Category Archives: Comic Books

The Welcome Death of Marvel Comics

 

Red_Skull

The Red Skull providing a politically conservative take on the “Refugee Crisis”

It’s a comfort to know that comic books no longer hold the mass appeal that they did in an earlier age. For the most-part, you need to travel to a specialist shop as they are no longer available off the rack at the local drug store. Sales are dropping and I think the reasons are pretty obvious.

Trite plot-lines and themes taken out of a politically left agenda tend to alienate the majority of readers. My love for Marvel’s universe stemmed from first rate characterization and originality that birthed and denoted what we now call the Silver-age of comics. All that has taken a backseat to gimmicky, paper-thin, politically driven pap that fails to inspire and ignite the imagination.

None of this is new of course. On some level, Marvel and its chief rival Brand Echhh … er., DC Comics have always addressed some measure of social justice and related causes… drug addiction, racism, and alienation were tackled as long ago as 1963 when the Fantastic Four defeated “The Hate Monger” an evil despot who turned out to be Adolf Hitler! Oops! forgot to add in the spoiler alert 😉 Later in the decade it was Peter Parker’s pal, Harry Osborn getting hooked on pills and the Green Arrow’s side-kick, “Speedy” getting hooked on heroin.

In an effort to bow before the twin idols of tolerance and diversity Marvel has been tweaking and reinventing familiar characters. Basically the formula has been to highlight a character’s sexual orientation or identity, change their sex (more often than not symbolically rather than literally i.e., have a female don the costume and mantle) and to change their ethnicity so that they are no longer Caucasian but a visible minority of one stripe or the other. All this is rather predictable as the movie representations merge with their comic book counterparts.

One particularly egregious example stems from a new series called  “Captain America: Steve Rogers”. In the first issue  Cap’s longtime enemy the WW2 Nazi super criminal Red Skull appears reciting the standard politically conservative opposition to unchecked immigration.

The problems with the above depiction are numerous to say the least. Simply put, it is erroneous to equate legitimate concerns Westerners have with regards to large-scale Muslim immigration and the Nazis of WW2.

As a conservative minded Westerner it’s a bit disconcerting to have the Red Skull become Marvel’s representative for people like myself. It’s beyond twisted of course but that’s the result when Marvel hires a former politician to pen a comic book. Nick Spencer is the mind behind this disposable trash and yes you can “Google” him.

By the way, and this is a spoiler…..

ALERT

ALERT

ALERT

ALERT

ALERT

ALERT

ALERT

ALERT

ALERT

oh what the hell….

It turns out Steve Rogers has been a servant of Hydra for years and that he has internalized conservative values i.e., Nazi values. So I guess I can take some solace in the fact that the personification of America’s fighting spirit is as guilty and fundamentally evil as I am.

I honestly debated even writing this article. I mean what’s the point… it’s pretty much pissing into the wind. But it’s a slow moving Friday….

I am obviously not alone in my criticism of Marvel’s PC branding. Here’s a few choice quotes from other industry observers:

bigbang

On the sorry state of the industry

From Comic Book creator, Matt Battaglia:

Back in the desert, a group of presumably illegal immigrants are crossing the border, and the Sons of the Serpent arrive [ a 1960s created Avengers villain organization fueled by racist ideology] .

Some lines from the Serpents: “By invading this sovereign land, you defy the laws of God, nature, and the United States Constitution… until the mighty wall is built, you come here for employment that is rightfully ours! And if denied it, you seek welfare paid for by our tax dollars! … look who it is, y’all! Captain Socialism … apologizing for our country’s greatness that you have time to come down here and flout still more of our laws…”

Seriously, this is what the villains are espousing. It’s a lot of conservative buzzwords given a murderous edge, and that’s that. Together with the overall tone and narration of the issue, conservatives have every right to be angry.

Going back to Captain America’s earlier observation that “this country is a divided as it’s ever been,” we agree. Mainly because one side of the argument unilaterally paints the other side as racist, murderous monsters who are “spouting intolerance and fear” and “drowning out common sense.” 

See: http://thefederalist.com/2015/10/21/its-true-captain-america-is-now-captain-leftist/

And the headline says it all from an article by Douglas Ernst of the Washington Times:

‘Captain America’ comic likens critics of Syrian refugee programs to Nazis

See: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/may/23/captain-america-comic-likens-critics-of-syrian-ref/

And finally the aptly titled: “Why Comic Books Suck” blog (love the title)

See: http://whycomicbookssuck.blogspot.ca/

It’s comforting to know that the sinking ship called Marvel Comics may finally go the way of the dinosaur. The fact that both DC and Marvel have tried to reboot their anemic franchises every few years is tacit admission that their relevance is lost and they are culturally moribund.

My advice? Collect Marvel Masterworks… the company’s brilliant Silver-age output and remember what was.

 

 

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Jane Foster… You’ve Come a Long Way Baby!

Thor Issue #8

Thor Issue #8

It’s really no secret at this point since anyone with any real interest in all this will know by now that Jane Foster has been revealed as the new Thor. However, I thought it would be worth commenting on and providing some personal insight into the latest goings ons in the world of Thor and Marvel Entertainment in general.

On some level I’m quite comfortable with Jane assuming the mantle of Thor. Admittedly, the execution of it all is lacking somewhat, for as other’s have pointed out, Thor is the given name of the Odinson and so Jane’s incarnation should have been handled along the lines of Walt Simsonson’s Beta Ray Bill… The power, the mantle is his but not the name.

Interestingly enough, Marvel had Jane assume the Thor identity back in 1978 when she appeared as the goddess of thunder in one of the “What If?” titles, (issue #10 to be exact).

What If Jane Foster Had Found the Hammer of Thor

In this “imaginary” story Jane decided to call herself Thordis and performed admirably as a female incarnation of the Mighty Thor. Since, the story was clearly a fantasy and not meant to be seen as part of the Thor canon no one seemed to take umbrage over this representation of Thor (And no, the irony of it being an imaginary tale within an imaginary universe is not lost on me).

However, old timer’s like myself will hearken back a decade earlier still when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby finally resolved the Thor-Jane Foster relationship by granting her the powers of an Asgardian goddess! Yet, within the very pages of that memorable issue, they had her fail so miserably so, irrevocably, that poor Jane was forcibly removed from the cast of Thor’s main supporting characters and immediately replaced with the goddess Sif.

The Mighty Thor #136

The Mighty Thor #136

The transition was awkward and abrupt and not even Kirby’s amazing pencils or Stan’s eloquence could blunt the jolting impact of such a major change in the direction of their golden haired protagonist. It was definitely heavy handed, but fortunately, Sif proved an interesting character in her own right, and her courage, fearlessness, and innate character as a goddess born stood in stark contrast to the timid, gentle, and decidedly human, Jane Foster.

Not Cut-out for God Duty

Not Cut-out for God Duty

But like the old Virginia Slims cigarette ads once noted… “You’ve come a long way baby!” The current Jane Foster not only has become The Goddess of Thunder but in her human form is currently battling breast cancer. Either way, this Jane Foster is a definite bad-ass and possessed of an indomitable spirit.

In many ways the character of Jane Foster is symptomatic of the wider Marvel push for diversity. Canon iterations  (whether as part of the Cinematic or Comic Book Universe) of an Afro-American, Captain America, Nick Fury, and Human Torch among others have become the status-quo. Expect to see further steps in this direction. Certainly, GBLTQ characters are gaining more press and it won’t be long before we see one or more 1st tier characters coming out as gay or representing some other sexual minority.

Thor writer, Jason Aaron may had some creative fun at his critics’ expense when he had Jane/Thor go up against old school villain, Crusher Creel AKA The Absorbing Man is issue #5. The choice of villain was deliberate. Creel is overtly male, bestial, guttural, and to no one’s surprise, misogynistic in the extreme. In facing our female protagonist for the first time he screams out at her:

“Thor? Are you kidding me? I’m supposed to call you Thor? Damn feminists are ruining everything,” he says. “You wanna be a chick superhero? Fine. Who the hell cares? But get your own identity. Thor’s a dude. One of the last manly dudes still left. What’d you do, send him to sensitivity training so he’d stop calling Earth girls ‘wenches’?”

Thor retaliates by breaking his jaw.

“That’s for saying ‘feminist’ like it’s a four-letter word, creep,”

Creel’s scathing contempt echoes many of the sentiments felt by critics of the new Thor and I’m sure Jason Aaron was smiling to himself as he put together this artful and clearly symbolic contest between himself and his critics 🙂

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Forget about “Thor a Woman?!” The Focus should really be on UNWORTHY THOR!

 

The Unworthy Thor

Above: Our First look at the newest incarnation of “The Mighty Thor” Art by Esad Ribic

Fans of Marvel’s “Thor” (and perhaps even the casual observer) may have been apprised of the changes coming to one of marvel’s most iconic heroes. The comic book fandom element of the internet has been all a buzz over the changes foist upon Asgard’s favorite son by writer, Jason Aaron. The shocker headline that seems to be the rallying point is “Thor is Now a Woman” (with or without the added emphasis of WTF!?!).

However, I think the real story here is “Unworthy Thor”. The character has a long and sadly convoluted history but such is the way of comic book fiction. For the morbidly curious check out Marvel Wiki’s entry on Thor:  

http://marvel.wikia.com/Thor_(Thor_Odinson)

At any rate, The simple fact is, Thor has done “something”… been made aware of something that has compromised his integrity or whatever, resulting in his inability to lift enchanted Mjolnir (his trademark hammer). Not only that but somehow his mantle of Thor: The God of Thunder has passed to another… an as yet unidentified woman. By virtue of her ability to wield mighty Mjolnir (or “MewMew” as Kat Dennings’ character refers to it in the movie adaptations 🙂 )  she becomes the de facto Norse God of Thunder.

Now, one would think that as a male to female, post-operative transsexual I’d be all agog over this ersatz change of sex for Thor. But in reality, I’m like “meh”. There’s no story here. The smart money is on “Unworthy Thor” going through a multitude of trials and tribulations before once again proving himself worthy of wielding majestic Mjolnir.

Mighty Mjolnir  

  For the record, there are many strong, interesting, and popular female characters of long standing in the Marvel Universe: Sharon Carter, Susan Richards, Electra, Rogue, Jean Gray, She Hulk, Sif, and so on. So, a female Thor is nothing new. Even Thor’s half-brother, Loki, and the sentient metal monster, Ultron have taken on female forms at various times with no lasting effects one way or the other.

Honestly, the whole thing’s a bit gimmicky and pandering to perceived modern sensibilities… but this is nothing new in comic book fiction either. Besides, they’re getting lots of press coverage and the minders of the Marvel mint must be happy with that. Heck! I was even motivated to blog about it 🙂 

However, what fate awaits our familiar hero? 

For me, this is the real story and has renewed my interest in the character. Even a cursory look at Esad Ribic’s depiction of  “Unworthy Thor” shows a decidedly “bad-ass” character. Okay, his pants look like they were borrowed from Jethro of “The Beverly Hillbillies” fame but that nasty looking axe and that metallic left arm are intriguing.

For what it’s worth, the axe is Dwarven hewn just as Mjolnir was. It’s not a lightweight weapon and is capable of piecing Celestial armor. It even has a nifty Nordic name: Jarnbjorn, so that’s pretty good, right?

The left arm comes courtesy of the Destroyer … a near unstoppable soulless— albeit mystically forged, entity created by All Father, Odin, himself (The big metal guy that appeared in the 1st Thor movie).  Apparently Thor dismantles the thing (not easy to do by a long shot)  and incorporates part of it into his new look.

“Unworthy Thor’s” redefined status poses a number of interesting questions…

Will the new Thor possess a leaner-meaner attitude?  

How powerful is he compared to his hammer wielding persona?

Will his female counterpart prove stronger?

Will the Hulk prove once and for-all that without Mjolnir, Thor’s a light-weight hero?

Personally, I’d like to see him become more of an embittered anti-hero for awhile. I sure hope they don’t weaken him too much. I’d still like to see him more than hold his own against some of Marvel’s biggest heavy-weights. I mean let’s be honest; doesn’t every Thor fan like to see Thor mop the floor with his competition?  

The newly feminized Thor and her beloved predecessor will début in the appropriately renumbered Thor #1 coming this October. And because, some of you just have to see Thor as a woman… below are the first two images of her released by Marvel.

thorwoman

Nuff Said 😉

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Captain America #107 A Look Back at a Silver Age Favourite

Captain America # 107

Captain America #107 is undoubtedly a high-water mark both for Captain America as a title and for Marvel comics as a brand. Published in the year 1968,  issue 107 is a fast paced psychological thriller focusing on Cap’s guilt over the death of his young side-kick, Bucky Barnes.  Nothing world shaking here; no earth devouring menace on the order of Galactus or universe threatening crisis courtesy of the Beyonder or Thanos; rather the book centers on Steve Rogers’ struggle to cope with a rapidly changing world and the challenge of finding his place in it, all whilst wrestling with demons of his personal past.

Stan Lee’s gift for generating  catchy titles is showcased here with the memorable “If The Past Be Not Dead” whilst Jack Kirby’s unsurpassed pencils drive home the point courtesy of a splash page depicting Cap flying into action against a backdrop of helmeted shadowy figures and a suitably nightmarish gaping mouthed Adolph Hitler.

Captain America is a man of supreme integrity possessing a will to fight on against impossible odds; itself a trait that personifies the American spirit. To understand Captain America is to see him as the living embodiment of the United States of America. Yet co-existing with this living symbol of American power is the man Steve Rogers, and Rogers is a deeply troubled individual.

Lee’s dialogue and Kirby’s pencils unite to illustrate a tortured man under relentless pressure.

cap107-2-3

Lee employs a clever, albeit deceptively simple writing device to emphasize the intense psychological pressure assaulting his protagonist, that of repetition. On page 2  we note the words “again! again! again!” and on the following page Bucky’s ringing accusation of “Why? Why? Why?”. The “why” is of course “Why did you let me die?” Why didn’t you save  me?”

Cap’s main antagonist in this tale is Dr. Faustus. No, not the Dr. Faustus of Marlowe’s famous play. However, Lee may have used the name to illustrate the common element of deception and trickery that appears thematically in both works. Certainly, deception is at the root of Faustus’ attack on Steve Rogers.

Somehow the use of hallucinogenics got past the censors at the Comics Code Authority. Perhaps it’s because Steve consumes them unwittingly?  At any rate, the drugs leave Steve susceptible to Faustus’ manipulations and a series of encounters arranged by the nasty doctor are strung together to undermine our hero’s confidence, to make him question his very sanity.

Again, Lee uses repetition to up the intensity level and the blurring of past and present is again perfectly illustrated by Jack Kirby as seen in the panel below:

The Nazi’s are in fact actors/henchmen hired by Faustus to facilitate Cap’s decent into madness—to utterly break him, psychologically. But as is often the case with fictional villains, Faustus overplays his cards and unbeknownst to Faustus (or the reader at this point) Cap has the prescription he’s been taking sent to S.H.I.E.L.D for analysis.

Steve then sets Faustus up for his comeuppance courtesy of some play-acting of his own. It’s a good thing he did too because, Faustus had slipped Cap an aging pill to break him in body as well as mind. Just when it looks like Cap is down and out he rallies like the super soldier he is and puts the hurt to Faustus’ hired goons.

Lee and Kirby save the best for last and I’ll let the closing panels speak for themselves:

Cap107-20

Cap’s revitalization and return to form following a book length adventure where he increasingly doubts his abilities and is at his most vulnerable is welcomed to say the least. Cap’s flying fist sans sound effect graphic is completely satisfying— a one punch knock-out blow redressing the psychological pounding Cap took throughout this tale. The sight of an unconscious Faustus and the haunting ethereal visage of Bucky over a weary Captain America is visual poetry and a suitable ending to this well crafted tale.

Anyone wishing to understand the character of Captain America is encouraged to obtain a copy of this issue. I think it rates as one of Marvel’s finest and is certainly amongst the very best that I ever read.

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