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.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Iron Fist and Luke Cage: Heroes For HIre at the Defenders core (Chris Claremont interview transcription)

Cage, Iron Fist: the new Defenders core, w/ Chris Claremont interview

1977: Editor Archie Goodwin looked at two of his Marvel Comics Group titles- promising characters with fans, but the sales weren’t quite there. “Archie,” says Chris Claremont, “figured: the one sure thing was, neither Iron Fist fans would not NOT read about Luke Cage, and vice versa.” He had this idea, to give both heroes a chance to survive in one title. That idea became the foundation for what’s known today as Netflix’s Marvel Defenders.

Initially a Patreon premium, we get an interview “from Nightwing Restorations” with author Chris Claremont, on the Thunder Quack network’s Epic Marvels. (I recommend supporting the Epic Marvel Marching Society- I have!) Early in his career, Chris was “in the right place at the right time” to take on Iron Fist in Marvel Premiere, where at least three writers, starting with Roy Thomas, co-created the first seven issues. “I think there were two issues in Marvel Premiere, then John and I took of Iron Fist #1.” (In actuality, John Byrne drew Marvel Premiere #25- along with Giant Size Dracula #5 with Dave Kraft, it’s his first Marvel!)
The Iron Fist trial run had continued through “a six-part solo story with –-Rico Rival?”--in Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu, a black and white Marvel Magazine. Chris had a decent handle on his new assignment, then, as he and Byrne kicked off Iron Fist #1 with the heavily-demanded showdown with Iron Man. In his Epic Marvels interview, Claremont stated Marvel had resolved the “uber conflict that started it” regarding his origin and Rand-Meacham at this point; Iron Fist could be his own man. Despite casting about for compelling antagonists, dangerous and visually exciting, Claremont was most involved with Byrne’s depiction of the supporting cast: Alan Cavanaugh, the ex-I.R.A. terrorist trying to redeem his violent past, and best of all, the heroines Larry Hama had introduced, Misty Knight and Colleen Wing of Nightwing Restorations. The ex-police officer with the bionic arm and her samurai best friend (the first of Claremont’s female characters to take on a tough persona and martial arts expertise) were called The Daughters of the Dragon, built up quite nearly into headliners in their own right. When it began to look like the Iron Fist title wasn’t going to pick up the following Marvel wanted for its bottom line, the team devised a fitting continuation of their last adventure there, and began to look forward to Goodwin’s proposal as a fresh second act for all of them.

The wrongfully-imprisoned man who took the alias Nicholas Ca-I mean, Luke Cage- had gained his super powers of steel hard skin and metahuman strength, broken from jail, and survived under an assumed name as a professional problem solver- a Hero For Hire. His big heart often got him in deeper than the paycheck that drew him into situations. There was a single piece of Luke’s status quo left to wrap up: he’d been a fugitive from justice from his first issue. But even with a move to Chicago- and an effort to leave behind his Power Man/Hero For Hire identity- the past caught up with “Mark Lucas”- in the form of Bushmaster, the man who can prove he was framed- but not before taking a piece of his very soul with a kidnapping mission. Ahead lay a Marvel Misunderstanding (or MARMIS, as likes to call them) fight matching him up with the man who would become his best friend, Danny Rand, a.k.a. Iron Fist.

With Danny and Misty, POWER MAN #48 would also bring John Byrne. Chris Claremont had already come aboard with George Tuska and Bruce Smith, long after the title lost some of its intense first year focus (Archie Goodwin was one of those early writers). Cobbled-together teams of writers (like Wolfman/ Mantlo plotting and scripting) and artists (including Bob Brown & Klaus Janson) provided colorful villains like Cheshire Cat, Chemistro (two of them!), the Baron, and Big Brother (that’s in #37, alone).

Story-wise, he ended up with more opposite numbers who were black people than anyone in comics. Appropriate? Strange, but anticipating a TV LUKE CAGE one day that would feature an extensively black cast, but rather, reflect a black social world, rather than African Americans dressed up for the Marvel party. They increasingly got up to the kinds of plots typical of 70’s superhero comics, yet they’re rarely utilized by the shared Marvel story-verse. Maybe it’s the proliferation of black villains endemic to his cast- which at least gave us more black characters- which we don’t see much elsewhere in Marvel, that makes the practice conspicuous. (As far as their inherent quality, I find that’s really up to the engagement and talent of the creative team.) Yet, within a few years of its initial creative explosion as Marvel Comics, they’d begun diverging from white male exclusivity to the highly inclusive roster of today.

Iron Fist, Misty and Colleen were all freshly spun-off from their own concluding chapter. Claremont notes the title was cancelled, but it so happened John Byrne drew both Iron Fist and Marvel Team-Up! First, Claremont penned the debut of future X-Men villain Sabretooth, and a Captain America fight because “John drew a kick-ass Captain America!” Reasonable enough! And speaking of X-Men, Claremont and Cockrum had been busy focusing on the revived Uncanny X-Men, in which Chris felt deeply invested. Since Byrne had looked to join Claremont on X-Men at the first opportunity, IRON FIST #15 became a sort of trial shot for him to draw the mutants- “to see if he could do it,” Chris said to EPIC’s Kurtis Findlay, “and as it turns out, of course- he could!” Now there was only the matter of Misty’s undercover assignment to spy on Bushmaster, and Davos, rogue son of Le’i Kung The Thunderer, fresh from K’un L’un, stalking Danny for the power he saw as rightfully his. MTU #63 & 64 are an Iron Fist story, primarily. When Peter Parker photographs reclusive millionaire Danny Rand’s home just as Steel Serpent finally attacks, Spider-Man’s caught in the middle- so many more Marvel readers got introduced to “hopefully, really cool characters.” (Iron Fist co-starred in Marvel Team-Up nearly three years before in #31, too, if for a moment I may take us Backwards, Man).

Claremont explained he didn’t want to pick up the second adventure of his new title still tying up Iron Fist’s past story lines, since he had a choice. Tying up Power Man’s ongoing fugitive status would do a-OK, though, as a kick-off- it allowed the team to resolve things their own way, and clear the decks for Anything Goes with the new titular pair. Yes, I mean: Power Man and Iron Fist. There was very much a sense, Claremont says, of doing the team-up change as an Event, a special Marvel milestone in a time before a norm of gimmickry.

Other than a possibly compatible readership, though- Kurtis asks: why Luke and Danny?

Compared to the more culturally-acclimated Shang-Chi, K’un L’un-raised Danny, says Chris, “as clueless. Which is ultimately what made Power Man and Iron Fist such a great team-up: because you couldn’t have had a more fundamental yin/yang philosophy as Danny Rand and Luke Cage.”

“Neither book was successful: they were okay, but they weren’t building huge audiences.” Since Archie Goodwin saw both readerships open to the other character, “he decided: let’s see what happens when you throw’em together! As he said- quite brilliantly- you have Luke Cage, Danny Rand, Misty Knight, and Colleen Wing. You can get issues of conflict out of them walking in, in the morning, to have coffee around the breakfast table. You don’t...need villains. You don’t need antagonists; you’ve got’em right there! And it’s true.”

The challenge Chris and John faced was “a) building his character and his relationships but at the same time, being superheroes, the protagonist is defined by his antagonists. So we needed equivalents in terms of Iron Fist: who could we come up with?” Who was “really cool...visually impressive...and out-and-out scary?” Yet, when asked which ones stood out, Chris says: “My favorites more the heroes than the villains- there was never for me, ever an Iron Fist villain who grabbed me by the heart as effectively as Dr. Doom.” He notes Byrne’s brilliant subtlety in depicting how Danny’s friendship with the IRA revolutionary looking for redemption led to the end of his romance, at the time, with Misty.

He describes how his writing was shaped by working with such spectacular action artists as Byrne and Cockrum over on X-Men. He describes Byrne’s talent as “relentless... You could watch him grow from issue to issue, if not from beginning to end of an issue!” Findlay notes that Iron Fist creations often became mainstay foes for Power Man, as well. Meanwhile, much of today’s stories reach back into Power Man’s rogues.

So Luke Cage, Power Man #48 brought the fateful confrontation and new creative team. From that match-up, the two fought Bushmaster and worked to clear Luke’s name. #50 now featured them on the same side, under their new joint banner, celebrating Luke’s turn in fortunes and, as a quartet, fighting off Discus and Stiletto, as the new status quo fell into place. Byrne began the next story, but fate opened other plans.

Now it’s true, along with Dr. Noah Burstein, Claire Temple, Luke’s paramour, doesn’t stay around for the new direction. But when I saw Dr. Claire show up halfway through MARVEL’S DAREDEVIL, I was tickled for several reasons (in different places). First, you get A-quality actress Rosario Dawson! She’s also an intriguing and reluctant love interest for the masked vigilante, who has no more apparent connection to his private identity Matt Murdock than Daredevil apparently has to Debra Page.
Her role is a cool Easter Egg to one of Luke Cage, Hero For Hire’s sister titles launched in the 1972 creative affirmative action: Night Nurse. Another one of those gets a callback via Patricia Walker in MARVEL’S JESSICA JONES: The Claws of the Cat! And that builds onto this deeper meta-narrative: we get a Luke Cage supporting character in Daredevil’s storyline, a sign of MARVEL’S THE DEFENDERS uniting the solo stars!

“Unfortunately, the one thing we hadn’t really anticipated,” says Claremont, “was that, directly after we took over Power/Fist, John would get tapped for X-Men.” At the time, Marvel took X-Men monthly, “which meant John had to do double-duty for the first six months” to get on schedule and build a backlog “so we wouldn’t be behind the eight-ball in terms of the monthly title.” (The team was also creating Star Lord’s continued adventures for editor John Warner.) “So I had to suddenly sit down and write, or conceptualize...six to eight months of X-Men, immediately, and unfortunately, something had to give. And Power/Fist was it. I didn’t want to go back to rotating artists. And, for want of anymore appropriate phrase, X-MEN were my guys, my baby. I didn’t want to screw it over for Danny. Dave Cockrum and I had built X-Men to where it was, and I didn’t want to let any of it slip away.” So it was that John Byrne left PM/IF with #51, while Claremont wrapped up the Night Shade storyline with Mike Zeck.

The next step is easy to overlook, but it happened in issue #54. Luke’s modus operandi becomes Danny’s, too, with a significant tweak from Canadian lawyer Jeryn Hogarth from Fist’s series. The story telling engine’s set in place: they’re now professional Heroes For Hire, complete with retainers, advertising, outreach to cultivate clientele, and coded pager signals. Luke learns the way security services are set up, actively present, involved. It’s a process that might’ve been drawn out with more comedy and tentative missteps and adjustments, but Ed Hannigan’s only the writer a few issues, too, before Jo Duffy becomes the first long-lasting scripter. For now, Danny hands over the day-to-day affairs of Rand-Meachum to Joy Meachum, her mind only recently changed about Rand as a cold blooded murderer. Danny divests himself of the lucrative business; in parallel, Luke engages with a new clientele and operations. The end’s kind of funny: Lee Elias depicts a downcast Danny, fresh off breaking up an armed robbery conspiracy by The Incinerator, happy for Luke’s new venture. Then his face lights up when he sees the new business cards include him. Danny, you ARE pretty far out there.

There’s a lot more going on than the winning pairing of Luke and Danny this time out. I think the multi-racial cast had a fundamentally positive effect in that era. That’s become easier to find, so if anything, strong storytelling makes that aspect count- there’s a lot of well-done tv and only so many hours in anyone’s day! How will they do it? Aside from the preview at Comic Con reported by our friend Edward Pettis, the world’s waiting to find out August 18th- - and for Chris Claremont and many others, later than that- if he’s still having the kind of luck with Netflix he has with Skype!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Luke Cage and the Defenders: Brother in A Strange Land

Listen here!
Distinction: how to keep a character voice familiar anywhere, as seen in Luke Cage & The Defenders
Luke Cage and the Defenders: Brother in A Strange Land

“I couldn’t hear the woman’s way to judge whether she was lying. None of my hyper-senses can tell me what to do.”

“I gotta be some kind of blamed fool, swallowin’ this dude’s rap. But when he started droppin’ names like ‘Nighthawk’ an’ ‘Doc Strange’--yeah, this is the address, all right. I dunno...he came on mighty convincin’ once he got rollin’, and since I didn’t have no plan o’ my own for dealin’ with---
Before you tap that shoulder, sugar- identify yourself.”

“Sticks hurt red man- but not Hulk!”

“I shall take my magic cloak of levitation and follow, no matter where the trail may lead!”

“This is ridiculous! Here I am, putting up one of the greatest fights of my star-studded career, and there’s no one around to applaud!”

“If you know me as well as you apparently think you do—you should know I don’t give in. And nothing you can do-none of your traps or streams of paste- can make me!”

“I don’t care what ya say, Medusa---! I’ve had it with waitin’--I’m comin’ through!”

“It works on the same principle as my psi-amplifier...with it, I can pinpoint a particular brain-wave pattern, and thus...hold it. The machine’s giving me a positive feedback! That can only mean---”

“By the stars of Asgard---I’ve arrived too late! His body stands rigid! His brain has already activated the Destroyer!”

Do you recognize the lines from these Marvel characters? The way they each speak marks their distinction as personalities. Wherever they appeared, the classic Marvel heroes could be picked out by their words as much as by their iconic designs. No, it wasn’t always subtle, but comic books were written with broad, bold strokes of characterization, and even if you read their counterparts across the years, within a particular title, you should not only recognize them, but distinguish them. The way they think, at their best, identifies them: how they act, how they speak- it’s characterization. When they act and speak distinctly, it’s good characterization. When characters who’ve been around a while reveal a level to their behavior that you don’t see often- or ever before- and it fits the ongoing story of who they are? That, my friend, is great characterization. The job of a terrific story is to unlock levels of characterization in an entertaining, engaging plot.

By the way, the above quotes are Daredevil, Power Man, then Hulk, from Defenders #24 by Steve Gerber; Dr. Strange, then Spider-Man, from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2 by Stan Lee; the Human Torch, the Thing, and Mr. Fantastic from Fantastic Four #148 by Gerry Conway; and mighty Thor, from Journey Into Mystery #119, also by Stan Lee.
If you’ve read Marvel for just a little while- you probably recognized each character, without a single drawing or any context. Not every panel or even every page will be like that, but especially within one issue, you should be able to tell them apart!
Steve Gerber does it with a single panel: “Eyes of Oshtur!” “By the Hadean Chimes!” “Great Scott!” “Sweet Sister!” How fun, right? That’s Clea, Daimon Hellstrom, Bruce Banner, and of course, Luke Cage.
If Marvel Netflix’s new series The Defenders gets it right, you’ll know Luke Cage, Danny Rand, Matt Murdock, and Jessica Jones all by their lines, by their characterization. From what I saw in the Free Comic Book Day preview of The Defenders- in the back of All-New Guardians of the Galaxy, which I was charged for after Free Comic Book Day by my local shop-good luck with that. But whether The Defenders will be your first Netflix Marvel experience or your fifth, your motivation to tune in probably rests with knowing and liking at least one character, and however exciting the hype about putting them together, they’d best get your favorite right! You might be watching to see all four of them; you may watch it because you like even one of them, or you might be introduced to any of them. Any appearance is an opportunity to meet and latch onto a character you might follow for life!
But the story’s got to serve the character, and the character needs a distinct identity.

Guest appearances in comics were often meant to boost smaller stars into the sights of bigger audiences; the principle works across sports, movies, music concerts, and so on. For characters, first they should suit the story, and then achieve building a shared world’s texture. So if that’s the case, let’s take one of Marvel’s wonderful outsiders and experience his guest shot as if HE were the draw. For this article, he is, in fact, the reason I pull out Defenders #24 & 25, followed closely by the fact this is his first team-up with Daredevil- the first instance in which they’re loosely-affiliated Defenders.
Will his guest spot thrill or spill? Let’s go back to the days Luke Cage was still a new Marvel.

Defenders #24 “...In The Jaws Of The Serpent!”

In his first Defenders turn written by Len Wein, Luke appears as a friendly neighborhood hero-for-hire, functioning alongside like any superhero in a superhero story, albeit, of course, for pay. But when the Defenders end up in over their heads- surprisingly- against the racist Sons of the Serpent militant faction, it’s going to get personal.
One reason this story works so well for me: it starts in Luke’s world. As described in the introductory caption, strung above the captive DR. Strange, Valkyrie, Nighthawk, and previous guest Yellowjacket: “It began with the rescue of a young woman and her infant from a rat-infested tenement.” More than any of the other guest stars, all of whom were previous Defenders for a single adventure of their own, the Sons of the Serpent threat against the urban poor- specifically, against minorities young and old-hits right where Luke’s adventures naturally occur in this era. This is also part of why Luke never makes much money as a Hero For Hire until he teams up with Jeryn Hogarth in Power Man & Iron Fist #54: he helps people who need help! (Even when he’s hired by J. Jonah Jameson in his early Amazing Spider-Man #123 appearance, the story ends with the cash literally stuffed in JJJ’s mouth! Ha!) So this Defenders story starts as a ready-made Blaxploitation confrontation, laser-toting super-villain style. He’s introduced in-character just like he’s in his own book: answering the phone in his 42nd street office, and as is often the case, while he’s not interested in taking a case. Fortunately, this time that’s because he’s deeply concerned already with the Sons of the Serpent broadcast on TV, worried about where they’ll strike. Like Daredevil- and like they’ll be in TV’s Defenders- he’s ready to go into action to protect local people.

I don’t know where else to mention it, but Daimon Hellstrom, as the self-proclaimed Son of Satan, is a sort of son of the serpent himself, mythologically-speaking, as well as a previous Defenders ally Clea thinks to recruit. It’s cool to see how this cast might’ve clicked in Steve Gerber’s mind. Despite the inducements of my creator-owner artistic partner, I really don’t think heroes should be disposable cyphers pushed through a plot- it’s a combination of contrasting distinct personalities and tactics as well as powers, even if you only plan to show them together for a few issues. I also think everyone should have their own arc, so long as you don’t crowd out the best possible story. Here, this is why Luke’s role in these last two parts of a four-parter is especially meaningful.
But in that process, when I first cherry-picked Luke’s lines, I first questioned whether my writing hero Steve G.’s depiction was forced, or resonant. There’s an accent of racial commentary, always present with early Luke Cage, but it’s heightened in this context by the overtly racist enemies. Socially-conscious comics stories were still a fairly recent innovation, with results ranging from cringe-worthy to brilliant. You realize each character is meant to be distinct, not interchangeable- that’s the Marvel Way! But Angry Black Man is not the only definition for Luke in the hands of a great character writer, which Gerber certainly was. Luke’s much more than a stereotype- that’s why he’s more popular than ever, today! Yet his comic book version always bore a type of street-flavored patter, and part of why we loved him was the Muhammed Ali-type humorous lines punctuating his knowing reflection of urban life. It’s hard to get right and can bear an inauthentic ring, a verbal cudgel in the service of trying to achieve that very distinction of character voice I cited at the top. I think adapting him as actor Mike Colton required more naturalism; he’s more than a set of mannerisms. To be a TV drama star, Luke had to seem like a realistic man in a world of characters talking like real people.

Nowadays, while there were stirrings from the racist militias around election time, anything like The Sons of The Serpent would probably be web trolls, often passing memes of a world they could only hope comes true. Appropriately, they hijack the media-in those years, television-to deliver their hate message, in a mock Presidential Address format that coldly plays on Gerber’s strength as a satirist. It’s an act of imagination to those born after wards to go back to 1975, when systematic white oppression had only begun to release its institutional hold- to return to a time when societally-accepted racism held a more ominous possibility of dialing back a clock that had not moved far at all from segregation- only a century past legal slavery! For some people, it may well have seemed the genie of Tolerance could be put back in the bottle. How sad: the effort to do so is at a new visible peak today.

While White Nationalism has gained a much more visible presence than any other time in my life-some would say, it’s personified within our nation’s West Wing personnel- there’s a tired cynicism under-cutting it all along that makes its failure seem inevitable- because how will a positive argument work? It would be a lot harder to write a convincing story now about racists openly coming out to incite riots. (Oh my God, and then three days after I wrote this, Charlottesville, Virginia hosted an ugly conflagration in Emancipation Park! I had to share openly the blindness of my optimism. It wouldn’t be harder-it’d be timely, with a brutal underlying reality at its inception. This article’s stumbled into an intersection with the zeitgeist.) Gerber’s going to go one step further in establishing his twist- a step that will kind of make Luke’s presence more integral, if not to say, politically correct imaging.

Carefully playing on the heroes’ weaknesses, again arrived at by unique contrasts, Gerber sets up a pretty plausible threat; none of them have powers, but the Serpents put the heroes in enough danger to warrant the three recruits. Even then, Daredevil goes down, while Valkyrie hangs on a burning crucifix (upside down) and the Hulk thrashes about blinded. Both Hulk and DD, as noted, are taken down by attacks that would not have worked if used on the heroes, reversed! (Dr. Strange was knocked out- he’s just a man, beneath the spells; Val was taken down by a laser but also, by her magic vulnerability against fighting women; Yellowjacket twisted his ankle landing while the Hulk used his own fire-fighting strategy, a mighty hand clap of wind, falling to blows after rescuing two kids.)
I haven't said so, but Sal Buscema does an always-reliable job laying out a clear story, and his inker's got him looking pretty nice here. Steve always enjoyed working with Story Teller SAl.

If I were reading as a Luke Cage fan-in this case, I am-I’d be impressed at how he’s presented tactically. AS noted, he was recruited by Bruce Banner by the phone- also a cool use of Dr. Banner, though a call like that from the Hulk would’ve been hilarious. Clea’s summons also unveils the tactics by which Son of Satan and Daredevil weigh their own skepticism: Daimon senses no deceit, intuitively, and deduces a message from Clea suggests Dr. Strange is incapacitated. Daredevil hears a voice but senses “no body” there, so he can’t use a heartbeat to detect truth or trap!
Now, when Daredevil arrives just behind Luke Cage, as occurs at the end of the quote at the top, he’s startled by Luke’s awareness, honed by the sometimes unpleasant surprises on a 1970s New York City street, that Cage isn’t alone. Cage introduces himself in a way that underscores who he is professionally and personally. Matt knows him by reputation to do good things and likes his straightforward demeanor immediately.

Then we get a funny introduction of them both to the hell stallion-driven chariot arrival of Son of Satan, which aptly portrays the fire and fury that makes Daimon distinct among superheroes.
DD: Good Lord! What on Earth---?
Luke: Wrong both times, man---nothin’ I ever seen on Earth looked like that—and the Good Lord it definitely AIN’T!

Daredevil’s senses detect his “two heartbeats” indicating his strange powers, a metaphor and indicator for Daimon’s dual nature. Tactics come into play again when Daimon uses his limited hypnotism powers on a captured Serpent-but his mind contains programmed blocks. Luke then gets tough- maybe ‘five big black hairy knuckles’ can get somewhere. Then Elena, the rescued lady, dashes in to announce frantically that her savior Valkyrie’s about to be murdered on another interrupted broadcast. Once again, dialogue makes distinctions- Hellstrom tells Daredevil he suspect Dr. Banner “would likely understand the technical aspects of it. I do not. Regular guy Jack Norriss sees what’s happening first, declares his affirmed mistrust of them all, and rushes to the location. Daredevil’s senses are our viewpoint for the heroes’ reactions, including Banner’s transformation to the Hulk. (Now we’ve got another future TV star- Marvel’s first success there, their only one for years!) Whisked away on Hellstrom’s chariot, into a level of unusual weirdness, Cage and Son of Satan vanish in the middle of the rescue party- who are ironically felled by the Serpents’ tactics.

All these powerful beings are assembled, but the problems are caused, down the line, by every day people who’ve simply taken a turn into moral darkness. The attitudes of “the man on the street” will become the deciding factor- realistically, they do not all serve as mouthpieces for social liberalism, but they’re depicted as outraged by what they know to be unfair and barbaric. But that all goes down in the next issue.

“The Serpent Sheds Its Skin” (Defenders #25)

Cage can only take Hellstrom’s word where they are: we know Clea’s Crystal of Agamotta literally contains their essence as she transports them to the captive Defenders. Luke’s exchange with Kyle about dreams, grey prison walls and shrinks during their rescue quickly distinguishes them- they will be paired in this episode, with similar reactions, yet, a contrast in their lives, if not the heaviness of their hearts. While searching for a way out of the undersea hideout, without his wings, Kyle will discover he’s indirectly responsible for the entire fiasco, through his business handler, Pennyworth. Cage’s knowledge of the Big Apple gives him the lead, while Nighthawk goes to extract a hollow justice.
Cage reacts with anger to a class-based oppression he’s always known- but Richmond realizes, for all his super-heroics as Nighthawk, had he paid close attention to his books, he might’ve prevented much more harm! Pennyworth’s words are an indictment of the damage created along with the blind aggregation of wealth. Luke’s incensed to discover the fact that baffled Kyle almost as much as realizing his money’s behind the Serpents: Pennyworth himself is black- and he feels no kinship based on the color of his skin, only bigotry and loathing. It positively blows Luke’s mind- to say nothing of his cool! When you think about it, Kyle beating up his black employee would’ve made some uncomfortable optics compared to handing it over to Cage.
It’s not that Luke’s naive enough to believe race makes people good or bad, but compared to the power in his hands and the cynicism in Pennyworth’s use of it, he’s nearly blinded by a killing rage. It seemed a natural fit, as though it were the intended purpose for choosing Cage for this story.

In Defenders non-team tradition, Power Man departs, only to be paired again with the bizarreness of Dr. Strange’s powers and milieu and Nighthawk’s checkbook diplomacy, during a several issue run climaxing in the social-satire-rich King Size Defenders annual.

The most promising team-up, however, puts Luke searching the streets alongside Red Guardian’s Broadway social commentary. The Communist superhero’s exchanges with Power Man are the best, whether discussing street crime or altruism. Each time under Gerber, Luke’s handled exceptionally well, in part because he’s distinct, with an outsider’s thoughts- as a former prisoner, as a fugitive from justice, and as a minority.

Chris Claremont’s said that Archie Goodwin took a sure bet that pairing Power Man with Iron Fist would not lose followers of both their struggling books- by that title’s ending in 1986, he finally had a team able to dig beneath his signature bluster to affirm his humanity, even comment on how he puts on a persona to take advantage of people’s expectations, while maintaining a soulful depth and concern for others. He and contrasting, other-worldly, wealthy Danny Rand will remain forever linked in the minds of fans.

The Defenders pairing will be the root of Luke’s ongoing guest appearances alongside Spider-Man and a three issue run replacing Ben Grimm in the Fantastic Four (#168-170), and his gritty background will make him a natural choice to become involved with Marvel Max character Jessica Jones. One day, Marvel will take his A-list potential as a distinguishable character with a following that survived the 80’s purge of 70’s fad characters, and Luke Cage will even lead a team of Avengers- the highest profile gig a Marvel hero could then get! He would also join Marvel’s all-black team of superheroes, The Crew that come to the aid of Wakanda and its king, T’Challa, the Black Panther. As for the ongoing search for a modernized but distinct Cage voice, he’s continued evolving from flirtations with caricature to reluctant hero and family guy in the new Power Man and Iron Fist revival.

The hip hop-flavored Netflix depiction of his adventures fits right in with what Luke always represented- now how will those differing strains be kept unique? The tv Defenders share common neighborhoods and problems, along with overlaps such as the martial arts fury of The Hand from Daredevil’s stories, the love interest began between Luke and Jessica in her Season One- nurse Claire Temple’s been an important connecting supporting player. There’s contrast in the production styles, if more naturalism in the characters’ depictions. I write this from the anticipatory side, with this welcome look at Luke’s roots as a team player- ever proudly striving, skeptical but full of heart- beneath his steel skin and unbelievable strength (oh yeah, that’s his power, if I haven’t mentioned it), his own man.

Monday, August 14, 2017

LARP and Lanka Con '17: Creating Marvels podcast

Monday, August 7, 2017

Continue Playing! Get to know Integr8d Soul

When I'm not writing books or working part-time, I'm often making Integr8d Soul music! Take a listen, we're getting things ready for the study and Pro Tools. There's more on Facebook-join in! Hope the songs bring you some of the joy they have us.-C Lue

1. Dawn wakes and I'm by your side
Who knows if this makes sense from the outside
All that really matters is if you feel it's wonderful
Amazing and real
'cause if that's how you feel

Continue playing, I love what you're saying
I think too much but I can leave it all when we're swaying
hold you closer -show a whole other scene
that we can write together
then we'll know what it means
Continue playing
2.Singing, sick, or when you need to disappear
I'll see where we are, over coming fear
We can never die, we're where the eagles fly
though the world gives me a sigh,
there's a way you take me high

Continue playing, I love what you're saying
I think too much but I can leave it all when we're swaying
Hold you close --- show a whole other scene
that we can write together
then we'll know what it means
Continue playing
bridge: Some things are simpler than most realize
What works best is simpler than most realize
Picture now a heaven new in love new in love in your eyes
Continue playing, I love what you're saying
I think too much but I can leave it all when we're swaying
Hold you close --- show a whole other scene
that we can write together
then we'll know what it means and outro:

Picture now a heaven new in love in your eyes
I can see a heaven new in love in your eyes
I can see a heaven new in love in your eyes
(Continue playing) (Hajime)
I can see a heaven new in love in your eyes
(Continue playing) Doo=dit doo-dit dooo
I can see a heaven new in love in your eyes

Lue Lyron

Daredevil: the Frank Miller to Netflix revolution begins (DD #159)

Listen here, after the 20 minute mark!

The Birth of Netflix’s world of Marvel’s Daredevil- the cornerstone on which was built a rather successful TV show quintet culminating in this summer’s The Defenders- really began in Daredevil #159. Hey, it’s the one I’ve got handy, so roll with me. No, it is, I’ll prove it- much like Daredevil #219’s “Badlands” will be the premiere of a story-telling style in modern comics that presages his breakthrough in the Sin City series and movie.

The issue before began Frank Miller’s smash adaptation of the character, who dates back to 1964 and the last of the creative burst of titles that defined The Marvel Age. With its supervillians, that debut issue doesn’t really foreshadow what’s to come, though it does depict, as notahoax.blogspot points out along with their many fun insights, the entirety of that era’s Daredevil supporting cast. Ah, but it’s that next one, “Marked For Murder,” where Roger MacKenzie, Frank Miller and Klaus Janson begin the transition from supervillain hijinks to hard-boiled noirish pulp in athletic illustrative guise. Rightly recognizing 158 as the last part tie-up of what came before, Tom Brevoort chose Daredevil #159 to begin the reprints featured in Marvel Super-Heroes Megazine #1, which is how I came to own my copy. That same Megazine presents the beginning of John Byrne’s runs writing and penciling (and inking FF) on Fantastic Four and Incredible Hulk, but also, John Romita’s first work at Marvel on Invincible Iron Man #115. Like DD #158, that issue features its title character against the Ani-Men gang, just like Chris Claremont’s opening arc on Uncanny X-Men (thanks again, Notahoax Matt!).

But “Marked For Murder”...oh man, it’s so taut! If a superhero taking on a gang of ordinary hoodlum gunmen seems like a cliché you’ve seen before, I assure you, it’s done here with maximum suspense, clever but clear angles, masterful figure drawing, and vivid storytelling vision. And here, to me, begins the inspiration for the adaptation of the founding Netflix Marvel success- a television series that it seemed about nine out of ten respondents praised with high confidence.

These aren’t the first Miller efforts on Daredevil, the character. That honor goes to Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #27 & 28! Spider-Man’s been blinded by longtime Maggia foe The Masked Marauder, a disability that panics him, one with, uhm, no end in sight. The multiple agility images and use of shadow, Miller-style, debut there. It’s an interesting pair of issues, watching Daredevil figure out how to guide the stubborn and discomfited wall-crawler through a unique team-up, tracking down the Maggia plot and taking him meanwhile for an examination of his wounded eyes.

“Marked For Murder,” though, keeps a breath-taking pace while demonstrating layouts you’d swear require Miller to swim the desolate pier and climb the rundown rooftops. His sense of space, from panel to panel, puts you in the thick of Daredevil’s danger and acrobatic risk-taking. You’ve been in the moment after several pages of action, and suddenly a near-impossible trick reminds you of Daredevil’s individuality as a superhero. In the framework of its down-to-Earth possibilities, Daredevil’s climatic stunt is positively amazing but totally believable, too.

Framed in slide show form, we get a montage of action shots that show us what went before, in this ongoing struggle between psychotic Bullseye and our protagonist. Its past tense, in-story cinematic presentation makes it seem less realistic, a colorful step removed from what is to come. Ever the street-level hero at his core concept, everything that happens in this issue will have the quality of being something that could, under familiar laws of physics and drama, really happen between people. What came before’s more like -well, what was thought of as comic books to that point. Visually, our tone from this point, until the surrealistic art era by Ann Nocenti and John Romita, Jr, will use the dynamism possible in comics to tell action stories along the lines of the more realistic cop TV shows and martial arts movies, often with hard-boiled sensitivities but surprising emotional resonance.
From here out, we’re in the territory that inspires the Netflix series, with many of the same key players. So, cold-blooded, unglamourous murder is the discussion. Slaughter’s death-mask-like face glows hauntingly by the projector light in the shadowy room, invaded by the superhero-like, yellow-background frame of Daredevil, the intended target, on the wall. The non-costumed man showing the footage is Bullseye himself. It’s as though the underworld, filled with its hard-bitten struggles for money and power and survival, aligns with Miller himself to target the brightly-colored world of childish superheroism. With a generous down payment to the retired criminal arranger- like a pulp figure shaken out of the seedy past- the hit is on.

Soon we’re at closing time, outside Murdock & Nelson’s free clinic. Even elements of the show that didn’t begin here are represented nonetheless. Nearby, reporter Ben Urich’s thoughts take first step towards uncovering Matt’s double I.D. We next get an actual court case, complete with a sinister-looking judge who hates the bleeding-heart lawyers providing the legally-guaranteed defense with sincere effort. Every figure conspires, as thugs threaten Matt and Foggy on the street. They’re having an ordinary, humorous conversation of the sort show fans would recognize when they receive a terse message: contact Daredevil. A shadowy alleyway frames Matt’s unseen departure.

By page seven, we’ve joined Daredevil himself at a dizzying height perched above lonely Pier 42. This issue’s shorn of other subplots, diving straight into an extended eleven-page action sequence. Miller gives us a true battle scene, complete with Daredevil’s unique reconnaissance, sense-by-sense uncovering his opponents. Daredevil constantly strikes from higher ground while grilling the hit crew. He makes deft use of his weighted baton- which also gets a fun page spotlighting its characteristics, at the end. Miller thinks of how to be Daredevil- he applies a martial arts concision to the logistics of picking off foes one by one. A tackle off the ship that takes three fighters into the drink leads to one being picked off by an eager killer who takes the shot on Daredevil because he doesn’t like the thug this endangers, anyway. The water looms as their potential grave, which DD uses as cover to resume his attack. The angles constantly emphasize the power of Daredevil’s dives and strikes.

I love this combination of choreographed dangers and power with real vulnerabilities- those endemic to a physically-normal human being, but also the double-edge sword implicit in heightened senses. Nearly every opponent taken out, Daredevil charges into a missed attack that releases a devastating, head-splitting shot by his head. Pain closing his sensitivities, he survives with a life-saving stunt that underscores Daredevil’s skill and guts: he takes out a gunshot with his baton! He questions his rattled foe, when, ironically, a life-preserver hurled from a nearby motor boat, breaks the interrogant’s neck. Out of reach, Daredevil “reads” a man, filming the scenario and speeding now away.

The ending ties it together: clearly the man at the end is the one at the beginning. He’s got a picture, again, of a target, a shattered portrait of former Daredevil partner, Black Widow. Reconnaissance, we see, is not just the province of the Man Without Fear. The hit was never expected to work. This adept combat display is now opposition research, in the hands of the villain who never misses.

His supporting cast plays integrally to the drama going forward, including a show-rehabilitated Karen and wild Elektra, but everyone’s vulnerable, and Matt, imperfect, secretive, dedicated, is driven to save innocents and liberty. His moral code’s contrasted not only by great villains like the Kingpin, but antiheroes like The Punisher. McKenzie clearly wanted to collaborate on a realistic tone. We’re miles from the experimental era of Gerber’s stories, with science fiction foes and ally Moondragon tied to Starlin’s stunning new efforts, a tapestry of Marvel continuity. The echoes of headlines, however, from that run’s gritty government secrets, now serve an isolated world of criminals getting away with murder-up against a lone vigilante, with powers we imagine vividly from the state of our own senses.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Creating Marvels: 2017 Comic Con Hall H preview w/ Ed Pettis (our 1st podcast!)

UPdated for our new hosting site this month, podbean!

Ed's a friend I made in my many years in SAn Diego- this was his 14th consecutive Comic Con, most of those spent reporting from Hall H, where the movies and TV shows are previewed. He's my guest on Creating Marvels! We'll have a burst of podcasts at first, then I'll be at least monthly from there. I have real Marvel creators lined up to chat, and hope to cover some hi-tech realm stuff again as well. We intend to hit the Cartersville Saturday and podcast from the spot!!!¬if_id=1501879785688891