Marvel Spotlight was a comic books that existed so Marvel could introduce new characters and showcase heroes who were being considered for a full time series. Think of it as being the Marvel equivalent of pilot season. In August, 1972, Marvel Spotlight #5 introduced the world to Johnny Blaze, the motorcyclist who once made a deal with the devil. Johnny Blaze was better known as Ghost Rider!
While riding through Manhattan on his motorcycle, Johnny spots two criminals committing a murder. He wants nothing to do with it and tries to drive away. The two criminals follow him and corner him in an alley. And then this happens:
The rest of the story is simple. Ghost Rider makes flames emerge from the ground. The criminals, who are named Clyde and Dingbat, run away. How does one criminal end up named Clyde while the the other has to settle for Dingbat? The rest of the issue is a flashback, telling how stuntman Johnny Blaze sold his soul to Satan (later revealed to be a disguise of frequent villain Mephisto) in order to save the life of his cancer-stricken stepfather Crash Simpson. Though Crash survives the cancer, he still dies when he attempts a dangerous stunt. Satan still wants Johnny’s soul but is vanquished by Roxanne, Crash’s daughter who is pure of soul and has been reading up on occult practices. However, every night, Johnny is transformed into Ghost Rider.
It’s nothing complicated but, from such humble beginnings, legends are born!
Marvel Spotlight Vol.1 Issue 5 (August, 1972)
Writer — Gary Friedrich Penciler — Mike Ploog Inker — Mike Ploog Colorist— Mike Ploog Letterer — Jon Costa Editors — Stan Lee and Roy Thomas
Back in 1954, Marvel Comics was known as Atlas and, like most publishing companies, it was putting out its share of horror-themed comics. In those days, before Fredric Wertham declared that comic books were destroying America’s youth and the industry sought to protect itself by creating the Comics Code Authority, comic books were full of stories about monsters, killers, and macabre revenge.
Published by Atlas, Menace was one of many horror comics to populate the nation’s newsstands in the 50s. It was an anthology series and today, it’s best remembered for featuring work from Golden Age artists like Bill Everett and George Tuska. The credited writer for the first eight issues was a young Stan Lee, decades away from becoming the public face of Marvel Comics.
Menace only ran for 11 issues but during that time, it introduced one character who would later make a comeback and become a part of the Marvel universe. That character was The Zombie!
Zombie was introduced in the top story of Menace #5 (July 1953). At the time, he had no name and was given no past, beyond having a daughter. Living in the swamps of Louisiana, he is controlled by a madman who orders the Zombie to mug someone in New Orleas. The Zombie goes down to the French Quarter (where, humorously, no one notices anything strange about him) but his attempt at mugging is thwarted by a policeman. The Zombie returns home, where his angry master orders the Zombie to attack the young woman that the master is in love with. His master wants to rescue the young woman and win her love. However, the woman reminds the Zombie of his daughter so the Zombie strangles his master instead!
It was a typical horror comic stuff, not quite as graphic as what EC was producing but still more macabre than what Marvel would later be known for. Though Menace only lasted for 6 more issues and the Comics Code would temporarily put an end to the horror comics boom, the Zombie would eventually return, with a slight makeover.
In the 1970s, when the Comics Code Authority finally started to loosen up, Marvel returned to publishing horror with vengeance. Along with comic books featuring Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Werewolf By Night, Marvel also published black-and-white horror magazines, which were not regulated by the Comics Code and could therefore include graphic violence, tame profanity, and cleavage, lots and lots of cleavage. Among those magazines was Tales of the Zombie.
The Zombie returned, now with longer hair and a backstory that established that he was once a millionaire named Simon Garth until his former gardener (his master from the original story) put him under a voodoo curse. The first issue of Tales of the Zombie featured an extended retelling of the first Zombie story. The subsequent issues followed the undead Simon as he haunted the bayous of Louisiana and fought other supernatural creatures. It turned out that there wasn’t really much that could be done with a mindless zombie and Tales of the Zombie only ran for 10 issues, one less than Menace. In 1975, Tales of the Zombie ended with Simon Garth finally reaching his final resting place and dying a second time.
But you know Marvel! No one, not even a zombie, dies forever. Simon Garth has since been resurrected, though he’s only been used sparingly. There’s not much that can be done with him but his first appearance in Menace remains popular and has since been included in many horror comic anthologies.
“Blackfire” is a bridge episode for Titans. After every major plot point in the series, the writers take a breath and go off for a smaller story. Typically, these bridge stories are filled with comic relief and are a lot of fun. This episode was fun, but it’s really hard to stay focused; come on, I’m human and Anna Diop kicking ass in a hyper-short leather mini-skirt corset is DISTRACTING!
The previous episode was truly heart-wrenching. My favorite character and actor was killed off. Hank- we shall always miss you, Bro. However, the hunt for the Red Hood continues and Curran Walters really knows how to lean into the Joker 2.0 Supervillian. The fight scenes between Red Hood and Nightwing are awesome. There’s even lightning bolt sticks!
The theme of the episode is finding family, leather. Starfire is getting ESP images from her sister and is psychically led to find Blackfire in a underground government prison. Side note: I think we have seen the news recently that our government has to travel agency skills of a meth addict; so, keeping an alien with fire/leather prisoner is unlikely. Starfire breaks Blackfire out and Gar is along for the ride. That covers it.
Meanwhile….Dick has a plan to lure Red Hood to him. He kidnaps Dr Crane and takes him to a cabin Bruce trained Jason and Dick when they were at Robin boot camp. It’s also where Dick decapitated a wolf as a youth for Robin training. Lot of history in that cabin of weirdness.
Red Hood is lured to the cabin, BUT Red Hood gets away, Dick gets shot, Barbara is going to arrest Dick likely, and Hank is still Dead…WHY?! *Shakes Fist*
This was a pretty good episode, but it really needed some comic relief. Gar is usually good at bringing that, but I think the writers were reeling from killing off Hank.
Why am I writing a deeper analysis of Titans S3 Ep1-3? This season is so deliberately crafted and true to the source material that it deserves it. Also, it’s important to recognize Alan Ritchson’s brilliant performance in the series and how it came to a close.
This season is all in Gotham. It keeps the story fresh with a new home base and it allows for new characters to enter the mythology: The Joker, Scarecrow, and Babs. What is more emblematic of Gotham than Batman? Batman is a double-edged sword because, while he adds a lot to any story, he’s so iconic and imbued into our culture that he can eclipse the Titans and the primary protagonists.
How do you eliminate Batman and keep Gotham for the Titans? You have Bruce do the most anti-canon but logical thing: Bruce Kills the Damn Joker and retires! Titans is more akin to Watchmen than Arrow. What is the World like with Superheroes and Supervillians? In real life, cops or a person with any superpowers would’ve killed the Joker right off because of course they would. The Joker is a terrorist and even by the Geneva convention, terrorists can be shot and killed on sight. Really. I know this. Really.
So Batman kills the Joker and gives Gotham to Dick and says, “Be a better Batman”. This brings realism to the show and keeps Batman in the outer background away from the action perhaps permanently, allowing the story to remain a Titans’ story.
This show is so accurate in terms of how Soldiers (which is basically what they are) really act. When the jobs over, they play video games, joke around, bust each others balls, drink too much, and are always trying to get laid. The most accurate representation of this persona was done by Alan Ritchson, especially when talking with Dick.
Alan plays the Soldier in and out of recovery from alcoholism and drugs is 100% accurate. It makes it so much harder to say good bye to his character because he’s one of a handful of superior actors who can be so multi-dimensional, believable, and deliver in every performance. I’m not going to write who I’d rather have seen written off, but he would’ve been my LAST choice. The writers just went full-on Game of Thrones, killing off an A-1 talent. I hope that he’s cast immediately a variety of roles.
I want to be clear that performances of all the actors in show is the best I’ve seen in 20-years. They all deserve Emmy and Genies. However, there are standouts among the standouts. Brenton Thwaites and Curran Walters bring a dynamism to their roles that you just don’t see on television, every performance is a For Your Consideration. Nightwing (Brenton Thwaites) evolving into the Batman-like character with the antagonist Joker-like figure Red Hood (Curran Walters) and the history repeating itself in Gotham. Much like the opening song they used, Meet me in the Woods by Lord Huron- everything is darker and different and it foreshadowed the evolution of light versus darkness: Dick v Red Hood. I write Red Hood because Jason died and Red Hood is all that remains.
I knew that the opening scene would be Jason Todd getting murdered by the Joker, BUT I did not expect to see Batman murder the Joker. What I did expect and what got delivered was Brenton Thwaites and Curran Walters embody this epic battle so completely that it pulled me completely in. The writers use the source material cleverly and the dialogue is fantastic, but these Men breathe life into these characters. I was convinced this is what Gotham would be like with these Superheroes. It must be a lot of fun for Curran to get to play such a clever villain.
Sidenote: I do miss Esai Morales playing Deathstroke that was a masterclass in acting, but I guess that his story had to end. The writers are not afraid of killing off your favorites. I wish they would be more afraid of it.
Whether you are late to the party and have yet to see this show and you got spoiled today, missing this show is like never seeing Apocalypse Now or The Godfather. You will not see this level of storytelling again for twenty-years, if ever.
“Red Hood” opens in Gotham City….Oh My…It’s just like the Comic!!!! It’s come to life!!!! Gangsters are called to a meeting, but no one knows who called them. One thug gets shot in the head. Another pulled by a Batcable. He demands they open a bag. Red Hood enters.
In one moment, he takes over all of Gotham’s crime because the bag’s contents are the heads of all rival mobsters lieutenants. He is Gotham’s crime boss. Chills. Damn, Curran Walters really brings it.
Hank has become a cop in DC on a bicycle with a mustache. Dawn is fighting crime/dating a ….realtor?! What?! Dawn, I get that you’re on the rebound, but you gotta aim higher. It must be a confidence thing, but really- we’ll do some trust falls or whatever, but aim higher. Really. Dick is still in Gotham and the news is that the Joker is killed by Batman. Alan Ritchson’s performance is everything you’d want. He’s clearly back on the wagon, but he knows that he destroyed is relationship with Dawn. He plays recovering good man for real.
Dick goes to the precinct and Babs is stunned that Dick is considering becoming Batman and following in his father’s footsteps. Rightfully, Dick calls Babs AKA Commissioner Gordon out on that bullshit. Their exchange is so natural that you forget that they are acting. This show is a masterpiece.
Dick calls in the Titans to Gotham. Immediately, the Red Hood begins terrorizing, forcing people to detonate IEDs. He gives people drugs that cause them….not gonna spoil this.
The cops are using Scarecrow as a profiler, setting up a great dramatic scene with Dick and Scarecrow. Starfire has another vision and is speaking…..Russian? Meanwhile in San Francisco, Starfire is contacting her Shrink/Boyfriend. I don’t approve. He’s crossed the line from lover to doctor. NOT OKAY! He’s the worst! I get it -Starfire is clock stopping gorgeous, but dude pull it together.
Dick V Scarecrow- BrainFIGHT! He’s demanding grass for anxiety aaaand gets it. Scarecrow (Vincent Kartheiser) really can play the snarky clever asshole well. It adds a New York element to the show is nice. Snarky clever sardonic folk just make my heart go pitter pat. The Red Hood has left Chess Clue?! This is next-level deep.
I’m enjoying the Hank/Dawn subplot. They’re trying to find the next victim. Bank robbery is happening and they’re all wearing Red Hoods. Gotham is just terrible. Red Hood has captured their children as the extortion to commit crimes. But this time, they weren’t the parents; So, the capes are fired.
After it all went to Hell, I love watching Dick and Hank talk it out. It’s so natural. They talk like Soldiers off duty. The real thing.
Cops are being lured into a trap, but the Titans are here. Doin their thing.
Seamlessly, Dick v Red Hood FIGHT!
Jason reveals himself and it’s AWESOME! He is the big Bad!
I do fanboy on this show a lot, BUT it is that good. Everyone delivers so well. It’s so natural. This is comics coming alive. The writers, directors, and actors excellent! It’s like a Supergroup from the 70s like Cream, Bad Company, or Derek & the Dominoes. We’re watching TV history get made.
“Fallen” begins with “Inmate: Dick Grayson” Assault on Federal Officer. Plea: Guilty. 7 Years. No Probation. Ouch.
I don’t like his odds in Gen Pop, but who knows? Everyone is trying to call him, but he’s out of touch. Gar let Superboy loose. Wondergirl lost Raven. Dawn lost Hank. This is a downer! Raven is at a mission/halfway house. Crypto is running a meth lab.
The guard at the prison has set Dick up for death. That sucks. His cellmates are Gangbangers gone good. I guess, kinda cliche, but hey why not.
I’m not a fan of the Raven subplot at the mission; so, I’m not covering it. The only thing that I haven’t liked.
Mercy Graves comes in and captures Gar, Krypto, and manipulates Superboy. She convinces him to go back to Evil HQ. Gar is being brainwashed.
Dick is deciding whether or not to help the reformed gangbangers. He does and gets caught. This episode had a lot of potential, but it fell a little flat until the end. Wondergirl returns to the tower. It’s as broken as the Titans. Not every episode can be great.
“Conner” (Dir Alex Kalymnios) is not a flashback as much as a flash-lateral. The previous episode had Jason Todd, a principle, falling to his death. Then, this episode dives right into a muscular naked guy with a dog. Yep, he’s Superboy and the Dog- Krypto and yes, if you talk to the dog he’ll go on and on about The Blockchain. It can be worse than if people do CrossFit and are vegan.
“Conner” introduces Superboy (Joshua Orpin). We get to relax and see some tragic comedy with him and Dr Eve Watson (Genevieve Angelson) play off one another for about an hour. We learn that Eve created Superboy- see what they did there?! Also, that he has the emotional maturity of child, strength of Superman, much of the knowledge and memories of Lex Luthor and Superman because is cloned from both of their DNA strands. As you do.
He ends up saving Jason Todd because why not? Joshua Orpin played well as Superboy and he is a new principal; so, we needed an origin story. I think it could’ve had some more action scenes. Orpin is very good at those and I’m looking forward to seeing him in more of the series. However, he did get hit by some kryptonite bullets; so, it might be short-lived.
Jason Todd has been captured, but why? Why is there a feud between Deathstroke and the Titans? What happened? Why didn’t Dick tell the new recruits any of the details before joining up?
“Aqualad” (Dir. Glen Winter – Dir. of Smallville and Arrow) opens FIVE YEARS AGO with Deathstroke doing a ritual before a mission, not with a sacrifice, but a ritual nonetheless. For him, he showers and trims his facial hair perfectly. Why? Because that’s his ritual. Next, in a series of shots, he is sniping target after target. Lawyer, prisoners who turned State’s evidence, a Judge- everyone connected to his mission.
Esai Morales plays this perfectly calm and that’s how these Men actually are. The ones who I knew who did this sort of work were matter of fact Salt of the Earth types. His character doesn’t say a lot of words because why should he?
We get a hint as to what drives him. We see that he is outside of home with a teenager and mom. The teenager is mute and you wonder why are they targets? They aren’t because if they were, they’d be dust. Obviously, it is his son. Deathstroke had a son and Rose had a brother.
We learn about the unrequited romance between Aqualad and Wondergirl. They’ve wanted each other since they were 12 years old. He wants her, but she has a destiny to return to Themyscira and shoot arrows or something. Side question: what’s the point of Themyscira? Primitive weapons, feta everywhere, and lamb after lamb – doesn’t it get old? So they go there and train, buy why? Is it just The Olympics everyday? The pizza is the worst! Move on.
He wants her to stay and she secretly plans to leave before his fish charms get to her.
Since Doctor Light has been bothering everyone, we get his backstory. He was a physicist turned evil blah blah blah lightning hands. They need to stop Doctor Light because he’s getting a super weapon. All the while, Deathstroke is getting closer to his target.
The night of battle occurs and they wreck Doctor Light. Post battle, Aqualad and Wondergirl consummate, but she leaves without a word that very night!!!! Aqualad pursues and is accidentally killed by Deathstroke.
Dick uses the Bat-surveillance to determine the shooter is Deathstroke, which sets in motion their plan. They decide to get Dick to know the boy that was surveilled by Deathstroke.
This episode serves as half of the bridge. We know why the Titans hate Deathstroke, but not why he hates them. What makes these flashback episodes fun is that they keep their focus. We learn their side of the revenge, but Deathstroke’s revenge is a totally different story and can’t be rushed.
The following episode “Deathstroke” doesn’t reveal his motive, BUT it does show his magnificent bastardness! Esai is so Stone Cold! We can see Curran Walters really embody Jason Todd.
The entire episode is about how Deathstroke is setting up the pieces for maximum revenge against Dick Grayson. Rose is constantly pitting them against one another with perfect psy-ops. Deathstroke furthers that rift by offering a trade of Rose for Jason. Why? Because he wants the team to be constantly conflicted. This is from his military training: Infiltrate, Alienate, Isolate, and Destroy. Rose infiltrated, she is working to alienate them from one another, once isolated- attack.
Dick tries to offer himself in return for Jason. This is NOT going to work for Deathstroke. He wants Dick to suffer. The dead no pain; it is the survivor that lives with remorse and pain. Deathstroke wants Dick to be helpless as sees everyone he cares about die.
Deathstroke goes full Bond villain by having Jason on a scaffolding that will blow up and cause him to fall with Dick watching into a pit of alligators and maybe a shark. Why? Because THAT’S DRAMA!!!! He does get Jason to fall and have Dick helplessly watch. Then, CUT TO BLACK?! WHAT?!
This episode is great not just because the performances are great, but because it makes you desperate to know WHY is Deathstroke going to all this trouble? Thank you again and sorry for the wait.
In 1970, Marvel finally gave Black Widow her own solo series.
Of course, she had to share the spotlight with The Inhumans. When Marvel revived their anthology series, Amazing Adventures, each issue featured two stories. The Inhumans starred in the first story while the second story would feature Natasha Romanoff (a.k.a., The Black Widow) and her assistant, Ivan. While The Inhumans dealt with cosmic concerns and royal intrigue, Natasha and Ivan would battle more down-to-Earth criminals. It was not a perfect combination as the Inhumans had little to do with the Black Widow and vice versa. But, for 8 issues, they made it work.
The 5th issue of Amazing Adventures was a Christmas issue and it featured a story that was dark even by the standards of Marvel in 1970. Ivan comes across a teenage boy who is about to jump off a bridge. Ivan grabs him and takes him to the Black Widow’s luxury apartment, located at the top of Manhattan’s Mammon Towers. “You mean that jet set chick who cooled the Young Warriors’s scene a while back?” the teenager says, showing that he knows all of the hip lingo.
When Ivan and the teenager arrive at the apartment, the Black Widow has just stepped out of the shower. (Every issue of Amazing Adventures featured at least one scene of the Black Widow either showering or getting dressed.) The Black Widow wishes Ivan and the still nameless teenager a Merry Christmas but the teenager isn’t impressed.
The teenager explains that he’s from Utah. He came to New York with “a dime in my pocket, sawdust in my skull” and eventually, he ended up crashing at the pad of a cult leader called The Astrologer. Using the stars as his guide, the Astrologer sent his cult out to commit crimes. At first, the teenager was cool with all of the the petty theft but when the Astrologer suggested robbing a blood bank and holding all of New York’s O-type blood hostage, that was a bridge too far.
As the teenager finishes his story, the members of the cult show up. Out on the balcony of her apartment, Natasha fights several of them off before a cult member named Willie gets in a lucky punch and knocks her down. The teenager shouts that he won’t allow the Black Widow to die because of his mistakes and he jumps at Willie. Both of them fall off the balcony and plummet several stories to their death.
With tears in her eyes, Natasha calls the police to report a death. No, she and Ivan never learned the teenager’s name. “But yes,” Natasha says, “I guess you would say — he was a friend of mine!”
Merry Christmas, right?
Three issues later, Black Widow would get her revenge on the Astrologer and the villain was never seen again. She never did learn the teenager’s name but his brief appearance was one of the key moments in her brief run in Amazing Adventures. His sacrifice not only established that the Black Widow lived in a dangerous world where even Christmas could end with a sudden death but it also epitomized the concepts of sacrifice and redemption. He may have been a runaway and a petty criminal with “sawdust in my skull” but could still save the life of a hero.
First introduced in 1961 and originally known as Dr. Droom (his name was changed to prevent anyone from mixing him up with Dr. Doom), Anthony Ludgate Druid was a magic user who hunted monsters and who had studied the mystic arts with a Tibetan lama. Later, the lama was retconned into the Ancient One and it was said that Dr. Druid was the runner-up for the position of Sorcerer Supreme. This was a way of acknowledging an obvious truth, that Dr. Druid was an unsuccessful dry run for Dr. Strange.
With Dr. Druid’s monster hunting activities never becoming popular with readers, he was eventually just used as a host for Weird Wonder Tales, a series that reprinted old monster comics from the 50s. One look at Dr. Druid at this time shows why he was never able to seriously challenge Doctor Strange for the role of Marvel’s most popular sorcerer.
Eventually, Dr. Druid did enter the mainstream Marvel universe. He joined the Avengers and distinguished himself by getting himself elected Avengers chairman while possessed by a villainous and then disbanding the team. Even after Dr. Druid got his mind back, no one wanted much to do with him and he faded into obscurity.
He remained forgotten until 1995. That was when he was resurrected for a series that lasted for four issues. To this day, there’s debate over whether the series was meant to be a miniseries or a continuing series. What everyone can agree on is that Warren Ellis radically challenged what everyone though they knew about Dr. Druid.
Now, heavily tattooed and simply calling himself Druid, the former hero was an embittered alcoholic who embraced the dark side of his powers. For four issues, Druid roamed through London and killed almost everyone who he met. Druid was a dark and brutal series and it’s probably not surprising that it only lasted four issues.
The final issue featured Druid doing his usual killing and destroying until, in the final pages of the issue, Daimon Hellstrom suddenly appeared and announced, to Druid: “You’re a lunatic, a religious maniac, a bad idea. You should have been stamped on at birth. And, in the end, you’re a failure.” Hellstrom proceeded to burn Druid to a crisp and what I’ve always remembered about that issue were the final lines announcing that Druid’s corpse was left in a trash can.
When you’re a kid just reading a comic book, that’s some pretty heavy stuff! Those last moments of Druid have always stuck with me. I’ve always felt bad for Dr. Druid. He went from being a failed Sorcerer Supreme to a failed Avenger to eventually getting tossed in a trash can. He’s also one of the few Marvel characters not to return from the dead. He’s gone, never to return. He probably won’t even get to appear in a movie.
Alas, poor Druid. He was the Rodney Dangerfield of second-tier Marvel heroes. He never got any respect. No respect at all.