous with Grandmaster, one of the Elders of the Universe.

An Awesome Mix Volume 1 Master Card does look pretty good. I actually opened the comic and chuckled knowingly at how the Guardians are now hawking services, like “Booking.Com”- “shilling just like Superman and Spider-Man have done for decades, from vitamins to shower curtains.”

The opening issue gets at least a B. It’s hard to build up to the kind of emotional pathos you can reach in a full movie, which is like a nice mini-series in comics terms- at least, the kind of pathos James Gunn can evoke when writing and directing.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume Two: the movie
Now this just might be A+ territory- though I preferred the first soundtrack, which also had the advantage of being a total surprise direction. The use of “Mr. Blue Sky” in the opening scene, combined with Groot dancing to a very effective 3-D battle scene made up of suggestion as well as tableau. We read the comic and went out about an hour and a half later to sit in the theater with friends (we don’t argue enough to be family), so it was a multi-media one-two punch!

First off, Marc Kane loved Kurt Russell in the rare turn as the heavy- and you don’t get much heavier than a living planet! Two Jack Kirby-created concepts/ characters, the Celestials and Ego, the Living Planet, came together to provide almost equal hope and menace, in a very rounded character. He’s wonderful in both aspects.

Mantis is the next character worth noting. Ego’s “pet” has fascinating powers, a step away from the physically-violent abilities manifested by most of the team and their foes. She’s been moved into a different interpretation than her comic book creation, but is still a good candidate for Celestial Madonna, and not a poor use of her essence.

WE love the way they grew all the characters. They tended to be organized by pairs, but you also have reflections when they overlap: Rocket and Quill have a similar antagonism to Yondu and Quill, and then it’s folded neatly together in the moment Yondu tells Rocket: we’re the same!

Yondu bears mentioning next because he frankly just steals the show. He was awesome! He gets that terrific speech to Rocket, which unveils his layers of complexity.

Rocket himself gets a ninja-badass scene, taking on the Ravagers with planning, agility, and lots of great weapons. His team-up with Quill to pilot the ship down doesn’t work out so great, but his team-up with a character later gives us some cool glow-in-the-dark action that fits that ‘80s “laser tag” aesthetic and again establishes his warrior cred. Gamora has a cutting line about that piloting, by the way, with terrific rejoinder from Quill that shines with juvenile humor- one of the rare ‘battle of the sexes’ type conflicts. Normally, they all find plenty else to battle about. Despite that, there’s a lovely scene at the climax, where they nearly ‘got me’ in the tear ducts, including Rocket, where Quill revisits what it is that makes life worthwhile- and what it is to be human- or even the half-human Star Lord!

I finally have to mention Drax, who is much transformed after his vengeance-fueled mission to avenge his family. Here, he’s clearly having a blast! Witness his head-long dive into the belly of the beast in the opening scene- never mind how effective it proves to be. His jump out the airlock, complete in a bubble-wrap suit you want to walk up and pop with your fingers, accompanies death-defying glee, which follows him all the way to the ship’s crash.

His interaction with Mantis is so funny; it inverts expectations of your typical romantic pairing. His line: “they’re beautiful...and so are you...on the inside” is delivered at the very moment when you really, really need a laugh- to remind you how much of a comedy you were sitting through, even.

It’s a great direction, these moments of pathos and humor, sewed together so seamlessly, in my opinion, throughout a movie that mixes low humor, high science fiction concept, romance, stories about relationships of several kinds, high-octane adventure, and positively dazzling special effects, which our pal Jeremy noted fit with an overall ‘80s sort of visual sensibility in Gunn’s movie.

We also get a great story between the sisters, reared by Thanos to become killing machines. The awful price Nebula has paid for her failures to defeat Gamora gives her dimension, and all the showdowns, and no less this one, are driven by emotional needs and logical motivations.

The Sovereign, for all their cloned similarity, are perfect as nerve-wracking, condescending third-force foes, reflections of the Ravagers, who are individualistic, petty scum. Taser Face gives us a level of menace that fills Yondu’s role from the first movie, but also a healthy dose of laughs. The Sovereign also bring us one more item of future interest after the credits, another Jack Kirby creation once brought to his narrative heights by the creator of Gamora and Thanos: “Adam.”

Our brief look at Sylvester Stallone’s character, Stakar, reveals the intention to make him Starhawk from the original Guardians; he’s also aided by a Pluvian-type, who you would think is meant to be the crystalline Martinex. He’s there to provide more depth to the Ravagers as a whole, ostracizing the much-liked Yondu- and not because of his winning personality, but because Yondu agreed to kidnap a child. The story behind why he failed to deliver said child gives his story richness. I don’t find the
conclusion forced, personally. Stakar’s there to herald the movie’s emotional pay-off, which underscores my belief about Yondu’s unexpected star turn. Michael Rooker, take a bow!

Groot gets the least development, but plays the role of the simple, child-like stand-in. Basically, as much of an innocent as you’ll ever find hanging out with a demolitions-expert “trash bandit,” Groot’s primary trio of scenes involves his entertaining dance to distinguish GotG2’s action opening from anything seen in comics movies; the “red fin” search, which not only restores Yondu (eventually!) to his classic look, but gives us more fun at the expense of the rag-tag Ravagers- and finally, his day-saving turn with the hilarious “button” scene with Rocket. Marc Kane speculated ‘he may have pretended confusion just so he could distract Rocket and run off’ - maybe it was going to be hard for Rocket to let him go? No one, we find out, has any tape. That’s as unexpected, yet true to these spit-and-bailing wire characters, as any climatic scene has ever delivered. But don’t think for a moment the action climax lacks for spectacular effects! And there’s many levels on which the day must be saved, for no one is safe… and not everyone’s going to get out alive.

More, I simply will not tell you. One day, I would love to delve into this flick in a similar fashion to the great discussion of Dark Knight at Nicky Rotten’s with Daniel and Josh and Charita, but anything else requires a spoiler warning. Genuinely a movie most folks will enjoy, and some will be tempted to call a favorite from the first.

Like this? Check out my scripting over the wonderful story drawn by Joe Phillips, Hero Duty- coming this year from IDW Publishing!

Spoilers below

FREE COMICS DAY 2017 Apparently, Marvel had Defenders and Guardians linked in the mind like my post did!

So did Ego maybe kill the mothers all with cancer? Killing the mothers was an effective way to sever the bonds of the kids, for his purposes. It’s apparent that his form of “love” meant that he had to slay Mary Quill to avoid an obsessive attachment that would cause him to abandon his grand plan. The line about “ I needed to return to the planet to replenish myself with its inner light” might have been a total dodge- I immediately questioned “why didn’t you offer to bring her back with you?” Star Man would NOT approve.
So did Mantis have to help him sleep because of all Ego’s dead children? Did he kill Mantis’ entire race too?

We love how the space eyes vanished from Quill’s face when he found out about the tumor.
I’ll just tell ya: I was very emotionally effected by the sacrifice of honorary Guardian Yondu, but it wasn’t until the Ravagers showed up with the fireworks that I had to shed a tear. I admit, fireworks have always had a reaction from me, but never tears!

Best Hasslehoff cameo in existence. And! Most moving use of Hasslehoff's somewhat kitschy public image. REally.