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Marvel’s Thor Swallows His Obligatory Red Pill and Great White Sharks

Journey Into Marvel – Part 59

Look at those monsters!

Look at those monsters!

Extremites, they’re back. Stan Lee’s favourite punching bags. The sign that the writers were strapped for time. Those monsters that appose everything that the US stands for and therefore Marvel. Those disgusting malevolent Reds!

This time they cross Asgard’s favourite son: Thor. Read the rest of this entry

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Why Batman Was the Answer to the Great Depression

12836_700xBatman is truly a diverse character. Throughout the years, he’s been campy, serious, happy, depressed, angry, and tortured. So how did he get his start? What was he like in the beginning? After all, the campy TV series and movie of the 1960s didn’t come until twenty years after Batman had been established.
That’s why I wanted to take a look at Detective Comics #27. I was intrigued. I wanted to know what he looked like in 1939. I wanted to get a grasp for what kind of cultural impact he Read the rest of this entry

War For Its Own Sake: Image’s Zero

English: The portrait of G.W.F. Hegel (1770-18...

English: The portrait of G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831); Steel engraving by Lazarus Sichling after a lithograph by Julius L. Sebbers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ben’s Grim Corner

“No man can surpass his own time, for the spirit of his time is also his own spirit.”

A famous philosopher said that; a man named Georg Hegel – who most of you have probably never heard of, but I swear he’s famous with us philosophy nerds. The above statement is taken from his Lectures on the Philosophy of History, an amazing book to read if you spend an inordinate amount of time pondering the ridiculous impossibility of our civilization surviving into the 21st Century. Conversely, if you don’t care at all about this crap and you really need to fall asleep, it’s also a wonderful sedative.

The reason I bring this old German blowhard up is because of a term you’ve probably heard ad nauseum in the past few years, a term that he inspired: zeitgeist. Literally, the word is German for “spirit of the time”, and it refers to the culture that a specific era of history adhered to, like the obsession with Christian symbolism that dominated Medieval Europe, or the masterful weaponry and military strategy that accompanied the rise of the samurai in feudal Japan, or the monoliths and mythology of ancient Greece and Egypt.

However, in the spirit of the current time, Hegel’s above statement no longer applies. The world of today is multicultural, spanning the length and breadth of our history with every politic, religion, language and ethnicity represented, if not equally, at least in a limited capacity.

We, the thirty-somethings and under of the plugged-in section of Earth, are the generation without identity: we define ourselves not just by our neighbourhood or family background, but by our taste in music, our favourite film and literature, and our favourite food. It’s not unheard-of to meet a white kid from the suburbs who loves blaxploitation films and can beatbox like a pro, nor is it rare to find kids of Asian descent shredding a metal solo or screaming punk lyrics while sporting the smoothest, tallest mohawk any scene kid’s ever grown.

For us, that stuff’s old hat, but go back thirty years and find an Asian kid at a Black Flag concert, or a white kid busting a beat for his freestyling friends – it happened, but it was usually accompanied by “where’d that Asian kid come from?” or “where’d that cracker learn how to beatbox?” Today, we just take it all in stride; our heritage helps to define us, but it’s no longer the definition.

The idealist will look at this new trend and smile. “See,” he/she will say. “Through technology, we’ve unified under the common banner of Humanity. In time, all of our prejudices will fade out of existence and we’ll spend our days singing kumbaya and writing poems about how enlightened we are.”

And they’ll say it just like that, complete with the sardonic sneer (which you can’t hear, but trust me – it’s there).

I, however, would beg to differ. I think that our technology has erased some battle lines and replaced them with others, on sections of the field that were previously out of sight; sections like freedom of expression, right to property, and social justice on a global scale. If this technologically has assisted us in increasing our awareness, it’s only making clear how much more fucked up it all is for everyone, not just certain strata of society.

In fact, I would say that war is not an event, but rather a state of being – our state of being, to be precise. Veritably, there is only one thing that we can safely say is the zeitgeist of our age, and it’s not high definition screens or sub-woofers. Today more than ever before, we have all become warriors on a global, digitized battleground.

Whether you fight for solar panels and cancer research; or you protest the invasion of small nations you can barely pronounce by radicalized extremist factions with equally unpronounceable names; or you simply choose to shop at local markets and boycott Walmart; you have become a social soldier. The war of the present is not just fought with bullets and bombs, even if it may feel that way from the view of the mainstream media. On the contrary, our war is fought on message boards, blogs and social media; our weapons are our voices, our signatures, and our money; our only armour is our anonymity, something that is being slowly chipped away week by week.

You may want to believe that you are a pacifist. That’s a really sweet sentiment, and one I admire greatly as I myself aspire to such heights, but make no mistake, friends; pacifism is an ideal, something to aim for. It is not a reality, no matter how we’d like it to be; rather, in a world of perpetual war, pacifism is merely another type of resistance, a form of civil disobedience that is the quintessential monkey wrench in the gears of the global war machine. However, by that resistance, the pacifist becomes a target of the violence around them, invariably directing that which they resist directly at their blissful face.

Peace sounds real nice on paper, but it doesn’t just appear out of thin air, and it can’t exist without someone fighting to keep it – unless, of course, everyone’s perfectly happy with the way things are, which has never, ever happened.

Ever.

This, however, brings me back to Hegel, whose philosophy on history fits our age better than any other. Hegel developed a historical trend that he called the Hegelian dialectic; simply put, in every pivotal period of history there are two competing ideas: the first is the zeitgeist of the previous era, known as the thesis; the second, a new, opposing idea introduced through technology, exploration, or social innovation, known as the antithesis. As these two modes of thought, the thesis and antithesis, combat each other, they eventually combine to form a new, third idea, known as synthesis; this idea carries within it aspects of both the thesis and antithesis, but allows neither to be supreme. Examples of this throughout history can be seen with the founding of the Holy Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the American nation, and the Soviet Union. As can also be seen through those examples, each synthesis becomes a new thesis to be challenged by its next antithesis, leading to another inevitable conflict that will synthesize again, on and on into infinity.

Looking at things today, with the Internet rife with both censorship and hacktivism, the stock market a place of mergers and corporate conflict, nation-states fragmenting and unifying almost in the same breath, and even the farmland of the planet in a struggle between the seeds of the past and the GMO crops of the future, Hegel’s theory is more prevalent today than it has ever been.

The world of today may look different, but the eternal conflict rages on – in lieu of swords and spears, we wield drones and missiles; instead of religions and heretics, we have corporations and terrorists; but no matter the weapons or the motivation, the conflict remains uninterrupted, and the enemy is as it has always been: our neighbours, our rivals, and ourselves.

For the human race, existence is a perpetual state of war.

Zero.

Zero.

This is the premise of Zero, a new series written by the burgeoning talent that is Ales Kot (Suicide Squad, Change).

You may have heard of Ales Kot. If you haven’t, you will. Only a year and half since the release of his runaway hit graphic novel Wild Children, this Czech wordsmith is about to take on two new Marvel projects: Secret Avengers and Iron Patriot, both of which look extremely promising in Kot’s capable – and innovative – hands.

But we’re not here to talk about the big M, so let’s move on, shall we?

Edward Zero is a soldier, born and raised. He’s been taught from childhood to repress emotion, strike with murderous intent, and never leave a job unfinished.

And he’s not alone, as his small cadre of colleagues – employed by the secretive agency known as … the Agency (things are more important when they’re capitalized) – can attest. Or rather, they won’t attest. Because they’re secret agents. Attesting is against protocol, since it would require an opinion, and an opinion would necessitate feelings, and feelings are just messy when your sole purpose for existence is … um, murder.

But as is commonly the case with enigmatic paramilitary organizations, the river of secrets runs deep, and with only seven issues given to us so far, it’s already clear we’ve barely dipped our toes in.

Murder, betrayal, hidden agendas – even a little warping of space and time – it’s all there; yet, Kot also delivers it in a unique way: from the perspective of our protagonist decades after the story begins. Here, in 2038 at the barrel-end of an anonymous kindred gun-toting spirit, Edward’s tale is a combination of story and old man’s confession. Told in this way it feels almost like a memoir, complete with the regrets and nostalgia that only those older and wiser carry with them.

There are times while scanning a page-full of intricate hand-to-hand combat, that one wonders how such a scene of seamless martial ballet could share the same space with the articulate prose that Kot delivers, but it’s assuredly only the beginning. It’s clear from the outset of Zero that he intends for the series to exist for a good long time.

And for Edward – for all of us – existence is a perpetual state of war.

Until next time,

-Benjammin’

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The Dirty Sex of Jonah Hex

 

This dirty sexy beast.

This dirty sexy beast. With Autumn Brothers beneath.

Decoding DC – Part 9

Extremites, sex is a fun thing.

It is also a tough topic to talk about. There’s all sorts of reasons for this. From its political and religious importance— and sometimes derision — to its dark side: rape and exploitation. From a literary perspective, sex is a massive subject to cover.

Up until this issue, in Jonah Hex, sex has been mentioned only through derogatory comments and aspersions. It’s always present but never depicted.

According to American rating systems, sex is more offensive than extreme violence. Despite the possible ratings implications however; Joe R. Lansdale, Sam Glanzman and Tim Truman have seen fit to have Jonah Hex involved in a sexual encounter. This encounter is a wonderful and detailed scene.

In one of my past reviews, I mentioned a women named Brunnhilde that is a member of the Graves culture tribe. I mentioned her poor creation. I stick by that, but I want you to note that my opinion has eased somewhat. It’s clear that she is very important.

In the misogynistic and brutal world of Jonah Hex, women are out of place. In Joe R. Lansdale’s comment that he left on Decoding DC Part 7 he mentioned how he, and the other creatives, were parodying the brutality of the world. That is clear. We can agree on that.

In this brutal world it is important that the transgressors are male. The few female characters are either angry murderous grotesque monsters, that evoke memories of debased freaks in Victorian gothic, or they are the few, what I’ll call, ‘untouched’ women who serve as beacons of a better and brighter world.

Hildy is short, stocky, and looks like Monica Lewinsky. In some other comic she might be relegated to the sidelines, but here she figures as Jonah’s main love interest.

Hildy breaks the mould of traditional female secondary characters. She is smart, of the world, and adept at gunplay. She, however, does become the mould when she, without much provocation, falls into the arms of Hex.

Sex is not an act of love in Jonah’s world. It is an act of release. This viewpoint is solidified in the words of Jonah’s friend: The Kid, as the couple goes off into the moonlight together: “Well, reckon, I’ll go and choke my weasel and make it spit.” Even the Kid needs release.

This simplification of sex is further reiterated, in a far more foul form, by the Autumn Brothers. The brothers are the product of unholy union between the Cthluloid worms (my name for them, not Lansdale’s) and a poor farmer’s wife, making them part worm and part human. The Brothers speak in a monosyllabic and stunted way. They look like a steampunk nightmare and smell of a hillbilly fantasy. When the Brothers venture into the worm underworld, at the behest of the Great Worm: the leader of the race, their stomachs open up and green tentacles rise out to become a mass of slimy awful.

The Autumn Brothers are introduced peeping on Jonah and Hildy having sex in the graveyard.

While marvelling and cracking terrible jokes— which are very right for these two to be cracking — they reminisce about a favourite pig of theirs. This pig is no longer alive because they both had sex with the poor beast and the thing had to be put out of its misery.

While Jonah is having moonlight sex with Hildy, the Autumn Brothers are having a simultaneous discussion of beastiality.

I love this juxtaposition. It is just so twisted.

I must applaud Lansdale and Tim Truman for their fearlessness in treating sex in such a base and human way. It is refreshing and authentic.

What can be said about the sex of Jonah Hex?

It is depraved, without pleasure, without love.

It is just plain dirty.

Just plain dirty like the world it exists in.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.

Story I Read: “Chapter 4: Autumns of Our Discontent” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #4, June 1995)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pros: Twisted writing, gripping tension filled ending, neat detail in Truman and Glanzman’s rendering of the worm underworld.

Cons: Slightly sexist writing. (But could be just in the interest of the genre.)

Previous Issue: “Chapter 3: Big Worm” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #3, May 1995)

Upcoming Issue: “Chapter 5: Cataclysm in Worm Town” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #4, June 1995)

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Marvel and Cuba: Thor’s Castro Connections

Journey_in_to_mystery084-07Journey Into Marvel – Part 46

Extremites, historical perspective changes depending upon when it is being looked at.

If, for instance, I was examining WWI in 1963, I might focus on the importance of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in the causation of the war. However, if I was examining the same time frame from the vantage point of my desk in 2014, I might change the focus  to the Treaty of Vienna, or even the Napoleonic War.

The literature that we write in the present of our time is the best glimpse into the minds of people who live in that time. This applies best with comics.

Comics are pulpy high consumption mass media. They are structured to appeal to a wide range of people.  They often reflect common beliefs and fears of those who write and read them.

The comic descends from cartoonish political satires that were featured in newspapers.  They functioned as editorials on politicians and ideas. Over time, these single satirical panels developed into long form narratives which formed whole stories. This heritage has never been more clear then in this Thor adventure.

Today’s issue is a zeitgeist satire of the political events in Cuba during 1962.

The US has always had a very close connection to its island neighbour.

Cuba is ninety nautical miles off the coast of Florida. The island has always been a trade gateway to North America. After the slave uprising in Haiti, the slave trade — the most important industry in the foundation of the US — moved through the Spanish ports of Cuba. Rum and tobacco, essential to 18th Century North America, were first cultivated here.  An incident involving an attack on a American frigate, docked in Havanna, inflamed the Spanish-American War. Cuba has always been a major part of American foreign policy.

fidel-castro-smIn 1959, the Communist rebels, under Fidel Castro, forced Baptista, the longtime Cuban president, to leave the island and seek asylum in the United States. Castro installed a Communist government on the island making an anti-Capitalist country only a few hours sail from Miami. Nikita Krushchev, First Secretary of the Soviet Union, opened up an alliance with Castro and a Cold War showdown began.

In 1961, after hasty planning with the CIA (and the Mafia), President John Kennedy ordered an invasion of the island. Called the Bay of Pigs fiasco, it was an utter failure. Those who were not gunned down attacking the island were captured by the regime. Furthermore, the invasion attempt pushed Cuba into the arms of the USSR.

The events in Cuba weighed heavy on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. This issue is a 14 page extended allegory of what was called back then: “The Cuba Crisis.”

The story is as follows:

In a fictional central American republic, San Diablo, a new communist  ‘El Presidente’ has seized control. His name is The Executioner. Note, he is not the later villain known by the same name, these two have no connection. Dr. Don Blake, having returned from his vacation in Norway, hears about the incursion and volunteers to act as a medical liaison. The Executioner orders a MiG jet to destroy the ship of American volunteers. Little does he know that Thor, in the guise of Don Blake, is on board and the Executioner just declared war on America’s favourite Asgardian. After Jane Nelson  — Jane Foster’s first appearance, but for some reason, under a different name — is kidnapped by the Executioner, Thor defeats the Communists and San Diablo is once more a friend to the United States.

Thor vs. The MiG.

Thor vs. The MiG.

The story is bland. There is not an exciting moment in the lot of it. It’s obvious, from the outset, that Thor will defeat this moustachioed Latin tyrant because he’s a mortal.

What are guns up against a god?

Not even the kidnap of Jane is a credible threat because the Executioner declares that he will marry her; taking any real threat of execution out of the situation.

The suspense just isn’t there in this one. Perhaps, this is in some part due to the oppressive rules of the Comics Ethic Code.

None of this matters, though, because Kirby and Lee are more concerned with securing Thor as an emblem of American Patriotism, than a rip-roaring story.

Kirby and Lee want Marvel’s own version of Superman.

During World War II, and the early Fifties, Superman was an iconic mascot of American patriotism. In my article that tackles Thor’s debut, I talked about Lee and Kirby’s reliance on the DC model in Thor’s creation. Today’s issue debuted a month later and was meant to secure Thor as the new flag bearer of Marvel American hopes.

America, a month later, could have used a real life Thor, for the ‘Cuba Crisis’ grew into a World crisis . The events of October 1962 would serve as a model for super-villain plots of the next 30 years.

True life is far scarier then anything in a comic book.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.

Story I Read: The Mighty Thor vs. The Executioner” (Journey Into Mystery #84 Sept. 1962)

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Pros: Some excellent Kirby art.

Cons: An obvious two dimensional stereotype, thinly veiled allegory, and lack of story.

Previous Review: Return of the Ant-Man” (Tales to Astonish #35 Sept. 1962)

Upcoming Review:It Came From The Skies!” (Fantastic Four #7 Oct. 1962)

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Jonah Hex, Oscar Wilde and H.P. Lovecraft: Riding On The Worm of a Literate Comic

6-riders-of-the-worm_288x288Decoding DC – Part VIII

Extremites, I want to take a moment and say ‘Hey! and Howdy’ to the esteemed Joe R. Lansdale: the fearless writer behind both Two Gun-Mojo and Riders of the Worm and Such.  He sought this blog out to call the articles on his work misguided and pretentious.

To Joe: Yes, my last article on your work, may have been a tad pretentious.  Like I do with Steven Moffat, I try to give you the benefit of the doubt.

I tried to decipher an artistic reason behind the shoddy and stilted dialogue present in that issue.

I used too much conjecture to inform the reason. I should have just said ‘this was crap dialogue’ and left it at that. For this, I am sorry, and will take my hat firmly in my hand and crush it.

Joe, this issue, the topic of today’s article, is miles ahead better than the last one.

It has so much going for it. It has H.P. Lovecraft and Oscar Wilde.

Lovecraft1934H.P. Lovecraft is one of the most important authors of all time.

Hear me out here. I know he was a racist. Let’s look at the influence of his body of work and not the man.

I just finished reading Stephen King’s memoir: On Writing. In it, Steve extols Lovecraft’s style; from his prose to his mythos. King says that without Lovecraft there would be no Stephen King.

Further to this anecdote, I have come across his name time and time again in my research of comics. It seems everyone from Mignola to Lee draws upon his work for inspiration.

Lovecraft’s influence is obvious in Riders of The Worm And Such, for the worms are Cthuloid in both look and culture. Their crawling, muling, tentacles scream ‘old God.’

For non-Lovecraftians, an ‘Old God’ is a being, created by Lovecraft starting with his story The Call of Cthulhu, who existed in an ancient world that time and humanity has forgotten. Since humans have stopped praying to them, they have gone away; but this does not mean they no longer exist. On the contrary, Cthulhu (the destroyer god) could still return to consume the world if given the chance.

Read Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu. It will change your life and give you a better appreciation of the brilliance of the film Cabin in the Woods and countless other Horror, Sci-Fi, comics, and books.

You can see H.P. Lovecraft in every image of drawn by Sam Glanzman and Tim Truman.

Lovecraft ‘Old God’ mythos drips from the panels.

Take a look at the backstory:

The worms, according to the rancher Graves, lived in prehistoric times as sentient creatures that required sacrifice by the ancient people. One day, Ancient Man rose up and forced the creatures under ground. No longer figures of reverence. They were now foodstuff of myths. That was until they returned, craving for the old days, to wrest the land back by raping a horrible Wild West farmer’s wife.

I don’t like how Tim Truman, Glanzman and Lansdale portray women as monsters. This is a far to often trope in their work. I love, however, the idea of revenge through crossbreeding. It would have been a more powerful image if she was beautiful and corrupted by evil. Something is lost if she is already a monster.

See the Lovecraft all over this.

See the Lovecraft all over this.

The byproduct of this unholy union is a pair of men that look like the Cabinet of Doctor Cagliari mixed with roustabouts from the Django films. The Autumn Brothers, the surviving byproduct, are the most sinister pair since Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum.

Lovecraft is not the only literary force felt in this issue. Another classic author makes a cameo.  Oscar Wilde, wit of Victorian England — a man who represents the elocution and genius that is that age— not only makes a cameo but even throws a couple punches.

If you’ve followed my assessment of Riders you are no doubt aware of Graves. Graves is an important presence in this story because of his intent to bring culture to the brutal West that has led him to conflict with the worms. He’s not unlike a British version of Calvin Candy, from Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, except without the genocidal tendencies. Graves is an allusion to a very real and hilarious historical event. His presence alludes to Oscar Wilde’s whimsical tour to the American West.

The United States had a fascination for the closeted and puritan people of foggy Victorian London. The US represented a cultural freedom. A freedom not hampered by tight lipped moralism which flooded 19th century British culture. Oscar Wilde was critical of this moral tyranny and thought it a a grand idea to venture out to the American bastion of liberty.

Cartoon of Oscar Wilde's American Tour

Cartoon of Oscar Wilde’s American Tour

In 1882, Wilde set off for New York. However, it was not his intention to stick to the high society experience of the Eastern cities. He wanted to see  ‘Aesthetic America.’’ He traveled the annals of the US for a year. During that year, Oscar saw the dusty states of the Wild West at its most authentic.

Wilde, aside from being a satirist, was an accomplished philosopher. His fascination lay in aesthetics which is the study of sensory experience and how humans interpret these experiences. Oscar focused on a branch of aesthetics that tries to define the motive and method behind the creation of art. Wilde defined this motive as causation for its own sake. ‘Art’ exists for its own sake.

Some historians have later claimed that this tour was influenced more by a search for notoriety then a search for philosophical meaning. Joe R. Lansdale uses this issue to add his two cents on this idea.

I gotta say Joe, if you are reading, I love you for it.

The reason why I love you is you take both views, that it was a journey of self discovery and that it was a journey to solidify his fame, and married them together.

When we meet Oscar, in Graves’ story, Oscar is delivering a lecture on the merits of Art for Art’s sake. Confusing the word ‘art’ with the name ‘Art,’ some philistine Americans storm the stage and start a fight with the author. Oscar, who in real life was said to be a bit of bruiser despite his rather effete charm, right hooks a marauding audience member. Graves jumps into defend the “great man,” and so the bright light of culture is both crushed and revelled in.

Wilde’s mantra ‘Art for art’s sake’ gives both credence and amplification for the existence of comics in the first place.

Joe you were right when you said that my former article is pretentious. I now see that you are a Wildean and create works for their own sake. I see that your work, and the others who worked with you on this project, exists just to exist. You accept that and I applaud you for it.

One quibble, though.

The sense of humour in this issue is still juvenile. Every time the word ‘art’ is mentioned throughout the story, another character asks the question: “who’s Art?” This is funny the first time, but the next three or so times that it happens, it is just repetitive and uninventive.

This issue is an improvement on the last and sets up what will be a wonderful showdown. I look forward to it.

I applaud you Joe, Mr.Glanzman, and Mr. Truman for creating such a literate comic.

And with that, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds. 

Story I Read: Chapter 3: Big Worm” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #3 May 1995)

Rating: 3 1/2 out 5

Pros: The Literate Allusions, The worms’ plot, Oscar Wilde’s Cameo, and the philosophical importance of the whole story.

Cons: Juvenile dialogue, reductivism of women, overuse of one joke, the general exposition of the whole issue.

Previous Review: Chapter 2: Wilde’s West” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #2 Apr. 1995)

Upcoming Review:Chapter 4: Autumns of Our Discontent” (Jonah Hex: Riders of the Worm and Such #4 June. 1995)

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What If Doctor Who Was American?

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I know, I know. You were expecting a Shitty Moffatism today.

Well… Writer’s block happened. I wanted to make the article as best I could so sadly, I must admit that, it will be a couple days late.

In the mean time, check out this buzzfeed! It asks the timely question, and perhaps stupid question, What If Doctor Who Was An American Creation? It then imagines what the show may have been like by expostulating fairly accurate american approximations of the iconic actors who played the role.

Read it and hopefully this will keep you warm while I finish the next article.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds

 

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Go Back To School With Image’s Morning Glories

Ben’s Grim Corner

morningloriesHere we are again, folks. Another year over, another year begun, happening in perfect sequence like the endless, continuous ticks of an old clock. As the holiday season winds to an end, the cycle begins anew: prices return to their regular over-pricedness (rather than the extreme over-pricedness of November and December); the politicians return to their respective trenches to continue the battle for governmental supremacy; mothers and fathers put away the decorations and get back to the daily grind; the smiles run from our faces, the scarves wrap tighter around our necks, the wind brings a greater chill. We fondly repeat the words “out with the old and in with the new”, but let’s face it – there’s not much difference between the two, is there?

And while we, the so-called adults of the world, shrug indifferently at the resumption of our daily routines, it’s our children that feel the sting.

That’s right – it’s time to go back to school.

I’ll pause for a moment to let the echoes of your screams fade.

All better? Wonderful.

I never personally understood the dread associated with scholarly pursuit, to be honest. For me, school wasn’t much different than home, partly because I spent my time there doing the same thing I did at home – namely, reading up a storm – and partly because a large piece of my home life resided at my school. You see, I faced a high school career that most teenagers only had nightmares about. While my peers would awake from theirs with a sigh of relief, I would return to mine five days a week, looking over my shoulder every moment, terrified of the possibility that, at any time, she would turn the corner and smile her knowing smile at me, pierce the facade of my pubescent bravado with her hawkish eyes and return me to the state of a drooling infant.

You see, my mother was a teacher … who taught at my school.

When people learn this about me, there are two possible reactions that occur with uncanny certainty, the most common being, “Holy shit, dude! How bad did that suck?”, and the second being hysterical laughter, usually paired with some pointing in my direction.

The reality, however, was not quite what would be expected. That’s not to say that it wasn’t stressful beyond belief – I was very fond of telling my more troublesome friends, when my involvement was suggested in some sort of foolish endeavour, that my mom would know I was in trouble before I did – and that was also, more often than not, exactly the case.

It also had some pretty sweet perks, though. For instance, I was the only kid who could ever successfully perform the role of class clown with minimal difficulty. While the other thirty or so kids in my class were a faceless herd that changed from year to year, I was “Mrs. Dobson’s Son”, a title I wore with budding pride as I sat in my backyard with my French and biology teachers, listening to them bitch about their respective department heads while they knocked back glasses of red wine. When “some kid” makes a crack about the French word for seal, it’s disruptive; but when Mrs. Dobson’s Son does it, it’s tolerated.

It also made me nearly impossible to bully, since everyone was keeping a close eye on me – and everyone also believed that fucking with me could give them an “F”. Obviously, that would never happen – my mom was a firm believer in her children cleaning up their own messes – but I certainly wasn’t about to break the illusion for them.

Perks aside, school was not something I truly enjoyed. It was too much like being at home (or in jail, depending on the class). It was also profoundly under-stimulating, especially to a kid with a brain like a sponge, the attention span of a toddler, and a pile of imaginary worlds stacked next to my bed. The structured, unblinking banality of the modern education system was a miserable place for someone who spent most of his time thinking about swinging swords and shooting lasers. In those days, I wished for something more from school, something challenging. I wanted a school where boundaries shifted and rules changed, where the lines between bully and bullied were undefined, where smarts got you more than just a good score on your test.

It turns out, more than a decade later, I’ve found just the school for me.

I’m talking about Morning Glory Academy, the setting of Nick Spencer (Ultimate X-Men, Iron Man 2.0) and Joe Eisma’s Morning Glories.

Morning Glory Academy is the best prep school in the world. It also houses an ancient monastery – complete with monks in full regalia – detention rooms that drown or burn students alive, a fully-armed security force … and the ability to travel through time?!

I told you it was my kind of school.

So, this is usually the part where I give you a quick synopsis of the story, but in this case, I’m leaving it aside. Why, you ask? Because now, thirty-five issues in, I’m no closer to knowing what’s really happening than I was in issue one.

Normally, this would frustrate me beyond belief – I’m rarely interested in a neverending mystery – but Spencer keeps doling out small bites of truth between huge meals of deception and secrecy. Honestly, the only storyline I can think of that has as many twists and surprises as this and still succeeds at holding my attention would be LOST, and that piece of serialized gold was written by an entire team of writers. The fact that Spencer can keep all the details of Morning Glories together on his own is a testament to his masterful skill as a storyteller.

Case in point: page one of the first issue makes absolutely no sense – to the point that it completely escapes your notice – until issue twenty-nine, where the full sequence of events is revealed. The full details of even that particular moment are still, as yet, undiscovered, but somehow Spencer’s trail of breadcrumbs are just frequent and tasty enough to keep you following him all the way to the end.

Another aspect of the writing that makes this comic work is the staggering amount and diversity of knowledge used in its execution: the plot moves forward at a stunning pace at all times, but scattered within it are small moments of philosophical and spiritual insight that, while inconsequential at the time, reveal themselves to be important pieces of the puzzle that is Morning Glory Academy. While you become emotionally bound to the students that find themselves at the centre of the school’s darkest mysteries, you will find yourself learning the same lessons, challenging your own firmly-held beliefs in the face of Spencer’s cleverly-delivered dialectics on free will, the afterlife, community, and the nature of time.

And just when you finish cursing at the inanimate object in your hands for ending so abruptly just before the climax, you discover the final section of the comic, a piece called Notes From Study Hall, a spot where comic aficionado Metthew Meylikhov gets a chance to freely speculate on what’s really going on in Spencer’s oversized brain. It’s clever, well-worded, and keeps the gears turning a long time after you’ve closed the book. I’m sure you’ll find yourself putting pieces together in your mind as you fold laundry or wait in traffic, flipping through Meylikhov’s theories as you try and find the answers to your own questions.

As I told y’all in Image’s Think Tank Makes You Smarter, I’m especially fond of comics that teach and entertain at the same time. The special thing about Morning Glories is that while you read, no matter what age you are or how certain your beliefs happen to be, you mentally return to the state of studenthood for the span of time between page one and the end. When I was in high school myself, I took a philosophy class that, while terribly taught and barely considered a class (a lot of my classmates spent their time rolling joints and playing PSP), exposed me to Socrates, a self-professed fool who attributed his success as a great thinker to simply believing that he had no idea what he was talking about. Socrates chose to maintain the student’s state of mind: open to new ideas, fluid in consideration, and free of preconceptions.

It’s a state I’ve tried to maintain for myself since the days I studied Socrates for the first time, and I believe it’s served me well. I feel that, by choosing the student as his primary character type, Spencer is able to deliver complex concepts and mind-altering plotlines without coming off as preachy. I’ve found myself shifting between wonder and frustration as I read this comic, but beneath it is a pervading feeling of nostalgia, for this combination of wonder and chagrin is the very state of mind I held within me in my adolescence – both while I made jokes at my teachers’ expense and while I shoveled dinner into my mouth, listening to the profound insights of those who had chosen to spend their lives imparting knowledge to the rest of us.

And that’s ultimately what this comic is about. On the surface, it appears to be teenagers struggling to make sense of the mysterious place they’ve been chosen to reside in, sifting through their teachers’ bullshit to find some semblance of understanding, some piece of truth to hang onto. But at its core, this is a story about knowledge: what it is, how it can be manipulated, and how profound the difference is between what is believed and what is real.

Welcome to Morning Glories, children.

Until next week,

-Benjammin’

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Your New Year’s Resolutions Should Include Reading Saga

To echo our very own Benjamin Cook, writer of Ben’s Grim Corner, here’s another approval of Image’s Saga. Read this publication!

Lady Geek Girl and Friends

Confession time: until just a few weeks ago, I still hadn’t read Saga. I actually bought the first trade paperback of Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s award-winning comic ages ago when I had some extra money, but for some reason I had never sat down and actually read it. Well, unemployment has its upsides, and one of those is significantly increased amounts of reading time, so let me tell you a thing:

You should be reading Saga.

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Submariner vs. Doctor Doom: What Makes A Supervillain?

Journey Into Marvel

By: Julian Munds

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This issue marks the the six month anniversary of the Fantastic Four’s debut.

In that time we have been introduced to each character and their major character themes, the Skrulls and other lesser space peoples who would continually invade the Earth, and finally, the two greatest supervillains of the early Silver Age. However, as you may recall, these two supervillains had vastly different debuts.

Namor, the Sub-Mariner, was given a complete issue that ably introduced what fans could come to expect from that under water monarch. The Doctor’s debut, however, was less telling of his later genius, as very little paneling was devoted to his establishment.

We did learn one good lesson from that first issue: Doom does not get his hands dirty. He’d rather use robotic facsimiles of himself to do his bidding.

Extravagant multi faceted conspiracy is his major tool.

Given these two prime examples of early antagonists, what do they show of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s thoughts about the role of the supervillain?

This issue delves into that very question, as it pits both characters up against one another. The Fantastic Four gets caught in the middle.

I have written at length countless articles about Namor. I know many of you may be becoming a tad bored with how I do go on about him; but in the beginning years of Marvel he was the one antagonist that was fully developed.

I have taken the wild claim to task that Namor is a villain.

He does terrible things, yes.

He invades the United States three or four times in just the first few years of Marvel. But as I have written before, he is justified to do so. The US destroyed his home through ignorance and arrogance.

His back story makes him an enemy, yes, but not a villain.

‘Villain’ is a word often tossed around in modern discourse and many who use it do not understand its roots.

‘Villain,’ in the Medieval period literally meant “one who lived in a village setting.” When the word was used by the educated elite of the period, or the noble classes, it was a derogatory insult meaning “one who is classless.”

To have high class, or a lot of class, meant that one was a polite, God-fearing and a refined individual. One who acted by that false etiquette code of chivalry, that was thought to govern human interaction.

Now, I won’t waste your time in discussion of the all the classism and politics behind the term. Frankly, this is something you will learn in any detailed study of early English lit, which is totally worth looking into; it will give your reading all sorts of spice, but I will say the modern sense of the word is grossly inaccurate. Many use the term interchangeably with antagonist.

An antagonist is one who acts as a foil to the hero. Just because he or she attempts to defeat the hero does not make her or him a villain.

Villainy is in short and, perhaps simplistically, acting without regard for anyone but oneself. In Shakespearian terms, there is a difference between Tybalt from Romeo and Juliet: who is an antagonist, because despite his violence he still cares for his Capulet family, and Richard III or Iago who cares only for themselves.

Villain is a word that can be more ably and accurately interchanged with vice.

Running by the strict definition of the word, the character that best resembles the vice and, therefore the more villainous, is Dr. Doom.

Perhaps, the reason for the lacklustre debut of the Doctor was because his second appearance was going to expand heavily on just how far Doom would go to destroy the Four.

In the story, Doom seeks out Namor in an effort to ally with him. He appeals to his common goal of getting revenge on the Four for the many slights that their past interactions have caused. Doom promises the Sea Prince that once the Four have been dispatched, he will bestow dominance of the sea over the land.

Convinced that this will occur, Namor willingly enters the Fantastic Four’s headquarters and places a magnetic “positron” in the water tanks. He then attempts to join in with the FF in their war against Doom.

The Four being extraordinarily naive, with the exception of Ben Grimm, welcome their new partner.

When Doom uses the positron to drag the full building into space, with the final goal of throwing it into the Sun, we soon find out that Doom has no intention of working with Namor and that this whole ‘olive branch’ was a ploy to get rid of all special abillitied people from the planet.

FF006_22What we thought, by the example of the title, to be a birth of a new terrible team of villains, turns out to be a double cross. Doom manipulates Namor for no reasonbut to consolidate his black magic dictatorship.

Sub-Mariner once again proves that though he loathes the men of the Four, and this could just be out of jealousy of their relationship with Sue Storm, his aim is to restore and get restitution for his wronged people. Doom  wants the complete destruction of the Four and is willing to double cross anyone who stands in his way.

Once again, Doom is the only thing that matters to Doom.

Now, I am conscious that as time went on, Doom’s character became more varied. Perhaps, influenced by the political machinations of his home nation.  In this period, he was narcissistic.

Narcism is a major trait of the traditional villain. The following Marvel characters, that later debuted, that are called supervillains are, in many cases, not villains but antagonists in their own right.

Take a look at Magneto or other characters of his ilk.

You will often find that in a character stream there is only one actual villain.

A yin to the yang.

I have mentioned Baron Mordo’s relationship Dr. Strange and so far that’s the only relationship that is bares resemblance to Doom/Fantastic Four.

I look forward to examining this further in later articles.

(It is interesting that in the more black and white world of DC, you will find more of these characters. Superman’s Lex Luthor, Batman’s Joker and Green Lantern’s Sinestro come to mind. Because or Marvel’s ‘reality’ outlook, this character type is much rarer in their issues and this proves that Marvel is a  far more evolved form of Comic Fiction.)

Story I Read:Captives of the Deadly Duo” (Fantastic Four #6 Sept. 1962)

Rating: 4 out of 5

Pros: Character development of both Sub-Mariner and Doom. The moral conundrum that Thing finds himself in. The final space battle that is so absurd it is awesome.

Cons: The rather whacky plot is dangerously close to campy exploitation. The rather convenient way Sub-Mariner can fly.

Previous Review: Banished to Outerspace/The Magician” (The Incredible Hulk #3 Sept. 1962)

Upcoming Review: “Return of the Ant-Man” (Tales to Astonish#35 Sept. 1962)

 

 

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