So far, my Humble Beginnings posts have dealt with the visual quirks ofvarious characters as they were just starting out. However, some of the weirdest moments from that awkward formative phase weren't visual but emotional. You see, long before characters became the familiar personalities we know today, their creators experimented with different approaches before the proper tone was struck. In the case of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, that experimentation took a decidedly unsettling turn in an early issue of The X-Men.
First, it should be established that all of the mutant super-team's members were clearly identified as teen-agers...all of whom were trained by Professor Charles Xavier at his School for Gifted Youngsters. Some forty-five years later, the image of Xavier is that of a fatherly mentor figure...but in this panel from X-Men #3 (1964), Professor X was more of a Professor Letch!
Uh, Chuck? Perhaps the reason you have "no right" to tell Jean Gray of your love for her has nothing to do with your leadership status or your wheelchair....but maybe the fact that she's a teenager and you're an old dude! Eeeewwwwwww!
Now, as far as I know, this twisted emotional angle was never brought up again (X-Men experts can correct me if I'm wrong), but I'm shocked it ever made it into print in the first place. As much as standards have evolved over the past half-century, I still don't think this sort of thing went over particularly well with a 1964 audience.
Another new year, another flair-up in the dreary, dysfunctional Middle East. It's a five thousand year-old conflict that no politician will ever solve...yet a headline caught my eye that suggested the possibility of a real and lasting peace. According to this article, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered clarification...and an intriguing ultimatum!
On a visit Thursday to a southern Israeli city recently hit by more-advanced Palestinian rockets, Olmert said the military was doing all it could to avoid civilian casualties.
"We will treat the population with silk gloves, but will apply an iron fist to Hamas," said Olmert.
Catch that? Abandoning the use of conventional military strikes, Israel will instead send a kung-fu superhero to defeat the terrorist forces of Hamas!
Oh...wait. Olmert's "iron fist" phrase wasn't capitalized, was it? Dang...just when the world seemed ready for the dawn of Kung-Fu Diplomacy!
It's the duty of every adult to pass along knowledge to the next generation... even Superman! Back in Action Comics #282 (1961), the Man of Steel agreed to be a guest teacher at a Metropolis public school. The subject matter? Natural history...specifically dinosaurs!
(click on the panels for a larger view)
"Saddles", you say? That's right...saddles! Because, what better way for students to learn the names of dinosaurs than to ride on the backs of their frozen carcasses while Superman spins them like a Merry-Go-Round?
In all my years of reading and collecting comics, I've come across literally hundreds of contests and promotional sweepstakes offered by comic book advertisers. My interest in each contest would vary depending on how cool the prizes were...some of which definitely did look cool, while most didn't seem worth the hassle.
Recently, I came across a 1967 sweepstakes ad that...quite simply...featured the coolest prize in all of comic book history. Or was it the most bizarre? I can't decide.
But before I get to the prize itself, a little background. As anyone who's collected comics between the 1950's and the 1970's would know, plastic model kits were a big hit with boys of the Baby Boom generation. So much so, that model giant Revell was able to stage an annual sweepstakes with amazingly lucrative grand prizes, such as motorcycles, around-the-world trips, or...
A Full-Size Replica of a Gemini Spacecraft!
Since the ad's copy is a bit tough to read, here's the first paragraph in blue, followed by my own comments:
"First Prize...a Gemini Spacecraft! No put-on. This is for real--the wildest, way out prize ever awarded in any contest: a 19-foot prototype of the famed NASA spacecraft."
Nineteen feet? Where in the world would a kid keep a nineteen-foot NASA spacecraft prototype? The word "treehouse" comes to mind.
"Your Gemini capsule is just like the original. There's a detachable hatch, equipment section, and retro-fire package. Accurate from the ground up!"
I'd love to find out more about that "retro-fire package".
"When you win Gemini you'll be at the airport when it arrives in a 'Flying Guppy' Aero Spacelines plane. Your name and picture will be in newspapers and magazines all over the country. How will it feel to present your spacecraft to your city for a park or museum? Famous, that's how."
Well, apparently not famous enough...since an exhaustive Google search for who the winner might have been came up with nothing. If any of you out there have any clue as to who won the Gemini spacecraft replica, PLEASE send me an article or photograph that gives us "The Rest of the Story" as old Paul Harvey might say. I'll definitely do a follow-up to this post if anything pops up.
Finally, as if a 19-foot spacecraft wasn't enough....
"There's more. As the grand prize winner, you'll receive a professional Vox 'Serenader' guitar--plus, every Revell Model Kit! Sounds great."
So, picture this: Sitting up in your Gemini Spacecraft treehouse, assembling Revell models...pausing only for the occasional wicked lick on your Vox Serenader.
Some of the best comic book covers are the ones that can define a character in a single image. That's absolutely the case with Judge Dredd #1.
Hugely popular in Great Britain since the late 70's, I'd actually never heard of the character until I spotted the first issue of Eagle Comics' U.S. reprint series back in 1983. However, this fantastic cover illustration told me all I needed to know about Mega-City One's top cop...or at least enough to hook me in.
Another big selling point for me was the fact that Brian Bolland was the illustrator. First catching my attention two years earlier, then blowing my mind with his Camelot 3000 artwork, I instantly recognized his clean, expressive style on this blazing red cover. Like nothing I'd ever seen before, that image of a baroquely-costumed Dredd and his unconscious monster-punk perp perfectly captured the vibe of the uber-macho action and sociopolitical satire that defined the British cult superstar. In fact, the cover almost seemed like a grim public service announcement you might see displayed in Mega-City One, the futuristic city where Dredd and his fellow officers are (quite literally) one-man judges, juries, and executioners.
As I recall, this was also the first time I'd ventured beyond the comfortable confines of DC and Marvel Comics and tried one of the so-called "Independent" publishers that were popping up all over the place in the early 80's. So that, combined with the book's quality (and quirkiness), made the Judge Dredd #1 experience a memorable milestone in my long comic-collecting journey.
I stuck with the title for a year or two, always savoring the covers and interior art of Brian Bolland...who quickly became (and remains to this day) one of my favorite comic book illustrators.
However, despite being the guy to visually "introduce" America to Judge Dredd, Bolland hadn't worked on the title nearly as much as other artists, so once the Bolland reprints dried up, so did my interest in the title. The looser, grittier work of guys like Mike McMahon and Cam Kennedy...while popular in Britain, just didn't have the polish and style I saw in the "Definitive Dredd" of Brian Bolland.
The other day, my pal Dan sent me a link to the Scoop, which trumpeted an upcoming auction for a truly legendary page of original artwork.
It's for none other than the splash page for Superduperman, the hilarious Superman (and Captain Marvel) parody illustrated by Wally Wood for MAD #4 (1953)...back when it was still a comic book and not a magazine.
Now, I'm usually not as bewitched by original art as other comic book fans are. As an artist who works around other artists and artwork every day, I guess original art has lost much of the novelty or mystique others might see in it. That said, pages like this one are a big exception...primarily because of (A) it's aforementioned legendary status among cartoonists and comic book fans and (B) it's the work of Wally Wood at the height of his career and skill.
However...I certainly don't admire it enough to blow $20,000 on it (which the same article places as it's "pre-sale estimate"). That's a level of enthusiasm I truly can't comprehend.
How about you? Are you turned on by original art...or not? If so, what's the appeal? I'm not out to argue with you or talk you out of your enjoyment of it....I'm just curious. Also, what's the most you'd be willing to pay for a page of original art?
Using your knowledge of comic book history, take a guess at who made the following anti-comics statement:
"Comics...have created a world of fantasy that is almost as real to adults as it is to children. And that means that sane grownups cannot tell the difference between fact and fancy. There are millions of normal men and women today who have no mental resistance at all to tales of the weirdly impossible. No supernatural being is too illogical to believe in. Orson Welles' fascinating radio experiment proved that Americans today are living an imaginary mental life in a comics-created world."
Any ideas who it could have been? For the answer, I'll see you after the jump....
In the aftermath of last summer's stunning success of The Dark Knight, some of you may recall that Warner Bros. bigwig Jeff Robinov had an epiphany that all DC superhero movies should be similarly dark and brooding...even if the characters weren't dark and brooding by nature like Batman. Naturally, I was irritated that such a clueless doofus was calling the shots at the WB...especially when compared to Marvel's rock-solid and incredibly faithful adaptations of their own properties.
Thankfully, a story that broke a few days ago suggests that Mr. Robinov's dark visions may not come to pass afterall. In an interview with David S. Goyer at the IESB.net, the Dark Knight writer said that all DC properties have been put on hold for the time being. In an oddly-worded quote, Goyer (kinda-sorta) elaborated...
"A lot of the DC movies at Warner Brothers are all on hold while they figure out, they're going to come up with some new plan, methodology, things like that so everything has just been pressed pause on at the moment. It was the double header of both Iron Man and The Dark Knight coming out, so more than ever I think they've realized, I think DC was responsible for 15% of Warner Brother's revenue this year, something crazy like that, so they realized that comic books, it's become a new genre, one of the most successful genres."
Now, Robinov's earlier plan to "go dark" wasn't specifically referenced by Goyer or anyone else, but the fact that Warner Bros. appears to be calling a "time out" is definitely a good sign. No, I'm not happy to wait even longer for future DC films....but if by "taking a breath" they can put together a coherent plan, things may just turn around for DC/Warner's troubled (non-Batman) movie plans.
More of the smalldetails that made a BIG impression, picked at random from the cobweb-caked recesses of my comic-addled brain.
1. Corner Box Icons: Few things evoke the comics of my youth more readily than the corner cover icons of 1970's Marvel Comics. To borrow a term from the internet age, these tiny "avatars" in the corner boxes not only looked cool, but were also a clever way to grab a kid's attention on a crowded spinner rack. Their competitor DC Comics half-heartedly tried a few similar approaches, but never stuck with a design long enough to make them as effective a marketing tool as the Marvel corner icons.
2. John Romita's Hulk: Although I've always been fond of Marvel's Hulk character, he was a HUGE favorite of mine as a kid. Unfortunately, the character's primary artists during that era were Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema...who, despite their long stints on the title, never quite nailed my ideal vision of the Jade Giant. That honor belonged to cover artist supreme John Romita Sr., whose portrayal of the Hulk is the definitive version as far as I'm concerned.
As you can see from the head shots below, whether he pencilled and inked, or just inked over another artist (like squares 2 and 3), Romita's Hulk remained remarkably consistent or "on model" as we say in the cartooning biz.
Here's a few of the distinctive Romita Hulk characteristics:
A) A big, shaggy head of hair
B) A heavy brow over wide-set eyes,
C) A compact nose with wide, flaring nostrils
D) A large upper lip area
E) Exaggerated "parenthesis" lines framing the area between the nose and mouth
F) A pronounced lower lip set above a surprisingly blunted chin
3. The S.H.I.E.L.D Helicarrier: Several years before the Death Star of Star Wars surpassed it, the mammoth S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier was probably the largest (and coolest) man-made construct in all of science fiction...or at least it was in my little corner of the cosmos (click on the image for a larger view). Built by a cooperative of scientists and industrialists (including Reed Richards and Tony Stark), the Helicarrier fuctioned as both a flying aircraft carrier and a mobile headquarters for the planet's premiere intelligence/defense agency .
Although the design has changed a bit since its debut in Strange Tales #135 (1965), the array of gigantic helicopter rotors keeping it aloft have remained...a staggeringly impossible (yet endearing) feat of engineering that could only work in the pseudo-scientific skies of superhero comic books. In fact, even as a kid I wondered how fighter jets could land on a surface buffeted by the hurricane-force winds generated by the rotors...or how those same winds and the engine stress didn't tear apart the entire Helicarrier. However, if there's one thing I learned to do early on with superhero comics books, it was to sweep those nagging scientific objections under the rug and just enjoying the awesome spectacle of it all. The Helicarrier flew because it did. 'Nuff said!