Sunday, July 25, 2010

Memories of My Comic Book Golden Era

People ask all the time what comics I read growing up, and I remember most comics I've read, and specifically eras of comics I enjoyed. But this period, from age 5 to age 22 was the period in which everything I read I seriously got a thrill out of.


1968 Brave and Bold, Spectre and Batman fighting in Chinatown... I was on the way home from the doctor with a bad bee sting, Mother knows best, so I got a comic to feel better.

1969 The Wacky Races, bought for a trip with my brother and father ice fishing. I didn't quite understand why people would stand outside in winter to catch fish, and, I still don't.

1970 Christmas shopping, I saw my hero Underdog at Daly News and Drug, and demanded it. I received it. And I got my order form into the Underdog fan club and got a ring and t-shirt of the great hero as well.

1971 Two week summer vacation at a cabin at Fish Lake. What do you do when you are hot and tired? Sit in the cool of the dark cabin and read comics. I still dig Valkyrie.

1972 March or so, brother and I woke up to learn that my mother was gone because my father had had a massive heart attack in Milwaukee while on a business trip. Fortunately for him, he had it next to a hospital, with a special cardiac care unit. We visited, I read Turok and was amazed.

1973 I had a broken leg. My wonderful brother bought me my first X-Men. And oh yes, IT WAS GOOD.

1974 Summer bus trip to Minneapolis with brother and mother. GI Combat was my ticket to excitement.

1975 Nearly every book I read was about World War II, so a comic based in that era with Submariner and Cap? OH HELL YES!

1976 The Justice Society became my favorite Superhero group ever, so a reprint with a complete story and another with Batman and Superman to boot? Oh yes very fun reading. My copy got hail damage walking home but I still enjoyed it.

1977 Master of Kung Fu was better than any Bruce Lee film, or James Bond film, it combined the two, with perfect art and kewl stories and writing. Issue 48 was brilliance. Truly. Cinematic, big, wild, and completely awesome.

1978 was a time when I was starting to follow talents as well as characters, and Jack Kirby was my hero creator. Devil Dinosaur is funky, silly even, but I enjoyed it. I was beginning to learn how different I was than most of my friends and all of my "enemies", comics became a refuge for me.

1979 Again, the JSA rules. I was now living in a new town, with new friends, but I still sought refuge in the super heroics.

1980 New Teen Titans prove to me that comics are for adults as well. This stuff was great. I was a sophomore in high school, my grades were bad, but I was making friends, and life started to improve.

1981 A 27 page story that brings to an end the first full cycle of stories of the Warlord. Mike Grell was great (is great) but had balls aplenty to take his story into new frontiers by putting a bullet in the noggin of one of his most important characters of the saga. Stunning.

1982 In May I graduated from high school and moved on to university. Alone, depressed, I returned to a friend, comics, only to find a brilliant cover by George Perez, with the poopy art of Don Heck inside of a Justice League of America.

1983 Roy Thomas and the JSA. My first year of university nearly ended with my suicide, I was lost and depressed, but, I still liked the good old comics.

1984 While I was a Legion of Superheroes fan I had great hopes in 1984 when the Legion got its prestige series. I was horrified and wounded when my favorite hero Karate Kid died in issue #4. Nonetheless, it was a good run. University studies and female studies interrupted my comic buying, but I still loved them.

1985 Jack Kirby returned to end the story of the New Gods, with a fabulous looking graphic novel. It was ok but there were issues with it. On the other hand, I had a girl friend of sorts, though we wouldn't date technically until 1986. Then we would marry in 1988 June.

Closing Pandora and Her Box

Crusade, of course and obviously, was to have been a series about leftover Shadow tech, potent enough in its construction but rendered even more destructive in the hands of younger races that had no conceptualization of either its handling or implementation. The Drakh attack on Earth with the now-infamous techno-virus is the most obvious and immediate manifestation of this theme, but there are several more layers that would have echoed across the show’s five seasons: the Excalibur crew’s discovery of EarthForce’s deep-rooted and long-lived hybrid Shadow fleet (and, it turns out in unproduced teleplays, army) and the revelation that the techno-mages, themselves a product of the Shadows from the previous Great War, one thousand years ago, refuse to come out of hiding until all other remaining Shadow technology has been completely eradicated.

As pervasive as all these are, perhaps the greatest, and certainly the most enigmatic, strain of this leitmotif is none other than the Apocalypse Box – “perhaps” because, unlike nearly every other (known) element from Crusade’s thirteen produced episodes, series creator and showrunner Joe Michael Stracyznski has never divulged either his intentions with or the backstory behind the mysterious, mischievous item. The supposition that it is, indeed, leftover Shadow tech is, of course, merely that: a hypothesis. (Another holds that the Boxes are shells for ancient alien entities, as directly seen in “The Path of Sorrows” and alluded to many times over throughout Babylon 5’s run.) But the evidence – other than the aforementioned collection of other, Shadow-related story threads – strongly points in this direction.

The Box is obviously sentient, and it just as obviously has its own agenda: the information it provides and the advice it proffers to its owners are just as likely to be erroneous as factual, misleading as valid, though how this ultimately plays into its larger goal(s) is entirely unknown (unless, of course, its ultimate design is chaos, the raison d’etre of the Shadows). Only six Apocalypse Boxes are in existence, with the other five possessing dead owners and residing in unknown locations, which points either to a home culture that was afraid or otherwise unable to produce more or a weeding out from constant conflict or warfare. Though largely unknown to Earth and the other younger races, the ubiquitous techno-mage Galen is certainly aware of their existence and, when alerted to one’s presence aboard the Excalibur in the unproduced scripts, is sufficiently horrified to want to dispose of it immediately, possibly in accordance with his order’s post-Shadow War, seek-and-destroy mission.

But the most telling clues are in the immediate episodes that were neither shot nor written. As a result of being fatally wounded in the first season finale, the proposed second season premiere would have opened with Captain Matthew Gideon’s consciousness being transferred to the Apocalypse Box (in a nice touch of foreshadowing, all throughout the first season, the Box’s voice, distorted and unrecognizable, would have slowly revealed itself to be Gary Cole’s, the actor who portrayed Gideon) while his body was being tended to or, even, regrown, presumably by Galen. After being “trapped,” as Straczynski has said, in the Box for a while – most likely two or three episodes, thereby perfectly mirroring Mr. Garibaldi’s mortal injury and improbable recovery at the hands of esoteric alien technology in the opening of the second season of B5 – Gideon’s wayward spirit would have found its way back home, and the rest of the series, to some degree or another, would have followed Gideon’s attempts to not only make sense of the incident – and the Apocalypse Box itself – but to also reconcile the transformation with his cauterized ethical structure.

And it is in this character arc that the Shadows, the techno-mages, the Apocalypse Boxes, and the technology betwixt them all not only truly comes into focus, but is also condensed into an emotional core, to be absorbed and felt by the audience in addition to being analyzed and contemplated – just as the endless and epic conflict between the Vorlons and the Shadows is embodied by the life of John Sheridan (it is by no error that Babylon 5 ends quietly and resolutely with the passing of this one man after so many others had come and gone). Gideon has been traumatized twice over by misappropriated Shadow tech: the attack that wiped out the Cerberus, killing his 300 shipmates and friends, and, of course, the Drakh invasion of Earth, intended to annihilate all of humanity; it is no wonder, then, that he reacts so viscerally to the revelation of Galen’s magical technology, even going so far as to ban his friend from the Excalibur (occurring, once again, in the unfilmed teleplays). To progress from this point of hatred to the very real possibility, at show’s end, of Gideon becoming a techno-mage himself – as strongly hinted at in the Crusade writers’ bible – would require quite a long and winding road, one which would be greatly facilitated, both literally and figuratively, by his existential stay within the Box.

Were the Apocalypse Boxes directly fashioned, or encountered and subsequently adapted, by the Shadows, to function like the Drakh Entire or their mighty fleet of unstoppable ships? Or were they like the techno-mages, an off-shoot that ultimately decided to make something more of their tech that incites them to violence and inspires them to chaos? (The Shadows never foresaw their intended foot soldiers transforming themselves into agents of wonder and magic, and they certainly never imagined that tools intended to decimate life could instead be used to repair and restore it.) That answer, unfortunately, will remain elusive as long as Straczynski opts to keep his mouth closed; but Matthew Gideon, the loose-talking, play-the-long-odds-no-matter-the-personal-cost captain, has been irrevocably unmasked as the quintessential mythological hero, the protagonist who has to become the enemy himself to understand – even forgive – them, who makes the Other the Same, who learns how to love that which is hated.

“Who do you serve?” and “Who do you trust?” are, thus, ultimately answered by “Myself” – and that myself is encompassing of the technological as well as the biological, the many as well as the one.

This piece is part of Marc N. Kleinhenz's The Babylon Project series of articles, which comprises essays, reviews, and interviews. The other items can be found here:

The Passing of the Techno-mages and the expansion of previous narratives
November 2009
Blue Buddha

The Lost Tales and the undermining of worldbuilding
December 2009
Blue Buddha

The Shadow Within, The Passing of the Techno-mages, and the role of technology in love
January 2010

The history of Babylon, from Babylon 5 and Babylon Prime to Crusade
February 2010

Sandy Bruckner and the dream of fandom
May 2010

Patricia Tallman, Lyta Alexander, and the path to extremism
June 2010

Maggie Egan, ISN Jane, and the craftsmanship of delivery
August 2010

Jeanne Cavelos and the perfection of storytelling
November 2010

History and metatheater in the world of Babylon
December 2010

Joe Michael Straczynski and the dark side of Babylon 5
January 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Announcing Warbirds of Mars, a thrilling Neo-pulp/noir scifi WebComic by Doc and Kane! Warbirds of Mars

Created and illustrated by SCOTT P. ‘DOC’ VAUGHN and written by KANE GILMOUR. In 1944 the ‘martians’ (as the invaders are called) attacked the earth and super-ceded WWII, occupying much of the major cities of the world. Man must struggle to re-unite the ragged/ dispersed armies of the planet Earth in the hopes of fighting back with new technology.

The year is now 1948 and one brave band of resistance fighters will make the
difference between a free humanity and a world ruled by invaders from the stars!

The first pages are now available to read! Subscribe today! Click the link ---> Warbirds of Mars

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Toil, Labor, Sweat, and Art

Who we are as a culture, as a people, has always been determined by our willingness to work. Those who drive cars do not do so with magic beans to fuel their vehicles, but gasoline pumped from the ground, in vehicles made from steel and other materials, mined from the ground. Every thing we do, comes from labor. And so does art, but especially so, when the art reflects our reality, of labor.

Artist Diego Rivera
Migrant workers

“. . . when the farm workers strike and their strike is successful, the employers go to Mexico and have unlimited, unrestricted use of illegal alien strikebreakers to break the strike. And, for over 30 years, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has looked the other way and assisted in the strikebreaking. I do not remember one single instance in 30 years where the Immigration Service has removed strikebreakers. . . .The employers use professional smugglers to recruit and transport human contraband across the Mexican border for the specific act of strikebreaking . . .”
Cesar Chavez

Elmer Brown
WPA Cleveland Mural

“Labor is man's greatest function. He is nothing, he can do nothing, he can achieve nothing, he can fulfill nothing, without working.”
Orville Dewey

Dorothea Lange
Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron Company

“Labour was the first price, the original purchase - money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labour, that all wealth of the world was originally purchased.”
Adam Smith

Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother

“Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb,
and as he comes, so he departs.
He takes nothing from his labor
that he can carry in his hand.”
King Solomon

Soviet Union Agriculture worker Propaganda poster
"Day after day, life becomes even happier!"

“For as labor cannot produce without the use of land, the denial of the equal right to the use of land is necessarily the denial of the labor to its own produce.”
Henry George

Boris Jeremejewitsch Wladimirskij

“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Vladimir Il'ich Malagis
Steel Workers

“The workers asked only for bread and a shortening of the long hours of toil. The agitators gave them visions. The police gave them clubs.”
Mother Jones

Lee Lawrie

“Human history is work history. The heroes of the people are work heroes.”
Meridel Le Sueur

Yevgeny Vuchetich
Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares

“Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.”
Thomas Merton

Lewis Hine
Power house mechanic working on steam pump

“Such hath it been--shall be--beneath the sun The many still must labour for the one.”
Lord Byron (George Gordon Noel Byron)