The Midnight Comic Club Episode 10 – A Sinister Six Pack

Welcome to the tenth meeting of The Midnight Comic Club! After the extensive look at Frankenstein over the past three episodes (and a week off due to illness), we’re back with a new segment called The Sinister Sixpack wherein I grab a half dozen horror comics I’ve never read before and see how that goes.

Most of today’s entries happen to not be available in digital formats. However, if you’re interested in checking them out, I’ve provided the MyComicShop links here: Tomb Of Darkness #18, Night Force #1, Marvel Chillers #2, Secret Origins #15, Unexpected #166 and Vault Of Evil #7.

As I mentioned in the episode, the original Night Force series has been collected into a very handsome volume that I’m hoping to check out in the near future. For a less expensive taste, you could also try out the DC Comics Presents Night Force 100-Page Spectacular digitally which collects the first four installments. Finally, the Secret Origins issue featuring Deadman and Spectre can also be purchased on Comixology!

If you’re curious to read my series of Jack Kirby-related monster posts, you can check out the Unleash The Beasts archives on Marvel.com here.

I had it in my notes, but totally forgot to say that Modred would have made a delightful Amicus or Hammer horror feature in the 70s!

The Midnight Comic Club Episode 8 – Frankenstein at Marvel & DC

As we come together for the eighth meeting of the Midnight Comic Club, we celebrate the November 32, 1931 release of James Whale’s Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff by looking at how Marvel and DC have integrated the character into their universes!

Starting with Marvel, check out Menace #7, X-Men #40 and the fantastic Monster Of Frankenstein trade paperback if you’d like to learn more.  Scroll on down for some images of those books as well as plenty of others mentioned in the episode. I also mentioned the Avengers: Legion Of The Unliving trade which you can check out here.

I should probably link to the episode, so here it is!

Here’s a few more of the Marvel books I mentioned: Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos, Howling Commandos Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Fear Itself: Deadpool/Fearsome Four and Punisher: Frankencastle.

Moving on to DC, these are some of the books I mentioned: Showcase Presents Superman Volume 2, The Demon By Jack Kirby, Showcase Presents The Phantom Stranger Volume 2, The Creature Commandos, Seven Soldiers Of Victory Volume 2 (though you should also check out Volume 1 as well), Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. Volume 1 and 2 and Elseworlds: Batman Volume 1.

Digital Trade Post: Marvel Masterworks Thor Vol. 1

marvel masterworks  thor 1 Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor, Vol. 1 (Marvel)
Written by Stan Lee & Larry Lieber, drawn by Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, Al Hartley & Joe Sinnott
Collects Journey Into Mystery #83-90

I’ve had a Comixology account for a few years now, but I didn’t do much with it until this year. Part of that has to do with the fact that I started using my (now broken) Kindle Fire a lot more and partly because I discovered they do a lot of great sales. One such sale offered the very first Thor stories collected in the Marvel Masterworks format for something like $5.

Thor’s not a characters I have a ton of experience with and that’s exactly why I went with his origins. I’ve found that, just by being a longtime comic fan — 22 years now — I have seen a lot of the big superhero origins over and over again. Plus, many of the stories that followed were referenced and pulled from in later years which means that actually going back to the source material can be a little boring because you know what’s happening almost beat for beat.

That was not the case with the first Thor Masterworks, thankfully. Like I said, I’m not overly familiar with the character’s many years of comics that came after his introduction in 1962. I do have a stack of Thor comics from the 70s and 80s that I tried reading through, but got really sick of what felt like an inevitable reveal that Loki was behind whatever troubles his half brother were going through at the time. Most of my experience with the character comes from his appearances in Avengers.

Anyway, these issues are actually pretty fun because I had very little idea what was going to happen in them. Sure, they’re quintessentially Silver Age-y and Loki pops up twice, but that’s to be expected. Thor also throws down with stony aliens (one of which is Korg from Planet Hulk!), travels through time, fights mobsters and topples despotic dictators.

I was surprised by several elements of the Thor mythology found in these early days. First off, when Don Blake taps the walking stick he only seems to turn into Thor physically. Sure, in that form he has more knowledge of Asgard and whatnot, but he never seemed like a different person, which is how I understood this relationship previously. I also thought it was charming how specific the rules are for Thor’s abilities. If he’s separated from Mjolnir for more than 60 seconds, he turns back into Don. There is also a very specific correlation between how many times the hammer taps the ground and what it can do. One turns him back into Blake, two creates a storm, three  stops the storm and four makes lightning.

The complete lack of other Marvel superheroes was also surprising. One of the things you always hear about this era of Marvel comics is how connected they are, but, if memory serves, this book had none of that. Finally, I was surprised with how big of a jerk Jane Foster is. Whenever she’s on the page, she’s either pining for Thor or calling her boss, Don Blake lame. Ouch.

One thing I was specifically excited about when it came to this book was seeing Jack Kirby draw some of the weird and wild elements of this book, especially after enjoying his DC work like the Fourth World books, The Demon, The Losers and OMAC. But, this is a very different Kirby. You can see what he would grow into, but these aren’t the big, bold figures you might be expecting if you’re going in reverse chronological order like I am. Also, you can really tell when someone else is pencilling. That last issue in the collection by Al Hartley looks pretty bad.

As far as digital reading experiences, I’ve got to say that this one was pretty great. For one thing, these Masterworks volumes are recolored, so they look great on a digital screen. Also, thanks to the fairly standard rectangular pane;s of these issues, they are easy to read when going through panel mode even on a phone, which is how I read most of this book. I really started reading this book when my son was in the NICU after being born almost two months early and then next to my little girl while she fell asleep so it was basically the perfect reading experience given those circumstances: fan, light stories that helped build a shared fictional universe I’m quite fond of. My only complaint? It’s a much bigger pain trying to find a page in digital format than it is just by flipping through. Laying down those four Mjolnir rules was not the funnest thing in the world.

Revisiting The Incredibles (2004)

the incredibles poster My folks came in for a visit this weekend and after watching a few of Lu’s favorite movies, my dad put on Pixar’s The Incredibles. After the difficulty I’ve had showing my daughter Wall-E and Cars, I thought this might be a lost cause, but she was into it, so we wound up watching the whole, nearly two hour movie. I’d seen this flick maybe once before when it came out in 2004 and have fond memories of playing the video game with my wife when we were newlyweds, but aside from that, only remembered the basics: after being retired by the government, a superhero comes out of retirement to face an evil guy on an island. He can’t handle it on his own, so his superpowered wife and kids come to help save the day.

The first thing to hit me while watching this movie is how freaking dark it is. The script gets into some really heavy areas like Mr. Incredible getting sued by a guy he saved who was trying to commit suicide. The deaths of dozens of other heroes at the hands of the movie’s villain as a way of testing his killer robot also get mentioned several times. These deaths or near-deaths might not hit as hard as Nemo’s mom in Finding Nemo or Carl’s wife in Up, but there are a heckuva lot more of them.

There’s also Elastigirl/Helen’s fear that her husband Mr. Incredible/Bob is cheating on her, something their kids, at least older daughter Violet, pick up on. As it turns out, Bob’s been playing hero for what he thinks is a super secret branch of the government trying to build some kind of powerful attack robot, but there’s definitely some romantic tension between him and go-between Mirage. Anyway, as it turns out, Mr. Incredible’s actually just one of a number of heroes brought in by the villain Syndrome to test his killer robots against. Each hero either defeats the robot, offering more data to build a better one, or gets killed in the process. When he’s got it right where he wants it, Syndrome wants to release it on a big city and then swoop in to save it, using a remote to shut it down and look like a hero.

All in all it’s a well put together film with strong family ties and various characters offering emotional relationships to form with the audience. You might not be the middle aged person wanting to relive the glory days, but maybe you’re the repressed youngster who wants to let lose or the teenager who wants to figure out the world or the one trying to hold the family together. Add in healthy doses of superhero fun — from the look at Edna’s costume-testing system to seeing each Incredible use their powers — and there’s a lot to love about this movie. As a long time James Bond fan, I also appreciated the many Bond villain nods that came from seeing Syndrome’s various villainous lairs.

And yet, I don’t know if I love The Incredibles. After watching with my wife and parents, they were totally into it and I was the one voice of dissent, noting the similarities to existing comic book teams, characters and stories. It was a silly discussion to kick off with non-comic fans because I couldn’t possibly make them understand where I’m coming from without laying down lots of evidence that they probably wouldn’t care about anyway. The best I could do was saying to my dad, “What would you think if another band put together a great pop record that actually borrowed a lot of hooks from The Beatles.” It’s not the best analogy and I’m probably confusing terminology, but it works to an extent.

The main problem I have with the film comes from the power sets and how they relate to the Fantastic Four. Sure, Mr. Incredible isn’t rocky, but otherwise he’s The Thing. They also swapped out Human Torch for the Flash, but the main aspect that bothers me comes with Violet’s powers. Sure, it makes sense that the shy teenager can turn invisible, but why does she also have force field powers? Those aren’t organically linked abilities, but were put together for the character Sue Storm by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It’s not like having super speed and the ability to vibrate through things because you can shake your molecules. Those both come from the ability to move quickly. Invisibility and force field projection aren’t related making Violet’s powers a direct lift from Invisible Woman/Girl.

To a lesser extent, you’ve also got elements of Watchmen in there as well with the government outlawing superheroes, a theme that had been played with throughout comic book history. I guess what bums me out about The Incredibles is that it could have been more original. Writer/director Brad Bird could have done a lot more to make a completely new story, but by compounding various elements that comic book fans are already familiar with, it kind of bogs things down. Sure, I’d compare any original superhero fiction to my internal library of comic knowledge, but this one hit off so many notes from things I’ve read and seen before that it can somehow overshadow the general feeling of fun that came from the film.

Incredibles poster 2At the moment, I’m feeling more positive about the movie. Seeing Mrs. Incredible use her stretch-y powers on screen was a real treat, the kind of thing I haven’t seen so much done with since the old school Plastic Man cartoon. I also really enjoyed how the Incredibles used their powers together. There’s a more seamless nature to the way husband and wife play off of one another’s abilities — which not only refers to their past as heroes, but also the bonds that form through marriage — while the kids need a little more coaching as they learn how to use their own abilities to stay alive. Combining powers has always been a favorite aspect of team comic books for me, so I enjoyed scenes where Mrs. Incredible turned into a boat and Dash kicked them towards shore at super speed or Violet made a ball and Dash ran them around hamster-style.

If I could just forget about all the comics I’ve read, I’d be fully in love with The Incredibles. Since that’s not happening without a head injury at this point, I guess I’ll remain on the fence with this one.

Fantastic Voayage: Fantastic Four #6 (1962)

FANTASTIC FOUR #6 (1962)
Written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby

Much like the first appearance of Doctor Doom in Fantastic Four #5, the supposedly epic team-up between big bads Doctor Doom and Namor came off less awesome than I hoped. First off, Doctor Doom comes across Namor as he’s swimming with dolphins. Soon after the pair decide to team up and you can see Doc Doom rubbing Namor’s shoulders, consoling him like they’re both battered women in a Lifetime movie. So what’s the nefarious plan? Destroy small continent with the Fantastic Four at the epicenter? Nope. Flood New York City and hope to get the FF? Nope. Plant a device in the Baxter Building that will shoot it and all inside into space.

ToyFare fans might remember this gag as being Doctor Doom’s go-to trick in the pages of Twisted ToyFare Theater. That’s where I first experienced the story element. I thought it was pretty funny and figured it was based on maybe an aspect of one of Doom’s plots, but never imagined it was lifted directly from an issue of FF. For that, the issue was fun to read.

I also enjoyed a few of the smaller moments. You see a few guys who don’t believe that FF actually exist. I think these kinds of moments are dumb when done in big shared superhero universes today (how could anyone not know that Batman exists, he’s on the friggin’ JLA), but it makes sense in the early days of the growing Marvel Universe. I also liked seeing a full building schematic of the FF headquarters as well as Sue using a special belt device to gain entrance. I think my favorite moment, though, was when Mr. Fantastic stretched from their HQ across NYC to pop in and talk with a sick fan who asks him about their costumes! This is probably the first explanation of Unstable Molecules and I like how fanboyish the set-up is. The kid isn’t being Comic Book Guy and trying to poke holes in things, he’s just curious. I like that. Aside from those moments, there’s more sad sack Ben Grimm and the usual Silver Age goofiness.

The one thing that bums me out a bit about reading these stories is that Jack Kirby hasn’t come into his distinct, kinetic, amazing style, the one I’ve come to know and love over the past few years. You can see little bits of pieces of what’s to come in some of the inventions and machinery, but Thing still looks like a lump of rock and Doom’s no where near as cool as my idea of Kirby in his prime drawing that villain. I can’t wait to see him really come into his own on this book, though I hear it doesn’t happen still for a little while. Ah well, I can stick around.

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Fantastic Voyage: Fantastic Four #5 (1962)

FANTASTIC FOUR #4 (1962)
Written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jack Kirby

Sorry for the incredible gap between Fantastic Voyage posts. I was shocked to discover that it had been about six months since I talked about Fantastic Four #4. Thanks to a new app I downloaded called Bookman Lite, I can now read PDFs on my iPhone. I just transferred over a few I had on my desktop from the awesome DVD I own that contains every FF and Silver Surfer comic from 1961 to 2005. The experience was actually pretty awesome. I’ve read plenty of comics in PDF form, but this was cool because they’re high res scans of issues that you can really zoom in on and look at, maybe even better than you could with a hard copy.

So, I got back into the game with a pretty landmark issue: the first appearance of Doctor Doom. I assumed he’d be behind some insanely complicated plot for taking over the world, but not so much. Instead he puts an electrified net around the FF headquarters, asks for (and is given) Sue, then takes the male FFers to his headquarters where he reveals his nefarious plan: the send them back in time to steal Blackbeard’s treasure chest. Huh? Really? So, that’s what they do, only Mr. Fantastic pulls some verbal trickery, noting that Doom only asked for the CHEST not the treasure itself. Oh that Reed, so sneaky.

Yes it’s got a good deal of Silver Age goofiness (Doom’s helicopter is alternately painted bright blue or pink with a shark face on it), but it’s also kind of fun seeing Mr. Fantastic, Thing and Human Torch using their powers while dressed up like pirates at the end. Also, as with the previous four issues, poor Ben Grimm has a hard time of things, first with Johnny comparing him to a comic book starring something called The Hulk (see the slideshow below) and then in the past when it turns out that he’s actually Blackbeard and he wants to stay there as a pirate only to get foiled by a storm (he even had his men restrain his teammates in ways that don’t actually make any sense).

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All in all, this was a really fun issue. I especially liked seeing the early building blocks that would go into making Dr. Doom one of the greatest villains around. The addition of the pirate setting was fun to see through the pencil of Jack Kirby, but I just keep thinking about how much better they would look if Kirby in his prime was drawing them. Ah well, we’ll get there!

Doc Review: Comic Book Confidential (1988)

I’ve been reading comics since 1992, when Superman died. In the ensuing nearly 20 years, I’ve watched a few documentaries and read a few books about the history of the medium, but nothing too in depth. Even so, most of these kinds of things go through the same general flow of information: the first comic consisted of newspaper comic strips put in one book, someone eventually started doing that with new material, Superman came along and exploded everything, comics sold in the millions, eventually though there was a downturn, superheroes fell out of favor, horror comics got big, Frederick Wertham, the death of EC, Barry Allen kicks off the Silver Age, underground comix, grim and gritty, Image, the bust, etc.

Going into Comic Book Confidential on Netflix Instant I was curious how much of the above would be included (well, not Image because the movie came out in ’88). As it turned out nearly all of it wound up in this doc, but what really makes CBC interesting is how it focuses not on Marvel and DC after a while, but on the underground and independent comics and their creators from the 60s, 70s and 80s. After a certain point in the doc, you’d think the Big Two were just putting out nonsense that no one cared about, which might not be completely representative of what was happening, but I did appreciate the focus. I personally don’t need to hear about how Green Lantern/Green Arrow pushed the borders of what could be talked about in a comic book or how epic Claremont and Byrne’s X-Men run was for the millionth time. In fact, I hadn’t heard about guys like Spain or Gilbert Shelton, so not only getting an idea of their work but how they created or thought of creation was a lot of fun.

The movie does something kind of interesting, but also slightly annoying after a while where they have the creators featured actually reading some of their comics as the panels and pages are shown on screen. It’s actually a better presentation than I’ve seen in most motion comics, but I also would probably have liked to have seen Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Robert Crumb, Stan Lee, Harvey Pekar, Al Feldstein, Harvey Kurtzman or any of the others get more screen time. In fact, I would love to see some of the out takes and footage that didn’t make it into the finished product because the movie’s only 90 minutes long. Someone should talk to director Ron Mann about putting out a kick ass special edition DVD with all those extras.

The most interesting aspect of this film, for me, though is how it’s such a snapshot of the comic industry at the time, or more accurately a particular aspect of it. You’d think that, from the tone of the movie, that indie comics were going to take over the world and become this amazing art form that people all over would enjoy. It’s almost like doing a documentary about youth culture that you finished and put together right before the Vietnam War hit because soon after, everything changed. There’s no real indication of the grim and gritty movement (though they do talk to Frank Miller about his Batman comics), the boom, Image and the bust. So what happened? I dunno. I’d actually like to see director Ron Mann gather as many survivors from the original doc as he can and answer that question.