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Author Archives: Paul O'Connor

The Golden Age

Way back in 2011 I saw Thor.

I reacted with Geek Glee, Geek Rage, and Geek Envy.

Chris Hemsworth defied my expectations and was terrific in the lead role — handsome, charismatic, and heroic. Asgard and the Asgardians came off OK, the Destroyer got to blow things up, Loki was sympathetically malevolent, and Anthony Hopkins‘ Odin chewed the scenery. It wasn’t Shakespeare, but I really could not have hoped for a better Thor origin movie.

(Geek Glee! They got it right!)

I read my first Thor comic book a decade before Chris Hemsworth was born. I stuck with the series through some lean creative years, and developed that irrational sense of ownership geeks get over their closely-held secret obsessions.

(Geek Rage! How dare someone else cash in on my discovery!)

When I was twelve, I found my dad’s sculpting hammer and leaped around the overgrown hillside below my house, throwing it at trash heaps and rusty water heaters. I was still enough of a child that I fantasized discovery of an ancient hammer might transform me into a superhero, instead of the aimless and underemployed teen and twenty-something I would later become.

(Geek Envy! I was supposed to be Thor, not this talented Aussie with superior bone structure!)

if I could have just found the hammer, I know I would have been worthy!

The “Golden Age” of comics is twelve.

That’s how old I was in 1974, the year I discovered comics, and fell in love with Thor.

That same summer, I decided I also loved Captain America, and Conan the Barbarian.

(I kind of liked Green Lantern, too, though after seeing that movie, I think I’ll edit out that part of my past.)

All these characters and more besides came to the screen in the summer of 2011. This was either the apotheosis of my pop culture youth, or a rare moment of perspective on my Möbius-strip path through life.

Thor #227 — my first!

My little lad Jack was eleven. Miles was fourteen. They bracketed my age from the summer of ’74.

In 1974 I lived in Hollywood, California, which was no more glamorous then then it is now. My home in a 1920s-era bungalow on Cahuenga Blvd was up a daunting hill from a newsstand just south of Hollywood Boulevard. World News & Books is still there, and doesn’t look much different than I remember. Maybe they still sell comics, but those comics will be as different from the .25 cent books I bought as a kid as am I from the twelve-year old boy that braved that hill to buy them.

My boys have come and gone from the age I was when I discovered comic books, and they would never have dreamed of hiking a hill to buy comics with their allowance. They still watch comic book movies, but they far prefer video games or binge-streaming Netflix to reading comics or anything else. It troubled me that they refused to embrace my old comic book heroes, denying me the excuse to re-live my youth through them. But despite the boys (thankfully) growing into their own persons, superhero movies are a place where our interests intersect.

We liked Thor — liked it a lot — which was something, because after the first movie trailers, with all the screaming beards and hospital interns being thrown around, I expected the worst. We geeks always expect the worst when our heroes are reimagined for an audience that couldn’t be bothered with them in the first place. We threaten our dignity by letting our geek flag fly for Thor or the X-Men, and we imperil the rosy memories of our past by revisiting the deep affections of youth and remembering who we were, and who we might have been.

in the 1970s, Thor was often at his best in books other than his own

Watching these movies should be a victory lap, but instead it’s an ass-puckering second chance to feel ridiculous for loving comic books. Only now I’m not alone in a dim garage filled with comics longboxes — I’m defenseless in a theater, with my friends, my wife, and my kids. Even as Marvel’s movie franchise has grown to dozens of pictures with unprecedented and worldwide appeal, I still feel a little ridiculous embracing my comics fandom.

My favorite characters from my pivotal summer of ’74 got big movies all at once, validating in that only-money-makes-it-matter fashion that I had good taste as a kid. I stuck with comics, off-and-on, into my late twenties, but largely abandoned them as a fan during my brief career as a comic book writer.

And after coming home from Thor in 2011?

I was either ready to get out of comics once and for all or reawakening to a call long past its final echo.

I didn’t see it coming when I took the boys to Thor, but no sooner had that Sturm and Drang faded from the screen than Jack turned to me and said, “Hey dad, do you have any Thor comics out in the garage?”

Boy, did I.

behold, the Longbox Graveyard!

Longbox Graveyard is about coming to terms with comic books, and trying to enjoy them again. It is my method for examining why I ignored and denied my interest in comics for decades, to the point where I become burdened and a little embarrassed by my Accumulation of books.

My focus is on Marvel and DC books from the Bronze Age (1970-1985), because that “Bronze Age” was the “Golden Age” to me. Longbox Graveyard follows the transformation of my comics Accumulation into a Collection. I purge the books I no longer like, and tell you which books escape the Longbox Graveyard (and why). I write about getting (re)started in comics collecting — building databases, buying and selling back issues, and grading books. And I eventually try to come to terms with my own unsuccessful career as a comics creator.

I welcome your comments. Positive or negative, your participation encourages me to continue this blog.

(And if my nostalgia has you itching to read some comics, please shop through my affiliate link to MyComicShip.com, where your purchases award Longbox Graveyard with trade credit to buy … even more comics! Huzzah!)

NEXT WEEK: #2 The Micronauts!

(Special thanks to Farzad Varahramyan — a legitimate genius and a better friend than I deserve — for creating this blog’s original header art)

Longbox Graveyard #1: The Golden Age

Originally published June 22, 2011

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Announcing Flashback Fridays!

Longbox Graveyard has always been about nostalgia, but now I’ve found the ultimate way to swallow my own tail. That’s right, I’m leaning into nostalgia about nostalgia!

Starting this Friday, and on irregular Fridays to follow, I will be republishing select articles from Longbox Graveyard’s past.

In part this is inspired by my (somewhat) successful reprint experiment in the run-up to Avengers: Infinity War, but mostly this is an attempt to undertake a long-delayed editing pass of Longbox Graveyard.

As this blog approaches its seventh anniversary, I’m sitting on nearly seven hundred posts and over a million words of blogging here at Longbox Graveyard. The site is relatively well-indexed, but most of my older posts see little traffic, meaning I have a discoverability problem. And many of my posts are out-of-date, with broken links and text that could use another editing pass. So there’s a content problem, too.

Now, a sane person might conclude this is the time to bring their blog to a close. But a sane person would never start Longbox Graveyard in the first place. And a sane person would never … go back in.

By editing and revising past articles, I hope to make the site more contemporary — or at least as contemporary as a blog stuck in 1977 can be! I will edit for clarity, freshen up my links, and hopefully invite a new round of reading and comments for blogs otherwise lost to the mists of time. This will also help me get my material framed up for whatever Longbox Graveyard’s endgame might be — publication as a book, evidence at my trial, whatever.

So if you see an older article go off-line for awhile, now you know why — that means it has been edited and scheduled for republication at a later date. When that new old blog shows up in your feed, I hope you will consider it anew, and offer your comments. You might even be surprised to see your own comments from years ago, as part of the original blog! The snake of time devours us all!

See you Friday when I republish the very first Longbox Graveyard article, from the summer of 2011 — The Golden Age!

Captain America Annual #4

Captain America Annual #4

Marvel threw the keys for Captain America to Jack Kirby in 1977 and one of the things they got out of the deal was this odd and delightful annual. Like all of Kirby’s late offerings for Marvel, this book seemed to occur in its own reality — a Kirby-Verse, if you will. I mean, it has Captain America and Magneto in it, and you will recognize them from other books, but they are singular characters here, divorced from the way they appear in the rest of Marvel’s offerings, and even a bit different than I remember them under Jack’s hand when they originally appeared. Is this dissonance due to co-creator Stan Lee’s absence? Or maybe Jack just … changed a bit as a creator in the decades he was in the business? Both seem reasonable to me.

For the record, I dig Kirby-Verse Marvel, and this Annual has long held a place in my heart. It’s bizarre. Magneto draws unwanted attention from Captain America when he places a “Mutant Seeking Mutant” personal ad in the newspaper. (No, really!). Magneto is aided and abetted by yet another incarnation of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and it really seems like he’s hit the bottom of the barrel with this crew. Everyone ends up fighting over a mutant so tiny that he can fit in a ring on your finger — Magneto wants him so he can explore the inside of a little spaceship he found somewhere. You can’t make this stuff up … but Jack Kirby could! Man, could he ever!

  • Script & Art: Jack Kirby
  • Inks: John Verpoorten & John Tartaglione

Click here for more Captain America at Longbox Graveyard!

Click here for more Marvel 1977!

Please share your comments below!

Avengers Infinity War: Thanos Sings!

Caught the Mad Titan signing in the shower. He must know that today is the day for Avengers Infinity War!

Makes sense that he’d fancy opera!

Sing your own songs in the comments section, below!

Avengers Infinity War: The Kree-Skrull War

Wrapping up Longbox Graveyard’s run-up to Avengers Infinity War, we take a look at the last time the Avengers fought a big war in outer space — the Kree-Skrull War!

I’m four decades past my own personal comic book Golden Age, so I don’t expect everyone else to attach a lot of importance to many of the books I’ve examined here at Longbox Graveyard. Titles like Ms. Marvel, Micronauts, The Defenders, and Deathlok were obscure in their day — I’ve celebrated them here but I am fully aware few of today’s fans share my enthusiasm for these moldy oldies. But there are some titles from my heyday that I would expect to resonate with “kids these days” — titles with characters that are still active today, with events that form the historic underpinnings of continuing comic book universes.

I thought the AvengersKree/Skrull War was one of those events, but no dice. My twenty-something office pal — who loves comics, and previously borrowed my copy of Avengers #196 to read the origin of Taskmaster — had never heard of the Kree/Skrull War!

What are they teaching in our schools??

Listen up, you whippersnappers! Before Avengers vs. X-Men, before Secret Wars, before Crisis on Infinite Earths, before even the Avengers/Defenders War there was the Kree/Skrull War! This was a mega-crossover in the old school style, the natural evolution of storytelling in a single book — not a mandated summer crossover, not some bloated high concept that poisons an entire comics line for six months of the year, and definitely NOT an imaginary story!

The Kree/Skrull War story arc ran from issues #89-97 of the Avengers (though when Marvel reprinted the saga in 1983, they restricted themselves to just the final five issues of the run). Nearing the end of his iconic six-year stint on Avengers, Roy Thomas — along with artists Neal Adams and Sal & John Buscema — delivered what was up to then arguably the longest and most complex continuing story in superhero comics, as Earth became a battleground between the warring Skrull and Kree star empires. Nowadays, company-wide meta-stories sprawling over dozens (hundreds?) of issues are a recurring summer plague, but in 1971 any story running more than a couple issues was a big deal.

The tale is deeply enmeshed in Marvel continuity but in the style of the day, it’s easy to jump on board as a new reader, thanks to liberal flashbacks and recaps of what has come before. Summarizing the tale makes it seem more complex than it reads, but I’ll give it a go anyways.

The action kicks off with Captain Marvel cracking out of the Negative Zone, then racing off half-cocked (and leaking radiation) on a mission to steal a rocket to return to his Kree homeworld. But no sooner do the Avengers lay him out cold than everyone is attacked by an awakened Kree sentry, acting on the orders of Ronan the Accuser, who has staged a coup against the Kree Supreme Intelligence and is seizing the moment to settle old scores with Mar-Vell and everyone else on Earth. The battle with the Kree sets off a worldwide alien panic, aided by a Skrull agent provocateur masquerading as a Joe McCarthy-style Senate investigator, and suddenly our heroes are facing some classic, shades-of-grey Bronze Age comic book hard choices as they decide whether or not they should turn Mar-Vell over to the authorities.

The public turns against the Avengers while Mar-Vell, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver become hostages of the Skrulls. The series climaxes with the Avengers facing down the Skrull warfleet, while Rick Jones — captured and brought to the Kree homeworld — is empowered by the Kree Supreme Intelligence to end the battle via a (frankly disappointing) deus ex machina. The story ends right when it should be getting started, offering an unfortunate and arbitrary end to what had been a superior run.

Despite this disappointing climax there is a lot to like here. The series is broad and ambitious, and there’s always something impressive about watching the Avengers fight in outer space, as they would later do in memorable issues of Captain Marvel and Warlock. But those later battles were all-hands-on-deck affairs for the fate of the universe. This battle was just a few Avengers in the lonely void of space against an entire Skrull battlefleet, made to feel underplayed and epic at the same time through Roy Thomas’ borderline-purple prose storytelling.

One of the strongest elements of this run is the way Roy Thomas handles the Vision. Introduced by Thomas in the classic issue #57 of Avengers, the Vision would evolve from android assassin to one of the most unique and fascinating members of the team. It’s hard to overstate what a superstar the Vision was during the 1970s (and one of Marvel’s great sins is how they so thoroughly worked over this character for no real gain in their late 1980s-era “Vision Quest” storyline). It is in this arc that we see the Vision’s soul well and truly begin to evolve, first by brooding on his sense of separation from and yearning for human emotions …

… then finding himself prey to all-too-human emotions as the long-simmering romance with the Scarlet Witch come out in the open in issue #91 (which also featured the debut of the Vision’s characteristic “rounded rectangle” word balloons, though they wouldn’t be yellow until issue #93):

What follows is the right kind of comic book soap opera, where the characters spend several issues coming around to what the reader has already accepted — that these two characters are made for each other. Roy Thomas gives us a master class in superhero romance.

The run is also kind of haphazard. Thomas admits he didn’t have a masterplan for the Kree/Skrull War, and the event really is more like a continuing subplot than a world-shattering event. Reading these issues today, you might be disappointed that there is so little waring between Kree and Skrull in the Kree/Skrull war! The event is largely off-stage, and while Earth is threatened with becoming the key battleground in the war between the empires, that event never materializes, as our heroes head off the worst of the war before it can get started. Likewise, issues devoted to the Inhumans and an (admittedly very cool) issue where Ant Man explores the innards of a deactivated Vision distract from the war, but it is important to remember that this was almost an accidental event, and that unlike the top-down editorial events of the present age, the point wasn’t to replace the rhythms of the host book so much as it was to provide context and color to the usual Avengers adventure of the month.

the Kree/Skrull War begins (and also rescues the Avengers from a tight spot in issue #91)

It’s worth noting how Roy Thomas assembled pieces from all over the Marvel Universe to create a story that was greater than the sum-of-its parts. Always a fiend for continuity, Thomas reached all the way back to Fantastic Four #4 to find the Skrull secret agents central to his story, and the Kree — who had been kicking around Marvel stories since 1967, mostly as the heavies in the pages of Captain Marvel — suddenly seemed more interesting, coherent, and purposeful than we’d seen them in earlier books.

The art, too, deserves mention. Even Sal Buscema — whom I’ve damned with faint praise here at Longbox Graveyard — turns in notable work, with clear storytelling and a bit of visual flair.

a nice three-panel sequence from Sal Buscema in Avengers #90

John Buscema is his reliable self here, coming to the end of his legendary Avengers tenure, but it is Neal Adams who is best remembered from this run, and it is easy to understand why. Adams’ realistic approach to composition and anatomy set him apart from most artists of his day, giving the Adams Avengers a kind of rooted and believable quality more akin to film than comic books.

Also deserving accolades is Tom Palmer on inks, who handles the final issues of the series, and smooths the transition between alternating John Buscema and Neal Adams chapters.

So what do you think? Am I living in the past by insisting events like the Kree/Skrull War form an essential part of the Marvel canon? Should I have picked a more recent Avengers event to celebrate here on the eve of the movie’s release? Or is this Avengers run a classic despite my callow twenty-something office mate’s ignorance of these mighty events? Assemble your Avengers reactions in the comments section below!

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