copyright information

copyright information

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Fate of the Carrot People

It is a truism among comics fans that comic book deaths are rarely permanent. “If you don't see the body, he's not really dead” is the usual rule of thumb. Fans used to say that the only characters you could be really sure were permanently dead were Bucky and Uncle Ben Parker, and even Bucky wound up coming back.

Which isn't to say that there haven't been dramatic and truly moving deaths in the comics. There have; and sometimes, as in the case of Supergirl and the Flash in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, the Companies wait a decent interval before undoing them. For X-MEN fans during the Claremont/Byrne Era, one of the most momentous deaths would have to be that of Jean Grey, in the Dark Phoenix Saga. That particular storyline was notable for introducing Kitty Pryde, the Wesley Crusher of the Mutant set; as well as the scantily-clad White Queen, Emma Frost, who is on the side of the good guys these days. It also introduced Dazzler, created to capitalize on the disco craze, who once again demonstrated that when a comic book jumps on a fad, the fad is on the way out. But more significant than any of these was the death of Jean Grey, whose fate was sealed by the doom which befell the Carrot People.

As Marvel Girl, Jean Grey was one of the founding members of the X-Men. She possessed the same powers as Professor Xavier, telepathy and telekinesis, but at a lower level; and like Sue Storm of the Fantastic Four, her characterization tended to be subdued, and she often seemed to fall back into the role of The Chick in the X-Men's Five-Man-Band. By the late '70s, the team had broken up and gone in separate directions, but a new team, the “All-New, All-Different” X-Men, had been formed under the leadership of Scott “Cyclops” Summers and Jean. This was the era which saw the introduction of such characters as Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and everybody's favorite Canadian mutant, Wolverine.

On a mission into space, the X-Men had encountered a strange source of cosmic energy called the Phoenix Force. Jean became imbued with (or possessed by, depending on your point of view) the energy of the Phoenix, making her dang near omnipotent. Using this power, she was able to save the Universe from destruction; but because it was too vast to be handled responsibly by a mortal human, she blocked off the better part of the Phoenix Force behind a series of firewalls in her mind. She had it under control.

Or so she thought.

Some time later, Jean begins to have these strange experiences, like waking dreams. She thinks of them as “timeslips”. She seems to be living the life of an ancestor of hers in the 18th Century and affianced to a dashing gentleman rogue named Jason Wyngarde, who introduces her into an exciting world of tight corsets and Regency-Era depravity. Is she actually traveling back in time? Or is she mentally experiencing a past life? Or has she simply been reading too many historical romances?

None of the above. Wyngarde is actually a villain named Mastermind who is trying to corrupt Jean by undermining her grip on reality and cultivating the Dark Side of her psyche, so as to unlock her Phoenix powers. As “Jason”, he introduces her to the decadent Hellfire Club, where she is welcomed as its Black Queen.

There were a number of historical “Hellfire Clubs” in England in the 18th and early 19th Centuries; gentlemen's clubs for hedonistic young aristocrats where they could flout conventional mores and indulge in socially-disparaged immoralities. Writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne based their version in part on these historical clubs, but also on an episode of the TV series THE AVENGERS (the one with Patrick Macnee, not the one with Tony Stark), which featured a latter-day Hellfire Club in which the men dressed as Regency rakes in tight breeches and ruffled shirts and the women dressed in kinky Edwardian Era lingerie. Yes, I know; the Prince Regent lived a century earlier than King Edward, but these are rake-hells, and respect neither the laws of God, nor of Men, nor of Historical Accuracy. Besides, Diana Rigg in sexy undergarments; need I say more?

Like the club depicted in the TV series, Claremont and Byrne's Hellfire Club is ostensibly a social club for wealthy businessmen, but has an Inner Circle bent on world domination. Which is why they've had Mastermind recruit Jean Grey into their number, thinking he can control her and her Phoenix Force.

And it sort of works. He does unlock her Phoenix powers, and he does lure her over to the Dark Side; she is now an omnipotent god-being, free of all moral and ethical restraints. But she's also free of Mastermind's control, and she returns the favor by blasting his mind into tapioca. She declares that she is now DARK PHOENIX !!!! (“Bwa-hah-ha!”) and flies off into space.

Y'see, that's the problem with Cosmic Powers. Not only do they give you delusions of godhood and make you regard your former teammates as ants beneath your go-go boots; but it makes you cosmically hungry. Just ask Galactus. Jean's apotheosis has left her with a case of the munchies that only an exploding sun can satisfy.

She flies off to a distant star and destroys it, causing it to go nova and obliterating all the planets orbiting it. And here comes the significant part.

In drawing this sequence, John Byrne included a panel showing the terrified natives of one of these planets cowering before the blinding flash which once was their sun and now has consumed the entire sky. Byrne later called these aliens “the Carrot People”, and although their presence had not been specified in the page breakdowns, Claremont ran with it, playing their fate for all the pathos he could manage:

“Many who see this light – the last thing they will ever see – are confused, frightened. A very few – who realize at once what has happened – have time to curse cruel fate or make their peace with their god. Then, they all die 

Following that light – at a comparative snail's pace – comes the HEAT FLARE. The instant it hits, the atmosphere and oceans on the dayside boil away. The steam and superheated air wirling around the globe in a flaming shock-wave that obliterates all in its path. 

Those few awake on the nightside are treated to a SPECTACULAR, once in a lifetime AURORA BOREALIS, before death claims them.
But half the world dies in its sleep. They are the LUCKY ones.”

Remember this sequence.

The Dark Phoenix returns to earth. Or is it Jean? Without thinking, she goes to the home of her parents. In their minds she can read love and concern and a desire to help her; but underneath it all she can read the fear the have of her. She lashes out at them, and against her teammates, who show up trying to help, and even against Scott, her beloved. The X-Men are no match for her Phoenix powers. Ultimately, it all comes down to a brain-wrestling match between her and Professor X, one which the Professor only wins because a part of Jean recoils from all this Dark Stuff and wants the Phoenix contained. Once again, the Phoenix is back in its bottle. For now. But now it's too late.

At this point, the Shi'ar show up; an alien imperial race whom the X-Men have met previously; (and whose Empress is sweet on Xavier). While Dark Phoenix was out on her munchie run earlier, she had encountered and obliterated a Shi'ar battleship. The Empress had known about Jean and the Phoenix Force, because she had been in the middle of the first Phoenix Saga; but at the time it looked like Jean had the Phoenix under control. Now the power of the Phoenix is most definitely out of control, and the Empress feels that something must be done.

The Shi'ar Empress agrees to a trial by combat, in which Jean's friends fight against the Shi'ar Imperial Guard for her life. (The Imperial Guard had been designed by Dave Cockrum, the artist who drew X-MEN prior to John Byrne and who had designed the look of most of the newer team members; he had also designed several characters from DC's LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, and the Imperial Guardsmen were pastiches of the LSH members) Although fighting valiantly, the X-men are defeated, one by one.

At this point, Claremont and Byrne's original plan was that the Shi'ar would use a techno-gadget which would exorcise the Phoenix force from Jean and she would be restored to how she was before. But Marvel's then Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter objected. By exterminating the Carrot People, Jean had committed an unspeakable act of genocide which could not simply be brushed away by a simple plot device. She had Crossed the Moral Event Horizon. And she had to pay the price. As Shooter later said:

“I personally think, and I've said this many times, that having a character destroy and inhabited world with billions of people, wipe out a starship and then – well, you know, having the powers removed and being let go on Earth. It seems to me that that's the same as capturing Hitler alive and letting him go live on Long Island. Now, I don't think the story would end there. I think a lot of people would come to his door with machine guns.”

The crux of the issue was the matter of responsibility: were the crimes committed by the Dark Phoenix the fault of the Phoenix Force possessing Jean, or was it her own darker, suppressed impulses? There are lines in the comic to support both views. Mastermind's whole bodice-ripper fantasy was intended to exercise Jean's repressed desires, after all; and in a number of places, Jean confesses to Scott that a part of her revels in the destructive nature of the Phoenix and embraces it. Claremont felt the situation was more akin to demonic possession, and that Jean wasn't really responsible for what the Phoenix did. Shooter felt otherwise.

Under Shooter's edict, Claremont and Byrne re-tooled their ending. Jean comes to realize that the Phoenix Force cannot be controlled. “So long as I live, the Phoenix will manifest itself through me. And so long as that happens, I'll eventually, inevitably become DARK PHOENIX.” She's not begging her friends to kill her; they've tried, and have been unable to bring themselves to do it. So she deliberately sacrifices her life so that the Phoenix Force will return to the cosmic void where it belongs.

Uatu the Watcher, whose home on the far side of the Moon happens to be next to where the final battle took place, delivers Jean's eulogy: “Jean Grey could have lived to become a god. But it was more important to her that she die … a HUMAN.”

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Why Video Games aren't Enough, Hooray for Boardgames

I have a theory.  It is only a theory. Video games are less able to create strong minds and memories than board games and similar sorts of games.  Growing up my brother and I knew an enormous number of people, friends, acquaintances, who read history books, read from books about what people had done in the past, either in fiction or non-fiction.  The chance thereafter to play board games that reenacted a war, or simulated the event in question, wasn't based upon imagination, but rather, upon the facts of history.  This isn't necessarily saying that it was perfect, I lost battles that the Allies in WW2 had won.  But it allowed me to see the risks and rewards of various strategies.

Video games of the last 30 years have absolutely progressed beyond belief.  A kid born, such as me, in 1963 could never have imagined what people can do, online, and in the video games of the present.  That the alien planets of the imagination, that cities of the future and past could be recreated, are all exciting, fun to visit settings.  I have no question that the people creating them are talented and far brighter than anything I might achieve in a similar field.  This is not, then, to say I hate video games.  It is that the games I played relied often upon your ability to understand strategy, and your familiarity with the past, and the great leaders, tactics and events of the past.

In one situation the player is essentially led through an adventure.  On the other, a person has to be able to understand the information he has learned, and translate that to action, and pour it out upon the maps and game fields of the board game in question.  I have absolutely nothing against role playing, either in the form of video games or pen and paper, dice and books, but the difference to me is, one requires acting, random chance, and fiction, while the other ends up being an outgrowth of your deepening understanding of the event in question.

The game I am sharing is RAID ON St. NAZAIRE by Avalon Hill.  The game simulates an amazing event, when the United Kingdom's Commando force developed and carried out a raid to destroy the only Dry Dock's large enough to repair the Tirpitz and other attacks meant to destroy the submarine pens and other facilities.    The fear of the dry dock not being put out of action was that the enormous sister ship of the Bismarck would be able to repaired, and released back into the Atlantic, wear convoys were fresh targets to the hungry U-boats and commerce raiders of Nazi Germany.

The more one knows about the plan versus the result of the raid actually helps the player play.  Repeated plays of the game replay the random events, and a perfect  mission/raid is nearly impossible to achieve.  But in the end, the player is well able to appreciate the enormous courage required, the planning and intelligence used, and in the end, the amazing consequence for the war of stoppering up the Tirpitz to ports north, and without the ability to fully hold the behemoth ship Tirpitz, the battle of the Atlantic was won by the Allies.

There is a lot to be said for video games.  But I do not know how they further ones intellect, understanding, or wisdom.  They seem to me to be fun, but there is nothing, or very little beyond that that I find of deeper interest.

This sounds, of course, to the players of video games, that I am saying, your games suck, and you are stupid.  I really don't mean to say that.  What I mean to say, is, games from the past were born from books about relatively important factually knowable statistical events.  Games from the present focus upon fiction.  Board games and the books and ideas that fed them, were not "geek" oriented, you could find professors of history or military men feeling entirely comfortable playing them, in a form of war gaming.  There was always fun, but, the fun was based upon a depth of knowledge, interest, and a growing knowledge and understand as a result of playing.   My brother, referred to earlier, and myself, read books, all kinds.  We had friends, in the same peer groups, reading the same kind of works.  History books, battle books, and more were normal reading.  The average person I knew, read and was interested in similar matter.  The internet and video games,  does offer a vast array of information, areas of interest, hobbies, fictional universes, movies, and fictional concepts to deal with.  But to the extent that I agree with that, the issue is not with the variety of information, but how it is used

Friday, February 19, 2016

Writer of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD Harper Lee dies

Some will write of the legacy left by an author who wrote one classic with her first published work, and then seemed to water down that legacy with a later work, that was not meant for publication.  I have nothing to say about that.  There are great authors who have released crap books.  There are far more, however, popular, best selling authors who only release crap books.

How many achieve greatness?  Few. 

Let us not ask for more from the one who reached the summit.

Umberto Eco Passes Away

A great writer has passed.  Italian author Umberto Eco died at the age of 84.  He lived a long life, but with such a talent no one could have found enough of his work to read.

Fair use, photo credit from LATimes
Umberto Eco was a writer who combined intricate plots, elaborate yet elegant detail, and amazing depth in his works.  Eco did not pump out new books every 6 months.  He was prolific and productive, but fans of his work would say not as much as they'd have liked.  He was a great writer, of course we'd like more.  But let us not be pigs, if you look hard, you can find articles written by him, interviews, and essays.   His work is exceptionally rewarding, in ways no other present author compares.

THE NAME OF THE ROSE was my first experience with his writing, and afterward I could only hope for more books by him.  Few other works struck me with so much power of word, clarity of depth, and knowledge of history in a way that it felt as though I was seeing it myself.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Graphic novels as a political primer

I highly recommend reading The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality and the Financial Crisis as part of any current political preparation.
Here is a review by Paul

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Tribute to David Bowie

After his untimely death earlier this month, David Bowie left behind more than a legacy of memorable songs, but bequeathed an indelible imprint on popular culture as well. Storm Entertainment captures this spirit in a new tribute comic book biography released this week.

Tribute: David Bowie, available in both print and digital, follows the enigmatic artist's innovative career from his through early days as David Jones through his ever-changing metamorphoses into a rock god, tortured artist, thin white duke and blinded prophet. 

Written by Mike Lynch and Michael L. Frizell with art by George Amaru and Vincenzo Sansone, the book pays homage to  one of the most influential artists any generation, constantly reinventing himself while defying convention. The one-shot features three collectable covers by Sansone, David Frizell, and Graham Hill.  

The book builds on the previously published Fame: David Bowie and completes his life story. Fans of Bowie will recognize his transformation from the iconic Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane to pre-punk Berliner to the The Thin White Duke and even in his star turn as the Goblin King in the 1986 movie "Labyrinth."

"Bowie should not be remembered for his multiple personas, but rather for his desire to push musical and artistic boundaries," said writer Michael Frizell. "He was on the forefront of so many musical movements; psychedelic, glam, Krautrock, funk, grunge, and his latest post modern masterpiece and farewell gift Black-Star. 

Storm Entertainment president Darren G. Davis added, “I hope readers come away with not simply a sense of the richness of his life, but how he influenced practically every artist that came after; regardless of genre."

The “Tribute” series serves as a pop culture companion to Storm Entertainment’s successful “Female Force,” “Political Power,” “Orbit,” and “Fame” series. The biography comic form allows Storm’s talented writers to delve into the history of certain newsworthy figures and explore what shaped them. Storm Entertainment’s biographical comic books have been featured on CNN, Politico, Roll Call, The Today Show, FOX News, and in People Magazine among thousands of others.

Storm Entertainment’s biographical comic books have been featured on CNN, People Magazine, Rolling Stone, Billboard Magazine The Today Show, FOX News, and in Vanity Fair among thousands of others.

Tribute: David Bowie is available on your e-reader from iTunes, Kindle, Nook, ComiXology, DriveThru Comics, Google Play, Madefire, Overdrive, Iverse, Biblioboard, Flipkart, ComicBin,Axis360,  Blio, Entitle, Comicblender, Kobo and wherever eBooks are sold.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Why, that is Inhuman!

They have existed under the sea, on a far away hidden island, in the Himalayan mountains, and on the Moon, as well as countless other unrecorded locations.  But always they lived in a land of a specific name.  First mentioned in 1941 by Jack Kirby, Attilan a country, city, and mystical place.  It is the ancient city, capital and home of the Inhumans. 

They are an evolutionary advanced offshoot and self mutated group of humans who are both super human, and also, persecuted for being different.  The royal family is generally what the comic book appearances feature, and their first appearances in comics were in Fantastic Four #45.

While the Inhumans are not warlike they are not so peace devoted as to become martyrs for a world that would rather see them destroyed for racial purity.  Many of the stories of the Inhumans feature forms of racial persecution and racial hate and segregation.

As I am a fan of the great Jack Kirby you might assume that I love the Inhumans due to his part in their creation.  But the best Inhumans story was written by Paul Jenkins and illustrated by Jae Lee, I can only recommend it, I cannot force you to read it, but you should.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

What Winter Looks Like

Paintings were the digital cameras of their day.  While that sounds silly, since they often took months if not years to complete, when the masters of the art did them, we could see events, moments, and the people of a time past, when there were no cameras.  In some ways these artists created our memories of the time by how they presented it, but in others we are the ones who harvest the story... As the painters painted, we supplied the imagination.

This scene is by Hendrick Avercamp a Dutch painter who featured skating and winter in most of his works.

The next three paintings are by  Pieter Brueghel the elder.  He obviously had observed snow, winter, and human activity during the season.  Which is why I love his work.

And despite my attempts, my computer couldn't find the artist for these lovely works.  But they do show us snow, ice and winter in Japan.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Party Lines

“I often think it comical
That Nature often does contrive
To make each boy and ev'ry gal
Who's born into this world alive,
Either a little liberal
Or else a little conservative.”

– W.S. Gilbert

Some years back, I came across a piece whose author contended that comic book superheroes were by their very nature intrinsically conservative. I no longer remember where I read it, alas, nor do I recall the author's reasoning, but it made me think. I considered writing a piece of my own for a blog I contributed to at the time, and went so far as to ask a few comic book professionals a friend introduced me to for their opinion on the subject. Only a few responded, and about the most useful reply came from Mike Grell, who wrote and drew the excellent JON SABLE FREELANCE back in the '80s and the graphic novel GREEN ARROW: THE LONGBOW HUNTERS. He said: “Liberal hero = Green Arrow written by Denny O'Neil. Conservative hero = Green Arrow written by me.”

I set the idea aside because I had trouble organizing my thoughts on the subject. But every once and a while I pick it up again, and maybe this time I'll get somewhere with it.

The biggest problem, of course, is first defining our terms. Ambrose Bierce defined a Conservative as “A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.” Which is pithy, but not particularly helpful. Trying to get more specific, I find myself careening into one type of strawman or another. For example, some have embraced THE INCREDIBLES, one of the best superhero movies ever, as a conservative film because it rails against the mindset that “everybody gets a medal” and that those who excel at anything ought to be punished for their success. Which is apparently supposed to be a fundamental tenant of liberalism. But you could just as easily point to Bob Parr's boss in the movie, who chews him out for putting his customers ahead of the company's bottom line, as a critique of conservative-style Free-Market Capitalism. But that's a simplistic caricature, you say? Yes, it is.

I suppose one argument on the conservative side of the superhero question is that heroes are all about Fighting Evil, while everybody knows that Liberals are Soft On Crime. There's a bit in Frank Miller's BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS in which Batman is pressuring a henchman for information. “I got rights!” the crook bleats. “You've got rights. Lots of rights,” Batman replies in a Clint Eastwood rasp. “Sometimes I count them just to make myself feel crazy.” But you could also say that heroes are all about helping people in need and that this runs counter to the Gospel of Selfishness preached by the disciples of Ayn Rand. Yes, more strawmen.

Perhaps a better argument would be that in the world of comic book superheroes, the Government, as represented by the police, is incapable of fighting evil by itself and needs the help of the Heroic Citizen-Super, the Rugged Individualist who asks for no Government Handouts. And there are heroes who fit this view; but are they intrinsic to the genre?

Superman would seem to be the perfect example of the Republican Super-Hero. Raised with small-town Midwestern values, he represents authority and fights for the American Way. He's been called a Big Blue Boy Scout, and he neither denies the charge, nor considers it an insult. In recent decades, it's been fashionable to contrast his politeness and willingness to work with the Authorities with Batman, who follows his own moral code and whose relationship with the police, outside of Jim Gordon, is decidedly touchy. ; and many writers have followed that characterization.

Some critics have seen in the early Superman a personification of FDR's New Deal, swooping down to defend the Little Guy being pushed around by the Big Shots. In one early story, Superman helps a group of striking miners by grabbing the mine owners and bringing them down to the mine, forcing them to negotiate.

Others have gone as far as to label Superman a fascist, mostly because of his name and it's association with Friedrich Nietzsche. “You always say yes – to anyone with a badge – or a flag...” Batman grumbles to Superman at one point in THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS; and the movie trailers for BATMAN V SUPERMAN certainly play up the the idea of Superman as Creepy √úbermensch . But I think that's a glib and superficial reaction too. Apart from the name, Superman shares none of Nietzsche's philosophy. I suspect that Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster chose the name mainly because it sounded cool.

During World War II, Superman and Batman, like pretty much all their contemporaries, set aside differences of Right and Left in order to help smash the Axis. After the War, some heroes went looking for other villains to fight. Captain America tried a brief second career as a Red Smasher. This didn't work out quite as well. Commies just didn't seem to make as good villains as the Nazis did. When Cap was revived in the '60s, this phase of his career was first ignored, then ret-conned as the adventures of another guy posing as Captain America. Superman briefly went after the KKK. A reporter had gone undercover to investigate the Ku Klux Klan, but could not find a news outlet willing to publish his story; so he approached the writers of the Superman radio serial. They did a lengthy story arc in which Superman battles the Klan, using information from the reporter's investigation.

Both Superman and Batman appeared in public service ads during the post-War era that seem pretty liberal these days. At the time, though, these sentiments were considered mainstream and uncontroversial. When Superman urged his readers to “Hop on the Welfare Wagon!”, as he did in one PSA about how public, private and charitable organizations all have a role to play in the health of American citizens; or when Batman reminds kids that treating others equally regardless of race or creed is the American Way, they were both promoting ideals of Good Citizenship, not partisan ideology.

It's been said that Stan Lee was politically in the center; too conservative for Jack Kirby, a working-class Democrat and child of the Depression who co-created Captain America, and too liberal for Steve Ditko, the principled Objectivist. But as he tried to incorporate real-world elements into the comics he wrote for Marvel, political themes came in as well. Tony Stark became Iron Man when he was captured by Communist forces in South East Asia and had to invent his way to escape. Many heroes of the early Marvel Age fought Communist villains such as the Red Ghost (and his Super-Apes!) in FANTASTIC FOUR, and the Abomination in THE INCREDIBLE HULK. But other heroes had WWII backgrounds; most obviously Captain America, but also Nick Fury and even Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. In one early issue of FANTASTIC FOUR, the team fought a character calling himself the Hate-Monger whose incendiary oratory (and mood-altering H-ray device) inspired people to commit violence against immigrants. Unlike present-day nativists, the Hate-Monger wore a purple Klansman hood and when unmasked was revealed to be none other than Adolf Hitler. (Later this was ret-conned to be a clone of Hitler).

During the late '60s and early '70s a generational shift occurred at DC as well. I have a copy of AMAZING WORLD OF DC, the company's in-house fanzine which has an article about the history of the Justice League of America. The piece contains little caricatures of some of the creators who worked on the JLA, and you can see the shift. The old guard, men like Gardner Fox and E. Nelson Birdwell are white collar men in ties with neat crewcuts who would have looked perfectly at home in an episode of “Mad Men”. Then there were the new breed, like Cary Bates and Denny O'Neil, long-haired hippie radicals.

O'Neil in particular became an influential part of DC's “Relevance Era” during the early '70s. He re-cast Green Arrow, who had previously been a fairly lame Batman knock-off with an archery gimmick, into a latter-day Robin Hood, driven to pursue Social Justice. In a famous issue of GREEN LANTERN, he challenged the by-the-book space cop Hal Jordan to re-examine his priorities and for a while the comic, re-titled GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW, became a buddy book as the two heroes traveled the country in a pick-up truck searching for America and discussing politics. Similarly, during his run writing JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, O'Neil had Green Arrow argue politics with another Establishment figure, Hawkman.

This idea of using comics to express a dialogue on political views comes up every once in a while, but it's difficult to do well. During the Vietnam War Era, Steve Ditko created Hawk and Dove, personifying the Pro and Anti-War factions in the country as a pair of super-powered brothers with differing philosophies about violence. I think Ditko's intention was to show these characters complementing each other and finding a balance between the two views. Later writers pretty much turned them into Goofus and Gallant: Dove, the peaceful one, was intelligent and always right; Hawk, the violent one, was stupid and always wrong.

More recently, the Marvel cross-over series CIVIL WAR set out to dramatize the debate between Individual Freedom and Homeland Security through a proposed law requiring super-heroes to register with the Government, dividing the super-hero community between those resisting the law and those enforcing it. Marvel's intent was to have reasonable arguments on both sides, but as the story actually played out the pro-registration side wound up looking like the bad guys.

A 2008 DC miniseries, DECISIONS, tried to approach super-politics on a smaller scale. An unknown villain is trying to assassinate presidential candidates by mind-controlling members of their campaign staffs. After thwarting one of these attacks, Green Arrow makes a public comment endorsing a liberal candidate, sparking a debate among his fellow Justice Leaguers about super heroes and politics. In the end, Superman is the one to deliver the stern moral that super-heroes need to keep their opinions to themselves and just do their jobs.

I guess I keep coming back to Mike Grell's comment, that a super-hero's politics depends on whomever is writing him. But clearly the spirit of the times in which the story is written has a lot to do with it as well. I keep thinking of more examples of politically-themed comics and am no closer to organizing my thoughts. And I still haven't really addressed the question I started with.

Maybe one of these day's I'll write this thing.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Katsuhiro Otomo's AKIRA

Behold Akira, the amazing journey into post apocalypse mutant madness.  Click the images for the larger image.

The year is 2019 and speed tribes, cyberpunk, mutant gangs all collide in the streets of old Tokyo.  It was destroyed in 1982 with nuclear weapons when the world entered WWIII.  Now Neo Tokyo tries to forget the past and become a beacon of hope and new beginnings.  But the struggles to forget the disasters, and mutations, lead only to new and more catastrophic events.

The comic was beautifully done and captured the Japanese sense of fear and pain over the past use of nuclear weapons, and its fascination with the motorcycle gangs (Speed Tribes) and cyberpunk worlds.

The manga was turned into an animated color film, and is considered by many critics to be a masterpiece.  I prefer the comics, and am not a snob, the comics are just more detailed and more clear about the events.

I thoroughly recommend this to any human.  Not to anyone who is mutant however.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Capturing real African American History through poem, music and photography

Abel Meeropol (February 1903 – October1986) was an American writer, teacher and song-writer, whose works were published under his pseudonym Lewis Allan. His best-known song is "Strange Fruit" (1937) adapted from his poem Bitter Fruit, especially as recorded by Billie Holiday.  This work was inspired by his outrage upon viewing the photograph showing the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, August 7, 1930.

Billie Holiday went through a number of obstacles after receiving the poem now lyrics and having had them placed to music, to record the song.  From distributors saying no to carrying the music, to the artist's label refusing to release the music, Holiday went out of her way to release the work, and it eventually sold well over one million copies.  It was an anthem of the African American outrage towards lynching, as much as simply the horror and outrage by many towards the harsh racism prior to the era of Civil Rights, and beyond.

Originally the photo of the lynching was sold to souvenir seekers, and those who approved of such practices.  But upon seeing the photo, the author used the power of the image to turn the racist message upside down.  The poem and song powerfully tell the viewer of the image, exactly what they were seeing.