Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How To Make Love the Ben Grimm Way?

WARNING: The following article discusses icky human genitalia in a frank and open manner. If you are uptight or easily offended, may we gently recommend any of the 230-plus other articles in our archives, most of which are pretty harmless. Offensiveness Alert is at ORANGE. As is the subject of our discourse.

Everybody loves the ever lovin' blue eyed Thing, but since the brutish rock-skinned superhero made his debut in Fantastic Four #1, one glaringly obvious question has never been answered: Does the Thing Have a "thing"? By thing, of course I mean a penis. Also known as pecker, schlong, schvance, rod, unit, love-muscle, johnson, dork, dingus, doodle, wang, hogleg, choad, and many, many other colorful sobriquets, the penis is a mighty important part of any fella's life, so of course the "is-he-or-is-he-aint" conundrum of the Thing is a riddle that has baffled comics scholars and inspired endless debate.

It is a question that is almost as stupid as it is disgusting - yet still we are compelled.

Lets look at what we know:
Benjamin Jacob Grimm was a normal physical specimen before the accident that changed him into the Thing. His transformation was a massive physical disruption at the cellular level, but he maintains a skeleton, musculature, and organs that have been shown to be roughly equivalent to human organs. His skin has become a thick hide of shifting, rock like plates, comparable to dinosaur hide in the early days. Most important to our discussion is what has become of his extremities. His nose has shrunken, become almost vestigial, his ears have disappeared, and his fingers and toes have fused into cracked, club like stumps.

This will, of course, never be addressed in any actual issue of Fantastic Four, but even at our most optimistic, we have to assume that Ben's entire body was transformed, and something happened to 'lil Ben. If it didn't disappear entirely (like his ears), it was presumably transformed into something incompatible with a human woman. Even if it's essentially the same, it would be, er, rocky, right? He was on equal terms with Ms. Marvel (She-Thing) but, we've also seen him with Alicia for years and a physical relationship has been implied, especially recently in the movies and comics. Of course, she is a sculptress. Marvel probably isn't ready to admit to having the world's first eunuch super-hero, so maybe with the Thing's increased media profile there's been a deliberate move towards emphasizing that he's all man, damn it.

Well, who knows how that works, but good for him! Maybe Reed Richards: Science Pervert whipped up a cosmic ray-powered marital aid for the pair. I'll leave you with that.

Again With the Comics: There is no bottom to this barrel.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The What If? Top 5: What If the Invisible Girl Had Died?

Welcome to the What If? Top Five, a look at my personal favorite issues of Marvel's long-running What If? series.

We're at number one in our countdown, What If?#42 by Peter B. Gillis and Ron Frenz:

What If the Invisible Girl Had Died? still gets me teary when reading it. Not that that takes much these days. I'm old and sentimental now, as likely to cry at an oatmeal commercial as anything, but this one even choked me up as a callow youth of fifteen. In the original story from Fantastic Four Annual #6, Sue Richards was ready to give birth, but there were complications due to the cosmic ray exposure that turned her into the Invisible Girl. Reed Richards (Mister Fantastic) determined that only a control element from the Negative Zone could save her, and led the Human Torch and the Thing into the Zone to retrieve it. Of course, the element ended up being part of the Cosmic Control Rod of Annihilus, and they had to fight him. Eventually, they wrested the rod from him, escaped the Negative Zone, returned to Earth, and Sue had a healthy baby boy named Franklin.

In this alternate time line, however, Annihilus catches up with and imprisons the team. They escape, but return too late to save Susan:

A funeral is held, and old foes call off their vendettas, among them the Sub-Mariner. Namor returns to the Baxter Building with the remaining FF, concerned about what he saw in Reed's eyes at he funeral. Some of the best, most resonant scenes in this issue are the individual scenes of mourning:

This story also reminds us that for all his carefree ways, Johnny is only one sister away from losing his entire blood family:

And then there's Reed...

Reed is so lost, so devastated, that he has only one goal: embrace oblivion and take Annihilus with him. He launches himself into the Negative Zone on a mission of death.

Reed pursues the terrified creature with single minded fury, as Namor, Ben and Johnny follow. They finally confront Reed, and try to talk sense into him. But Richards is too far gone - he draws a stun weapon and tells them to get back. Like a panicky animal, Annihilus starts biting and clawing at Reed, and Reed fires wildly, hitting the Torch. Ben follows, but the battling pair is speeding closer and closer to the lethal anti-matter dimensional interface that separates earth from the Negative Zone:

(Sniff) I... I've got a bit of somethin' in me eye...


(Schnorrk, snuffle...HONK!) Another heartfelt, heartbreaking story from the talented Mr. Gillis. Ron Frenz and Joe Sinnott provided some outstanding artwork, very evocative of Kirby, but bristling with emotion. Look at that picture of Reed telling Annihilus he's going to die and tell me you don't get chills.

That concludes our look at my favorite What If? stories. Let's hear about yours, friend! That's why the comments are there.

What If...I stop talking about What If? for awhile?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The What If? Top 5: What If Spider-Man Had Never Become A Crimefighter?

Welcome to the What If? Top Five, a look at my personal favorite issues of Marvel's long-running What If? series.

This time around, we're talking about number two in our countdown, What If?#19 by Peter B. Gillis and Pat Broderick:

The pivotal moment of divergence in What If Spider-Man Had Never Become A Crimefighter? comes when Spider-Man Stops the burglar from stealing the box office receipts in the first place. He does it for the wrong reason, however, and the publicity launches his show business career. You know how in pretty much every sitcom ever produced, there's always one episode where the lead character gets an acting gig and "goes Hollywood", suddenly wearing shades, calling everyone "dahling" and generally being a jerk until their big break bottoms out and they learn an important lesson about humility? That's pretty much what happens here. Spider-Man decides to climb the showbiz ladder, becoming a producer and rapidly signing up every superhero in New York for movie deals.

J. Jonah Jameson still hates Spider-Man, and devotes just as much page space to bashing the wall-crawling celebrity as he does in the regular books. In the original stories, Spider-Man rescued Jonah's son, John from a plummeting space capsule, but in this parallel reality, he's guest hosting the Tonight Show while John dies in re-entry. Jonah is crushed, and wonders aloud why the real heroes have to die. He continues turning up the heat on Spidey, first learning, then revealing his Peter Parker identity to the world. Parker is outraged, but this is a meaner, cannier Spider-Man who does some does some investigating of his own and discovers Daily Bugle staffer Fred Foswell's double life as the Big Man. Parker hands the scoop over to the Daily Globe, on the condition that he dictates the headline. The next morning the headline on the Globe reads:" CRIME SYNDICATE RUN FROM BUGLE OFFICES", and Jameson is ruined. Having a criminal operation run under his nose is enough to get him fired. With the loss of his son and his career, Jonah is contemplating what to do next when he gets a call from Foswell. The two meet at prison and start to plot their revenge on Spider-Man.

Months pass, and Parker is fully into production of a new Spider-Man movie. He's filming a fight with a robot monster called Dragoom, when a charge from the monster's tail downs him. By this point, he has taken on Daredevil as a client, and the hero rescues him before he can hit the ground.

Parker continues on, unconcerned with the danger, but it becomes increasingly obvious that he is a target. Finally, a staff meeting turns into an ambush when Parker and Daredevil are confronted with the Sinister Six. A mysterious hooded figure has assembled them to destroy Spider-Man, and they've been on staff for months in disguise. This reality's version of Spider-Man has never fought in a real battle, and cowers as Daredevil defends him. Daredevil gets beaten down by the villains, and only then does Spider-Man find his spine. Tearing into the crooks, Parker pulls them away from Daredevil, but it's too late, the hero is dying. Furious, grieving, Parker seizes the hooded man to reveal...J. Jonah Jameson. Faced with a broken man and a dead hero, Peter finally learns that with great power comes great responsibility.

Once again, Gillis delivers the goods. This is another great tale where the divergence is more in a character's personality than anything external. The vapid, blow-dried, Hollywood Peter seen in this story is barely recognizable, but in the end, he may yet be on the path to heroism.

Tomorrow: Number one! What could it possibly be?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The What If? Top 5: What If Captain America Were Revived Today?

Welcome to the What If? Top Five, a look at my personal favorite issues of Marvel's long-running What If? series.

This time around, we're talking about number three in our countdown, What If?#44 by Peter B. Gillis and Sal Buscema:

What If Captain America Were Revived Today? obviously struck a nerve with a lot of us. This particular issue has already been well-covered in the blogosphere but I never claimed that these were going to be especially original choices.

In this alternate reality, the Sub-Mariner never disrupted the Eskimos who were worshiping the frozen Captain America, so he was kept by the tribe for several more years. Meanwhile, a disgruntled worker at a secret government holding facility decides that America needs a Captain America, and he frees the Cap and Bucky that are held there in suspended animation. Problem is, this is the deranged, commie-smashing Cap of the cold war era who was made unstable and paranoid by a 1953 attempt to replace the real Cap. This faux star-spangled avenger captures the imagination of the public, and soon hooks up with Secret Empire member Senator Norman Chadwick, who uses Captain America's reputation to push forth a raft of oppressive, racist laws.

Time passes, and eventually, the real Cap is discovered and revived by an American submarine crew, who start to fill him in on everything he's missed. America has become a police state, with most freedoms eliminated in favor of battling a non-existent Communist threat. "Captain America" appears on television regularly to promote obedience and loyalty, and the military, ironically enough, is the last bastion of freethinking, since it does not answer to the federal government (this seems a bit much to swallow, but go with it.) The real Cap is outraged and gathers together a rag-tag (is there any other kind?) group of freedom fighters, including Snap Wilson and Spider-Man to revolt. It was also fun to see J. Jonah Jameson running an underground newspaper. Finally, the two Captain Americas duke it out in one of the best Cap battles ever:

Oh. HELL. Yeah.
The true Cap then turns to the audience and tells them that America is trash without the freedoms of the constitution, and ends with him singing the Star Spangled Banner, first alone, then with a swelling chorus from the audience.

N ow, more than ever, this story speaks volumes about the risk of sacrificing freedom for safety. You can read more about What If? #44 HERE, HERE, and HERE.

What if...I went on to #2 in our series next?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The What If? Top 5: What If the Fantastic Four Had Not Gained Their Super-Powers?

Welcome to the What If? Top Five, a look at my personal favorite issues of Marvel's long-running What If? series.

This time around, we're talking about number four in our countdown, What If?#36 by John Byrne:

What If the Fantastic Four Had Not Gained Their Super-Powers? was the rare issue that saw a story by the lead characters' regular creative team. His misanthropic ways more than any notable drop in the quality of his artwork have diminished John Byrne's profile, but he was red hot at the time, writing and drawing the regular FF title. Byrne's alternate take on the team's origin had cooler heads prevail before the fateful unauthorized launch that created Mister Fantastic, the Invisible Girl the Human Torch, and the brutish Thing. In this tale, Reed waits a few weeks, enlists some actual astronauts to accompany Ben and he, and successfully completes the interstellar flight.

Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben are called in by the authorities to investigate mysterious tunneling incidents worldwide. The story then follows the familiar path of FF#1, as the team confronts and defeats the Mole Man, albeit without the benefits of super powers. Interestingly, these "Challengers of the Unknown" have an easier time of it than their powered counterparts in many ways. All in all, its a nice, straightforward tale that illustrates that powers or not, the Fantastic Four are heroes.

Next: Number Three! Be there or be somewhere else!

Friday, July 20, 2007

AWtC Weekly: 07/20/07

SPOILER WARNING: This is the "current events and gossip" part of our presentation. New comics, comics news, and gossip can and will be discussed. Don't freak out, but we got SPOILERS, baby. Heavy, heavy SPOILERS.

Something I don't say very often: I really, really want to read this Archie comic...


Comics News this week:

I know it's cool to hate on Alex Ross these days, but I usually enjoy his work, and I'm looking forward to his latest project, SUPERPOWERS. Ross will be reviving several public-domain superheroes in a new series for Dynamite Entertainment, and if you've been paying any attention at all, you'll know I digs me some oddball golden Age heroes. Ross and Jim Krueger will be collaborating on this Justice Style, so it ought to start out strong, be overlong, and get way too complicated by the end. But! It'll look fantastic. I just wonder how the copyright/trademark issues will play out, but I'm under the impression that these characters are are all in the public domain.


You do realize that all the Spider-Man books are going to be unbelievably, horrifically late for the next few months don't you? Not only because Joe Quesada is molasses-in-January s-l-o-w, but because the creative team following him keeps passing out from sheer joy at the ability to tell awesome Spider-Man stories! You see, the only thing keeping Marvel from bringing you wonderful, timeless Spider-Man tales all this time has been Spidey's marriage, and now that they're trashing that, all Spider-Man stories are going to be great great great from now on forever! Really!! Yes, at long last we can enjoy stories of Peter's wacky dating life, the loss of which has been the only thing keeping Spider-Man comics from being the greatest, bestest comics ever! Boo, marriage!!!


New Comics Commentary:

Ultimate Spider-Man #111:
I've got a feeling that they're getting ready to have Aunt May forget Peter's dual life after "One More Day", probably magic-ing it away somehow. So of course, she now knows in the Ultimate Universe. The Spot also gets ultimized in this issue, but he still looks like a dalmatian.

Speaking of Lame ass villains, Super-Villain Team-Up: MODOK's 11 #1 is fat-packed with them, the Spot among them! Yes, the speckled stealer makes his second appearance in ten years...in the same week as his first appearance in ten years.

MODOK was just ousted from A.I.M. over in Ms. Marvel, but he seems to have upgraded a bit and gotten over his illness. Good for him!

Bliss, of course. Not enough MODOK in this first issue, but I really liked what I saw of the other villains. Armadillo, Mentallo, Rocket Racer, Chameleon, Nightshade, Living Lazer, Spot, and Puma are all called together by MODOK to steal an all-powerful weapon, but only Mentallo sees what's really going on. I notice writer Fred Van Lente has written Rocket Racer as a nerdy stutterer like he did in Marvel Adventures: Spider Man, which I quite liked.

OH. and ladies, I want you to note that Deadly Nightshade is wearing much, much more clothing in this comic than she's ever worn before:

Brave and the Bold #5:
Oh, Batman, is there anyone you don't "pwn"?

Thunderbolts; Desperate Measures
I have to admit, I'm morbidly fascinated with the whole Speedball/Penance deal. He sure doesn't look too bad for a guy who's supposed to be stabbing himself all the time. Boy's got nary a scratch in this issue. This was hilarious, though:

Haw! Jive turkey!

Again With the Comics Eagerly Awaits:

Kyle Baker's Special Forces looks like good, mean-spirited fun. I'm on board.

Okay, I've got another business trip coming up, so there will be no AWtC Weekly next week. I will, however, be continuing my What If? Top Five series through the week, so there's that. See ya August 3rd for a bigger, beefier AWtC Weekly, with two weeks worth of jabbering! Do try to contain your enthusiasm; its awful hard to get stains out of a blog.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Again With the Links: Down Wit' GCD, iTaggit, and Mad Batman

Credit Where Credit is Due Dept: I can't count how many of the covers that you see here came from the Grand Comic Database, but if I had to guess, I'd say LOTS 'N LOTS. It's a bit slow and glitchy at times, and the search function is kinda limited, but the GCD is still the best, most comprehensive collection of comic book covers on the intermajiggy. With over 150,000 comic covers to gawk at, kudos and thanks to the brave souls that tamed this beast!


Obsessive/Compulsive Dept:
I've been thinking about getting my collection more organized, and I was recently introduced to a nifty online tool that may facilitate that goal. I found a new site called iTaggit that allows you to organize your collection and download photos of your comics, along with grade, value, and notes. I've started my profile and I hope to get more of my collection listed when I have time.


Finally, from Scans Daily, a Mad Magazine Batman parody that I actually wanna see for real!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The What If? Top 5: What If Spider Man's Uncle Ben Had Lived?

Welcome to the What If? Top Five, a look at my personal favorite issues of Marvel's long-running What If? series. What If? initially was a double-sized comic published bimonthly for 47 issues from 1977-1984, later revived as a standard-sized monthly that ran for 115 issues from 1989-1998. Since then, The book has been released sporadically as a series of one-shots, and continues to this day in that form. You'll notice that all of my top five come from the first series, as it is my opinion that the second series suffered from the shorter format and monthly frequency. Even the best stories from that era fail because they don't have enough room to breathe.

Without further ado, number 5:

The first thing I noticed when I started re-reading these was how many of them were written by Peter B. Gillis. What If #46 was a stand out issue for a number of reasons, not the least of which was Gillis' thoughtful and humane script. In a reality where May was shot by the burglar instead of Uncle Ben, the result is a different, more conflicted Spider-Man. In What If Spider-Man's Uncle Ben Had Lived?, Peter is mere weeks into his career as Spider-Man when Ben finds his Spider-Man costume and confronts him with the knowledge. Ben allows Peter to continue crime fighting, but takes exception to J. Jonah Jameson's anti-Spider-Man crusade, telling Peter that allowing it to continue is disrespectful to May's memory. He then goes to confront Jameson in person with a desperate gambit:

Jameson mulls over how to handle this development, deciding to milk it for circulation. He challenges Spider-Man to present his side of the story, then co-opts the young hero, using his inside information to score Spider-Man scoops. Jameson goes too far when he assigns Peter to trail Betty Brant and her brother Bennet. In this alternate reality, Spidey arrives in time to save Bennet (he failed in "our" timeline), but he feels compromised and distrustful of Betty. Tired of answering to two old men, Peter disappears for several days, until Jameson draws him out of hiding by threatening to expose his secret.

When Jameson's son, John returns from a space mission with a mysterious ailment, Jameson rushes to his side. The Green Goblin tips his hand early, determined to kidnap Jonah and learn Spidey's secret identity. John mutates, as he did in AMS #42, and heads out to find his father. He knocks out the Green Goblin, but in his disoriented state, almost attacks Jonah until Spider-Man shows up to subdue him. The story ends with a restoration of the uneasy peace between the Parkers and Jameson, and with Peter and Ben agreeing to stick together.

I can see where this might have struck some as a particularly dull issue, given that things don't veer far at all from the original storyline. Most What If? tales aren't satisfied than anything less than a dozen shocking deaths (and Iron Man, of course) but this story was more about a difference in Spider-Man's mindset. Gillis provided a very compelling look at an angrier, more jaded Peter Parker who nonetheless followed approximately the same superhero career path.

The art was by Ron Frenz, one of his earliest Spider-Man jobs for Marvel, and one in which he closely mimicked the style and mood of Steve Ditko. Not that that's a bad thing at all -it's entirely appropriate, and one almost gets the feeling of reading an alternate universe Amazing Spider-Man comic.

Coming soon: Number Four!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Meet the Jokester and the New Earth-3

With the return of the Multiverse to DC Comics, I'm most interested to see what the new Earth-3 looks like. I've always liked my evil opposites, so the Crime Syndicate and their whole reversed-morality world was always a favorite among DC's many parallel worlds. Now, according to this Newsarama article, the awkwardly-titled Countdown Presents The Search for Ray Palmer: Crime Syndicate #1 will give us our first look at the world where heroes are villains and evil always wins.

It looks like we're going to see that world expanded as well, with the introduction of the Jokester, presumably a heroic foil to the villainous Owlman, as well as a few other familiar faces. Sean McKeever will be writing the special, and mentions that in addition to introducing the Jokester, the story will solve a long-running DC Universe mystery. I'm going to speculate that the mystery is that of the parentage of long-running Teen Titans ally Duela Dent a.k.a. the Jokers Daughter, and that she's actually been the Jokester's daughter all along, hence her recent death at the hands of a monitor in Countdown.

Friday, July 13, 2007

AWtC Weekly: 07/13/07

SPOILER WARNING: This is the "current events and gossip" part of our presentation. New comics, comics news, and gossip can and will be discussed. Don't freak out, but we got SPOILERS, baby. Heavy, heavy SPOILERS.

He had a date...WITH DEATH!


The wife and I watched Sideways last weekend. You know, the movie where Harvey Pekar and the Sandman team up for a week of wine tasting, skirt-chasing, and soul searching? Not a bad movie at all, but the wine tasting sequences reinforce one of the bedrock rules of my life: My fanatical comics obsession is normal and awesome, other hobbies, however, are just fucking nuts.


New Comics Commentary:

New Avengers #32:
The ramifications of the Elektra Skrull are discussed, as the Avengers start to realize the ramifications of a Skrull invasion. I’ve heard a lot of grousing about how this is a cop out, but I have to wonder what Marvel comics those people have been reading all these years. This plot fits in with Skrull motivations, needs and beliefs, and I’m quite intrigued. The only question now is: Who can you trust? (Answer: Not Spider Woman.)

BTW, is it just me, or is Mighty Avengers already months behind schedule? …Lazy fascists!

Deadpool/GLI Summer Spectacular:

Best of the week, hands down. Since their last appearance, the GLI has really come up in the world, and may be the biggest winners out of the whole Civil War / Initiative mess. The team has a top-notch headquarters, individual vehicles (that look like they came straight from a McDonald’s Happy Meal collection), and federal funding. They’ve got it so sweet that Deadpool decides to hang around as a reserve member to avail himself of the free food and cable. Hilarity ensues as the team tries to evict the murderous freeloader, along with chubby chasing, inebriation, and horrific violence. The Squirrel Girl sequences continue to assert that she is the most powerful, feared super-heroine in the Marvel Universe, which is right and good, as she sets out to find out what happened to Speedball. Her encounter with Penance is a priceless, thorough mocking of that dark, angsty storyline. P-Cat the Penitent Puss would have been worth the cover price alone, but then Squirrel Girl borrows Doctor Doom’s time machine to travel to Robbie’s last coordinates before Stamford, and the writers give me a very special treat. The opportunity to say I WAS RIGHT. Speedball lives, baby!

Green Lantern #21

I’ve been avoiding this book since its latest relaunch, as I was not in favor of reviving Hal Jordan, which is why I was surprised to see a group of Lanterns who share my dislike for Saint Hal. The Lanterns that were stripped of their rings and abandoned in space by Hal when he became Parallax are understandably holding a grudge, and it looks like this whole Sinestro Corps story is being set up to redeem him in our eyes. Jordan notwithstanding, I have to admit to being hooked by this tale of evil opposites.
Again With the Comics Eagerly Awaits:

JLA/Hitman: Garth Ennis and John McCrea re-unite for more twisted fun. Buy this if you want to see Hitman reprinted!

That's all for now. Begone, curs!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Goodbye and Good Riddance to the New Gods

From Newsarama, DC will be publishing Death of the New Gods by Jim Starlin later this year. Apparently, the series will close the book on Jack Kirby's New Gods, clearing the decks for whatever DC plans to do with the concept next, and really, this is long overdue. I'm not a big New Gods fan, I have no great affection for the characters, and I really can't think of any standout New Gods stories that weren't created by Jack Kirby. The original story is rightfully hailed and fondly remembered, but continuances have ranged from abysmal to "eh".

Among the better attempts, Mark Evanier and Rick Hoberg made a game try at continuing the mythos in the late '80s, then John Byrne and Walt Simonson tried another revival in the mid-90s, but New Gods have long been a very hard sell in comics fandom. This is another of those groups of characters that are so strongly identified with their creator that they usually suffer in others' hands, and for that matter, I can't imagine that innovator Jack Kirby would have wanted his creations kept on life support, as they have been for decades.

I'm quite sure that when its all said and done, the DCU will contain characters called "New Gods", named Orion, Black Racer, Mister Miracle et al, but there's no telling what they'll look like, or what their status in the DCU will be. It makes me wonder if the urban "street" versions of the New Gods that appeared in Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle a couple of years back will ever be referred to again, or if that whole plot line is going to be swept under the rug. Whatever the case, this should provide a clear dividing line between "Kirby's vision" New Gods and the New Gods that are DC's intellectual property to be exploited in perpetuity. Let's let Kirby's Fourth World rest in peace and reprints.