Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bettah run through duh juhn-gull

Warlord- Ka Zar

Evidently, Mike Grell’s Warlord series was DC’s best seller in the mid- to late 70s, sword and sorcery books being fecund funnee book source material —i.e. the Conan series, which was key to Marvel’s survival in the 1970s. I only recall the series dimly, and apparently the Morgan character and the Skartaris disapora has occasionally been dropped into mainstream DC continuity, which Grell did not intend.

But Ka-Zar? The character was a boilerplate Tarzan from his introduction in the X-Men in 1965 throughout the 1970s, until the early 1980s. In 1981, however, writer Bruce Jones rethought Ka-Zar as indeed a “noble savage,” but one who had recently decided that he doesn’t need to talk in the third person and is educated and articulate.

The 1980s Ka-Zar series, which was initially sold only in the direct market, was exceptionally well-written and introduced your Kounterpart Kurator to a lot of ideas and adult characterizations that he found quite stimulating. It’s too bad Jones’ series has been forgotten —not by me though!

Both are based on (i.e. good old fashioned rip-offs) concepts created by Edgar Rice Burroughs: Warlord’s Skartaris was reminiscent of the author’s Pellucidar, and Ka-Zar = Tarzan, obviously. Otherwise, the “sword and sorcery” and “jungle adventure” milieus are nearly indistinguishable —lots of dinosaurs, monsters, magicians, voluptuous wimmen and blades. And both run around wearing very little clothing.

Plunder grew up in his particular hidden, primeval land, whereas Morgan found his as an adult veteran of the Vietnamese conflict.

Alternate histories:

WA: As a child, Travis Morgan and his parents discover the hidden realm Skartaris: his mother and father and are killed, leaving the young Morgan to fend for himself. Upon young adulthood, he is recognized as the Warlord, the general protector of Skartaris. While he initially behaves in a “barbaric” manner when he encounters the visiting likes of the Titans, Blue Beetle and the Black Canary, Morgan eventually embraces his civilized heritage.

KZ: Kevin Plunder is a soldier who discovers the hidden realm the Savage Land and its larger adjoining territory Panagea. He combats various tyrants, sorcerers and tyrannical sorcerers, works with sympathetic natives and eventually is recognized as Ka-Zar, the Lord of the Savage Land.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A bloodsucker and a bat-shit berserker

Creeper- Morbius, the Living Vampire

I have never read Steve Ditko’s very brief 1968 DC series Beware the Creeper, which alongside Hawk and Dove, followed his work for Charlton Comics. But I’ve read stories featuring the Creeper, whose character design is as striking as every Ditko creation. No one can ever decide whether Jack Ryder can control his Creeper persona, or whether his transformation drives him bat-shit insane. I think the latter option would be infinitely preferable: wouldn’t the idea of a Joker who goes after crooks seem to present endless story possibilities?

I only recently remembered Morbius, a character created indirectly in 1971 to challenge the Comic Code's then-two decade long ban on referencing the supernatural. Morbius arrived at his vampiric qualities through scientific means, and so the Code could not fuck with Marvel. Soon, horror characters could be pushed on kids again by Marvel and other publishers. Which, happily, is the way it should be.

Scary, keep-‘em-guessing, struggling-with-bloodlust-and insanity fellows both: are they evil? Are they nuts? Are they murderous?

I reckon these two line the fuck up!

Alternate histories:

CR: Jack Ryder is stricken with a rare blood disease, and attempts to cure himself via an experimental treatment. Instead, the procedure turns Ryder into a yellow-skinned, green haired super strong acrobat with maniacal and nearly homicidal tendencies. Assuming the identity “the Creeper,” he initially opposes the Blue Beetle, although he more recently has exhibited more self-control.

MO: Michael Morbius is wounded by thugs, and is injected with a serum that turns him into a seeming “living vampire,” complete with chalk-white skin and fangs. He then vacillates between his normal form and that of his occasionally deadly vampiric persona: although he has often worked with other superhuman operatives, few can count on whether Morbius is relatively stable or insane with bloodlust.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

AHH…big heads

The Guardians of the Universe- The Watchers

The 1960s was, among other things, a boom time for ancient alien races comprised by omniscient fellows with very big heads in popular culture. One of my earliest TV memories involves the Talosians, the dispassionate humanoids from the Star Trek pilot The Cage, which was shot in 1964, turned down by NBC but reused in the 1968 episode The Menagerie. I remember calling these creatures simply “buttheads” years before the term became widespread.

And so we turn to the two preeminent omniscient, bulbous-headed races in the DCU and MU. The Guardians have been part of the Green Lantern line since 1960: one traveled around the U.S. with Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen in the 1970s, learning a lot of “relevant” things about earthlings. And Uatu the Watcher has observed and advised the Fantastic Four and damn near everyone else since 1963.

Both races are among the eldest in either diaspora. And they have big heads, which is paramount.

They are opposed by their very natures: the Guardians attempt to impose order on the universe via various peacekeeping organizations, whereas the Watchers operate under a strict non-inteference directive.

Alternate histories:

GU: The Guardians of the Universe have existed since very near the birth of the universe: they have stood watch over the development of various civilizations across the cosmos. One guardian, Ganthet, has taken a keen interest in the affairs of the planet Earth and has encountered the Doom Patrol, Superman and virtually every superhuman operative on and off Earth.

WA: The Watchers have existed since very near the birth of the universe: they have stood watch over the development of various civilizations across the cosmos, although one of their number becomes the agent of universal entropy Galactus. The Watchers formed the Nova Corps, an interstellar peacekeeping force: both the Watchers and the Corps were destroyed but have recently been reconstituted.

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Luke, I Am your Father" syndrome, part I

Madame Rouge- Mystique

Why, your kounterpart kurator asks someone— anyone who may ever read these words— are comic book creators so susceptible to the “Luke, I am your father” syndrome?

The second character cited was introduced in 1980 in the perhaps too-often-referenced “Days of Future Past” storyline: Mystique was a blue-skinned shapeshifter leading a new iteration of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Evidently she was intended by co-creator Chris Claremont as not only the “life partner” of fellow evil mutant Destiny, but, due to the biological quirks of shapeshifting, the “father” of Nightcrawler.

But the time at Marvel, LGBT characters were verboten. Only in the last decade or so (I think?) was this connection revealed.

It’s enough that Magneto was eventually shown to be the father of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. It was also enough that Nightcrawler was a German gypsy of unexceptional parentage, and to limn him to a blue -skinned mutant femme fatale is, frankly, cheap and unimaginative.

As for Madame Rouge, I seem to remember that she was wreeten to ‘ave a conspeecuous french accent.

Both are shapeshifters who’ve made it into the film/tv arms of their representative franchises.

Only that Madame Rouge (who can also stretch!) is an obscure french super-villainess who has not been revived in the DCU.

Alternate histories:

MR: Laura Demille was apparently born in the early 20th century; her preternatural shape-shifting abilities have retarded her aging. She assumes a number of identities and associations, and using the codename Madame Rouge, comes to light as an antagonist of Hawkgirl and the Titans, and as a mentor to a troubled young Terra. She has since worked with and against the Titans, and apparently (and stupidly) has been revealed to be the mother of the Titan Changeling.

MY: Raven Darkholme is modified into a shape-shifter by a criminal mastermind; using the codename Mystique, Darkholme opposes the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. Initially, Mystique struggles with a split personality, vacillating from affection for Charles Xavier and hostility towards the Doom Patrol, which she is incorrectly believed to have murdered. She finally dies in battle with the X-Men.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Two tough guys with hearts of gold…

Robotman- Thing

These two were initially discussed in January, but merit further alternate history-style exposition.

Alternate histories:

RM: Cliff Steele grows up poor in a major metropolitan city: he enters college, where he befriends Steve Dayton and becomes a football star. Steele then embarks on a career driving experimental automobiles: it is around this time that he, Dayton, Rita Farr and Larry Trainor are struck by certain cosmic energy, and resolve to operate as the Doom Patrol. Steele is transformed into a super-strong robotic creature, and consents to be referred to as Robotman, although he frequently despairs that he is less than human. Robotman is a mainstay of the Doom Patrol, although he is one of the best liked operatives in the superhuman community and works with others very often.

TH: Ben Grimm is a test pilot whose body is all but destroyed after his plane crashes. His body is then mutated into a monstrous, super-strong rock-like form by Charles Xavier in order to save his life. While Grimm accepts the codename the Thing, and becomes a charter member of the Fantastic Four, he frequently despairs that he is less than human. When the Fantastic Four are allegedly killed after volunteering to sacrifice their lives to save innocents, the Thing enters suspended animation; upon revival, he leads newer iterations of the Fantastic Four.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

the Avengers International, 1987

This is what the initial lineup of the post-Detroit, "bwah-hah-hah" version of the Avengers would be…

Captain America
Silver Surfer
Dr. Strange
Pulsar/Captain Marvel
joined later by:
Wonder Man

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

One character gave the english speaking world an exclamation; the other gave nerds continuity porn

Captain Marvel- Quasar/Marvel Man

The other day, while looking around for info on the second character named above, I happened upon a message board posting where some nerd was talking about how much he liked Quasar, a “cosmic” hero that kicked around without much notice until he starred in what I gather was a highly wonky series penned by Mark Gruenwald and which ran from the late ‘80s to the mid ‘90s (this was the time I was not reading funnee books) .

In the Image era to which the series yielded, said the poster, every character grimaces while he blows villains heads off. Whereas Quasar is a noble young man who tries to do the right thing. To which another poster, evincing the cheap scorn some nerds on the internet indulge in so as to create a geek pecking order, sneered “every character, no matter how lame, is someone’s favorite.”

Apparently, Gruenwald saw Quasar as an “everyman” character who would explore the cosmic byways of the MU in a different, more wide-eyed manner than, say, the Silver Surfer. I liked Gruenwald’s Captain America and enjoy superhero wonkiness, so I’d like to check the series out one day.

So of course, a character known only to earnest goofballs will be paired with a hero who frequently outsold the Superman books in the 1940s and early ‘50s; provoked a lawsuit from DC Comics against the character’s publisher Fawcett Publications over a reasonable similarity to Superman; ceased publication and saw its copyright languish so that other publishers could use the name; gave Gomer Pyle his favorite exclamation; and was finally purchased by DC and fully integrated into its fictional diaspora. Most importantly, Captain Marvel is probably better known than any DC character save Superman, Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman.

The fanciful mythos common to the Big Red Cheeses probably doesn’t work past the 1940s: talking tigers and worms are best left in the past. But Captain Marvel worked well for about 25 years as a wish-fulfillment of many kids who read comic books before (and to a lesser extent after) the Stan and Jack revolution. Now he’s taken the wizard Shazam’s place as a mystical vizier, or somesuch other dumb shit.

It’s the sense that both are essentially decent young fellows charged with great powers by ancient beings.

Ostensibly, Quasar’s abilities to create energy constructs with his quantum bands, not to mention his relative youth and his cosmic bailiwick, would line up with Kyle Rayner. And Roy Thomas linked Rick Jones to Mar-Vell as an explicit nod to his namesake.

Alternate histories:

CM: Billy Batson is a rookie operative at a government agency who acquires an artifact once used by a that grants him immense strength, stamina and control of mystical thunderbolts. After a few years as the novice hero Captain Marvel, he travels into space and discovers that the artifact is a remnant of a offshoot civilization of “New Gods,” and that he has been chosen by the alien wizard Shazam to succeed the deceased Hawkman as a guardian of the “rock of eternity.” While he joins the Justice League for a short time, Captain Marvel spends most of his time opposing menaces throughout the cosmos; he apparently has been revived in a quasi-spectral state after he was thought to have been killed by an extraterrestrial antagonist.

QU: Teenager Wendell Vaughn encounters Eon, an omniscient creature who grants him various “quantum” abilities, which he henceforth accesses by transforming into adult form. Using the name Marvel Man and then Quasar, Vaughn is one of the few superhumans who can credibly challenge the Mighty Thor. During stints with the Avengers and the Liberty Legion, many colleagues, unaware that he’s truly an adolescent, note his naive demeanor. After a cosmic conflagration, Quasar has taken the place of the slain Eon as a universal guardian granted with “cosmic awareness.”