Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Guest Post - A Flash in the Pan?

Doug: Loving all of these guest posts -- just loving them! Hey, today Mike S. (aka Martinex1) is back with another Open Forum on one of the all-time greats, the Flash! Although the Scarlet Speedster has made a few appearances on the BAB, he's certainly not received his due given the long history of the character. Today's a step in the right direction. And, as you read through this, note how ol' Mike/Martinex is playing the same riff our "Paint It Black" covers post of a few weeks ago was blasting!

Mike S.: I have been watching the new Flash television show and have been surprised by how much I enjoy it. It is definitely light fare, and in tone it probably leans more toward the action adventure shows of the late 70’s (threat of the week, cast of supporting characters, romantic undertones, episode bridging mystery, etc.) rather than the dark mood and cynicism of more recent primetime shows. One aspect I like is that the creators are not shying away from its comic book genesis and are embracing some of that genre’s inherent oddities and drama. The template for the show seems to be to throw in everything and the kitchen sink, keep it all generally good spirited, and keep it moving.

Introduce a new rogue nearly every week? No problem. Actually present Grodd, a telepathic genius gorilla? Sure why not. Name drop many of DC’s characters and hint at future subplots?  There are easter eggs galore. How about time travel? Throw it in; mix and stir.

I have always known Barry Allen’s Flash origin and cannot even tell you when I first heard about the crash of chemicals and lightning strike; that story must have somehow been ingrained in me by the time I could read. But I have never owned many Flash comics. If I said I have five Barry Allen issues that may be exaggerating. I did follow Wally West’s adventures a bit in both Teen Titans and his own series, but I cannot recall much detail.

With my newfound interest in the Flash because of the series, I decided to look at some old Silver and Bronze Age covers to see what I may be interested in reading. I was surprised by a style and motif in the cover art that is the polar opposite of what I envisioned. Interspersed throughout the years, particularly in comics dated 1966 through 1974, there are some interesting concepts that I don’t think I have seen used much elsewhere. Although sometimes touched with Silver Age insanity (i.e. Barry’s head growing to the size of a watermelon in issue #177), there was a serious edge to the Flash. There was a type of grimness that I would have thought common in Batman, but in my limited exposure to the Flash would not have expected. And some of the design is better and more cutting edge than I realized. Certainly Marvel did not often employ this vibe in its superhero standards at the time. I am not a DC aficionado so I am not sure if this was the house style and would be interested in hearing others' thoughts on the topic.

Here are some of the details around that styling and some examples of issues I am referring to:

1) The covers broke the fourth wall. It seems fairly common for the character on the cover to address the reader. Whether featuring the Flash himself or the villain of the issue, the cover challenges the customer to purchase or even partake in the adventure. See issues #163, #172, #193, and #222 for examples. This of course was long before series like She-Hulk by John Byrne commonly employed this tactic of self-awareness. I think this was rare in the Bronze Age (it was a dated technique in some regards that lost its appeal, but seems somewhat novel in retrospect).


2) The text itself was part of the cover’s appeal. See Issues #174 and #184. The logo in #174 is so eye catching and seems like a technique that Steranko or Eisner would use.

3) There was an element of fear or tonal darkness to the covers, often including the Flash’s death and stark black backgrounds. Some covers would almost seem appropriate in a horror anthology like “Unexpected”; the only differentiation is the brightness of the Flash’s costume. Check out Issues #186, #190, #191, #194 and #227.


Each of the above covers intrigue me. I have no idea if the stories inside are any good at all, or if the atmosphere changes at all. But I like these covers and I have to say I want to read them. If I had been buying comics at the time of their release I would have purchased these comics. The artists for the instances shown include Ross Andru, Nick Cardy, Neal Adams, Carmine Infantino, and Joe Kubert.   No slackers there, and even the artists with mixed reviews show nicely. It seems to me that with such a varied group of contributors, much of the feel must have been editorial’s choice. It is hard to say for sure. The coloring of the books had a large impact. The Flash’s costume is a classic and hasn’t changed much in the fifty plus years of existence. The red and yellow are so striking particularly against dark backgrounds, so I am sure that contrast led to some of the decisions. But the stretching of the art form and the forbidding aura add a complexity that I was not expecting from that era’s scarlet speedster comic.


What do you think about the Flash? Do you like the new television show? And what is your opinion about the cover art I mentioned? Did the stories match their covers’ appeal? Was DC pushing any boundaries with this title or were they always chasing Marvel? Did other DC books share this approach or was it limited to the Flash?  Do you prefer Barry Allen or Wally West? What are some great Flash stories? What else did I miss that was just plain Flashtastic?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Guest Post - Thor: The Truth of History Review

Doug: Edo Bosnar is back today with another Bronze-feeling gem from the 21st century. Join him as he walks us through an Alan Davis/Mark Farmer Thor romp. And yes -- for those scoring at home this is our third Thor post of the last four days!

Edo Bosnar: Once, when Karen and Doug reviewed Avengers 1.5, the post had the title “Finding Silver Well Past Bronze.” Well, I think this book kind of fits that category, although the story has more of a Bronze Age feel.

Thor: The Truth of History (2008)
Alan Davis-Davis/Mark Farmer

Although this book was published in 2008, it could have very easily been released as an annual in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s and nobody would have batted an eye. It is very much like one of those fun, done-in-one stories from that period. (Even the art, except maybe the coloring, wouldn’t have been too out of place: as far as I know, Davis was already working for Marvel UK in the early 1980s).

The story starts with a prologue in modern-day Egypt. Two archeologists (who bear a striking resemblance to Laurel and Hardy) are discussing the sphinx, and some controversies surrounding the hieroglyphs on it, which may or may not speak of a great rainstorm in ancient Egypt. One of the scholars is receptive to the idea, the other is dismissive.

And you may ask, what does all of this have to do with Thor?

Well, the scene then shifts to the distant past, and we see Thor, Sif, Balder, and the Warriors Three storming a fortress inside Asgard held by Storm Giants. There’s a mystical gateway in the fortress that the Storm Giant queen wants to use to access Midgard, which is apparently a no-no due to an agreement reached between all of the pantheons, as Thor explains to the queen. Volstagg, enjoying the heat emanating from the portal, gets closer to warm his posterior, and – of course – ends up falling through it.

This prompts Thor, together with Fandral and Hogun, to go through themselves to retrieve their voluminous comrade. They emerge in a desert, note the furnace-like heat, and then see a construction site nearby and set off for it. The workers are quite frightened at the site of the Asgardians, pointing out that they must be demons since they have the appearance of “blood-drained corpses.” A nice touch here as that neither understands the other (even though I recall reading a Thor comic once in which it was pointed out that Thor understood pretty much every human language). In the first sign that something is seriously amiss in Egypt, the overseer of the workers, a demonic-looking beast, interrupts the attempts at communication and attacks the Asgardians. Thor dispatches quite him easily.

In a an attempt to ease the fears of the workers, he uses his hammer to cut the remaining stone blocks for them, saving them a few days’ work at least. However, this makes them angry, as they shout that he deprived them of their right to “cut the sacred blocks.” Oh, well.

Thor then spies a city in the distance (Giza as it turns out), and they figure that may be where Volstagg ended up. They hope that he’s had a better welcome. And sure enough, Volstagg seems to be having the time of his life – and not really questioning why everyone is content to ply him with food and drink.

Thor and the Warriors Two make their way to the city, where they see, among other things, a pyramid being built. Thor is none too impressed.

They eventually run into a priest who seems to speak a little Asgardian. Specifically, he keeps repeating, rather awkwardly, “wine, mead, food, hungry.” Thor and his companions immediately conclude that Volstagg is somewhere nearby.

While being led through the settlement, the Asgardians also make some disparaging remarks about the Egyptian (they call them Heliopolitan) deities, which seems a bit like the pot calling the kettle black – because anyone who’s read any mythology knows that many of the gods of any of the various pantheons were often than not rather petty and disagreeable sorts.

Anyway, they also pass by the sphinx, which indeed has a different head than the one with which we’re all familiar – it’s also some kind of demonic-looking beastie. The Asgardians are led to a table set for a feast, but Thor is rather disgusted by the fact that this abundance is being offered to them while the common people seem to be on the verge of starvation. So he picks up the table and tips it over so everyone can get some.

At this point, the pharaoh shows up with a rather unusual entourage, and he’s not very happy with Thor’s act of generosity. The Asgardians don’t understand a word, but wonder how Volstagg is involved in all of this.

And the scene switches again to Volstagg, being carried on a litter (I had to sympathize with the guys carrying it). They take him to a dark chamber, where there’s several lamp-wielding priests, some kind of cairn and a pile of human bones. Volstagg finally puts 2 and 2 together and shouts for help, loud enough so that Thor and his companions hear him, and rush to his rescue. The three fight their way to the sacrificial chamber, where Volstagg is now tied to the obelisk, about to be eaten by a giant griffin-like creature that looks exactly the sphinx statue.

Thor takes the (fire-breathing, as it turns out) creature on, and the next few pages contain a nicely drawn battle sequence. The demon puts up a good fight, but Thor eventually smites him down, and in the process summons up a massive thunderstorm.

Oh, and during the fight, much of the head on the sphinx statue gets broken off. Thor muses that the griffin and the other demons must have been some kind of discarded pets of the Heliopolitan gods whom the pharaoh thought he could tame. He also says he will dispel the thunder, but not the rain…

As the Asgardians head back toward the portal, they wonder if their unexpected Egyptian adventure was somehow decreed by fate, seeing as how it caused the downfall of a tyrannical pharaoh, the vanquishment of a demon, and much-needed rainfall in the impoverished and drought-stricken land. Indeed, Volstagg says that the day it rained in Egypt will be recalled “as long as men walk this Earth.” And that brings us back to the present day and the two debating archeologists in the epilogue …

This is a fun little story, and the art is simply a joy to look at. I think it’s still really easy to find this cheaply, and it’s included in a TPB called Marvel Tales that also collects a few annuals done by Davis.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Inaugural Post - 100-Word Review

Doug: A few weeks ago I challenged our readers to enter the Guest Writer arena and perhaps take a baby step by writing a 100-word review. Apparently fish aren't biting, but since I've long had today's story on my mind I thought I'd try this myself. So here goes -- and at the end I'll evaluate the experience. Was it easy or hard to hit that 100-word parameter? What could I discuss, and what did I have to leave out? We shall see.

Doug: My earliest Thor story was the Mangog epic reprinted in Marvel Treasury Edition #10. Awakened by Ulik, Mangog lumbered off to defeat Odin. The All-Father had beaten back an invasion by an alien race and imprisoned them in the form of Mangog, who then possessed the strength of billions! This 4-issue novel is replete with action, suspense, awe, love... Love? My major takeaway was Asgardian loyalty. Thor’s devotion to Sif, she to him, the valor of Balder and the Warriors Three, and everyone’s willingness to die for the Realm Eternal seemed genuine. If you’ve not read this arc, seek ye it!

Doug: My 100-Word Review landed on your computer at 101 words. Not bad. But certainly not easy. I decided to start with as brief a review as I could craft off the top of my head, and here is what I got:

One of the earliest Silver Age Thor stories I read was the Mangog epic as presented in all its giant glory in Marvel Treasury Edition #10. Jack Kirby’s engine of destruction would surely bring about Ragnarok in Asgard. Freed by his would-be master, the Mangog dominated Ulik the Troll before lumbering off to defeat him who he hated most – Odin. The All-Father had beaten back an invasion by an alien race and imprisoned them in the form of the Mangog. Now this creature possessed the strength (and hate) of a billion billion people! The Lee/Kirby juggernaut gave us a 4-issue novel replete with action, suspense, awe and love. Love? My major takeaway was how loyal Thor and his friends were to each other. His devotion to Sif and she to him, the valor of Balder and the Warriors Three, and their willingness to die for the Realm Eternal all struck me as genuine. If you’ve not ever read this arc, seek ye it!

Doug: That's not very long, is it? But at 163 words, it's pretty far away from our target. Why does it have to be oh-so-close to 100 words? Because that's the hook, the gimmick. And it became a war against myself to trim it as close to the goal as I could. I initially wanted to include thoughts on Loki, the Odinsleep, and the Odinsword, but I knew space would not allow me to touch on those major plot points. So not even going there, I was still challenged to communicate some sort of brief synopsis with at least one parting thought or recommendation. I think I did that, but you tell me.

But man -- that wasn't easy! Next! 

PS: By the way, I read this story for today's review from the new tpb Thor Epic Collection: To Wake the Mangog. The book is chunky, reprinting Thor #s 154-174 in full color. Highly recommended, as the Galactus origin is in that run. Great, great stuff from Stan, Jack, and Vinnie.

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