Who the Hell are the Eternals Anyway?

The Eternals (1976) #1

Eternals Vol 1 1

I’ve been reading comics since 1973, but I really have no idea who the Eternals are. I know they were created by Kirby and I remember Sersi being an Avenger for a while. And I know there’s that one guy who wears the Superman color scheme, whose name I feel like I should know. That’s about it, although I just learned that Eternals #2 is the first appearance of the Celestials, which intrigues me. I’m going to take the plunge and learn about these guys in advance of their movie. To that end, here’s a review of their first issue.

You may wonder how, being a Marvel guy, I missed the Eternals. Blame economics. My limited reading budget in 6th grade was progressively being focused on novels and I quit comics cold turkey (not to worry, I came back) when the cover price went up to 30¢. That gave me two months to notice the Eternals, but I never actually did.

Spoilers follow if one can spoil something published 43 years ago.

928 best Jack Kirby images on Pinterest | Comic art, Comic ...

When I was in college, I tried to read Harlan Ellison’s “For I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream” three times. The first page is both excellent and electrifying. Offbeat and dark, it leaves you dying to know what happens next. I never found out. Each time I lost interest around the third page and I never successfully finished the story. Eternals #1 is a lot like that.

The first four pages are spectacular. The splash page is dominated by a “Kirby machine,” with small characters in the corner teasing some sort of great discovery. This expands to an amazing and intricate two-page spread. The Kirby machine of the first page is the head of the Incas’ “Space God.” The discovery is a huge statue of the Space God in his vehicle with myriad attendants along side and there’s so much interesting detail that you could pour over this page for quite some time. Page 4, another full page shows more of the Gods’ (now plural) equipment.

But then it gets kind of tedious. One of the characters is named Ike Harris and it dawns on me that the guy with the fashion sense of Superman might be called Ikaris. He is. Inwardly, I sigh; my least favorite thing about Kirby-as-writer is his names and these are going to be as cheesy as usual. Ikaris reveals himself to be an Eternal and he is searching for a Cosmic Beacon. He wants to summon the Gods so that they will return to Earth.

We’re also introduced to the Deviants. Monstrous creature’s with names like “Dog,” “Kro” and “Tode.” They’re as determined to prevent the Gods’ return as Ikaris is to bring it about.

Along the way we learn more about the Space Gods. They are aliens who came to Earth ages ago and genetically manipulated the ape creatures they found here. This lead to the creation of three species. The Humans, the Deviants who are genetically unstable with no fixed form and the godlike Eternals who are few in number, powerful and immortal.

Interesting, but still ultimately tedious. One reason, I realized, is that in panel after panel, the captions do nothing but describe what’s clearly happening in the artwork. I had thought that Kirby’s writing had improved a great deal by this point, but this undermines that. If anyone should understand “show, don’t tell,” it’s an Artist/writer.

Like a lot of Kirby’s writing, there’s lots of good ideas but I find the execution kind of flat. I remind myself that this is an introductory issue and those can be dull; the characters have to be introduced, the situations have to be laid and out and the universe needs to be built. That calls for a lot of exposition and that can leave very little room for story.

Unlike a lot of Kirby’s writing, it feels derivative. There is very little that feels new. The premise is essentially the same as 2001: A Space Odyssey which Kirby had just adapted a few months before. This comic falls between the 2001 Treasury Edition and 2001 the ongoing series which, at least so far, I find a lot more interesting. The rest of the story feels a lot like the Inhumans with some of Erich Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods mixed in.

The cliffhanger at the end of the issue is that the Space Gods have arrived and we’re told they’re called the Celestials. I’m still intrigued. More to come.

Bottom Line:

Quick Take: Dark Phoenix

MV5BOGIyZmU1YzktNTI1YS00ZGRjLTkwOGQtNzg3MjczMTJhNDY0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ2MjM5MTg@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,677,1000_AL_

When I want to comment on something, but I don’t have a hell of a lot to say, I’m going to label it a “Quick Take.”

So, I just saw the Dark Phoenix movie.  I had to.  The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the high points of superhero comics.  It’s also one of the things that I was really excited about when I was getting back into comics.  Without the Dark Phoenix saga, we might have an entire other room for something other than comics.

This movie definitely benefited from low expectation. I’d literally heard nothing good about  this film.  And by-and-large, what I’d heard was fair.  But sitting in the theater, it was okay; better than I was expecting.  I didn’t hate it, and on balance, I’m not unhappy I saw it.

But, make no mistake; this is not a good movie.  There’s a death that felt gratuitous and there are plot elements that feel either tacked on or poorly thought out.  The biggest tumblr_m8qincGKz21qfxwtoo4_1280problem for me was that the original Dark Phoenix was all about internal conflict.  It’s a long build up to Jean being corrupted by the power and changing from Phoenix to Dark Phoenix.  Ultimately, Jean is the hero of the story because she sacrifices herself to keep her friends safe.  The movie shares a lot of these elements, but unfolds in what seems to be about 72 hours.  These elements are all eliminated or trivialized.  If you’re looking for this dimension of the story, you’d do better to reread the original.

My favorite thing about the movie is that it was nice to see the old-school Marvel logo with the flipping comic images rather than the movie clip version that they now use in Marvel Studios Films.

Bottom Line:  closed star half staropen staropen staropen star

A Flag of which to be Proud

Hetero flag

It’s Pride Month and so we’re flying a “Straight Ally” flag to show our support. I’m not wild about the flag itself. The stylized “A” for ally with the rainbow motif is both perfect and visually striking. Unfortunately the background lessens the effect somewhat; the

Friz Freleng | Dr. Grob's Animation Review

black and white strips remind me of an old style prison uniform and it has a lot of contrast. Because of this the rainbow A doesn’t stand out as well as I would have liked. I probably wouldn’t have thought about it quite so much but the first version of the Ally flag that I saw had graduated shades of gray in the background and looked better. But the marketplace once again has spoken in order to choose the version I don’t like as well.

Of course, the Ally flag is a derivative of the traditional LGBT Pride Flag which was designed by Gilbert Baker and first flown in San Francisco in 1978. The rainbow may have been inspired by Judy Garland’s “Over The Rainbow.” Interestingly the flag originally consisted of eight stripes representing sexuality, life, healing,

sunlight, nature, magic & art, serenity and spirit. Over time, the number of stripes were reduced to the six we see on the ally flag. We’ve never gotten a complete spectrum on any version of the flag but you have to admit, as a metaphor for inclusiveness, it’s hard to go wrong with a rainbow.

It seems like the Pride Flag is in process of increasing the number of colors again. There’s a new version which adds stripes to support people of color and another which adds a white stripe to represent the full spectrum of gender and sexuality as well as “peace and union among all.”

The Ally flag always puts me in mind of a joke from “Dimitri Martin: Person” which is pretty funny. Interestingly, the first thing I found when I was looking for this clip was a discussion of whether or not the shirt described in the bit would be offensive. I hope not; as a society we currently seem to be actively seeking things to offend us and that isn’t healthy.

Refracted Light

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_flag_(LGBT_movement)#Rainbow_colors_as_symbols_of_LGBT_pride

The Avengers in the Stars

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged anything, although there’s lots of stuff in the works that will hopefully come out soon, when the term is over and I have some time to finish it up.

In the meantime, here’s something quick that falls under “comics” and “the universe” with not so much of the “everything.”

Image result for star walk 2

Many of you may have the App “Star Walk 2” installed on your phone or tablet. It seems that they have added a number of new constellations based on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, probably inspired by some teevee show or movie or something. Who really knows? But now we have some modern mythology among the stars along side its classic siblings.

The new constellations were created by the folks at the Institute of Astronomy of the Russian Academy of Sciences and are available for free in the “Additional Content” section of the App.

Here a sampling:

There’s lots more to find, including some of the better ones, but I don’t want to spoil all of the fun. And part of the fun is finding the things that seem Marvel themed, but were there all along, such as the constellation Hercules or this one:

Happy Hunting!

Happy Earth Day

Well, the UFP Flag didn’t end up being flown for very long. We’re now flying the Earth Day flag that was designed by John McConnell, founder of Earth Day in 1969. This version of the flag features the famous photograph of the Earth that was taken from the Apollo 17 spacecraft. The original version was screen printed; but both were official Earth Day promotional items used to advertise the occasion.

The flag I’d originally wanted to fly for Earth Day is the “Flag of the Earth,” (shown below) that was designed by James W. Cadel. It shows a stylized collection of the Earth, Moon and the sun. It flies at Observatories and SETI installations world wide.

References:

The Flag of the Earth


The UFP Flag and Beginning Vexillology

We’re flying a new flag this morning; specifically the flag of the United Federation of Planets. It flew for a day a few weeks ago, but it was wet and windy and the flag kept getting tangled around the pole so I decided to take it down for a bit.

In the meantime, we purchased a Valley Forge Tangle-Free Aluminum Pole (not pictured above) from the Horseheads Do It Center. It’s working beautifully so far. The flag is affixed directly to the pole through the grommets and the entire top section of the pole rotates freely. The weight of the flag itself keeps it from wrapping around the pole.

United Federation of Planets - Wikipedia

I like this flag, however, it puts me in mind of a lot of state flags, most of which are pretty dreadful. I therefore thought I’d look at the UFP flag in terms of the North American Vexillogical Association’s criteria for evaluating/creating flags.

NAVA’s five criteria for creating a good flag were first codified in 2001 when they conducted a survey to choose the best and worst flags on the continent. These are:

  1. The design of the flag should be simple enough that a child could draw it from memory.
  2. It should use clear and understandable symbolism.
  3. The flag should use common colors; probably no more than four different ones.
  4. Both text and seals should be avoided.
  5. Finally, the flag should be unique as it represents a distinct entity. It can however, show similarities to other flags, to show cultural, historical or political connections.

A nice example of the last criterion is the similarities between the flags of Ohio and the United States. The flags are distinct but the common elements make it clear that the US and Ohio are closely related.

Flag of  Nebraska

We could segue to a long discussion of state and province flags, but we’ll save that for another day. The existing state flag that was closest to the bottom of the 2001 NAVA survey was Nebraska.

Flag of  Alaska

The dubious distinction for last place was given to Georgia, but that flag was changed in 2003. Meanwhile, my favorite state flag has to be Alaska; simple and elegant with clear symbolism. It’s a classic.

The UFP flag fares pretty well according to the NAVA standards. The design is simple and clean. The colors, blue and white, are classic and attractive. The weakest element of the flag is the text. Like the conventional wisdom assumes, it’s difficult to read as the flag waves in the wind, especially as the text is backward on one side of the flag. It’s also an odd choice; at one point, the Federation contained over 150 member worlds each of which probability had its own language. I think it remains an odd choice even though English had evolved into “Federation Standard.”

Flag of the United Nations.svg

To think about the symbolism, it makes sense to look back to the obvious inspiration for the UFP flag, the Flag of the United Nations. The blue color was chosen in contrast to “red, the war color.” The world map represents all the people of the world. The map projection is surrounded by olive branches, a common metaphor for peace.

The similarities to the UFP flag are striking and the symbolism transfers in a straightforward manner. The branches are similar, though may not be of terrestrial origin. The galactic map with the density of the stars in an off-center diagonal line is evocative of a section of one of the spiral arms of the galaxy.

Here's what the Milky Way may look like from deep space ...

Earth and presumably most of the other member worlds of the Federation are located in the Orion Spur, a minor arm of the Milky Way, which exists between the Perseus and Sagittarius Arms of the galaxy. In universe and otherwise, the similarities between the UFP flag and the UN flag make sense since one organization is clearly an inspiration for the other. If the UN still existed in the 23rd Century, the two flags might be too similar to be flown together, but I suspect the UN flag has been supplanted by a “United Earth” flag.

One place where the symbolism of the UFP flag seems lacking is that there are three stars in the galactic map that are stylized as four-pointed stars rather than circles. These stand out and in a standard flag, these might represent the founding worlds of the Federation. Unfortunately, there are four; Earth, Vulcan, Andor and Tellar Prime. This is not surprising. The UFP flag was designed long before the founding worlds were codified in “These are the Voyages…” the series finale of Star Trek: Enterprise. I might be inclined to add a fourth four-pointed star.

References:

First Comics, Christmas Edition

Action 425It’s about a month on, but I thought I’d share one of my Christmas gifts with everyone. I got a copy of Action Comics #425 from my lovely wife, Joanne. It’s a beautiful copy for a 46 year old book with an iconic Nick Cardy cover.

This book is a quasi-key for me for although it doesn’t have a historic story element or first appearance, it has an important place in my history as a collector.  Prior to this I’d had limited exposure to comics.  I had some vague memories of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and “The Marvel Super Heroes” cartoons, although I was convinced that that last was called “The Merry Marvel Marching Society” because of the closing theme (I have no recollection, what-so-ever of the opening theme btw).  I think I recall my Dad reading a Daredevil comic or two to me but, 50+ years later I’m not even sure that’s an actual memory and not some sort of mental ret-con.

Over the previous few months, I’d gotten a few comics and enjoyed them and as seriously as a 9-year old could, I decided to become a “comic book collector,” whatever I thought that was.  I promptly marched out (as promptly as I could, anyway, given that I needed to amass 20¢) and picked up this issue.  This was my first comic as a collector.

I hadn’t reread this book for most of the intervening time, in fact all I really recalled of it was that there was a “story about an emu.”  That’s still better than it could be, I suppose.  I can’t remember anything about my first Batman comic, although I know there must have been one since at some point in my life, I didn’t own any Batman comics, and now I own a few.

I’d made a few attempts to figure out what this “first official comic” was in the 80’s to no avail.  I knew it was an Action, I thought it had an emu in it and I knew it came out sometime in 1973.  That’s surprisingly little to go on when your main resource is whatever happens to be in stock at your LCS.  Still, 45 years after I’d first picked up the issue, with some skills of google-fu and a visit to what a friend calls “that dark web site,” I managed to track it down.

It’s easy to see why I’d have picked this book.  The cover is amazing.  It’s unusual in that the main hero isn’t the focus; the cover centers on some older kids reading a comic while a little red-haired kid is excited to see Superman flying by in the background.  I’m sure it spoke to me.  I can’t imagine a better cover to attract a kid who just decided to become a collector.

The interior of the book is less impressive.  There are three (Count ’em! 3!) stories, which is a surprising number for a standard sized comic.

Spoilers follow, but come on… you’ve had 46 years people!

The Superman story begins in New Zealand when a hunter, Jon Halaway is attacked by a 12-foot tall flightless bird.  He kills it in self defense.  It turns out, the bird was a Moa (Sorry, Emu fans). There were nine species of Moa in New Zealand, but all of them had been hunted to extinction by the year 1500.

img_4360

Halaway is distraught, and becomes obsessed by this tragedy.  He searches and discovers the Moa had left an egg near an underground hot-spring that emitted “strange fumes.” He wastes no time bringing the egg back to the States, where it becomes clear that it is sapping his life force.

img_4361

The egg hatches and the Moa develops some bizarre powers, including the ability to fly by flapping its feet.

img_4363

After getting telepathic messages from the Moa, Superman is able to return it to the hot spring and Halaway recovers.

img_4364

It’s a pleasant, lightweight story, and I liked the conservational aspect.

The second story features the Atom though the title, “The 13 Men Who Run the World” is a bit of a bait and switch. A lot happens and is hung on a thin plot in a mere 6 1/2 pages. We discover Ray’s size-control mechanism is malfunctioning and that Jean is representing a biochemist who is accused of stealing gold from Fort Knox. Her client is being falsely linked to the aforementioned 13 men in the title. In quick succession, a witness who wants to come forward is murdered, Ray and Jean are kidnapped, we learn that the 13 men don’t actually exist, Ray beats the actual bad guys as the Atom and they are brought to justice.

img_4365

The final feature is the first installment of an early Human Target story and it stays close to the character’s formula: someone is in danger of being murdered and Christopher Chance assumes his identity to catch the killer. In this case the potential victim is “the Great Antonio” who is scheduled to walk a tight-rope across Niagara Falls.

img_4366

The ads are fun too. Did you know that a BB gun is an ideal way to convince your parents that you’re responsible enough for an actual, real gun? The ad doesn’t quite come out and say that, but I think the subtext is clear.  Evidently owning a B-B gun leads to responsible gun play in later life.

img_4359

Also, you can get enough training from an outfit that advertises in comic books to get a good job in “electronics.” Mr. Bemis, by the way, is the name of Burgess Meredith’s character in the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last.”  Things do not end well for him.

img_4362

There’s also 3 pages of ads for “Pirates of the Caribbean” model kits, which probably seemed excessive for the time and still seems excessive after 5 movies.  Also, also there are Sea Monkey’s but not Polaris Nuclear Subs or x-ray glasses.

This book was a pleasant trip down memory lane.  It makes an interesting addition to my collection; it’s wildly different from the other books I have from the same time period.