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Sincerely, The Sandman

This month The Dollar Box looks at The Incredible Hulk #138 (April 1971) — a lost classic from Herb Trimpe and Roy Thomas!

I have a confession to make. The Hulk is one of those Marvel heroes that I dearly love … but I’ve never been a fan of his Silver and Bronze Age comics. While I dutifully collected The Incredible Hulk for years, most of the time I preferred the Hulk’s guest appearances in other books to the monster-of-the-month/Hulk SMASH fare on offer in the Hulk’s own book. To be honest, most issues of The Incredible Hulk are forgettable.

Incredible Hulk #138 is not one of those issues.

Herb Trimpe isn’t my favorite Marvel artist (and I gave him short shrift when I reviewed his later Godzilla work over at Longbox Graveyard), but when revisiting Trimpe’s work it is important to place it in context. For much of his Marvel career, Trimpe was an inventory artist, paid a salary to draw a certain number of pages a month, sometimes as the regular penciler on a book, and other times pitching in wherever needed — and much of Trimpe’s work from this era is of an assembly-line quality. But that doesn’t mean Trimpe wasn’t a fine artist, and when he had the inclination (or possibly just had the time!) he could produce some stand-out storytelling.

With Incredible Hulk #138, we’re served notice the moment we look at the cover that “Sincerely, The Sandman,” won’t be another disposable Hulk story. With the name of the story embedded on the side of the building where Hulk and Sandman square off, this cover reminds a bit of a Will Eisner Spirit splash page, and the scene even bears a passing resemblance to a climactic panel from Eisner’s 1948 Spirit tale, The Story of Gerhard Shnobble.”

“Sincerely, The Sandman” is a slight tale, aspiring to little of the theme or allegory of Einser’s work, but both Trimpe and Thomas bring something extra to what on paper sounds a by-the-numbers superhero tale. The plot is simple enough to summarize in a sentence: the Sandman terrorizes a hospital, threatens Bruce Banner’s girl Betty Ross, and then Banner Hulks out and fights the Sandman. Aside from the “fearful fate” promised to Betty Ross on the cover, the story isn’t especially memorable …

spoiler — Betty gets turned into a glass statue!

… but it is the style in which this story is told which makes it worth revisiting, all these decades later.

Trimpe follows-up his cover with a full-page sequence showing a mournful Hulk changing back into Bruce Banner.

Writer Roy Thomas must have been inspired to stretch himself a bit, as well, juxtaposing The Sorrow of Love by William Butler Yeats with Trimpe’s panels (similar to the way he disposed of Ultron by way of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias at the conclusion of Avengers #58).

Thomas’ literary bent continues in the way he handles The Sandman. Our villain is familiar enough at first, though readers expecting the striped-shirt Sandman of Amazing Spider-Man fame may need a moment to recognize the disguised Sandman, who is sporting his Frightful Four costume.

Thomas’ characterization of Sandman is especially good. Our bad guy is desperate for a blood transfusion to get rid of that glass hand that he’s sporting, and he’s not afraid to hurt people to get what he wants.

But no sooner is Sandman getting his transfusion (which in the fashion of a convenient Silver Age coincidence, is coerced out of Bruce Banner’s gal, Betty Ross) than Sandman is quoting … The Charge of the Light Brigade from Alfred Lord Tennyson?

This sequence also shows a subtle bit of comics artistry by Trimpe & Thomas — though it is impossible to judge if it was intentional or just a byproduct of ballooning the page — as the story manages a seamless, tension-building cutaway by overlapping the Sandman’s monologue with a stressed-out Bruce Banner silently watching the scene unfold from hiding.

What is certainly not an accident is the way Trimpe uses color and full-page composition to show Betty tortured by a nightmare of the Hulk …

… or the full-page shot which follows (in which I detect further Eisner influence) using the geometry of the hospital and juxtaposed images of our characters to advance parallel storylines.

This is good stuff by any standard, and shows a real mastery of the style of storytelling that comics (and only comics) does so well. The first half of Incredible Hulk #138 is good enough that we can forgive the conclusion, which is about what you’d expect, as the Sandman’s boorish ways finally push Banner into Hulking out …

… with the usual fist-opera consequences.

Hey, this is the Hulk we’re talking about, after all. Sandman manages a Francis Bacon reference in the fight that follows but it’s otherwise the kind of thing we’ve seen before.

Which shouldn’t obscure the quality of this exceptional issue, which bore a fifteen-cent cover price when it was published in 1971, but will today run you around ten bucks in “Fine” condition. That price is too rich for a book you’re likely to find in a genuine “dollar box,” but it is a steal for a superior story from this era — and it is a small price to pay for a renewed appreciation of Herb Trimpe’s talents, who deserves greater respect than I had given him (and definitely deserved better than he got from Marvel).

This article originally appeared at Stash My Comics.

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The Song of Red Sonja

Longbox Graveyard #139

Welcome to The Dollar Box, where I look at comics with an original cover price of a dollar or less. This time we travel back to the dim pre-history of Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age — and the even more remote year of 1973 — for a date with a certain she-devil with a sword in issue #24 of Conan the Barbarian!

It’s The Song of Red Sonja!

Barry Windsor-Smith and Roy Thomas, Conan #24

Two-and-a-half years into its run, Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian had survived an early flirtation with cancellation to become an accidental masterpiece. Sales were up, awards were rolling in, and the book had been promoted to monthly status. Ably guided by writer Roy Thomas and a brilliant young artist by the name of Barry Windsor-Smith, Conan had broken through to become one of Marvel’s most popular comics.

Unfortunately, Conan was about to become a casualty of its own success. The switch to monthly publication hastened Windsor-Smith’s departure from the book. Already feeling overworked and under-paid — and recognizing that the agonizing level of detail that he packed into each page could never survive a monthly schedule — Windsor-Smith would end his signature run on Conan with this very issue.

Barry Windsor-Smith, Conan #24

But what an issue it was — the Song of Red Sonja might be the finest single issue in the classic Thomas/Windsor-Smith run on Conan the Barbarian.

Following as he did Robert E. Howard’s Conan chronology, Roy Thomas knew he was years away from being able to bring the great loves of Conan’s life — Valeria and Belit — into the book, but he still wanted a strong female character for the series. Inspiration struck when Thomas learned of a non-Conan story from Robert E. Howard that featured a character named “Red Sonya of Rogatine.” Working from that tale, Thomas and Windsor-Smith constructed issue #23’s “Shadow of the Vulture,” an entertaining issue notable for featuring the first appearance of the subtly-renamed Red Sonja, introduced as a mercenary soldier fighting to defend the besieged city of Makkalet.

Barry Windsor-Smith and Roy Thomas, Conan #23

Red Sonja’s first appearance, from Conan #23

But it would be in issue #24’s “Song of Red Sonja” that the character would steal our Hyborian hearts.

This story is remarkable in that it is so un-remarkable. It is bolted together from a series of familiar Conan scenes. There’s a tavern fight, a tall tower to climb, riches that are stolen (and that just as rapidly slip through Conan’s fingers), and of course a giant snake to slay. All in a night’s work for our favorite Cimmerian! What makes the story memorable is Sonja, a rogue of a different sort, an otherworldly beauty who is nearly Conan’s equal with a sword, and clearly a couple laps ahead when it comes to brains.

Later Red Sonja stories would make much of Sonja’s vow of chastity — and at the end of this story she does declare that no man may kiss her unless he first defeated her in battle — but in this tale Sonja seems to honor that commitment only when convenient. Distinct from the somewhat dour Red Sonja on display in her later Marvel solo series, this Sonja is full of life, dancing with abandon on a tavern table, enjoying a moonlight swim with Conan, and teasing the barbarian with her feminine whiles.

Barry Windsor-Smith and Roy Thomas, Conan #24

Sonja, it turns out, is leading our hero on, needing his legendary Cimmerian climbing prowess to help her scale a treasure tower, but there is still enough heat in her exchange with Conan that it doesn’t seem entirely a manipulation or a relationship of convenience. Sonja genuinely likes Conan — it’s just that she likes riches more, and when push comes to shove Sonja takes what she wants and leaves Conan in the dust, leaving the barbarian to express his frustration with a rare ending where he didn’t get the girl by slamming his fist into a wall.

Barry Windsor-Smith and Roy Thomas, Conan #24

The thing about Sonja — what drives this story, and makes it so memorable and fun — is that we want her to get the best of our hero. The reader can see what is coming for Conan a mile away, and the only reason Conan can’t is because he’s thinking with his loins … and because he is a barbarian, as-yet unaccustomed to civilized ways. Having your main character fail at something so mundane as trying to get the girl is a great way to humanize him, and also to point up Conan’s own simple innocence and purity of spirit — something difficult to do with a larger-than-life hero splitting skulls like melons. Conan is a legendary character, even in this youthful phase of his career, and seeing him come up second best to anyone is a rare and memorable event.

Windsor-Smith’s Sonja is a delicate-boned creature, as are nearly all of his characters. Wearing a mail shirt and short pants that show plenty of leg (Sonja’s famous “chainmail bikini” would not appear until later) Sonja is clearly objectified, but she is not a sex object. The character is too self-assured and confident to be lumped in with the dancing girls and dissolute princesses of Conan’s world. Red Sonja is the hero of her own epic, and in her world it is Conan who is just passing through.

Barry Windsor-Smith and Roy Thomas, Conan #24

Conan and Red Sonja would meet again, but the sparks would never quite fly so well as in this early story, which sported a cover price of fifteen cents back in the day, but which you’d be fortunate to find for less than sixty bucks today. The story is also available in Volume 4 of Dark Horse Comics’ excellent Chronicles of Conan reprint series, which may be the superior means of enjoying this story, as the more modern print technology employed by that series makes it more possible to enjoy Windsor-Smiths manic attention to detail in his art than was the case in the original printings.

Whatever the price or the form, it is well worth spending an evening with Conan the Barbarian #24  — it is a magical thing that it still feels so fresh and adventurous all these decades later, depending as it does on cliches and telegraphing an ending that only Conan couldn’t see coming. Sometimes the simplest tales are the best tales — especially when it comes to primal genres like sword and sorcery — and in the “Song of Red Sonja,” Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith (following in the tradition of Robert E. Howard) crafted a jewel richer than any of the treasure in that serpent haunted tower our two heroes raid. Like all the best tales, we’ve seen this all before, but we can’t wait to see it again.

This article originally appeared at StashMyComics.com!

NEXT MONTH: #140 Sincerely, The Sandman!

All This And World War Too!

Longbox Graveyard #135

It is always a happy day when guest columnist Dean Compton graces the pages of Longbox Graveyard! This time, Dean reveals his deep affection for a series he and I both admire — Roy Thomas’ All-Star Squadron. I previously wrote about Thomas’ reverence for the past through his creation of this book; now, Dean takes a deep dive into what made this series so special for him. Welcome back, Dean!

When I was a very young man, nothing was as exciting to me as this set of 1965 World Book encyclopedias that we had in the house. One of, if not the first, things I ever read was the machine gun article in the World Book. I read anything and everything in each one of them, but my favorite article had to be the one on World War II. I loved everything about it. I loved the sections on how the 1930’s led up to the war, the rise of totalitarianism, the rationing of goods in the US, but the thing I loved most was the section with the maps detailing the expansion and then retraction of the German and Japanese empires. Speaking of, how awesome and wrong is the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” as a name for their empire? I mean, obviously this empire was awful for everyone it conquered and oppressed, but that is a bad ass name. The fact that the name completely belies the negative impact of the Fascist Japanese Empire somehow makes it sound even cooler.

I promise, though, this isn’t an article about how great the Japanese Empire was. I’m an ardent antifascist, and therein lay my utter fascination with the Second World War. Many wars are useless and only fought to line the pockets of the elite. World War II certainly is not bereft of profit incentives, but this was truly a war against the fascist countries of that era that needed to be fought, lest their reach envelop the planet.

So when I walked into the flea market when I was in 2nd grade and saw All-Star Squadron comics in longbox after glorious longbox, I was immediately enchanted by the notion that these masked men were the heroes of World War II. I tried to get a few, but I was not allowed to have comics that day for some reason, and those heroes were forgotten until 1992 …

Justice Society!

is Sandman trying to put that monster to sleep? How will that work? Also, why is Flash running away?

I fell in love with the Justice Society of America the instant I learned of them. When I first laid eyes on them, I was confused and excited. Not unlike the first time I first time I kissed a girl, but there was decidedly less Justice Society involved with that.

I knew who Green Lantern and Flash were, and I could tell that these guys were similar, but they couldn’t be Green Lantern and Flash could they?

Indeed, they could be. I was astonished and excited as the entire history of the DC Universe lay before me. I wanted to know more and more, and I soaked up information via all sorts of paradigms. I used cards, I asked my friends, and I bugged our local morning DJ, Ben Johnson, who I had somehow struck up a friendship with, about it. He had revealed he was a huge comic book fan, and he was always willing to answer a question or two when he had the time.

(He really went out of his way to help sate my curiosity, and I think that those of us entranced by the allure of the comic book could learn a great deal from Ben, as that is how you make fans. Too often, we become annoyed at those who know less than us instead of taking questions as a sign of interest. Let’s try and make, not break, fans.)

Now that that public service announcement is over, I reckon we can get back to All-Star Squadron. Ben told me of the JSA and the All-Star Squadron after I saw the above comic and because of memories of the WWII comics I had seen at the flea market. He explained how the DC Universe had once been a multiverse, and in this multiverse the heroes of the Justice Society of America lived on Earth-2. They had their glory days in WWII, and they had aged, while the heroes of Earth-1 were the heroes that I knew.

So since they came first, why did the Justice Society and the Earth-2 gang simply allow themselves to be Earth-2? Why wasn’t there a huge rumble over this? Maybe someone knows, but I do know that we have crossovers now for much less of a reason. Who would not have wanted to see an all-out fight between the JSA and the JLA? Some jerky hater, that’s who. I would never accept just being second best, so I am unsure why the GOLDEN AGE SUPERMAN did.

One day after talking with Ben extensively about the JSA, I sauntered into the flea market, and I was greeted by a 25-CENT BOX of All-Star Squadron! Chock full! Is there any set of syllables more heavenly to comic book fans than 25-CENT BOX? What if you found this fantastic Rich Buckler cover in one? Would you be even more jealous of me than you already are?

All-Star Squadron!

the Idea that The Atom is deciding Superman’s fate in a team is hilarious. “Gee, I dunno if he cuts it” said the short guy in really good shape about a veritable God.

The answer would indeed astound me, as while the JSA plays a prominent role, they aren’t necessarily the stars of All-Star Squadron. Roy Thomas, the greatest writer of Golden Age characters who didn’t write them in the Golden Age, took this chance to shine a light on a few of the lesser known superheroes of the Second World War, and I thank him for it. This series is good, and his love and reverence for the characters always shines through, even in the waning issues of the series where it was basically eviscerated by Crisis on Infinite Earths, when post-Crisis continuity altered the DC Universe drastically. Now Thomas would no longer be allowed to play with Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, and more. This changed almost the entire framework upon which the All-Star Squadron was built, and so it quietly faded away, with the last few issues being origin stories of the group.

But Bloody Hell, I am getting ahead of myself! You don’t even know who is in the group that disbanded yet! Well, wait no longer!

All-Star Squadron!

TAKE THAT, NEWSPAPER!!!

Look at that lineup! Johnny Quick! Robotman! Firebrand! Shining Knight! Liberty Belle! Hawkgirl! And The Atom returns for this mission here! The Squadron would serve on the home front for the war, because the JSA disbanded and enlisted. Of course, JSA guys are always hanging around, getting special permission from FDR, who along with Churchill, makes copious appearances in the book, to assist when their special abilities as superheroes (or Mystery Men, as they were called at this time) are needed more than their skills as soldiers in the armed forces. Other folks would filter in and out of the All-Star Squadron, and over time, it seemed that any character even loosely associated with the DC Universe circa WWII would meander their way into the book. It would take me awhile to find that out, though, because …

There was a large gap in issues available at the flea market. I was almost always trying to piece together the collection the same way someone tries to piece together a document they accidentally shredded: painstakingly, tediously, and annoyingly. I’d get a # 7 here, a #46 here, but it was always difficult to put together runs. I do recall lots of issues jumping out at me, though, like one featuring Robotman on trial. Not much more exciting than the meeting of a Robot with a human brain and the US JUSTICE SYSTEM!

All-Star Squadron!

guilty of being a robot? A monster? The law sure was different in the 40’s.

My favorite surprise though had to be the introduction of Infinity Inc., a superhero team comprised of the progeny of the Justice Society of America! They went back in time to help the JSA and the All-Star Squadron after they had been completely overwhelmed by the machinations of the Ultra-Humanite (a very underrated super-villain if you ask me, and since you are reading this you sort of did), who was assisted by his (some unwilling) henchmen, Deathbolt, Cyclotron, and Amazing Man! If you don’t believe me, scope this ragtag team tossed together to save the day after heavyweights like the Golden Age Superman were taken down!

All-Star Squadron!

how long did they have to practice to get that in unison?

The work on this is amazing. If you think of this as a baseball lineup, it may not be murderer’s row, but it has to be one of the more formidable lineups. Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler (Deathlok creator), Jerry Ordway, and Todd McFarlane all had great runs, and watching Jerry Ordway grow in particular is very fun to me. The talent gets a bit sparser later in the run, but it never gets lackluster. The work is always solid, and you never know what is going to happen.

This was almost a primer for neophyte comics fans like I was. There was always a sense of history and (good) continuity in All-Star Squadron. Thomas was excellent at simultaneously showing and telling the history of the JSA/Squadron, and he also excelled at demonstrating why said history was important. Of course, he also managed to drop in little forgotten nuggets here and yon among the way, like when he taught a 14-year-old young man who the Seven Soldiers of Victory were …

All-Star Squadron!

if your team doesn’t have a cowboy, how can it possibly be as cool as the Seven Soldiers of Victory? I’m looking at you, every other superhero team except The Avengers.

The Seven Soldiers of Victory touched my heart, and to this day, Green Arrow, the leader of the team, remains my second favorite superhero. If you haven’t seen it, you should watch the episode “Patriot Act” from Justice League Unlimited. It features the Seven Soldiers, and it does a great job displaying just what makes them so courageous.

Roy Thomas also looked at the racial inequality of the era, sometimes with more success than others. He did a great job introducing us to the African-American Amazing Man, who I instantly loved, and who was a decent influence on me. I grew up in a small Arkansas town that was 97% white, so I had very little interaction with folks of African-American descent. Luckily, though, I was surrounded by racists who made up things about black people so I could have NO IDEA what reality was like. Thanks! On a genuinely lucky level though, I was able to see some culture that refuted such notions. One place was here, and another place was the great Milestone imprint. I am sure I would have seen past that bigotry sooner rather than later, but comics helped me see past it that much sooner.

Roy Thomas also used real world events in the All-Star Squadron in relation to race. For instance, they did a whole storyline about the Detroit Race Riots that occurred during WWII, which is an event glossed over in our history.

All-Star Squadron!

wow, that whip isn’t overkill or anything

And as you see, here is where the mistakes lie. The attempt to not be racist almost has more racist overtones as we see a guy in a KKK mask whipping a black man. I get what we are going for here, but it is a little off-putting. However, a little off-putting is nothing compared to how Japanese villains were treated.

All-Star Squadron!

the villains look like castoffs from the 80’s cartoon, Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos

Sumo the Samurai? COME ON MAN! That was unacceptable then and now. Roy just put two things together that happen to be Japanese terms. Why not, “Fuji the Ninja”? or, “Rice the Shogun”? This was just awful. Also awful was a subplot where Firebrand becomes racist against Japanese people because her brother (the original Firebrand) was seriously hurt at Pearl Harbor. She then carries resentment toward Japan until talking to her brother, who tells her that he was saved at Pearl Harbor … by a Japanese-American! I wish hackneyed would describe that properly. Conversely though, Roy Thomas does a good job with Tsunami, whose parents and family are being shipped off to internment camps. It was a different time, and even though I don’t feel like he always made contact on racial issues, I appreciate Roy Thomas here at least stepping to the plate.

I also appreciate the appearance of Captain Marvel, the one true Captain Marvel, (little jab there Paul!). If you haven’t seen my piece on him right here at Longbox Graveyard, take a look here. I am a huge Captain Marvel fan, and I first got to see a possessed Captain Marvel going toe to toe with the Golden Age Superman right here in the pages of All-Star Squadron. I think it is the only time in my life I have ever rooted for anyone even tangentially associated with Nazis; that’s how much I wanted the World’s Mightiest Mortal to defeat Superman.

All-Star Squadron!

I look at that zeppelin in the background and I seriously wish we still flew in those

I think most All-Star Squadron and JSA fans think the best moment of the series, though, was the massive roll call that took place in issue #31. Nearly every WWII Mystery Man was there. I recall getting my hands on this issue and just swooning. There was so much history on these pages and just so much fun. I wanted to go back to WWII and somehow be a part of this gathering that never actually existed. These pages also reflect Roy Thomas’s love for this era and these characters. I don’t think he leaves any out except for in-story reasons, including both the Quality Comics and DC Comics versions of Manhunter, two different characters who were created by two different companies in 40’s at the same time, and he also manages to start easing the idea of the multiverse affecting Earth-2 in long lasting ways here, as several of the folks at this meeting would leave Earth-2 to go to Earth-X to fight on a world where the Nazis won the Second World War! They also tangled with Baron Blitzkrieg there, who is one of the most awesome looking villains of all time.

All-Star Squadron!

I wish I knew what side of WWII that guy was on

No article on All-Star Squadron would be complete without a look at what many folks believe to be the finest issue in All-Star Squadron history! All-Star Squadron #20 featured the villain Brainwave. Using his vast mental might, he enslaved the JSA and was killing them mentally. He made them believe that they were pitted against scenarios where they failed, and if he got them all to believe …they’d die. Of course, one member of the JSA just had too much willpower to give up …

All-Star Squadron!

The cover is haunting, yes, but so is what occurs inside. They all face their fears and fail, but none fail so horrifically as Green Lantern. He becomes so enraged that he massacres the entire Japanese population.

All-Star Squadron!

Green Lantern has caused a holocaust, and nearly allows himself to succumb, but the other JSAers and members of the All-Star squadron are able to reach out to him and encourage him not to give up. And once Green Lantern finds his willpower, it’s like Uma Thurman when she was stuck in the coffin in Kill Bill Vol. 2 — there will be no stopping him, regardless of what must break!

But now as promised, the greatest moment in All-Star Squadron history …

All-Star Squadron!

All-Star Squadron!

All-Star Squadron!

no snarky joke here … too in awe …

The series went downhill from here. The artists, while not bad, just were never in the league of Buckler, Ordway, or McFarlane. That’s no knock on them; very few artists are that good. And no matter who was drawing the book, this book could not have survived the paradigm shift that was Crisis on Infinite Earths. Without being able to be secluded with its own variants of the DC powerhouses, All-Star Squadron faded out after the Crisis. It did give some of the best moments of the Crisis that did not occur in the main series, such as this cover, which is my favorite of the entire run.

All-Star Squadron!

Robotman’s look of horror at the idea of Superman fighting the Monster Society of Evil alone makes him look like a creepy Drama Mask robot

There are probably better covers, but this is my favorite. This is also one of the last times we’d see the Golden Age Superman until 2005 when that aberration known as Infinite Crisis did its best to destroy everything everyone ever loved about comics; of course, in comparison to Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis looks like Fantastic Four #1-100.

Paul and I talked about All-Star Squadron before, and he mentioned that it had a real Silver Age vibe. After re-reading all of this, I must agree. Roy Thomas, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, kept a Silver Age book going all the way into the mid 1980’s with this one. While the Silver Age itself was long gone by the time even the first issue of All-Star Squadron saw print, I think one could make a fairly strong argument that it was the last Silver Age book that existed. While the Silver Age was long dead, All-Star Squadron continued, like the light we see here on Earth from stars that have gone out years prior. Thanks to Roy Thomas, the star that was Earth-2 provided light for us all to enjoy just a little longer.

All-Star Squadron!

thanks for not going gently into that good night gentlemen

Thanks for reading! Join me for my LIVE radio shows on www.vocnation.com. Compton After Dark is a show focusing on wrestling, politics, comics, and more every Sunday night from 11:30-130 EDT. I’m also on at Midnight on Thursdays with Her Dork World, His Dork World, where Emily Scott and I tackle gender dynamics in dork culture. Don’t forget to scope out my 90’s comics blog at www.theunspokendecade.com. I am sure that I will be around here with more Bronze Age stuff too. I’m planning to take a look at The Rampaging Hulk for Longbox Graveyard soon! Try and contain your excitement!

Bustin’ Loose,
Dean Compton

NEXT MONTH: #136 Six Signature Superhero Sound Effects!

 

 

Ten Years Of Anti-Climax

This week’s FOOM Friday continues my examination of FOOM #13, which was all about Conan the Barbarian.

So why am I writing about The Coming Of Galactus?

Fantastic Four #48

It’s all down to a quote in FOOM #13 from Roy Thomas, discussing how he felt Robert E. Howard’s Conan had already peaked before Howard’s untimely death in 1936. In effect, Roy suggested that after a certain point, there’s little sense in telling more tales about a hero:

ROY: The problem is the same thing that happened to the FANTASTIC FOUR in 1965 or 1966, with the coming of Galactus. Once you’ve fought a God, which is basically what Galactus was, how do you go back to the other stuff? And everything since then to me, or almost everything on that book — even good things that came afterwards like the Inhumans — has been ten years of a rather competent anti-climax. There are some strips that just naturally climax at a certain point and anything you do afterward can still be good and saleable and go on forever —

FOOM: But you’ve said what you have to say.

ROY: Exactly.

The nature of comic book publishing ensures that the stories will go on, even if it is all anti-climax … but Roy has a point. Have the Fantastic Four broken any genuinely new ground since the Galactus story, or has it all been reboots, re-imaginings, and “fresh takes” on a glorious but fast-fading past?

Did the Fantatic Four jump the cosmic shark in 1966? What do YOU think? Share your thoughts in the comments, below.

Nipples On Men!

This week’s F.O.O.M. Friday gets right to the point! (Two of them!)

FOOM #14 was all about Conan … and it is full of insightful and even scholarly commentary about what makes this character so great. It’s also an interesting time-capsule of an era when Conan was one of Marvel’s top-selling books.

By Crom, it's Foom!

But we don’t care about that.

We only care about the nipples. Men’s nipples!

I know this is a divisive issue. To judge by the Superbowl, America hates seeing men’s nipples. I don’t know how opinions might differ in the United Kingdom, but David Warner considered men’s nipples a waste of God’s energy in Time Bandits:

Comics have a complex issue with sexuality in general, but in classic mainstream superhero comics, it’s generally come down to women having (barely covered) naughty bits, while men don’t have them at all. Contemporary comics show plenty of skin, of course, so it may be difficult to understand how the original run of Conan the Barbarian by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith broke new ground by showing off shirtless heroes and scantily-clad wenches.

Even more remarkable, Windsor-Smith broke the seal on one of the more puzzling taboos in comics by having the temerity to draw nipples on men!!

Barry Windsor-Smith, Red Nails

yep, there’s some nipples, all right!

Why, you can practically hear the monocles popping out!

Not only did Barry blaze a trail, he even set a precedent!

Roy Thomas, from FOOM #14 (1976):

There were things for example, like having nipples on the male figure, which were not genrally done in comics before Conan and became part of it all. After Barry did them, I insisted that other artists like John Buscema and Gil Kane include them, even though they were reluctant to do so, or kept forgetting them. Sometimes I’d draw them on myself if the artist had forgotten, or have them added to a whole book not because I thought it was terribly important, but it was a consistency that kept the book being all of a piece.

I don’t know about you, but the thought of Roy Thomas drawing nipples on John Buscema or Gil Kane’s pages is obscurely delightful. It’s the professional equivalent of going through your comics as a kid and drawing mustaches (or … other things) on all the characters. It’s a scandal. It’s Nipplegate! And who was the poor intern who got their start in comics adding nipples to barbarian books at Thomas’ command?

But Thomas’ nipple continuity would go largely unnoticed, and it would be several years before comics would get its first genuine high-profile nipples-on-men controversy …

Bat Nipples!

That’s right — nipples on the Bat Suits, courtesy of director Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin! It damn near toppled the Republic back in 1997.

Somehow we survived. (It chased poor Batman out of theaters for the better part of a decade, though!)

See you next week for another F.O.O.M. Friday!

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