Tag Archives: Marvel comics

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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Make Mine Marvel—Jack Kirby and Stan Lee: Models of Inspiration

Jack Kirby (left) and Stan Lee (right) are to comic books what John Lennon and Paul McCartney are to popular music

The fan boys n’ girls know better. But to most people the name of Stan Lee—alone—is synonymous with comic books and the spate of superhero inspired movies that have dominated the box office in recent years. But the truth is that Stan Lee worked alongside a number of artists that co-created and influenced, the design, look, and character of the many superheroes that dot the popular landscape to this day. Among these co-creators, none stands higher than the legendary Jack “King” Kirby.

Like so many famous partnerships people tend to line-up behind one or the other. Team Edward or Team Jacob? Well honestly, I’m inclined towards Team Kirby but I well recognize that without Stan Lee’s gift of words and inspired storytelling there would be no Marvel Comics as we know them. Much the same way as there could never be a group called The Beatles without Lennon “and” McCartney (for what it’s worth, I’m more Team Lennon when it comes to that arrangement).

But back to Stan and Jack.

The Avengers, The X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, The Mighty Thor, Daredevil, The Black Panther (the first African American superhero in mainstream comics) were all created by this dynamic duo. Spider-Man is a Stan Lee/Steve Ditko creation although Jack Kirby penciled that icon’s first comic book cover. Captain America is a Jack Kirby/Joe Simon creation but Stan helped re-fashion him for his 1960s return.

Marvel Comics’ chief rival has always been Detective Comics (DC) home of Batman, Superman, The Green Lantern, The Green Arrow, The Flash, Aquaman, The Justice League, Wonder Woman, Plastic Man, The Teen Titans, and many many more characters. Like most kids of my generation I grew up reading the stories and enjoying the art featured in both brands.

However, in 1967 at the ripe old age of nine, I first discerned the more sophisticated writing evinced in the story-telling of Lee and Kirby. Ironically, it came courtesy of the animated incarnation of the Fantastic Four appearing on ABC television from 1967-1970. Marvel’s superiority was particularly evident in an episode where the FF meet the world devouring entity known as Galactus and his faithful, but naive, herald, the Silver Surfer. I was blown away by the cosmic scale of the confrontation and the staggering implications brought about by a device called the “Ultimate Nullifier”. The story originally appeared in a Fantastic Four comic book  arc spanning three  issues #48-50.

Stan and Jack’s magnum opus issues #48 #49 and #50— featuring the introduction of Galactus and the Silver Surfer

Great stuff to be sure and this arc provided the basis for the disappointing film adaptation Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer that debuted in 2007 as a followup to 2005’s mediocre origins story, Fantastic Four. Honestly, of all the Marvel titles deserving of a reboot this one is it—but I digress.

Stan and Jack created characters I really cared about and the melodrama and interpersonal crises that played out across various comic book titles captured my youthful emotions like few other creative mediums of the period. However, Jack Kirby’s depictions of sheer physical power were an equally attractive drawing card. Think about it. Every child and teenager lacks power. They are constantly told what to do and when to do it—whether at home or at school.

Watch the wonderful Independent film, Napoleon Dynamite. This entire coming of age story focuses on Napoleon’s absolute lack of power and control over every aspect of his life. It’s only after he performs that amazing dance sequence on behalf of Pedro that things start turning around for him. So there you go; if you “didn’t get” Napoleon Dynamite now you do. It’s all about a teenager’s lack of power and how he matures once that elusive power is obtained.  I love that movie!

Some say Jack’s peak creative peak was 1967 but my own bias leads me towards 1968 (for a convincing argument against my opinion please read David Fox’s brilliantly argued “1968: the year Marvel sold out” http://zak-site.com/Great-American-Novel/1968.html . 1968 was not the best (I freely admit) in terms of imagination or the propagation of new characters and ideas but simply in the presentation of his art. Maybe it was the introduction of larger panels that year. One might say of Kirby—“go large or go home”. The larger the panel the more powerful Kirby’s work seemed to be.

Young Adult author, Holly Black recently tweeted that she was surprised at how much she enjoyed the Avengers movie released this past Spring. Honestly, I think many if not most female Young Adult authors would benefit from a crash course in Lee-Kirby story-telling with a particular focus on Jack’s depictions of sheer physical power. In general, it’s something that falls outside the purview of female experience and therefore I feel women writers can greatly benefit from exposure to Kirby’s work.

Stan and Jack certainly left a creative impression on my own writing. I have a tendency towards hyperbole (in a positive sense) and some of that I can attribute to Stan’s influence. By the way, if you want to learn how to create a “virtual” community? Stan’s the man! Back in the 60s’s while DC’s letters pages were simply addressed: “To the Editor” Marvel’s letters were addressed to Stan and Jack or Stan and Steve (Ditko) or Stan and Gene (Colan) etc… For those in the know, Julius Schwartz held that post over at rival DC Comics in the 60s but for many preteens he was a nameless entity and therefore DC lacked the sense of intimacy that Stan’s approach was able to generate.

Marvel called their creative team the “Bullpen”. God! How I wanted to make a pilgrimage to New York and see “the Bullpen”, the creative offices where Stan, Jack and the gang would be pumping out reams of new issues full of adventures featuring my favorite heroes. I pictured “Jolly” Jack in one office, “Smilin” Stan frantically moving about ,”Jazzy” Johnny Romita in another office , “Gentleman” Gene Colan in another, etcetera. But in fact, the Bullpen was mostly figurative, as many of the creative cast worked out of home-based studios, including Jack Kirby.  After some years the Bullpen did manage to accrue more in-house artists but at the time it was more an idea than anything tangible.

My understanding of physical power comes courtesy of Jack Kirby. It makes its way into my writing. Jack passed away in February 1994  and I’m ashamed to admit I was oblivious to the event and only learned of his death some years after the fact. Recently, I happened upon a Youtube video featuring an interview he conducted with my fellow Canadian, Rick Green, on his now defunct Prisoners of Gravity television program.  This show was a real gem aimed specifically at the nerd/geek community of which I am a proud card holding member.

The interview provides us with some real insight to Kirby “the man”. I’d like to leave off with a Kirby snippet from this interview:

Commander Rick (Green): What kind of influence have your wife and four kids been to you?

Jack Kirby: Oh, they’ve been a tremendous influence. They’ve shown me that I know true love. And knowing true love I think is one of the greatest feelings in the world. And it’s something that absorbed my entire being and absorbing all of love I find that I live a wonderful life. You can’t have a wonderful life without love. And in loving my own family my life is even more wonderful. I love my children, I love my relatives, I love my audience. These are true feelings. I’ll never deny them. I suppose I love everybody.

Wow! No wonder I’m such a fan and happily count Jack Kirby as one of my own heroes. So thanks to Stan and Jack and the other members of Marvel’s fantastic Bullpen for making my childhood better than it might otherwise have been; for instilling in myself a love for great storytelling and providing me with the basic tools necessary to make it all happen.

A Kirby self-portrait featuring some of the many characters he helped co-create. Kirby is not out of place here for in my opinion and in the eyes of many others he’s as truly a hero as the many characters he helped create.

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