Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Retro-Comics Salutes the King

Jack Kirby celebrated another posthumous birthday over the weekend, which makes me return to the idea of Retro-Comics. More specifically, this 1992 issue of Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol (#53) in which Ken Steacy took on the Kirby style to help recount Danny the Street's dream. Like Moore's 1963, it creates a Silver Age Marvel world that invokes the weirdness of those early 60s comics. As I said last week, who better to give us the weird frisson the kids of 30 years ago (almost 50 now) felt than the British Invaders who were unwittingly creating Vertigo comics? Morrison's little experiment in retro also has the virtue of coming out a good year before Moore's, cementing the idea that Image really didn't ever do anything original back then.

Danny's Silver Age dream recasts the Doom Patrol as the Legion of the Strange, but before we even get there, he remakes the so-called Trenchcoat Brigade into 4-color superheroes - the Mighty Mystics! They operate from their satellite HQ, the Hand of Warning!
Kirby's spirit is definitely in the house. Silver Age John Constantine/Hellblazer and Phantom Stranger:
And Silver Age Dr. Thirteen and Mr. E complete the team:
The Mighty Mystics discover a threat from the multi-dimensions that only the Legion of the Strange can stop, so Dr. Thirteen heads off to their HQ on Man-Hattan Island!
Let's not forget that this is a dream sequence (from a sentient transvestite street, no less), so things can go a little farther than they would have in a 60s comic. The Legion is represented by Automaton (Robotman), Negative Man (Rebis), Elastiwoman (Crazy Jane doing her best Rita Farr impression) and of course, the Chief (not pictured below).
Their Fantastic Four roots are unmistakable, as even the original DP were built on that model, with a little bit of X-Men thrown in presciently. Our villain is Celestius, a giant god who wields the POWER EMPYREAN!!! He's been banished to the multi-dimensions by older gods, and he and his herald known as Guru are about to break free.
Celestius comes out of an apartment building that's gone all superspatial, and where Automaton, actually secretly fitted with the brain of a criminal scientist who has replaced Cliff (since "last ish"), must protect a little blind girl by truly acting the part and learning an important life lesson.
He wins by pulling Celestius back through the portal to the Multi-Dimensions, the passage through which no one may survive. But that's ok. It wasn't really Cliff, remember?
The issue ends with a tour of Man-Hattan Island by the real Cliff Steele, which feels just like those old Baxter Building cutaways to me.
Morrison has a way with throwaways that makes me want to see a whole mini-series of these adventures just so I can find out more about the Ambient Man, Doc Void and the Confusers, and world of the Windowmen.

Happy B. Jack Kirby! And go go go retro!

Star Trek 1362: Countdown, Number One

1362. Countdown, Number One

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: Countdown #1, IDW Comics, January 2009

CREATORS: Tim Jones and Mike Johnson (writers), David Messina (artist)

STARDATE: 64333.4 (8 years after Nemesis)

PLOT: Ambassador Spock has discovered that a star is going supernova and somehow feeding on the planets in its system, and that it may threaten the entire Romulan Empire. He petitions the Romulan Senate to lend him the costly materials to create red matter, which could be used to black hole the star into inexistence. The Senate refuses, fearing a Vulcan plot, but Nero, the captain of a mining ship who has seen the supernova first hand, believes him. He pledges to help Spock get the required ore even at the risk of being arrested. They undertake their mission, but are soon attacked by Remans. The Enterprise-E commanded by Data arrives to save them from this threat...

CONTINUITY: Acts as a prequel to J.J. Abrams' Star Trek. Nero and Spock appear, as do Nero's crewman, Ayel, and his ship, the Narada. The Remans first and last appeared in Nemesis. Data now captains the Enterprise-E. The Enterprise-E's helm console hologram seen in the final panel of this issue is the combat screen from the video game Star Trek: The Next Generation - A Final Unity. The future Starfleet uniforms are modeled on those of Star Trek Online.

DIVERGENCES: Spock claims to have lived on Romulus for 40 years. It should be closer to 20 (apparently fixed in the collected edition).

PANEL OF THE DAY - Or has B-4 gotten a software patch?
REVIEW: As a prequel to the latest Star Trek film, Countdown sort of becomes the very last original timeline story. I'm glad they set it a few years in the future of the original timeline franchise because it allows the TNG era space for a lot more stories in novel and comics form. For fans of the original stories, it also builds the new timeline on an "alternative future", which helps soothe the loss of the original. Confused yet? Ok, let's talk about the comic itself. First off, it is saddled with the nonsense technobabble MacGuffin of the film. No going around that. A supernova that can "eat" the entire galaxy, red matter, the whole thing. I don't blame the Senate for throwing Spock out of their chambers. Secondly, in the space of a single issue, Nero is made a more complete character than in the whole of the film. At this point, he is heroic and a family man, one with an uncertain relationship with Spock. I find him a lot more interesting than in the movie, where I didn't care for him at all. Throw in some beautifully drawn Remans and a surprise appearance by Data's Enterprise-E, and we've got some fun going on. The next issue will explain how Data can be back, but for now, an effective cliffhanger.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Dial H for Hevaluation

I've been a huge Dial H fan ever since I discovered Chris and Vicki changing identities in the back of New Adventures of Superboy. If I hadn't been creating my own superheroes already, that would have made me start. According to the gaping hole in one of the comics' letters pages, I even sent some in. Since then, I've followed the Dial and I've retraced its steps. Here's the thing I ask myself though: What if had come across the character find of whatever year it was? What if Chris or Vicki had turned into Deadpool or Witchblade (saying that, I'm really happy Dial H didn't last into the 90s - imagine the number of gun-totting, pouchy anti-heroes!)? Even before the heroes were fan-made, what if the first appearance of Green Lantern or the Flash had been as a Dialed hero? Or did the writer (Dave Wood, in the pages of House of Mystery) throw in lame concepts on purpose, keeping his better ideas for... well I can't name a single recurring character created by Dave Wood except Robby Reed. The late, great Jim Mooney is initially on costume duty - did he do the same? Made to be disposable, whether by professionals or fans, could the Dial H heroes have lived long and full lives?

Case 1: House of Mystery #156
Dial Holder: Robby Reed (first appearance and origin)
Dial Type: The Big Dial (this Dial has alien lettering on it which allows the user to dial with more than just the four letters H-E-R-O)
Dialing: H-E-R-O turns Robby into a superhero. O-R-E-H turns him back into Robby Reed.
Name: Giantboy (sounds like a Legion character)
Costume: As the member of a team like the Legion, Giantboy has potential. He would be easy to find in a crowd, both thanks to size and color. The sweater collar has to go though.
Powers: Giantboy is always giant-sized, which makes having a normal secret identity difficult. He can fly and has super-strength, again giving him a particularly Legionny feel.
Sighted: In Littleville. Prevented a plane from crashing and saved a chemical plant from the Thunderbolt organization's war machine.
Possibilities: His best place in the DCU is in the 30th century, trying out for the Legion of Super-Heroes (no flight ring required). However, his spot is already taken up by Colossal Boy, so he'll wind up as a reject, getting drunk with Arm-Fall-Off Boy.
Integration Quotient: 35% (fits, but the best he can hope for is obscurity for decades before being killed off in a crossover event)
Name: Cometeer (sounds like an Archie hero)
Costume: A ghostly appearance does not a striking hero make. Nor does that headdress. Or the top stolen from Phantom Lady's closet. I know some artists who would like him because you don't have to draw his feet, but...
Powers: Despite the look, the Cometeer isn't intangible. He can fly and the trail he leaves his hot enough to fix a cracked dam. Being shot by electricity apparently drains his power.
Sighted: In Littleville. Fixed a dam under attack by the Thunderbolt organization's tank, but couldn't survive a shot of its canon.
Possibilities: In the DCU, his best shot is as a Superfriends-type "international" or "ethnic" hero. It would explain his look, and perhaps some South American connection could relate to Aztec or Inca astrology and the passage of comets. Infrequent appearances, perhaps as a member of the Global Guardians may be too much to hope for.
Integration Quotient: 15% (unlikely that writers would want to use him after first appearance)
Name: The Mole (sounds like a villain)
Costume: Completely ridiculous. Though the Mole has a Batman vibe going on in the mask area, the drill bits on both the head and fingers is second in silliness only to the chest emblem with its cartoon mole looking out from under a big M. For some reason, he also has webbed feet, the better to paddle through the dirt.
Powers: Can move very quickly underground by making his drill bits spin. He can also follow vibrations from up above, tracking criminals through layers of dirt.
Sighted: Under Littleville. Followed a Thunderbolt tank to the organization's hideout where he captured all but the leader and stopped their plot.
Possibilities: Very few. There are ways to do a subterranean superhero, but this isn't it. I foresee a guest appearance in the background of Hero Hotline. Not much more.
Integration Quotient: 4% (silly to the point of spoof)

So that's the first effort. The SBG will bring you more in the near future! Stick with Robby for now, or would you like me to mix it up with Chris King, Vicki Grant, Hero Cruz and pass-the-dial 2003 series?

Star Trek 1361: The End Of History

1361. The End Of History

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Last Generation #5, IDW Comics, March 2009

CREATORS: Andrew Steven Harris (writer), Gordon Purcell and Bob Almond (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows the last issue)

PLOT: Picard and the Excelsior go back in time to the Khitomer peace talks thanks to Data's calculations. They discover Braxton has changed history again and again by this point, taking Kirk completely out of the equation. Picard initially fails to save the Federation president, and Braxton takes him to his ship, the Event Horizon. There he explains that in his studies of history, he's found that the galaxy ends suddenly in every timeline where the Federation exists. He needs for Picard's era to be the Federation's last generation and will now carpet bomb the conference. But Picard's returned to this moment before too and is somewhat ahead of Braxton. To save the future, he has the Excelsior ram into the Event Horizon. Though we don't see the timeline reset, the future is apparently saved.

CONTINUITY: See previous issues. The cover is an homage to the Star Trek VI poster. Braxton (Relativity) claims Kirk made the whales go extinct in the first place when he took the two back to the future (The Voyage Home). Picard paraphrases Kirk's "it's about the future" speech when talking to Azetbur (The Undiscovered Country).


PANEL OF THE DAY - No really, who IS that dark haired guy with the stubble?
REVIEW: A strange, but fun finish. Strange because Picard is recursively going back to the same moment many times, just as Braxton is, but we're not always in on it. It keeps the surprise, but can be confusing. As is the very end, since it doesn't include an on-panel reset. We can imagine everything works out for the best, but as of the last panel, Kirk still doesn't exist and Khitomer lies in ruins. Cute (or cheesy, according to taste), but not reassuring. Of course, we know Lost Gen is not the true timeline (or one of two true timelines now), so we don't mind. I would have liked for the rest of the group to have a little more to do in the finale, but solid art, fun paradox stuff and a satisfying homage to ST VI will just have to do!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

This Week in Geek (23-29/08/10)

BuysLookee here! Got myself action figures of all 11 Doctors! They're all in there, from Hartnell to Smith! Smith is particularly adorable with his awesome bow-leggedness. I've got a ton of Tennants already (he was in a number of sets), but this is the only one with, all at once, the brown coat, the blue suit, and the glasses. You can see how they mix and match variants there.


DVDs: My foray into the Buffyverse continues apace as I flipped Season 4 this week. It's an odd one, which Whedon acknowledges in the extras, that can be frustrating for viewers. I understand what they're trying to do with the first college year, with friends drifting apart, the clash of institutional philosophies (science) versus one's own (magic), and the alienation of going from top dog in high school to total noob in college. And while I think the arc is ultimately satisfying, it an be troubling to go through those things with the characters. Buffy is less empowered, the Scoobie gang is fragmented and the Initiative sits uneasily in Sunnydale. Xander and Giles are particularly aimless, but the season isn't. It does suffer from schizophrenia though, producing both the creepiest villains (the Gentlemen) and the lamest (Adam, which never worked for me). So yes, the show only awkwardly weathers the transition from teen to young adult, but that's kind of the point. There's some awesome stuff in there, from Hush to Superstar to the beautiful dreamy finale. I'm a fan. The DVD includes good commentaries on selected episodes and as usual, strong featurettes. It does bug me that they spoil major plot points for whatever season they're actually working on while being interviewed though. Think of the DVD-only public!

On Kung Fu Friday, we found Asian superstars Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung and Donnie Yen somewhat wasted in Butterfly Sword, a dynamic, but awkwardly edited and shot, wuxia comedy. Not to be taken seriously, while it can be confusing, it at least doesn't overstay its welcome at less than an hour and a half. And the exploding bodies climax is genuinely funny. I mean, if you like that sort of thing. The print is not particularly clean. The DVD includes a commentary with the same experts as last week's Dragon Tiger Gate, but this time, they're rather positive, talking a lot more about kung fu cinema in general than the film specifically. But it's interesting.

Books: Gary Russell has a problem (some would say) with continuity. He enjoys it too much and liberally doses his stories with things most readers aren't even aware of, including elements from other novels, comic strips and audios. How does he fare in the New Series line, where continuity really isn't encouraged? Very well, actually! Beautiful Chaos DOES have a returning monster from the classic series, and there's a paragraph that mentions the monster's extra-canonical appearances, but it's fleeting. Though the plot is pretty standard possession/end of the world stuff (I've read it's almost the same as his Business Unusual), Russell shines through his character development of Donna and her family (Wilf and Sylvia). The affecting domestic scenes almost make it essential reading for New Series fans, as they act as something of a goodbye for Donna, and actually add detail to her family dynamics (though Sylvia's bits are repetitive). Russell's cheeky narration also helps make this a fun read. Color me pleasantly surprised.

RPGs: Just finished playing our first game of Savage Worlds/Evernight in two weeks and had the gall to end it on a cliffhanger. I felt this session hit the right balance of talking through situations, combat, discovery and looting. At one point, I did what I promised myself I would earlier this summer - if a fight was overwhelmingly going in the players' favor, I would skip to the end and say they won after hours of slaying. I just didn't think playing out each encounter in a veritable nest of spiders was going to do anything but kill precious time. Glad to see the players went with it, no problem. One thing that's taking an unusually strong role in the game is religion/faith. Not only has it become important to be in the good graces of the local temple, but the characters have been very good about burying the bodies of found victims, something which was rewarded with spirit reinforcements this week.

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: Started the Reality Unbound expansion with 9 cards from Battlefield. More to come during the week.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
I.v. Swearing Oaths - Fodor '07
I.v. Swearing Oaths - Tennant '09
I.v. Swearing Oaths - Classics Illustrated

Star Trek 1360: Inevitability

1360. Inevitability

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Last Generation #4, IDW Comics, February 2009

CREATORS: Andrew Steven Harris (writer), Gordon Purcell, Bob Almond and Terry Pallot (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows the last issue)

PLOT: Picard's mission was a bust, and furthermore, Data was left behind. Now the Resistance has no ship, and no way to compute the slingshot back in time. Sulu's Excelsior to the rescue! They arrive just in time and head for the sun. They are waylaid by Klingon forces led by Worf. To retrieve Data, Sulu goes out in a shuttle and goads Worf into beaming him in for a duel. As he's beamed aboard, the Excelsior beams Data out. Worf and Sulu fight until Sulu plants his rapier into Worf's only good eye and Worf plunges his bat'leth into Sulu. His dying act is to use to remotely ram his shuttle into Worf's ship, destroying it. Picard takes command of Excelsior and takes it on its journey through time...

CONTINUITY: See previous issues. Also in Picard's cell are Shelby (The Best of Both Worlds), Barclay, Alyssa Ogawa, Hugh whose chances aren't good without prosthetics (I, Borg) and a Samantha (Wildman?) who was just killed. Cells are mentioned to be led by Elias Vaughn (Deep Space Nine II novels), Janeway (M.I.A., of course), Jellico (Chain of Command) and Red Squad. People who died for the cause include Nechayev, Ross (both recurring admirals in the standard continuity), Hansen (either "Seven" or one of her parents), and Paris (either Tom or his father). Deanna Troi is Worf's concubine, secretly working for the Resistance (Worf kills her).

DIVERGENCES: Barclay's hair is colored too dark. A Negh'Var-class ship is mistakenly called a bird-of-prey.

PANEL OF THE DAY - As a stupid question...
REVIEW: Though the name-dropping gets a bit much in the first few pages, it's fun. Now, just who is that black-haired guy that keeps getting lines but looks like no one I can identify?! Good to see Troi, finally (though I admit to not noticing her absence until now), and her role as a perverted Imzadi to Worf is an interesting if criminally brief one. She dies defiant and on her feet at least. The big star of the show, however, is Sulu. Always one of my favorite Trek characters, he goes out with a bang. Brave and clever, at what must be 100+ years old, he fights a Klingon warrior to a standstill, with shocking consequences. Now it's all about going back and undoing this nifty little parallel universe. I'll kinda miss it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

What If... Dr. Strange Had Not Become Master of the Mystic Arts?

We're now getting to the short golden age of What If? From here to the end, the double-sized issues have the feel of specials, each with only a single story, no more back-ups, and all attacking important turning points for the Marvel Universe. The stories are mostly by Peter Gillis, while the art by the various artists, universally strong. These are the best looking issues of What If will be for a long time. Somebody raised the bar at Marvel, and it's really too bad that the series had to be canceled with #47. In #40, the art is handled by Butch Guice doing a pretty amazing riff on the Ditkoverse of Dr. Strange. Enough with the praise, let's get into the story...

What If Vol.1 #40 (August 1983)
Based on: Strange Tales #110
The true history: Surgeon Stephen Strange gets into a car accident and loses the fine motor function required to perform surgery. He goes to Tibet for a cure and finds the Sorcerer Supreme known as the Ancient One. The latter's disciple, Baron Mordo, is up to no good and summons a dark fiend, but Strange sees him. Though he is silenced by a spell, he still manages to communicate Mordo's treachery to his master and Mordo is ejected. Strange becomes the Ancient One's new disciple, and in time, the new Sorcerer Supreme.
Turning point: What if Mordo was a little quicker to communicate with the underworld or if Dr. Strange took a little longer to find the Ancient One?
Story type: Reset (mystical mumbo-jumbo edition)
Watcher's mood: Bibbed Buddha
Altered history: In this reality, Mordo contacts the netherworlds before Strange ever arrives and becomes the minion of a dark entity. However, he plays the good boy in front of the Ancient One.
Strange eventually arrives and the Ancient One teaches him to find his inner strength and fight against his inner jerk. Strange does a lot of meditation and realizes he can still do some good, so he leaves the Ancient One to go teach medicine (one of his students is sickly Don Blake). Mordo, for his part, completes his training and basically takes Strange's place in the timeline, earning the weird house, the manservant, the cloak of levitation and the Eye of Agamotto, and fighting all the mystical threats Strange would have.
Meanwhile, Dr. Strange is having nightmares and can't get a proper night's sleep. It explains his unkempt appearance and lapses in concentration which threaten to release his inner jackass.
Tired of all the pill-popping, he goes to Mordo's house for help. Mordo enters his dreams, or rather, the dream dimension, to fight Nightmare. But wouldn't you know it? Nightmare is exactly the entity Mordo made a deal with. Treachery!
But that's the thing about Stephen Strange. He's DESTINED to become Sorcerer Supreme. He's innately magical. And through stranded in the dream dimension, he finds a way to meditate himself out of Nightmare's cage, and then navigate back to Earth. On the way, he meets Clea who apparently dies (but only dream-dies) and fights Mordo with raw magic.
Meanwhile, Dormammu has killed the Ancient One as revenge for the bloody nose (does he have a nose) Mordo gave him, and now he and Nightmare are playing tug of war over the Eye of Agamotto, which Mordo had surrendered to his master.
Enter Dr. Strange, fresh off a victory against Mordo, and he throws all his latent power at the would-be gods, breaking their hold on the Eye and banishing them to their respective dimensions. It also burns him out.
Clea cries over him and I guess that's that... But wait? What is this last panel?
As Keanu Reeves would say: "Whoah."
Books canceled as a result: None. In fact, how about GIVING Dr. Strange a good monthly title?
These things happen: I guess Dr. Strange isn't Sorcerer Supreme anymore - it's Brother Voodoo. Which begs the question: Do you need a title in front of your name to become Sorcerer Supreme? If so, you can call me Corporal Siskoid.

Next week: What if Sub-Mariner Had Saved Atlantis from its Destiny?
My guess: Namor quantum leaps and prevents Atlantis from sinking, righting what once went wrong.

Star Trek 1359: What Happens Now

1359. What Happens Now

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Last Generation #3, IDW Comics, January 2009

CREATORS: Andrew Steven Harris (writer), Gordon Purcell and Bob Almond (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows the last issue)

PLOT: Picard's plan is to use a mysterious Klingon ally to get access to a bird-of-prey and slingshot his crew back in time. Wesley wants none of it and takes his own little band to destroy said bird-of-prey before Picard can use it to create a timeline where the Federation and Klingons are friends. He buys his supplies from Letek the Ferengi, who promptly sells the information to Worf (who kills him). When Picard's team enters the Klingon hangar, Wesley's surprises them just before a Klingon ambush. In the melee, Wesley drops a live grenade and Ro jumps on it to save the group. Data accesses a transporter and gets everyone out of there. Picard then "punishes" Wesley by leaving him behind to take care of René, hoping the responsibility will make a man, just as the resistance made him a soldier.

CONTINUITY: See previous issues. Annika Hansen is part of Picard's cell - she never became Seven on Nine. Letek (The Last Outpost) is working as a bartender and looks a lot like Quark (he was also played by Armin Shimmerman).

DIVERGENCES: The cover puts Worf's eyepatch on the wrong side.

PANEL OF THE DAY - Bearded Wil Wheaton: Cool. Mohawk Wil Wheaton: I don't know what to think about that.
REVIEW: Ok, there are iffy bits in this one, like the mohawk and the definitely unearned gay relationship between Ro and Tasha (can't women be tough without being recast as raging lesbians?). And since the mission is a bust and Picard must start again, the plot isn't advanced very much. But here's the thing. There's a real character-driven core to this mini-series and issue 3 is all about Wesley and his resentment. He's lost friends and now a lover, and he can't see the shiny new timeline that's offered him as a positive. Picard, for his part, regrets having made Wesley into the kind of person he's become, fixated on revenge and not working towards a higher purpose. It's as much his dilemma as it is Wesley's, and it mirrors the falling out they had in Journey's End. I'm left wondering who the Klingon benefactor was. My money's on K'Elehyr. We'll see.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Movie Marquee Friday: What Were You Made to Do?

A study in contrasts...
In sanguine soliloquies...

Vast open spaces are not where he thought he was running...

Look... King... Richard...

The life of a bullet begins...

And some things aren't...

Plated glass, industrial centers, polluted minds and bodies...

All-American in every sense...

Star Trek 1358: No Cure For That

1358. No Cure For That

PUBLICATION: Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Last Generation #2, IDW Comics, December 2008

CREATORS: Andrew Steven Harris (writer), Gordon Purcell and Bob Almond (artists)

STARDATE: Unknown (follows the last issue)

PLOT: Geordi and Riker deliver Data to their moon base, but they've been followed by a bird-of-prey commanded by the Son of Worf. They attack the base, but the Excelsior uncloaks and destroys their ship. Data beams himself to Earth, leaving the Klingons to believe he was just a hologram, while Riker and Geordi are beamed to the Excelsior. The surviving Klingons are left to die on the moon's surface, which makes Worf even more hungry for revenge. On Earth, Data's precious information turns out to be a recording of the Khitomer conference where Braxton holds Kirk back from saving the Federation President in time. Robin Lefler is killed in a Klingon attack, which makes Wesley lose it when he hears that the Federation and Klingon Empire should be actually friends.

CONTINUITY: See previous issue. The Klingons destroyed Tycho City and New Berlin (First Contact). The Vulcan High Command (Enterprise) is supplying the Resistance. Geordi's moon base has an EMH. "Alexander" is the insulting nickname of Warlord Worf's son (he dies). Robin Lefler actually appears (and dies).

DIVERGENCES: Well... yes!

PANEL OF THE DAY - Never been so close!
REVIEW: With most of the initial exposition done with, the second issue seems much shorter a read, but more stuff happens. Always fun to see how strong a factor destiny is in these types of stories. Not only do the same characters tend to gravitate around one another, but here the Son of Worf gets the name Alexander by another way. It's also hinted at that his own men killed him for incompetence, which is a nice touch. Other usually hated characters fare better, such as Tasha in the previous issue, and Wesley in this one. The series continues to add little details to the parallel, though it definitely comes off as disposable, if characters' life expectancy are any clue. I also enjoyed the darkly humorous way the title was used to refer both to the android and mortal conditions. Up to now, Last Gen is rising far above its cool "what if?" roots and shaping up to be an insightful story about the characters.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Retro-Comics Go Back to 1963

Retro-Comics! Every once in a while, only on the SBG! These are the comics that confused my Time Capsule articles!
It's this postmodern world we live in, see? Pop culture artifacts have important meaning, and so going retro goes beyond spoof and nostalgia. It becomes a legitimate way to explore today's media by contrasting it in situ with yesterday's. One of the first to do this was Alan Moore's 1963, a 6-issue mini-series that took us back to the halcyon days on Marvel comics and created six new series in the style of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Publishing it at Image makes a weird kind of sense, seeing as the company started out with fully-formed 90s heroes that were in many respects Marvel's with the numbers filed off. 1963 gave the Image universe some Silver Age roots (not that they were connected to the branches by a trunk or anything).

On the one hand, yes, it is a spoof as far as format goes, complete with letters pages, retro-ads, bullpen bulletins, house ads, thought bubbles, alliterative credits, split books, pin-ups and - ulp! - numbered pages! But the beauty of having one of the guys from the British Invasion channeling circus barker Stan Lee is the sheer weirdness of it. Today, we're very much used to the superhero comic, but during the Silver Age, there is no doubt that superhero comics were a strange and wonderful thing. If you weren't there, imagine what it was like for kids reading Dr. Strange for the first time. Even the more down to earth heroes' adventures, filled with Kirby tech, strange villains, space gods and the dislocating inclusion of the characters' personal lives. Even the ads for x-ray specs and sea monkeys would have seemed strange and awe-inspiring. And though I wasn't there myself, isn't there a part of that experience that is common to all of us, dating back to the first time we laid our hands on a comic?

That's what Alan Moore manages to recreate in 1963. He injects just enough weirdness for 90s audiences to give us a feel of what it must've been like in the late 50s and early 60s when superhero comics were new (all over again) and just plain odd. Let me just pick one story as an example. I've got some nice choices too. Some have obvious parallels with Marvel heroes - Mystery Inc. is the Fantastic Four, Horus is Thor in Egyptian drag, the Fury is Spider-Man, USA (Ultimate Special Agent) is Captain America, the Tomorrow Syndicate is the Avengers, and so on - but one of them, the Hypernaut, is in a class of its own. What if Iron Man merged with Green Lantern, looked like Arnim Zola, and was played like Dr. Strange? If Kirby and Ditko had a strangeness to them, what about Steve Bissette and surprise inker Chester Brown? Yeah, Alan Moore's "Marvel Universe" is a weird place indeed.

The Hypernaut is really Dan Stevens, a test pilot whose consciousness was saved by aliens and placed inside a hypernaut body (one of many across the universe). This is a hero who wonders if he's really a person or only the digital copy of a person. Cosmic-level angst. Take that, Silver Surfer! He now guards Earth from Hyperbase One, which may just be my favorite superhero HQ of all time:
Oh, and he has a two-faced space monkey as a companion. Meet Queep:
The Hyperbase is attacked by a 4th-dimensional being that intersects only occasionally with our third dimension.
Hypernaut has trouble with it until he gets thrown into a patch of Flatland he protects. Yes, the Hyperbase includes a piece of Flatland. Pure awesome.
As he knows a little of what the Flatlanders sense when he passes through their 2D world, he realizes the true nature of the floating pieces of meat monster (I guess he calls himself 4-D Man). The alien destroys the Hypernaut's body, but his consciousness is really in his head, which he flies through 4-D Man's head and into the bigger-on-the-inside world of its 4-D brain.
He plays back his computer banks and overloads the creature, which returns to its home dimension, leaving the Hypernaut to install its head-globe into a new Hypernaut body.

Though I'd qualify that as the weirdest story in 1963, the others don't skimp either. Future Harvey Oswald, the dinosaur mutant that drove the rest into extinction, a guy made of only brain tissue... And of course, rifs on the ads that used to make you doubt all reality.