59 Years of the Fantastic 4

Happy Belated Fantastic Four Day! Fifty-nine years ago this week Fantastic Four #1 hit the stands and to quote Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew, “Nuthin’ was ever gonna be quite the same again.” The Fantastic Four is one of those things that I’ve liked as long as I remember. As a kid, I knew them first from their 1967 animated series. I don’t remember it that well; (it’s not like we form a lot of detailed memories when we’re three), but I liked it. Here are three personal firsts that are related to the Fantastic Four to mark the anniversary.

My First Fantastic Four Comic

The first Fantastic Four comic I remember buying was Fantastic Four #126 (September 1972). This was about a year before I decided I was “officially” collecting comics; I was getting comics pretty sporadically at the time. But what an amazing place to start! Inside, the title is “The Way It Began!” and the cover is a stunning recreation of Kirby’s cover to FF#1 drawn by the inimitable team of John Buscema and Joe Sinnott. This comic defined my mental picture of the FF for all time.

The story is good as well. Initially, Roy Thomas treats us to the standard flavor of family brouhaha with which Lee and Kirby brilliantly began so many issues. Reed tinkers and then does the absent-minded-professor thing. Ben and Johnny bicker. Sue tries to keep things on track. Also Alicia. Classic. This leads us into a framing sequence where Ben is reminiscing using Reed’s thought-projector helmet which does exactly what one would expect a thought-projector helmet to do.

The thought-projector helmet… erm… projecting thoughts.

Ben then narrates a shortened version of the origin from FF #1, which ends with the iconic image below. I expect that many copies of this issue are missing this page; it’s one of the quintessential team pin-ups.

Short summaries of the team’s first encounter with the Mole Man and the Mole Man story from issues 88-90 follow. In that last story, the Mole Man uses a device that blinds the team and Ben has an epiphany. If the Mole Man’s device can blind and cure the team, maybe he can use it to cure Alicia’s blindness. He storms off intending to help her.

After a year or two, FF #126 was made into one of those Power Records sets with the recorded dialogue. If Johnny’s voice sounds familiar, that’s Peter Fernandez, aka Speed Racer! (The “!” may be obligatory). Thanks to the magic of YouTube, you can experience the entire issue with the dialogue abbreviated somewhat here.

My First Blog Post.

Two years ago Marvel published a facsimile edition of Fantastic Four #1, part of the promotion for the latest series of Fantastic Four that started shortly thereafter. That seemed like a big deal at the time. “The World’s Greatest Comix Magazine” had been off the market since April 2015 because some executive at Marvel was having a pissing match with 21st Century Fox and didn’t want to do anything to promote Fox’s latest FF movie including publishing their own flagship title.

Anyway, I’d wanted to review the Facsimile edition. I’d previously done some short reviews that I posted on Facebook, like this one and this one here, but a Facebook post was utterly unsuitable for what I wanted to do for the Facsimile edition. I wrote All In Color for Forty Dimes and a week or so later I had a blog. This blog.

My First Fan Letter

https://cdn.flickeringmyth.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/694044._SX1280_QL80_TTD_.jpg

The letter itself is pretty self-explanatory. It wasn’t printed because as I now realize it’s much too long. For your edification, an open letter to Dan Slott, referencing Fantastic Four (2018) #2. What do you need to know about the book to appreciate the letter? Not too much. This is the first time we’ve seen Reed, Sue, and the kids since Secret Wars. They, along with Molecule Man and the Future Foundation have been rebuilding the multiverse one universe at a time. Franklin rebuilds the universes and then the group explores them; they’ve been at it for five years or so and time seems to have passed more quickly for them than it has on Earth. Franklin and Valeria are teenagers.

At some point, Franklin loses the ability to create universes. Evidently, all is now right with the multiverse; Franklin is done.

And the “Multiverse” has to fight back as the personification of one of the fundamental forces of nature.

Confrontation commences. It’s not pretty. Then this.

You can read the rest for yourself; here’s my letter.

Dear Dan,

Fantastic Four has been my favorite comic for almost forty years.  I’m thrilled to have Fantastic Four back on the spinner racks; the Marvel Universe doesn’t work correctly without its first family.  When I heard that you’d be helming the book, I was pleased.  You always seemed to have a good understanding of the characters; from their guest appearances in Amazing Spider-Man, to your 8-issues on The Thing and everything in between.

Issue 1 was an unadulterated pleasure.  I also really enjoyed issue 2, but there was one false note I’d like to address.

Reed is a tricky character to write; this was never more evident than in Civil War.  Tony is an engineer who thinks pragmatically.  His position in Civil War made sense.  Reed by contrast thinks like an academic working forward from first principles.  He has strong sense of right and wrong.  He should have been the first person to come over to Cap’s side, rather than the last.  Reed’s characterization in that series is wildly off the mark, it’s almost closer to Victor than it is to Reed.  Civil War 2, incidentally, showed us how necessary the Four are to the Marvel Universe.  In that series, Reed was the person we needed to refute Carol’s arguments, but Reed was unavailable.

So what didn’t ring true in FF #647/2?  That Reed would bypass 208 realities teeming with life to secure a better chance of saving the rest.  Reed decides things based on principles, not pragmatics.  When Galactus lay dying, it was Reed who insisted on saving him despite the risk; Tony, the pragmatist, was overruled.  Reed is confident; he strode into the afterlife without hesitation to save Ben.  We see this confidence after the Future Foundation was routed by the Griever.  It should have been evident before then.  Reed doesn’t make tactical retreats nor does he take the easy way out.  In the Galactus Trilogy, a tactical decision might have been to try to quickly develop a way to preserve some life, while Galactus consumed the Earth’s energy.  Instead Reed confronted Galactus with the Ultimate Nullifier.  A riskier decision, but one that preserved virtually all life on Earth.

I hope this is helpful.  Aside from this, these first two issues were like a trip home.  You have to be careful writing Reed.  When you start pulling parts out of what makes him Mr. Fantastic, you could end up with the Maker and that would be a travesty.

Joseph F. Kolacinski
Horseheads, NY

Reed’s characterization has been hit-or-miss for a while; at least since Civil War. One of those posts that’s been waiting in the wings is called “Writing Reed Right,” but that’s a big undertaking. I don’t even have a guess as to when that might be finished.

Where’s a thought-projection helmet when you need one? I hope you enjoyed my reminiscences. We’re now on a twelve-month countdown to the 60th anniversary. We’ll need something pretty big for that. Any suggestions? Do you remember your first Fantastic Four comic? Let us know in the comments!

Marvel Action: Captain Marvel

Two things that you should know about me: I like cats and I like comics. One of my favorite novels is The Door Into Summer by Robert Heinlein because it features, in Petronius the Arbiter, possibly the greatest cat character in all of literature. Combining these two interests, I recently did a pretty extensive overview of Chewie the Cat from Captain Marvel for this very blog. You can find it here: The Book of Goose.

Petronius, from the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1956
Image result for marvel action captain marvel

So, when I saw the cover of Marvel Action: Captain Marvel #1, I knew I had to pick up a copy. Sadly, it’s insipid; the very thing I feared back when Disney first bought Marvel.

I’m not really a fan of Disney the corporation. Walt, as far as I know, was great. From his drive to make his parks amazing to the “this-is-how-we’ll-go-to-Mars” programs with Werner Von Braun to the whole cryogenics thing. Fascinating stuff from end to end. But in high school, I would occasionally read the Mickey Mouse strip in the Sunday paper and it was terrible. It was unfunny, preachy and an insult to the intelligence of anyone who happened to read it. When The Tao of Pooh was on the best seller list and I decided to write a parody called The Hedonism of Tigger with the premise that, to borrow a different metaphor, eastern philosophy is Mr. Miyagi while America philosophy is Cobra Kai. It never got written but while I was thinking about the project, I did buy and read Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. When I did, I realized how diminished these works were in the Disney adaptations I had liked as a kid. When you watch the original Disney Pooh shorts, Tigger, for example, is merely the wacky, gregarious comic relief who likes to bounce.

Image result for a a milne tigger

In the original books, Tigger has a child-like quality that to me comes across as a charming innocence. He’s a much richer character and he still loves to bounce. Occasional, accidental encounters with bits of the Disney Afternoon in the days before TiVo convinced me that, at least in the 90s, modern Disney entertainment was predominantly an empty vessel.

Let me back up a bit. What the hell am I reading? It’s not your everyday Marvel Comic. Disney has thankfully left those pretty much alone. The “Marvel Action” line is a collection of comics featuring Marvel characters that are not published by Marvel. Disney has licensed the characters to IDW and according to the descriptions on line, these carry an “all ages” rating. I think I understand that; early Warner Brothers’ cartoons were delightful and entertaining for kids but they also contained plenty of entertainment value for adults as well. Older viewers might recognize Edward G. Robinson or characters taken directly from Of Mice and Men. And who could forget this masterpiece, which makes a pretty salient point about the Arms Race?

But that doesn’t seem right. Other descriptions suggest that this comic is for “Middle grades” and I discover that that means ages 8 to 12. Middle grades, I guess, for back in the long-long-ago when elementary school lasted until grade 8. That doesn’t seem right either. I started reading comics when I was 8 and even then I can’t imagine having the patience for this comic. I still remember reading the three comics pictured below when I was 8 and I enjoyed them.

Those were far more complex than Marvel Action: Captain Marvel. Maybe I’m wrong about what “all ages” means. Maybe it means “really little kids.” I look up some lists of “all ages books.” Nope. My first thought was right. Harry Potter and The Hobbit aren’t my cup of tea, but they’re interesting. Shel Silverstein makes my skin crawl but ditto. I know I could sit down right now with a Dr. Seuss, or Where The Wild Things Are or Harold and the Purple Crayon and enjoy it. The Winnie-the-Pooh books are excellent! And evidently there’s something called Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. I want to read that right now! Why does the pigeon want to drive the bus? Does it even have a license? Is the regular driver ill? I want to know! All of this is great stuff. Sadly, what’s not great is Marvel Action: Captain Marvel #1.

IDW’s Captain Marvel is exactly like the Disney Afternoon shows from the 1990’s. Simplistic and uninteresting. There are no layers, no nuance, nothing to interest anyone other than small children. I also find the art off putting. It looks rushed to me. More distracting is the fact that the two main characters are women, presumably in their early 30s, and they’re drawn like children. I’ve seen some of Sweeney Boo’s other work and it’s far better.

Seriously, what’s even going on here?

Clearly this comic wasn’t written for me, not even 8-year old me, but it might be fine for little kids. The cats are cute and there’s a thread of story. And if there’s anything that would intrigue small children about the Captain Marvel story, it would be Goose. Or Chewie. Whomever. So, that’s a good place to start and the book works somewhat well on that level. But it’s a weak effort that diminishes the Marvel brand and I worry what the long term effects of that might be.

Bottom Line:

References:

When Jonah Learned Peter is Spider-Man

This was initially published in a slightly altered form on Quora.

SpiderMan: Far from home | cameo J. Jonah Jameson ...

I hope everyone who’s planning to see Spider-Man: Far From Home has seen it by now. (If not, Spoiler Alert! Stop reading!) If you have, you know that the mid-credits scene involves J. Jonah Jameson broadcasting Peter’s identity to the world. We won’t know how that will play out until Spider-Man: The Cows Come Home or… Spider-Man: Phone Home or… Spider-Man: Something Else Home (I don’t know the title. I’m just guessing.) but maybe the comics can give us a hint. Maybe not. The MCU is a very different place from Marvel’s mainstream continuity; in particular, it seems far more hostile to secret identities. Let’s check it out anyway, just for fun.

As far as I know, Jonah learned Peter’s secret twice. The first time was in Civil War (2006) #2 and simultaneously in Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #533. To set the stage, Peter had been working with Tony at Stark Enterprises. The universal brouhaha over the Super-Hero Registration Act began with Tony leading the Pro registration forces. He convinces Peter to reveal his identity in a televised press conference as part of the Act’s media strategy.

Jonah watched this on television, it goes more or less the way you’d expect.

So, Jonah’s more hurt than angry, but he’s still angry. He sues Peter for fraud asking for the money he’d paid for photographs of Spider-Man over the years. When Robbie Robertson stands up to Jonah, arguing that the vendetta has gone too far, Jonah fires him.

Of course, Jonah forgets about Peter’s secret identity after it’s magically made secret again in the One More Day storyline.

I don’t believe that Peter would actually reveal his identity on television; he was famously careful about his secret identity and always refused to put his loved ones at risk. Still, the writers laid some groundwork for the decision and the reveal was one of the few compelling things about Civil War.

Back to the topic at hand. Time passes. Jonah has a heart attack, and the Bugle is sold out from under him. He becomes Mayor of New York City; his wife, Marla dies; he is forced out of office and becomes a commentator on The Fact Channel. Meanwhile, Aunt May meets, falls in love with and marries John Jonah Jameson Sr. This makes Jonah and Peter family in a very real sense. Functionally, they’re step-brothers. Not long before Jonah learns Peter’s secret a second time, his father dies, Marla is resurrected and dies again and Jonah is fired from the Fact Channel, after which he begins writing a blog. Also, at some point, his adopted-daughter died. Whew. Comics… am I right?

Spoiler Alert here, by the way. If you haven’t read Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (2017) by Chip Zdarsky, go get the trade paperbacks or track down the back issues or something. It’s great. Especially issue #310 which just won the Eisner Award for Best Single Issue. I’ll wait.

So then, how does the second time that JJJ discovers Peter’s secret come about?

It starts in issue #5 of the aforementioned series; Jonah is on the verge of breaking a big story and needs to talk to Spider-Man. It’s about someone Peter is trying to help and Jonah agrees to share what he knows.

The interview takes up most of issue #6, (which is the other highlight of the series btw). It’s interesting and turns into quite a heart to heart. There are some expected dimensions and some that are less expected, like Peter admitting to Jonah why he became a crimefighter.

And of course, it gets heated.

Eventually, Peter realizes just how miserable Jonah is, “M-my father is dead! My daughter is dead! The Bugle, the only thing worth a damn in the world, has rejected me! My wife is dead! My wife is dead… Interview’s over! I’ve got — got nothing in my life now! You win —”

“You’re not!” I find this far more believable than the incident in Civil War. This action is born out of compassion and maybe a little responsibility. That’s exactly who Peter is.

And it pays off in an unexpected way. Without going into much detail (seriously get it, read it! This is not a paid endorsement!), Peter’s immediately put in danger because of the interview. In the next issue, (number 279 #MarvelMath) he temporarily gets clear and then this happens.

Jonah helps. He knows Peter and very clearly trusts him and on some level, he probably wants to make amends for what he’s done to Peter over the years.

This starts a new dynamic and Jonah becomes a sort of a side-kick, around frequently and determined to help Peter be a better hero. It’s delightful. This is from # 309.

It’s still noticeably Jonah. He’s still headstrong. He’s still sure he’s smarter than Peter. He still fails to think things through carefully. But after almost 60 years, it’s really nice to see a new dynamic between these two characters. I’m a bit disappointed that we haven’t seen more of this in Amazing Spider-Man and Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, but I hope this is the new status quo for years to come.

References:

The Book of Goose

This was written as an answer to the question “Where is Goose (Captain Marvel) from? Does he have a backstory?” and published simultaneously on Quora.

In the comics, the name of Captain Marvel’s cat is Chewie and she’s a she. If you have Marvel Unlimited or access to enough Marvel trade paperbacks through your library or somewhere else, it wouldn’t too hard to read through all of Chewie’s appearances. You can find a list of them here:

Chewie (Marvel)(Carol Danver’s cat)

Credit where it’s due, Jason Levine at Arousing Grammar did a nice job cataloging and describing all of her appearances for the first few years.

Ms. Marvel’s cat Chewie

Levine’s post goes through November 2013 here are some highlights.

Chewie’s first appearance is in Giant-Size Ms. Marvel #1 (April 2006). In the story, Carol is remembering being Captain Marvel during the House of M timeline. While fighting Sir Warren Traveler, who, evidently had been Sorcerer Supreme in this version of history, Carol encounters a cat,

and promptly throws her at the bad guy!

Seriously, NOT COOL, CAROL! I don’t care if you promised tuna. Cat’s are not weapons! Doubly so against super villains! Either way, this is an inauspicious first appearance.

The fastball special disrupts a time travel spell Traveler is casting and he and Chewie disappear to some undisclosed location.

The next time we see her is in Ms. Marvel (2006) #4. Chewie appears in Carol’s apartment as a precursor of an attack by Traveler.

Dr. Strange gets involved and he and Carol defeat Traveler and mostly, Chewie is on the sidelines, but along the way, Chewie does get to be an avatar for the proper Sorcerer Supreme when Steven contacts Carol in a dream.

That happened in Ms. Marvel (2006) #5. After all is said and done, Carol has a cat. Here I must say I approve; this is a proper way to get a cat. Cat needs you; cat shows up; you have a cat. I’ve gotten more than one of the little buggers that way.

After that, Chewie is mostly around in the background. If you want to see these appearances without digging through all of the issues, I refer you again to Jason Levine’s site. He does a nice job of showing them all.

Chewie gets things to do interesting things again in the Captain Marvel (2014) series. Carol decides to head out to space on a voyage of self-discovery with Chewie in tow. Issue 2:

Eventually, she and Carol encounter the Guardians of the Galaxy, where Rocket identifies Chewie as a Flerken.

If it isn’t obvious, this begins the main part of Chewie’s story that is source material for the 2019 film. Of course, in the film, it’s Talos making the flerken argument.

At the end of the issue, Carol’s ship is stolen with Chewie aboard by a stowaway named Tic.

In issue 3, the ship is recovered and, Carol decides to help Tic after hearing her story.

As a side note, this is a testament to this creative team’s understanding of cats. I’ve seen this sort of comforting behavior many times.

We don’t see Chewie again until issue 7 when Carol and Tic return to Carol’s ship. It’s been under the care of Rocket and the argument as to whether Chewie is a cat or a flerken resumes. While Carol’s been gone, Rocket has been putting out feelers; to see if a flerkin could be sold and for how much.

This attracts pirates who commandeer the ship and suddenly, the flerkin argument becomes moot. Chewie lays eggs. Lots and lots of eggs.

Things come to a head in issue 8.

The ship is boarded,

Rocket and Chewie make peace and of course…

the flurkittens are all fine. There’s a lot of nice touches and these two issues are the apotheosis of Chewie stories. If you like cats or you like Chewie, you should check out these two issues even if you don’t check out anything else.

The final Chewie-centric storyline occurs in issues 12 and 13. Haffensye pirates attack Carol’s ship and abduct Chewie, intending to use her as a weapon.

Unfortunately, most of the action involves getting the ship repaired, navigating through a dangerous region of space and fighting off pirates without weapons or propulsion.

Once Carol catches up with the Haffensye ship, she makes short work of the pirates, rescues Chewie and commandeers the pirates, ship for Tic.

After the pair returned to Earth, Chewie reverted to being a background character which she has remained for all of her subsequent appearances.

And that then is the story of Chewie or Goose if you prefer. There’s always hope that she will be featured in future Captain Marvel stories or join the Pet Avengers or star in her own Major Motion Picture.

There’s much more fun to come, I think, and Carol’s come a long way from the cat flinging incident. She must have sensed it at the time because this was her response to Chewie’s very first disappearance.

It was meant to be.

Quick Take: Superior Spider-Man (2019)

I read the first issue of the New Superior Spider-Man when it first came out and I wasn’t inspired to invest in the series. Not even Terrax was enough to inspire me to purchase issue 2. But while my car was being serviced, I noticed that the first issue was available on Marvel Unlimited. I decided to give it a second read. It did not get better. The set up is obvious, Dr. Octopus’ mind now resides in a cloned body of Peter Parker, with all of the powers that implies. He’s teaching at Horizon University in San Francisco and trying to be a better hero than Peter. The whole thing has a perfunctory “been there, done that” kind of a feel. It’s the same themes as volume 1 without having Peter’s story to bolster my interest.

The art isn’t superior either; it’s competent, but all the characters look like posed manikins. I’ve seen people talking about how they really like this series and it isn’t terrible. Maybe I’ll return to it in a couple of years, once the entire run is on Marvel Unlimited, but then again, maybe not. I can’t see investing in this series for the individual issues.

Also, do you remember a time when comic book companies tried not to overexpose their characters? In the 1940s Superman, Batman and Flash couldn’t be in the JSA because each had his own book. Similar policies persisted for a long time. But now Peter has two books, Miles, Gwen and Otto have books and there’s something called “Symbiote Spider-Man.” If Marvel isn’t careful, we’ll all have brand fatigue before long.

Bottom Line:

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:

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!

Credit Where It’s Due Department: Don Heck and the Wondrous Wasp

“Who created the Wasp?” might be less of a settled question than is usually believed.

I’ve been working my way through the Ant-Man/Giant Man era in Tales to Astonish (TtA) and I made it img_4223up to the first appearance of the Wasp a month ago or so.  I was enjoying the story and the art and looking at the picture to the left, it’s obvious that Don Heck is the penciller.  The art looked particularly good, and I wondered who did the inking.  Could Heck be inking himself?  I turned to the credits and to my surprise, I discovered Jack Kirby is credited as the artist while heck is only credited as the inker.  That seemed to contradict everything I see in the book.

img_4224

The Wasp is generally considered a Lee/Kirby creation or a Lee/Hart/Kirby creation.  I probably first read this story when I scored a copy of The Superhero Women (TSW) back in the early 80’s.  Here’s what Stan Lee had to say about the art in this story in TSW.  “As for the artwork – who else but Jack Kirby?  And it was a real treat to have Dashin’ Donnie Heck available to do the inking.”  But he says something else that’s interesting.  “Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to write the story that introduced Janet Van Dyne.  Luckily, however, after writing the basic plot, I was able to give it to an old friend of mine, Ernest Huntley Hart.”   A bit later we see “Why he signed his name as H. E. Huntley is something the world may never know…” [1]

What do we get from this?  Lee was busy, busy enough to pass off the scripting duties for this issue to Ernie Hart.  Tales to Astonish #44 was published for June 1963.  To  quantify how busy Lee was at that time, we can check his credits at ComicBookDB.com.  He worked on at least 11 comics in May of 1963 as well as 8 comics in June and 11 in July.  Kirby was no less busy; he worked on 10 comics in May, 7 in June and 10 in July.

Let’s look at a few panels from Tales to Astonish #44, from page 12…

TtA 44 pg 12 org

and from page 17.

TtA 44 pg 17

There’s not a lot here that seems reminiscent of Kirby.  You can compare these to any of Heck’s pencils from this time period, this looks like his work.  The faces and figures look like Heck’s; one of the characters on page 12 could be a doppelganger of Happy Hogan.  The hands look like Heck’s work; he tended to draw longer, more slender fingers on the male characters.  The shading also looks like his work; here that tends much more toward hatching (clusters of close parallel lines) than is typical of Kirby’s work.

Compare these to some other panels credited to Kirby published the same month, first from Rawhide Kid #34…

RawhideKid34

and these from Journey into Mystery #93.

Journey93

The art in these issues scream Kirby.  The faces look like Kirby’s and the figures look like Kirby’s.  The shading looks like Kirby; Kirby tended toward more and larger areas of solid black than Heck did.  The hands look like Kirby’s as he tended to draw blockier, squared-off fingers on the men.

So, giving Kirby full credit for the artwork seems dubious.  The credits in the issue certainly make it seem there is some element of truth to it, but the other evidence should at least make us think there’s something worth investigating here.

Who created Iron Man?

ToS 39 Splash

Let’s rewind three months to a comic published in March of 1963.  Tales of Suspense (ToS) #39 introduced the Invincible Iron Man to the world.

The creative process for “Iron Man is Born!” seems very similar to the process for “The Creature from Kosmos!”  Judging from the credits, Lee was responsible for the basic plot, but he handed off scripting duties to his brother, Larry Lieber.  We know Kirby did the early design work for Iron Man and penciled the cover while Heck was responsible for the interior art.

But, actually it’s not that simple.  Kirby claimed to have done full breakdowns for the story and this was reported for years.  Mark Evanier did a careful study of Kirby’s involvement with this story and with Daredevil #1 and concluded that Kirby…

“definitely did not do full breakdowns as has been erroneously reported about … the first ‘Iron Man’. [In the early 1970s], Jack claimed to have laid out those stories, and I repeated his claim in print — though not before checking with Heck who said, in effect, ‘Oh, yeah. I remember that. Jack did the layouts’. We all later realized he was mistaken. … Both also believed that Jack had contributed to the plots of those debut appearances — recollections that do not match those of Stan Lee. (Larry Lieber did the script for the first Iron Man story from a plot that Stan gave him.) Also, in both cases, Jack had already drawn the covers of those issues and done some amount of design work. He came up with the initial look of Iron Man’s armor….” [2]

Is the situation here analogous to TtA #44?  Is it the very same situation with the claim of doing the layouts preceding the writing of the credits box?  Much depends on what is meant by “art” and “inking.”  It’s likely that later credits would delineate the tasks here as “layouts” and “embellishing” which recognizes a much greater contribution on the part of the inker, but comic book credits were still in their infancy.

Introducing Credits

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During the Golden Age, comics tended to credit a single creator if they credited anyone at all.  This practice had not changed much by the time Fantastic Four (FF) #1 was published a mere 17 months earlier, as you can see here it credited only Lee and Kirby.  It was Stan Lee who introduced the “credits box” to the industry, mimicking credits in motion pictures in an attempt to give comics a greater sense of importance.  Eventually the credits would recognize editors, writers, pencillers, inkers, letterers and colorists and some more nuanced roles such as co-plotters, layout artists and embellishers.  At the time I suspect that the lines between these various roles was still being codified.  Is it possible that the only difference in the credits between TtA #44 and ToS #39 is merely different, but not  yet codified meanings of “art” and “inker?”

Don Heck as an Inker

Some inkers are known for being heavy handed, where their personal style overwhelms the style of the penciller.  Could that be the case here?  It’s not likely.  Let’s look at a couple of examples.  Heck inked Amazing Spider-Man #63 over the pencils of John Romita.  Here’s a few panels.

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Romita’s style is undiminished while there are very few indicators of Heck’s influence.  We see something similar in ToS #80 where, more on point, we see Heck’s inks over Kirby’s pencils.

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This is quite clearly Kirby’s work.  The hallmarks are there: the composition, the poses, the black areas in the shading and the look of the hands.  If anything, Heck is responsible for giving the art nice, clean lines that enhance Kirby’s pencils rather than supersede them.  Although this is a small sample, it seems that, if Heck had been given detailed pencils from Kirby, we would have a finished product that reflected Kirby’s style. [3]

If we want to see a contemporary rendering of Ant-Man and the Wasp by Kirby, we need look no further than Janet’s second appearance in Fantastic Four #16, published the following month, July 1963.

Janet only appears in this single panel.  Let’s compare it to this image from TtA #44.

The broad scheme of Janet’s outfit is the same in both books.  However, in TtA #44 the outfit is more formfitting than the version in FF #16 and it drapes a bit better.  Both of these imply Heck’s influence.  The other distinct difference is in the outfit’s shoulders; in the TtA version the shoulders are smaller and up swept, making them more evocative of wings.  If both versions were pencilled in detail by Kirby, it seems as though there would be more similarity in the details.

In FF #16, we see Hank employ his catapult to travel across the city.  Compare the FF version,

to this image from TtA #44.

The final image in the FF version is far more dynamic, one of Kirby’s calling cards.  This second sequence seems much more similar to this sequence from TtA #43, (pencilled by Heck) than it does to the FF version.

This isn’t, by itself definitive, there are less dynamic catapult sequences that were penciled by Kirby.  Here’s another image from FF # 16.

Again, Kirby’s signature dynamism is on full display.  It’s tricky to find a similar scene in an Ant-Man story,  but here is one of the highlights of TtA #44.

The action is depicted competently, but it’s a much more conventional depiction than the fight sequence in FF #16.  In the latter piece, most of the action is parallel to the panel, occurring safely behind it.  In the first, the reader is either drawn directly into the panel or the action is projecting directly out of the panel, moving directly toward the reader.  The action is even more muted in this sequence from TtA #45 by Heck.

The scene from TtA #44 looks qualitatively different both from the panels from FF #16 and from Heck’s artwork in TtA #45.  It’s possible that TtA #44 is a hybrid, using Heck’s more traditional poses with a bit of Kirby’s flair for action.

Original Art Pages

One helpful consequence of the Ant-Man and the Wasp movie having been released so recently is that many pages of the original artwork for TtA #44 have been for sale online.  This makes it easy to find and inspect the artwork to see if anything can be learned from it.  Unfortunately, at least as far as can be seen on-line, most of the pencil work is covered by the ink lines or is not visible for other reasons.  But there are notable exceptions.

In the left-hand panel here, you can see pencil marks probably meant to depict Janet’s shoulders as she faces the projected image more directly than in the final image.  In the right-hand panel, there is an oval in the approximate position of Janet’s head which might indicate an original sketch where Janet’s head was smaller than Heck drew it in the final version. TtA #44 pg 16 panel 4

There is an image of page 16 on-line where a lot of  the pencil work is visible.  Let’s look at two panels from this page.  The pencils in this image look rough.  You can also see penciled-in placements for the dialogue balloons.  That could be Kirby’s handwriting in the balloons, but there’s not enough visible to be certain.  What this implies about the plotting process is unknown.   TtA #44 pg 16 panel 5

The rough nature of the layouts is particularly evident in this image, where it looks like Heck made a number of changes as he inked the final version, specifically, Hank’s arm is at his side rather than  on Janet’s shoulder, his foot is moved and Janet’s wings are positioned differently.  There’s no reason to necessarily assume that the pencils here aren’t Kirby, but the work is sparse enough that, judging from this alone, they could just as easily be by Heck or any number of other artists.  Other Kirby pencils that can be found online are carefully detailed and definitely display the artist’s distinctive style.

 

Conclusion

I’m far from the first person to suggest this but it is clear that Kirby (or whoever did the pencils) did only a minimal layout for TtA #44.   Kirby was certainly  involved in the design work and the cover art.  Kirby is credited for the “art” but there are other indications that he is indeed responsible for the layouts.  The technology in the story resembles what we call “Kirby machines”  and the design of the creature appears to be more reminiscent of Kirby’s work than much of the other artwork in the story.  Although not as dynamic as the art in other Kirby publications, the layouts and the action sequences appear different from Heck’s typical work.

But these layouts are sparse enough that to credit Heck only as the inker is an understatement.  His style dominates the art in this story and he must have been responsible for many of the fine details of the issue.  In ToS #39, Kirby designed the Iron Man armor and Heck developed the look of Tony Stark and the supporting cast.  It remains an open question in my mind whether the creation of the Wasp isn’t directly analogous.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, Don Heck is an integral part of the creation of the Wasp and I think he should share credit with Kirby, Lee and Hart.

Footnotes:

[1] I had initially wondered if this name swap was due to some sloppiness in the credits, but it appears that Hart scripted seven stories for Marvel in 1963, two Human Torch stories from Strange Tales (ST) 110 and 111 and the Ant-Man and the Wasp stories in TtA 44 to 48.  All of these are credited to H. E. Huntley except the story in ST #111 which is credited to H. Huntley.  It’s still possible that the the credit for TtA #44 was an error that was then repeated, but that seems far less likely than if it were a single occurrence.

[2] This quote was taken from the Don Heck page at ComicBookDB.com where it is sourced back to Evanier’s “POV Online” column.

[3] Speaking of Credit where it’s due, this post was inspired by a discussion with Jared Aiosa of the Heroes Your Mom Threw Out Comic Shop in Elmira, NY.  The Don Heck angle was self-evident, but Jared pointed me toward a lot of the other things I investigate here.

References:

 

What if Captain America became President?

Cap for President

First Published on Quora, 14 October 2019.

CaptainAmerica250It’s worth pointing out here that this very idea has already been played around with in the comics. In Captain America 250 (October 1980) Steve is approached by the New Populist Party and asked to be their candidate for president. He gives it serious thought and spends most of the issue debating the pros and cons with his friends, Avengers and otherwise. The ending of the issue is bittersweet; Steve, of course, decides not to run for president and the enthusiasm that had been building within the NPP turns to a profound disappointment.

About six months later, Marvel itself answered this question in What If? #26. Of course we don’t really know whether WI#26 tells us what “really” would have happened, but it’s at least as valid as what anybody else would have said. And in some sense, that’s the ultimate answer to the question at hand. It really depends on who gets to write the story.

Cap #250 is a classic. What if #26 is pretty good. Both are worth checking out and are available on Marvel Unlimited.

what-if-26.pngTo give my own opinion, there’s two things I think are worth addressing, how Steve would have governed and how the public would have been likely to respond.

Politically, I think Steve is likely to be a New Dealer. He was born in 1920 and came of age around 1940; FDR was popular and won a fairly lopsided electoral victory that year, although not nearly as lopsided as 1936. I think what we’ve seen from Steve over the years bares this out, from Englehart’s run in the 70’s to his reason for stepping out of the role in “Captain America No More” to his stance in Civil War and beyond (Hydra-Steve not withstanding). In foreign policy I think he would be an excellent diplomat, able to find common ground with other nations and move forward productively. He would certainly be more apt to use military force than Carter, but probably not nearly so apt as either of the Bushes. He would be relentlessly ethical.

But I think that the public’s response to Steve as president would be more indicative of his legacy as Commander-in-Chief than his political positions.

If he had been elected President in 1980 when “Cap for President” first hit the stands, conservative or liberal, I think President Rogers would have been a transformational  figure. Six years out from Watergate and a bit over a year after Carter’s malaise speech, the American Electorate was in flux. “Reagan Democrats” were becoming a thing while there was a candidate for the Republican nomination, John Anderson, who was arguably more liberal than the Democrats’ eventual nominee. If there’s one constant in all the portrayals of Steve Rogers, it’s in his ability to lead and inspire. Cap as president in the early 1980’s would have changed the political landscape for a generation or more.

On the other hand, had Steve been elected in the current political climate, I don’t think any of that would have mattered. Ed Brubaker (I’m pretty sure, I haven’t been able to locate the quote) made a relevant remark about the time Steve “died” in the aftermath of Civil War. He said that it was tricky to write Cap. One side of the political spectrum mainly wanted to see Cap beating up terrorists, while the other side mainly wants to see him giving speeches about rights and fairness. If anything, this aspect of has gotten more extreme over the past 11 years. Steve as president in the 21st Century probably presides over a lackluster presidency with one side of the aisle lauding his accomplishments and the other condemning his inadequacies, justly or unjustly.

And that, I think says much more about the state of politics in America today than it does about Captain America.

References:

Captain America #250 (October 1980)

What If? # 26

Captain America – Wikipedia

Man and Machine Man

First Published April 2018

It seemed natural to follow up on Kirby’s 2001: A Space Odyssey by reading his run of issues in Machine Man, #1-9. Indeed, the last three issues of 2001 are closer to being a prolog for this series than they are a coda for thatimg_8535.jpg one.

The first issue is a bit jarring. There’s a near complete reset of supporting characters despite coming only seven months after 2001 #10. Visually, the first nine issues are pure Kirby goodness that escape the excessive cheesiness that diminish some of his other writing efforts. In these issues, it seems that the book isn’t intended to exist within the Marvel Universe. That makes sense as it continued from a licensed series which compared the character to the “Marvel Superheroes” in a way that doesn’t seem natural within that universe. The writing is kind of klunky in places. There’s a lot of what Star Trek fans would call “technobabble” as Machine Man demonstrates some new ability or other and Colonel Kragg (a character precisely in the General Ross motif) reminds us that he lost an eye battling the other robots in the X series virtually every single time that he appears. Not a great collection of books, less interesting than the 2001 series it sprang from but still, an enjoyable read.

The series seems to end here, promising a follow-up in Incredible Hulk. But the cancellation became a hiatus and the series was resurrected after a few months. More on that later. Probably.

Edit:
Jim Kosmicki inspired me to look at the timing of this. It turns out this is the very moment Jack left Marvel for the last time to work in animation. His last work for Marvel was Machine Man #9 and Devil Dinosaur #9, both cover-dated December 1978. Devil Dinosaur ended permanently. I don’t know if the Machine Man revival was planned or if he proved popular enough in the Hulk issues to justify restarting the book.