Face Front, Marvelites!: RIP Stan “The Man” Lee


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I know it’s popular these days among a certain coterie of Comic Book Buffs to bash Stan Lee’s contributions to the medium in favor of artist/collaborators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko . You’ll never find me in that crowd. Not ever. I learned to read (with the help of my dad) at the tender age of three through comics… simple stuff at first, funny books like YOGI BEAR and BEETLE BAILEY. As I progressed into the realm of superheroes, my vocabulary improved thanks to writers like Gardner Fox, John Broome, and especially Stan Lee, who took me to Asgard and Outer Space with Shakespearean-styled dialog and college-level words that made me keep a dictionary always at the ready. Screw you, Dr. Frederic Wertham!!

The Titanic Trio: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko

Stanley Martin Lieber was born December 28, 1922, the eldest son of immigrant parents (his younger sibling Larry…

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Rest In Peace, Stan Lee


In 1939, a 17 year-old aspiring writer named Stanley Lieber landed a job at Timely Comics in New York City.

At first, Stanley’s job was just to get coffee, make sure that the inkwells were full, and occasionally proofread copy.  In 1941, when the third issue of Captain American Comics needed a text story so that it could be shipped as a magazine instead of just as a comic book, Stanley was assigned the job.  Because the young man had an ambition to some day write the great American novel and felt that being associated with comic books would make it more difficult to convince publishers to take him seriously, Stanley Lieber wrote the story under a pseudonym, Stan Lee.

And the rest, as they say, is history.  Timely eventually became Atlas and then Atlas was rebranded Marvel and, through it all, Stan Lee remained at the company, providing continuity from one decade to another.  Ironically, for someone who originally feared being too associated with comic books, Stan Lee went on to become not only the face but, for several decades, the voice of Marvel Comics.

Among comic book historians, Stan Lee is an often divisive figure.  By his own admission, Lee loved the spotlight and it can be argued that he unfairly overshadowed his publicity-shy colleagues.  To solely give Lee the credit for creating characters like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four does a disservice to the work of artists and writers like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and so many others.  As a company, Marvel has a deserved reputation for not treating its artists with the respect or the financial compensation that they deserved.  How much of the responsibility for any of that falls on Lee’s shoulders is a controversial subject and will continue to be so for years to come.

What isn’t controversial was that,  whether he hitting the college lecture circuit, recording the introductions for the animated Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends TV show, or giving interviews with publications like Playboy and Rolling Stone, there was never a bigger cheerleader for comic books than Stan Lee.  At a time when DC comics was busy imitating the campy Batman TV show, Marvel Comics were, in their own way, dealing with world in which their readers lived.  From the platform of Stan’s Soap Box, Stan Lee spoke against racism and prejudice.  When the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare approached Lee to do a story about the dangers of drug abuse, Lee did it in defiance of the Comic Codes Authority.  Three issues of Spider-Man were released without the CAA’s seal of approval, opening the way for all comic books to deal with real world issues.

Stan Lee as Mr. Fantastic in What If #11 (as drawn by Jack Kirby)

For many comic book readers who might have otherwise felt that they didn’t fit in, Stan Lee said, “Here, you do belong.”  Today, it might seem easy to poke fun at Lee’s endless enthusiasm, his cries of “excelsior,” and the way that he called Marvel readers “true believers.”  But for many readers,  there was much comfort to be found in Lee’s corny sayings.  Lee had a way of making readers feel as if they were all in it together.  Whether you were a true believer or a member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society, you belonged.  For kids who felt like outsiders, Lee was there to tell them that everyone was capable of being a hero, whether they had super powers or not.

In his twilight years, Lee was rediscovered by a new generation of fans.  Spotting Lee’s trademark cameos became one of the pleasures of watching any Marvel film.  Sometimes, he was a postman.  In Deadpool, he worked in a strip club.  More than once, he was a janitor.  I once saw him driving a bus.  In the second Guardians of the Galaxy film, he was sitting on the moon and telling the Watchers about his adventures on Earth and it just seemed like he was right where he belonged.

Stan Lee passed away today at the age of 95.

I knew I’d have to write this some day but I always hoped it wouldn’t be any time soon.

Rest in Peace, Stan Lee.

 

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Through The Mirror, Review by Case Wright


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Happy Horrorthon!!! We are back in the eeeeeeeeevil Star Trek universe! Why is it evil? Obviously, it’s because they have beards and follow strict capitalist principles with a healthy dose of militarism.

Before I get into the story, I want to write that David and Scott Tipton do a good job of not having the mirror universe characters seeing themselves as villains.  This may seem obvious, but it’s actually very common – especially in comics.  For example, Stan Lee once had Magneto lead a group of mutants with the moniker of Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.  I get that the X-Men thought they were evil, but why would Magneto?

This volume: Through the Mirror brings our Mirror Universe to the Next Generation universe our youth for supplies and plunder.  Bearded Picard is faced with blockades from rival species in his universe and needs materiel and plunder to fuel his war machine in order to bring the Terran Empire back to its former glory before Emperor Spock made them go all drum-circle kumbaya…bleh.

My main complaint with the Volume Two is actually in the first installment.  It opens with Worf investigating the theft of precious minerals from a mining colony in the “good universe”.  He sees the thief and nearly catches him.  This is a recurring issue with volume 2; the story should be only from the perspective of the mirror universe characters.  There is simply too much of the “good universe”.  They also have the “Good Universe” find an Andorian Ship that has been attacked by Evil Picard after the fact.  WHY?  Show us the Evil Planning, Show us the Pirate Picard attack, Show us why they believe they are justified.  We bought the book; therefore, we are invested in these anti-heroes.   The story could be great if we just get to bathe in their villany.  Don’t judge them.  This is their code.  This is their society.  They don’t see themselves as evil and neither should we.  We can only judge them as evil if they violate their own code of morality not ours.  This isn’t our universe.  The good universe should be treated like MSG a little is … ok… too much and you vomit.

Back to the story, Pirate Picard lures the good enterprise into a trap, hoping to seize it.  They fail, but they failed too much.  It should’ve been more of a draw with a push to the evil universe. Scott and David – the evil guys are your heroes.  They need to win at least a bit.  You can have a close game, but don’t have them get their ass kicked because it makes it too much of a Good Next Gen story.  The other knock is that they left Evil Barclay behind, dragging us back unnecessarily into the good universe.  You are thwarting them waaaaay too much.

It’s time for Evil Picard to kick some ass, but it in a good way.  Is it just for wealth for Pirate Picard?  I don’t think so.  In this universe, the Terrans see themselves as Superior like the British or Roman Empire.  Therefore, when the Klingons and Cardassians took back a lot of the Empire they likely took many Human captives as slaves.  This must be disgustingly unacceptable to Pirate Picard or any Terran Empire member.  Have them liberate a planet, rescuing Human captives.  From their perspective, they are not only NOT EVIL, but good because they are reasserting rightful human dominance to their universe.   If you have to, make some propaganda posters with Pirate Picard.  Make it personal for Pirate Picard.  Maybe Picard’s brother joined the fleet and was captured?  Make it personal! Go for it!  Have Pirate Picard risk it all: mutiny, the ship, the Terran Empire to liberate and rescue his brother and nephew Robert.  It would be epic!!!!! You have an unending depth that you can give Pirate Picard.  Give him his version of humanity.

This volume was ok, but they are not fulfilling some great story potential here.   This could be a great way to reboot the series.  Just remember: They Don’t Consider Themselves Evil.

 

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mirror Broken- Review By Case Wright


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Happy Horrorthon!!! This review is going to be a deep dive into eeeeeeevil nerdism.  I understand that not everyone reads this site is a techie nerd, BUUUUUUT I think we have a healthy plurality. Nothing is better than to merge an evil universe with my love of Star Trek.

I’m going to give brief recap of the Star Trek Mirror Universe.  There’s a parallel universe in Star Trek that basically capitalist/imperialist.  In that timeline, humans are aggressive and conquered the Vulcans are expansionist.  You can tell they are evil because they are avaricious and have beards- Think if Seattle/Portland went less drum circle and went more Roman.  It’s common to kill your superior to advance in the chain of command, it’s totally capitalist, and more fun in some ways because it’s a lot less model UN and much more Model Viking.

The evil universe never appeared in the Next Generation, but it did appear in Star Trek: The Original Series and then the second tier properties of Enterprise, Deep Space Nine and Voyager.  In those second tier properties, they set up a timeline that when the “Good Kirk” encouraged Spock to be reformist, it worked.  Too bad for Earth because the Empire got attacked by the other Alien Races we conquered and now Humans are pushed back to their solar system and will likely be conquered.

Where there’s life, there’s hope.  In this comic, the writers Steven and David Tipton imagine if Jean Luc Picard was uncompromising badass who is determined to bring the Terran Empire back to its former glory. How does he do this besides being really JACKED? Picard sets out to steal the Galaxy Class Enterprise.  This creates a great heist story, but it’s also super fun because it explores all of the old characters from the Next Generation and I mean ALL! There are character that were all but extras in Next Generation that are featured in the background of the book.  There are so many interesting takes on our old heroes.  Barclay is cunning, Data is experimenting with Borg-technology, and Geordie has his paramour from Next Gen, but she’s an alcoholic.  It’s so fun to go down this rabbit hole.

Back to the story, Picard reforms our familiar crew and seizes the Galaxy Class Enterprise for his own.  He could just take off and be rich, but he doesn’t.  Through some cool maneuvers, Picard decimates the Klingons and Cardassians …..nooooooo not the ones with large posteriors …. the ones with the krinkly heads.  Anyway, they go on war rampage and look like they might actually get to restore the Terran Empire!

TERRANS UNITE!

TEee

EV3

American Vampire – Review by Case Wright


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I got my computer back!!!! Happy October Horrorthon!!!

In every sport or endeavor, we can think of our stars: the paragons.  Stephen King is an unquestioned master of horror.  In comics, Scott Snyder looks down from that pyramid as well.  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Scott Snyder a few times and you would never guess that he was the greatest comic book author in a generation.

I went up to Scott at the Emerald City Comic Con to have him sign my trade paperback.  He was surprised because my trade not rare at all, but I wanted him to know that I loved his art so much that I wanted it signed, regardless of worth.  Because of that, he took out time to talk to me even though there was a line of autograph hounds.  Stephen King, on the other hand, I have no idea what’s he’s like in real life.  I have a hunch that he’s like most people I have known from Maine: DIY, tough, and fair.

American Vampire was a Supergroup: both King and Snyder wrote this book with the beautiful art of Rafael Albuquerque.  They took the genre of the Vampire and, much like the theme in the story, they made it evolve.  The result was a trio of interconnected revenge stories with wonderfully flawed heroes and anti-heroes.  The artist force you to root even for Skinner Sweet – a man who thinks he’s not only above the law, but beyond it.  Skinner Sweet typifies the American ID: dangerous, violent, and oddly fair within his code.

The book opens with two struggling starlets in the 1920s Hollywood: Pearl and Hattie.  Pearl is all-in with the art; whereas, Hattie is more of the hack opportunist.  They are staying in a cheap apartment complex where a mysterious stranger hangs around.  Pearl is invited to Hollywood party where it turns out she is the main course for a host of hungry vampires.  Near death, the mysterious stranger finds her dying and he makes her like him: An American Vampire.  A vampire, unlike the relics of europe, he can walk in daylight and has few if any weaknesses.   When Pearl rises to her new undead life, she goes on a rampage of revenge to destroy those who stole her humanity.  Yes, I just chills too!

The story flashes back to the old west where a lawman, Book, has captured Skinner Sweet, but not for long.  He busted out in an awesome train attack by his gang.  This is where we learn about the haughty European vampires and how they are arrogant, weak, and in our way.  Sweet tells Book that he sent poison to his wife, engendering Book’s revenge story against Sweet.  During the train attack, Sweet is turned into a Vampire and when he eventually rises Sweet and Book are sent on a collision course of revenge against the other.

There’s more revenge in this book than a Sicilian novel.  It must be burned into my Italian DNA to love these revenge stories, but there’s more to it that my accident of birth.  Revenge stories tap into the universal of what makes us human.  We’ve all been wronged and we have all wondered what it would be like to mete out own justice and live by our own law.  Skinner Sweet is not as much evil as he is part of civilization; he’s the American ID of our rugged individualism.  Pearl’s character is part of society, but must seek out her own revenge because as a vampire, she is unable to use society to bring her justice.  As the story unfolds, it’s clear that Pearl and Skinner Sweet are the most honest in their quest for revenge because at times Block uses his badge to hide behind his vendetta.  In all three stories, the vendettas are so satisfying and pure.  This book is rage distilled to its purest form.

Harrow County – Countless Haints, Review by Case Wright


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Happy Horrorthon!!! We are in the thick of it folks.  October is happening! We’re all eating things with pumpkin flavor, baseball’s in full swing (pun intended), and we all get into trying something scary.

There are few things that truly scare me as much as clowns do, but I’d rather sit on Bozo’s lap than live one solitary moment in Harrow County.  Harrow County is a comic series by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook published by Dark Horse.  Saying this comic is scary is like writing that Charles Lindbergh dabbled in flying planes.  After the first few pages, I was thoroughly creeped out and turned on all the lights in my home.

The story revolves around Emmy, a nearly adult woman, who is discovering that she is not an ordinary farmer’s daughter, but terrifyingly powerful witch.   Years earlier, Emma’s “mother” Hester was an evil witch with the powers of Satan.  The townsfolk weren’t too fond of all of her child sacrifices and dark arts so they decide to shoot, stab, hang, and burn Emma’s “mother”.

*Slight Spoiler*—- Emma learns that she is the born again version of Hester and not an actual daughter.  Emma was born from murder and vengeance and Harrow County is about to reap the whirlwind.

The art of this story is so off-putting and chill-inducing.  Their eyes pull you in as if you are one of the townsfolk being judged and co-opted by good or evil.  The story has a wide streak of ambiguity; it never allows you to fully see the true good or evil of any the characters after the first five pages.  In essence, the characters are real.  They are you neighbor, your brother, your sister: imperfect and conflicted.  This duality is exemplified by Emma’s only a friend a ghost or “Haint” who is actually bifurcated.  One half of the friend acts as Emma’s bodyguard: pure rage that is only muscle akin to the Human Body figures from biology class and the other half of her friend is a kind and scared bag of skin who acts as a guide for Emma.  The bifurcated friend is a great visual example of our rage that hides just under the surface of all people.

This story is scary as Hell.  Go Buy It!

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