Friday Funny Pages: Mommy, Why Is Santa Claus Drunk?

Ah, 1985 a veritable utopia for comic book readers.  Continuing my series of comic book advertisements I present you with this mid issue subscription form featuring the now wildly popular Iron Man, portraying good ol’ Saint Nick.  When looking at this ad several things come to mind.  Regardless of the laughable and slightly disturbing idea of Tony Stark sneaking into your house at night with “toys” strapped to his back, you should also take a moment to examine the other information on this form.  First of all there is the forty-two cent price point which seems amazing these days.  I hate to sound like an old man, but back when I was a kid you could buy some comics without first having to print off a spreadsheet of your budget proposals.  I do understand however, the quality of the printing and content has really increased since those days and the number of titles has significantly decreased since than as well.  Which brings me to my second point, look at that lineup of options at the bottom of the page; possibly the best selection of titles Marvel ever had to offer.  There are of course regulars like Captain America, Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor, and Iron Man but also now defunct books like Dr. Strange, ROM, Alpha Flight, and Kull.  Plus to top it all off there are some licensed gems like G.I. Joe, Dr. Who, Star Wars, Conan, and the Micronauts!  There is just little to no modern equivalent for such books among the big comic companies.  Instead they have allowed properties like Star Wars and G.I. Joe to fall into the hands of the indy publishers, who have without a doubt far outshone such books of the past.  This advertisement however is a remnant of a comic book empire at its prime!  Think of all those regular titles coming from a single source, and the creative influence they held over the entire industry, all the while still being able to playfully poke fun at themselves and their characters as this ad exemplifies.  Marvel as well as DC are obviously still a huge presence in the comic book industry but it’s not quite the same, comic books have transcended themselves and Marvel and DC have dug in and become somewhat self-involved.  It’s nice to occasionally look back and see what things were like.

That is all!

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Comic Books Through the Ages, According to Me

Several posts back I talked about the new age of comic books, the current era, which has been quite unique in its style and media presence.  I called our modern comics era the Mercury Age due to its fast paced storytelling and penchant for drastic change.  Today however I would like to go through and further define the various stages of development of the comic book industry as I see them, and offer up my suggestions for the eras that have for the most part gone undefined.

The Golden Age of Comics– 1930’s to early 1950’s

The Golden Age is very familiar with most comic book fans, it is the age that started it all.  The Golden Age produced many of the icons of comics that are still around today, characters that are pillars of the entire industry.  Detective Comics was the powerhouse of the day, and established the indelible style of that company.  I would describe this era as a highly imaginative time where creators worked hard to set their characters apart from other heroes.  However though the character designs were very stylized and unique the plots of this era seem fairly interchangeable.  Initially almost all superhero characters dealt exclusively with street level crime, gangsters, corrupt businessmen, etc.  Even supernatural and science fiction elements that were employed by villains dealt primarily with petty crime or personal gain.  During the time of World War II comics of course gained a very distinct patriotic tinge, practically becoming propaganda.  This worldly shift in tone lead to a larger scale in the stories being told.  Having the comics take place overseas or showing heroes aiding the war effort on the home front helped broaden the superhero scope.  Inspired by the media of the time this era can best be described as radio dramas with pictures, heavy on narration and very flat, interchangeable stories.  Though the individual heroes were quite outlandish there came to be a general pattern which most comic books ascribed to.  With the advent of television this style of storytelling became less and less popular.

Golden Age Green Lantern before the changes of the Silver Age

The Golden Age Comics: Radio Dramas with pictures.

The Silver Age of Comics– 1950’s -1960’s

After a short lull in comics after WWII when there was no longer the need for such enthusiastic patriotism there came a reinvigoration of comics with a new focus; high adventure in the atomic age!  New characters were popping up all over with origins dealing with radiation and scientific achievement.  Old characters were being altered and reinvented, doing away with vague mystical elements and tweaking powers and origins to include more plausible, science based logic.  The cold war and the space race kick started some of the most outlandish and memorable tales in comics history.  The mysteries of space and the wonders of atomic power fueled the imaginations of comic book writers and the nation as a whole.  Fear and wonder during this time were also put to use selling alien invasion stories and horror comics.  Several comic book publishers rose and fell during this highly creative era, which saw the rise to prominence of Marvel comics which had its own golden age during this Silver age.  Here is where the concepts of continuity and the development of in-comic universes began to solidify.  The various publishers tightened their focus while at the same time widening their scope laying out their own distinct views of the world as it was in their comic book stories, during this period there was a discovery through storytelling.  The comic book industry was still figuring itself out and didn’t exactly take itself serious, but there were crucial developments in style, art, and writing.  Overall I would describe this era as high concepts, with low execution.

The Fantastic Four propelled Marvel Comics into the Silver Age

The Bronze Age of Comics– 1970’s – early 1980’s

An important time in comics.  This era saw a greater development of the comic book industry and its established characters.  During this time writers spent a great deal of time explaining earlier concepts and aided the various universes to flesh themselves out with a great sense of continuity.  There was a desire to experiment during the bronze age.  Established characters were put into new and unusual circumstances and new characters were introduced who had more socially relevance, continuing the evolution of the stories told in comic books.  A new time of zaniness emerged, reminiscent of the Golden Age, but with a much greater self awareness.  There was a more satirical tone during this time, with more social commentary not often found in comics prior.  Social change and political unrest were rampant in the country at this time and though these issues are not always directly addressed in the comics of the Bronze Age there was a much greater use of comics as a platform for addressing cultural concerns.  The two major comic book universes at Marvel and DC were broadened to their greatest scope.  During this time comics start to become a more commercial outlet featuring movie comic book adaptions and other comic book tie-ins.  The comics of this time range from street level crimes, to interstellar wars, to mystical realms, and classic horror stories.  There are many new developments during this time but the major work of this era deals with building up and reinforcing the established comic book universes, while at the same time providing greater insights and cultural awareness.

The Bronze Age brought humanity to the super human

 

The Tarnished Age of Comics– 1980’s -1990’s

Here is where we get into uncharted territory, this time period is most commonly referred to as simply the modern age of comics, which I believe at this point is a bit passé.  Here begins a time of pessimism and realism in comic books.  The same familiar comic book universes that were established in the decades prior were now given a distinct patina across their once shining exteriors.  During the tarnished age the comic book industry starts to mature, due in part to an increasingly older readership.  Comics are no longer simply kids stuff and those who read comics as kids continued reading and were interested in more complex stories.  This is an age of darker tales, more realistic premises, dynamic events, and humanistic plots that do not shy away from depth, complexity, or social commentary.  Continuity becomes more important than ever and a new generation of readers and writers delve into angsty character driven plots.  This period is also tainted by company arrogance from the big comic publishers, which are at this point are becoming large corporations.  This era saw the height of the commercialism of comic books and the extensive use of variant covers, and special rereleases to boost sales.  Fueled by the booming collectors market for older comics publishers believed they could make a substantial profit by encouraging their readers to buy up the plethora of exclusive and “hard to find” printings that were being cranked out.  This lead to a comic book collectors bubble of sorts which eventually imploded discouraging comic fans and nearly bankrupting the bloated comic book industry.  This of course lead to a rise of new upstart comic publishers that attempted to break away from the corporate mindset of the old guard at Marvel and DC allowing their writers and artists to retain all rights to their creations and allow for a wider range of subject matter and grittier, more mature reads. Dark Horse and Image comics are byproducts of this era.

One of the most memorable moments of the Tarnished Age

The Mercury Age of Comics– 2000’s to present

This is the age that is still in development, an age like no other.  I call this age the mercury age due to the fast paced mutability of the comics industry nowadays.  Comics are now completely corporatized; both DC and Marvel are now parts of enormous corporate media conglomerates.  The smaller comic book publishers like Dark Horse and Image are now firmly established as the alternate choices for fans who are tired of the “same old thing” while also providing some of the most creative and dynamic comic books and graphic novels.  Independent comic writers now gain substantial popularity and notoriety, so much so that they are highly sought after to be part of the creative teams on titles at the big two publishers, effectively turning the tables on the once dominate superhero genre.  In the mainstream DC and Marvel universes small intimate character driven stories are all but forgone in favor of larger cross title arcs that have a wider impact.  Few titles, even books based on single superheroes, actually deal with just one hero instead they incorporate any number of various characters from across their respective universes.  Characters are dealt with more realism than ever.  With the advent of the internet and the fast paced flow of information in our modern day, comic books have learned to adapt along these lines as well.  Superheroes no longer simply fight crime, the characters are portrayed with a great sense of self awareness and the characters are written with more concern for how they are portrayed in the media and with a greater understanding of manipulation of information technologies.  At this point there seems to be a greater inkling that everything has already been done in the superhero genre and so therefore the landscapes of the major comics universes need to be shaken up.  This is one of the most prominent features of the mercury age, change, death, events, additions, and topsy turvy stories that skew the idea of the status quo and continuity dominate the comics landscape.  To make things interesting and to develop original plots creators seem urged to tear apart the established universes, and effectively deconstruct the superheroes.  However the changes made in these events are often inconsequential, fleeting, and either quickly reversed or completely forgotten about almost immediately afterward.  Congealing and separating like mercury.   

Event books dominate the comic book landscape of the Mercury Age

 

Independent comics take their place in the industry during the Mercury Age

As I’ve said these are simply my thoughts on the subject, and though I might seem to be casting some kind of judgment on certain time periods, I’m really not.  I can respect all points in history of the comic book industry and I understand that it is a constantly evolving and changing medium that will/must find new ways to attract more readers.  Also these definitions are of course in broad general terms and there are countless examples of titles from each era that go against those generalizations.  If you don’t agree with what I’ve laid out here, or have some additions/corrections you’d like to make, feel free to leave me your thoughts in the comments.  Since there is probably no chance that I will ever be able to contribute directly to the developing comic book universes, maybe there is a chance that I can indirectly affect the business by defining these previously undefined eras.  So if you agree with what I’ve got here do me a favor and start dropping the phrases “Tarnished Age” or “Mercury Age” into your everyday conversations with your fellow comic book fans and when they give you a confused look just pretend like it’s an established thing, and that they should already know what you mean.  I don’t need any credit, let’s just get this started!

That is all!

Friday Funny Pages: Camelot

     Here is yet another comic book post from me this week!  Often times you can find some real zany panels throughout the pages of comic books, especially when they are taken out of context and shown by themselves.  That’s exactly what I have done here today.  I plan on making this a weekly segment of my blog, bringing you my favorite panels from the pages of various comic books that display quirky or funny scenes.  In fact it was this weeks panel which sparked this idea and sent me off on a hurried flip through my trades in search of other such gems!  Some that I’ve found aren’t funny, but more weird, others are creepy, and a couple aren’t limited to single panels but two or three that go together.  So there aren’t really any rules to this, I’m just going to be presenting panels that I like, but that’s not to say they will be panels that I think are “cool” with stellar art or “badass” depictions of the characters.  You get that all the time in comics, especially these days.  This segment is based purely on my goofball sense of humor, I’m looking for that certain whimsical ju nu se qua!  And some of the upcoming images I could imagine seeing as gifs in responses in forums, or maybe even one day as internet memes, oh to dream! 

Anywho without further ado, here we go!

   

     This panel comes from way back in Iron Man #149 during the epic and now legendary story arc where Dr. Doom and Iron Man get caught in an accidental activation of Doom’s time machine and get sent back to the age of King Arthur and Camelot where the two of them, of course, take up opposing sides in an ongoing struggle between the knights of the round table and the evil forces of Morgana le Fay.  It’s all collected in a trade simply called “Iron Man VS Dr. Doom” check it out if you’ve never read it. 

I don’t know if this panel was trying to go for some humor or not.  My guess is that it probably was, things weren’t always taken so serious back in the day.  Intentional or not it makes me laugh and goes well with my more serious discussion of the Arthur legends in my last blog entry!

Why the Avengers Need Ant-Man!

With Marvel Studios now in full swing cranking out movies such as Captain America and Thor, and with the Avengers looming on the horizon there is a lot of excitement brewing among comic book fans and fans of comic book movies.  2011 is going to be an epic year for super heroes on film, we’ve already had the Green Hornet, and soon we will have Green Lantern, Priest, Captain America, Thor, X-Men: First Class, and a new Conan just to name a few!

However, without a doubt the most ambitious comic book project is the upcoming Avengers film, scheduled to be released May of 2012 which will also be a year rife with comic characters on the big screen such as Ghost Rider, Spider-Man, and not least of all the final Nolan Batman!  For anyone who doesn’t know about the Avengers (which if that is the case I don’t know why you’re reading this) they are a team of super heroes, Marvels answer to DC’s Justice League.  The company’s top heroes unite with some lesser known up and comers to fight larger threats that each individual hero may be unable to handle separately.  The storylines in the comics generally deal with major villain conspiracies or cosmic threats such as alien invaders or some other grand impending doom.  The Avenger’s roster has changed over the years.  The team has grown and expanded even fracturing into multiple teams, a west and east coast crew, but there have been a core group of heroes who were the founders and cornerstones of the Avengers throughout their comics history.  Three such Avengers are Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor.  They have become iconic heroes involved with the team and are the old school Avengers that most readers are familiar with; they have appropriately become known as “The Big Three.”  It just so happens that by the end of this year each of the Big Three will have been featured in their own movie, what a convenient buildup to an Avengers movie!

Let me just say right off that I am really looking forward to the Avengers coming together on the big screen, it’s about time we get multiple heroes appearing in the same movie!  Iron Man with Robert Downey Jr. has been highly entertaining, and the trailers for Cap and Thor look outstanding, and don’t forget about the Hulk!  My only complaint is that it would seem that two crucial members of the Avengers have been completely glossed over, heroes who have been a part of the team since the beginning and have stuck with it ever since.  I am of course talking about Ant-Man and the Wasp, the hero and heroine who can alter their sizes.  He can communicate with insects; she can fly and shoot bio stingers out of her hands.  Ant-Man just so happens to be one of my favorite Avengers and in fact one of my favorite heroes in comics!  From everything we’ve heard about the Avengers movie it is all but confirmed that Ant-Man and the Wasp will NOT be appearing in the film, at least not as their hero personas.  I have a pretty enthusiastic fandom for Ant-Man and this news brings me down quite a bit, which is why I have come up with this list of reasons why the Avengers need Ant-Man!  So take a look!

 

#1-Ant-Man is a Founding Avenger!

That’s right, Ant-Man and the Wasp were original Avengers when the team first formed to thwart the plans of Thor’s evil brother Loki.  They were Avengers even before Captain America was unfrozen from his arctic nap!  Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne have been Avengers in some capacity since the beginning and though they might not be household names their history still remains.

#2 –The Couple Dynamic

Every hero has their gal or beau.  Iron Man has a flirtatious thing with Pepper Potts, Thor has Jane Foster, Cap pines for Sharon Carter, heck even the Hulk gets puppy dog eyes for Betty Ross.  Those heroes are fighting for their significant other to ensure their world is safe and often times they might even have to come to their rescue.  There aren’t many heroes however who fight side by side with their wife or husband but that’s exactly what Ant-Man and the Wasp do.  I think that dynamic, of a couple together in big epic battles, would add something interesting to the Avengers team.  They all have something to fight for, but how cool would it be to have the person you most want to protect fighting alongside you.  I just think that would be a small element that would really set the Avengers apart.

#3-Different Personalities

Both Ant-Man and the Wasp are fairly unique characters and not your typical brooding hero figures.  First off, there are already a limited number of women involved in the Avengers, we might be getting the Black Widow and there is a slight rumor about Ms. Marvel making an appearance.  But I think the Wasp would be a great addition to the cast.  The Wasp isn’t your typical tough and buff badass female hero, she of course is capable of great heroics and well trained, but she is pretty much enjoys her “girliness” for lack of a better word.  In the comics Janet Van Dyne enjoys fashion and designing clothes, she even has designed costumes for other heroes.  Ant-Man in the same respect is also not the typical alpha male hero.  He can be intense at times, but for the most part he is laid back and knows when to make suggestions and when to follow orders.  Fairly level headed.  This I think would be a nice break from what we will have with Iron Man the cocky billionaire industrialist, Captain America the leader and war hero, Thor the (literal) God, and the punch first and ask questions later Hulk.

#4-Possibility for Interesting Developing Storylines

Ant-Man has an interesting story arc.  Because of the pressures of being surrounded by all these great heroes he kind of loses it.  He goes through a bit of a personality issue, not being able to decide if he wants to continue to be the oft over looked Ant-Man or the over compensating Giant-Man.  He goes through several heroic identities to fit in with his more powerful comrades.  Eventually believing he needs to do more to equal the “Big Three” he lashes out at the Wasp, they get a divorce, and withdraws to his intellectual pursuits.  All of which is very character driven storytelling and could make for some interesting tangents as the Avengers movies progress through their inevitable sequels. 

#5-Ant-Man is a Real Scientist

Iron Man is a genius don’t get me wrong, but he’s just more of a tech guy, weapons, computers, etc.  I would call him a high-tech MacGyver.  Hank Pym however does it all!  Biology, physics, robotics, etc.  Ant-Man is a smart dude and there is always need for another sharp mind when threats come down from the likes of Kang the Conquerer and Dr. Doom.  With S.H.I.E.L.D being involved heavily in the movie universe, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind taking advantage of his scientific talents as well.

#6-Visually Dynamic

I can just picture Ant-Man on screen shrinking down hopping on an ant’s back and soaring through a crowded battle scene.  Or growing huge and sending guys soaring in every direction.  Imagine the Wasp zooming in and out between bad guys shooting them in the back of the head with her flashing laser-like stingers.  I think the presence of these two characters in a battle scene would really liven things up a bit and get away from the other heroes techniques which basically consist of punching or smashing enemies into submission.

#7-Ant-Man is Not Useless in a Fight

I just want to clear up a common misconception about Ant-Man and the Wasp.  When they use their powers to shrink down to small size they are not useless in terms of fighting ability.  Many people think ‘Oh well they’re small, so why wouldn’t someone just step on them or swat them away?’  That’s not how it works.  When Ant-Man shrinks down the normal laws of physics do not apply, he is actually able to retain the strength he possesses at normal height.  So if someone steps on him, he simply pushes the foot off and is capable of fighting back.  When in a brawl he is nearly impossible to see, but is capable of leaping up and delivering imperceptible punches and jabs, not to mention summon swarms of ants and bugs to attack villains for him.  He also has a great supply of various gadgets at his disposal.  Though Ant-Man won’t be going toe to toe with the likes of Thanos or Galactus in a typical fight Ant-Man and the Wasp can definitely hold their own.

#8-Strategically Effective

When you are a member of a super hero team your life isn’t just a constant battle against hordes of robots and armies of men from outer space.  Often times there is a great deal of sneaking around, gathering information, and spying on the enemy.  What characters are more suited to that task then Ant-Man and the Wasp?  Certainly not Thor, I’m sure he’d draw some attention.  And not every villain can be defeated by simply unleashing the Hulk.  Occasionally there is more finesse required, a delicate touch if you will.  That’s when we need Ant-Man.

#9-So Much More Than Simply Ant-Man

If you’ve got Ant-Man in the Avengers movie you get so much more than just Ant-Man.  With him comes the Wasp, all his scientific expertise, as I mentioned before he can also become Giant-Man adding another heavy hitter to the team when needed, think of all the other things you can shrink down for easy transportation, and not least of all you get the potential for Ultron as a future villain in the franchise.  Hank Pym was the creator of this insane cyborg killing machine which has plagued the Avengers in the comics for decades.  It would be great to see Ultron take on the Avengers in the movies one day. 

Hank Pym using his powers to become Giant-Man

I’m all for Ant-Man, he and Wasp are great characters and it is a shame they are more or less being ignored for the continuity of the movies.  I’m sure the Avengers will still be great even with the absence of Ant-Man, but I really think it would help to rocket that movie beyond all expectations if they would take a chance and include such unique characters the likes of which haven’t been on screen since the days of the Incredible Shrinking Man and the Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.

Ant-Man (1962) was inspired by the Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

 

To validate my points about Hank Pym you have to look no further than the new Avengers cartoon, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes on Disney XD.  The writers of that show have done a great job with the Avengers as a whole.  There is clearly a strong love for the characters and each hero is showcased perfectly.  There is an emphasis on the individual personalities, their strengths, weaknesses, and how they work with the rest of the team.  Ant-Man is written perfectly in that cartoon, and Joss Whedon should pay attention to how the Avengers work on that show when directing his juggernaut of a movie project.

Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Watch this show!

But alas though we may not see Ant-Man fully in action during the Avengers movie of 2012 there may still be hope for a solo project later on.  There are still rumors floating around that Edgar Wright is indeed planning on directing an Ant-Man movie, and perhaps we might see Ant-Man and the Wasp with the team should the Avengers do well enough to garner a sequel.  Who knows?

Anyway keep Ant-Man in your thoughts this movie season . . . .

That is all!

Thor Looks Appropriately Epic

First off the newest Thor trailer was released recently and word on the street is that another Captain America trailer is on the way as well!

This new trailer can only be described in one word, EPIC! Granted it is only a movie trailer, but from what we’ve seen in these first two previews of the film I have to say that it certainly looks like this movie has captured the grandeur and sprawling splendor of Asgard with a good mix of the mundane Midgard. In the first trailer we got more of an idea about what Thor would be like on earth, heavy on S.H.I.E.L.D elements with Thor running around in a t-shirt and jeans. In this trailer however we see much more of mythic Asgard, Thor in his full battle regalia, along with some new scenes on earth. I’m especially liking the Destroyer armor, that shit is straight out of the comics! Most importantly we see how the two settings are going to mix, that there seems to be a great balance of the visual spectacle of the Gods mixed with the small town america aspects of the film which ultimately endear Thor to the world of men.

To be honest I was a little worried when word came down to us that Thor would take place in both Asgard and Midgard. Originally the rumor was that the movie would be set entirely in Asgard, with Thor amongst his fellow godlings. I was pretty excited for the prospect of a chance to really set up Thor’s character in Asgard in an epic realm with a feeling and story akin to the Lord of the Rings. Pure myth and fantasy, with perhaps a lead in at the end where Thor is banished from the land of the Gods which would work into the Avengers extravaganza. However after seeing this and the other footage from Thor I think this mix of settings that Kenneth Branagh has put together will be even better. It looks like we will not be shorted any amount of myth and fantasy in this movie, and we will have Thor’s earthly set up out of the way and fully explained by the time the Avengers movie rolls around. Plus it will set the Thor movie apart from the other Avengers solo outings, in that we will have an obviously different movie from Iron Man, and a mix of two worlds unlike Captain America, which will be entirely set in the era of World War II with little or no connection to the modern-day of the Avengers.

All of this will be quite a benefit to each individual movie in the long run, and each individual series of movies (assuming there is going to be a Captain America 2 and Thor 2) because in these initial outings we get to develop these unique characters in very different ways which gives a specific feel and focus to each hero. This helps alleviate the stereotypical super hero movie cookie cutter plotlines and hopefully continue the costumed hero genre (as long as they are done well) for a long time to come. Also this could make for a very successful Avengers series of movies. The Avengers has a great many fans excited, but it is a project that I have heard some nervous grumblings about as well. More or less some fans are claiming it will never be done right with so many big personalities involved both in front of and behind the cameras. I however believe that Marvel Studios has established, quite successfully, that these various heroes are very unique individuals with certain skill sets which they bring to the table and if the studio wants to do the Avengers right, they will throw a big earth shattering problem at this assembled team of do gooders and let the movie be a playground for their heroics. Spotlighting what we already know about these heroes while at the same time showing them in a team and working together to save the day. Not to say that there won’t be some friction among the members (Hulk and Thor mayhaps?) but they really shouldn’t over think the Avengers, they’ve already got the really cool pieces in place now they just have to put it together with the same attention to detail and focus on talent that they have with these other movies in order to make one epicly cool movie!

And on that note, that is all! Maybe next time I will discuss the upcoming DC movies, who knows?

The Avengers Big Three