Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pierre Speaks: Life after CINAR

After the “CINAR scandals”…. Life was not much different for me.

I still was getting steady work…. But work dried up for many people.

Some I know ended up working in warehouses, fast food restaurants… some even ended up collecting welfare checks.

But I was one of the lucky few who were still getting steady work.

One of the reason for that was that I was fairly fast, allowing me to do a truckload of work.

But more importantly, I was a workaholic.

Heck at some point, I was working on 2 productions for 2 different studios at the same time.

I was working from Monday through Thursday on one production, and from Friday through Sunday on another.

Yes I am crazy.

I mentioned before how I was not just going from job to job, but how I was building my career.

I was driven. I was willing to do whatever it takes.

If only it was so simple.

After the “CINAR scandal”, most of the productions I worked on, other then the seasons of Arthur I worked on, are not really worth mentioning.

And there is one production that I do not want to mention, because even today….. I am still pissed just thinking about it.

Heck it almost ended my “career”.

The production was messed up.

The producer had no clue as to what he was doing and how an animation production worked. It was their first animated series.

We had TWO weeks to develop the project. Two WHOLE weeks.

When you think that you are competing with studios that will spend months developing a project…. And what you get is two weeks??

Not a good sign.

A great example of a producer that did not know what he was doing, I had designed and made the rotation of the main character, and when the producer saw it… he asked that we fix/change the design. So I pretty much spent most of the two weeks we had trying to come up with a new version of our main character.

And after two weeks and wayyyyy too many design attempts… the producer came into my “office”… or should I say my “work space”… and saw one of the many designs that I had posted on my wall.

He said; “That’s it! That design is exactly what I want. It’s perfect!”

Guess what… it was the very first design/rotation that we showed him two weeks before.

And it was like that all the time. He would change his mind all the time for no apparent reasons and did not seem to have a single clue as to what he wanted or was doing.
But strangely enough… that was not the worst.

The worst part was that one of the designers was the girlfriend of an artist that the producer really liked, and to please that artist hoping that he would be willing to work for him at some point, he would keep the girlfriend on the payroll.

And the worst part was that she was under the delusion that she was the art director.

And not to displease her boyfriend… the official word was “Let her do what she pleases.”

That was not fun.

I took a few months off after that playing Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate 2 and other IE (Infinity Engine) games.

I really needed a break.

I thought I was burned out because of work, but in retrospect, I realized that part of why I was burned out was that I also had a room mate that was “leeching” a lot of energy.

But still there was less and less work.

So my few months off ended up being actually 10 months off.

And that was because I was willing to do any work… so long as I was drawing.

So I ended up doing some work that many others would have seen as beneath them.

The one positive thing in all that was that it gave me some time between animated projects to really try to make some comics.

My goal has always been to make comics, but somehow I got sidetracked into working into animation… which I did not mind, it usually was good work and paid well, and heck I even enjoyed most of the productions that I have worked on. But what I really wanted to do was make some comics.

And now I had some time between my animation assignments to try to make some comics.

I will talk about that the next time.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mister Crimson: Ruby City

Ruby City - Home of Mister Crimson
Today we present the last* of our Mister Crimson Info Pages with a look at the home of our scarlet avenger. Next week we hope to have new story pages for everyone to enjoy.

Check it out .:

*And there was much rejoicing from Hawkk! ;)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Free Comics Monday: Vampires Attack!

Today I'm mixing it up a bit by presenting two comics from two different eras, but both featuring mind-blowing Vampire action! The first one comes from The Action Age Comics and was written by FBU friend and writer, Chris Sims.

If you only read one Skate Boarding Half Vampire Detective story this year, then read this one!

The Chronicles of Solomon Stone!

Note: clicking on the links will take you to the Action Age web page where you can download the comic in cbr or pdf format.

Solomon Stone

For our second story of amazing Vampire action, I'm going to refer you to the the classic tale of Ibis and the Vampire Twins from Whiz Comics 101.

[ Download Whiz Comics 101 ]


Friday, April 24, 2009

Bronze Age Spotlight Presents: When Gold Became Bronze

Avengers vs The InvadersThe 70’s was a time of experimentation for comics (and some comic creators I’ve been told.) During the Bronze Age we saw comics featuring movie monsters, pulp heroes and martial artists. Perhaps one of the most interesting trends of this time was the rediscovery of long forgotten Golden Age (GA from herein) heroes by both DC and Marvel.

At Marvel, long time GA Fan Roy Thomas re-introduced a group who would become known as the Invaders to modern readers in the pages of Avengers 71 in December 1969. In the story, Kang summons the World War II versions of Namor, Captain America and the GA Human Torch to battle the present day Avengers.

It’s really a pretty good story if you overlook the part where Namor is stymied by a swarm of Bees. It ends with all three of the GA heroes being taken down by the Vision, who fittingly was himself inspired by a GA character.

JLA 106Over at DC, In October 1973, Len Wein had been challenged by Julius Schwartz totop his fantastic three issue run of Justice League of America wherein he reintroduced the Seven Soldiers of Victory (JLA 100 – 102). Len’s solution was to tell a two part story with another group GA heroes, characters from the now defunct Quality Comics publishing company. This story would be called Crisis on Earth X and it featured Uncle Sam, The Human Bomb, The Black Condor, Phantom Girl, Doll Man and the Ray. These characters had never teamed up before, but this grouping would eventually be known collectively as the Freedom Fighters.

But before we get too deep into the Bronze Age adventures of these heroes, let’s examine their origins. The prototype of the Invaders can be found in the pages of the All Winners Squad 19 published in the Fall of 1946.

Called the All-Winners Squad, this team was much like the Bronze Age Invaders, but all of their adventures took place in the post World War II era. One of the most interesting things about this series is that it introduced the concept of superheroes who didn’t quite get along with each other – a theme Stan Lee would mine for gold in the 1960’s.

Namor Gets Mad

Toro Gets Mad

The Pre-bronze Age history of the Freedom Fighters is a little different. They were created in separate issues of Quality comics between December 1939 to August 1941, and were featured on the covers of their comics erratically, with perhaps Doll Man appearing the most often on a cover. In 1953 DC acquired the Quality characters, but pretty much ignored all of them with the exception of Plastic Man and The Blackhawks. In one of those strange cases of copyright law, the Quality characters actually fell into public domain before DC purchased them, so with the exception of Plastic Man and the Blackhawks, all of the Quality incarnations are still in public domain.

After their initial reappearances the public was clamoring for more of both groups of heroes. (And by public, I mean Roy Thomas.) The first to get their own series was the Invaders, who returned in the pages of Giant Sized Invaders #1 in 1975 before getting their own ongoing series in August of 1975. Written by Roy Thomas (surprise.) and initially illustrated by Frank Robbins, the series ran for 41 issues. (Which is about 4 times longer than a typical series runs today.)

Frank Robbins was a fitting choice for the series because he had been a comic strip artist during the GA having worked on Scorchy Smith for 5 years and creating Johnny Hazard in 1944. His distinctive lines, panel compositions and use of black were quite a departure from the popular photo realist illustrators of the time, but it gave the Invaders a very authentic GA feel to it.

Frank Robbins Panels

However, this was an era dominated artistically by Neal Adams and George Perez, so it wasn’t unusual to see readers complaining about Robbins arts in the letter columns.

During their time together, Thomas and Robbins brought back a treasure trove of GA heroes, as well as introducing many of their own. Some of the more notable were Scarlet Scarab (Roy's tip of the hat to the Blue Beetle), The Liberty Legion, The Destroyer, Union Jack and Spitfire.

The dizzying array of character Thomas brought into the book has always made it a favorite of mine. In many ways with its multitude of GA heroes and offbeat cameos using Thor, Dr. Doom and the Frankenstein Monster, it’s like Thomas was creating his own mini-Marvel Universe. In WW II, Thomas had created his own pocket universe from whence any story could be told. Because of his extraordinary knowledge and respect for the Golden Age stories, Roy Thomas was able to architect a richer and better connected WW II history for the Marvel Universe. The WW II setting also allowed Thomas to use established Marvel characters in ways that were perhaps more fitting vis a vis their initial conceptions.

There are some notable differences between the GA portrayal of WW II in comics and the Bronze Age version most notable are the levels of violence in the GA stories. It wasn’t uncommon to see Captain America shooting the enemy point blank with a machine gun in the 1940’s.

Or Bucky smiling while he sprays the enemy with a Flame Thrower.

Bucky loves the smell of napalm

Portrayal of the enemy had definitely changed since the 40’s as well. Whereas the Japanese were little less than ugly caricatures in the 40’s...

Captain America vs Japan

... in comparison, the Invaders presented a much more human rendition of the Japanese soldiers. Also, whereas the GA Captain America covers prominently featured the Japanese as villains, not a single issue of the Invaders ever did so. Roy Thomas concentrated on the European Theater for the most part with only a small detour to Egypt.

Another aspect of the Bronze Age adventures was the use of minority characters. As in many forms of media in the 40’s, how minorities were drawn and written in comics could be very insensitive and stereotypical at times.

However, in the Invaders, it’s not hard to see the influence of the more socially enlightened Bronze Age in many stories especially with the introduction of the multicultural Kid Commandos in issue 28.

Freedom Fighters 1Meanwhile DC was taking a different tact with their GA heroes. When the Freedom Fighters first premiered in their ongoing series in April 1976, they would no longer be fighting WW II on Earth X, but would instead be dropped cold in modern day Earth 1 DC universe.

Written by Gerry Conway and Martin Pasko with art by Rik Estrada, this series invoked another aspect of the Bronze Age in that the heroes were almost always at odds with authority. Using a theme that had worked well enough in his Spider-Man stories, Conway has the Quality characters on the run as fugitives from the law for most of the series.

If this had been the Doom Patrol or Titans East, then such a storyline might have been effective. However, my 12 year old mind found the idea that Uncle Freaking Sam was wanted by the police a little hard to swallow.

Setting the stories in contemporary Earth 1 was blessing and a curse for the Freedom Fighters. On one hand it allowed them to have current day guest stars like Wonder Woman, Batgirl and Batwoman. On the flipside, with their antiquated GA powers, some of the characters seemed lackluster when compared to people like Firestorm or Green Lantern.

Most likely in an effort to make the characters more exciting or equal to their Bronze Age peers, some of the Quality heroes found themselves gifted with new powers. The Phantom Lady gained the ability to become ethereal, Doll Man gained Telekinesis and Black Condor gained Telepathy. Along the same lines, the Human Bomb was given an energy damper so he could remove his radiation suit from time to time.

She's right in so many waysIn issue 11, Firebrand, another Quality character was introduced, but this was hardly enough to grab reader’s attention and by issue 15 the series was cancelled – the first victim of what would later be called the DC Implosion.

One of the highlights of both series would most likely be the unofficial crossover of the Invaders with the Freedom Fighters when both groups fought the Crusaders. As Freedom Fighter editor Bob Rozakis explains…

"As I recall it, I had come up with the idea of using the 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."

In an editorial feat that would nearly impossible in this day and age, DC and Marvel managed to pull off this unofficial crossover such that the issues came out one after the other with The Invaders portion coming out in March and April

Invaders vs Crusaders

and Freedom Fighters part coming out in May and June.

Freedom Fighters vs Crusaders

The two series are similar in other ways as well. Both teams dealt more with "real world" issues of the time (Japanese Internment Camps in the Invaders, and the American Indian movement in Freedom Fighters) but dealt with them in superficial ways. Also each team had patriotic characters whose jingoistic/patriotic elements were downplayed in the post-Watergate 70s, but not eliminated.

And while the Invaders didn’t jazz up any of it’s teams powers, it did "superhero-ize" the GA by giving them more of Silver Age/Bronze Age tropes--teams, villian organizations and more standard origins. In a sense, the Invaders begins Marvel retconning its GA to make it more congruent with the styles/sensibilites of the "modern era." This would begin a trend in comics.

It could be argued that this revamping of the GA heroes with such modern Age sensibilities within a self contained universe foreshadowed the Ultimate universe formula in many ways. Roy Thomas gave us the character's and historical situations familiar to the Golden Age but, well, Marvelized them (to coin a phrase) for new readers. Now the Golden Age would have the same tropes and story beats as comics in set in the current era. This whole "comics history makeover" approach woulld have a lot of traction in Marvel to come, as it was the stated goal behind the Ultimate Universe's creation.

On the flipside, the unsuccessful efforts to use the Quality characters in the DC universe, first in their own series, and then later in All Star Squadron after Crisis on Infinite Earths, demonstrated the problems inherent in DC’s wish to have simplified continuity.

So ends our analysis of the alchemy wherein Marvel took gold, turned it into bronze and turned it back into Gold again, as the Invaders were the unlikely template for Marvel’s Ultimate Comics. Meanwhile, at DC, their gold touch seems to have waned. The Quality characters, who should have been a boon to DC, became the unwitting harbingers of the crisis of continuity that has plagued DC ever since.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pierre Speaks: And sometimes he draws...

We are sort of inbetween Pierre Speaks articles currently, so I thought I'd share some new images from upcoming Flashback Universe stories Pierre is working on.

First up is a another page from Kharon, Scourge of Atlantis, our Zuda entry from last month. This page takes place a little later in the script, but it makes a good splash page. (Click to enlarge)

Next is a glimpse of World War II as it was fought in the Flashback Universe - Here we see The evil U-Bolts as they fight the Purple Puma, Red Death, the Crimson Cossack, The Paladin, the GA WildCard, Doc Nomad and the Fearless Five, and Saturn King and Saturn Kelly.

Click image to see full size version

btw - I want to thank everyone who offered their opinion about which color scheme to use for Red Death's Costume!

Finally, Pierre has worked up two sketches of Monster Mansion - the League of Monster HQ. Currently, we are undecided about which version to use, so feel free to chime in.

Stone Version

Stone Monster Mansion

Tech Version

Tech Monster Mansion

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mister Crimson: Meet A & B

Mister Crimson fans, fear not!

More Mister Crimson story pages are on the way. I want to thank everyone for bearing with us during this little dry spell. In the meantime, check out this awesome Bio Page of A & B made by Seth and Diego!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Free Comics Monday: Doll Man

Today I present two issues of Doll Man!

Created by Will Eisner, Doll Man is research chemist Darrell Dane, who invents a formula that enables him to shrink to the height of six inches while retaining the full strength of his normal size. He was probably the first example of a shrinking superhero, and also one of the few that was unable to change to a height in between his minimum and maximum sizes (though artists would never keep his scale visually consistent). ~Wikipedia

Doll Man 01

[ Download Doll Man 1 ]

More from Wikipedia...

His first adventure in Feature Comics #27 involves the rescue of his fiancee, Martha Roberts, from a blackmailer; he subsequently decides to fight crime and adopts a red and blue costume sewn by Martha. Years later, somehow Martha's wish to be able to join him in his small size comes true, and now possessing the same shrinking powers, she becomes his partner as "Doll Girl" in Doll Man #37. He also has the aid of "Elmo the Wonder Dog," a german shepherd who serves as his occasional steed and rescuer, and the "Dollplane," which was "disguised" as a model airplane in his study when unused. In his adventures published during World War II, Doll Man was also frequently depicted riding a bald eagle.

Doll Man 03

[ Download Doll Man 3 ]

Doll Man was the lead feature of the anthology series Feature Comics through #139 (October, 1949), with Eisner writing the early stories under the pen name "William Erwin Maxwell", and art contributed first by Lou Fine, and later by Reed Crandall. Doll Man's own self-titled series ran from 1941 until 1953, for forty-seven issues. The covers of both titles frequently portrayed Doll Man tied in ropes or other bindings, in situations ranging from being tied crucifixion-style to a running sink faucet, to being hogtied to the trigger and barrel of a handgun. The persistence of this male bondage motif in Doll Man comics among others suggests that the theory that comic books have historically tended to portray women rather than men in positions of vulnerability and submission is debatable. After the cancellation of Doll Man, original stories involving the character were not published again for two decades.


- Jim

Friday, April 17, 2009

Paper Comics Death Watch: Untapped Resources

In a recent interview with Newsarama Marvel's Talent Liaison (and editor) C.B. Cebulski explained Marvel's decision to end their long standing open submission policy where aspiring artists were able to make a "cold" unsolicited submission to Marvel.

An excerpt of the interview:

"Now to be blunt, yes, that's the main reason Marvel is ending our open submissions policy. I wish it were different but that's the conclusion we came to after much review. For as long as I can remember, during all my time at Marvel, we've been getting anywhere from 20 to 40 submissions a week.

And when I say submission here, I mean cold submission, an envelope with artwork sent to the "Submissions Editor" or "Art Director" or some other title to that effect. These are unsolicited by an editor and just sent in by hopeful artists looking for a chance to hopefully have their work reviewed by someone at Marvel."

He goes on to say:

"But the cold, hard truth is that no one ever got hired to draw comics for us through open submissions, unfortunately."

Nowhere in the interview do they specifically say how many years Marvel operated with the Open Submissions Policy. They do state that "75 – 80% of what we get sent is not up to everyday comic book standards" which of course leaves 20%. Could the artists submitting work in that percentile be marketable?

For a visionary company like Marvel who's turned numerous properties into multi-media paydays and gotten the jump on the digital comic book delivery system? It it this bloggers opinion that the artists in the 20 percentile could bring success to Marvel in one format or another, with the appropriate vision.

Lets take a minute to exam those numbers just a bit here:

At 30 submissions a week (the article states 20-40 above so I'll split the difference).

For 52 weeks a year.

We'll go with 15 years (a nice round number although its probably more in this bloggers estimation).

= 23,400 submissions 80% of which do not fit within Marvel's standards.

20% of that would be 4,680 submissions who would? Who do? Who might have a shot? Lets just say "who had a shot ot making comics that would sell on a basic level".

Yearly that's 312 submissions by creative fans who's work was good enough, possibly with some development and coaching, to produce quality work.

The interview mentions that a lot of submissions come in for non Marvel properties. So to be fair lets say that only 104 submissions are by creators who are willing to work on Marvel properties and only Marvel properties.
That's a lot of creative talent passing through the Marvel offices. People who received rejection letters because their work didn't suit the needs of a company that has had a powerful influence over an art form and publishing platform they helped in creating, and reinvigorated more than once.

They didn't have anything to offer a thousand candidates a year?
  • Coloring Books?
  • Action Figure Comics?
  • Posters?
  • Pin-ups?
  • Convention Art?
Here's just one idea:
Does a representative of Marvel make it to every comic book convention that's hosted every year? No, of course not. Why not set up a "sketch army" of volunteers pulled from the ranks of the 20 percentile of the cold submission fans and send them to the smaller conventions and other events around the country so that they, as representatives of Marvel, get into the event free (because Marvel pays a fee) and sketch Marvel characters on the cheap for non artistic fans all day long?

Say 2.00 a sketch, one dollar for Marvel, one for the sketcher. People are all ready buying characters sketches at conventions all the time. The Sketch Army would allow Marvel to extend its reach, produce good will, reinvigorate the love of all of our favorite characters, and build a following with some of the second stringers.

Then of course we could get into a discussion about digital comics or webcomics. Wikipedia states that the first webcomic began being uploaded in 1986. Today there are over 18K webcomics that exist online. Marvel, as you know, would eventually embrace digital comics but it could have been a lot sooner. With a pool of 1000 artistic fans a year, lots (if not all) would probably work for dirt cheap for a while, allowing Marvel to leverage the the web's indiscriminate hunger for content. (Much in the way that Deviant Art does.) An official Marvel Fan Art/Fiction site could have been a fantastic way to let users pick who would be the next breakout writer or artist. Its a shame they didn't.

Now some of you may be asking, how does this play into the Paper Comics DeathWatch? Well, I think there is a sizable portion of today's regular Wednesday comic buyers who dream of writing for Marvel (or DC) one day, and this dream is enough to help take the edge off of paying $4.00 for the latest issue of some series that stopped being good 2 years ago.

Now, with that enticement gone, I wonder how many of those Wednesday Regulars will feel the need to keep up with the entire Marvel Universe?

Have a nice weekend.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pierre Speaks: I come from Earth 2!

Iron ManOn Earth 2 (also known as Quebec).... our comics were made with a strange language and were in black and white.

As a kid.... 25 cents was the magic number. You could get a coke for 25 cents. A chocolate bar for 25 cents. A bag of chips for 25 cents. A may west for 25 cents.

And of course.... a comic for 25 cents.

Ahhhhhhhh..... life was good.

On Earth 2, our comics were published by a company called "Heritage" and did not have much advertising. We had a main story and one or two back-up stories in our 32 pages black and white comics.

Most of the time, the back-up stories whould have nothing to do with the main story.

We would have lets say an Iron-man story, followed by a ghost story, then a cow-boy story. And sometimes we would have a pin-up or an ad of some sort.

Iron Man

Our comics were mostly Marvel comics.


Captain America



Fantastic Four



Tomb of Dracula

Master of Kung-Fu

.... and a few others that don't come to mind right now.

So we pretty much were Marvel zombies by default.

Most series were about 6 months behind their Earth 1 counterparts, but some like the Avengers started with the actual issue one. Then after about 25 issues skipped a truckload of Avengers issues. Although they pretty much always remained about 5 years behind.

Although we did get some DC comics from Earth 3 (sometimes called "Europe").

So we did get some color comics of Batman and Superman from Earth 3.

But there too we got the main story, and one or two back-up stories. For Batman, one of the back-up was always a much older Batman tale.

And at the back of the comic we would get an ad for the Superman comic of the same month (and the Superman one would get a Batman ad in the back).

But we also got some special oversized color editions from Heritage. Most from Marvel.... but some from DC.

That is how I discovered the Legion of Super-Heroes and the Marvel family.

Then we started getting some DC comics like Karate Kid and Wonder Woman.

And we got one comic that was neither Marvel nor DC..... The Ghost who walks.... The Phantom (although we did get a Phantom comic from Earth 3 a decade or two before with the Phantom wearing a red costume as opposed to the purple costume that he got in North America).

Then something happened at Heritage.

They decided to make their comics bi-monthly with 52 pages.

So we would get for example an Iron-man story, then a small back-up story, and then another Iron-man story. And we would get an ad or two.

And when stories started being 22 pages, we would get two Iron-man stories and a few ads to fill the 4 pages left.

We also got a few more series like Daredevil, Flash, and Kamandi. But we lost a few series like Dracula and Master of Kung-Fu that reached the end of their runs.

Then we got not only new comics.... but a new format called "Marvel 3 in 1". It consisted of an issue of the All new, all different X-Men (although here we never got the "old" X-Men other then as guest stars in other series), the Defenders and Nova (I got my first published drawing in the very last issue of that series).

The X-men format seemed to be working because, after a while they did the same with Flash, Wonder Woman and Kamandi.

Then at some point, we got the New Teen Titans, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Batman, Superman.... in color. And that was the beginning of the end.

Most comics were now done in color, and we even go some new series like Marvel Team-up and GI-Joe (but not Transformers for some reason).

Things were looking good... for a while. But then things went downhill.

Heritage went back to their 32 pages comics... but still in color. And half of their line became back-up features. For example, FF was now the back-up feature of Spider-man. So you would get a full Spider-man story with half a FF story as a back-up. Thor was the back-up of Hulk.DD was the back-up for GI-Joe For some reasons, the Avengers stayed 52 pages with one story with the Avengers and one story with Captain America. The same with the Titans and the Legion.

And not too long after that... comics were gone from Earth 2 (not really..... but I did not read Archie comics ;).

Luckily, that was around the time that I started reading comics from Earth 1. Around the time of Secret Wars. I first started reading those comics that were not translated over here like Secret Wars or West Coast Avengers. Or comics that were many years behind like the Avengers or the X-Men.

It was quite a shock.

To me the X-men were Storm, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Cyclops. But Rogue?? Kitty Pride?? Who were these guys?? And Storm with a mohawk?? Really?? It took me a while to get used to that incarnation of the X-men.

And with DD it was infinitely worse.

To me DD was the Matt/Foggy/Karen triangle. But Karen was gone. Matt had been with the Black Widow or an assassin named Elektra. What the heck was going on??

But I finally got used to the new status quo in some of my favorite Marvel characters.... excepted for DD. I never was able to get back as a regular DD reader from that point. :(

Monday, April 13, 2009

Free Comics Monday - 4 Issues of Crack Comics

As you may remember, last week, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to post any free comics. So this week, to make it up, I'm post four issues of Crack Comics!

Perhaps the character in Crack Comics I find most intriguing is The Black Condor, simply because his only power is he can fly. Notice how later issues of the series he was given his own special gun to jazz him up.

Along the same lines - It seems to me that on his Freedom Fighter's run, Gerry Conway revamped the powers of the Quality heroes for a more modern (1970's) audience. (Like didn't the Phantom Lady gained the ability to become ethereal?) I can't recall if this jazzing up extended to the Black Condor.

And I never read the Ryan Kendall Black Condor Series, so I don't know how the character was revamped there.

Crack Comics 03Crack Comics 11
Download Crack Comics 3Download Crack Comics 14
Crack Comics 21Crack Comics 23
Download Crack Comics 21Download Crack Comics 23


Friday, April 10, 2009

Bronze Age Spotlight: Hollow Victories: The Warlord's Burden

First Issue Special 8“It takes a special breed of man to stand in the face of overwhelming odds in a world where merely staying alive is the greatest challenge of all.”

  1. First Issue Special #8 (Nov. 1975)

So begins the longest running comic book sword-and-sorcery saga not based on a Robert E. Howard creation. It’s the story of Lieutenant-Colonel Travis Morgan, USAF, who is forced to ditch his SR-71 blackbird in the artic circle, but instead winds up in a tropical jungle under an eternal sun, and is soon saving sword-wielding, fur-wearing, princess with supermodel looks from a velociraptor.

Then things get really weird.

Over the course of thirteen plus years, 133 issues and 6 annuals, Travis Morgan wandered through the dream-logic geography of a collective pulp unconscious world—a mash-up of prehistoric adventure, sword and sorcery, comic book sci-fi, and Bullfinch’s mythology, seasoned with a little Tolkeinian epic. Damsels were saved a plenty, monsters were slain, spells were cast, and swashes were most assuredly buckled.

But there was also something else lurking a little deeper in the narrative foliage, something more than the usual standards from the Joseph Campbell sing-a-long songbook. Adventure was the requested tune, but did something else—backward-masked, perhaps—slip into the mix with all the sampling?

“From the sky he came, to a world of eternal sunlight and eternal savagery—Travis Morgan, and a man with lust for adventure and a passion for freedom!”

- Warlord

The man responsible was Mike Grell. The Warlord had its origins in a strip called Savage Empire which Grell had shown to DC when first looking for penciling work. They declined, but instead let him draw Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, wherein he exacted a terrible revenge by giving Cosmic Boy a really, really inappropriate costume (not really…maybe).

Eventually, Savage Empire was accepted, but in a drastically altered form. Its archeologist hero became a manly military man. Its setting moved from Atlantis to the interior of the hollow earth, given a name lifted from Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth—Skartaris.

At The Earth's CoreThe portrayal of the hollow earth in both fiction and purported fact has a rich history going back to Sir Edmund Haley (of comet fame) and possibly before. The primary inspiration for Grell’s version seems to be Pellucidar, a savage land debuting in At the Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs, serialized (as “The Inner World”) over 4 issues in All-Story beginning on April 4, 1914. A novel version was published in 1922, and in 1976, there was a move adaptation with Doug McClure, Peter Cushing, and bond-girl-to-be Caroline Munro.

At the Earth’s Core tells the story of young businessman David Innes, and pious inventor Abner Perry, who take a test-drive of Perry’s mechanical prospector—the “iron mole”—and wind up in a subterranean world where people inhabit the concave surface of the crust and look “up” at the earth’s core which serves as a miniature sun. Though there are exotic creatures dwelling in Pellucidar which are unknown on the surface, for the most part it’s the land that time forgot (figuratively, though Burroughs literally wrote that book. too). Queue dinosaurs and babes in furs bikinis—at least in the minds of cover artists.

Innes winds up with the most beautiful cave girl this side of Raquel Welch to rescue, though first he and Perry must overcome numerous pulpy perils, including Pellucidar’s parthenogenetic, super-evolved, pteronadon overlords, the Mahars. It turns out that Innes and Perry are not content to be mere adventure heroes, as this exchange between the two reveals:

“Why Perry! You and I may reclaim a whole world! Together we can lead the races of men out of darkness and ignorance into the light of advancement and civilization. At one step we may carry them from the Age of Stone to the twentieth century.”

“David, I believe that God sent us here for just that purpose!”

“You are right, Perry. And while you are teaching them to pray I’ll be teaching them to fight, and between us we’ll make a race of men that will be an honor to us both.”

Teach those poor ignorant savages, so they’ll bring honor to their benevolent betters. My, but that’s good colonialism! Similar sort of rationales were used throughout the world in the nineteenth century, and these were probably the most altruistic of the lot. We’ve also got the hijinks of the filibusters like “gray-eyed man of destiny”, William Walker; and the man who put the Rhodes in Rhodesia--and the Rhodesia in Africa--Cecil Rhodes.

But right about now, you’re asking yourself, other than proving that Travis Morgan has some embarrassing forbearers, what exactly does colonialism have to do with The Warlord.

What indeed…

“Take up the White Man's burden—

The savage wars of peace—”

  1. Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden” (1899)

SkartarisSo Travis Morgan, escaping from the Russians, winds up in a world of savagery, swords, and sorcery, and starts adventuring. He proves to be adept at swordplay and at inspiring and leading men. But ever wonder why a second half of the 20th Century American would let folks continue to call him “warlord” given the connotations that that word has today? Well, sure, it sounded cool--but wasn’t Morgan troubled by the implications?

Now, in the real world, we may well assume Mike Grell had no hidden agenda with the creation of The Warlord, certainly not consciously. The name was likely suggested by the 1965 Charlton Heston film, The War Lord. If colonialism certainly isn’t in the text of Warlord, can we find it in the subtext? Is there another world hidden at the core, so to speak?

The first thing we discover about Travis Morgan is that he views Mutually Assured Destruction, and the modern Cold War as farcical, even as he fights it. He’s barely mused about how little it matters how which side’s nukes can destroy the world more times, than, as if fulfilling his unspoken wish, he’s parachuting into Skartaris. What could be seen as an indictment of the Cold War, can also be seen as merely an indictment of the way the Cold War is fought. Travis Morgan has the heart of an old-fashion warrior, crammed into the body of a modern spy aircraft pilot. He earns for something more direct, simpler.

So if Travis Morgan is a spectre of colonialism (or neocolonialism) what are his colonial aims? Certainly he’s no profiteer (at least in any direct sense), nor is he looking to exploit natural resources or labor. But some colonialist were about espousing ideology. Historically, this was religion but it need not be. Some Southern filibusters were looking to expand/defend slavery, after all. Any ideology might do. No sooner has Morgan freed himself after a stint as a gladiator, then he starts preaching one. Freedom.

Nothing wrong with that ideal of course, only that it mostly seems rhetorical. Or perhaps merely a means to an end. Morgan often simply deposes an evil autocrat for a more benevolent one—at times he draws a distinct between a “king” and a “tyrant” but in a world with no constitutional monarchies, one wonders what he sees as the difference. His own authority is strictly based on force of arms, charisma, and cultivated relationships to established power, not by any democratic process.

I should stress that the largely empty nature of Morgan’s Braveheart-style pep-talks isn’t only subtexts but specifically commented on in the text—particularly in Grell’s somewhat revisionist follow-up limited series of 1992. In the 5th issue, he gives a rousing speech to the massed troops to get them to follow him to confront Deimos. Grell ultimately has this degenerate into “blah blah blah” interspersed with the likes of “baseball” and “apple pie.” Following the speech, as he rides away with an army at his back, he confides in his friends: “Boy, I’d sure like to seel these guys some swampland.”

Nor is not all revisionism. In The Warlord #3 (Nov. 1976), his comrade Machiste challenges his reasons for leading the band of former gladiators, claiming he does it for selfish ends. Morgan, will still stressing his ideals, admits as much with a quote he read on “on a barracks wall in Saigon” (actually from a speech by Theordore Roosevelt, and the motto of the U.S. Special Operations Association):

You have never lived until you've almost died! For those who fight for it, life has a flavor the protected will never know.”

Warlord - I love thisMorgan’s bloody version of carpe diem. He follows up the above quote with: “God help me—I love this!” as he is pictured standing above a field strewn with corpses, a sword clenched in his fist.

Moving away from the man himself, we can look for more clues amid his supporting cast. The Warlord had a rich and varied one.

Morgan meets and woos a young swordswoman, who turns out to be a queen of shining Shamballah. The queen’s name is Tara—probably from the plantation in Gone with the Wind, but ultimately from the Hill of Tara in Ireland. The hill is also known as Teamhair na Rí (“The Hill of Kings”) because of it’s association with ancient kingship rituals. The Irish High Kings were inaugarated at Tara in a ceremony of symbolic marriage to the goddess Medb. Morgan’s ultimate marriage to Tara legitimizes his rule, literally as well as symbolically, and shores up his Skartaran power-base.

Morgan’s next companion is Machiste, whom he meets while both are slaves. He’s one of the few black characters appearing in the series. Machiste, it transpires, is another hidden monarchy, and after helping Morgan overthrow Deimos, he resumes his kingship of Kiro. Machiste is named for “Maciste,” a recurring character in Italian cinema who is a Hercules-type character. The name, I’m told, also means “male chauvinist” or “macho” in French. Machiste can be seen as the sort of strongman dictator familiar from Cold War Latin America or Africa—the “good” sort—that aids the imperialist Warlord.

Machiste later becomes romatically involved with the Russian Mariah Romanova, who he and Travis will later fight over. Is this a distorted mirror of the Cold War competition between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. for the hearts and minds of the developing world?

Could the line in Kipling’s poem “go bind your sons to exile” apply to anyone more than Travis Morgan? Morgan’s abandoned daughter follows him into Skartaris. His neglect sees her flirt with dangerous forces, and be brainwashed Patty Hearst-style to serve the opposition. Only when she is able to put her considerable powers in her father’s service do they really resume a relationship. His half-native son, named Joshua but raised as Tinder, is ripped away from his family by political power-struggles. He grows up wholly native, and is just as susceptible to his father’s speechifying—and just as disappointed when the rhetoric proves hollow.

Warlord1Not convinced? Well, the material is richer than most would credit. There are other places we can go with this…

Maybe Travis Morgan with his eagle wing helm is a stand-in for the aging, American baby-boomer elite, trying to get by in a world in many ways alien to the one that birthed it, and doing the best that it can--which often is something less than its rhetoric promises. Maybe he’s a midlife crisis fantasy—the ultimate adult Peter Pan, complete with coolsville van Dyke, who blows off his responsibilities to gallivant around a violent and sensual Never-Never land with a mysterious beauty in black, fur ankle socks.

Whichever, this month DC Comics and Mike Grell brought The Warlord back from comics limbo. Like all good pulp icons, the character and his world bring just enough to the table that you can make of it almost as much—or as little—as you like.

I, for one, am as interested as ever in what Travis Morgan has been up to under that eternal, unblinking orb.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pierre Speaks: George Perez

PerezI am OKOTA (pissed off).

I found out that there will be a new edition of George Perez: Storyteller.

Why does this makes me OKOTA??

Because although I already have the previous edition, I am crazy enough to buy the new one because they have added a new dust jacket to it. ;)

Although that is only one of the few book/magazines that I have about George’s work.

I love George’s work, and whenever a publication about his work… and most importantly some of his unpublished work…comes out, you can be sure that I am there with my wallet in hand to get myself a copy.

I would recommend that book to anyone who loves comics… and most specifically anyone who loves George’s work.

I would recommend a few other things too.

The first publication I got about George was Focus on George Perez many winters ago. I loved it.


It had lots of never before seen artwork/sketches. I love seeing those pieces of work that never were intended to be printed, or never saw print for some reason.

Then I got my hands on The George Perez Newsletter.
The only issue I got my hands on sadly. :(


Then a friend got me a BackIssue magazine featuring Perez. That was a mighty gift.


And last but not least…. When I was at HeroesCon… I had to get a few Modern Masters…. One of which was about George Perez. Great publication. I bought wayyyy to many of those Modern Masters. ;)


There was also a Comics Interview about Perez a few eons ago…. But I could never find a copy.

So if you are a comic or Perez fan…. Get your hands on those publications…. You will not regret it.

Although some like Focus on George Perez came out in the mid 80s… so finding a copy might not be an easy task.

George has been a huge influence in my work.

George Perez FF VisionariesI first saw his work around 79, and fell in love with it. It was his Avengers VS the Squadron Supreme saga and the FF when they were in the town of Salem to rescue Agatha and Franklin beautifully inked by Joe Sinnott.

How I loved reading those comics and have read them about a thousand times each. It was easy back then to read the same comic multiple times, I only had about a score or two of comics back then. Now with many thousands… it is much more difficult. ;)

I loved his work on Avengers and FF.

Then I discovered the New Teen Titans, and once more, I loved George’s work.

Sadly,. I was reading a french translation of the comic at the time which got cancelled after about 18 issues. L And when the french comic was cancelled and I started reading the American comic…. Which was right around the time as Tara died and Nightwing had just appeared.

I was a little confused as to who Tara Markov and Jericho were at first.

In the late 90’s, I was able to get all the New Teen Titans comics I was missing in the quarter bin. That was some great purchase worth every pennies.

Then we got “Crisis on Inifinite Earths” which I already mentioned in a past blog. So AWESOME I HAD to get the Absolute Edition.

War of the Gods - not quite as bad as Amazon AttacksSadly…. I was never a Wonder Woman fan and was not too crazy to see George “waste” his time on that book, and also on “War of the Gods”.

But luckily, he was drawing the “Infinity Gauntlet” which was awesome. Sadly…. He did not finish the series. I was a little okota that, as I saw it at the time, he “failed” to finish the “Infinity Gauntlet” min-series to work on the crappy “War of the Gods”.

Then he worked on various series, I-Bots, Ultraforce, Ultraforce/Avengers, Sachs and Violens, and others I may fail to mention, that I enjoyed despite the various fill-ins.

Then we got him back on the Avengers with Kurt Busiek…. And later JLA/Avengers. Loved every panels of JLA/Avengers. Boy that was great. Sadly I missed the “Absolute Edition” and could no longer find a copy when I started looking for it.

Guess I will have to keep looking. ;)

Was not too crazy about his Crossgen comics…. But the artwork alone made the purchase of them comics worth it.

And lately, I loved his work on the Brave and the Bold. Although I would have preferred if he had done all 12 issues of the Book of Destiny saga. Although it is difficult to complain since it is the great Jerry Ordway who finished it.

And of course his Legion of 3 Worlds is everything one can expect from Perez.

I am dying to see the rest of the Lo3W series, and see what the next project by Perez will be.

I guess we will have to wait and see.


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