Friday, October 31, 2008

What's Happenin' Baby? Meet the Brown Bomber!

Regular readers know I love my obscure comic book trivia. I got a surprise in this weeks Justice League of America #26, where Dwayne McDuffie has been quietly turning out an excellent monthly read. He has also strengthened one of the strongest lineups for the JLA ever, including such strong African-American characters in the cast as Firestorm, Vixen, and Black Lightning. In this issue, he wrapped up an ongoing Vixen storyline with a reality-warping trek into a might-have-been world where everyone is disturbingly different. This would have had a lot more impact if DC hadn't been spending the last three years putting its multiverse through the wringer on a routine basis, but this deviant reality still has a few clever twists, not the least of which is the inclusion of the most racist, most misguided near-disaster character in DC Comics' history.

Note how all of the regular Leaguers get an alternate counterpart here; Impulse stands in for the Flash, Hawk replaces Hawkgirl, but who's the bald bigot, and where's Black Lightning's stand-in?

OH SNAP. I cannot believe it, but somebody finally pulled the Black Bomber out of cobwebs, and used him in an actual story. And it is devilishly clever of mister McD to use him as a Black Lightning analog, because Black Lightning owes his existence to the ignoble Black Bomber.

Black Lightning creator Tony Isabella explains it best in his essay Black Lightning and Me , part of which I quote here:

"I created Black Lightning after convincing DC not to publish another "black" super-hero on which they had started work. The Black Bomber was a white bigot who, in times of stress, turned into a black super-hero. This was the result of chemical camouflage experiments he'd taken part in as a soldier in Vietnam. The object of these experiments was to allow our [white] troops to blend into the jungle. In each of the two completed Black Bomber scripts, the white bigot risks his own life to save another person whom he can't see clearly (in one case, a baby in a stroller) and then reacts in racial slur disgust when he discovers that he risked his life to save a black person. He wasn't aware that he had two identities, but each identity had a girlfriend and the ladies were aware of the change. To add final insult, the Bomber's costume was little more than a glorified basketball uniform. DC had wanted me to take over writing the book with the third issue. I convinced them to eat the two scripts and let me start over. To paraphrase my arguments... "Do you REALLY want DC's first black super-hero to be a white bigot?""

MY GOD THAT SOUNDS AWFUL. Brown Bomber is obviously an "homage'' to the dreadful, ill-conceived Black Bomber. Hats off to Dwayne Mc Duffie for this brilliant nod to comics almost-history!


Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Apocalypse According to Clowes

With all the dire news in the world, it sure is easy to start thinking about "The Apocalypse", isn't it? I mean, on one hill, you have the Beast, snorting and huffing with rage, his dark consort by his side, on the other, a would-be savior and his ranting oracle, warning of doom and tests to come. And meanwhile, all kinda crazy, awful shit is going on down in the valley below. I have the audacity to hope that the tall guy with the ears has the answer, but who knows? We might be doomed no matter what!!

But how can we prepare for the end of days? As usual, comics hold the key. None other than alt-cartoonist icon Dan Clowes warned us all of the tribulations to come nineteen years ago, when he was an unknown up-and-comer. Alas we were too blind to see, too foolish to heed his words (and pictures). Here then, from the pages of BLAB! #4, is Dan Clowes' "666: A Preview of the Coming Apocalypse":


"666: A Preview of the Coming Apocalypse"
Originally printed in BLAB! #4, Kitchen Sink Press,1989
Script, Art: D. Clowes

Monday, October 20, 2008

Batman Meets the Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed Thing

Back in 1982, readers of Marvel Two-In-One were cruelly taunted with the tantalizing possibility of a Thing team up with Batman (or a Batman-like character at very least), as the cover hinted at a pointy-eared guest star so startling that the Thing himself could barely believe his eyes. When we opened the book, hopes were dashed when the mystery character turned out to just be crappy perennial Nova villain, The Sphinx. Wotta letdown.

I recently re-read 2003's JLA/Avengers, and was reminded of that issue when I came across this scene in the second issue:

Kurt Busiek and George Perez crafted an overall fantastic series here, full of fanboy eye candy, possibly indecipherable to the layman, but 110% awesome to those in the know. Throughout the whole story, this scene in the Batcave was my favorite bit. The Thing is only an avenger by the thinnest of technicalities (Hawkeye badgered him into joining the West Coast Avengers for one issue before events in Fantastic Four drew him back), but bless Busiek for including him even briefly in JLA/Avengers, and bless Perez for drawing it so well. The Thing, no stranger to fantastic headquarters, tours the Batcave bemusedly, while Batman is obviously nonplussed by the brutish, wisecracking human rockpile invading his Bat-turf:

The story then goes on to matters more cosmic, but what a great little scene. Ben Grimm is probably my favorite character in all comics, and it is always fun to see him interact with other, more uptight characters. Given the rivalry between Marvel and DC, this one, short encounter between Batman and the Thing may be the first and only meeting between these two iconic superheroes.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Frightfully Yours

I'm a big fan of the "evil opposite number" school of super-villainy, thus my fondness for The Frightful Four. The evil FF has been a thorn in the Fantastic Four's side since FF #36, when the wingless Wizard organized the Sandman and Paste-Pot Pete, all of whom had fought the Human Torch separately, together with the mysterious Madame Medusa to form a new, sinister rival to Reed Richards' famous team:

The Frightful Four posed an ongoing threat for much of 1965, appearing in issues 36,38, and 41-43 causing the FF to temporarily lose their powers, then kidnapping and brainwashing the Thing to fight and attack his own teammates. At the end of the two teams' third encounter, Madame Medusa betrayed the others, and returned to her people, the Inhumans, after escaping an infatuated Johnny Storm.

As the Fantastic four went on to encounter the Inhumans, the Silver Surfer, Galactus and more cosmic scale threats, the Frightful Four seemed less of a menace. While Lee and Kirby would bring back members of the Frightful Four, the Sandman and the Wizard separately, the assembled team would not return until Fantastic Four # 148 with new member Thundra:

My own first impression of the Evil FF is still fixed in my mind as a summertime read of most of the issues that comprised the wonderful Frightful Four/Brute saga of 1976-1977. Fantastic Four # 178, 179, and 182 introduced The Brute, the newest member of the Frightful Four (and evil alternate-universe Reed Richards), in a multi-issue saga by Roy Thomas, George Perez, and Joe Sinnott. The story found a returning-from-a-long-adventure Fantastic Four ambushed by the Wizard, the Sandman, and the Trapster. The villainous trio then hold auditions for a fourth member in the FF's own hijacked Baxter Building as the captive FF watch helplessly.

Eventually, the Fantastic Four "won", but the Brute was able to impersonate Mister Fantastic for a few issues while the real Reed fought his way out of the Negative Zone. Thundra, Tigra, and the Impossible Man were also hanging around the Baxter Building at the time, so it made for quite the epic.

Again, for several years, the Frightful Four kept a low profile, the standard trio teaming with Llyra and Electro on different occasions. John Byrne never used them in his historic run on the book, though the Trapster had the honor of being beaten by the Baxter Building in one memorable short story. The Frightful Four have popped up again and again over the years. After the Sandman reformed, the Wizard enlisted Morrie Bench, the Hydro-Man to take his place, and other members over the years have included Klaw, Titania, Dragon Man, and the She-Thing.

Mark Waid brought back the team in Fantastic Four #513-515, introducing Wizard's estranged wife, Salamandra. The Wizard and the so-called dragon's daughter had a child together years before, the now adult Cole, whom Wizard had experimented on. as a child. He disowned when she turned out normal, but now, Salamandra reveals that Cole has been manifesting powers over gravity and mass.

The story took on a Romeo and Juliet twist when Johnny became romantically involved with Cole, trying to persuade her that Reed can cure her condition. Despite aggressively disregarding Cole's safety throughout, Wizard does come through as a father at the end, coaching a mass-bloated Cole to control her new powers. The Frightful Four have been basically a gang of hired goons since their formation, so this was a welcome and intriguing twist; recasting them as a dysfunctional family mirrors the Fantastic Four's healthy family all the more accurately, and adds some much needed pathos to the rivalry. The evil FF most recently resurfaced in Dwayne McDuffie's run of the FF. Salamandra and Cole were unmentioned, with Titania and Klaw rejoining the team to fight a Black-Panther led Fantastic Four.

Regardless of team composition, we can probably bet that some iteration of the Frightful Four will once again rear their heads in the Marvel Universe.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The New Mighty Avengers?

SPOILER WARNING! Speculative SPOILERS below....

The upcoming Dan Slott run of Mighty Avengers has been in the news lately, promising the most "Avengery" Avengers we've seen in awhile. Slott has mentioned that all characters would have an Avengers pedigree. Then this showed up in this week's "Cup o' Joe":

That sure looks like it could be the lineup for the Mighty Avengers, doesn't it? With the Hulk, the Vision, Iron Man, Hercules, Jocasta, Scarlet Witch, Stature, and a couple of others I'm not too sure about, this picture looks pretty darn Avengery. This also looks like one of those crappy, split-up variant cover deals, but that's another rant.

Anyway, Mighty Avengers...yea or nay?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Monday, October 06, 2008

President Evil: The Brief, Underwhelming Presidency of Lex Luthor

Hey, remember when LEX LUTHOR became President of the United States back in 2000? And how the actual president ended up making Luthor look like a preferable alternative?

Lex spent a few years as president, but was effectively neutered as a villain by his presidency. Ultimately, President Luthor went too far, with some wacky scheme to frame Superman for a Kryptonite meteor while juicing himself with Kryptonite steroids and macking on Amanda Waller. Batman helped Superman expose his evil scheme, and the disgraced President Luthor went into hiding, resurfacing as a traditional Criminal Mastermind. Ultimately, reality rendered comic book supervillainy obsolete, with real-life events costing the real-life United States a lot more than a few campaigns against Superman.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Fatman, Tinman, and the Battle of the Century!

How about some more of C.C. Beck's Fatman? Here's the last story from, The "fat-packed" first issue of Fatman the Human Flying Saucer #1 which actually had several tales, one introducing Anti-Man, and the other, skinny teen hero Tinman. Well, we already saw an origin story, so this time, enjoy the mayhem and whimsey of "The Battle of the Century!"

As always, click images to enlarge.

"The Battle of the Century"
Originally printed in Fatman, the Human Flying Saucer #1
April 1967
Script: Otto Binder
Art: C.C. Beck