It's Darkseid, But Not Quite Darkseid Yet (On Jack Kirby's Fourth World Part 3)
This is the third part of TooBusyThinking's looks at Jack Kirby's Darkseid. Each is largely self-contained, but should you be at all curious, the first post can be found here.All panels come from 1970's The Forever People #1, by Jack Kirby with Vince Colletta1.Kirby's depiction of Superman as a deeply tortured alien in The Forever People #1 makes for fascinating reading. But it also reduces The Forever People themselves to the status of supporting players in their own debut tale. After a wonderfully boisterous - and distinctly unDC-like - opening scene, the Forever People's search for their kidnapped friend Beautiful Dreamer takes second place to Superman's angst. The result was the oddest mixture of quite different storytelling approaches, each associated with a distinct period of comics history. Kirby's tormented Superman portrayed the last son of Krypton as he might have been depicted in a post-1961 Marvel comic, essentially decent and yet psychologically hamstrung by a crippling inability to belong. By contrast, The Forever People and their mysterious ally Infinity Man themselves belonged to the pre-Marvel superhero tradition of one dimensional forces for good. Untouched by poor Kal-El's doubts and desires, Mark Moonrider and his comrades were broad types whose godly purity of purpose left seeming feeling counter-intuitively archaic by comparison with Kirby's Man Of Steel. (For all that Kirby drew from the counter-culture of the late-60s for the young super-gods' ideals and appearance, they were in essence little different from the characters to be found in his and Simon's 1940's kids gang tales.) Finally, in the wild exuberance of Kirby's concepts and storytelling, there was a sense of a revolutionary new approach to the superhero comic being developed. Without leaving behind the bulk of the genre traditions that Kirby himself had been so absolutely central in developing over the previous three decades, In Search Of A Dream presented a fantastic gumbo of radical new ideas, pell-mell storytelling, and richly contemporary resonances. That this took place in the largely staid DC universe, and with the company's oldest major player at its heart, only made the project seem more revolutionary. Yet Kirby never quite reconciled the different traditions that he called upon for The Forever People as an ongoing title. Despite some wonderful individual tales - such as The Power! in TFP #8 - the young gods remained but lightly amusing types, their broad personalities sitting poorly with Kirby's richly ambitious tapestry of Fourth World tales.2.In Search Of A Dream similarly presented a fascinating and yet ultimately dissatisfying depiction of Darkseid. Unlike the Forever People, the character would soon develop into a richly repellent embodiment of fascism, but, for the moment, Kirby's methods worked to partially undermine his own ambitions. On the one hand, The Forever People #1 continued the process of drip-feeding information about the mysterious Darkseid's wide-range of nefarious activities begun in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen. For the first time, the pages of In Search Of A Dream saw Darkseid explicitly labelled as evil by another character, as Kirby had both Vikyn and Big Bear declare. (So despicable was Darkseid, that he'd kidnapped the young Beautiful Dreamer and stolen her off, like a villain in a fairy story, to the wildlands of Earth.) On a more mundanely earthbound if thoroughly despicable level, Darkseid is also once more shown micro-managing the activities of Inter-Gang. (For those who'd see Darkseid simply as a comicbook version of Hitler, this alone should shake their convictions. The idea of the Fuhrer directly commanding every small cadre of killers under his theoretical control is self-evidently absurd.)Apparently determined to emphasise that Darkseid is more than just a stone-faced crimelord, Kirby presented the following conversation between an Inter-Gang 'capo' and a raygun-wielding footsoldier;'capo':- "When Darkseid gives an order, it must be obeyed! Inter-gang is only small apples in the crime empire he's building!"muscle:-"There's more to Darkseid than that! He makes me believe that Dracula is alive and well in Transylvania!"The impression given is that Kirby was doing more than associating Darkseid with a broad range of despicable activities, from corporate scheming to gangsterism, fiendish genetic engineering to the kidnapping of young women. In addition, Kirby was also deliberately identifying the as-yet rarely seen Darkseid with a range of criminal stereotypes. To schemer, gangster and master supervillain was now added the status of girl-snatcher and the suggestion of stereotypical vampire lord. (When Kirby later revealed the whereabouts of Beautiful Dreamer, he had Darkseid adopt an arms-outstretched pose that evoked Bela Lugosi's Dracula. It was a suggestion that left Darkseid seeming enervatingly out-of-time.) (*1) For the moment, this crush of cliches would fail to coalesce into a distinct and individual character. Kirby's attempt to evoke how fascism intrudes into every sphere of public life brought with it an inevitable problem. The more that Darkseid was shown to be involved in a wide range of villainy, the less convincing he threatened to become as an individual. How then to make sure that the metaphor didn't obscure the character? In The Forever People #1, Darkseid would exist as an awkwardly mixed aggregation of fictional types, intriguing and yet insubstantial. If his brief appearances as a talking head suggested a heartless scoundrel with unprecedented power and influence, Darkseid himself remained a cypher. *1:- As we'll come to, a far, far more successful use of the iconography associated with the Universal Monsters would be achieved by Kirby in the charming Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #142/33.Part of that lack of personality and presence was caused by the character's design. What would soon become iconic was initially underwhelming. At first, Kirby keep Darkseid's grey, stone-lined visage essentially impassive. Famously inspired by actor Jack Palance and his capacity to transmit a blood-curdling malevolence, Kirby's depiction of Darkseid as yet projected little beyond the insouciance of absolute power. This, of course, was part and parcel of Kirby's intentions. To have Darkseid rarely express extremes of emotion while constantly radiating malice placed the character far outside the typical range of comicbook antagonists. But for the moment, the result of such purposeful underplaying was to again leave Darkseid seeming considerably less impressive than his own fiendish designs. If Kirby had revealed that the Darkseid of these early appearances was in fact a lieutenant in the service of some even more villainous character, no-one would have been too surprised. Even as Darkseid's resources and schemes became more and more obviously substantial, the result remained the same. Terrible things are afoot, but the New God who's behind all the mayhem doesn't as yet entirely convince. This remains true even after The Forever People lead Superman to what's revealed to be a secret subterranean base, from which pours Darkseid's 'faithful...Gravi-Guards', creatures so powerful that Earth's greatest superhero is helpless before them. It's not the first sign of an underground base that's been carved into the Earth by Darkseid's minions, of course; we discussed Mokkari and Simyan vast hidden genetics laboratory in the second part of these posts. But here there's a sense that Darkseid's ambitions are escalating. Unlike the 'evil factory' of SPJO #135 that's populated by just two Apokolitian scientists and their experiments, the facility discovered in In Search Of A Dream contains troops, the machinery for probing minds and Darkseid himself. Yet once again, Darkseid's reach and ambitions are far more impressive than he is. For all his scheming, Darkseid's ambitions will completely fall apart through an accidental alliance between Superman and an anarchic band of youthful New Gods acting outside of Supertown's supervision. Coincidence and brute force turn back Darkseid's forces and stymie his plans in a matter of mere moments.If the depiction of Superman in The Forever People #1 lacks the traditional measure of undiluted nobility, then Kirby's portrayal of Darkseid falls short when it comes to suggesting a malefactor of substance as well as wickedness. As such, it's telling that Darkseid is never so fearsome a character as when Infinity Man describes him to Superman. 'Holocaust and death is what he serves!' he explains, looking momentarily appalled by the very idea that such a monster could exist. Nothing that Darkseid evokes during his on-panel appearances in The Forever People #1 can match this moment of quietly profound horror. For the moment, Darkseid was more powerful as an vaguely-articulated idea than a presence. 4.As discussed last time, Kirby allocated but four panels in The Forever People #1 to Darkseid's first appearance as anything other than a face on a view-screen. For the most part, it was a deeply anti-climatic sequence, packed - once again - with brilliantly compelling snares, and yet, lacking in the appropriate markers of individual charisma and menace. Not only was far too little space allocated to the showdown between Superman, Infinity Man and Darkseid, but Kirby's compositional skills for once repeatedly eluded him. (Only in the portrait of Darkseid that you can see above did the reader gain a shiversome sense of Darkseid's imposing physical mass matched to his utterly malignant personality.)Kirby had Darkseid first step directly into the Fourth World tales on In Search Of A Dream fifth-last page. (You can see the panel in the scan placed directly above, although tight binding in DC's first 4th World collection prevents my showing you the whole page.) Appearing in a frame placed in the bottom row of page 20, he gave Darkseid but one-sixth of the side to establish his malign presence. Constrained by word balloons and Infinity Man's helmet and right shoulder, Darkseid appears relatively unimpressive. Rather than dominating events, he almost appears to be unconvincingly puffing up his own importance. The arms being deliberately and yet defensively crossed, the left leg that's awkwardly extended before him, the cape that hangs rather tamely to his calves when it might be billowing; the impression is of a senior functionary rather than an imperial monarch. Yes, this is an undeniably powerful individual, and yet, first impressions being so important, it's by no means an obviously almighty one. It might even be imagined that this Darkseid is some inhuman creature who's impersonating a god, a conceit that might compel if only a greater sense of transgression and threat was present.There seems little doubt that Kirby had been determined to subvert the traditions by which super-villains were traditionally revealed. In terms of the dialogue he gave Darkseid, he was undeniably successful. Here was an alien warlord who, despite his fearsome appearance, chose not to resort to fisti-cuffs while admitting to his foes that his schemes had come to naught. For a moment, Darkseid calls to mind the Doctor Doom of Kirby and Lee's Latveria trilogy in 1969's Fantastic Four #84-86, arrogant, forthright and yet not entirely ignoble. But in just a little time, Darkseid will prove to possess little that's laudable on any level beyond a fierce animal regard for himself and his brood. As such, Darkseid only sounds as if he's honestly owning up to Superman and Infinity Man over a failure to find an interpretation of 'the equation' in Beautiful Dreamer's mind. (This, the first mention of Anti-Life, will go unexplained for a while further.) As future tales would show, Darkseid's simply so very proud that he'd far rather admit to defeat than allow others to deduce that he'd fallen short.More devious yet, Darkseid is using this front of apparently honest malice to mask his plan to vaporise all of his foes, both Kryptonian and godly, with soon-to detonate 'Radion bombs'. This is undeniably compelling material, and yet, once again, good intentions are compromised by untypically counter-productive choices on Kirby's part. For all its sinister promise, Darkseid's death-trap relies far more on the stupidity of his would-be victims rather than his own fiendish powers of cunning. Although neither Superman or Infinity Man note the big red 'Radion' bombs that Darkseid has placed beneath the couch bearing Beautiful Dreamer, they can hardly be said to be anything other than highly obvious. Without this detail, Darkseid's plan to teleport away while his opponents are vaporised might have appeared masterly. Instead, he's made to appear careless while they're left looking astonishing thick. (Infinity Man, who clearly knows both what Radion weapons look like and the truth of Darkseid deceitful nature, is incredibly slow in noting the terrible danger that's placed right in front of his eyes.) As a result, Darkseid seems desperate and none-too-smart, while his opponents appear to be even less perceptive. Tension ebbs away as the brief showdown immediately degenerates into camp.For whatever reason, Kirby doesn't even show Darkseid teleporting away from the scene prior to the detonation of his death trap. The character declares that he has "the power to vanish as quickly as (he) appeared", and then, in the following frame, Superman announces "H-he's gone". This is telling and not showing, and it's just more one sign that The Forever People #1 was, for whatever reason, created in haste as well as enthusiasm. The result is a jarring moment that baffles the reader even as it denies them the pleasures of a ghostly, sinister departure. To be continued, in two week's time, with a look at the game-changing 'The New Gods' #1....
Howard Sherman's cover to More Fun Comics #72, which presented the first sign of Fate's new half-face helmet. The cover's promise that the strip would be 'different' was entirely correct, but 'startling' was a less accurate enticement.This look at the career of the Golden Age Doctor Fate, which concludes below, began here, and continued here:20.Doctor Fate's second sweeping reboot of 1941 occurred in October's More Fun Comics #72. Whether in a spirit of optimism or desperation, DC appears to have been gambling upon a bowdlerised Fate's ability to appeal to a larger audience. Just a few months before, he'd displaced The Spectre as More Fun Comics' regular cover star. Ahead was a run of nine consecutive covers, the last five of which would feature a rather different version of Doctor Fate. (After that, he'd never once escape the title's interior pages.) In what would remain an unexplained change, Fate's helmet now only covered the top half of his skull. It's hard not to presume that this was a further attempt to make Fate both more sympathetic and less intimidatingly opaque to his young readers. Instead of the unsettling absence of facial expression created by the old helmet's design, Sherman could now ensure that the character transmitted at least a limited range of recognisable human responses.It was an innovation that was only partially successful. Unlike more typical superhero masks, Fate's half-face helmet still defeated any attempt to suggest the key messages transmitted by the eyes, the eyebrows and the forehead. Nor did Sherman take full advantage of the opportunities for expression he was given, and few of his panels would show Fate's mouth indulging in any memorable bout of smiling, shouting or even teeth-gnashing. Just as Kent Nelson was an interesting idea sabotaged by lacklustre execution, so the decision to change Fate's helmet presented an opportunity that was never truly grasped. Perhaps matters might have been somewhat helped had Sherman returned to the trick of showing Fate's eyes that had last been seen in the Doctor's debut appearance, but even that option was left unexplored.From More Fun Comics #79: Fate's half-face helmet didn't help to make the character a more emotionally compelling character. Indeed, it frequently looked as if the golden headgear had been jammed uncomfortably and unreliably onto Nelson's head, leaving some rather worryingly exposed ears.21.The helmet was only the most immediately obvious of the changes. Others swiftly became obvious. Where once Doctor Fate had been almighty, now he was reduced to the rank of identikit costumed strongmen. Even as Superman was gradually accumulating powers and the methods of using them, Fate was downgraded to a measure of super-strength, a considerable degree of invulnerability, and the capacity to fly, or rather oddly run, through the air. It was a standard-issue set of powers that left him pretty much indistinguishable from a host of other third-string superfolk. But with his nostrils suddenly exposed, Fate now had a convenient weaknesses; gas. Commonsense has always declared that the more powerful the character, the less interesting their stories. The evidence of Fate's remaining tales might be used to suggest that the opposite can also be true. Although his body still remained almost indestructible, being 'composed of molecular energy (and) immortal', Fate's lungs had somehow escaped being so strengthed. Every three or four issues, Fate would be briefly and repetitively floored by a handkerchief soaked in chlorophyll, a garage filling with carbon dioxide, a chamber awash with water, and so on. But even that range of threats offered little that could be made interesting, visibly or otherwise, within the boundaries of taste established by DC. (Mind you, even editorial carte blanche couldn't make suffocation a constantly engrossing business.) The Achilles heels of super-heroes function best when they can throw a light on a character's capabilities and character; how will Superman cope over time with the effects of Red Kryptonite, what will Wonder Woman do to compensate for the enfeebling loss of her bracelets? Yet all that Fate's new weakness could illustrate was the relatively simple and repetitive matter of escaping from locked, oxygen-starved rooms. Once again, original and distinctive qualities of Fate's had been replaced for apparently very good reasons and yet to little if any good effect. The new version of Doctor Fate was simply poorly designed. From More Fun Comics #72, October 1941: Fate, who used to teleport through the walls he couldn't smash through, can now be corralled by sliding metal panels. Worse yet, the villain who's trapped him is nothing more than a gangster, politely dressed with his tie and braces.22.But the transformation of Fate went even further than a change in appearance and power-set. Gone was all but the most trivial signs of magic, with even the Salem Tower being largely banished from the strip. (When it was shown, it was nearly always from the inside, as if its external appearance was simply too disturbing.) Even the alien Nabu and his training of the young Kent Nelson, so recently introduced, were completely ignored. A few trivial aspects of the original feature's pseudo-occult trappings did make an appearance in More Fun Comics #72. But even there, the crystal and ring that allowed Fate to monitor Inza's safety carried no more sense of the supernatural than Dick Tracy's 2-way wrist radio.Now Fate was reduced to a two-fisted opponent of American petty ganglords and hoodlums. It was if the various unworldly and mighty powers of the old Fate's adventures had willed themselves and their various realms quite out of existence. Absent too were the lunatic super-scientists with a taste for more than just a career in larceny, along with any nefarious, spell-casting felons. All that was left was a cartoon America and a narrow range of low-ranking, unintimidating criminals. Instead of the likes of Wotan and his determination to destroy the Earth, now there was Fingers Beaumont and his bank frauds. These were minor threats to public order, dangerous to individuals, who tended to be from the upper classes, but of no threat at all to the powers that be. Fate had become the equivalent of an affable if charmless neighbourhood policeman whose beat mostly took him through his city's least challenging districts. From 1942's More Fun Comics #75: the new Doctor Fate, saving nice shop owners from plate-smashing protection rackets.Conflict was reduced to the most banal of scales, the most routine of showdowns. A crime was committed, a hoodlum identified, a trap set and overcome, a bout of circus brawling indulged in, and always, a comforting closing panel of triumph. The old innovation and brutality only very occasionally sparked into life, and it never carried with it a spark of gleeful invention. No trace remained at all of the Doctor Fate who'd once destroyed an opponent's soul in order to prevent him reincarnating. No hint appeared of Fox's previous habit of drawing on the broadest range of influences to enliven his tales. Once or twice, a tale-closing punch-up resulted in a criminal's death, but even then, it was one that would have probably been classed as manslaughter by a friendly jury. An attempt to knock Mr Who unconscious, for example, resulted in his being accidentally hurled through the bottom of a boat into a lake. Fate let him sink without lifting a finger to save him. (Perhaps he was scared of his helmet and cloak dragging him too far under if he tried.). Despite that, there was no suggestion that Fate was doing away with the criminal element once he'd defeated it.He was just, shall we say, a smidgen over-enthusiastic.Anyway, the size-changing Mr Who would be back soon enough. The original Doctor Fate had made a despicable habit of ensuring that his opponents couldn't ever return and seek revenge. Mr Who wouldn't have lasted a second with that take on the character. Now he was free to reappear, and reappear again. From 1942's More Fun Comics #79: at moments, Sherman's old compositional skill would re-emerge, but the elderly blowhard Mr Who never seemed a frightening prospect even when in gigantic form. 23.The reboot pushed Inza ever further out of the limelight, although she was at least finally granted a surname; Cramer. For months at a time she would be entirely absent from the strip. When she did reappear, it was usually to partner Nelson to a soiree of some sort at which a middling menace would emerge. That would usually be Inza's contributions to the tale done and dusted. Once or twice she was allowed a moment of spirit; a sword thrown at a costume ball which released Fate from a noose, a bravely-accepted performance as bait for The Octopus and his henchmen. But on the whole, Inza existed as nought but a mostly absent girl-friend, a hostage and, when faced with Fate's prone body, a tearful mourner."No more to sail on adventures with him!", she'd wailed when Fingers Beaumont's hoods had thrown Fate off a cliff. Of course, the superhero had quickly recovered from his apparent death, but poor Inza would never again go sailing on adventures with him anyway.From More Fun Comics #90, April 1943. Having lost half his helmet, Fate had now also misplaced his cloak and belt. (Sherman, who'd once seemed strongly influenced by Shuster and Lou Fine, now appeared to be channelling something of Simon and Kirby's dynamic style.)When something of Fate and Inza's old relationship reappears for a single adventure in 1943's More Fun Comics #90, the strip suddenly threatens to spark back into life. As if nothing much had ever changed, Inza unexpectedly steps forward to challenge, support and encourage Kent Nelson, while his respect for her is clear and endearing. It's a return to form that regrettably only lasts for a few pages. Soon Fate has left Inza behind, running daftly through the air away from her while declaring that he doesn't want to 'expose (her) to danger'. As she disappears from the tale, so too does any air of excitement. So far has Fate fallen by this time that he's then reduced to fighting Din Din the kidnapped dog, who understands and obeys every word of his gangster captor.The series would sink even further, although in truth there really wasn't that far for it to sink.From 1943's More Fun Comics #92: Doctor Fate is reduced to beating up a diminiutive criminal who's already in his custody. Somehow the sequence seems so tired and pathetic that it doesn't even appear brutal. 24.These many and various changes need not, of course, have made Doctor Fate an uninteresting character. Will Eisner's The Spirit and Simon and Kirby's various everyman superheroes made for consistently fascinating features during the period. Indeed, having few if any special abilities often helped to make the likes of Denny Colt and Paul Kirk endearingly assailable. But Fox and Sherman had placed an essentially over-familiar heroic type into an essentially over-familiar setting with an essentially over-familiar storytelling formula. In many ways, Doctor Fate's post-1941 adventures were no more routine than his earliest tales had been. But the first if ever-developing set-up in 1940/1 had offered the chance for constantly changing and eye-catchingly singular scenes. No matter how predictable the plot, the events were frequently engrossing. Fox would draw from a broad range of sources - from myths to pulps to high culture - while Sherman would impose a dark and unified aesthetic that suggested a fascinatingly odd, complex and dangerous universe. But in their attempts to make Doctor Fate a commercially successful strip, DC surrendered to the illogic of the lowest common denominator. In trying to make Fate like every other top-selling character, they'd ended up with a strip that lacked any unique properties of its own. For the new Fate to excel, Fox and Sherman would have needed the freedom to invigorate the already threadbare traditions of the mainstream urban superhero genre. Instead, they were locked into an inescapably enervating routine. The few super-villains on show were as secondhand and unexceptional as Fate himself. The blue-skinned piscene crime boss the Octopus, with his handily Fate-choking gas gun, and the Clock, with, yes, his perfectly round face, could have appeared in any other superhero strip. None of them were interesting in themselves, or suggested anything interesting about Fate and his world.They were all simply there because they were, because they were there. From More Fun Comics #85, November 194225.The very last throw of the dice with Fate was the invention of a new public-spirited vocation for Kent Nelson. In 1942's More Fun Comics #85, Fate's alter ego was given to suddenly declare that, just as "Doctor Fate heals men's souls", so he "should help heal their bodies". It was a strange way of looking at Fate's work. The first Fate had been concerned with little but exterminating challenges to the occult status quo, while the half-helmeted version spent his time avidly beating up hoods and con men. Healing souls had never appeared to be a concern of either incarnation. But then, healing bodies itself would only occupy a handful of Fate's adventures until cancellation arrived. Of the remaining fourteen Fate stories to see print, Dr Nelson would only appear in four. Elsewhere, it was, with the exception of the loss of Fate's bright yellow cloak and belt, business as normal. So little use was made of Nelson's medical practise that it's hard to see why anyone thought the innovation was worth bothering about. But then, the strip seemed to be being deliberately purged over time of anything other than a costume, a crime, a criminal and a punch or two. In the final seven months of Doctor Fate, neither Nelson's doctoring or Inza Cramer were even once referred to. (The latter had, with a sad inevitability, had responded to Nelson's new career with a newborn determination to become a nurse. Yet the Inza of the earliest Fate stories would surely have aspired to be a doctor too, if she'd ever thought to abandon her position of considerable influence for a profession in health care.) For all that the post-Golden Age superhero comic has been keen to strip mine old stories for inspiring ideas, nothing from this period of Fate's career has ever been adapted for later use. Little could be more indicative of its qualityAfter 18 months of Nelson as MD, Inza as occasional date and nurse, and Fate as the foe of a cardboard underworld, the strip simply disappeared after July-August 1944's More Fun Comics #98. Sherman had gone by the end of 1943, to be replaced by first Stan Aschmeier, an adequate if largely uninspired artist, and then Jon Chester Kozlak, whose largely humorous style was free of even homoeopathic traces of the macabre. With everything that had made the character so different and compelling excised from the strip, Fate no longer the slightest commercial or artistic reason to exist. It's hard not to believe that Fox had long accepted that fact. For all that they're professional, his final scripts are painfully dull. To the outsider, there seems to be nothing beyond his craft of Gardner Fox in those stories at all. From 1944's More Fun Comics #98, the very last panel of the very final Golden Age Doctor Fate tale. Drawn by Jon Chester Kozlak, it seemed a rushed and largely uncared-for tale. Sherman's art had been wildly inconsistent since the arrival of the half-helmeted Fate, with the evidence suggesting a number of different inkers of differing quality at work over his pencils. But his art had rarely lacked interest and energy. His absence for the last six Fate stories makes it feel as if the strip had already been declared dead and buried, and perhaps it had been. 26. Today there might well be an online outcry from disappointed loyalists at such a sudden disapppearance, a wave of Tweets decrying the mistreatment and loss of a beloved character, a blog or two that traced the historical context along with the corporation's sins, and, almost inevitably, a splash of fan-lad invective. Of course, no such options existed in 1944. But in essence, what happened to Doctor Fate between 1940 and 1944 seems remarkably similar to what's occurring to many corporate-owned superpeople today. Some few contemporary reinventions flourish and take root, while most, whether well-judged or not, crash and burn. Of course, many things in the comics industry have changed, and changed out of all recognition. And yet, the market must still be attended to. So too must corporate politics and the entirely legitimate self-interest of creators. How could these factors ever not be of decisive importance?There's a new Doctor Fate title on the stands at the moment, a fresh spin, we're told, on an old, old property. Perhaps it's terrific. Perhaps it'll survive and even prosper. If so, then hurrah for all involved, and if not, then another Doctor Fate will inescapably be along soon. Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman's creation, in all its different incarnations, is just too beguiling a prospect to ever let fade away. But then, unlike the Forties, superheroes today are rarely allowed to lay fallow for long, and certainly not for the 19 or so years that the Golden Age Fate was absent for the page. That, if nothing else, has undeniably changed. .
On The Fall of Gardner Fox & Howard Sherman's Doctor Fate (Part 2: 1941)
From More Fun Comics #61: Doctor Fate pushes the Pirate Planet, and all of its inhabitants, 'into the great maw of the terrifically hot sun'.Continued from here13.As Roy Thomas explains in the forward to the Golden Age Doctor Fate Archive Edition, More Fun Comics and All-Star Comics were published by what were in essence two quite separate companies operating under the DC banner. As such, there's no reason to imagine that the words spoken by Fate in one title were ever intended to apply to his appearances elsewhere. Yet for a brief while, Doctor Fate's own strip did indeed seem to be informed by the backstory outlined in All-Star Comics #3. Although no mention was made of The Elder Gods and their making of Fate, the character did suddenly begin to discuss his adventures in the distant past. It was a shift that occurred as the Doctor Fate strip sheered away from its flirtation with technological opponents. Magic was once more the focus of events, and in that context, Fate was to declare to Inza in More Fun Comics #63 that he'd been alive when the Jerome family home "was built back in 1698". At the end of the same adventure, he'd reinforce the same point by explaining that he had "lived long beyond the ken of mortal men". Then, one month later, Fate wistfully explained that he'd known the 'evil' Aztec god Mayoor "centuries ago when the world was young". From 1941's More Fun Comics #64For the first time, Fate's history was beginning to take a satisfyingly coherent shape. In February 1941's More Fun Comics #64, his description of an assailant as "human!" could now be confidently read as a statement of his own otherness. With each passing month, his history would be enticingly developed. In More Fun Comics #65, Fox would go on to deliver the fullest statement yet of Fate's learning. Now, in addition to his previously mentioned occult studies, Fate was said to know everything of 'the knowledge of ... those races that dwelt before our written history began... (along with) Magic and the lost arts, the secrets of nature and the universe....". A mention of physics was, however, conspicuously absent. Fate was now, it seemed, an ancient, inhuman sorcerer with no reliance on any kind of science at all. From March/April 1941's All-Star Comics #4; Fate suddenly takes America's side in the soon-to-be declared war against the Axis.14. But in the spring of 1941, and with America facing the ever-more imminent prospect of war, Doctor Fate's feelings towards America changed significantly. Along with his fellow members of the Justice Society Of America in All-Star Comics #4, Fate embraced a campaign "against the subversive activities of the 'Fifth Column'." Unlike in his previous appearances, here was a Fate who appeared to take the danger to the U.S.A. in a decidedly personal manner. Not only was he evidently furious, but, for the first time, Fate was shown bowing respectfully to the authority of American institutions such as the F.B.I.. Never before had he paid the slightest attention to the law of any nation. Even the functionaries of the afterlife had been forced to follow his will. Only 'Wisdom who rules the world' and the Elder Gods had ever caused Fate to display deference. That was an imperium that he was soon to abandon. Even as he turned the leader of the sabotaging Bund to stone, Fate assured his colleagues in the Justice Society that the spell would be reversed once a trial began. The Republic's courts, it appeared, and not Fate himself, had suddenly become sovereign.From 1941's More Fun Comics #64Fate also appeared oddly merciful during the last few instalments of his first year in More Fun Comics. In March, he seemed uncharacteristically keen to avoid killing the Fish King Of Nyarl-Amen. It was a measure of restraint that arrived surprisingly out of blue, given that Fate had just burned to death every single one of the kings' soldiers as they attacked Hawaii. Prior to now, there had only ever been two punishments that Fate had been content to administer to his foes. The first was execution, and the second some form of macabre and eternal imprisonment. In each case, the audience had been encouraged to revel in the suffering of his enemies. Now the King Of Nyarl-Amen was allowed by Fox to dispatch himself, falling accidentally on his own sword after Fate had thumped him around. In April, a similarly restrained approach was taken with the depiction of the magician and extortionist Sarkiss. Banished by Fate 'forever from the world of men', Sarkiss simply disappeared into a cloud of smoke. Perhaps, as Fox's narration might be thought to imply, he'd been transported into space for a swift, gruesome death. Perhaps he was merely sent somewhere far away from the human race. But whichever reading we opt for, there was a distinct and uncharacteristic absent of relish when it came to Sarkiss's punishment. Rather than the whole story setting up the thrill of his misery and anguish, he was simply pushed off-stage with a minimum of spectacle and gusto.From More Fun Comics #66, from April 1941; Inza is overwhelmed, although it's hard to imagine that too many others were.15.With April 1941's More Fun Comics #66 came a sweeping and devitalising reboot of Doctor Fate and his world. Without any foreshadowing at all, Fate revealed himself to be not an eternal and inhuman agent of ancient powers, but a distinctly W.A.S.P. American named Kent Nelson. At a stroke, the degree of intriguing weirdness in the strip was dialled enervatingly down. Out went the possibility that the origin from All Star Comics was in any way canon, and in came ever-more pedestrian adventures, with one of Kent's first acts being to declare that the likes of "Vampires, Ghouls" were nothing but imagined fancies. Similarly, Inza too was transformed. Suddenly, Fox had her bemoan her lack of a love life, an absence of opportunity that Kent Nelson swiftly reversed. Soon she'd be spending her appearances clinging to Fate in terror. Even the art itself had changed. Beginning in the previous month's adventure, Sherman had abandoned his claustrophobic four-row, eight-panel pages in favour of a far more fluid and expansive style. If the artist's work had undeniably improved in terms of overall quality, its grim effectiveness was considerably reduced. This second origin tale would in essence remain associated with the character right up until the present day. Now Fate's knowledge and might were said to come from an alien figure discovered by Nelson's archaeologist father in a Pyramid built long, long ago by an extra-terrestrial race. Freeing the offworlder - 'Nabu The Wise', born on "the planet Cilla ... half-a-million years ago" - from suspended animation resulted in the accidental death of the elder Nelson, and Fate, who'd suddenly gained a father, now equally suddenly lost him. It was, however, a tragedy that he swiftly recovered from, and, unlike poor shattered Bruce Wayne, it was one that he never again referred to. Perhaps rightly feeling a twinge or two of guilt, Nabu briefly assumed the role of authority figure and superhero trainer before heading back off to the stars. (Like Kent's sorrow at his father's passing, Nabu would never again be heard of.) No more Doctor Fate the creature of the Elder Gods, no more Fate the immortal defender, no more Fate the master through self-study of magic and science.Instead, Fox and Sherman recreated Doctor Fate as the heroic identity adopted on occasion by a blond, bland, privileged citizen of the Republic. The result was to hugely diminish the playful thrill of terror and dauntlessness that Fate had previously inspired. Yes, a human secret identity might have offered the audience a character to sympathise and even identify with. But Kent Nelson himself was flat, humourless bore. Not only did he lack the charm of a Clark Kent or Jay Garrick, or the vigor of Ted Grant and Al Pratt. He also lacked the story-framing advantages offered by an interesting occupation, for Kent appeared to do little of anything at all. As such, Fox was reduced to having Nelson stumble over mysteries at exclusive classical concerts and suave house parties. Although something of his feature's sense of dark menace would remain for five more months worth of tales, it was diluted with a rooster of science-based criminals, an absence of inventively bizarre plot beats, and scenes such as that of a yellow-caped Nelson improbably attending society event. From More Fun Comics #68: the cosmic executioner Doctor Fate is reworked & his secret identity Kent Nelson, blandness personified, takes centre stage. 16. What was lost with Kent Nelson's introduction was the freewheeling bleakness, vulgarity and cruelty of Fox's original scripts. Grabbing his out-there inspirations from wherever he could while paying little attention at all to narrative sense, Fox and Sherman had created dreamlike horror tales that rudely celebrated their utterly diabolical protagonist. In his brutal triumphs over the fiendish powers of a predominantly hostile universe, the original version of Fate suggested nothing of the good, wholesome and obedient American citizen. As such, the passing of Fate mark one was as inevitable as it is to be regretted. Out of the fecundity and confusion of the earliest years of the superhero comic was emerging a consensus of what was, and in particular, what wasn't enjoyable and appropriate. The young readers of DC's products were continuing to opt for the likes of Superman and Batman over the shadowy, gruesome tales pioneered by Doctor Fate and the Spectre. At the same time, the ghoulish contents of More Fun Comics were unlikely to sit well with a DC that saw itself more and more as a purveyor of decent, trustworthy family entertainment. (Superman's radio show had begun in 1940, while the following year brought the Fleischer and Famous Superman cartoons; it's hard to believe the first year of Fate's feature would have sat well with a company expanding so rapidly into the mainstream.) As such, there was every incentive for Fox to dial down the dark strangeness of his Doctor Fate tales. The wild experimentation of 1939 and 1940 in the nascent superhero genre was turning to entrenchment. To add the by-now familiar genre conventions of affluent secret identities and screaming, dependent girl-friends offered to make the strip less singular, disturbing and alienating. In short, it promised sales, and profits. It's all too easy to bemoan the way in which most of the first wave of superheroes were speedily stripped of their most idiosyncratic and challenging features. Yes, conservatism and commerce triumphed over diversity and naive imagination. Yes, the loss of so many vital features of so many fascinating strips is greatly to be regretted. Yet, how could things have ever been different? The likes of Doctor Fate existed solely to make money. If Fox and Sherman could make something of a living from the strip, and even perhaps enjoy the process of storytelling a touch too, then that would have stood as a considerable success. Few thought comic books counted for anything, and fewer still imagined that they might be art of any kind. The rare likes of Will Eisner were sure that comics could be used to create work of lasting value and importance. But nobody could have ever imagined that strips such as Doctor Fate might be remembered, treasured, collected and even on occasion debated some 75 years later. Doctor Fate was trash comics, landfill product shovelled out at speed to beguile young children and rack up publisher's profits. Because of that, Fox and Sherman's work remains vital, coarse, ingenious, untrammelled and captivating. Frequently, their stories didn't even succeed in making sense, and so their pages carry with them a liberating, hilarious air of devil-may-care street surrealism. Flying under the radar of culture's gatekeepers, Fox and Sherman were free - for a short while - to pursue the most absurd ideas. As with all despised and peripheralised popular artforms, the result could be transfixing. But then, as always, the opportunity is closed off, and the oddities largely disappear From More Fun Comics #69: finally Fate is felled, and yet, the super-baddie is so unimpressive that the sequence merely undermines the protagonist's appeal.17.Not everything that had made Doctor Fate so special was at first lost. For five more months, the strip existed in an indeterminate state, now veering towards the old peculiarities, now turning to more enervating conventional fare. At moments, it's hard not to imagine that Fox had taken plots designed for Fate's previous set-up and stripped them of their worst and most enticing extremes. The same tale as introduced Kent Nelson's lacklustre origin also featured Negal, a purple-skinned giant who appears to rule over some at least of humanity's dead. Challenged by Fate to ensure that no shades ever cross over to the mortal plane of Earth, Nergal reaches for a huge club and declares his contempt. Sadly, only four frames were allocated to this confrontation, which is swiftly closed by Fate destroying a presumably human skull held by Nergal. So shocked is the otherworldy titan at this display of Fate's power that, shoulders slumped, he agrees to close the border between 'the land of the living and the world of the dead'. Compared to Fate's previously savage methods for ending conflict, it's a rational and restrained if forceful approach. (The dead shades who had previously escaped Nergal's nether-world in order to steal the souls of the living escape with no punishment at all.) But it's all also far less fun.As if informed that Doctor Fate should behave in a far more restrained and conventional fashion, none of the antagonists featured by Fox between May to September of 1941 are dispatched at his hands. One, defeated, leaps from a window to his death. Another is trapped in the form of a living shadow and prevented from ever becoming human again. Three are destroyed in attempts to do the same to Fate, who is now occasionally vulnerable to powerful energy blasts and willing to surrender in the face of blackmail. For all the effort invested in rebooting the series, these are stories marked by a constant air of under-achievement. Even the goals of most of these villains seem wearyingly unambitious. When the Luthor-like 'scientific wizard' Karkull announces that he's going to be 'the greatest criminal alive', it's hard not to suppress a sneer. This is a dastardly genius whose 'beam of transareal power' succeeds where all else has failed in flooring Doctor Fate Yet rather than change the social order, or at the very least put himself at the head of it, Karkull simply wants to rob bank vaults. Just as magic seemed to be being deliberately removed from the strip, so too gradually went the idea of the super-villain as an insanely tyrannical challenge to the status quo. Fox's antagonists might now threaten the powers that be, but they less and less wanted to be in power themselves. Unlike many of Fate's previous foes, these super-villains didn't even have the madness in their souls to attempt the destroy the Earth if they couldn't rule it. It did, of course, make sense to introduce a significant degree of weakness into Fate's power-set. After all, a hero who can't be threatened is, theoretically, one that the reader's can't worry for. But the ratcheting down of Fate's abilities and extra-judicial excesses only served to make him seem more conventional, while Kent Nelson was sorely lacking in charisma. Perhaps if his opponents had stayed as outlandish and powerful as they'd once been, then Fate might have become more endearing in his vulnerability to their might. But his enemies were themselves reduced in strangeness and ambition, which left the balance of power in the strip unchanged even as the tales themselves became more and more commonplace. From More Fun Comics #68: Inza is reduced to a stereotypical hostage-in-waiting.18. Inza's fate was even less enticing. Rarely did she have anything more admirable and vital to do in the revamped strip than serving as Nelson's plus-one at a variety of upper class events. Whatever mysterious influence she'd previously wielded in the wider world falls entirely away. In the place of Fate's female friend and ally appears a frequently scared and occasionally borderline hysterical girlfriend, frightened to be left alone and given to insist that Fate attend to matters that he's quite obviously already dealing with. (Of all of the reasons why Doctor Fate would carry Inza with him into danger, it's surely the least edifying.) It's a saddening business, to say the least, to imagine that part of the plan to keep the strip alive involved quite deliberately reducing Inza to a frequently cowardly and hectoring sexual stereotype. Yet a change this sudden and lasting could hardly have happened by accident. (In More Fun Comics #71, as if to hammer home the sexism of the new take on Fate, a helpless Inza is depicted surrounded by woebegone, needful children as the end of the world approaches.) At moments, as in her encounter with Adam Igorovich in More Fun Comics #71, Inza for a moment shifts back to her previously smart, calm and highly competent character. Perhaps, as I'd like to believe, Fox's heart wasn't happy with the new version of Inza, or perhaps he simply forgot that she was no longer supposed to be fascinating and formidable.From More Fun Comics #70, wherein a rather pathetic Doctor Fate fears what his enemies will do to him while warning Inza that he may not be able to protect her. 19.The penultimate installment in this sequence of revamped Fate tales reads now as if it were in part a quite deliberate farewell to Fox and Sherman's original take on the character. That may well be an illusion generated by hindsight, and yet, the series was about to take one more massive step away from its original set-up. With an even more conventional version Fate about to appear in just two months time, Fox brought back both Wotan and Karkull before condeming them to horrendous deaths. It was as if the writer suspected that he'd be unlikely to get to play with these wonderfully unhinged characters again. Not since the opening two issue fight with Wotan that had begun the strip had there been a villain brought back to face Fate for a second bout. (Of course, much of that was because the old Doctor Fate was in the habit of decisively killing off his opponents.) With genuine care for continuity, Fox returned the two old antagonists to action with a tale that detailed how they'd escaped the dooms that Fate had condemned them too. For a moment, it's as if the strip has returned to better days. With a statement that evokes the strip's very first frames, Fox even has Kent Nelson declare to Inza that Wotan and Karkull are 'master scientists'.But Fate himself has become a very different creature in the time since he'd first seen off Wotan. Poor Kent Nelson, as we're shown in some detail, now proves to be an intimidated and clueless superhero who lectures Inza at anxious length on the returned super-villains' incredible abilities. It doesn't make for an inspiring, or even interesting, spectacle; "Things that they could do with short radio waves, with uranium beams and electronic tubes surpass belief. If I didn't know how they did it, I'd think it was black magic. If they use their powers as I think they may, they could easily wipe the human race off the Earth!"From More Fun Comics #70; more evidence of the new Fate's intimidated, clueless approach to superheroing. For all that Fox had returned old fiends into play, and even paid serious respect to their backstory, Fate himself had become an unenticingly reduced protagonist. Nervous, uncertain and even fearful, he now lacked either Fate's previous indomitable sense of purpose or anything like a well-formed plan of action. When Wotan and Karkull are finally defeated, it's not through anything but the former's incompetence. Aiming to destroy Fate with a his 'flames of energy', Wotan sets both himself and his contemptible partner alight. In the following conflagration, even the villains' henchmen are burnt alive.The reader looks in vain for the sheer oddness of the likes of alien soldiers on a tropical beach suffocating from a surfeit of oxygen, or psychopathic roots who've forgotten they're merely parts of trees, or Central American pyramids raised up into orbit, and so on, and on. Even before Doctor Fate's strip was wiped almost entirely clear of its original strengths in October 1941's More Fun Comics #72, there was little left to be saved.This tale of Doctor Fate's decline and fall concludes here
Who Is Doctor Fate, And Why Are There So Many Of Him? (Part 1)
This respectfully slight crop of a Fox/Sherman panel from November 1940's More Fun Comics #61 shows the first version of Doctor Fate in his pomp, a beguiling hybrid of occult adventurer and superhero. Fate's Salem tower had first appeared in MFC#58, where Gardner's script described it as having windows but no doors. Yet Sherman's art rarely hinted at windows at all, which ensured that the Tower long seemed mysteriously impenetrable. (Fox did somewhat cheat on the matter of doors, however, writing that Fate could emerge 'from his doorless house by means of a sliding panel!'. That would be a door then.)1.Teasers and spoilers and misinformation! Eternal events, continual crossovers! All-new creative teams, and then, all-new creative teams! Allegedly unfamiliar characters in exceptionally familiar costumes! Endless reboots with you-mustn't-miss-this number ones! Trend-jumping! Niche-pandering! Incentives, alternatives and exclusives! Homages and shameless thievery! Deaths, rebirths, deaths and more deaths! Breakups, despair, sex, angst and torture! Great ideas reworked and reworked until even the original take feels wornthrough and inessential. The litany of desperate-seeming, profit-chasing strategies has become as familiar to superhero fans as it's predictable, tiresome and, ultimately, inutile. In the incessant yelping of 21st century hype, it so often seems as if snakeoilmanship trumps story and promo eclipses product. All too frequently, the superhero comic itself seems an inefficient and inconvenient obligation that stands awkwardly between baying consumers and anxiously scheming corporate strategisers.But it's hardly a new phenomena. We know this, and yet, the present feels so ferociously overloaded with the call and the response of the net. Haven't we plainly passed over the event horizon into an entirely different world where the comics industry is concerned? Perhaps, although I doubt it. The same fundamental commercial imperatives are still evidently at work as they were, say, in the late 1930s. Comics must be sold, audiences must be attracted, profits must be returned, careers must be furthered and mortgages simply have to be paid. No matter how technology has sped up and intensified the process of flogging comics, the flailing search for cash-spinning novelty has always driven the vast majority of the superhero business. In truth, it's not our tarnished and no-longer new century that's the historical anomaly, but rather, those incredibly rare past moments when the superhero book seemed briefly stable in its style and content. For periods that we now associate with a particular form of storytelling and packaging - from the Golden Age to The Dark Age and beyond - can seem profoundly protean and even blisteringly inchoate when studied in any detail. Three and a half years later and a very different Fate appeared in More Fun Comics #96, from March/April 1944. Massive changes to the strip's set-up, along with the replacement of artist/creator Sherman with Jon Chester Kozlak, had failed to make a commercial success of the character. Cancellation was a mere two more months away. (Oddly enough,and on a very minor note, this late-era tale would see the clearest-ever depiction of those windows that Fox had originally intended for Fate's Tower, although any sense of occult menace was neutered by, amongst many other choices, Fate's odd taste for sleeping in his crime-fighting togs and half-face helmet. Bless him. This was no longer a weird, unsettling strip in any shape or form.)2.Recently, I discussed the radical politics that were absolutely central to the earliest years of Siegel and Shuster's Superman. (Here.) Yet that profoundly left-leaning agenda would, by the turn of the Forties, begin to fade, and soon, little trace of it at all would remain. As such, even Superman in his early pomp was subject to substantial change. Yet at least The Man Of Steel was to a degree protected from the wildest of transformations by his massive commercial success. Lower down the food chain sat the features whose underachievement provoked endless tinkering and, eventually, sudden and ignominious cancellation. While preparing the Siegel and Shuster post, I found myself reading the adventures of Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman's Doctor Fate, who'd been launched by DC in the spring of 1940 as part of an attempt to compete with an explosion of Superman-inspired superheroes by the likes of Fox, Fawcett, Quality, Centaur, and Timely. In 1938, there had been next to no competition for Siegel and Shuster breakthrough strip. But from the spring of 1939 onwards, DC faced an ever-escalating number of superhero strips that it initially struggled to respond to. After Batman's debut on the newsstands of March 1939, there was a lull of more than half-a-year in which the company introduced no other new superheroes bar the Sandman. (Even there, The Sandman was a throwback to the vigilante crimefighters of the pulps and exploited little of Superman's colourful, kinetic promise.) But come October, DC began to pump out a mass of variations on the theme of Superman into the marketplace, spearheaded by a first wave of Hawkman, Flash, and Johnny Thunder. In March of 1940, as DC's determined marketgrab continued, came More Fun Comics #55 and Doctor Fate, by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman .Despite its title, which at first glance might be thought to promise rather innocent fare, More Fun Comics had already featured a number of horror-tinged superhero strips. Several years before, it had starred Siegel and Shuster's Dr Occult, an occult detective who'd briefly been transformed into a fully fledged costumed lead. It was a tradition that Siegel exploited further when he and artist Bernard Baily's undead and all-powerful Heavenly avenger The Spectre appeared in More Fun Comics #52. It seems odd, to say the least, to have two fundamentally omnipotent magical supermen featuring in the same title at the same time. Surely Doctor Fate and The Spectre were just too similar to each other? But the powers that be at DC were obviously betting upon there being a niche of young readers with a ravenous appetite for supernatural superheroes. In what follows, I've briefly outlined Fate's original four year career and noted some key developments in that relatively short-lived strip. In doing so, I'm well aware that I'm often reading his strips in a way that wouldn't have happened at the time. Continuity as we now understand it was quite unknown, and neither creators or readers were concerned with internally consistent fictional worlds. No matter how gifted and inspiring a creator's work, an idea introduced in one month's story could forever after be entirely ignored. Nor was the audience for these cheap, disposable kids comics bothered with anything beyond the slightest measure of sense and a life-enhancing rush of fun. As isolated from literary respectability as it's possible to conceive of short of hardcore pornography, the superhero book could appear little but a gaudy mechanism for extracting money from children in return for hysterically dynamic distractions. As such, the following outline of how this strip appeared to develop on a tale-to-tale basis isn't intended to suggest any kind of over-arching and intricate narrative plan on the part of Fox, Sherman or their bosses. But it is to say that the Doctor Fate strip underwent a series of changes that even today would seem quite dizzying. As if deliberately designed to gut the character of the slightest trace of individuality, these transformations reduced Fate from a fearsome, inhuman executioner to a run-of-the-mill child-friendly crime-fighter.Today's post discusses the Doctor Fate strips from much of his first year of appearances in both More Fun Comics and All-Star Comics. The concluding piece will follow Fate's rapid decline during the remainder of his Golden Age career. From More Fun Comics #55, May 19403.Cover-dated May 1940 and on sale in the last days of March, More Fun Comics #55 introduced the backstory of writer Gardner Fox and artist Howard Sherman's Doctor Fate with what would now be termed an info-dump. (See above.) At the off, Fate was a peculiar mix of superhero, scientific adventurer and sorcerer. Although he was clearly a master of comicbook magic, with the power to erase memories with a word and to transport himself through walls, Fate was also described as a "physicist extraordinary". Indeed, it seemed as if it were his mastery of science rather than magic that lent him his greatest measure of power. When faced with an entire planet of alien pirates, for example, he used an 'atom smasher' in the handy form of an earthly pistol that he'd found on 'distant Uranus'. Yet on the whole, Fate preferred to manifest his power through the conduit of his own body. From his studies of physics, Fate had apparently earned how to transfer with a thought "energy into matter, and matter into energy". (This was, of course, Einstein's E-MC2 as filtered through a huge measure of wishful thinking and pulpish gobbledygook.) Although Fate would constantly draw upon magic for both knowledge and fighting prowess, he initially appeared to be primarily a scientist whose learning allowed him to defend "mankind against .... lost sciences". Armed by this ill-defined mixture of science and sorcery, Fate was able to fly, project all manner of spells, prosper underwater and in outer space, and travel to different dimensions including the 'cold regions' of the underworld. Just in case this didn't seem direct and hyper-masculine enough, he was also capable of punching any number of opponents into unconsciousness and even death.From More Fun Comics #61, November 19404.But who and what exactly was Doctor Fate? Unless told differently, the assumption on the part of the audience would have surely been that Fate was one of them, a human being from 1940. If Fox never confirmed as much, he left clues that at first suggested such assumptions would be correct. To be a "physicist" in the throwaway adventure fictions of the period was typically to be a pioneering contemporary scientist, and Fate's early mentions of atoms and molecules and energy and matter would have seemed very much of the moment. Yes, there was also talk of longlost civilisations in Fox's scripts, of "ancient mysteries that were partially destroyed", and yet, the writer also added that "Fate has learned the ultimate secret of the universe". The implication there seems to be that the fantastical degree of power wielded by Fate was the result of scientific knowledge only relatively recently acquired. The magic was more than useless, but the science made all the difference.In that, both Fate and his evil nemesis Wotan seemed to have come to their might through similar paths. ( Wotan was the villain in Fate's opening two appearances.) Each had studied 'the mysteries of the past', and each had mastered the 'secret of eternal energy'. (All of Fate's opponents for the first year of his existence were self-evidently irredeemable, which appears to have been thought a fine excuse for the fierce and callous ways in which he dispatched them.) Presumably, the two had been fighting using magic for the "years" that Wotan declares they've been enemies, with their breakthroughs in atomic physics having happened more recently. It's a conflict that's obviously taken a toll of them both. Wotan plainly loathes and fears Fate, while Fate quite deliberately hurls Wotan through a window to his death during his feature's first appearance. In the following month, and with Wotan having survived the attempted execution, Fate punches him unconscious with the declaration that he's "wanted to manhandle" his nemesis "for a long time". Obviously, Doctor Fate's mission was a long-established one, with his abilities having developed over a considerable period of time.From More Fun Comics #55, May 1940: at first the evidence that Fate was a human being.5.Quite why Fate had adopted his costume, and in particular his full-face helmet, was never explained. Even when the strip was fundamentally retconned in 1941, no reason was given beyond it being a gift from an extra-terrestial. As a costume, it transmitted a series of mixed messages. On the one hand, it immediately labelled Fate as a superhero. On the other, Fate's helmet called to mind a knight-errant, a servant in some greater cause whose trials demanded a far greater degree of protection than most other superfolks required. In Fate's first adventure, Sherman showed some unmistakeably human eyes peering out through the helmet's eye-pieces, but subsequent tales presented nothing but shadows. (By January 1941's More Fun Comics #63, Fate's obviously-human hands would be obscured by yellow gloves, leaving only the back of his neck and his rather vulnerable ears to even suggest he was a human being.)The result of this masking of his expressions was a strange fusion of menace and pathos. If the absence of facial features left Fate seeming implacable and unknowable, it also intensified the sense that his life was nothing but duty and the jeopardy it brought. There's something deeply piteous about Fate's isolation from the wider world, as if the sacrifices he's made have robbed him of all comfort and rest. Fun certainly wasn't something that Doctor Fate could ever be imagined having. Indeed, he was never once shown in the first year of his feature without helmet or full costume, with the exception of his cloak suddenly and carelessly disappearing in his inaugural appearance. The closest Fate comes to an everyday human experience of any kind comes in October 1940's More Fun Comics #60, where Fate, studying alone in his Tower, declares that the 'study of the three fates is an interesting one'. It was the nearest that the first incarnation of Fate ever came to expressing the slightest measure of joy in anything apart from executing his opponents.From More Fun Comics #426.Fate's mission, as we'll come to in greater detail, was an ever-changing one. But in essence, he stood between the peoples of the Earth and the evil powers that threatened them. Three types of peril would rouse him to action. The first involved a direct attack upon his person, the second an assault on humanity, and the third an imminent danger to his friend and assistant Inza. Typically, an attack on Inza would alert Fate to a broader peril.(Quite why Fate's opponents so often drew his attention by attacking Inza was never explained. The evidence was that it was a wholly misjudged strategy.) And so, the invasion of her rooftop apartment by 'Maylayan Poison Bats' led to Fate tracking down Mango The Mighty, an unfortunately named magician-cum-extortionist transformed mercilessly by Fate into a 'tiny statue of clay' and locked away forever. It was a rare example of Fate opting not to slaughter his enemies, although it could hardly be considered a merciful decision. (Eternal imprisonment of one sort or another was also dished out to Wotan and The Three Fates.) By contrast, Fate's other foes tended to meet swift and horrific deaths. He favoured two particular methods of execution. In the first, he would punch his foes into unconsciousness and then leave them to tumble to the earth and their death far below. In the second, he would immolate his opponents, as he did to the army of Nyarl-Amen's Fish Men, Mayoor, Raymond Rall and the heavily populated 'pirate planet' of the Globe Men, which Fate hurled into the sun. What was genocide by fire to Doctor Fate?The pleasures of Fate's earliest escapades lay in a unique mixture of strangeness and schadenfreude. Fox mashed together the bleakest, daftest influences and made from them dastardly super-menaces for Fate to defeat; evil Mayan Gods, lurking fishes in service to the Book Of Thoth, robot armies, and so on. If there was to be no doubt that Doctor Fate would overcome his adversaries, there was the suspense involved in anticipating the horrible ends he'd deliver to his foes. It was in many ways one-note vigilantism dressed up in a variety of pulp-era genre traditions. But that in itself was, and remains, a singular and beguiling set-up.From More Fun Comics #58, August 1940: "By contrast, Fate's time away from the battlefields of science and magic involved nothing but waiting and studying in his lonely Salem tower."7. But for all that he was apparently at first a human being, Fate wasn't at first portrayed as an American subject. He may have owned a Tower on American territory, but that didn't mean that he paid his taxes to either the State or National capitals. Even to discover that Fate was present in the Republic had been a shock to Wotan, who evidently didn't expect to find his nemesis in the U.S.A. at all. Until March/April 1941's All-Star Comics #4, Fate was always presented as an individual who protected the world without belonging to any one part of it. Although he spent most of his adventures defending America, and all of them defending Americans, Fate was continually understood to be following a far wider brief. When approached by a cadre of concerned scientists in More Fun Comics #62, he was described as one who'd "done the world many a service in the past". In that, Fate was the Earth's sole guardian angel, and not just America's. If he was, for example, urgently concerned about Raymond Rall's robots destroying the U.S.A.'s 'coastal defences', Fate clearly thought of the Republic as a victim rather than his wounded homeland.These first tales created a sense of America as a weak and perpetually beleaguered nation. Since Fate's solo adventures recognised the existence of no other superheroes, it was always down to him to save the U.S.A. and the world beyond from an endless parade of apparently invincible menaces. The threats to the Republic in the first year or so of Fate's strip could be found everywhere; on and under the high seas, in the Central America jungles of 'The Yucatan', from distant areas of space, or even in the Catskill mountains. That America had to rely so completely upon a sorcerer who wasn't even apparently a citizen suggested a world in which typical mortals and their governments were by their very nature helpless.From More Fun Comics #62, December 1941It may even be that Fate knew little about the world of 1940 at all. It often seemed that his companion and assistant Inza's importance to him lay in her knowledge of the globe beyond Fate's tower. (Only in the tale of the Fish Men's attack on Hawaii is Inza entirely absent from Fate's adventures.) A remarkably independent woman in the context of the day's comics, it was Inza who provided Fate with a conduit to both America's intelligence chiefs and the various leaders of the globe. It really is as if Fate belonged only to his mission, and, beyond that, had little contact or perhaps even interest in anything but. By contrast, Inza evidently had a life beyond her exploits as Fate's confident and assistant. She was shown holidaying abroad on cruises and partying with America's upper classes. (In a wonderfully suggestive scene in February 1941's More Fun Comics #64, she's depicted on 'a glistening pleasure yacht' in the company of the explorer Bill Credon, clearly at ease and alone in the company of no-one but him; a platonic relationship seems the least likely assumption.) Wealthy and impossibly well-connected, Inza filled the space in the superhero narrative usually occupied by a secret identity. It was Inza who, through one means or another, tended to uncover the threats that Fate would resolve, and Inza who was able to enjoy the moments of peace that his efforts secured for everyone. From More Fun Comics #63, January 19418.Quite what Inza's relationship was with Fate was for that opening year, it was left largely to the reader's imaginations. Of course, Inza's presence was invaluable to Fox, who could use her in conversations with his otherwise-laconic protagonist. But the trick brought with it the mystery of the two character's relationship. What were they to each other? The evidence that they might be lovers was slight. (In several panels, Fate took Inza's hand when they were entering unsettling territory, while she once ran arms outstretched and terrified towards him.) Yet their relationship was remarkably close, founded in a mutual respect and fondness, and it was made all the more intriguing by the absence of romance. Despite Inza offering no apparent advantage to Fate when it came to the business of facing down evil, the sorcerer-superhero was constantly carrying her off into danger. Why Fate brought her with him when he visited the likes of the land of the dead was never clear. But then, he also carried her off into conflicts with Wotan, Mango, 'The Wizard', a ship full of aliens, a formidable army of tiny invaders, and so on. Was he so needy that he required an audience, or even just a trustworthy human being's reassuring presence? Did he value her insight and advice? (In MFC#59, he responded with homicidal gusto to her recommendation that a troop of 'space men' be destroyed.) Was she in some fashion way even an apprentice to him? For all that she was constantly being kidnapped, attacked, set on fire and so on, Inza was undeniably brave, independent, clear-headed and, as we've noted, exceptionally well-connected. Fate knew, for example, that Inza was a effective conduit to the world's leaders. What more could a sorcerer want in a novitiate? From More Fun Comics #50; Fate seeks the aid of Inza as she relaxes in her penthouseWhatever it was that bound the two together, it's hard not to believe that Fate relied deeply on Inza. For her to simply call his name was to have him appear by her side. (It was a useful business given how dangerous her association with him often proved.) It was a two-way process. Although Inza could offer Fate little by the way of fisti-cuffs and spellcasting, she was forever bringing him vital information. (Of all the people in the world, only she, it appears, had been given a magical orb that gave her direct contact with him.) In that, Inza frequently served as Fate's early-warning system. If she wasn't stumbling upon foot-high otherworld-invaders on country roads, she was encountering black magic in country homes. Nor was she little but a useful if vulnerable lightning rod, forever attracting the dangerous attention of fiendish powers. Fate wholeheartedly trusted her to 'scout around' and discover where magical artifacts such as the Lost Book Of Thoth might be found. It may even have been that Fate relied upon her to make sense of the world of 1940 and 1941. After all, in More Fun Comics #59, she passed on to Fate the news gathered from the radio of the SS Garden's capture. Perhaps monitoring the media for possible threats was her responsibility, or perhaps Fate, for all his super-scientific background, struggled to make sense of 20th century technology. In More Fun Comics #62, he appeared quite baffled by the nature of Raymond Rall's 'metal men' and relied on Inza to explain the situation. From More Fun Comics #56, June 19409.The second of Fate's adventures establishes both the scope of his world and his standing within it. As you can see above, Fate presumes both that he's known to 'the boatmen of the Styx' and that his power will inevitably intimidate them into obeying his will. (As Fox has the purple-clothed skeleton - Charon? - concede, "...Doctor Fate...can go anywhere he will".) Taking Inza on a tour of the Regions Of Death, Fate locates and questions "Wisdom, who rules the world". Then, in a breathless sequence, Fate communicates with "the Elder Gods", who dispense advice through the form of a giant eagle. Here Fox is drawing exuberantly on his love of myth, legend and pulp fiction, from sci-fi to horror and sword and sorcery. Fate, we're shown, is a player on a cosmic stage, mighty, unrelenting and indomitable. In his sixth appearance, he will even be shown destroying the power of "The Three Norns! The Norns Of The Norsemen! The Spinners of the Ancient Greeks!" before sealing them forever in their New York State mountain lair. Trying to discover more about Fate in these tales requires a great deal more attention and energy than would ever have been intended. Yet it's impossible not to seize on passing references and imagine that they're relevant. In Fate's third appearance, Fox described his protagonist as a "Professor of secrets that sank beneath the sea with Mu and Atlantis ... (along with those) ....of Egypt and Chaldea'. For the chin-stroker willing to push a point that was never designed to even be leaned on, there's a hint there that Fate's title of "Doctor" had been earned rather than grandstandingly claimed. But at the same time, the same tale also introduces a new sense that the invincible Fate is something other than human. When speaking with Inza about his mission, he speaks of aiding "mankind" in a fashion that suggests he belongs to some other race. Yet, even if that part of his original set-up is beginning to blur, then his self-proclaimed mission is becoming clearer. Now we're shown that he regards human laws as being inadequate, since they "don't admit such things as black magic". Under those circumstances, Fate has taken it upon himself to act as judge and jury and, very frequently, executioner too. As he explains to Inza after pursing Mango The Mighty to an unfortunate end, "perish all who discover secrets not meant for human use". Fate, it would appear, is not just policing dangerous magical acts, but even potentially dangerous magical knowledge. To simply discover such "secrets" would be, it's implied, to draw the profoundly threatening attention of Doctor FatePure pop-Lovecraft, from Fox & Sherman's contribution to Winter 1940's All-Star Comics #3.10.As the months passed, the idea of Fate as a scientist faded somewhat into the background, with magic becoming the largely unchallenged focus of the strip. In August of 1940, Fate was shown ensconced in his Salem Tower, 'ghost-haunted' and situated right in the centre of Lovecraftland, a shadow-filled fortress that's almost entirely devoid of comfort. Most probably because of a quite understandable inconsistency on Fox's part, Doctor Fate's purpose is at that point made even more odd and thought-provoking. For now we're told that Fate fights sorcerers "against whom black-magic officials are powerless....". If we're to take this and the previous story at face value, and of course we're not, then a black magic inspectorate had been formed since Fate's last appearance. (It is a lovely idea, and it's perhaps a shame that we never saw such a thing.) Previously the laws hadn't even recognised black magic, but now the problem is of a more practical bent. In such throwaway language lie worlds of possibilities. From More Fun Comics #62, December 194011.For a while, Fate adventures were marked by a notable consistency of content. But three of the four months from September to December 1940 saw him battle not evil magicians, but nefarious scientists. It's a change of emphasis that saw the strip temporarily losing a significant degree of its uniqueness. For the first time, Fate was struggling against enemies who could have been comfortably pitted against any number of costumed brawlers, from Superman to Captain Marvel and the Sub-Mariner. The ghostly and almighty Spectre, who shared the pages of More Fun Comics with Fate, would frequently shift from one class of antagonist to another, and the storytelling of Siegel and Bailey allowed him to do so successfully. But Fate was never quite so comfortable with the likes of 'Mighty Space' invaders, mad scientists, solar intruders and metal robots. By comparison with The Spectre's dead-white flesh and monkish cowl, Doctor Fate looked in many ways like a typical superhero. Without a distinct and outlandish setting of his own, he tended to seem run-of-the-mill. (Having said that, several of Sherman's panels during this period - as with the one I've scanned in above - were undeniably beguiling. It's a skill of the artist's that I've discussed before.)As 1941 appeared, Fate's actual mission had expanded even further. No longer there to simply protect humanity from nefarious magicians, or even those who knew the dangerous secrets of sorcery, Fate was now opposed to "All men who conspire against their fellows". A prime example of comicbook mission creep, it saw Fate declaring that every such cruel conspirator "should pay their debt with their lives".And so they did.From All-Star Comics #3, late 1940, by Fox & Everett E. Hibbard12.Yet by far the most significant change in the character's set-up occurred not in Fate's strip itself, but in December 1940's All-Star Comics #3. In what was the debut of The Justice Society Of America, a superteam of many of DC's costumed crimefighters, Fate rather casually explains to comedy relief Johnny Thunder that he very much isn't human, that he "never was a child", and that he was created instead by 'The Elder Gods' and set on Earth 'to fight evil sorcery'. (It's a slice of backstory that suggests something of the setup William Moulton Marston would invent for Wonder Woman in 1941.) Written by Gardner Fox himself, it's the briefest of origin tales and appears, at first glance, to trample over the first eight of Fate's solo appearance. (It certainly suggests that there was at least one previous meeting of the JSA's members, in which the normally taciturn Fate explained his deepest secrets to his colleagues.) Yet there's nothing in this single Fox/Hibbard panel to directly contradict what had already been published, and much of what's previously seemed opaque can now fall satisfactorily into place. No less an authority than Roy Thomas has argued that the contents of this panel suggest a "background different from the mere "student of ancient mysteries'" mentioned in Fate's debut. That's undeniably true, and yet, there's plenty of enigmas in Fate's first eight published scripts that this revelation can help to make sense of. For one thing, the new origin explains why Fate had discussed humanity as being in some way distinct from himself. Indeed, it even helps flesh out why those Elder Gods in More Fun Comics #56 were so quick and keen to assist him. Doctor Fate, it seems, was their creation.From More Fun Comics #56, June 1940: the sole reference to the Elder Gods prior to Fate's origin tale - or is it origin panel? - in 1941 All-Star Comics #3.continued here;
The Things I Wish I’d Known About Teaching Comics, by Greg Carpenter
In 'The Things I Wish I'd Known', guest contributors reflect on the lessons they've learned through their experiences with comics. With a keen interest in the insight of everyone from first-time readers to established professionals, podcasters to performers, it's a semi-regular Friday feature here at TooBusyThinking. From 1987's Watchmen, by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons' I'm absolutely chuffed to be able to welcome writer and teacher Greg Carpenter to TooBusyThinking. With his academic hat on, Greg teaches English in a Nashville University. In his writing, he discusses a broad range of matters pop cultural with a lightness of touch, an admirable degree of insight, and a welcome lack of the slightest pinch of pretension. Greg's first book is scheduled to be published by Sequart later this year. Entitled The British Invasion, it focuses on Alan Moore, Grant Morrison & Neil Gaiman, The same publisher hosts Greg's regular Monday column here, while his writing has also appeared at rogerebert.com and popmatters. You can, and I'd recommend that you do, find Greg's Twitter feed here. From 1963's The X-Men #1, by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Paul Reinman et al (I take every responsibility for this scan; it's how I like to picture Greg's teaching.)The Things I Wish I’d Known … About Teaching Comics When I was an undergraduate, I took a class in dystopian fiction. Since it was essentially a science fiction course, I assumed the professor was pretty cool, so I started recommending some comics that would fit the curriculum. He was dismissive at first, but he finally agreed to read something. I loaned him my copy of Watchmen. The next week he gave it back to me with a note. I can still remember what it said: “Greg—you’re right. ‘Tis good. Particularly the prose pieces. But it would’ve been better as a novel without any of the pictures.”So much for him being cool.Of course, the problem was actually larger than just him being uncool. His response—Watchmen would be better without the pictures—might just be the stupidest response ever given to a work of art. It’s like saying Citizen Kane should’ve been a play or that Swan Lake would work better without all that funny dancing. But it shows what the academy’s attitude towards comics was like only a few years ago.When I entered graduate school, the idea of focusing on comics was like a Juilliard student deciding to major in the kazoo. It wasn’t even a question to ask. So comics became my escape instead. After a day spent reading hundreds of pages of badly translated French literary theory, nothing was quite so satisfying as cozying up with the latest issue of Grant Morrison’s JLA. Those 22 pages were all my tired brain would permit before drifting off to sleep.From 1997's JLA #6, by Morrison, Porter, Dell et alWhen I started teaching, I kept my two literary universes safely separate. Teaching was for Shakespeare, Thoreau, and Hemingway. Leisure reading was for Moore, Gaiman, and Morrison. But that all started to change one day when my wife casually asked, “Why don’t you teach a comic book class?” I wasn’t the first—not by a long shot—but I was isolated from the growing community of comics scholars in a way that meant I still had to feel my way through the process intuitively. Now that I’ve taught the comics class several times … well, I still don’t know what I’m doing. But that’s pretty much true of all the classes I teach, which either says something about teaching or about me—or maybe both.What follows are a few of the more surprising things about teaching comics that I’ve learned along the way. Most of this is anecdotal, so take everything with the proverbial grain of salt. From 2002's Alec: After The Snooter by Eddie Campbell1) Don’t let the book bill inhibit youI’ll always remember the first graduate class I took in my specialty—American Drama. I went to the campus bookstore and picked up all the wonderful books. But when I got to the checkout counter and they rang up the bill—over $170—I had to sift through that beautiful stack and try to decide which of the many plays I thought I could do without. Since that time, I’ve vowed not to put my students in that same situation. For comics, this became particularly problematic. At $20 bucks a pop, the book bill can add up pretty quickly, especially if you’re dealing with books that you might only spend a week or less of class time discussing. The situation has improved, however, since those days when I kept talking myself out of teaching comics because it was cost prohibitive. With the benefit of the online used book market and the rise of digital comics, students can cut the final bill by 50% or more. And if the class is designed for depth rather than breadth, it’s still possible to keep the book bill in line (and far cheaper than some of the other subjects like science or engineering where the academic book publishers give new meaning to the words price gouging). 1953's Mad #3, cover by Kurtzman & M. Severin2) People in academia are incredibly squeamish about the word “comics”When I first proposed the class, I used a one-word title for it: “Comics.” However, when the department chair officially listed the class, he changed it to “The Graphic Novel.” Being somewhat literal minded, my first reaction was to panic—afraid that I needed to drop all the serialized collections I was teaching and to refashion the course around the history of the original graphic novel.I can be a little slow on the uptake.When I finally realized that he had simply changed the course title to something he considered more … dignified, I sighed. The next time I taught it, I again labelled it “Comics,” but I added the option of renaming it, “Comic Books.” When the listing appeared, I was surprised to learn I was teaching “Graphic Fiction.” Now of all the artificial terms we toss around for the medium, “graphic fiction” is my least favorite. I’ve taught graphic fiction before. It was called Blood Meridian, it was written by Cormac McCarthy, and it’s brilliant. And although I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, I’m sure you could structure a class around that as well.All of which is to say, for some reason, when combined with “fiction,” the word “graphic” doesn’t make me think of comics. Besides, I was pretty sure that neither Spiegelman nor McCloud were going to qualify as fiction anyway. So I told the chair to change it to either “Comics” or “Comic Books.”He changed it to “The Graphic Novel".From 1990's Animal Man #25, by Morrison, Truog, Farmer et al3) Most students will have already read … nothingThis was a shock to me. Don’t get me wrong—I didn’t expect a class full of people debating the merits of Wayne Boring versus Curt Swan, but when I polled my first class of 20 students, only two of them had ever read a comic book. I gulped before broadening the question to include comic strips and another three students raised their hands. “None of you have ever read Peanuts? Or Garfield?” I’ve never felt quite so marginalized as I did in that moment. These were good students—junior and senior English majors—but somehow the bulk of them had managed childhood without ever reading comics.And these were the students who were interested in the subject.I would normally just write it up to a statistical anomaly, but every time I’ve taught the course I’ve seen similar numbers. Most of the students are interested in comics either because of the movies or because it seemed like a new and interesting medium. It’s an adjustment, talking about comics with people for whom names like Jack Kirby and Alan Moore mean nothing. But it’s also liberating. I just had to remind myself that whenever I started to talk about something I thought was obvious or boring, for most of the students it was brand new. Wanna blow a college student’s mind? Tell them the story of DC “buying” Superman from Siegel and Shuster for $130 bucks a piece. Or read them the official restrictions mandated by the Comics Code Authority. From 2003's Batman 614, by Loeb, Lee, Williams et al4) The comics that students have read tend to be, well … randomMy first jazz album was Kind of Blue. My first Beatles was Sgt. Pepper. Maybe that’s the geek in me, but I like to begin things with the consensus favorites. So when I asked my small number of comics-reading students what they had read, I expected to hear titles like Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, or Maus. Or perhaps, I thought, they might’ve read some of the more popular licensed comics. After all, my own gateway comics as a kid were Marvel’s Star Wars and DC’s Star Trek.Instead, strange as it sounds, the most frequently mentioned title has been Batman: Hush. Not exactly Kind of Blue, is it? At least I was able to say I had read it before. Once. I enjoyed it mildly—probably many of you have as well—but I can’t say it’s in my top 10. It’s not even in my top 10 Batman stories.And then there’s Deadpool. If I were to go back in time and write a memo to my future self it would probably just say, “DEADPOOL!” I know nothing about Deadpool, but within that small minority of students with some experience in reading comics, Deadpool looms incredibly large. Take that for what it’s worth.On a more serious note, what this limited, anecdotal experience suggests to me is that many of us in the comics-reading community have little awareness of how comics are marketed to and perceived by non-readers. Likewise, it suggests that as a community, we aren’t necessarily doing a great job of introducing new readers to the medium.From 1986's The Dark Knight Returns #1, by Miller, Janson, Varley et al5) English majors need coaching on how to read stories with picturesIt’s a little surreal to sit in a room with over 20 English majors who have read Joyce, Faulkner, and Eliot, and hear them complain that The Dark Knight Returns is too hard to understand. But so many of the things that we take for granted—the reading order of panels on a page, the difference between word balloons, thought balloons, and caption boxes—all those things that most of us learned intuitively, are actually quite alien to the novice adult reader. I’ve had students get hopelessly lost trying to identify who is speaking in The Dark Knight Returns. Is Miller narrating? Is Batman? Is Robin? Every now and then you just have to direct everyone to a page and walk them through it—just to make sure everyone is reading properly. And it’s also important to remember that most English majors, trained in reading prose, tend to focus on the words and just … absorb the pictures along the way. As a result, when you can go back and point out that Frank Miller splits the Harvey Dent panels or that the sign outside the retired Hollis Mason’s apartment says, “We fix ‘em! Obsolete models a speciality,” it’s like they’re learning to read all over again.The nice thing here is that once they start paying attention to the pictures, they start pointing out things that you haven’t noticed. That’s when the real fun begins. From 1993's Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud6) Scott McCloud is your friendI know some people may feel like Understanding Comics has been overpraised or they may take issue with some of McCloud’s theoretical points, but I can’t imagine trying to teach comics without him. For the first couple of weeks of class, McCloud essentially team-teaches it. ‘Nuff said. From 1990's The Sandman #19, by Gaiman, Vess et al7) Don’t be too precious about your darlingsUnlike other forms of literature, my favorite comics mean something personal to me. Moby-Dick is a work of genius, but for me, Grant Morrison’s Animal Man is far more special. However, once you introduce something to a class of students, that sense of being special goes out the window. Imagine hearing someone dismiss the four stories in Sandman: Dream Country as “just weird.” Or think about having someone label All-Star Superman as lightweight and stupid. Pretend you just heard someone shrug off Maus as “not very moving.” That’s what it’s like to discuss things in an academic classroom.You just have to remember that these are students who are trained to dissect the likes of Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare with cold-hearted, dispassionate precision. Nothing is sacred. They’re simply treating comics the same way they treat any other medium—poetry, drama, fiction, film. Comics are no different.Which, by the way, is the whole point of the class, isn’t it? From 1964's The Amazing Spider-Man #19, by Stan Lee & Steve DitkoOnce again, my sincerest thanks to Greg, a good egg if ever there was one. Should you have a moment to fill, previous 'Things I Wish I'd Known' posts have seen Lee Robson discuss writing for comics and Martin Gray write about comics blogging.
On Forever People #1; When Superman Upstaged The Newest Gods (Who Is Jack Kirby's Darkseid? Part 2)
This is the second part of TooBusyThinking's looks at Jack Kirby's Darkseid. Each is largely self-contained, but should you be at all curious, the first post can be found here. In what follows, I've had to swerve to discuss Kirby's early-70s storytelling in general along with Superman's role in 'The Forever People' #1. To my surprise, it was tough to describe Darkseid's development without taking such an apparent detour; On sale in late 1970, The Forever People #1 bore a cover by Kirby with inks by Vince Colletta & editorially-ordered changes to Kirby's Superman by Alan Plastino. (Plastino was charged with redrawing Kirby's Man Of Steel for the comic's interior pages, as you can see from the panels below.)1.It can be hard to remember today, but the Fourth World titles delivered a substantial culture shock to many of DC's readers in the early years of the Seventies. (It's difficult not to presume that a great many editors and creators at the company felt similarly confused and even disconcerted.) It wasn't just that Kirby's singularly vigorous and expansive style had long been intrinsically associated with Marvel Comics, although that in itself could be bewildering enough. (The various New Gods titles never looked on the stands as if they belonged to DC's range of comics. Kirby's aesthetic was just too raw, too daring, too idiosyncratic, too impolite.) Nor was it simply a matter of Kirby's new titles introducing a completely new, complex and substantial mythos to the DCU. After all, the shock of the previously unimagined could have been managed so as to reduce the audience's disorientation. But Kirby, so long cooped up at a Marvel that he felt constrained and undervalued by, was charged up with a revolutionary's passion. Trusting in the audience's intelligence, curiosity and patience, he fired out issue after issue of fastmoving, demanding, and wonderfully peculiar tales. Long before a status quo had been established for any of his new projects, or so it often seemed, Kirby would move on to new concepts, new characters, new conflicts. The vagaries of the comics business would compound his attempts to initiate this new and more demanding approach to the American monthly. It could be hard enough for his audience to keep up when the Fourth World titles arrived at the newsstands on time. But the age's wretched distribution meant that comics rarely arrived precisely on time and exactly in sequence. Frequently, they never actually arrived at all. In such an uncertain marketplace, Kirby's was a particularly demanding approach. A detail of a Kirby pencil sketch of Darkseid from the 70s, as inked by Jim Starlin for 1994's Jack Kirby's Heroes And Villains: Black Magic Edition.For those that could hang on, it all made for an intoxicating ride. But some sympathy might be felt for those readers who chose not to buy into Kirby's method. History has tended to imply that they were unhelpfully conservative consumers, who, in unconscious conspiracy with DC's reactionary hierarchy, denied future generations the wonders of a complete Fourth World Saga. Yet most of them were very young and understandably casual in their allegiances. (Comics were, after all, still a mass medium, and they functioned for most as disposable distractions rather than fannish obsessions.) What Kirby offered was a far more exacting and by-necessity immersive experience than even Marvel during its mid-60s peak had ever pursued. No single issue could be missed, let alone nonchalantly read, for fear of the essential information that might be missed. That there were four individual titles to hunt down and make sense of in concert with one another only raised the degree of difficulty for the typical reader. Like many an innovator, Kirby's ambitions were too far in advance of his time. A publishing programme that could have easily prospered in the comics shops of the mid-80s was always going to stumble, if not necessarily collapse, at the turn of the 70s. That the Fourth World titles always generated a profit is a mark of how successful Kirby's first wave of DC work really was. What made it worse for the typically undedicated reader was that Kirby's storytelling was frequently as opaque and confounding as it was breathtakingly innovative, eventful and involving. In that, the dramatic punch offered by each individual Fourth World comic as a reading experience was often undermined by Kirby's laudable insistence on change, on intricate world-building and entertaining digressions. If this wasn't always so, it often was. If no Fourth World episode was ever less than entertaining and thought-provoking, the catharsis offered by each instalment could be undercut by Kirby's restless, driven approach. (It often seemed that he'd run out of pages long before he'd properly finished the story at hand.) Nowhere was this more true than with The Forever People #1, in which Darkseid's key confrontation with Superman and The Infinity Man was crowded into just four panels and two-thirds of a single page. Inevitably, it was something of a disappointment, and it remains so to this day.Kirby pencils for November 1984's New Gods #6. a mixture of reprints & a new Fourth World tale. The frame comes from July 1996's The Jack Kirby Collector #11, which points out that some of the dialogue was unused. (It also suggests that Kirby was expressing a criticism of George Lucas' apparent appropriation of his work in Star Wars.)Even as a nipper, I adored the Fourth World titles. But I can well understand why others didn't. Similarly, I'm hardly astounded when folks approaching Kirby's 1970-72 work today find it harder to enjoy and admire than they'd imagined they would. Kirby was indeed a genius, and the acclamations to that effect are anything but misleading. But that doesn't mean that the likes of The Forever People and the New Gods are always easy reads, let alone entirely successful experiments. For all that it's a heresy to write, we do new readers no favours if we lead them to expect an immediately transcendental experience. To a sensibility formed from exposure to the 21st century's well-mannered superhero mainstream, much of Kirby's Fourth World might appear discouragingly rough-hewn. It's only a general truth, of course; some issues, such as the brilliant Himon from Mister Miracle #9 and The Pact from New Gods #7, are reassuringly focused and self-contained But the past is indeed another country, and people did indeed do things differently there. As for Jack Kirby, he did things in ways that no-one else could imagine, let alone adequately emulate. Today's commonsense assumptions about what is and what isn't a good comic simply may not apply, and a neophyte could require an open mind fortified with, at first, a fair degree of curiosity and patience2.It wasn't until December 1970 and the debut of The Forever People #1 that readers saw anything more of Darkseid than his head and shoulders. Kirby had seeded his first three issues of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen with aspects of the Fourth World's backstory, but The Forever People: In Search Of A Dream launched exuberantly into the details of the ancient conflict between the New Gods of Supertown and Apokolips.It wasn't enough for Kirby to introduce the powers, personalities and purpose of Mark Moonrider and his fellow members of Supertown's youngest warriors in The Forever People #1. He also established the Forever People's ability to switch places across dimensions during times of great peril with the magnificently powerful Infinity Man. In addition, Kirby sketched in a great deal more detail about Darkseid, his methods, powers, resources and ambitions. Suddenly the reader was thrillingly bombarded with Boom Tubes, Mother Boxes, Supertowns, Super-Cycles, Super-Wars, Sigma-Blasts, Evil Machines, Gravi-Guards, Heavy Mass Galaxies, Anti-Gravity, the Anti-Life Equation, Radion Bombs, secret Underground bases and Darkseid's Invasion Of Earth. That in itself might be considered a demanding enough business for even the finest of creators. But Kirby also used In Search Of A Dream to introduce what remains perhaps the single most radical reinterpretation of Superman in the DC canon. It was, perhaps, too much of a challenge for even Kirby to deliver all of that - and even more! - in one single, tidy 24 page story without causing a measure of bafflement. The result was an uneven and often perplexing stew that was also consistently exciting, intriguing and, to established fans, even provocative. 3.It's worth taking a digression to consider how thorough and profound was Kirby's new vision for the Man Of Steel. For how was it that Darkseid, during his very first substantial walk-on appearance, ended up playing second fiddle to Superman of all characters? To include DC's premier superhero of course made perfect artistic and commercial sense. Kal-El had already unknowingly brushed up against Darkseid's ambitions in the pages of Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen. As such, he was already caught up in the New Gods' war and made perfect sense as a guest star. (If Darkseid had shown no interest in the rest of Earth's superheroes, Superman had from the off appeared to unsettle him.) Commercially, the presence of Superman on the front cover as well as the interior pages of The Forever People #1 could do nothing but good. No other DC property during the period came close to matching Superman's status and sales.Yet Kirby wasn't content to feature Superman as he was commonly depicted in the comics of the period. Gone was the cosily assimilated Kal-El of the previous few decades. In what's unfairly if understandably been referred to the Marvelisation of Superman, Kirby accentuated the character's alien heritage. Suddenly, Superman had acquired some profound neuroses. Instead of a Clark Kent who felt very much at home on Earth, and who was largely welcomed and adored by the planet's citizens, Kirby gave us an isolated, unsure extra-terrestial who wondered if he was 'secretely' resented, feared and hated;"For the first time in many years -- I feel I'm alone -- alone!'In that, Kirby's portrayal of a desperately lonely Superman driven to despair by his alienation from humanity turned just about every given about the character on its head. The result was a moving and ultimately tragic tale of Kal-El the Kryptonian in perpetual, painful exile, a 'stranger in a strange land' willing even to abandon Earth in its hour of greatest need in order to visit a world of similarly gifted individuals. (*1) This was, Kirby plausibly argued, the result of Superman feeling that he was "a minority of one in a world of teeming millions". It was a crushing sense of aloneness that would drive him to uncharacteristically selfish acts. And so, Superman's first thought when encountering an evidently beleaguered Forever People was;"I must gain the confidence of these super-kids -- if I ever hope to achieve what I came for."Shockingly, this wasn't the musing of a hero set on assisting a group of strangers in obvious need. This was Superman as a manipulative and rather desperate con-man, who hid his true motivations under a cloak of altruism.Not just emotionally battered and perhaps even shell-shocked, but disturbingly dishonest too? It was a version of Superman who, for all that he was fascinating, might even have undercut the commercial value of his presence in the comic. After all, a more traditional depiction of him could have helped ease readers into the complexities of the Fourth World. But when even Superman himself was being shown in such an unfamiliar and compromised light, The Forever People could have seemed an even more intimidatingly strange prospect.The unconvincing effect created by DC nervously having Kirby's dynamic version of Superman completely redrawn by old-school artist Al Plastino only added to the overall sense of oddness. *1:- I doubt the reference to the Heinlein book so beloved to the time's counter-culture was an accident, particularly given that The Forever People was a sincerely-meant celebration of the potential of America's youth. Kirby determinedly made sure that his Superman had good reason to feel so ill-at-ease and desolate. For all that it might be said that Superman had been transformed too quickly and too completely, the verve and pathos of Kirby's storytelling carries the reader through any lurking doubts. Out of the blue, the Man Of Steel's presence was, we're shown, threatening to devalue rather than inspire humanity's highest aspirations. His very reason for existing was dissolving before his eyes As the heavyweight boxer Rocky declares to Clark Kent, "What have I done -- that Superman couldn't do better? He can put down an army of title-holders! With Superman in the picture, the fight game is a farce! If only I could meet him on his own terms!"No wonder that In Search Of A Dream has in places become seen as more of a Superman tale than a story of the Fourth World. The most touching and insightful moments of the story feature not the various New Gods, but their decades-old and world-famous guest star. Not only that, but Superman's powers resolve the tale's major physical jeopardy while his despair dominates the story's denouement. Mass-market collections such as 1987's The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told have claimed Kirby's tale for the Man Of Steel's own tradition, and such books have probably reached more readers than ever enjoyed The Forever People's solo adventures. At the tale's end, Kirby even shows Superman being abandoned by The Forever People as a regrettable deserter from the front line against Darkseid. So desperate is Kal-El to reach the home of the New Gods that he ignores their pleas for him to stay. More than anything, more even than the prospect of Earth's suffering, Superman wants to experience what it is like to belong. Not even Big Bear's declaration that the fall of Earth will destroy the sanctuary that's Supertown can influence the Man Of Steel to remain and fight. He is, Kirby makes clear, a deeply traumatised individual. Despite the ever-sunny Serifan's support for his choice, the rest of The Forever People turn their back on him. As Mark Moonrider declares, 'We'll carry on without him!". That Superman has promised to return if he's ever needed is, Kirby implies, a sign of self-deception. Kal-El - and this is very much Kal-El rather than Clark Kent - has chosen on one or another level to ignore all the evidence that the planet is in immediate peril. Having placed his own needs before those of Earth's many billions of inhabitants, Superman has even repressed the awareness that he's done so. "I hope you can live with your conscience", says Big Bear, and for the moment, Superman appears in little doubt that he can. At the final second, and with Supertown almost in reach, Superman accepts with some reluctance that he 'may be deserting mankind when it needs (him) most!". With the collapse of his determination to escape, the Boom Tube carrying him towards his enticing destination implodes. As he regains his feet on Earth, we see that The Forever People have gone and day has become night. Bowed with despair, Superman is left by Kirby as a broken man, who, having being tempted beyond measure, has barely escaped with his soul intact. It is, of course, a way of discussing how Anti-Life itself operates. Even Superman, Kirby tells us, can be tested and tempted to place his interests above everyone else's. Even Superman can be driven to run for the supposed peace of unthinking belonging and the oblivion it promises.5.In this, Kirby also established that the New Gods are a different order of being to even Earth's favourite adopted son and greatest defender. Superman can be worn down by the tumult of everyday life, but the Gods themselves exist on a higher, purer plane, where abstract moral principles and personal motivations are often one and the same. They are, in that, closer to the original, pre-Marvel Revolution model of the superhero, who embodied heroic convictions untrammelled by the complexities of truly individual personalities. In that clash between the high opera of the Gods and the more mundane worldviews of everyday human beings would lie many of the Fourth World's greatest charms. (The interaction between Gods and men in New Gods' #6's The Glory Boat comes particularly to mind.) It's certainly no accident that the Fourth World's two most compelling heroic figures would be, by virtue of biology and upbringing, creatures of both Supertown and Apokolips. For Mister Miracle and Orion, life would be a far more trying and conditional business than it was for their fellows from either Kirby's heaven or hell. Caught between their exposure to two starkly opposing ethical codes, they'd emerge as the most individual and engaging of all the Gods, with, of course, the exception of Darkseid himself.But there's an argument to be made that the Superman of In Search Of A Dream was the Fourth World's most touching figure. What a shame that Kirby never got to take that depiction any further, and that we never saw him redeem himself in the Forever People''s eyes. (A consistently more conventional Kal-El would star in all of the Fourth World's appearances in Jimmy Olsen's book.) Not before or after have we been given a Kal-El who's so profoundly unhappy, so fundamentally weary of responsibility and conflict and isolation. (*2) In that, The Forever People #1 stands with the likes of 1960's Superman's Return To Krypton and 1964's The Death Of Superman as one of the character's saddest stories. It was a tremendous achievement on Kirby's part, and yet,as we'll discuss next time, it did leave the Godly characters in the book short of page-time. Of them all, it was Darkseid and the mute, kidnapped figure of Beautiful Dreamer who were the most diminished by Kirby's focus on Superman. Both of them, and particularly the Lord of Apokolips, would be far better served as Kirby soon kicked into his stride.Continued here
Where To Start With 2000AD?
Last week's 2000AD, with a Glenn Fabry/Ryan Brown cover. A few years ago, I started to write a series about those 2000AD strips that I imagined would most appeal to action-adventure comics fans who knew little of The Galaxy's Greatest Comic. I'm not entirely clear why I stopped penning the pieces after three posts, but I suspect I felt others were far better qualified for the task. (But then, that's always true; it's a rare generalist that can outshine an expert.) But coming across my notes again, I thought I might at least put them to some small use.In what follows, I've suggested a dozen titles that might introduce the broad and substantial world of 2000AD to neophytes. In a post to arrive at a latter date, I'll suggest a further dozen collections that might ease the newcoming reader even further into the comic's vast back catalogue. As such, what's here isn't intended to summarise the best of 2000AD's contents, or even nail down its most important stories. Nor does it attempt to provide a representative sample - if such was even possible - of 2000AD's dominant styles or genres. It certainly doesn't include all of the most important and influential of the creators who've contributed to the title. All it does is suggest entrance points to what can be, my American friends assure me, an intimidatingly large and distinct body of work.Yes, there's a huge number of characters, tales and creators that I've decided - often reluctantly - not to mention. That doesn't mean that I don't admire the storytellers and enjoy their work. It's just that those strips didn't quite belong here. (I suspect many will appear in subsequent lists.) The vast number of the initially excluded includes some of my all-time favourite comics. No Nikolai Dante here, no Zombo? No Simon Fraser, no Brian Bolland, no Robbie Morrison? It feels like a betrayal, it really does. Mea culpa. But next time...... From 38 years ago, 1977's 2000AD #13, the cover of which features of montage of various artist's work.For these reasons, I've tended towards collections with largely self-contained stories and consistent, accessible styles. However, as the list continues, I've added a titles that are less so, although the same principles still largely apply. As is inevitable, I've changed a few of my original choices as a result of the last few years. Tharg stands still for no reader. So, this is my list, and nothing but. Tell me, if you would, yours.1. 1980 & 1983's Nemesis Books 1 and 3, by Pats Mills & Kevin O'Neill, which, for whatever it's worth, I wrote about here. You can find the same stories, and considerably more. in The Complete Nemesis The Warlock volume 1. But for those who'd prefer colour over black and white for their first excursion into 2000AD, the Deviant Edition - above - is for you.2. 2012's wonderfully clockpunky Brass Sun: The Wheel Of Worlds, by Ian Edginton & I.N.J. Culbard. (If I had to give one and only one graphic novel to a curious someone who loved YA Sci-Fi and Fantasy and wanted to know if comics were for them, it would very likely be Brass Sun.) 3. 1989's The Dead Man, by John Wagner & John Ridgway, a brooding dark western/sci-fi tale which I wrote about here4. 1990's Judge Dredd: America, by John Wagner & Colin MacNeil, a dark, challenging tale that takes the frequently anti-fascist subtext of the strip and places it page-centre, where even the most wilful reactionary might struggle to miss it.(The above scan's for the new available-in-America edition, while British readers can also acquire the title as part of the Judge Dredd Mega Collection partwork.)5. 1984-1986's The Complete Ballad Of Halo Jones, by Alan Moore & Ian Gibson, the hugely influential and impressive 50th century odyssey that began with the observation that 2000AD needed female protagonists too.6. 2009's Cradlegrave, by John Smith, Edmund Bagwell et al, a smart & unsettling contemporary horror tale.(I wrote about the fine storytelling in Cradlegrave here.)7. 1986/88's Bad Company, by Peter Milligan, Brett Ewins & Jim McCarthy, a deeply disturbingly future-war strip that's laced with a disconcertingly counter-cultural hit of psychedelia. Beyond '88, the strip's still well-worth reading, but it's the tales from the first three years that are by far the most satisfying.8. 1983/4's Slaine, by Pat Mills, Mike McMahon et al, a sword and sorcery tale grounded in Celtic mythology that I 've frequently struggled with. However, the collaborations on the feature between Mills and uber-artist McMahon are utterly beguiling. Indeed, I wonder if the brilliant McMahon's pages have ever been more compelling, bringing out as they do the very best of Mills' gleefully confrontational scripts. 9. 2006's Stickleback: England's Glory, by Ian Edginton & D'Israeli, a wonderfully rich gumbo of steampunk and horror that features a truly macabre criminal protagonist.10. 1989's Zenith: Phase Three, By Grant Morrison & Steve Yeowell. To my mind,this is still the finest work that Morrison has ever put his name to, with he and Yeowell taking their entertaining, witty superhero strip and elevating it to the genre's very front rank. I rather ignored the earlier Zenith strips in the late 80s, and as a consequence came to this relatively cold, which is why I suspect that seasoned comics fan could do the same. Those who've followed Morrison's 21st century superhero work will certainly find much that's reassuringly familiar here, which should compensate for any initial dislocation. I should say, however, that other folks whose opinions I respect would disagree. (I've previously written about Zenith here.)1990's Psi-Judge Anderson: Shamballa, by Alan Grant & Arthur Ranson, an ominous, melancholic hybrid of sci-fi and Weird Tales horror. It too has recently received an excellent edition as part of the Judge Dredd Mega Collection partwork.2014's Judge Dredd: Trifecta, by writers Al Ewing, Simon Spurrier & Rob Williams and artists Simon Coleby, Carl Critchlow, D'Israeli and Henry Flint. Trifecta is a collecton of the triumphant crossover tale that wound together three quite different and apparently distinct strips which were being published simultaneously in 2000AD during 2014; Dredd, Low Life and The Simping Detective. Highly ambitious and highly enjoyable, it should prove a useful graduation text for 2000AD 101. It also allows me to include perhaps my favourite ever strip from the comic, Williams and D'Israeli's Low Life, which features the perpetually downtrodden and not entirely compos mentis Dirty Frank. Bless him. (I've written about Low Life in a variety of places before, including here.) None of which is to slight The Simping Detective, a fine series whose earliest adventures I've recently read for the first time and greatly enjoyed. (Coming soon; 2000AD: The Intermediate Level reader's guide.).
Who Was Jack Kirby's Darkseid? (Part 1 - October 1970 to January 1971)
Darkseid; a detail of an unused New Gods page from 1971, as published in Mark Evanier's Kirby: King Of Comics.1.A string of undeniably memorable versions of Darkseid have appeared in the years since Jack Kirby's epochal Fourth World titles were cancelled. Several especially compelling takes come immediately to mind; Englehart and Roger's depiction in the 1977 reboot of Mister Miracle; the portrayal by Starlin and Mignola in 1988's Cosmic Odessey; Burnett, Timm, Dini et al's Lord Of Apokolips as developed for 2000's Superman: The Animated Series. Yet none have ever seemed to truly capture the essence of Kirby's original. That characters should develop over time is, of course, not only inevitable, but necessary. Yet with Darkseid, the issue is less that he's been interpreted differently and more that something essential has been accidentally left behind.I've always thought this as strange as it's regrettable, and yet, I've never had the sense to try and figure out why - or indeed even if - this misinterpretation has occurred. Perhaps it's simply a question of my boyhood love for the New Gods. As a 9 year during the summer of 1972, I'd come across a copy of The Forever People #8 in a Portobello newsagent. It was without doubt the strangest comic I'd ever read, and a huge part of that was down to Darkseid. Brutish and courteous, sadistic and merciful, malevolent and rational, mighty and yet decisively thwarted, he was clearly a supervillain unlike any other I'd ever seen. No matter how interesting the teen-God members of the Forever People themselves were, it was Darkseid who compelled attention, drove the plot, and, eventually, resolved its conflicts. A detail from the final page of February 1971's New Gods #1, inked, as is all but two of the following scans, by Vince CollettaWhat follows is my attempt to work out the character of Kirby's Darkseid during those two wonderful years in the early 1970s, when DC Comics had handed The King four spaces in their publishing schedule and essentially trusted him to do as he pleased. (Disappointed at first by the sales figures, the company has since reaped untold riches through the exploitation of Kirby's world-building. Who knows what other Fourth World properties he might have created for the company, and what other profits DC might have secured, if only Carmine Infantino's administration had kept faith with Kirby?) In what follows, I'll discuss each of Kirby's New Gods titles from 1970 to 1985 and note, as best I can, how Darkseid was portrayed. It'll take awhile, of course, but what's a comics blog for? Future instalments will appear each Tuesday until the far-from-onerous task is done. Darkseid's first appearance, from 1971's Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #134, by Jack Kirby with Vince Colletta2. It's almost 45 years since the first appearance of Jack Kirby's uber-supervillain Darkseid, who debuted in October 1970's Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #134. As an opening bow, it amounted to no more than a single run of the mill panel. Today, it's likely that the introduction of such an important character would be given a great deal more space. Yet Kirby allocated just a ninth of the page and its penultimate frame to Darkseid's initial appearance. (See above & below.) In it, Clark Kent's new boss Morgan Edge, the fiendish "President of the Galaxy Broadcasting system", reveals that he's far more than a souless media tycoon with a taste for hiring the assassins of Inter-Gang. As if attempting to have Clark Kent murdered wasn't henious enough, Kirby now revealed Edge to be the self-proclaimed "servant" of the previously unseen and never-before-mentioned Darkseid. To everyone else, Edge had played the role of the supremely confident entrepreneur, revelling in power and psychotically disconnected from any trace of conscience. But to Darkseid, Edge expressed absolute obedience. Gone was the middle-age hipster, his speech purged of the slimy faux-intimacies of "buddy" and "baby". Now Edge's sentences were uncharacteristically pithy and obsequious. Whoever this grey-faced Darkseid was, his power was absolute and his rank unchallenged. A king of sorts, and almost certainly alien too, "great Darkseid" appeared supremely assured. This, Kirby was telling us, was a man, or something in the shape of a man, who was used to being unthinkingly obeyed. The final page of SPJO#134, with Darkseid debut in context. I've often wondered, was Kirby purposefully underplaying Darkseid's importance? Did he run out of space? Was Darkseid's introduction in this particular issue a last minute thought? Yet for all of that, Darkseid's direct dealings with Edge raised some beguiling questions. Why was a ruler of such apparent might dealing directly with a business mogul such as Morgan Edge? It was, in Darkseid's very first appearance, a sign of a quality that few of those who've used the character since Kirby have ever picked up on. For the Darkseid of the original Fourth World titles was as hands-on a despot as comics have ever seen. Yes, he controlled an entire planet of Gods, and, yes, he'd created a cadre of underlinings along with armies of savage warriors in order to further his ends. But Kirby's Darkseid was also given to directly managing all manner of schemes and any number of individuals, from apparently immortal behemoths to distinctly fragile human beings. In the months to come, we'd discover that all manner of relatively minor players in his empire, from hoodlums to businessmen and scientists, were able to contact him for on-the-spot direction. Today we might suspect that Darkseid was employing AI technology to simulate his presence and control his minions. But Kirby's meaning would swiftly become clear: Darkseid was constantly and intimately involved with the activities of a huge number of his followers. He was everywhere.From Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #1353.The following month's issue of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen underscored both Darkseid's taste for micro-management and his insistence on absolute obedience. It also established that Darkseid controlled technology far in advance of Earth's, that he was bent on imposing some kind of domination upon the planet, and that he was determinedly attempting to keep his various and nefarious activities secret.In The Evil Factory, Kirby also introduced the alien scientists Mokkari and Simyan, who've been experimenting upon the stolen cells of a number of American citizens including Superman and Jimmy Olsen. Their intention was to develop a variety of technologies to counter the threat that Superman poses to Darkseid's designs. (Hence, for example, the 'fine spray' of 'synthesised Kryptonite' along with a variety of "evil" genetic manipulations the two have developed.) In that, it seemed that Darkseid's preference for acting in the shadows was motivated by a fear of the last son of Krypton, although the situation would soon prove more eerily complicated. Regarding themselves as "representatives" of Darkseid's "forces on Earth", Mokkari and Simyan's sense of mission combined with their obvious Otherness to establish Darkseid as far more than just the self-proclaimed liege of the likes of Morgan Edge.From January 1974's Mister Miracle #18, as inked and lettered by Mike Royer. (See below.)Kirby established Darkseid's lack of trust in his underlings through a scene in which he's shown to have been secretly monitoring Mokkari and Simyan's conversation prior to their contacting him. Luckily for them, they've expressed nothing that he doesn't approve of. It's here that Kirby gives us the first sense of Darkseid's personal philosophy of power. In response to Simyan's declaration that Darkseid is "stern (but) he rewards his loyal and efficient servitors", the latter declares that only fools work for "mere praise". At this stage in his career, Darkseid is canny enough to know that he has to recompense his underlinings for their achievements. He is, in that as well as many other things, a distinctly pragmatic creature. So pragmatic is he, that he appears to have somehow acquired, studied and grasped the implications of Mokkari and Simyan's work even before they've fully grasped it themselves. They might not be aware that they've created "an uncontrollable organic murder machine!", but Darkseid most certainly is.Darkseid's propensity for barking out soundbites of his personal beliefs would remain. (The penultimate panel of the last Kirby-helmed issue of Mister Miracle would find Darkseid proclaiming that "Life at best is bittersweet!" before bursting out in laughter at his own cruel profundity.) A caring professional might imagine that he was, on some traumatised level, attempting to deny anyone or anything the authority to interpret events. By the same token, it's easy to imagine that a profoundly narcissistic Darkseid simply loved to lecture those around him. The two drives are, of course, hardly irreconcilable. From Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #1354.It's frequently said that Kirby's inspiration for Darkseid was Adolf Hitler. That's evidently true, and yet, it's a point that's often taken far too literally in the blogosphere beyond the lairs of learned Kirby scholars. Of course, Jack Kirby's loathing for the Third Reich is matter of record. He co-created Captain America in order to express it, he fought against the Nazis in the Republic's army during the Second World War, and his art frequently returned to those years and events in the decades that followed. But in truth, there's little of Hitler himself as an individual to be seen in Darkseid. Rather, Darkseid embodies many of the lessons that can be learned not just from the self-proclaimed Fuhrer's career, but from despots of all stripes. (Of course, the same principles can be seen at work in democracies too, as Kirby had the demagogue Glorious Godfrey express in 1971's Forever People #3.) Unlike Hitler, Kirby's Darkseid shows not the slightest trace of any ambition beyond absolute power. Not for him, for example, the likes of senseless, despicable theories of racial conflict. Rather, as Kirby would quickly establish, Darkseid was determined to acquire the "Anti-Life Equation" and extinguish the individual consciousnesses of every living sentient creature. In that, Darkseid is Hitler's insane lust for power abstracted to the purest degree. It is, if you like, a Fascism of one. Darkseid's vision of perfect order is one in which he and only he is capable of individual thought and action. If he has to continue to motivate his servants through a fusion of fear and reward for the while, Darkseid's ideal is a reality that's devoid of anyone's voice but his own.From July 1965's Tales Of Suspense #67, by Kirby, Lee, Ray et al.Kirby clearly didn't see Darkseid as any straight-forward representation of Hitler, who'd he previously pictured as a manic, repellent tyrant, powerful in his will, dangerous in his scheming, and yet little but pathetic and contemptible. Whether in his 1940s work with Joe Simon or that with Stan Lee in the 1960s, Kirby's comicbook take on Hitler had little in common with his depiction of Darkseid. By comparison, Darkseid rarely expresses any extreme of emotion, let alone a hysterical mania, while he poses by contrast a deeply intimidating physical presence. In short, Darkseid was highly unlikely to ever be flattened from a single blow by Captain America or frightened by the unexpected appearance of the Red Skull. If Darkseid was in any way Hitler, then he was also Stalin, Mao and any number of their despicable ilk. As such, the character's apparent omnipresence evokes the terrifying capacity of the totalitarian state to dissolve away the barriers between a public and a private existence. Wherever good folks are attempting to live free and independent lives, there's Darkseid directing his assassins, or monitoring perhaps a million conversations, or organising the theft of the noblest citizen's very D.N.A. In his brief opening bows, Darkseid functioned as autocrat and aphorism-spouting propagandist, military officer and bureaucratic overseer. He'd even soon turn up in poor Dave Lincoln's soon-to-be demolished front room, to enjoy a gloat and organise a punch-up, as occured in New Gods #2.None of this was an accident of Kirby's storytelling. He obviously knew very well what he intended Darkseid to represent. In Forever People #2, from the May of 1971, Kirby had the tyrant declare that "Darkseid never rests! His shadow falls everywhere". As such, he expresses a variety of truths about dictatorship, rather than any specific biographical details about this or that historical individual. Perhaps the most imposing take of Hitler that Kirby ever contributed to, as appeared in December 1963's The Fantastic Four #21, with script by Stan Lee & inks by George Bell. Yet even here, there's doubt that the figure is Hitler at all, while the character has spent the preceeding pages disguised as the Hate Monger; whether this Hitler would have been so substantial an opponent without a mask to hide behind is left open to debate.5.The philosophy that Darkseid began to express in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #135 is recognisably that of a sociopathic political operator. "A great lie can smash truth!", Kirby has his creation declare in SPJO #135. In those words, Darkseid embodies the threat posed by the power-hungry as they manipulate the most dangerously irrational aspects of human psychology. Not for him the sentimental belief that "good" will inevitably overcome "evil". As Darkseid declares, "Death can eclipse life!". Thinking that they'll advance their own causes by serving Darkseid's ruthless ends, the likes of Mokkari and Simyan are only helping to ensure that they'll ultimately cease to exist as individuals at all.In only Darkseid's second appearance, Kirby had established the character as a fearsome tyrant who believed he'd reduced the business of governing to a science. Without even showing anything of the character bar his head and shoulders, Kirby had established Darkseid as the most intriguing and intimidating new superbook villain in years. This look at Jack Kirby's Darkseid is continued here;
From Star Wars: Green Leader to Hip Hop Family Tree, Incognegro to A Day With Querstret: 15 Fine Comics Read in July 2015
From Juan Díaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido's Blacksad: A Silent Hell.In which the blogger, in the name of full disclosure, celebrates the comics he's particularly enjoyed and appreciated over the past month. Along the way, I've here and there added a few comments, although the absence of such shouldn't be read as a lack of respect. I often bash out a few notes after I've read something, in case I might want to write about it later, although there's rarely the time to actually do so. Hence, the few orphan ideas which follow.As is usual with such lists here at TooBusyThinking, there's no order of preference in what follows; it's all good and I recommend it all. Finally, please do feel free to add your own current favourites below; I'm always chuffed to be pointed in the direction of the really good stuff; 2015's Hip Hop Family Tree Volume 3, by Ed PiskorI'm at a loss to explain why there aren't more pop culture histories like Ed Piskor's fine Hip Hop Family Tree being produced. It's such a perfect medium for a fan's loving expertise, and yet there's so little advantage being taken of the opportunity. Even if the focus is narrowed to just musical movements, there's so much potential, so much to discuss, and so little being done. Why not a sequential history of the early years of rock and roll, or of the initially exceedingly British madness of pomp rock? Of rave, be-bop, swing, roots reggae, grime, Brit-pop, or any one of any number of genres? Yes, there's unlikely to be a market for such books that can compare to the one that Piskor's so lovingly tapped. But from a supremely selfish point of view, I do wish more folks were producing such histories. There's good work out there, but I'd love there to be a great deal more. Even for those with little interest in Hip Hop and the social history that's tied up with it, Piskor's work doubles up as a joyful celebration of mass market American comics. From the Trimpe-does-Kirby hands on the book's cover to, for example, an appearance of J Jonah Jameson, a Liefeld homage and a lovely appropriation of Kurtzman's "It's Melvin" cover to Mad #1, Hip Hop Family Tree radiates a fan's love of comics as well as Hip Hop. David B's Black Paths, as published in a English translation by SelfMadeHero in 2011David B(eauchard)'s Black Paths is the most enthralling graphic novel that I've read in a very long while. Quite why several of its few available English language reviews are so qualified baffles me. From where I'm sitting, it's an indisputable treasure. In essence, it's the story of a society collapsing under the weight of PTSD in the wake of World War One, a calamitous situation that Beauchard represents during moments of extremity with brilliant adaptations of futurism and dadaism. Set in the besieged, short-lived and doomed city-state of Fiume in 1919, Black Paths focuses not just on the unmitigated horrors of war, but on the catastrophic collapse of faith which they caused. It sounds heavy going, but it's anything but. At its heart lies the efforts of demobbed soldier Lauriano to lay the ghost of a slaughtered old comrade while navigating an unlikely love affair with cabaret singer Mina. Around their sweetly observed and gently tragic story rotates a cast of gangsters of all stripes, from street-fighting thugs to ludicrous jackbooted despots and henchmen. Of course, it doesn't end well, but then, the moment didn't.I wish I knew more about both Black Paths and the period it's discussing. I wish I knew and understood the paintings and theorists that Beauchard has homaged. It would certainly be good to know more about the storyteller's politics, his ambitions, his intentions. I worry, to take but one example, about Beauchard's depiction of Gabriele a'Annunzio. For all its contempt, is it still too kind? Accordingly, I wish there was a smart commentary or two on Black Paths to fall back upon. The lack of attention that's still paid to foreign language comics in Britain and America brings with it a disconcerting lack of context. It's a terrific shame, because there's so much to learn about Beauchard and his work, and yet, there's so little writing on the subject to be found. I'd swap 99% of what's being written about comics, film and TV programmes yet to be released for one good essay on Black Path and its creator. If you should know of one, or hopefully more, please do let me know.Nigel Parkinson's Dangerous Dan: Secret Agent, from The Beano of 11/7/2015, which also contained Morph guest starring in Dennis The Menace.From Daniel Warren Johnson's Star Wars: Green Leader, a webcomic that's even this UnFan of its source material can recognise as a perfectly formed comics masterpiece. A heart-wrenching tale told without a single word, it packs a huge amount of spectacle and emotion into just eleven pages. If you've haven't read it, you can find it here.Phenomenomix, by Hunt Emerson & Kevin Jackson, as appears in each and every issue of the Fortean Times, a quite essential read that you can learn more about here.From 2008's Incognegro, which succeeds in being both utterly terrifying and credibly inspiring, by Matt Johnson and Warren Pleece2015's A Day With Querstret, by Elizabeth Querstret, which collects her hourly strips from 1/2/2015 & can be acquired here.From 2006's Neil Gaiman's Mr Hero: The Newmatic Man #5, James Vance, Ted Slampyak, Art Nichols et al, which I suspect would be alot of fun to write about. Rereading the series recently for the first time in almost twenty years, I was pleased to find its steampunk-lite charms entirely intact. As a considerable bonus, each of the Mr Hero's first five issues contained quite wonderful Technophage pages with art by Bryan Talbot & Angus McKie. A pleasure to see Robert Deas' Troy Trailblazer returning in the pages of The Phoenix #187From 2015's unsettling And Then Emily Was Gone #1, by John Lees, Ian Laurie, Megan Wilson & Colin Bell, which you can find here.Jim Medway's Ring Ring, from 2008's Teach Your Granny To Text & Other Ways To Change The World, produced by Nick Stanhope.I loved Jim Medway's 2012 graphic novel Playing Out and heartily lauded it in Q when I writing for the magazine. So it was a joy to stumble up two Medway strips with cat-faced casts in a book from 2008 that my wife had bought to use at school. I can't imagine that I'd ever have otherwise come across the short tales. Finding them carried all the pleasure of chancing upon a previously-unknown single by a much loved band. From 2013's The Movement #7, by Gail Simone, Freddie Williams II et al, the two collections of which I've recently been enjoying.2012's Where's North From Here?, a collection of strips by David Ziggy Jones that can be acquired here.One of John Kenney's illustrations in 1956's Ladybird Book William The Conqueror.I made no distinction between comics and Ladybird Books when I was a nipper. After all, the Ladybird format of a page of writing followed by a side of art was redolent of the weekly comic/educational primer Look And Learn, which contained the Sci-Fi/Fantasy strip The Trigan Empire. If Look And Learn was, for all its blocks of text, a comic, then Ladybird Books were something obviously similar. Recently finding an eminently affordable copy of William The Conqueror, as written by the wonderfully named L. Du Garde Peach, brought me face to faceagain with the above page by John Kenney, which entranced me as a child and beguiles me now. No matter what Peach's text said, Kenney's William, here smugly unbowed before a snow storm that's anything but ignorable to his trudging men, always seemed a villain to me.There's a pile of recent 2000ADs still to be read, August's Viz, and a few superhero titles too; I'm certainly looking forward to the Batgirl Annual & the second issue of E Is For Extinction.What's above isn't meant as a summary of everything's that good, but rather, just a momento of good things that I've happened to bump into. TooBusyThinking will return tomorrow.
50 Great Comics Panels
From 2014′s Young Avengers Omnibus, by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie et al (Comics panel for the day no 25)TooBusyThinking has a sister Tumblr, which you might, if you were so inclined, find here. I post there on a daily basis, while leaving the longer pieces for here. One of the Tumblr's regular features is Comics Panel Of The Day, the last 50 examples of which I've posted below. I can't say I've any good reason to do so, beyond the fact that I was curious to see how they'd all look together. Yet, perhaps what follows might fill a minute or two of dead time for you with 50 examples of interesting, single-frame storytelling. If so, then I'd readily consider that a good excuse for an otherwise entirely navel-gazing indulgence. The panel from Uncanny X-Men #141 that's immediately below is the most recently-posted panel on the Tumblr, and the sequence then works backwards in order of appearance to the 32nd of the series. There's no logic to the choices beyond the matter of what caught my eye on any particular day. Some I love more than others. Some are admittedly less enticing than the majority of their fellows. (Of them all, I probably find the frames from Jupiter's Circle #5 and The Nao Of Brown the most beguiling.) But hopefully, they've all something to recommend them.From 1981′s The Uncanny X-Men #141, by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin, Tom Orzechowski, Glynis Wein et al.From Chicago ‘68 by Spain, as reprinted in 1990′s The Best Comics Of The Decade Volume 1.From Belle Of The Ballet, by George Beardmore & Stanley Houghton, as reprinted in 1961′s Girl Annual..From The Incal, by Jodorowsky & Moebius, as reprinted in 2011 by SelfMadeHero.From 1951′s Devils In Baggy Pants!, by Harvey Kurtzman & Wally Woodin Two-Fisted Tales #20.From 1999′s Hellboy Jr #2, by Mike Mignola with Dave StewartFrom autumn 1966′s Thunderbirds: Destination Sun by Frank Bellamy & Alan Fennell, as originally printed in TV21 83-98 & reprinted in 2010′s Century 21: Volume 4 Above And Beyond. From October 1968′s The X-Men #49, by Werner Roth & Arnold Drake et al; the newly-born Hank McCoy announces his strength, if not his temperament, to his unsuspecting father. .From 31/8/1952’s Outer Space: The Last Man On The Planet Moon, by Jules Feiffer & Wally Wood et al, as reprinted in 2008′s Will Eisner’s The Spirit Archives #24.From Herge’s Tintin In Tibet, as published in the English language translation of 1962.From the untitled Doctor Fate feature in 1941′s More Fun Comics #68, by Gardner Fox, Howard Sherman et al. From 2012′s Blacksad: A SIlent Hell, by Juan Díaz Canales & Juanjo GuarnidoFrom 2014′s The Movement #11, by Gail Simone, Freddie Williams II, Chris Sotomayor et alFrom 1987′s Espers #5, by James D. Hudnall, John M Burns et al.From 1995′s Neil Gaiman’s Teknophage #5, by Rick Vietch, Bryan Talbot, Angus McKie et alFrom 1974′s Kamandi The Last Boy On Earth! #23, by Jack Kirby & D. Bruce Berry et al.From This Land…This Terror, by Colin Barr & Dom Regan et al, from The Freedom Collective TPBFrom 2012′s The Nao Of Brown, by Glyn DillonFrom 2013′s Batman ‘66 #1, by Jeff Parker, Jonathan Case, Wes Abbott et alFrom 1994′s Sandman Mystery Theatre #18, by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle, Guy Davis et alFrom Justice Society Of America: For America And Democracy, in 1941′s All Star Comics #4, by Gardner Fox & Everett E. Hibbard.From 2010′s Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure, by Hoshino YukinobuFrom 2015′s Archie #1, by Mark Waid, Fiona Staples, Andre Szymanowicz et alA slight crop of a panel from 2015′s Jupiter’s Circle #3, by Mark Millar, Wilfredo Torres, Ive Svorcina et alFrom Batman: The Joker’s Happy Victims,a mini-comic that was given away with Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts in the mid-60s. Produced by E. Nelson Bridwell, Carmine Infantino, Murphy Anderson et at, it was reprinted in 1975′s The Amazing World Of DC Comics #8.From 1976′s Valerian & Laureline: The City Of Shifting Waters, by Jean-Claude Mézières & Pierre Christin, as reprinted by Cinebook Ltd in 2010.From 1986′s You Are Torquemada, by Pat Mills & Bryan Talbot, from 2000AD’s Dice-Man #3.From 1968′s The Avngers King-Size Special #2, by Roy Thomas, Don Heck, Werner Roth, Vince Colleta et al. (I find the absence of any fishing gear on or around those ‘late-night Bay fishermen’ to be .. somewhat suspicious.).From 2014′s Ordinary #3, by Rob Williams & D’Israeli.From 1992′s Justice Society Of America #5, by Len Strazewski, Mike Parobeck, Mike Machlan et al.From 2013′s Hawkeye #13, by Matt Fraction, David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth, Chris Eliopoulos et al.From 2013′s Dungeon Fun #2, by Colin Bell & Neil SloranceFrom 1983/4′s Doomlord, by Alan Grant, John Wagner & Heinzel, as originally appeared in the relaunched The Eagle & collected in Hibernia’s DoomlordFrom 2014′s Bongo Free-For-All, by Nathan Kane, John Delaney, Andrew Pepoy, Nathan Hamill & Karen Bates, a charming Simpsons homage to the Dr Strange tales of Steve Ditko with Stan LeeFrom 1990′s Critical Mass: Doctor Zero , by D. G. Chicester, Margaret Clark, Dan Spiegle et al.From 2014′s Silver Surfer #4 , by Dan Slott, Mike Allred, Laura Allred et al, as reprinted in the same year’s Silver Surfer:New Dawn TPB.From The Hunting Party, by Pierre Christin & Enki Bilal, as reprinted in the book’s 1990 English language edition from Titan.From 1985′s A Little Story, by Gilberto Hernández, as reprinted in the 2007 edition of Heartbreak Soup, from Fantagraphics.From 1982′s Wolverine #1, by Chris Claremont, Frank Miller, Joe Rubenstein, Tom Orzechowski & Glynis Wein. (If you’re going to fill a panel with exposition, then at least make the whole darn thing interesting.)From 2015′s Battleworld: Thors #1, by Jason Aaron, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Joe Sabino & Marte Gracia.From 1985′s Groo The Wanderer #1, by Sergio Aragones , Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai & Tom Lyth.From 1939′s Superman #1, by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster.From 2013′s The Man Who Laughs, by David Hine & Mark Stafford, adapted from the original novel by Victor Hugo.From 1965′s Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2, by Steve Ditko, Stan Lee et al.From The Trigan Empire, by Don Lawrence, in 1968′s Look And Learn #346..From 1984′s New Mutants #18, by Chris Claremont, Bill Sienkiewicz et al, as reprinted in 1990′s The Demon Bear Saga.From 2007′s Batman/The Spirit, by Jeph Loeb & Darwyn Cooke, as reprinted in 2007′s The Spirit Book 1.From The Creature From Kosmos , in 1963′s Tales To Astonish #44, by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, H E Huntley, Don Heck et al, as reprinted in 1972′s Marvel Feature #8.From 19/10/1939′s Flash Gordon: The Ice Kingdom Of Mongo, by Alex Raymond & Don Moore, as reprinted in Titan’s 2012 Flash Gordon: The Tyrant Of Mongo.From The Granny Annex, by Rob Davis & Simon Gane, in 2014′s Die! Boo! Die!: The Horror Comic For Kids….That Dare To Read It!There'll be a new post here at TooBusyThinking tomorrow, should you have a moment to while away...Special bonus end-of-post frame, from Zero X: Prisoners Of The Eye-Leaves in 1969′s TV21 #237, by Angus P. Allen & Mike Noble.(Comics Panel Of The Day #15.) .