In honor of Mr. Terrific

8 Jan

mortWhen I first began reading comics, in the early 1990s, Wizard was the number one fanzine.  Without the internet, it was, I thought, the best resource for comic book culture and news that was available.  As an avowed DC fan, however, it was very skewed against my overall tastes.  Still, though, as I read, several articles were always entertaining to me.  One of my favorite monthly features was the “mort of the month,” embarrassingly bad comic book creators from the distant past.  One character I saw in those early days of my fandom was the rather goofy looking character above: Terry Sloane, Mr. Terrific.

Wizard pointed out just how pathetic of a character he was.  He was an incredibly intelligent and athletic sort, akin to a poor man’s Batman.  The costume was an embarrassment and if you needed any proof to his utter pathetic nature, his shirt was emblazoned with the motto “Fair Play,” where any self-respecting hero would have an S or a giant bat.  As a twelve year old comics reader, I could imagine him beating up little kids who were cheating at Monopoly or drop kicking some guy who had twelve items in the ten items or less line at the grocery store.  When I finally saw him in some reprints of classic JLA/JSA crossovers from the sixties, my opinion was reinforced as all the heroes acted the same and talked the same.  The only cool thing about him was that he was killed by Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash (granted he was possessed at the time).

All of this changed though when DC finally decided to bring the JSA back after Zero Hour.  Although the series was set to be in the modern day, James Robinson, lead writer, led off with one of those great mini-events DC was publishing in the later half of the 1990s.  This event was a “classic” JSA story set in the waning days of World War II.  Like the classic JSA tales of yesteryear, there was a chapter where the team discovered the problem, a chapter at the end where they teamed up to settle the problem, and then many chapters where one or two characters would work towards solving small problems connected to the larger tale.  I was very excited to read each of these issues, and though I expected my favorite to be the Green Lantern/Johnny Quick team-up, I was surprised to find my favorite was (and still is), the Flash and Mr. Terrific team-up.

In reality, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.  The Flash and Mr. Terrific team-up was penned by Mark Waid, at the height of his power as a comic book scribe.  He had an amazing ability to make even the mortiest of characters suddenly into fully fleshed out characters that everyone should read.  And he made Terry Sloane one of my favorite characters ever, even if I only have read a hand full of his stories.

Throughout the story, while Jay was dealing with the major threat of the book (a zombified Nazi who absorbed kinetic energy, mainly bombs in the book, and redirected it elsewhere), Terry Sloane attempted to aid German poor people who were trapped in Dresden, while the Allies were bombing the city.  There was a scene were he provided food to the starving and another scene where he helped settle children in an orphanage.  By the end of the book, though, Mr. Terrific realizes that he and the Flash had been lied to: Dresden was not some secret Nazi stronghold, it was just a German city filled with women and children, like most other cities.  He had Flash run them back to Allied command where he attacked the commander of the bombing.  He couldn’t understand how the “good guys” could intentionally be killing innocent women and children.

That is the moment that the character came alive to me.  Terrific left the building and was followed out by Jay, who finally understood Terry, just as I did.  Waid had Jay think “It was a side to Terry I thought I’d never seen…..His perfection always leads him into the same mistake.  He expects everyone else to live up to the same high standards of fairness he imposes on himself – and when they don’t – it eats him alive.”  It was the perfect problem for a character who was in many ways a mesh of Superman and Batman.  He was the physically perfect and genius human of Batman, combined with the honest do-good nature of Superman.  But here, we readers finally saw, a character flaw.  He expected everyone to live up to the insanely high level of morals that he had.  And real people couldn’t live up to that.  Twenty years later, I still believe it is the perfect hook for a series on a character who time has forgotten.

Terry got another great moment in the finale of the series, when he destroyed the evil mastermind’s global killing weapon, in a scene reminescent of Luke Skywalker destroying the Death Star.  Geoff Johns, another great author, gave Terry some amazing moments in the JSA series later, as characters traveled through time.  But largely, the original Mr. Terrific has been replaced by Michael Holt, who is also an amazing character.  Still, if you haven’t read Waid’s National Comics 1, I cannot recommend it highly enough.  It proves the adage that there are really no B characters.  Every character can be amazing, given the right author.


The Seventies as DC’s Bronze Age Golden Age

2 Oct

A regular comment from comic book fans is that every fan has their own “Golden Age” of comics and that it is the time when they began reading. This is very true for me personally.  I began collecting comics in the early 1990s and quickly tracked down various post-Crisis books, so my “Golden Age” of collecting is from about 1986-1996.  I have a soft spot from then until 2003, when I had to sell my collection to pay bills as young, single dad.  When I began reading comics again in 2007, it felt like a “Silver Age” to me.  I found out my favorite character, Hal Jordan, had come back and been joined by the entire GLC.  A new crisis had happened, which reinvigorated many titles.  This gave me almost twenty years of comics to truly enjoy and then this summer I discovered a magical new decade: the 1970s.

As a DC Comics fan, I am truly impressed with the volume of good titles DC published during the era.  For one thing, Kirby had just come to DC and his Fourth World of books are widely acclaimed.  I knew I loved these books.  But I had not read any of his other books, though I was familiar with Kamandi and the Demon, through their latter appearances.  That all changed at Heroes Con in Charlotte this summer, where I found 10 issues of Kamandi, which is easily one of the most insane and over the top books I have ever read. I also picked up my first issues of Warlord.  I was vaguely familiar with Travis Morgan from sundry crossovers, but to read some of Mike Grell’s original run was exciting and made me want to dig deeper into the world he created.  But my favorite book I got to sample for the first time was the original Len Wein Swamp Thing. Like most, I discovered Swamp Thing because of Alan Moore and I still think he wrote the best run on the character.  I enjoyed the New 52 series also. But to finally have a chance to read the original run by Wein and see just how many of the characters were there from the beginning and to see how it all fit together was a joy.

But just because I got lucky at a convention, that doesn’t mean the 1970s were all good, I can hear you say.  So what other characters were created there during this time period?  Jonah Hex was created in 1972 and gone onto be one of the most beloved Western characters to have never been played by John Wayne or Clint Eastwood.  Ra’s Ah Ghul and his daughter appeared in 1971.  John Stewart debuted in the same year.  Power Girl, my favorite Supergirl, was created in 1976.

The decade included groundbreaking runs in their ongoing books also.  For example, the classic Green Lantern Green Arrow team-up series occurred during this time.  The Bat books were revitalized, as was the Superman books with the infamous “Kryptonite nevermore” tale. The incredible All Star Comics revival began in 1976.  Batman of Earth 2 died in 1979.  Cockrum and Grell’s runs on the Legion introduced some of the most popular characters to the team and told classic tales.  And DC first licensed the Marvel Family in 1972.

The 1980s and 90s of DC Comics are far and away my favorite period in comic book history.  The decade of the 2000s brought me back to the hobby I had missed so much.  And though the New 52 was a failed experiment overall, it and Rebirth have had some amazing moments, with much potential.  But for sheer creative ideas and groundbreaking tales, the 1970s have a great deal to offer the fans of the DCU.  Kirby, Wein, and a legion of other creators told some of the best books in DC’s history. DC-Explosion2

The Great Heroic Discovery of the 80s: Captain Atom

25 Sep

I recently discovered podcasts and I have highly enjoyed Views from the Longbox.  In trying to catch up on ten years’ worth of podcasts, I recently heard the host make a statement I really liked: he said that when he first read Mister Miracle, he would look at a cover and think he would hate it, but then would realize he loved it.  I recently discovered some of Kirby’s DC work (other than the New Gods which I already loved) and completely understand that.  Sometimes, books can surprise you.  I recently had a major eye-opening experience with an ENTIRE series I didn’t think I would like.  I found the 1980s Captain Atom series in a quarter bin and LOVED IT!

On paper, it is a series I should have known I would love. In case you never noticed the title of this blog is The Tin Foiled Hat Society, but I love conspiracies.  And Captain Atom’s backstory for this series is that he is a government conspiracy come to life.  It’s also absolutely a child of its time period: this series is an 80s action film in comic book form. There are corrupt CIA agents, running paramilitary groups.  POWs must be rescued.  And once again, there is a giant military conspiracy waiting to be discovered and dealt with.  Imagine the 80s cartoon of G. I. Joe, with a super-powered Duke leading the way.

But my introduction to Captain Atom was as the straight man to the JLI.  Now, I ADORE that series.  Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, and Mister Miracle quickly became some of my favorite characters.  And Batman and the Martian Manhunter were there as the straight men from the beginning.  All of a sudden, Captain Atom arrives and is meant to play a similar role.  And yet, he is also arrogant, as can be seen when he helped rescue the JLI in Bialya.  He took over the JLE soon thereafter and was once again the straight man.  None of this provided much to grab hold onto.

And then I read the series.  Now, to be completely honest, I could not track down the first two issues.  Otherwise, though I read the other 55 issues and the annuals for the series.  And it is one amazing series from start to finish.  Right away, we are introduced to one of the most fully developed supporting casts I have seen in years. Nathanial Adam, Captain Atom, spent almost twenty years trapped in the quantum field, and during that time, his wife remarried the Nathanial’s commanding officer and then died.  His children had grown to almost be his age and became important parts of the series, as was their step-dad.  Megala, the scientist behind the Captain Atom experiment, was an active part of the book, as was his body-guard, Babylon.  Finally, Cap’s best friend was an active part.

The book reads much like I could imagine a well written Captain America series could.  It played off Nathanial’s “man out of time” struggles.  He had job issues, as he worked for his wife’s new husband.  Eiling, the commanding officer, also doubles as an arch-nemesis throughout much of the book, although other villains definitely play a role in the book.  And my personal favorite part of the book dealt with the conspiracy.  The military uses Captain Atom as a secret weapon to spy on the other super heroes of the DC universe.  As part of his back up story, they create an elaborate back story about how he was supposedly a hero of the past, just now coming out to the world.  This led to imaginary former foes being created and a past relationship with Ted Kord’s predecessor as the Blue Beetle.

If I had any complaint at all, it would be the end of the book.  Cary Bates was the author for almost the entire run of the series.  But suddenly he disappeared in the last few issues.  There were a few fill-in writers, before John Ostrander wrote the conclusion to the book.  Each of the authors did a decent job, and I love Ostrander’s work.  But I would personally have preferred to see Bates finish the series his way.  But even that is a minor complaint.

I went into the series not expecting much.  Finding it for about fourteen bucks though made it an intriguing buy.  The artwork is kind of dated, but personally I have always loved Pat Broderick who did much of the book’s art.  The characters are great and welcome additions to the DC Universe. DC recently updated the ideas of the series for Rebirth and it was also a fun read, though definitely not the amazing run from the eighties.  If you get the chance and enjoy action films from the eighties or conspiracy stories, or basically self-contained super-hero stories, I definitely recommend you read it. Captain_Atom_001

Just who is Mr. Oz? Spoilers beware

17 Sep


DC Rebirth has been an amazing joyride. I have truly enjoyed watching my Superman return.  The Green Lantern Corps book has been amazing, featuring the return of a Pre-Crisis Brainiac bot, the last sighting of New52 Lobo, and an ever so brief team-up between the Sinestro Corps and the Green Lantern Corps.  The Bat books, Mister Miracle, and the run-up to DC Metal have been some of the most exciting comics I have read in ages.  And yet, all pales to this week’s Action Comics.

For those of you not in the know, DC Rebirth began last year, with Geoff Johns’s amazing book: the aptly named DC Rebirth.  He laid out many mysteries to excite readers over the year.  The Watchmen were coming. Wally was back. The Legion and JSA were out there.  And Mr. Oz is Superman’s guardian who randomly kidnaps characters and locks them into an inescapable prison, which has already had two people escape.

Mr. Oz continued to be a secret character.  His identity was one of the most talked about mysteries.  Most of the circumstantial evidence pointed to him being Ozymandias.  He seems to be competing with the all-powerful Dr. Manhattan.  His symbol is similar to Adrian’s cologne. His name was Oz.

And yet, Action Comics 987 changed everything.  His identity was revealed to be none other than Jor-El, Superman’s long lost father, who was supposed to have died on Krypton.  I personally was hoping for this to not be the case, although rumors and evidence had begun to shift over the last two months.  I prefer my Jor-El dead and heroic.  Now, he is alive and most likely a danger to all that Clark loves.  Dan Jurgens, the author of the issue and of the infamous Superman 75 of yesteryear, vows this is the true Jor-El.  So what does this mean going forward?

Superman will suddenly have to stop his father and the man most responsible for him to have come to earth in the first place.  If Jor-El survives the upcoming year, which is highly unlikely but possible, a new Kryptonian threat will be left in the universe.  And regardless of what happens at the end of next year, we will at least get to see him compete against Dr. Manhattan at some point for control of the Rebirth universe. oz

Mixing your comics with your politics

18 Nov

When Before Watchmen happened, Alan Moore had one of his infamous rants. At one point during the hoopla, he stated that those fans who purchased Before Watchmen should no longer purchase his books, because they weren’t HIS fans. Some stood by him and others lamented that the Bearded Wizard had finally lost his mind. I was saddened by this. I supported Alan Moore’s contention that the books shouldn’t be published, because the original story was his, and his story was finished. On the other hand, I couldn’t fault DC. For good or ill, the characters are theirs and businesses produce material to meet demand. I did not approve however of his discounting of his fans. Case and point, I LOVE Moore’s work and have purchased much of it, from a variety of companies he has worked for (including his new novel), but I am also a fan of the characters of Watchmen. (In full disclosure: I eventually read most of Before Watchmen upon finding the issues in discount bins or what not). But I respected his point.
Why bring this up now? Several comic book creators have came out and announced their intent to boycott states that voted “red” this election cycle. I do NOT approve of this and find it reprehensible. Moore’s complaint, at least, was based upon his works and a personal argument he had with the publisher. These creators, including George Perez who I have always loved, however are judging fans based on a political concern. And worse, a political concern the fans may not have supported. A “deep blue” fan might live in a red state and be surrounded by red states. These creators are pushing their fans in this situation aside because of something that the fans cannot help. Moore had the decency to judge fans based on something they controlled: if YOU purchased Before Watchmen, he did not want your support in the future. Meanwhile, Perez and Ramos are blaming many fans they have throughout the southern states, Midwest states, rustbelt states, etc. I find this to be ludicrous.
They could have gone the respectable route: they could ask for “red” fans to not purchase their works, like Moore did. But instead, they are going to vilify entire regions of the country and pretend their importance will make a difference. I have attended MANY conventions throughout the southeast and been to many stores throughout the country. At no point have I been fortunate enough yet to meet with them. But at this point, I won’t worry about it.
Finally, if they really are so serious about this issue, why not respectfully request their publishers not even publish their books in red states? If we are so deplorable by our very nature, why let us peons purchase their books in the first place? Bottom line: we fans aren’t good enough to be in their presence but our money is. They need not worry: they will get neither from me. And in closing, I didn’t vote for Trump, nor am I excited about the prospect of a Trump presidency. But I am VERY TIRED of everyone in the media blaming me because this candidate or that candidate lost.

Rebirth Round 1

11 Nov

We are now in the fifth month of DC’s Rebirth initiative.  The New 52, which had opened to financial success, had alienated many longtime DC readers.  Though I was extremely disappointed in the line overall, I stuck with the New 52 and enjoyed many individual titles, from each launch period.  After five years, though, DC decided the best way to reconnect with their fans was to begin to bring back much of the classic DCU, while not destroying the foundation of the reboot.  Sales have been stellar, pushing DC into the number 1 spot for the last several months.  But is this a better foundation of titles than the New 52 or are we setting up for another big fall a few months down the line?

Personally, I have enjoyed almost all of the titles and have tried the vast majority of the titles that have been published.  Batman, DC’s regular benchmark title, has lost Scott Snyder who dominated the New 52, month in and month out.  And yet, in spite of this, the new Rebirth Batman title has also been a huge success for DC.  The story of the Gothams was high octane, superhero melodrama.  And though I didn’t enjoy the Night of the Monsters crossover as much, the Suicide Squad story seems to have returned the title to its rightful spot in the DC pantheon.  Detective Comics, a title that floundered from writer to writer in the previous series, has similarly experienced great success.  The initial storyline, based around a secret military unit based off of Batman’s tech and training, was exciting and created a new status quo for the Bat-Family.  And its second solo storyline looks to continue this excitement.  And for those of us who loved Scott Snyder’s Batman can take heart as his All Star Batman title has been his typical, crazy but fun ride.  The only complaint I have about it is that it is a rare title that only ships once a month.

The Superman titles are similarly experiencing some of the most fun stories they have seen in a while.  Specifically, the Superman title might be the best it has been years.  Having “my Superman” back and experiencing the trials of father-hood have been fantastic.  And though Kon-El, by Karl Kesel, will always be my Superboy, Jonathon has been a joy to read about.  I especially loved the two part love letter to the New Frontier, which just wrapped up.  Dan Jurgens has been writing Superman over in Action Comics.  Hopefully, everyone is familiar with Jurgens’s Superman work.  And though I don’t think it has been as exciting, it has been reestablishing Superman’s role in Metropolis.  He has placed the “real Lois” back at the Daily Planet, and he is now playing with Geoff Johns’s idea of Lex Luthor being the replacement of Darkseid. It boggles the mind.

I hope to have more to say about the relaunch over the next few days.  Wonder Woman, the Green Lantern titles, and more have similar successes to look at.  Meanwhile, DC Entertainment has diversified their publishing line with a renewed focus on the Hannah Barbara characters and new line called Young Animal which reminds me of the classic Vertigo concept.  But the bottom line is, even though DC upset many fans over the last few years, Rebirth really seems to be living up to its name.  The price drop for almost all of DC’s titles to $2.99 and the 2x monthly shipping seems to be working.  The company seems to be sitting at the best spot it has been in years.  Keep it up!    

Lost Boy and the power of story

18 Jun

Recently, the musical world has taken notice of a Canadian song writer and her beautifully haunting song called “Lost pBoy.” Now, traditionally, I am more of a visual person: I respond to movies, video games, and my first love of comic books. But every once in a while, a song will demand my attention and this definitely has. 

The song is about “Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, and Wendy Darling,” characters I have typically not cared for which is kind of odd, as it hits all of the story points I enjoy, such as good versus evil, people with amazing abilities, and garish costumes. And yet, due to a viewing of a movie version I didn’t care for a child, I shut off to the legend of Peter Pan. But from my first time hearing the song, I fell in love with it.  I began to research the son, the writer, and felt an immediate kinship with the young girl.  

She recently went to a concert in London and recorded her thoughts on the power of music and storytelling.  She explained how to her music was all about stories and a powerful method for sharing stories.  These are ideas I can get behind. Because to me, stories are transformative. 

As a small child, my father told me Bible stories.  He told me history stories and family tales.  My mother read me fables and folktales. My oldest brother gave me hand me down comic books. All of these stories shaped my childhood and my life. The older I got, the more I began to notice similar strains and rhymes to the differing stories. And as I got older, I added classical myths to the stories I read. They all made the world come alive and become more interesting.

Our culture needs to reawaken to the value of stories. They teach morals. They inspire. As a teacher, I have to instill a love of storytelling in my students. I teach in story, carrying on a noble tradition dating back to the cavemen. And I am glad to see this new young musician doing the same.