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Carbon Copy Crap: Al Hartley’s Thor

Journey Into Marvel – Part 76

Other men reveal their feelings! Why don’t I? Why don’t i just up and tell Jane that I love her?? What am I afraid of?? Blast it!! Am I a man or a mouse?!! I, who possess the greatest strength on Earth…who would battle entire armies…who would defy the heavens themselves! I fear nothing!…Nothing! Nothing…except the mocking laughter of a beautiful woman, upon learning that afrail, timid doctor is hopelessly in love with her! – Dr. Blake/Thor

It's all discombobulated.

It’s all discombobulated.

Extremites, Journey Into Marvel is bi-polar. One moment I’m reading a historically significant issue, that has far reaching repercussions for fandom, and the next I’m neck deep in  crap. After the last issue where Hulk crossed over with the Fantastic Four and changed comic book history, I return to a Marvel rush job with Journey Into Mystery. Read the rest of this entry

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How Dr. Don Blake and Thor Work With 1960s Marvel Logic

Journey Into Marvel – Part 69

One of those new ever changing powers of Thor.

One of those new ever changing powers of Thor.

Extremites, I was thinking about Batman. The concept of a mortal superhero is ingenious. Batman is full of the flaws of humanity yet he can challenge any mortal or extra skilled foe. He can face a human antagonist like the Riddler and an extra-human like Ra’s Al Ghul.

When it comes to Superman, his antagonists must be more powerful to pose a threat to the Kryptonian. Lex Luthor, begins as a  billionaire with an endless supply of resources and over time morphs into a superhuman cyborg just to keep up with Kal’El. At Marvel, Thor, a god, has this same problem. Read the rest of this entry

What Dreams May Come: Image’s Mind The Gap

Mortality, with class.

Mortality, with class.

A few weeks ago, I went on at great length about mortality: the great equalizer, the part of us that is both terrifying and inescapable. It’s the shadow within our shadow, staring at us with malicious intent, waiting for us to slip or lose focus and make the wrong turn into Death‘s patient embrace.

It is what drives us, the reason we aim with such religious fervour towards those goals we choose for ourselves; the reason we fight our adversaries with such intensity; the reason we write, draw, paint, speak our fiery words – because we know the end is coming, and we must leave something of ourselves that will remain when our bodies are dust and our existence a distant memory.

But what’s next?

This question is the source of our mythology, our religion and our philosophy. No matter the subject or interpretation, our belief systems have all been in the pursuit of understanding the mysteries of life, the most notable of those mysteries being that which is the cause of all the others, the reason we seek knowledge with such zeal in the first place.

What happens to us when we die?

Is there an afterlife, or does existence simply consist of a single iteration for each organism? Is our consciousness an evolutionary accident, something to ponder before we hit that final moment when it all comes to end; or is there something eternal within us, a soul that travels beyond, into other realms outside of this fragile framework we spend all of our time in?

The explanation, even after millennia of constant searching, remains out of our grasp. Sadly, it’s also the biggest reason why we keep offing each other in record numbers.

That, to me, is the ultimate irony: all this time we’ve been spending convincing each other of this or that version of the same old bullshit, and what we seem to have been missing all of this time is something that stares us in the face every single day, and yet we fail to acknowledge its implacable gaze.

The simple, hard truth is this: no matter what you believe, no matter the strength of your convictions or the miracles you perform, you shit your pants at the end just like everyone else.

Our opinions, our scriptures, prayers, burning bushes and flaming chariots, our golden tablets and stone carvings and alien sightings don’t save a single one of us from dropping a load in our drawers. If there was really anything to avoid, I don’t think it would be death – as I asserted last week, it’s the end of the story that makes it worth telling. If I could avoid anything, it would be stinking up the place when I make my exit.

By Odin's beard, could this be where we go after we shuffle off this mortal coil?

By Odin’s beard, could this be where we go after we shuffle off this mortal coil?

That, my friends, is the only certainty after life departs you. Valhalla, Sheol, Elysium, Heaven – call it whatever you like, it’s all conjecture. Here, on this planet, someone else will be changing your shorts before the funeral. None of us give a shit (no pun intended) about that, though: what matters is that somewhere, somehow, we keep floating around high-fiving our incorporeal selves and watch the rest of the living skitter around like ants.

Now, please don’t mistake my tone for frustration; honestly, I find the whole thing hilarious. See, I don’t consider death to be something tragic. It’s just a thing that happens to all of us at its appointed time. I don’t worry myself with what happens afterwards, because frankly it doesn’t concern me until I get there. It’s like puberty – we all go through it, we all have a hard time making the adjustment, and a few years later we look back and laugh at how confusing it all seemed when we were just getting accustomed to how things really are.

There are certain discrepancies to the current ways of interpreting the afterlife that leave me boggled, however. For instance, what happens before we’re born? Why does that barely enter our thought process, while the end is such a frightening prospect? Does it ever occur to us that there were billions of years preceding our blip of an existence, just as there will be billions more after we’re gone? Why do the ages that follow us matter so much more than the ones that came before?

This was the conundrum that I pondered for many years, but it seemed that there was another beneath my nose that had escaped my notice – until recently, that is – and it was a mysterious, beautifully-rendered graphic novel that brought it to my attention. This series has inspired more philosophical musing from me than I had experienced since reading the Watchmen over a decade ago – and this from someone who spends more time musing than sleeping.

The conundrum that this story revealed to me was this: if we go somewhere when we die – or don’t, as the case may be – then what of people in a coma? Is that not, as far as science is concerned, a type of death?

I mean, really, what’s the difference between death and unending sleep? Would we dream? Are our dreams in this life really an exploration of that place we go when we pass?

Do coma patients’ souls escape the body, or are they trapped within, fighting to regain control?

Can it possibly be in both situations at the same time?

And most of all, how bad would that suck?!

mind-the-gap-1Welcome to the world of Jim McCann, Rodin Esquejo, and Sonia Oback‘s Mind The Gap, a psycho-philosophical thriller that attempts to challenge the widely-accepted ideas of death, sleep, the soul and … how terrible I apparently am at keeping track of a well-organized plot.

Honestly, this book grabbed me by the balls – and it’s still squeezing.

First, the people behind this masterpiece.

Jim McCann is … well, his experience is quite eclectic. It stretches from writing daytime soap opera serials to doing PR for Marvel in the ’00s to contributing work for the iconic House Of M and Dark Reign series as well as having a hand in the New Avengers. Beyond that, his graphic novel, Return of the Dapper Men, was nominated for 5 Eisners – and even won for Best Graphic Album!

And interestingly enough, all of his previous experience can be seen in Mind The Gap: the emotional drama of daytime serials is there right alongside the supernatural elements that normally dominate the comic shelves, each enhancing the other in a way that keeps the story fresh and free of the tired old cyclical story arcs we’ve become accustomed to.

You probably remember Rodin Esquejo if you’ve been reading my stuff for a while – he’s the artist behind the Lost-meets-Degrassi-High drama Morning Glories. He brings the same level of masterful work to the table this time. The thing about Esquejo that draws me in is his ability to portray emotion in his characters. There are times when an artist will signify sadness with a single tear, or a shadowy silhouette accompanied by some flowery eulogy-worthy words from the writer, but Esquejo needs none of these devices. The emotion he can deliver with his art is as complex as that of a real human being. He doesn’t just show a single tear: he shows the anger on the character’s face at their inability to keep the sadness within themselves. Their posture indicates that edge-of-panic feeling that we all get when we feel overwhelmed and we’re just waiting for someone unfortunate enough to get in our way so we can unleash all of our pain on the poor sucker. But Esquejo doesn’t need to show the confrontation – you can see it just in the angry eyes, the set of the shoulders and that single tear, and not a word need be spoken.

Sonia Oback’s colouring experience is as rich as her palette – Witchblade, The Darkness, and X23: Target X are all work that I’ve always loved for their unique colour schemes, and Mind The Gap is no different. Whether it’s the single-colour schemes of hospital rooms, the dank, seedy brick-and-steel of a subway station, or the vivid rainbow of colour in the Garden (I’ll explain the Garden in a moment), she evokes the feel of each place beautifully. But it’s not even necessarily the environments that need the attention in this story as much as the characters: the cast of this story is so ethnically diverse that it requires someone with the kind of sensibilities that Oback offers to render them all properly without it seeming … well, painted on.

That was a bad joke. Sorry, folks. I’m a fan of the pun.

Anyway, on to the story.

The plot of Mind The Gap, at first glance, appears quite simplistic. Like any great story, however, the devil is in the details. For your sake, I’ll leave those for you to pick out.

The story begins with an attack. Elle Peterssen has been found in a subway station in a coma. The assailant, motive, and circumstances of the attack are unknown. All we can tell for sure is that, as McCann puts it, everyone is a suspect.

Thus begins a whodunit that takes us not only all over New York City, but into the mind of an immensely brilliant woman who happens to be comatose in a hospital room.

And this is where the rubber hits the road – after the attack, Elle finds herself in a place known as the Garden, a dreamlike reality that is reserved for those who are between the states of life and death. Coma patients, the terminally ill and those who have just exited their bodies for the last time all find themselves in the Garden for some span of time. The kicker is that Elle can’t remember a single thing about how she got there or who attacked her … something that she can see her friends and family struggling to find out for themselves.

But Elle isn’t like the other residents of the Garden. As she discovers quite accidentally, she’s able to hop into the bodies of those who’ve just left the mortal realm – only for a moment, but long enough to put the staff at her resident hospital in a confused uproar.

Meanwhile, as Elle tries to understand her unique out-of-body abilities, the drama surrounding her earthly form unfolds. Betrayals, secret organizations, corporate entities and even ex-Nazi scientists enter the race for Elle Peterssen’s body.

And time is running out for her. Will the mystery be revealed before she dies?

Or is death just the beginning?

We can only hope, as we always do. After all, it’s what we seem to do best.

Until next time.

-Benjammin’

Ben’s Grim Corner

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The Star Crossed Lovers of Silver Age Marvel: Thor/Don Blake and Jane Foster

Journey Into Marvel

Story I Read: “The Lava Man” (Journey Into Mystery #97 OCT. 1963)

Odin commands Thor to end his love affair.

Odin commands Thor to end his love affair.

Recently, like most of you, I journeyed through the cold and blustery snowbanks of Canada to my local cinema in order to bask in the glow of Thor: The Dark World. I won’t go into much detail about the film, as I am sure most of you are Chris Hemsworthed out, for I know I am, but I will say that the film focused on an aspect of the Thor mythos that was not present in the first film; his forbidden relationship with Jane Foster. I loved how the film embraced, and thankfully not nauseatingly, the predicament the two are in. Thor is a godlike alien and Jane is a lowly human. In a Galactic racist sense, it makes … well… perfect sense for the relationship to not totally please all extended family involved. Like any good love story Jane and Thor overcome their differences and love conquers all in the end.

This love story is certainly not the creation of Hollywood, it finds its roots in the comics, and this issue is the first time we get to experience the difficulties beyond the ‘will they/wont they?” cliche.

As the story begins we find Thor doing what he does best, saving the world from ultra criminals, but in the back of his mind he is tortured by the thoughts of his beloved Jane. She just doesn’t seem to love him back. If Thor just told Jane he loved her all of this turmoil would be fixed. The crux of the issue, as is shown through a ghostly window appearance of Odin: the All-Father, is Thor cannot admit his love for her or he’ll loose his divinity.

OH the ASGARDITY! 

Things are never simple for Gods.

It doesn’t make much sense for Odin to forbid this love affair out right beyond the, as I said before, galactic race thing, but it happens.

The reason why Jane can’t admit her love for Don Blake, because she still doesn’t see Don Blake as Thor, is far more selfish. She doesn’t think Don is strong enough to handle a woman. She bases this on the fact that he is disabled (for Mjolnir appears as a cane, and a very stylish one at that, when Thor is Don) and shy. I gotta say, all the women presented thus far, with the exception of Jean Grey, in the Silver Age are written really vain and unpleasantly.

I wonder if Stan Lee and the others were working a personal something out.

Anyway, Jane tells Don that she is going to move her base of operations to Dr. Blake’s nemesis Andrews’ practise.  I assume Dr. Andrews is Don’s nemesis as Don reacts pretty violently to his name. This is the first time Dr. Andrews has been mentioned.

You are probably wondering why I am focusing in so much on the soap opera that is going on with Don. This focus is because this is the meat of the issue. The fight

Lava Man!

Lava Man!

with the Lava Man (who in later comics is referred to as Molto) is little more then a sideshow.

Lava Man arrives on the Earth’s surface having popped out of a volcano to take back the surface-world for his people.

Oh look another subterranean race who hates humans. 

How many civilizations are down there, I wonder.

Loki also managed to make a cameo in this one. His presence is becoming more and more prevalent. I love that these two, Thor and Loki, seem to be in constant combat. However, my love doesn’t extend to the banality of forcing pointless cameos into a narrative that does not need one.

Loki only pops up to explain that he set the Lava Man loose. Why is this necessary?

Can’t we have a villain spurred on to defeat Thor without the extra motivation that he is doing it either for, or in spite of, Loki?

This goes back to my earlier discussion about Loki being the only decent threat to the Thunder God. No other character seems to even come close.

The Lava Man poses no threat. Thor smites the Lava Man with a single blow of Mjolnir.

There is one small moment when the God is trapped in concrete lava, but he quickly makes mince meat of that predicament. The balance always seems to be off.

Even though the balance is always off in Thor stories, I always find myself grinning like the Cheshire cat after I read them.  What is it about Thor that makes me become a child, bowled over by the melodramatic goings on of Don Blake and Jane Foster, and totally willing to overlook tacky moments with Loki?

Maybe it’s because as the most recent Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D episode said: “Thor is dreamy.”

He certainly is and his stories are always wildly fantastical

Rating: 3 out of 5

Pros: Don Blake and Odin’s conundrum over the relationship with Jane, the fireworks with the Lava Man and Loki’s cameo.

Cons: Jane Foster’s unlikability. The cliche of the Lava Man. Loki’s cameo.

Previous Review:  “Music to Scream By” (Tales to Astonish #47 Sept 1963)

Upcoming Review Tales of Asgard “Home of the Mighty Norse Gods” (Journey Into Mystery #97 Oct. 1963)

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