Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Today in Comics History: Remember Pearl Harbor

Seventy-five years ago today, the attack on Pearl Harbor by Imperial Japanese forces precipitated the entrance of the US into World War II. It also directly led to the making of Michael Bay's film of the same name, which I think we can all agree was a pretty terrible thing. It's certainly not as good a movie as Roy Thomas and Rich Buckler's All-Star Squadron is a comic, and the movie's only clear advantage is that Faith Hill song.

In this post I'm gonna give Roy all the accolades for kicking off his Earth-2/WWII comic series with a solid three-(and a half)-part story that doesn't downplay or trivialize the terror of the Pearl Harbor attack, mostly because the events and evil schemes within are a supervillain's tangent to take advantage of, but not cause, the real-life events.

Like several of the popular DC comics series of the early '80s, All-Star Squadron kicks off as a 16-page preview story within the pages of another comic book, in this case, the original JLA. You actually really did get more for your buck fifty cents! The New DC: there was no stopping them then!

Panels from "Special All-Star Squadron Preview" in Justice League of America (1960 series) #193 (August 1981), script by Roy Thomas, breakdowns by Rich Buckler, finishes by Jerry Ordway, colors by Carl Gafford, letters by John Costanza

JLA's preview ends as December 7, 1941 begins, President Franklin D. Roosevelt confers with his then-Veep Henry A. Wallace about the need for Earth-2's Justice Society of America "forming some sort of All-Star Squadron" to aid the US in the inevitable world war. Pretty savvy thinking, and I'm not certain if the All-Star Squadron was his finest idea, or giving Captain America that round shield was. Either way, on any Earth, he's the smartest man in a wheelchair this side of Charles Xavier, Niles Caulder, or Stephen Hawking.

Panels from All-Star Squadron #1 (September 1981), script by Roy Thomas, pencils by Rich Buckler, inks by Jerry Ordway, colors by Carl Gafford, letters by John Costanza

Eventually gathering at the White House are a few of the JSA plus other Golden Age DC heroes. But FDR's not ready to send them into direct battle against the Japanese forces. There's a more immediate, homefront danger...

...and that danger is spelled Per Degaton! Dah dah dah! (sinister sting) The time-traveling, world conqueror wanna-be who's so evil he doesn't even have a code name! If he did it would probably be something like Time-O or Mister Iniquitous, so it's a good thing he just stuck with the name Ma Degaton gave him.

Who can stop Per Degaton's heinous plan? Who will stand against him? These guys, that's who! These guys! And Plastic Man.

Splash page from All-Star Squadron #2 (October 1981), script by Roy Thomas, pencils by Rich Buckler, inks by Jerry Ordway, colors by Carl Gafford, letters by John Costanza

Degaton's evil plan for blood, devastation, death, war and horror of course involves — wait for it — time travel. He has come back to 1941 from 1947, so he's armed with the futuristic power of the Slinky! he;s also brought back supervaillains experienced in the art of defeating the Justice League by hitting them with a wood plank Green Lantern) or tying them up (Wonder Woman) or just hitting them really, really hard (Atom, Wildcat, Sandman, Hawkman...pretty much all of them).

His plot is to divert the attention of American forces westward instead of toward Europe, thus enabling that rat Hitler (who is he kidding?) to attack from the east! Step two: ???. Step three: PROFIT!

Per woulda come back earlier to influence the war, but there was a (handwave) timestorm (yep, that's it, that'll work) blocking time travelers off from landing in the years from September 1939 through December 1941. And now you know why so few time travelers attended the grand premiere of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's blockbuster Gone with the Wind!

The Justice Society All-Star Squadron to the rescue! Not seen: other Golden Age heroes like Liberty Belle, Firebrand, Mighty Mouse, Abbott and Costello, Senator Beauregard Claghorn, and Bugs Bunny!

Splash page from All-Star Squadron #3 (November 1981), script by Roy Thomas, pencils by Rich Buckler, inks by Jerry Ordway, colors by Carl Gafford, letters by John Costanza

Glass jaws are punched, volcano island bases explode, and justice is eventually served. Which only goes to show: guys in 1941 are better than 1947. Also: Per Degaton obviously has one of those Brother PTouch Labelmakers. They come in ever so handy for marking detonator buttons that have to be pressed to be activated!

And in the end, as December 8th dawns on a grim new world but the all-new all-different All-Star Squadron joins with the JSA on the Golden Gate Bridge to listen to a speech by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (portrayed here by J. Edgar Hoover) and vow to keep fighting the good fight for as long as the war lasts or until the Crisis on Infinite Earths deletes their existences from history, whichever comes first.

Despite their patriotic last-panel cheer, not a single one of the JSA or the ASS earned one slim dime from Sammy Kaye's 1942 hit song. That's not justice!

There's a lot of characters to keep track of and a lot of DC/Quality comics lore to learn (not to mention your fundamental world history). But Roy made it easy for you to get up to speed: here's a text page from the second issue of All-Star Squadron that explains the basic premise between the continuity implant behind the series, and general introductions to the cast. Handy!

In all complete seriousness, I salute the real military and civilians who fought in the Battle of Pearl Harbor and World War II. My own dad was an electrician's mate on a ship in the Pacific Fleet during the War, and I've been forever proud of him. We now look upon Japan and Germany as friends and allies, which is the right way to progress through history. But I've got to admit that this, posted today on Twitter by former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, is an insulting and cowardly statement that compliments and praises the attacking force on Pearl Harbor. Seriously: I'm very angry that this is considered an acceptable public statement, especially by a man who got a deferment from serving during the Vietnam War. It's a personal put-down directly at every man and woman who died at Pearl Harbor and who fought during World War II. I say it's rotten spinach, Mister Gingrich, and the hell with you.

As long as there's public statements like that which draw attention away from what we have lost and what we fought for, I'll never scoff at Roy Thomas for being merely silly in scenes like this:

There was certainly racial hatred packed into a lot of the comics of World War II that we can now rightly call deplorable portrayals. We can read comics like those and learn our American history, both hopeful and unfortunate, from their contemporary views. All the more kudos to Roy Thomas, therefore, for presenting us with modern comics of World War II that entertain and educate without resorting to to racism, that rewrite history only in the name of fun and fantasy. May Roy's patriotic heroes always inspire us; may we learn from and not follow the regrettable aspects of our past, only seventy-five years ago.

Today in Comics History: The JLA claims Delaware through the cunning use of flags

Delaware variant cover of Justice League of America (2013 series) #1 (April 2013), pencils and inks by David Finch

366 Days with J. Jonah Jameson, Day 342: This Is Fine

Panels from The Spectacular Spider-Man (1976 series) #174 (March 1991), plot by Gerry Conway, script by David Michelinie and Terry Kavanagh, pencils and inks by Sal Buscema, colors by Joe Rosas, letters by Rick Parker

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

366 Days with J. Jonah Jameson, Day 341: Friendly Rubbery Spider-Man

Well now, let's wander over to the Daily Planet Building in beautiful downtown Manhattan and see what Peter Parker and J. Jonah Jameson have in store for us todAIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Panels from Spider-Man: Quality of Life #1 (July 2002), script by Greg Rucka, computer art by Scott Christian Sava, letters by Richard Starkings


It is, in fact, Spider-Man: Quality of Computer Art Life, an atypical foray into all-computerized artwork in a mainstream superhero comic book. It's also...not a complete visual success. Even though it's less than 15 years old, it's lightyears away from today's comics created using computers. The art often looks over-shiny and rubbery, like a very early videogame cutscene, and occasionally a panel (like the second one below) challenges you to define exactly what you're looking at. Izzat is left knee, or his calf, or...?

Panels from Spider-Man: Quality of Life #2 (August 2002), script by Greg Rucka, computer art by Scott Christian Sava, letters by Richard Starkings

Maybe it's unfair in an era of stylized work by artists like by Chris Bachalo and Humberto Ramos to look askance at a digital version of anatomical exaggeration, but...whoa, who poured the Diet Gingold into Doc Ock?

Panel from Spider-Man: Quality of Life #1

The four-issue limited series spotlight's Spider-Man's ongoing battle with The Geico Gecko:

Panels from Spider-Man: Quality of Life #3 (September 2002), script by Greg Rucka, computer art by Scott Christian Sava, letters by Richard Starkings

No, wait, it's actually about Spider-Man versus Lara Croft:

Quality of Life certainly isn't the first comic with computer artwork. With Shatter, Mike Saenz gave us the burgeoning field of MacPaint for comic books, waaaaaay back in that far-off historical era of 1985, the age when Mr. Mister, the original NES, and Rocky IV roamed the earth like...some great roaming things.

Cover and panels from Shatter (1985 one-shot) #1 (June 1985), script by Peter B. Gillis, computer art and lettering by Michael Saenz

Shatter was spun off into a series later in 1985, eventually notching up a respectable 1980s-indie run of fourteen issues. In a few years Saenz brought his MacStylin' to Marvel for the hardcover color graphic novel Iron Man: Crash.

Panels from Iron Man: Crash graphic novel (1988); script, computer art, and letters Michael Saenz

And in 1993 Saenz is scripting (though not fully creating the art) of the aptly named cyberpunk thriller/girls in tight vinyl one-shot Donna Matrix. Sorry, folks, I know you think I have everything...but I don't have this comic!

Cover of Donna Matrix #1 (August 1993); pencils, inks; computer imaging, and 3D modeling by Norm Dwyer

Meanwhile, over at DC, Batman Goes Electric in Pepe Moreno's Batman: Digital Justice, featuring a robot Alfred Pennyworth. While I'm waiting, you can say that again to appreciate the cool futurism of it all: Robot Alfred Pennyworth.

Panels from Batman: Digital Justice graphic novel (1990); story and computer art by Pepe Moreno, art assists by Bob Fingerman

Let's see if we can avoid mentioning the unfortunate "gritty and adult" Marvel Max miniseries U.S. War Machine 2.0...whoops, I stepped right into that hot steaming landmine.

Panels from U.S. War Machine 2.0 #2 (September 2002); script by Chuck Austen, computer art by Christian Moore, letters by Randy Gentile

And of course, let us never forget that this traditionally 2D character made a foray into the third dimension in 1995:

Anyway, to sum up and in the interest of fairness, here's a somewhat positive review of Spider-Man: Quality of Life, and here's more background on the book. This CBR interview with artist Scott Sava is good inside background on the creation of the series. I do enjoy Sava's recent work a lot more than I did Quality of Life, so I'll be fair and say that it's just my opinion that the artwork didn't work for me, or that the technology wasn't just quite there yet in 2002. After all, most contemporary comics are at least partially drawn, colored, and/or lettered using a computer! Also: I'm very indebted to Chris Garcia's article "The Dawn of Computer Comics: Shatter" in researching this post.

Still, I woulda hoped that a storyline featuring the death of a long-running Spider-Man supporting cast member and the wife of one of his greatest enemies, woulda been featured in a story that would have involved fewer giggles than this:

Monday, December 05, 2016

Today in Comics History: Rob Liefeld proves he cannot draw bootleg Bart Simpson

Panels from New Mutants (1983 series) #98 (February 1991); plot, pencils, and inks by Rob Liefeld, script by Fabian Nicieza, colors by Steve Buccellato, letters by Joe Rosen

366 Days with J. Jonah Jameson, Day 340: Earth-1610 Jonah was smarter than Earth-616 Jonah

Panels from Ultimate Spider-Man #155 (May 2011), scrip by Brian Michael Bendis, pencils and inks by Chris Samnee, colors by Justin Ponsor, letters by Cory Petit

Today in Comics History: First appearance, Cable's gigantic area

Two-page spread from New Mutants (1983 series) #98 (February 1991); plot, pencils, and inks by Rob Liefeld, script by Fabian Nicieza, colors by Steve Buccellato, letters by Joe Rosen
(Click picture to pouch-size)

Sunday, December 04, 2016

366 Days with J. Jonah Jameson, Day 339: Fresh as today's headlines

Oh no! That scion of journalism, J. Jonah Jameson, has been taken in by the law-and-order (dun dun!) lies of conservative candidate Sam Bullit, the only people's choice endorsed by the Punisher simply because of his name. Naturally, Robbie Robertson reminds him that the "good ol' days" were quite so good for everyone. In other words, that shill vowing to "make American great again" may be playing on your worst instincts, Jonah!

Panels from Amazing Spider-Man (1963 series) #91 (December 1970), script by Stan Lee, pencils by Gil Kane, inks by John Romita, Sr.

Luckily, by the next issue, Jonah has had a journalist's epiphany (and has gotten his back up over Bullit's heavy-handed tactics), leading him back onto the team of good guys! As I occasionally say in the labels, J. Jonah Jameson is Sometimes a Decent Man.

Panels from Amazing Spider-Man (1963 series) #92 (January 1971), script by Stan Lee, pencils by Gil Kane, inks by John Romita, Sr., background inks by Tony Mortellaro, letters by Artie Simek

Lunatic hate groups! That's what Bullit meant by "law and order." Also, he's a stinkin' bigot and racist. I'm pretty sure his candidacy was endorsed by The Sons of the Serpent! Boo! Hiss!

And Jonah doesn't even need Spider-Man to crash through the window and punch Bullit in the face. You go, girl Jonah!

And that, kiddies, is how Franklin "Foggy" Nelson became our newest and greatest President of Manhattan.

This parable for our modern times has been brought to you by Stan Lee, The Amazing Spider-Man comic book, and the shame lots of journalism ought to be feeling right about now.

Today in Comics History: All that emphasis on high heels and Liefeld barely draws her feet

Panels from New Mutants (1983 series) #98 (February 1991); plot, pencils, and inks by Rob Liefeld, script by Fabian Nicieza, colors by Steve Buccellato, letters by Joe Rosen

Saturday, December 03, 2016

From the 1970s Recipe Cards of Mama Bull: Saucy Twist Pork Dish

If you're in the mood for a Crock-Pot® full o' cheesy, tomatoey, macaroniesque undercooked pork products, boy, has Mama Bull got the dish for you:

It's Saucy Twist Pork Dish, and there's a lot of it. And it's in every popular 1970s shade: Harvest Gold, Avocado, and Rose. Yes, if you liked Mad Men, you'll love this...pot o' pork. Because when you think about pigs, you automatically think...corkscrew-shaped pasta.

From my extensive research into the 1970s Recipe Cards of Mama Bull, it was illegal to cook something without a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup.

This recipe serves a family of four to six, or two hobos.

Today in Comics History: Muggsy and pal finally have their romantic dinner date

"Casey the Cop" from Detective Comics #265 (March 1959); script, pencils, inks, and letters by Henry Boltinoff

366 Days with J. Jonah Jameson, Day 338: Jonah's best appearance in videogames since "Paperboy"

There's been plenty of Spider-Man games, and J. Jonah Jameson has been in some of them. But they haven't always done his distinctive personality any justice.

Luckily, for all your J. Jonah Jamesoning hand-held computer gaming action we now have Avengers Academy, a game for your cell phone, pad device, internet-equipped blender, or the robot in your life (attention Vision: that's just a little holiday gift hint for the lovely wife Virginia). Avengers Academy places the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe, all suitably teen-aged, into a high-school level boarding school where they learn battle techniques, study books of knowledge in a very crowded library, play pool one at a time against each other, and even get down on the dance floor. Also: there is quite a bit of funny dialogue between the characters and NPCs, like AA-JJJ:

Here's an extended bit between Avengers Academy MVP Wasp and our favorite cranky newspaperman:

So remember: you may be paying for extra bits in your freemium game, but you get all this J. Jonah Jameson content for free!