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Tag Archives: Comics

Divas, Dames, & Daredevils

A fun book hit my reading table recently, courtesy of my local public library, Divas, Dames, & Daredevils: Lost Heroines of Golden Age Comics. Written by Mike Madrid, the book is a collection of stories about heroines from the dawn of comics and includes a good deal of history about the characters and the industry.

Divas focuses in on books from the 30’s and 40’s, in a time when comics were still raw and their pulp foundations were still strong. It was a time before the Comics Code Authority sapped the life out of the books, blunting their edge and taming their characters. The heroines of these stories are hard fighting, tough characters, of a kind we don’t expect to see before the 70’s and 80’s.

“In these very early days of comic books, there weren’t as many established rules about how women characters should or shouldn’t act. As a result, many of these Golden Age heroines feel bold and modern as we read them today.”

Divas, Dames, & Daredevils – pg. 15

And bold they are.

I’ve been a comic book fan for most of my life. The pulp and super hero genres are favorites of my gaming group and one of the things we love to do is find obscure characters and introduce them into our games. This book presents us with a collection of adventurers and super heroes that covers quite a spectrum of styles.

“Modern day comic book readers might be surprised at the broad spectrum of heroines in Golden Age comics – daring masked vigilantes, queens of lost civilizations and intergalactic warriors, crafty reporters and master spies, witches and jungle princesses, goddesses and regular gals.”

Divas, Dames, & Daredevils – pg. 15

Madrid breaks the book up into sections based on different heroic styles, such as Women at War about heroines fighting in WWII, Mystery Women in the same style as The Shadow and The Spider, and Warriors & Queens whose adventures rival the likes of Flash Gordon. Each section includes a bit of history, and introduction to the featured characters, and a reprint of several adventures.

Because these characters come from anthology comics, their stories are short and tight. This does come at the cost of depth and the stories are simplistic compared to comics today, but this will be nothing new to readers familiar with golden age comics.

There are several characters who stood out in particular for me. One is Madame Strange, a vengeful woman of mystery who exterminates Axis spies without mercy. Among the Mystery Women, Mother Hubbard caught my attention for being a classic old witch complete with broomstick and potions, but who wields her black magic against crime. My favorite of the Daring Dames is Calamity Jane, a hard boiled noir detective who has more in common with Phillip Marlowe than the femme fatales he deals with.

Then there is Wildfire, a heroine with a magical power over flames. Wildfire stands out in this collection, as she is a character who would be at home in the Justice Society. Wildfire enjoys being a heroine and wields her abilities with wit and humor, showing the same “daring do” as Jay Garrick’s Flash or Johnny Storm’s Human Torch.

Another intriguing character is The Sorceress of Zoom, who possesses vast magical powers and travels the world via a city on a cloud. The Sorceress is interesting because she is not a hero, not intentionally. She is motivated by a selfish desire to expand her power and she is willing to kidnap and threaten innocent people to achieve her goals, but she does follow a personal code of honor. The Sorceress collects power for its own sake, but she comes into conflict with those who would use it for base villainy. In the end she defeats these petty mortals, rewards those who have served her well, and moves on to seek her next adventure.

It’s a delight to see these characters, heroines who have an edge and allowed to take the lead, and there is a sense of discovery as you read about these characters who have been lost to time. Madrid has a passion for these characters and it comes through in his writing. If you’re interested in the history of comic books, the role of women in early comics, or just want to read some fun adventures, I recommend getting your hands on Divas, Dames, & Daredevils.

DD&D

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2016 in Books and Comics, History, Pulps, Reviews

 

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He-Man! The Complete Mini-Comic Collection

Greetings Programs!

Lately, thanks to my glorious local library system, I’ve read a couple comic collections that are off the beaten path.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: Mini-comic Collection

As a true child of the 80’s, I remember well the He-Man toys and cartoon show. I wasn’t a big fan of the toy line. I liked them well enough, but I was just a little too old for them when they hit big. However, being a cartoon junkie, I did watch the cartoon. One of the unique things about the He-Man line is that they packaged mini-comics in with many of their toys, and with many years and MANY toys produced, that added up to a lot of comics. Dark Horse has managed to collect them into one mighty hardbound tome, and let me tell you I think this thing can stop a bullet.

This was a fun trip down memory lane, and it was interesting to read interviews with several of the creators who went on to be giants in the industry, including Bruce Timm who brought us the monumental Batman: The Animated Series. It’s also fun to see the evolution of the He-Man mythos. The toys and comics pre-date the Filmation cartoon series, and the early comics present a different, more primal saga that has more in common with Conan and John Carter than what we are familiar with, and it is these tales that I found to be the most fun. They have a certain raw quality to them that appeals to me, and they make a good attempt to keep a solid continuity, even when some aspects of the stories end up feeling awkward as things progress.

Eternia is a changed world, where there was once a series of great wars. The details are not given, but the implication is given that the present world of swords and sorcery is built on the graves of an ancient civilization of great technology, and this is just the beginning of the differences between this world and that we came to know in the cartoon series. There is no lazy Prince Adam and cowardly Cringer acting as secret identities for He-Man and Battlecat. Instead, He-Man is a warrior from a primitive tribe who goes out into the world to seek adventure. He-Man’s powers come not from a magical infusion from Castle Greyskull, but from the armor harnesses he wears; one gives him tremendous strength and the other an impenetrable force field, but he can only wear one at a time. The secrets of Castle Greyskull are no more defined here than in the cartoons, but there is an implication that the castle holds technology saved from the destruction of the ancient civilizations of Eternia. The castle itself is home to a spirit who speaks to the heroes occasionally, but only rarely allows anyone within its walls and only in times of great need. Even the Sorceress, who is Greyskull’s guardian but does not reside within the castle. This setup for Greyskull works better for me than the one in the cartoon, where the heroes have ready access to the castle, and the hints of what powers are within is more evocative than the completely undefined secrets in the cartoon.

As an aside, the whole Clark Kent/Don Diego disguise of Prince Adam never worked for me. The excuse of wanting to protect your family is foolish when your parents are the king and queen, already the sworn enemies of Skeletor. It is not possible to put their lives in greater danger than they already are. If anything, the requirements of maintaining such a ruse puts them in greater danger than revealing your identity.

But I digress.

As the book progresses the stories do get rather tedious, and I did skim quite a few. The sheer volume of work combined with the increasing focus on the appropriate toy over characters or world building causes many stories to lose their luster. There are still fun tales to be found in the later comics, but they get lost in the mass of increasingly childish stories.

Still, the book retails for $30, a bargain if you’re an old fan. For me it was fun to read, but not something I’ll be adding to my bookshelf. However if you do have it in your local library, I recommend checking it out.

skeletor

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2015 in Cool Stuff, Pulps, Reviews

 

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The Intergalactic Nemesis

“The year is 1933. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Molly Sloan and her intrepid research assistant Timmy Mendez team up with a mysterious librarian from Flagstaff, Arizona, named Ben Wilcott. Together, they travel from Rumania to Scotland to the Alps to Tunis to the Robot Planet and finally to Imperial Zygon to defeat a terrible threat to the very future of humanity: an invading force of sludge-monsters from the planet Zygon!”

The Intergalactic Nemesis: Target Earth

Last night my kids and I enjoyed a unique stage show called, The Intergalactic Nemesis. The show is the live performance of a graphic novel done in the style of an old science fiction melodrama. It’s a fantastic blend of performance where all the aspects of the show are on stage for everyone to see.

At one end of the stage they have a live pianist who improvises the score for every show. The center stage is dominated by the folly artist and her table, giving the audience a rare glimpse at the art of producing sound effects as part of the performance. Above her is a large screen on which they project panels taken straight from the graphic novel, which are controlled by a board operator who is also on stage. She also handles organ music. Finally there are the three voice actors, up front with their microphones, each actor deftly handling a total of about 30 characters.

The story is something straight from a pulp novel, where Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers would feel right at home. There is murder, intrigue, a mind controlling master villain, alien invaders, a square jawed heroic librarian, a fresh faced kid from Texas, and a woman reporter with enough moxie to impress Lois Lane.

There is also humor. Lots of humor. The story has tongue in cheek without drifting into outright satire. This is a love note to pulp fiction, not a parody, and the enthusiasm the cast projects is contagious. An infection they enhance by encouraging audience participation. The audience is encouraged to cheer the heroes, boo the villains, and gasp in shock.

My children had a tendency to cheer for the villains. This should surprise no one.

The Intergalactic Nemesis is the brainchild of Ray Golgan and Jason Neulander, who came up with the idea back in 1996. The project evolved many times over the years and the current incarnation has been touring the world since 2010. In addition to their stage performance they have three dramas available on CD and two in graphic novel format with the third book slated to be released soon.

My kids and I immensely enjoyed the performance and I recommend you catch the show if they show up in your area. Information about the show, tour dates, and copies of their merchandise can be found on their website, The Intergalactic Nemesis. They even have a YouTube channel where you can watch their performances!

It is a joy to see people with a love for the genre who have found such a unique way to share it with audiences and I hope their schedule will bring them back to our area in the future.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2015 in Books and Comics, Reviews, Science Fiction

 

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Comics Comics and more Comics

I’ve been on a graphic novel spree, thanks to a number of my inter-library loans all showing up at once.

Invasion!

First up on my list was DC’s 1989 series Invasion!. I wasn’t reading DC at the time so all I knew about the event was that it is a massive crossover involving freaky looking aliens and a big chunk of the DC universe. I also knew it involved Australia, thanks to an issue of Uncanny X-Men that lampooned the event.

All in all it is a fun read. The alien race known as the Dominators, who are cool looking thinly-veiled adaptation of Yellow Menace imagery, have foreseen a time when Earth’s penchant for creating superbeings will threaten their dreams of galactic conquest. This was the birth of DC’s idea that even seemingly normal heroes have a metagene, or the “We Want Mutants Too” era of DC. The Dominators forge an interstellar coalition to invade the Earth and suppress its superpowered potential until it can be studied and controlled.

This event does a lot of things right. Each member of the coalition has its own reasons for joining the cause, which the Dominators manipulate expertly, and each has a specific role to play. For example, the Khunds provided ground and space forces while Thanagar provided air support. The Daxamites acted as impartial observers, at least initially, and the Gil’Dishpan handle logistical support. Other races are bullied into neutrality. The Dominators do a good job playing their allies against each other, planning for the inevitable collapse of the coalition once the invasion is complete. They also take into account threats like the Omega Men, the Green Lantern Corps, and even made sure to acquire approval from Darkseid before proceeding with their plan. I like it when a story covers its bases so completely.

The story is well written and fun, with massive heroic stands by the heroes and lots of skulduggery among the villains. The collection does a good job of giving you the meat of the story, but as often happens with massive crossover events it’s obvious that there are a number of side stories we are not getting to read. This is one of several problems I have with big crossover events, that we rarely see a good job done of collecting them into trades. Invasion! itself was only three issues long, but it crossed into 30 other issues. Boiling all that down into a single book severely reduces the impact of the whole storyline, but I must admit that Invasion! pulled it off better than most graphic novels.

I’m looking at you Blackest Night, you sorry excuse for a collection.

Invasion! wasn’t as game changing to DC as some of their other events, but it’s a fun read. Especially if you like mixing space opera with your superheroes.

Ronin

Every now and then I like to pull out an old book and remember a happier time, when Frank Miller was brilliant and not just a hack with a reprehensible world view.

Miller was one of the biggest stars in the 80’s comicbook renaissance and I was among his ardent fans. My leather bound collection of The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One is one of my favorite books. His legendary run on Daredevil is the only period where I followed the book and the surreal Elektra: Assassin made a big impact on my teenage self.

Ronin was written and illustrated by Frank Miller in 1984. It was the second piece by him that I read and I remember liking it a great deal, but wasn’t sure how well it would hold up to a fresh reading. I’m pleased to say that I still like it a great deal.

The book is a mix of Samurai and Cyberpunk genres that would make any Samurai Jack fan happy. The art shows a lot of Miller’s signature style, but has a Moebius flair to it that suits the story well. The opening premise is about a young samurai who fails to save his master from a demon. Now a masterless ronin, he sacrifices his life to bind himself and the demon into a magic sword. The two are released centuries later in the ruins of New York City, where a massive bio-mechanical compound has been built to develop technology for reshaping the world

I can’t say much more about the story without revealing the plot twists. Overall it holds up well, though I see some flaws that herald a few of Miller’s less pleasant cliches and there are a few events that don’t further the plot and feel like padding. The romance in particular has some logistical issues, but is nowhere near as problematic as Miller’s recent work.

If you are a fan of swords and cyberpunk, and if you want to read Miller from when he was a rising star, Ronin is a good choice.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

With the release of the new movie, which I still haven’t seen, I thought I’d check out this iconic story from the classic X-Men era. This is one of those stories I knew from pieces, as it heavily influenced the X-Men for many years, but had never read in its entirety.

I used to religiously collect Uncanny X-Men, which was their current timeline, and Classic X-Men, which reprinted the adventures of the team that took over after the original X-Men retired. Days of Future Past fell into the narrow window between when I started reading Uncanny X-Men and when I stopped collecting Classic.

The story’s premise is of a nightmare future where Sentinels rule the United States. All mutants are killed or locked in concentration camps and most of the old heroes and villains, mutant or otherwise, have already died. The rest of the world has sworn nuclear war the moment the Sentinels move beyond the United States, which the uncaring robots are poised to do, and all hope rests on a few surviving X-Men.

Rachel Summers, who was first introduced in this story, telepathically beams the mind of Kate Pryde back in time where she possess the body of her 13 year old self. From there she had to convince the X-Men of her story and rally them to stop the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. The assassination of a US senator by the Brotherhood was the catalyst for the long nightmare and stopping it would hopefully write a new future, erasing the world Kate came from.

That’s pretty heavy stuff, knowing that you are erasing your existence in the hopes that a better life, a happier “you”, will take your place.

I love this era of X-Men. The writing is melodramatic, but they manage to hit my sweet spot for telling grim stories without giving into the gritty darkness that later took over comics. These still feel like adventures, which is no small feat when you’re doing a story about a mutant holocaust.

Another thing that surprised me was how short this storyline is. The collection includes unrelated issues from before and after the event so that it can fill a whole trade paperback. Days of Future Past cast a shadow over X-Men stories for years, yet the event was only two issues long.

Two issues. Take that Age of Apocalypse.

All in all, it was a very satisfactory weekend of superheroic reading. Now if I can just get my hands on Jim Starlin’s omnibus Dreadstar collection. I might break down and get that one off Comixology.

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2014 in Books and Comics

 

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No Pictures!

I saw this image over at the Jewel in the Skull Tumblr page and had to laugh.

The background is full of incredible awesomeness that cannot be contained!

Then in the foreground you’ve got the Enemy Ace looking horrified. I’m sure the intent was that he can see some other menace coming from the other direction, but to me I think he’s turned around to find a newspaper photographer. I imagine him yelling, “No pictures! No pictures!”

Enemy Ace knows that his life is full of more awesome than the world is ready to handle.

“Stop! Chuck Norris must not learn how boring his life really is!”

 
 

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Avengers Confidential Animated Movie

An animated Marvel movie giving top billing to Black Widow?  And including Captain Marvel?

You have my interest.

I really liked Black Widow in the Marvel live action movies, particularly the Avengers, and I like seeing her getting a top billing slot in a Marvel animated property.  Also, the recent Captain Marvel title featuring Carol Danvers has been a delightful series.  The first trade collection is an absolute must.  I almost bailed when the new artist took over, as the highly stylized artwork is not my thing (putting it mildly), but the strong writing by Kelly Sue DeConnick saw me through.  I am eagerly awaiting the relaunch of the book with a new artist and keeping DeConnick as the writer.

I have an added interest in these characters, having a daughter who loves superheroes.  I have been happy with the direction Marvel Comics has been going with strong female leads in their books, and putting Black Widow opposite Punisher in an Avengers movie looks like they’re continuing that push.

Throw in an Avengers lineup filled with characters I like and yes, Marvel, you have my attention.  Marvel’s animated movies have been a mixed bag for me, it’s one area that DC has had more success with, but I am hoping that this one will be a big hit.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2014 in Movies & TV

 

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