This week, while working on a blog post about Scottish politics (not kidding—just got back from Scotland and was fascinated by some comments made by an excellent tour guide),
I decided to take a detour into nostalgia. I quaffed down a Slurpee and inhaled a couple cans of Pringles and re-read a favorite comic book. Okay, I read a comic book. The other stuff will stay a pleasant memory, because, while 11-year-old me had the metabolism of a blast furnace, 57-year-old me gains eight ounces just by typing the words “Cheese Waffles.”
I’ve read this issue probably a hundred times—99 of them, sadly, before I was 15, and the last this week. From the depths of a long box in my office, it’s been calling to me, “Please read me again!” Finally, I did. Why that particular comic called out to me, I’ll get into at the end.
The Grand Comic Book Database credits Hamilton and Forte with bringing us an ambitious adventure—a tale of time-travel, war, young love, betrayal and the origins of three civilizations. And, along the way, the Legion will divide into opposing camps and fight a war against each other. That couldn’t happen, you say? Well, it did happen, right here in these pages. That makes no sense, you say?
Well, ya got me there. It makes not one damn bit of sense. But, hey, did I mention it was ambitious? And, look, Lightning Lad has his real right arm on the cover, and his robot arm on the story inside. Maybe if we think really hard about that, we won’t think too hard about how idiotically the Legionnaires are behaving in this story.
The “A” team returns, with Edmond Hamilton and John Forte bringing us an important chapter in Legion history—the conflict with a space beast so powerful that even Superboy can’t defeat it. In discovering and attempting to subdue the metal-eating monster which is ravaging space traffic, Lightning Lad is caught in a backlash of his own powers. His lightning blast, poisoned by some green radiation emanating from the Super-Moby Dick’s body, infects his right hand and arm. To save his life, eminent physician Dr. Lanphier must amputate and provide the poor kid with a robot arm.
A very short roll call graces the splash page of this story, made a bit shorter by the fact that Sun Boy is missing from it. He appears in several panels and speaks, but doesn’t try to take over any missions. Maybe someone wasn’t sure it was really him.
This series continues to delight. Johnny Storm is now a billionaire, heir to Reed Richards’s patent earnings. Of course, it’s pretty clear Reed’s on his way back, but still, it’s an amusing turn. Quicksilver is being written as something other than angry, for a change. If I’m honest, Rogue as team leader still feels forced to me. Is there a female X-Man (irony unintentional) who isn’t leading her own team? I get it, it’s long overdue that we had equality on that score, but it still feels a bit forced. On the other hand, anything that puts Jean Grey, Rogue, Kitty Pryde and Polaris into the limelight is okay with me.
But my favorite part of the issue was simply the first panel in which we see the Beast’s blue, furry, smiling face as he snatches an escaped balloon and returns it to a young Avengers fan. He’s been blue and furry right on through, but ol’ Hank hasn’t smiled a lot in recent history, and that’s a bad thing.
So I just got back from seeing Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, written and directed by Angela Robinson. I want to tell you why it’s a better Wonder Woman story than the one which starred Gal Gadot this past Summer, but I think I’ll start by explaining why the Gal Gadot film (actually, the Patty Jenkins film) disappointed me. I wrote this review the day after seeing that Summer blockbuster, but I didn’t publish it. It felt like I was spitting into the wind, because damn near everyone had declared that Wonder Woman (2017) was just the best superhero film ever–especially people who knew nothing about Wonder Woman and didn’t like superhero films.
Now, though, presented with what I think is a far superior film about Wonder Woman, if not starring the character, I want to share what I wrote then. Tomorrow, I hope to share my reflections on Robinson’s film.
A Lifelong Wonder Woman fan’s response to Patty Jenkins’s film
(Consider yourself spoiler-warned right now. Don’t read this if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to know plot details.)
I love super heroines. Always have. Before I started reading comic books, the women of the Starship Enterprise fascinated me. A while back I wrote this tribute to the character I thought was Captain Kirk’s equal as an officer and an action-heroine.
Jean Grey, founding member of the X-Men way long ago, has been kidnapped out of time as a teenager and brought forward to an era where her adult self is long dead, and remembered primarily for becoming the all-powerful, all-corrupt entity known as the Phoenix. Now the leader of her teenage cohorts, Jean is on a quest to learn how she can avoid following in her older counterpart’s footsteps.
In the latest issues of her solo series, Jean has been meeting up with a different denizen of the Marvel Universe each month–all the other Phoenix hosts, Namor, Thor, Psylocke, Doctor Strange–all with the goal of learning how not to become the Phoenix. She’s also being stalked by the ghost of her older self.
This issue, she meets up with the Scarlet Witch. There’s a bond between these two 1960s-born heroines, one which author Jeff Parker clearly recognized when he wrote a humorous series of adventures for the two, as teens, in the back pages of X-Men First Class several years ago. Both are mutants. Both were the only women on their teams, Wanda first in The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and later in The Avengers.
Back in the days before most of us could afford a video recorder, and before there was such a thing as a DVD, a BluRay, or an MP4 file, there was no easy way to view a favorite TV show or movie between the times it was running on television. A few collectors could afford 16 MM film prints, but that was a very few. Star Trek fans had such a voracious hunger to experience and re-experience their favorite TV show that, in 1977, a company called Mandala Productions decided to cash in. They produced “Fotonovels”— composed of screen captures from Star Trek episodes, with dialogue and narration added comic-book style using boxes and word balloons. Bantam books published these monthly for one year, and I was all over them. Not only did they let me relive a TV show I couldn’t get enough of, they were also great photo reference. I was a budding artist in my teens, and later an illustrator for fanzines. Fotonovels were indispensible aids.
So when John Byrne of X-Men fame launched a series of new, larger format fotonovels a couple of years ago, I was immediately in for the long haul. Using photoshop technology and screen caps from the 79 original hours of Star Trek, Byrne has so far created 17 new Trek episodes in this nostalgic format.
This series is perhaps less accessible than Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughan’s previous effort, Alex + Ada, but it is intriguing. It billed as an “Epic Fantasy,” which would normally cause me to leave it on the rack. This creative team’s last series was so good, however, that my whole family read it, including my non-comic-reader wife. So I wasn’t going to leave anything they did on the rack. (I hate to hear good comic books shriek in pain.)
So the description is standard fantasy fare: The Eternal Empress has, for years, oppressed the country of… Sorry, went to sleep. Fantasy does that to me, but, again, there are exceptions and this is one.
Right now it’s a “road” story, as Tair and Rion, young fugitives whose physical interactions are literally explosive (if they touch each other, stuff blows up), travel through the wilderness in search of a land of the free. Actually, it’s the last country that the Eternal Empress has not conquered. A little bit Logan’s Run in concept, but the pair have yet to meet anyone else who’s as interesting as they are. Their relationship is evolving slowly, but should prove interesting to follow.
Issue #5 came out today, but wasn’t on the shelf. Will have to track it down.
“My shrubbery is not to be trifled with, Daniel Rand.”
Funniest line in the book. Unfortunately, it’s about 25 pages in, and not a lot happens before it that grabbed me. Actually, the whole sequence in which that line falls, which has Dr. Strange and Iron Fist visiting Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum, after Norman Osborne has just tried to break into it, is funny, and the most entertaining part of the book.
Marvel Legacy has been heralded (by Marvel) as the return of many classic characters and teams. The artwork, and Axel Alonso’s notes at the end of this issue, suggest that the whole point of the effort is to bring back the glory of Bronze Age Marvel. And I’m all about that idea. I started reading comics in 1974, and the best time for comic books, in any given reader’s opinion, is usually the year or three around the time he started reading.
But the storylines that Mr. Alonso promises are coming—like Loki becoming Sorceror Supreme, or Klaw conquering Wakanda, just make me shrug. And the story which introduces this new effort does the same. If this is what Marvel Legacy is going to look like, then I’m going to go in with low expectations.
Two months ago, in honor of July 4th, Peter J. Tomasi, one of my favorite comics writers, together with Patrick Gleason, offered up a two-part Superman story called “Declaration.” Lois, Clark and their son, Jon, take a tour of the United States to visit historic sites. On this trip, they meet the Dowd family, who, for 154 years, have celebrated the birthday of Thomas Dowd, their ancestor, at Gettysburg. Thomas died in a military hospital and his body was never recovered. The story brought tears to my eyes, and not only because Tomasi and Gleason told it so well.
You see, I have a Thomas who fought in the Civil War. His name was Thomas Rathbone, and he too died in a military hospital. He was my great, great grandfather. His body, too, was never returned home. Over a century later, some of his descendants journeyed to Ashland, VA, to place a marker on a mass grave where we think he was buried.
The fictional Thomas Dowd fought for the Union army. The very real Thomas Rathbone fought for the Confederacy.