Monday, August 29, 2011

Moments That Made the Bronze Age: The Death of Gwen Stacy

People sometimes wonder why I'm so big on the Bronze Age of comics and not so happy about the way things are going today (thus my blog title). I thought I'd highlight a few Bronze Age moments over the weeks to come that show why those comics rocked.

When I was a kid, my first comic book and favorite hero was Spider-Man. I truly cared about the character, thinking Peter Parker was actually just as much a star of the book as Spider-Man himself. I actually started reading the comic a couple of years after the death of Peter's girlfriend, but thanks to Marvel's reprint Spidey title at the time, Marvel Tales Presents Spider-Man, I was able to read it for the first time.

This was the storyline that, for a while anyway, shaped Spider-Man's world. The woman he loved most in the world, and potentially the one he would have married if the storyline had been allowed to progress, was suddenly killed. And this was a serious death in the comic books, not an imaginary story or hoax that would later by wiped away as so many other comic book deaths had been.

Several things make this a pivotal moment in comics to me. First, well, she died. It was the woman he loved, killed by his arch-enemy...but not necessarily killed by his arch-enemy. Oh, Green Goblin had a part in it by knocking her off the bridge, but when you look at that fateful panel as Spidey is shooting his web to catch her you see that tiny "snap" just at her neck, indicating that Gwen was alive when she fell, and that Spider-Man himself had killed her while trying to save her. In other words, Spider-Man failed in the biggest way possible.

Yes, some might say that was a cold-hearted way to do it, but I think it was some powerful writing for the time. Her father had died saving a small child a few months prior and she blamed Spider-Man for that death, never knowing that it was Peter behind the mask. And now, just as Peter is reeling from his death, he loses his love.

Her death elevated her to the status of the perfect woman for Peter. And it shocked comic fans everywhere. The storyline finished up with the death of Green Goblin by being impaled with his glider (a fate that was used in the first Spider-Man film), and he stayed dead for years afterward.

After that, Harry Osborn, Norman's son and Peter's best friend, picked up the mask of Green Goblin and came after Spider-Man for what he did (again, a storyline borrowed for a Spider-Man film...the bad one). This even eventually led to the death of Harry Osborn many years later because he'd been poisoned by the formula used to make him the Green Goblin.

So in this one huge story arch that stretched for years, Peter Parker lost his girlfriend, his arch enemy, and his best friend...and began a relationship with Mary Jane Watson that led to one of the greatest comic book marriages ever. That truly was "amazing".  It shaped Spider-Man's legacy for comic fans everywhere.

Then a man named Quesada stepped in and destroyed all of that for us.

In "Sins Past" he revealed Gwen Stacy--Peter's perfect girl--had actually had Norman Osborn's (the Green Goblin) kids. And those kids grew super-fast and tried to kill Spider-Man later. He brought Norman Osborn back, and then he wiped everything out for the previous 20 years and started all over again. Harry Osborn was back now, but Gwen was still dead. Mary Jane was not and never had been Peter Parker's wife (hey, if Quesada ain't gettin' any then neither is Spider-Man, right?). Quesada's fanboy dreams for the character were complete.

So there you have it, a moment I consider above-the-standard for the Bronze Age of comics (it may have actually snuck into the Silver Age, but again I read it as a reprint in Marvel Tales so it was Bronze to me). It was one storyline that truly did change a hero's life forever until Quesada stepped in.

As we start looking into these strong moments in Silver and Bronze Age comic book history, which ones do you think deserve mention? Which comic book moments stuck with you long after you read them?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Trailer Thursday: Ghost Rider 2

With all the big hero films for this year done and over, it's time to start focusing on the ones coming out next year, I guess. Here's the first for the year, due out in February, which basically means the studio has so little confidence in it that they're hoping stacking it against Valentine's Day romantic comedies will give it a shot to make some money. Anyway...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cool Costumes Continued

Here are some more costumes that stand out from the crowd:

Captain Universe 

Though many people have held this power and costume, the basic suit remains the same for everyone. It comes to a person (or even to an animal once) whenever that being is in need of help. After the adventure is complete, the power usually leaves.

For a brief period, the Uni-power bonded with various superheroes like Daredevil and even the Silver Surfer trying to find out what was wrong with it. At that time it took on a more blended look of itself and that particular hero's costume.

The idea of the power and suit being transferred to people in need and then leaving afterward is a nice nod to heroes like Hawk & Dove, while the suit itself is a cool basic blend of white and a universe design.

Punisher 2099

Oh man, I loved this book back in the day. The re-imagining of the Punisher character is hard to imagine, but somehow they stayed true to the character while still giving us something new.

The costume gives a nod to the original Punisher suit. The skull is sill there along with newer concepts like shoulder pads and gauntlets. Unfortunately the character was killed as the 2099 line was ending.

This is one of those titles I'm hoping they'll put out in TPB form someday. Spider-Man 2099 and X-Men 2099 both have a collection, so I don't know why he can't pull one as well.

Red Hood

The first Jason Todd look for Red Hood is a winner. Completely functional in every way and about as sparse as you can make it design-wise, this really is an outfit you'd think a street warrior would grab as he prepared to take down Gotham's biggest crime bosses.

And just think, the helmet keeps him safe from a head shot if any bad guy should get lucky.

Unfortunately Grant Morrison threw him into some sort of crazy costume that looks just plain stupid. Red Hood will return to his original look in the new DC reboot, which may just be the only good thing to come out of that crazy reboot stuff.

The Eradicator

A tough-looking version of Superman's own costume, the Eradicator made his "cool costume appearance" during the Death/Return of Superman storyline time. As for his actions: think of a cross between Superman and the Punisher.

I am the first to say the sunglasses weren't necessarily the best choice of a mask. At the time, however, they did a good job of giving him a reason to wear them (his eyes were sensitive to the light) and it did add to the possibility that maybe he was really Superman in there somewhere.

I think the black-and-blue color theme worked pretty well here and for the subsequent costumes. Unfortunately he died at the hands of Doomslayer in a recent Action Comics storyline.

Jack of Hearts

 A truly crazy-looking guy, Jack of Hearts has a costume that fits his persona. Keep in mind though that the suit was needed to keep his crazy nuclear body from blowing up and killing everyone around him. That being said, it's a good thing it looked like something out of a set of playing cards when he needed it.

 This one has to be considered the most flamboyant costume on this list and Jack is dead now anyway (twice...the second time killing Scott Lang/Ant Man in the process), but he still deserves a spot in here.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Last Chance to Subscribe

I'm putting this out here in an effort to get more folks involved in the DCU subscription is trying to run. If they don't reach the minimum number of subscriptions by Monday, the deal is off and the DC figures we get from this point forward will consist mostly of Batman and Superman variations. I personally think it's a rip off that Mattycollector is making us hit this minimum number or it's a no-go, while their new Voltron subscription was approved from the beginning with no minimum number. I think they pretty much are just wanting a way to back out without making themselves look like the bad guys.

That being said, if you collect any figures at all, please consider clicking the link below for more info about this one-time-only deal MC is offering.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Plastic Man Cartoon

Really funny! I remember the old Plastic Man series from the 1980's, and I think this version of the character is closer to what the comics had in mind. This was a pilot for a Cartoon Network series, but it never got picked up. Instead we saw him appear in Brave and the Bold for a few episodes.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Heroes Who Need To Lose Their Powers

Some heroes lose their powers (temporarily) and manage to move on, while others seem never to be touched. Here are a few heroes I believe could truly make some great stories as they dealt with their sudden loss of power. All those comic book companies who love crossovers, you could title this one "Powerless"!


There are those who would probably argue he's pretty much useless as-is, but think about this one. What if this man who had traversed two-thirds of the world that's underwater suddenly found himself stuck on the other third? What incredible underwater beauty and mystery has he seen, and now would never find again?

For this "fish out of water" story (sorry, couldn't resist), he would become this adventurer similar to Indiana Jones, trying to explore this world he had always shunned while always looking for a way to return to the oceans he loves.

Let him lose his power by magical means or something. I think there's a wealth of possibilities here for the character.

Luke Cage

After decades of being the toughest of the tough, what would happen if he suddenly found himself normal again? It's easy to be courageous when you know your skin is impervious to bullets and death rays. Now imagine how hard it would be for him to suddenly realize he has limitations and can no longer "tough" his way out of everything?

I can see this easily being a powerful storyline if done right. In the beginning he might feel useless or even a little scared because he feels useless as a normal guy. Then he eventually starts to realize true courage isn't in being able to stand up to a dozen blazing bullets without harm, but it's being able to stand up to the man behind the gun and saying you will not cower even if he could kill you.

How could he lose his powers? The treatment that gave him his iron hard skin begins to wear off. Imagine that first panel when he is shot and suddenly realizes he has a bullet wound. Very powerful!

Martian Manhunter

Turning him powerless would have to involve either making him human or forcing him to stay alien without any abilities.

I've honestly never understood DC's love for this character, but they continue to make him a linchpin of the DC universe. With the guy constantly having to come to terms with who he is and wants to be, let's take away his powers. He can be the "thinker" of the JLA (even though I know he's not involved with them after the DC reboot).

Robbed of his mental abilities and super strength, would he feel valuable to a team anymore? It would give the character the chance to move beyond his past and concentrate on his future. Let him find a place among his team mates as a leader. And hey, it's not like the character isn't kind of limited enough as is. Fire as a weakness? Bummer.


The thing that makes Deadpool such a funny comic is the fact that he's completely reckless in everything he does because he knows he'll heal up no matter what happens. Get shot in the head? It's cool. Lose an arm? Be patient and it'll be back. But what would he be like if he suddenly knew he wouldn't heal back from a wound?

I think he'd be pretty much a coward for a while. A funny coward, but a coward nonetheless. Then his need for mayhem and money would overwhelm his cowardice and he'd be forced to go on a mission of some sort.

At that point he couldn't be crazy reckless anymore. He'd be skittish and have to be forced into a confrontation. When the bullets started flying or the ninjas started coming, he'd have to change tactics to win. It would allow us to explore a new side to the character while still giving him room to make wisecracks and be his hilarious self.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Backyard Battle

What does this have to do with comic books? Nothing. However, if you're a fan of fun and you're willing to admit it, this is probably how you visualized it when you played with toys back in the day.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Comics I Missed Until They Were Cancelled: Planetary

I have to admit that I don't get around to reading every comic book out there. There are a number of them that I never catch until I pick up a used trade paperback somewhere, only to find that I've missed something pretty good that's not around anymore.

Such is the case with Planetary. A couple of weeks ago I read the first issue and was suddenly hooked on the series. What is it? It's sort of a tale of three heroes who live in an amalgam world of all our comic books but with a slightly evil twist to them.

For instance, the villains of the story are a thinly-masked version of the Fantastic Four. Imagine a world where the FF were actually villains out to destroy humanity and rule the multiverse. Imagine a world where the FF killed Superman as a baby, Green Lantern just when he was starting out, and Wonder Woman right after she arrived on our shores. Pretty cool, eh?

Guess who?
Along the way of this trip, we visit a monster island off Japan where a familiar giant green lizard has died. We run into a Doc Savage type who saved the world from an evil JLA, find out where Thor's hammer actually goes when it's a stick, face off against the team of Sherlock Holmes and Dracula, meet Tarzan, and even visit Galactus' ship where its master has laid dead for centuries. What would happen if General Ross had been able to grab the Hulk and really put him away, allowing him to slowly starve to death? All of these things are not explicitly mentioned, but slight variations are put on each. Just enough that they couldn't be sued, but it's impossible not to understand what you're reading. Long before anything is mentioned, you know what's going on.

To me, that's what made this comic so amazing. It was a chance to see a familiar world of DC and Marvel with the twist that the heroes could die, make mistakes, really fail, and then have to live with the consequences of it. They were fallible, and Planetary was there to clean up the mess they'd left. Never every issue was a home run, but most were well worth the reading.

And along the way, there is the mystery of Elijah Snow (the main character) and what his background holds. As it comes to light, it adds another dimension to what you've been reading.

No spoilers here. I want you to enjoy every issue if you decide to read it. This title lasted only 27 issues, with 3 specials along the way. Though it wasn't supposed to take place in any known comic universe, they met up with Batman, the JLA and the Authority through various circumstances and twists.

"Doc Savage" and "The Shadow" take on the "JLA"
In the end, this series really blew me away. I'd heard of it over the years, but never picked up any issues. Now I've finished it as a set and have to say I loved it and I'll miss it. Still, I'm glad it went out when it did rather than continue on well after the main story had died and it was scrounging around for anything to keep it running. I hope Irredeemable does the same soon.

Because of the incredibly sporadic publishing schedule (the comic went two years between issues at one point), I probably wouldn't have stuck with it if I'd tried a monthly run. Now, as a whole, the book is a guilty pleasure of mine. This is the rare occasion when picking up a book after cancellation was the best idea.

If you're looking for something slightly different from the normal comics out there, Planetary definitely fits the bill.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Superman Revealed!

So we now have a look at the new Superman from Zack Snyder's reboot:

Check it out! With this one picture we've seen this guy in costume more than we saw Tom Welling in one through 10 seasons of Smallville! Yeah, I went there.

Even though this film is two years away (Summer 2013), I'd say we're off to a good start with this look. No, it's not the Christopher Reeve suit--it leans more toward the "Superman Returns" look, actually--but at least it's not some absolutely crazy variant like the first X-Men film.

Snyder did a killer job with Watchmen and kept it close to the original concept in many ways. I'm confident he'll give us something good here as well. The thing he's got going for him is the fact that the comic book hasn't blown people away in a while (we'll see how it goes after the reboot, but "Grounded"? Not that great), so this may be the thing to jump start interest in the character again.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Rocketeer

A favorite guilty pleasure of mine is the Disney film, "The Rocketeer". My sons grew up watching it and it's a lot of fun. This animated short pays tribute to that film and does it justice. I'd love to see an entire film like this since we'll never see a sequel any other way.

The Rocketeer 20th anniversary from John Banana on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New Ultimate Spider-Man? Spidey says it best...

Yep, all of us are owed an apology, Spidey!
The new Ultimate Spider-Man was unveiled today by Marvel, as he is revealed in Fallout #4 (hey, a Marvel Crossover event...that's got to be good, right?). Big surprise to everyone:

Wow, I never saw that coming. Unless you count the dozens of times it's already been done with other heroes.

I think the two pictures Marvel put on their websites are the most perfect choices they could have ever come up with purely for the captions of what they're saying.

I'm going to go way out on a limb here and say the new guy probably lives with his grandmother in a bad neighborhood and constantly gets harassed by drug dealers and bullies on the way to school while he takes his younger sister there. I have not read the comic, but given Marvel's past history and treatment of minority characters, that's pretty much how Marvel perceives their world. No teenager in the Marvel universe gets to come from a stable two-parent home. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

Reboots are awesome, aren't they? I don't think Marvel could create an original minority character if their lives depended on it. The last one they created was Luke Cage back in the 70's. Since then, it's pretty much been sloppy seconds all around as they find costumes and powers from other established heroes. Need to boost sales? Don't bring in a new, exciting character! No...reboot! Iron Man, Nighthawk, Captain Marvel (later Photon), Giant Man, Ultimate Nick Fury...reboots all around. Originality is neither needed nor rewarded.

For heaven's sakes, Marvel, get some new original writers in there! You desperately need fresh blood in your talent pool!

At these comic book conventions you attend, talk to the readers and let them present ideas! I swear we can create new heroes who deserve a shot and could succeed rather than just starting every brainstorming session with: "Now imagine this: we reboot..."

Remember the originals that rocked: Black Panther, White Tiger, Luke Cage, The Prowler, Storm, Sunfire, and Shang Chi to name a few! These were characters that mattered and made us want to read their stories. Today, we get recycled garbage that excites the folks at Marvel, but never picks up enough readers to keep going past a dozen or so issues.

What do you think? What's the last truly original idea Marvel had for a storyline?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Has Marvel Killed the Crossover?

Years ago when a comic book company wanted to create a big event, they had something called a "crossover". Perhaps the JLA would meet the JSA, or the Avengers would fight the Defenders. Whatever it was, it was a big deal because these folks rarely met each other in their comics.

Enter the 80's, when DC decided to do the mother of all crossovers: "Crisis on Infinite Earths". It gave them a chance to reboot many titles, as well as clean up the mess they had made with all their extraneous Earths out there (Earth 1, Earth 2, Earth 3, Earth X, etc). Again, this was big stuff because it was a crossover that was--up to that point--never before seen. Heroes from every imagineable timeline and team were brought together--and killed! Seriously, that one crossover event was responsible for the death of The Flash, Supergirl, and the original Dove (only one of which is still dead).

Marvel brought us Contest of Champions, Secret Wars, Atlantis Attacks, and Acts of Vengeance, while DC came back with Zero Hour (another reboot), Bloodlines, and Invasion among other things, most of which were less-than-stellar events. Then stuff seemed to die down a bit. There were still events, but they weren't as big.

Around the mid-2000's, someone in Marvel got the idea of trying it again but going big. The result was Civil War and it was probably Marvel's strongest attempt to date. Man, it was a great storyline! We saw heroes become villains and the entire Marvel Universe was shook by big moments like the return of the Punisher, the death of Giant Man, and the public unmasking of Spider-Man.

There are many who will say this particular crossover was stupid or the storyline was convoluted, but I enjoyed reading it. I thought Marvel had hit it just about perfectly, though I was never that thrilled with the ending. I thought Cap should have beat Iron Man down and walked away the winner.

Anyway, after the success of Civil War, Marvel somehow fell into this ugly trend. It was as if they lost all confidence in the solo appeal of their titles and decided instead to flow from one crossover event to another. After Civil War we fell almost immediately into Secret Invasion. Unfortunately, Secret Invasion crossed over into the Avengers titles for no reason, filling all of the issues during that period with filler stories that never progressed the main storyline. And the main title seemed to falter in the middle before ending big with the death of the Wasp and the rise of Norman Osborn. And hey, let's not forget World War Hulk that appeared soon after!

Secret Invasion gave way to Dark Reign, another lackluster attempt that briefly gave us titles like Dark Avengers. Dark Reign led to Siege, which gave Marvel an excuse to finally kill off The Sentry for no particular reason other than the fact that they were completely clueless as to the potential of the character.

The heroes barely had time to recover from Siege before they were suddenly thrown into this latest event, Fear Itself. Have I forgotten any? Probably. I didn't even mention Annihilation, The Thanos Imperative, or War of Kings, all of which happen to the "galaxy" heroes.

My point: does anyone even bother to read the Marvel crossovers anymore? Honestly, when was the last time Marvel ever ran two consecutive months without some form of crossover event?

It seems hard to imagine a time when you wouldn't like a thick juicy steak...unless that's all you had for every single meal. After a few weeks, you might even consider a bowl of oatmeal a welcome change for dinner. Marvel has fed us a constant diet of crossovers now, and with Fear Itself just starting to wind down Marvel is already hard at work on the next "big event".

So here's my question to you: do crossovers mean anything to you any more? Do you get excited seeing what Marvel has planned next, or have they gone to the well once too often and need to give it all a rest for a couple of years before trying again and making us believe it really is "something big"?
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