So, have I mentioned Superman turned 70 in June?
So, have I mentioned Superman turned 70 in June?
Continuing to play catch-up from my All-Superman June, I have to talk about something that happened just last week:
As I mentioned yesterday, I've been looking forward to DC's new Magic of SHAZAM series since it was first announced last Fall. Not only because it was an honest effort on DC's part to connect with today's younger readers (something I passionately believe in), but also because I'm thrilled to see a bold, expressive cartoonist like Mike Kunkel getting the mass-audience exposure he deserves.
On this 232nd birthday of the United States of America, I'll be heading out of town for a few days of rest, relaxation, and colorful explosions...but in the meantime, I've got a little America-themed activity to occupy your Independence Day weekend.
You'll see that I've posted 32 red-white-&-blue comic book characters from various decades and publishers. Your task as red-blooded Americans is to identify as many of them as possible using your encyclopedic knowledge of comics lore (and Google).
This time around there's no lucrative prizes involved, but who needs 'em? Identifying flag-themed comic characters is its own reward, right? As such, I'll be keeping the comments section open for you to compare notes and figure out who these star-spangled superstars are.
Never fear, the answers will be provided for you on Monday if your combined brain power (and Google) should fail you. Until then, have a wonderful (and safe) holiday weekend!
With another great Independence Day holiday behind us, it's time to identify those 32 star-spangled comic book characters I posted on the 4th. You've had all weekend to figure them out on your own, and a reader named Buttler (along with Pat and his chat room buddies) rose to the occasion and identified just about all of them. Well done, guys!
Okay, here's the official list, along with all 32 images (click on the gallery for a larger view):
1. Star-Spangled Kid (DC)
2. Commander Steel (DC)
3. Citizen V, version 5 (Marvel)
4. Liberty Girl (Heroic Publishing)
5. Stripesy (DC)
6. Uncle Sam (Quality/DC)
7. Captain America (Timely/Marvel)
8. Pistolfist (Bluewater Prod.)
9. Captain Flag (MLJ/Archie)
10. Miss America (Quality/DC)
11. Superpatriot (Image)
12. Skyman (DC)
13. American Dream (Marvel)
14. Commando Yank (Lowe & Co.)
15. Captain Freedom (Harvey)
16. The Defender (Timely/Marvel)
17. The Comedian (DC)
18. General Glory (DC)
19. Fighting Yank (Nedor)
20. Fighting American (Crestwood/Prize)
21. Major Victory (DC)
22. Pat Patriot (Lev Gleason)
23. The Patriot (Timely/Marvel)
24. Miss Victory (Helnit/Holyoke)
25. Miss America (Timely/Marvel)
26. Patriot II (Marvel)
27. Yankee Clipper (Marvel)
28. Private Strong (Archie)
29. The American Crusader (Nedor)
30. The Spirit of '76 (Marvel)
31. The Shield (MLJ/Archie)
32. Major Liberty (Timely/Marvel)
I realize most people view their own childhood as the Shining Golden Age before the inevitable Fall Into Mediocrity and Ruin, but in the case of cereal box prizes and premiums, I can definitely say I grew up during its Golden Age.
During the 1970's and 80's, kids' cereal boxes contained an embarrassment of riches, including music records, games, boomerangs, bike accessories, posters, and (my favorite) mini "rip cord" race cars (similar to Kenner's SSP racers).
As time went by, the line between "adult" and "kid" cereals began to blur thanks to adults who continued to buy kid cereal. As a result, the marketing of "in-box" cereal premiums has largely become a thing of the past, with some strange...even surreal exceptions.
A prime example of these befuddling promotions caught my eye last week as I enjoyed a bowl of delicious Cinnamon Toast Crunch (yes, I'm one of the aforementioned line-blurring, kid cereal-eating adults). Flipping the box around, I beheld this rather unsettling sight:
Imagine, if you will, some sleepy five year-old kid pouring him or herself a bowl of Crunch, then seeing the Joker Chop action figure leering out at them or...even worse...lurking in their cereal box! A bizarre amalgamation of Heath Ledger and Verne Troyer, this Mini-Me Joker boasts a "powerful chop" (it's not) in addition to its black, sunken eyes and bloody gashed cheeks.
Really, who's this toy marketed at, exactly? Considering the upcoming Dark Knight movie is a hard PG-13, nobody can claim that young kids are officially part of the marketing plan (though clueless parents can always be counted on to buy them a ticket). At the same time, will the aging fanboy collectors really want a cute-as-a-button Joker figure...especially with so many "realistic" figures available to display on their nightstands? Add to that the weirdness of actor Heath Ledger's death, and this entire promotion becomes one heck of a "Surreal Sandwich".
As with so much cynical modern marketing, I don't get it. Well, I do in the sense that I know there's virtually no printed surface that's off-limits to a movie tie-in...but seeing the decidedly NON kid-friendly Ledger Joker marketed so casually toward kids just blows my mind.
In fact, it would almost be like the cereal boxes of my youth including a free toy of Alex DeLarge, the amoral psycho from A Clockwork Orange. Sounds insane, right?
How is this Joker toy any less insane?
Name: Monsieur Mallah
First Appearance: Doom Patrol #86 (1964)
Powers and Abilities: In addition to superhuman strength, speed, reflexes, and agility, Mallah possessed an I.Q. of 178. Intellectual abilities included speaking several languages and expertise in many areas of science, technology, and combat/firearm skills.
History: After capturing a gorilla in the wild, an unnamed scientist experimented on the animal with "secret teaching methods" and shock treatments until its intellect was increased to genius level. Further educating the gorilla, now named "Monsieur Mallah", the scientist made Mallah his loyal personal assistant. After the scientist's death, Mallah followed his master's instructions and placed his brain into a special container to keep it alive. With world domination as their new goal, the disembodied scientist (now calling himself "The Brain") and Monsieur Mallah formed a criminal organization known as The Brotherhood of Evil. Years later, the Brain and Monsieur Mallah were exiled to a prison planet where they were both beaten to death by fellow super-criminal Gorilla Grodd.
Ah, but let's not end Monsieur Mallah's story on such a dreary, depressing note.
Instead, let's think of the better days...when a machine gun-toting, beret-wearing genius gorilla shared a special friendship...and the crazy dream of world domination...with a brain in a jar.
By late 1976, both Marvel and DC Comics were publishing titles that featured revivals of their respective Golden Age characters. First out of the gate was Marvel's The Invaders, which retroactively chronicled the WWII-era adventures of Captain America, his sidekick Bucky, the Sub-Mariner, the Human Torch, and his young ward Toro. On the other side of the aisle, DC offered up The Freedom Fighters, featuring Uncle Sam, Phantom Lady, Doll Man, The Ray, Black Condor, and The Human Bomb (all of whom were old Quality Comics characters DC had recently acquired).
Well, perhaps influenced by the Marvel-DC "Superman vs. Spider-Man" collaboration earlier that year, Freedom Fighters writer Bob Rozakis seemed to have caught a case of "crossover fever". As Rozakis himself explained in 2003, his idea for a pseudo Marvel-DC crossover soon took on a life of its own:
"As I recall it, I had come up with the idea of using the Crusaders...in Freedom Fighters and joked with then-editor Tony Isabella that it would be really funny if (Invaders writer) Roy Thomas used a version of the FFers in Invaders and called them the Crusaders as well. I believe it was actually Tony who spoke with Roy and suggested the unofficial crossover… but neither Roy nor I got to see these alternate-reality versions of our teams until the books were published."
Although Rozakis came up with the initial idea, Roy Thomas beat him to the newsstand with "Calling...The Crusaders!", which appeared in Invaders #14-15 (cover-dated March-April, 1977). In the story, a mysterious new group of superheroes appeared in war-torn England while the Invaders were elsewhere in Europe. It turned out the five members of the Crusaders unknowingly received their superpowers from a mysterious figure named "Alfie", who was actually a Nazi spy planning to assassinate the King of England!
As with any pastiche of another company's characters, the members of Marvel's Crusaders (left) were clever mirror images of DC's Freedom Fighters (right):
So...what was DC's answer to Marvel's opening salvo? Ah, you'll have to come back tomorrow to check out the other Crusaders, who appeared a scant two months later. See you then!
Yesterday I covered how publishing rivals Marvel and DC Comics arranged for an unofficial "crossover" of sorts between the Invaders and the Freedom Fighters. However, instead of the actual characters appearing in the other company's title, imitation or "pastiche" versions of them were created...with the added twist of both substitute teams sharing the name "Crusaders".
Marvel Comics went first with Invaders #14-15 (March-April 1977), which featured somewhat vague doppelgangers of DC's Freedom Fighters. A few months later, it was DC's turn with Freedom Fighters #8 and #9 (June & Aug. 1977), featuring doubles of the Invaders that were remarkably close to the originals:
Having enjoyed many of Mike Mignola's Hellboy stories over the years (and the first movie based on them), Hellboy II: The Golden Army looked like something I'd enjoy. This past weekend, on the day before dropping my Lanky Lad off at camp for a week, he and I checked out the movie. What did I think?
Sadly, like so many "event movies", Hellboy II was a non-stop feast of astounding visuals, but not much else.
Most of the performances seemed by-the-numbers and "phoned in", with star Ron Perlman exhibiting little of his charisma from the first movie and, frankly, seeming a bit bored under all that makeup. Selma Blair (playing Hellboy's girlfriend Liz) also seemed to be killing time...which (combined with Perlman's blase' presence) evaporated all traces of the wounded, eccentric chemistry they shared in the original.
Speaking of evaporating charisma, it looks like the decision for David Hyde Pierce to perform the voicework for the Abe Sapien character in the first Hellboy was the right one. This time around, Doug Jones (the guy in the Abe Sapien costume for both movies) also supplied the voice work, which was nowhere near as entertaining as Hyde Pierce's performance. Sure, Abe had the same quirky movements, but his voice just sounded flat and not quite right. Kind of like the character's interest-free romance with the elven princess Nuala.
Playing his 7,587th smug jerk, Jeffrey Tambor seemed as bored with his typecasting as I am. I realize the role of Tom Manning requires someone of Tambor's vast experience playing nervous, priggish bureaucrats...but really, I think the role could have used someone with a bit more engagement or spark. Which points to one of the larger problems I had with the movie: while I get all of the "average day at the nutty office" stuff they're trying to do here, it's all been done before in movies like Ghost Busters and Men In Black. So, when Tambor casually talks to Hellboy while BPRD agents struggle to strap down a squealing Lovecraftian nightmare in the background, it's no longer funny. It's just boring.
I'm of two minds on the character of Prince Nuada. One one hand, I thought he was by far the most entertaining character in the entire movie, due to both his stunning visual look and the performance of actor Luke Goss. On the other hand, I found myself feeling irritated with director Guillermo Del Toro for essentially ripping-off Michael Moorcock's legendary fantasy character Elric of Melnibone. In addition to Prince Nuada being a visual dead-ringer for the albino adventurer, Nuada's imperious demeanor, sorcerous trappings, and ruthless fighting skill more than evoked Moorcock's most famous creation. Yeah, freaky albino bad guys are nothing new in cinema...but Nuada was so close in look and style to Elric, that it went past "homage" and straight into "rip-off" territory for me. It's especially irritating considering the rest of the movie is such a faithful translation of Hellboy creator Mike Mignola's unique visual vocabulary, that you'd think there would be no need to so flagrantly "smuggle" the image of Elric into the movie. Very, very disappointing....yet at the same time, incredibly cool to see this pseudo-Elric running around on film. The phrase "so close, yet so far" comes to mind (I hope Michael Moorcock gets a taste of the film's likely profits).
Of all the irritations in the movie, I think the most persistent one was director Del Toro's obsession with intricate "mystery wrapped in an enigma" devices and machinery. When he wasn't wasting half a minute showing interlocking gears and cogs intricately whirling and spinning into place, he was wasting another half minute zoomed in on delicate interlacing metalwork magically sprouting and curving into even more intricate formations. Although I've gone on record many times saying how much I appreciate the small details in things, Del Toro takes it to an embarrassingly self-indulgent level, which effectively slams the brakes on the movie's forward momentum. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing a director of film isn't necessarily the struggle of bringing your vision into reality, but recognizing (and resisting) your own quirky fixations and obsessive preoccupations. It looks like Del Toro's still got a ways to go in that department.
After a dizzying array of interlocking puzzle boxes and "Jim Henson meets Harry Potter" creatures, Hellboy and company finally encountered the Golden Army which, like the rest of the movie, didn't live up to the hype. Pretty to look at, to be sure....but with all the detached indifference and flashy incoherence of a video game.
For so much of this "style over substance" excess, I'm afraid I can only give Hellboy II a paltry
2 out of 5 Hellboy Heads