Monday, September 28, 2009
So it goes like this: In September, 1963 Marvel Comics published X-Men #1 with the byline "The Strangest Super-Heroes of All!". Back in June 1963 DC comics published My Greatest Adventure #8o which debuted a new Super Team, the Doom Patrol with the byline "The World's Strangest Heroes!"
The X-men featured five teenage heroes with unwanted powers who answered to a mysterious leader in a wheelchair. A man named "Professor X". The Doom Patrol were three heroes with unwanted powers who answered to a mysterious leader in a wheelchair. A man named "The Chief".
There has been some controversy over the similarities of these two super-teams for the last 46 years. DC says Marvel, in essence ripped off the Doom Patrol, citing the wheelchair-bound leader and unwanted powers. Also, the DP fight the Brotherhood of Evil and the X-Men fight the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Marvel says that the Doom Patrol was just a rip-off of Marvel's Fantastic Four.
After all, there are FOUR of them and four members of the Doom Patrol. Negative Man is a little like the Human Torch, Robotman is similar to the Thing, The Chief has Mr. Fantastic's intellect, while Elasti-Girl is like the Invisible Girl but with a power sort of like Mr. Fantastic's...
Of course, if DC ripped off Fantastic Four creating the Doom Patrol, then Marvel certainly ripped off DC's Challengers of the Unknown when creating the Fantastic Four.
The Challengers were four men brought together by fate, united by a common accident (the crash of an experimental plane) who team up to combat, well, the Unknown. They even wear matching purple jumpsuits not unlike the spacesuits worn by the FF in their first appearance. Of course, Challengers was originally drawn by FF artist extraordinaire, Jack Kirby, so no big shock that the two books would look similar.
Another great similarity between the Doom Patrol and the X-Men is that both titles were cancelled due to poor sales. Of course, in the 1970's, the X-Men came back in a HUGE way with the New X-Men in Giant-Size X-Men #1.
The Doom Patrol also staged a come-back, but with far less success. But, fear not, DC managed to rip off the New X-Men with the New Teen Titans.
The Teen Titans were reinvented as an angstier group of young people, many of whom were not so keen on having super powers. Heck, even Doom Patrol alumnus Beast Boy (No relation to X-Men's Beast) joined the New Titans.
Not to be outdone, the good folks at Marvel brought us The New Mutants a comic about the teenage mutant students who were training to be future X-Men. The New X-Men, after all were no longer teenagers.
The thing is, folks- comics companies, writers and artists have ALWAYS ripped each other off. From Sub-Mariner to Aquaman. From Superman to Captain Marvel. From The Flash to the Whizzer...
Personally, I'm just glad I live in a world where I can read and enjoy reprints of BOTH the Doom Patrol and the X-Men
Friday, September 25, 2009
I've been a fan of Green Arrow ever since I was five and I saw him on the Super-Friends. So it struck me as odd and kind of insulting that Speedy wasn't in the teen Titans from the beginning. It must have struck the readers that way, too, since "The avalanche of mail reached from the street to the seventh floor, we decided we'd better give you hungry hordes of Teen Titans fans what you're screaming for... SPEEDY!".
Speedy gets involved unceremoniously when someone clumsily tries to switch an explosive arrow for the arrow Speedy is supposed to use in some exhibition shooting at the opening of the Tokyo Olympics.
The Titans are soon involved in a double plot. One, a plan to disrupt the Olympics by the agents of an organization calling itself "Diablo" the other, an amazing athlete who feels so pressured by his father's need for vicarious fulfillment that he can't compete.
It's great to see Speedy take his place among the other kid sidekicks in the "junior Justice League", but puzzling why- after all the demands of the readers- he doesn't even show up in Teen Titans again until issue #11.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
This was a pretty entertaining little yarn.
Surprisingly, there is no mention of the Teen Titans being in the Peace Corps. I really thought they would be setting up an irrigation system in the Congo or something.
In this issue, the Teen Titans receive a plea for help from a small-town girl in love with a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Mammoth tracks!! Seems young Penny Randall is in love with Garn, the new boy at school who just doesn't fit in. Garn doesn't fit in largely due to the fact that he's a caveboy who was preserved in some volcanic mud for the last million or so years and was awakened a'la Encino Man just a few months ago.
Garn's difficulty fitting in with the local scene is intensified by the fact that a giant, Cro-Magnon enemy of his has also recently awakened. And, of course, the local adults assume Garn is in cahoots with this new, destructive caveman.
High points include Wonder Girl saving everyone by tying herself to a tree with her own pony tail, and the Teen Titans laughing at some of their help mail.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Okay, this was a weird issue, with a LOT of loose ends. First of all, the Titans are asked to join the Peace Corps, which their adult counterparts are THRILLED with. Now I'm all about superheroes standing for good citizenship, but this is the most heavy-handed piece of DC propaganda since "Superman's mission for President Kennedy". Also, I'm not sure the Peace Corps took non-U.S. citizens, so how did Wonder Girl and Aqualad join up?
The Teen Titans are sent to a town called Xochatan, "high in the Andes mountains of South America" to build a dam. They've been sent there because the dam-building project keeps being sabotaged by an evil spirit named "El Conquistadore" who takes the form aof a 50-foot-tall conquistador. El Conquistadore seems to be trying to stop the dam because if the river is dammed up, it will flood the valley, submerging an ancient temple.
You would think that someone, anyone, would say "hey, that's an important piece of local history and it could be of great cultural and scientific benefit and MAYBE we should build our dam FURTHER UPSTREAM!!" But no. The Teen Titans whale the tar out of El Conquistadore and the shape-changing Beast-God of Xochatan and get the dam built on schedule.
Also amusing: one of the principal characters names is Juan Valdez, like the guy in the old Columbian coffee ads.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
In this, the third appearance of the Teen Titans, the feature is settling in to a pattern of Teens Vs. Adults. In their second appearance (which I have skipped) the Teen Titans gained (with no fanfare or explanation) a fourth member- Wonder Girl.
This issue sees the Titans trying to clear the name of the hottest new teen rock group- The Flipz. The Flipz are a musical trio. Although only one of them seems to have an instrument- an acoustic guitar. Apart from that, their act seems to consist of a guy who rides a motorcycle up walls, a guy on a jet-propelled surfboard, and a girl with a majorette's baton. I'm really not sure if they are a band, or a super hero team. Maybe they could have been both, like the Impossibles.
Anyway, teens love these guys. And, when evidence seems to point to The Flipz as the perpetrators of a series of robberies, the teenagers of one town become so concerned they send for the Teen Titans.
The Flipz are then seen to perpetrate more crimes whilst right under the watchful eye of the Teen Titans themselves, even outwitting the young superteam in a dramatic chase sequence.
Now maybe it's because I'm an adult and therefore a square, but I don't get the appeal of this musical act. As I mentioned previously, they only seem to have one musical instrument between them. And their big , hit song is all about them. Also, the writers of Teen Titans like to throw around hip, surfer lingo, like "goofy footin' " and "Big, green wall". I'm not even sure they know what surfing goofy-footed is. Frankly, if they WERE a huge musical success, maybe Jimmy Olsen COULD have been the "Red-Headed Beatle of 1,000 B.C.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Back before the Teen Titans were the faux-anime darlings of Cartoon Network. Back before they were a bunch of troubled, brooding young people trying desperately to be DC's answer to the "new" X-Men, The Teen Titans were simply a team of superhero sidekicks.
Seen here in their Debut in Brave and the Bold #54, the Titans (who haven't even named their team yet) consist of Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad. The Boys are summoned to the small town of Hatton Corners by the town's teenagers, who somehow think their presence will help persuade the town's adults to build them a new teen clubhouse. Upon arriving at the meeting (much to the chagrin of their stuffy, adult superhero counterparts), The Titans discover that the town's teens are all missing.
The town adults give the Titans a note which explains: "All us cats decided to skip. Until Adults to the music get hip! Build a new clubhouse! Hatton Corners Teens". Robin, ace detective that he is immediately spots the note as a forgery. After all "No teen-ager would use the word music in a hip language message...they'd use 'jive'!". Even more mysterious, the former teen clubhouse was flattened to the ground, as though by the force of terrific winds.
After a little digging, the boys encounter a costumed villain, calling himself "Mister Twister". Mister Twister wears Colonial dress, complete with tricorner hat and tops it all off with a cape made of passenger pigeon feathers and a Native American medicine staff. Mr. Twister has an axe to grind with Hatton Corners. Seems one of his ancestors leased the land the town sits on for the annual price of one passenger pigeon feather, ad infinitum. Problem is, the passenger pigeon is extinct. When Mister Twister, aka Brom Stikk discovered the original agreement, he wanted to be paid his back rent or the default, which was one of the town's youths to serve him for a year for every year of forfeit. When the town laughed at him, Stikk used his magical powers to spirit away the town's teens to build a monument to his greatness.
Okay. First. "Mister Twister"? I mean, he makes tornadoes, so it's not the WORST villain name. His look is kind of all over the place though. Also, I think we had a guy a few years back who called himself Mister Twister who kept getting arrested for feeding parking meters just ahead of the meter maid. He wore a clown suit.
Second. Did Mr. Twister really think he was going to get those feathers? He approaches the town council like they're just made of extinct bird feathers. I think he was angling for the kids the whole time. It reminds me of that issue of Uncle Scrooge with the barrel of horseradish... but that's a story for another day.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
It's Saturday morning, so I thought I'd devote an entry to Saturday Morning superhero cartoons of the 1960's. This week's episode hails from Filmation's New Adventures of Superman; an episode entitled "The Return of Brainiac". To be honest, I watched most of this Superman with my 4-year-old son, and consequently missed big chunks of what was going on . I therefore must have missed when Brainiac showed up the FIRST time.
This cartoon was awesome. Although it was a pretty straight forward "Oh no! We've been shrunk! What do we do?" story, it had some very nice touches. For some reason (I'm thinking money) Filmation chose not to have Brainiac speak in this cartoon. It made him REALLY creepy. Also, there's a disturbing moment when Superman overcomes Brainiac by staring at him with his heat vision until the diodes pop right out of his head, causing him to shut down and collapse. I mean, I know he's just an android. But he's a SENTIENT android. Yeeesh!
According to the DVD extras, Filmation was just a small animation company that did TV commercials before they bid on this cartoon. The success of this series actually paved the way for over 20 years of Saturday morning goodness from Filmation.
Friday, September 18, 2009
#1, The Batmobile. Often imitated but never duplicated, Batman's ride is a suped-up, crime-fighting machine. It features a bat-tering ram and a mobile crime lab. And I'm sure that big, honkin' fin doesn't create any drag. This is the crime fighting car for a world where gas is $0.27 a gallon! Yep, when Batman unveiled this baby, EVERYONE had to have one...
#2, The Robinmobile? Look, I know Bruce Wayne is rich, but this is just spoiling the kid.
#3, The Jokermobile. Obviously, The Joker was a little jealous of Batman's cool car and decided to try and one-up him. He failed.
#4,The Arrow Car. Green Arrow clearly has his own shtick. The whole Robin Hood, trick arrows thingy is definitely unique. However, as seen by the previously reviewed "Arrow-Cave" GA was never much of an innovator in any other aspects of his career. The Arrow Car does have a really swell catapult feature, though, that allows the Green Arrow and Speedy to be launched at their foes. And it has a big fin so it looks a little like an arrow. Not a green arrow, but an arrow, nonetheless.
#5, Lex Luthor's Jetmobile. If you though the Batmobile guzzled gas, imagine what kinda crappy mileage this baby gets. I think he only used it this once, too. Of course this was back when Lex was a mad scientist, not a Wall Street tycoon. Clearly his money-management skills improved.
#6, The Fantasti-car Mk1. (aka the Flying Bathtub) It's not just the DC Superheroes who need a cool car. The FF apparently felt that their dysfunctional family dynamic would benefit from a family car. Of course, it's a family car that splits into four separate parts, so when the Thing starts kickin' the back of your seat, you can just jettison him.
#7, last but not least the, um, Aqua-truck? Not to be outdone by his fellow JLA members, Aquaman has a truck. Filled with fish. *sigh* I miss the silver age.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Okay kiddies, let me tell you all a story about how weird things can get when people care about a little something called "continuity". See, back in the 1940's, There were a LOT of superheroes. So many, in fact, that geeks in the 1960's and 70's-who had discovered the joy of collecting back issues of comic books- dubbed the 1940's the "Golden Age".
Among the alums of the Golden Age years were Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Arrow, The Flash, Green Lantern, The Atom and Hawkman, to name a relevant few. They all belonged to a club for superheroes, named the Justice Society of America. As time went on, some of these heroes fell out of fashion. The Atom and Hawkman's back-up features were dropped, and The Green Lantern and The Flash had their titles cancelled.The Golden Age had drawn to a close.
By the early 1950's TV had stolen a lot of thunder from the comics. Dr. Frederick Wertham launched a comic book smear campaign that made it all the way to a senate sub-committee hearing before Joe McCarthy convinced everyone that the Communists had infiltrated the Federal Government. Suddenly, the idea that comics books were the cause of juvenile delinquency seemed like small potatoes.
Superheroes were kind of left out in the cold. Westerns and romance comics carried a greater share of the market. It is sometimes said that only Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman survived. This is not exactly true. They were the only DC Heroes who kept their own titles. DC still had quite a few superheroes in the early 50's. Aquaman and Green Arrow were still going strong as back-up features, guys like Robotman and Johnny Quick were still around. In 1955, Martian Manhunter quietly debuted in Detective Comics.
Then, in 1956 it happened. BIG.
DC's new editor, Julius Schwartz decided to add to their pantheon of superheroes, not by bringing back their cancelled characters, but by reinventing them. Calling on Golden Age writer Gardner Fox, DC reintroduced one of Fox's characters from the 40's, The Flash. The new Flash made his debut in Showcase #4 and was an instant hit.
Soon, other characters were re-invisioned;
Green Lantern, Hawkman and the Atom were all brought back, this time with more Science-fiction back-grounds. Soon, even the old Justice Society of America had been resurrected. This time as the Justice LEAGUE of America. But what had happened to those older versions of the superheroes??
Well, in reality, nothing. However, Gardner Fox had planted a seed in Showcase #4 that sprung into something bigger and bigger as time went on. Fox and artist Carmine Infantino had actually had The new Flash, Barry Allen reading issues of Flash Comics which starred the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick. The discarded heroes of the 1940's had become the stuff of fiction-within-fiction.
Then, in Flash #123 "The Flash of Two Worlds", something happened. Barry Allen, traveling fast enough to leave the bounds of his own dimension, stumbled into another world. A world where Jay Garrick was real. It turned out that, in Barry's reality (now DC's main reality), comics writer Gardner Fox, who wrote the Flash Comics that inspired Barry Allen's superhero identity, was able to see another dimension in his dreams while he slept. Using the story ideas he got from his dreams, he had written about the Golden Age Flash, unaware that he was a real hero in another dimension. It seems that in the other dimension, which Barry dubbed "Earth Two", DC's 1940's heroes were all alive and well, albeit middle-aged.
This opened a whole new can of worms. Now, there were two versions of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman as well as an adult Robin. Suddenly, any stories written in the 1940's had actually happened on Earth Two. Soon, team-ups between the Justice League and the Justice Society became a regular event. Not long after, Earth Three was discovered- a terrible place where the Justice League were actually a gang of super-criminals called the Crime Syndicate who battled lone hero Lex Luthor...
Honestly, it was a lot of fun. Problem is, everyone began to take keeping it all straight very seriously. By the 1980's, DC had so many versions of their characters floating around, they decided to do some house cleaning. But they didn't just cancel titles and stop writing about characters they didn't want anymore. No, this time they made it an event.
DC Released a huge, 12-issue mini-series called "Crisis on Infinite Earths" wherein an evil entity destroys every parallel dimension but one, leaving one shared reality for all the characters who survived. Neat idea. Except it still left a huge mess that has ramifications to this day. And, it wasn't long before most of the characters who had been killed off crept their way back in. They killed off Supergirl... now there are like 4 of her.
When I was a freshman in college, some guy in my dorm was talking about comics. I was an avid Batman reader at the time and said something about the third Robin (who was still new) and he says "Actually, there are four Robins. There's the one from the 40's. " He was referring to the Earth Two Robin, who technically was from the 60's. So I said, "well, he's STILL Dick Grayson, so I don't know if he would count. And didn't they get rid of that guy in 'CRISIS'?". Still, he persisted. Now, this was a dorky argument, and my point of view was no more valid than his (well, maybe a little...) but how far was I supposed to go with this? Did I have to acknowledge the Robin II from that one story in Batman where Robin grows up to be Batman II and Batman and Batwoman have a son who becomes Robin II? What about Carrie Kelly, the Girl Wonder from The Dark Knight Returns? Do Burt Ward and Casey Casem's voices constitute unique Robin entities??
No, kiddies. For me, continuity in comics is something that is best used when it suits you and ignored when it doesn't. And remember, the next time some sweaty fanboy argues a point of continuity with you, just tell him "relax... it's a COMIC BOOK".
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Wow! Who knew that one man with no previous indications of musical ability could start a one-man Beatle craze in 1000 B.C. .. and with just a tom-tom and a ram's horn, no less.
I get the feeling that the writer of this tale looked at the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show (because his daughter wouldn't let him change the channel after Topo Gigio was done.) and saw nothing but four long-haired freaks who made way too much racket.
So, anyway, Jimmy is hanging out at his apartment, enjoying the Beatles and his own, personal Beatle wig, when a guy from the 30th century shows up and asks him for help. Since Jimmy knows the Legion of Superheroes as well as he knows his pal Superman, this doesn't seem weird. (Heck, over the years, Jimmy WAS a legion of superheroes: Elastic Lad, Colossal Boy, FLame Bird... but I digress.) Tunrs out, however, that this visitor from the future was a criminal who needed help flying his stolen timeship, and he's decided to hide out in 1,000 B.C. and ditch Jimmy there.
Never fear, though, Jimmy attracts more superheroes than Green Arrow has illegitimate children. In no time, Jimmy has hooked up with "Mighty Lad" who wears a turban to diguise his secret identity. He even has a secret hideout with a trophy room, etc.
It's while trying to make some eating money that Jimmy throws the time-space continuum to the wind and starts his Beatle craze.
I'm not giving away any more, you'll just have to track this one down for yourself. But suffice it to say that there's no such thing as a problem that Superman won't bail Jimmy out of.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
“THIS IS IT...THE HOWLING NEW ONE FROM DC—WHICH ROARS WHERE OTHER JUNGLE BOOKS PURRRRR!” Guest blogger Michael Carroll takes on B'Wana Beast
Of course, howling roars could also suggest some sort of intestinal disorder, but more about that later.
B’wana Beast was a fabled character in my early fandom years. “Worst. Superhero. Ever.” Was the most uttered phrase whenever his name was mentioned, and this was before we started separating each word in those observations with punctuation.
By that time in my life, I'd co-founded a bad movies club in high school, and was much enamored of lesser known comic book heroes and obscure characters. The first time I recall seeing anything about B'wana Beast, he was featured as one of the potential new members for The Justice League of America, in a very funny Dateline: @!!?# strip by Fred Hembeck.
Learning that there was a bad movie equal in superhero comics...well, insert the head explosion footage from David Cronenberg's “Scanners” except that it's a happy splosion and not provoked by Darryl Revok.
I don’t remember the exact day I found Showcase issues 66 and 67, but it was at the Eastland Mall in Columbus Ohio on a weekend when they hosted a small comics convention. I do remember that I was out of high school, which goes to prove not all adult decisions are necessarily sound.
Monday, September 14, 2009
One of the defining moments of the Silver Age would have to be the publication of Fantastic Four #1 from Marvel Comics. Marvel had been more or less out of the superhero business at the time, focusing primarily on monster comics. This fact is pretty obviously demonstrated by the big, subterranean creature on the cover battling the fledgling superteam and by one of the team's four member, The Thing.
Originally conceived as a way to cash in on the success of DC's new title Justice League of America, the FF soon took on a life of their own, becoming one of the most iconic and recognizable comics of the 1960's.
But back to the topic at hand. What kind of pompous ass names himself "Mister Fantastic"?
I mean, the other three members of the Cosmic Quartet have named themselves after their new-found super powers and characteristics. "The Human Torch" catches on fire, "The Invisible Girl"-you guessed it- turns invisible. "The Thing" is...well, a thing. But a straightforward moniker like "stretch" or "the human rubber band" isn't good enough for Dr. Reed Richards. His ego is so huge that only "Mister Fantastic" will do.
Which is kinda funny, in and of itself. You'd think he'd have gone for "DOCTOR Fantastic". I mean, he didn't go through twelve years of college to be called "Mister" anything. Heck Doctor Doom calls himself Doctor and he dropped out.
All I can guess is that the name is foreshadowing for what a jerk he's going to be to his future wife, Susan "Invisible Girl" Storm.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Back in the old days, most of your big-name heroes had kid sidekicks. Batman had Robin, Green Arrow had Speedy, Aquaman had Aqualad, Wonder Woman had Wonder Girl, Superman had his dirty little secret, Supergirl... You get the idea. Well, folks, The Flash was no exception.
No sir, ol' Barry Allen wasn't gonna get left behind just because he was a working stiff Police scientist and not a wealthy playboy with an adopted ward. Barry Allen was going places. Fast. So Barry borrows his girlfriend's little brother and takes him to show him around the police lab. ( clearly it was "change-to-your-secret-identity-and-take-your-girlfriend's-brother-to-work-day".) The crazy part is, just as The Flash is explaining how he was standing by a shelf full of chemicals when he was struck by lightning, thereby granting him the power of super-speed, Lo and Behold! The same thing happens again, only this time to little Wally West!
(I love how he thinks of Barry Allen in the third person. Once they put on a costume, it's like they suffer some sort of personality displacement or something)
Now, suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite when reading any superhero comic, but COME ON!! You're telling me that lightning just happened to strike the police lab, through the same window again? And happened to knock over the same shelf of random chemicals, bathing another person with just the right combo to cause super-speed AGAIN? And I don't want to hear any retcon BS about the "Speed Force" causing it to happen... That's just lame.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Second only to Lex Luthor in Superman's rogues gallery, Brainiac is an evil, sentient android with a computerized brain whose name is whispered in hushed tones throughout the known universe. He's also a green, bald guy with no pants.
Honestly, I'm never sure what to make of this guy's outfit. I assume he was meant to look futuristic, but instead he looks like a gay guy who painted himself green for Mardi Gras. I mean, what kind of supervillain wears a skin-tight pink shirt with white collar and cuffs paired with black short-shorts and pink (sometimes white) go-go boots?? Maybe he hopes his ludicrous appearance will make heroes underestimate him.
Apart from his terrible fashion sense, Brainiac's other notable feature is the weird little web of red diodes that light up on his scalp.
Brainiac also seems to eerily predict the habits of future comics collectors, as every time he collects a new city, he puts it in a bottle to keep it in "mint" condition. Well, they didn't have Mylar bags in the 1950's, you know.
The coolest thing about Brainiac is his name. Not that many old-school supervillains get to become a piece of pop-culture slang. It's just so catchy. I can only assume that his name was derived from ENIAC, the early super-computer and, of course, the fact that it combines brain and maniac. And he's always smiling so malevolently on the covers of Superman and Action Comics.
What's funny is, when I was a little kid watching Challenge of the Super-Friends, I always thought Brainiac and Lex Luthor would probably hang out. I guess because they were both bald and hated Superman?