DCnU: The Coming of The Anti-Crisis! Continuity's Last Stand (5)

(DCnU Continuity Series:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5)

The end is nigh! The skies have turned red! Worlds will live! Worlds will die! Nothing will ever be the same again!

No, it's not another post about Crisis on Infinite Earths, which I covered two entries ago. It's true, it keeps popping up, and with very good reason. No, this is the fifth and, swear-to-God, final part of my discussion of continuity in comic books prior to the midnight launch of DC Comics' "New 52" initiative with the one-two punch of Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1. Herein, I'm going to try my best to tie together all the disparate ideas I've brought up in previous sections. If you need a refresher course before we begin, well, that's what the links at the top of the page are for!


Fred Van Lente on "Untold Tales of the New Universe: Nightmask"

***CAUTION!!! You are entering a TIME WARP!***

The year is 2006 and Marvel Comics has just announced a number of one-shot specials centered around the New Universe, an initiative begun by editor-in-chief Jim Shooter twenty years prior, to celebrate that anniversary. Many intriguing creators signed up to tell the stories, and a writer by the name of Fred Van Lente was among them. Being a reporter for Comixfan at the time and a New Uniphile besides, I jumped at the chance to interview the talents involved. Bless his heart, Mr. Van Lente was one of the few who agreed to be interviewed. I took him through the wringer over this dinky little one-shot! Alas, he did give it his all, and I could not let this lengthy interview languish in my Yahoo! Mail inbox forever. Only five years and change after it was conducted, I bring you Fred Van Lente talking about his one-shot special, Untold Tales of the New Universe: Nightmask! (Say, whatever happened to ol' Fred, anyway...?)


A Whole New World Of Hurt (Finally: 'Planet Hulk')

And I do mean finally! After all, I've interviewed writer Greg Pak about it, but until now I've never really written, longform, about the Hulk story of a generation.

Now's the time. You guys deserve a big bonus, on account of August being a record-breaking month for Delusional Honesty. The little blog that could has just passed 50,000 hits--most of which have come in the last year alone! What's more, the site's enjoyed continuing growth, and tomorrow will likely pull ahead of March 2011's record-best month so far. In a crowded blogosphere, Delusional Honesty is rising to the challenge. Not bad for a homespun little one-man endeavor. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Back in September 2005, Marvel announced their plans for the coming year at the Diamond Retailer Summit in Baltimore, MD. I remember seeing the news that the next summer's event would be "Planet Hulk," "the seeds of which are planted in November's Hulk issue." They provided the above graphic, that didn't give anything away. What was "Planet Hulk"? Did some catastrophe involving gamma bombs occur, making a bunch of characters into Hulks? (Yeah, yeah, I know. It happened later.) Nobody knew quite what to expect.


DCnU: The New Continuity - Crisis Of Infinite Events (4)

(DCnU Continuity Series:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5)

This article is the fourth in a series analyzing a concept that has been one of the major underpinnings of comic books since Stan and Jack decided to have each series in their new line of Marvel Comics build on the others before. Here, I'm going to transition from the continuity craziness of the nineties...to the continuity craziness of the 2000s. And you'll see special attention paid to crossover events, a throughline from the last few entries. We're running a bit long, so within the next few days I promise to bring it all home with how DC Comics' "New 52" figures into the mix.

Before the sixties, comics stories only rarely referenced each other, but with a new breed of comic came a new breed of comics fan interested in seeing how disparate elements in the universe connected. While Marvel developed their own, at first tightly-knit continuity, DC experimented with alternate realities across which their adventures took place. In the seventies, when comics' direct market took shape, the shared universe concepts especially took root as did a more fan-centric atmosphere. This was the age of the Omniverse fanzine and the Superman Vs. The Amazing Spider-Man tabloid-size crossover. The crossovers between companies stopped in the eighties, with companies finding value in having their own characters all team-up in line-wide events that haven't stopped to this day. In Crisis on Infinite Earths DC sought to do away with their Multiverse concept in favor of a streamlined, more "realistic" lineup, but only created more problems that would plague them for decades.


Guest Blog: Samurai Comics Steps Up In AZ With A New Mesa Store

Considering all the big news coming out of Phoenix this week with the closing of Mike Malve's Atomic Comics chain of stores, I thought it was important to give all the news and insight I can. To that end, tonight I'm turning my blog over to Harold "Ole' Greenskin" Kayser, a good friend who's been following the ongoing drama. He and I both thought it necessary to correct some of the erroneous stories that have been published today. Please read the following and spread the word. At Delusional Honesty, we're the little engine that could, and I like to get the full picture. Thanks for reading.

Samurai's Camelback location, with boxes & boxes of Atomic's shipment.

"Bleeding Cool Gets it Wrong...."

The comic world was rocked by the closing of Atomic Comics, the largest retailer in the southwestern US, on Sunday.  That's all I'm going to say about the closing specifically, as I can't add anything else that hasn't already been covered by numerous sites.  Atomic Comics customers and the East Valley especially faced a proverbial black hole with the sudden closure.

Mike Banks, owner of Samurai Comics, talked with his Diamond Comic Distributors representatives about the situation and feverishly tried to work out a deal to help fill the void.  They were successful, and Samurai Comics received the entire Atomic Comics shipment today. He's in the process of getting the product set up and ready for distribution on Wednesday. Also, Mike and his wife Morhya struck a deal late today to open a "pop-up" Samurai Comics directly adjacent to the Atomic Comics location on South Country Club Drive in Mesa.  Fret not, Atomic Comics customers! You can go to almost the same location and get your new comics on Wednesday starting at 9:00am.

Now, I feel the need to set the record straight regarding the postings on Bleeding Cool, a comics news site run by Rich Johnston.

Unlimited Alpha Flight?

Very interesting post courtesy of a news tidbit submitted me by The Daily P.O.P.'s own Jameson Lee. Did anyone else catch this comment on Formspring? Should we take the question asker's observation with a grain of salt? Will there be more to Marvel's "Pint O' CB" panel at this weekend's FanExpo Canada than an announcement regarding the recent "Destroy" promo that has the #FVL hashtag attached?

Stay tuned...



Eve Of Destruction

Marvel Comics is now hyping an event set for 2012 with the tagline, "Destroy!" featuring a number of their more monstrous characters. I have a preview image, but due to SPOILERS mainly for Incredible Hulks #635, you'll have to click to see it after the jump!

No Delusions: Atomic Comics Has Closed

The rumors are true. As of last night, August 21, Atomic Comics, the largest comics chain retailer in the southwestern United States, is no more. Owner Mike Malve verified the chain's closing in a statement issued early this morning, citing the current financial climate as primary reason for his stores' collapse.

This wasn't the first sign of trouble for Malve and his stores. A car crashed into the Mesa Superstore location in late 2006, causing incredible damage including a water main break that damaged over a million dollars in inventory. The store closed for five months, after which much of the clientele never returned. Add the current economic downturn to the precipitating event, and it isn't hard to see it was all a perfect storm that led to Atomic's collapse.


Head To Head: Fright Night 1985 Vs. Fright Night 2011

Greetings, horror-fans!

I hoped you'd forgive me for not posting a "Hammer Horror" feature this Thursday last, because I knew what was coming. This weekend, Dreamworks Pictures released "Fright Night," a remake of the 1985 "cult classic" vampire film. What you might not have known (other than the mere fact the film was being released, which, the box office figures suggest, was a distinct possibility) was that I have an intense fascination for the original film.

"Fright Night," starring William Ragsdale, Roddy McDowall and Chris Sarandon, nearly scared this little kid to death way back when. In fact, I couldn't make it past the first scene where master vampire Jerry Dandridge "vamps out" to deliver a threatening warning in teenager Charley Brewster's bedroom. A year or so later, I happened upon a comic book adaptation of the film, which led to being able to sit through the whole movie. That in turn led to following the monthly Now Comics series throughout its 22-issue run (some of which was drawn by artists like Neil Vokes and Kevin West). And the rest is history, as I've long since gained a healthy appreciation of the horror genre in general and vampire films in particular.


Quick Reviews: Daredevil #2, Hulk #39

Just a few reviews whilst I ring in the weekend! You'll be seeing some different things coming up--no, really--including more than likely, a review of Fright Night this weekend. I've got at least one more Comic Book Revolution article in the pipeline if everything proceeds apace. A brand-new Hammer film is on my shelf just nagging, "Watch me!" And I find I'm again bitten by the bug called Whedonitis (roughly translated: a strong desire to re-watch all the glory that is Joss). I'll be throwing things your way and as always, it's up to you to decide what sticks. Aren't you the lucky ones? (Hint: if you do decide something's stick-worthy, then by all means tell somebody! Unlike the big boys at Comic Book Resources or Newsarama or all those other ginchy spots, I'm entirely homespun! (Psst--if you find yourself jazzed out of your mind about one of my pieces, you may consider dropping a few dimes in the handy Paypal tip jar on the right hand side of this page. Just a thought.)

Now that the shilling's done, where was I? Ah, yes. Reviews!


Hammer Thursday--Wha--?! (Fun with 'Fear Itself' & 'Planet Hulk')

We now interrupt the "Delusional Honesty" "Hammer Thursday" segment (featuring nearly-weekly reviews of Hammer Films) to bring you a different manner of "Hammer Thursday." Were Skadi, the Serpent's herald, and Caiera, the Hulk's wife, separated at birth? Click for bigger versions.


Same hairdo? Check. Similar armors? Check. And they both love their big-ass weapons, so, check. Okay, maybe not sisters, but seems like they got a hot lead on the same stylist! Make your own judgments here, kiddies.

Thanks to 'Ole Greenskin' for suggesting this post.

More tomorrow!



DCnU: Comic Books Are Really, Really Great (For Continuity P0rn!) (3)

(DCnU Continuity Series:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5)

Welcome back, comics compatriots!

Springing forth from the September relaunch of DC Comics like Athena busting out fully-formed from Zeus' noggin, here's yet another in a series of discussions of various facets of the comics medium. This is the third part of my very complex discussion of comics continuity. In the first part, I discussed the development of Marvel Comics' shared universe and DC's development of their Multiverse. In the second, I addressed how DC's attention to combining all their universes into one "New Earth" during Crisis on Infinite Earths actually created logistical problems that grew to rival any inconsistencies with the previous "Multiverse" system. I don't think it's overstating the case to suggest Crisis gave birth to the continuity-obsessed comics culture of the present day. And that brings us to this section, where I'll explore continuity gone wild.

Silly season begins at DC: Tim Truman's Hawkworld.
Out of the Crisis, several characters' histories were "rebooted"--which is to say their prior histories were to be ignored as if they had never occurred. While writer Marv Wolfman intended for the conclusion of Crisis to result in a "new," composite DC Universe whose history we would see unfurl from that point forward, the editorial regime headed by Jenette Kahn, Dick Giordano and Paul Levitz nixed the idea. (More on this point as we race to the conclusion of this series!) Only Superman, Wonder Woman and the Justice League really enjoyed true "reboots," while the vast majority of the DC line pushed forward as before. Never mind that Superman had just appeared in an issue of Hawkman only a few months before, for Superman was just being introduced to the city of Metropolis over in Man of Steel. Nevermind that Wonder Woman had been fighting crime since the forties, for that was really Hippolyta, Diana of Themyscira's mother. And please, oh please oh please oh please, don't get me started about the hideous mess DC made when they relaunched Hawkman's continuity with Hawkworld in 1990!

On top of that, by very virtue of there being only one Earth when previously there were many, all kinds of bits of history were reshuffled. Earth-2's heroes, the Justice Society of America, were now part of the history of this new Earth, but neither Superman nor Batman were their contemporaries. (Wonder Woman? See above.) And most certainly, Batman and Catwoman never married and never had a daughter, Helena Wayne, that became the Huntress. Although there would be a Huntress, her origin was dramatically rewritten. Power Girl? Now, there was a question that wouldn't definitively be resolved until Infinite Crisis in 2005.

Retconning 101: The revised origin of the Swamp Thing by Alan Moore.
Hand in hand with the concept of a "reboot" or "relaunch" is the "retcon," short for "retroactive continuity," wherein previously established facts are changed. In-story facts can be changed to facilitate new stories being told (as you'll see in my explanations of certain Spider-Man storylines below) or to resolve apparent discrepancies in continuity that have arisen for any number of reasons (as you'll see in the below story about Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes). Some retcons only added "previously-unknown" details that cast a character's present in new light, such as when Alan Moore posited that the Swamp Thing was only a plant creature that thought it was Alec Holland (in "The Anatomy Lesson," from Saga of the Swamp Thing #21), or when Barry Allen, the second Flash, was revealed to have a twin brother (Cobalt Blue, as revealed in The Life Story of the Flash and Flash [vol. 2] #144). Other stories used retcons to substantially alter characters' histories, or eliminate them altogether, such as the aforementioned Crisis on Infinite Earths. As you can imagine, retconning, no matter how well done, has come to have a negative connotation and it's easy to understand why. Retcons, retcons, everywhere!

With all that DC had done in the previous fifty years, the current generation of DC's writers took it upon themselves to stitch together a continuity that was utterly fractured by the company's own hand. And the more they drew attention to the problems they created, the worse in turn those problems became. I mentioned the relationship between Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes in my last post. This relationship became an easy target because, well, in post-Crisis continuity, Clark Kent never became Superboy!

"If there was never a Superboy, who the hell is fighting Superman?"
To address the issue--perhaps the earliest incidence of continuity porn to spin out of Crisis--John Byrne and Paul Levitz concocted a byzantine plot whereby the Legion's arch-enemy, the Time Trapper, created a "pocket universe" and populated it with Earth and Krypton. (Told in Action Comics #591, Superman #8 and  Legion of Super-Heroes #37-38, 1987.) He then manipulated events that resulted in Superboy's creation, and whenever the Legion traveled to the past, it was really the Trapper's pocket universe they visited. The explanation gets loopier from there, with every plot contrivance underscoring the fact the story wasn't being told because somebody thought it would make a good story, but rather, because they needed some explanation in place! (A few months later, the same pocket universe would give birth to the first post-Crisis iteration of General Zod and his fellow criminals, as well as a "good" Lex Luthor who sent his creation Matrix, imprinted with the mental engrams of that universe's Lana Lang, to Earth. There, Matrix became the first post-Crisis Supergirl, who fell in love with Lex Luthor's clone, merged with the post-Crisis Linda Danvers, and eventually became an angel. But, I'm digressing!)

Eventually, DC's continuity problems continued to grow, which led to ever more drastic measures to "fix" them. The first major, whole-house attempt was Dan Jurgens' Zero Hour: A Crisis in Time, which endeavored to fix not only Crisis but also an earlier summer crossover, Armageddon 2001, whose ending had been mishandled after fans figured out the ending months ahead of release. A time-traveling villain named Extant acted as servant for hero-gone-bad Hal Jordan, Earth's second Green Lantern, who took ever more drastic measures to bring back his hometown Coast City, which had been decimated in the "Reign of the Supermen" storyline the previous year. The series, which started at issue #4 and "counted down" toward the finale in the aptly-numbered #0, ended in a drastic re-ordering of time that was supposed to magically fix everything that came before. They even included a fold-out timeline that included events from the distant past to the far future to prove their point that everything was nearly addressed!

Everything ends, and begins again. Zero Hour: A Crisis in Time #1.
It wasn't, of course, but in the meantime, we got a quasi-reboot with a month full of special issues of every DC title, all numbered #0 and their covers printed with metallic ink highlights. Some new series arrived, the most noteworthy of which was Starman under the aegis of James Robinson and Tony Harris. Meanwhile the Legion of Super-Heroes was relaunched with all evidence of Superboy's involvement in their origins erased, while the biggest change to Batman was re-establishing that his parents' killer was a nameless crook (and not Joe Chill, a fact true in both pre-Crisis continuity and in the post-Crisis "Batman: Year Two").

At the same time as DC dealt with their second big event centered around a "Crisis," Marvel initiated perhaps the most notorious example of using continuity as a weapon. To attempt to follow DC's lead with such events as "The Death of Superman" and "Knightfall," they concocted (there's that word again!) a storyline in which a clone of Spider-Man, who'd appeared in a series of stories in the seventies, had never died. The character, who renamed himself Ben Reilly (itself a continuity nugget, combining Spidey's uncle's first name with his aunt's maiden name), went on the road for many years but came back when he heard of Aunt May's sudden illness. His return between 1994-1996 also prompted the return of the villain that created him, the nefarious Jackal, who brought with him a host of half-baked clones including one of Gwen Stacy, Spidey's lost love. All along the way, the writers constantly refuted previous stories about the clones, bridging the gaps outside the Spider-Man group of titles.

Silly season begins at Marvel: The Spider-Clone returns.
In theory, the clone's return was meant to be a return to form for Spider-Man, who was seen as increasingly alienated from his fanbase by virtue of his marriage to Mary Jane Watson, then a successful supermodel. Marvel re-characterized Peter Parker as a "dark" character, and even a villain, in the hopes that Ben Reilly would be accepted as the one, true Spider-Man. They even exploited a decades-old plot point whereby Peter could be the clone, and Ben the real one. Peter left New York with a pregnant Mary Jane, and Ben Reilly became a Spider-Man who lost track of which heroes and villains he knew from the point his memories diverged from Peter's. Eventually Marvel opened up an even bigger can of worms by resurrecting Mendel Stromm and Norman Osborn to solve the narrative, kill off Ben, and restore Peter as the one, true Spider-Man. (Don't worry--Marvel would again try, more successfully, to divest themselves of the Spider-marriage. Keep reading.)

Worse, once the "Clone Saga" was complete, writer Roger Stern returned to Spider-Man to rewrite years of continuity since he left the book, with the express aim of providing the "real" identity of the Hobgoblin. He'd already been unmasked years before as Daily Bugle reporter Ned Leeds, but that didn't stop Stern from reopening a dead case and providing his own answer to the puzzle as he originally intended. The three-issue series, Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives, contained references to back issues on the back covers, a sure-fire sign that continuity had been taken too far. And, of course, Stern revealed the Hobgoblin to be one of his own creations who hadn't been seen for over a decade. And an evil twin! Le sigh.

The book that led to the revival of the Multive--um, Hypertime: Kingdom Come.
Back at DC, writer Mark Waid and artist Alex Ross' Kingdom Come told a dystopic version of events from DC's future. The four-issue series, published in 1996, continued a special-event line of comics called "Elseworlds," which weren't tales from alternate realities because, well, alternate realities didn't exist anymore at DC, right? Still, on the strength of the storyline, Waid helmed another event series in 1999, The Kingdom, as a sequel of sorts, during which he revealed that the Multiverse was alive and well and part of a concept now called "Hypertime." Hypertime supposed that reality was like a river whose paths could randomly converge and diverge, allowing for different versions of Superman or any other character to coexist or team up as circumstances dictated. It also encompassed the original Multiverse plus all the Elseworlds realities. Most notably, Waid used the Hypertime concept himself at great length during the end of his tenure on The Flash when Walter West, the Flash of an alternate reality, briefly took the place of the mainstream DC Flash, Wallace West. For a while, there was talk of Grant Morrison using the concepts introduced in The Kingdom in a new crossover event to be called Hypercrisis, but the project was shelved.

Writer Kurt Busiek, who rose to prominence through his work on the revolutionary Marvels project with Alex Ross, was that unique breed of writer who endeavored in ways similar to Roy Thomas to link Marvel's past with its present. He never met a continuity reference he didn't like, and if there's one man who embodies the essence of "continuity gone wild" for better or worse, 'tis he. Marvels was filled with references both in the story itself, or in poses of characters, or really, any old thing. They may not have been intrusive to the degree they were in others' work, but there they were all the same. Busiek's intense detail toward continuity minutiae became a driving force behind two of his most well-known projects: Avengers Forever, itself a scrutinous examination of Avengers continuity through the eyes of villain Kang the Conqueror; and the DC/Marvel co-publication JLA/Avengers, itself rummaging through years of unusual continuity to tell a story that spanned the full length of both teams' histories. While demonstrating Busiek's obsessive attention to detail, both series were impenetrable to all but the most fervent fans.

Continuity pr0n for Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
DC's own answer to Kurt Busiek hit the ground running as writer of niche book Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. and co-writer of James Robinson's JSA revival. In some ways, Geoff Johns could make Busiek look positively amateur by comparison. He sifted through years of complex continuity to return Hawkman from permanent "damaged goods" status in JSA and his own book. He's worked on various "event series" including Day of Judgment, Identity Crisis, Green Lantern: Rebirth, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis, Flash: Rebirth, Blackest Night, Brightest Day and the currently-running Flashpoint. Each of the company's recent event series has been predicated on older continuity for maximum effect, from Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis' reworking of the JLA's "Satellite Era" to Infinite Crisis as direct sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths, to Grant Morrison's Final Crisis as a love letter to Jack Kirby's "Fourth World" tales, to Blackest Night as an ultimate extension of decades of "Green Lantern" mythos.

Infinite Crisis in particular poked fun of the conventions of intense scrutiny of continuity when in its Secret Files & Origins special, writer Marv Wolfman revealed that since Crisis on Infinite Earths, Superboy-Prime punched at the walls of reality from the "paradise" he shared with Earth-2's Superman and Lois, with each punch causing disruptions to continuity. Those disruptions included the resurrection of Jason Todd (Robin II), the changing origins of Superman, and the various incarnations of Hawkman and the Legion of Super-Heroes. If there was an apparent continuity mistake, DC could say that Superboy-Prime made it that way. (And when he was released during Infinite Crisis, he continued the trend of messing everything up. Rimshot!)

Infinite Crisis also brought back the Multiverse in a big way, and for enthusiasts of that brand of storytelling, writer Johns "revealed" (using quotes because it was his own made-up history, not from prior precedent) that legacy characters like the Kyle Rayner Green Lantern and the Jason Rusch Firestorm were really the heroes from another, heretofore unknown Earth ("Earth-8") that was merged into the "new Earth" during the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. Yes, the writers just had to cater to the original spirit of the Crisis-that-was. But Johns kept pushing the envelope further...

Did someone mention "continuity pr0n"? Geoff Johns goes overboard with the Legion.
His work on Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds in particular was hugely evocative of the continuity-heavy stories that Crisis on Infinite Earths spawned, relying on the reader's knowledge of three distinct alternate versions of the Legion of Super-Heroes to assist in comprehension of the narrative (not to mention the returns of several non-Legion characters). Johns catered to his artist, George Perez of 1985's Crisis fame, allowing him to draw dozens or even hundreds of characters in incredible detail such as Perez has become well-known for doing. Lovers of DC's often labyrinthine continuity gobbled the series up, but it often left more casual fans cold--as did, for that matter, Final Crisis itself.

Not to be outdone, Marvel has done some selective continuity editing of their own, almost establishing a sort of "anti-continuity" with Spider-Man's infamous "One More Day" storyline. In it, Spider-Man made a deal with Mephisto, Marvel's representation of the devil, to save his aunt from certain death and to ensure his identity (revealed to the world in a then-recent storyline) became a secret again. Suddenly and without explanation, Spidey's marriage to Mary Jane was edited out of continuity. So ingrained into fans' minds was the idea that some additional explanation was required, that the fans were owed the details as to exactly what changes were made in history to arrive at this point. They couldn't simply accept that "they never got married" because, well, what about Mary Jane's pregnancy during the "Clone Saga"? Didn't that mean their beloved hero was having sex out of wedlock and thus was immoral and unclean? (They seemed to gloss over that part where Spidey made a deal with a bad guy, satanic or otherwise.) The "mystery" went on for nearly a hundred issues until only the points directly raised by "One More Day" were addressed, and no more, in "One Moment in Time." Of course, since then, they've moved on, content to never, ever address the finer points of Spidey's relationship with MJ again.

1st rule of Spidey continuity: You don't talk about Spidey continuity.
Continuity continues to prove a slippery slope, a double-edged sword, a (insert cliche of your choice here). I get the desire to make order out of the chaos, and to show that more or less, fictional realities have similar physical rules to our own. However, the more changes that are done, the less "real" the reality of the comics becomes. Also, continuity creates an insular subdivision of fandom, so engrossed in the "reality" of the characters that they will cry foul on any deviations from previously established events. (Really, the mentality that gave birth to the concept of the "No-Prize," writ large.) Ultimately, one may even see an expansive continuity as one more reason that comic circulation has slowly dwindled, as fewer and fewer people can make sense of these universes the bigger companies have created.

Was DC in danger of collapsing under its own weight when they announced the grand reboot that spins out of the Flashpoint miniseries this month? That's a good and fair question, but it'll have to wait until my fourth and final part of this little (heh) essay.

Next: Grand Guignol

(DCnU Continuity Series:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5)



Mantlegacy: The Man-Brute Called Woodgod!

If anyone's been following me for any length of time, you'll know that Bill Mantlo has long been one of my favorite writers, in spite of, well, things that have come into focus recently (and which will soon be the topic of a blog entry). He wrote many, many Marvel comics in the seventies and eighties, including my perennial favorites Rom, Spaceknight; Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man; and of course The Incredible Hulk (which I've reviewed here, here and here). I thought it was high time I introduced those of you who might not be as familiar with the esteemed Mr. Mantlo's work to one of my favorite of his creations: the man-brute called Woodgod!

The character who would later become most closely associated with the writer's work on the Hulk, Woodgod actually starred in his own inaugural adventure in Marvel Premiere #31 (August, 1976) by Mantlo and then-neophyte Marvel artist Keith Giffen, who was also illustrating David Anthony Kraft's Defenders stories at the time. Noteworthy is the fact this story was not Mantlo and Giffen's sole collaboration: they also created the "Sword in the Star" series the same year in Marvel Preview (which introduced another obscure character by the name of Rocket Raccoon...hey, whatever happened to him?).

And to top it all off, Marvel somehow got superstar artist Jack "King" Kirby to draw the story's cover. How d'you like them apples?

At first, Woodgod seemed like an animal-human hybrid who could've stepped forth from the High Evolutionary's wicked world of Wundagore, but thankfully, Mantlo kept his creation isolated in that first story. "Birthday!" tells the story of David and Ellen Pace, two geneticists who created Woodgod, a humanoid creature whose appearance echoed that of Pan, the Greek god of the wild. He had dark skin, the barest hint of horns on his head, and the feet of a goat. Why exactly the Paces chose this visage for the one they would treat as their son remains unknown, but Woodgod did enjoy accelerated mental growth to match his adult body. Months passed until the townspeople of Liberty happened upon young Woodgod. Instead of being understanding, they only saw a monster, and laid siege to the Paces' farm, inadvertently releasing an experimental nerve gas that killed everyone in the town but Woodgod. The shrieks the townspeople made as they died caused young Woodgod to connect the two. Henceforth, "the scream" had killed his parents and the townspeople. Major Tremens, Pace's superior at Vertigo Base, sent a team to investigate and found a howling-mad Woodgod.

Woodgod's next appearance was in Marvel Team-Up #53-55, scripted by Mantlo and drawn by superstar artist John Byrne. The Hulk happened upon the young Woodgod on the same day as the previous issue's events. The two fought until Spider-Man arrived after having heard of the Green Goliath's arrival, at which time they teamed up and fought Spidey instead! Eventually Major Tremens captured all three and brought them to Tranquility Base (!), planning to shoot Woodgod into space and blame Spider-Man and the Hulk for the tragedy in Liberty. The heroes escaped and Woodgod killed Tremens before hiding anew.

Eventually Woodgod resurfaced in Incredible Hulk #252-253, where we discovered that Woodgod had salvaged his parents' research and traveled to a remote area of Colorado. Teaching himself to read and write, he soon used his advanced intelligence to carry on his father's work, creating a race of humanoid animals he dubbed the Changelings. First Doc Samson and General Ross encountered them, followed by Fred Sloan, Rick Jones, Betty Ross and the Hulk himself. They found themselves caught in the middle of a war between rival factions of the Changelings, with Woodgod's own creation, Leoninus. At the end of the battle, Woodgod renounced his leadership of the group, saying that they should lead themselves, and perhaps one day they could reveal themselves to the public without fear.

After Bill Mantlo left Marvel, the character was sadly nearly forgotten, popping up here and there but never for more than a bit role. Shortly after his last appearance with the Changelings, Woodgod had been captured by the Stranger, an enigmatic alien prone to collecting specimens for his laboratory world. The superhero Quasar helped free him and others the Stranger had captured during a battle with the Overmind, after which the sometime Avenger transported the whole lot back to Earth (Quasar #13-16, 19-20).

Sadly, no sooner did he reunite with his fellow Changelings (and enjoy an adventure with them in Marvel Comics Presents #76) than the armed forces of Trinity Base (!!) killed them all, claiming they were private property created with their financing. Woodgod survived but the trauma of seeing his brethren executed caused him to regress to his earlier, more hostile persona. Nick Fury and his S.H.I.E.L.D. agents helped Woodgod escape, faking his death and promising to shut down Trinity. Check Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #37 for the details.

After the death of his Changelings, Woodgod was again captured, this time by the newly-malevolent Department H, shown in a cameo in Alpha Flight (1997 series) #13. At some point, he escaped their clutches, only to again be brought off-Earth and mutated even further by Xemnu the Titan, who returned him to battle the Red Hulk in Hulk #30, a scant few months ago (as reviewed here).

Who knows where Woodgod will appear next? He doesn't appear to be all that popular, and no writers save Mantlo seem to have a decent enough handle on what makes him tick. They all enjoy using him as a prop, or walking back Mantlo's later characterization as leader of a race of beings like himself. True, it may be that he and the Changelings are seen as knock-offs of the High Evolutionary's New Men concept, and perhaps that reputation's deserved. Still, I long for the return of the more textured characterization of this character who's unjustly ignored. After five substantial, promising appearances in the Bronze Age, Woodgod has become a footnote in Marvel history when his pedigree indicates he's deserving of more. Now, I'm not asking for him to be made part of the next Avengers team, but a little respect is due, no?


Recommended Reading: Marvel Premiere #31; Marvel Team-Up #53-55; The Incredible Hulk #251-253; Quasar #14, 19-20; Marvel Comics Presents #76; Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #37; Alpha Flight (1997 series) #13; Hulk (2008 series) #30.


From the Archives: Greg Pak Talks "World War Hulk" Circa 2007

A while ago, I entreated you all to the first of the interviews I did with outgoing Hulk scribe Greg Pak. Below is my second interview with Mr. Pak, originally posted on the Comixfan website in 2007 shortly before the arrival of the crossover epic, World War Hulk. Without further ado, here's that interview--gone from Comixfan's archives, but saved courtesy of a guy who likes to keep everything!


A World War Hulk interview with Greg Pak
By Gary M. Miller, Comixfan Staff Writer

Since his entrance into the comics scene in 2005 writing such Marvel Comics titles as Warlock and X-Men: Phoenix Endsong, independent filmmaker Greg Pak has seen his star steadily rising. Now, after over a year reporting the incredible Hulk's adventures on the faraway planet Sakaar, during which the titular hero has seen a rise in sales and growing appreciation in the comics press and public (reflected in higher sales and some great-looking variants and second printings of key issues), Greg--and the Hulk--are off to war. (No, not Civil War--that event is so 2006.)

World War Hulk is a five-issue miniseries with tie-in issues across the Marvel line. Recently, Comixfan talked to Rhodes Scholar (!) Pak about "Planet Hulk," World War Hulk, and all the minutiae that have made The Incredible Hulk into one of Marvel's "must-read" series.

Comixfan: For those who haven't been following "Planet Hulk," give us some background on the saga that's been going on for this last year, leading inexorably into World War Hulk.

Greg Pak: A group of so called Marvel "heroes," including Mister Fantastic, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and Black Bolt, decided the Hulk was a monster and exiled him to an alien planet. Weakened by the trip through the wormhole that took him to the savage planet of Sakaar, the Hulk was enslaved, then forced to become a gladiator. Bonding with his fellow gladiators, the Hulk became a rebel, fighting against the wicked Red King and eventually becoming the planet's conquering emperor, taking the great woman warrior Caiera the Oldstrong as his queen.

Now the Hulk is returning to Earth. And he's going to teach those who exiled him who the monster in this story really is.

Comixfan: The genesis of "Planet Hulk" was in Joe Quesada's vision of the Hulk holding a giant broadsword in an alien landscape. What, then, was the impetus for World War Hulk?

Pak: From the beginning we knew that if you send the Hulk away, he'll eventually come back. And much smashing would ensue.

Comixfan: What separates this "Hulk vs. Everyone" story from previous such battles?

Pak: In the classic battles in The Incredible Hulk #300, #316, and #321, the Hulk was insane -- mindless rage personified. He'd been stripped of rationality by Nightmare in #300--in #316 and #321, Banner had been separated from the Hulk's body by Doc Samson. But the Hulk's not only fully aware of who he is and what he's doing -- during the course of his time on Sakaar, he's developed an entire ethos and community. When he comes back to Earth, he knows exactly what he's doing and why and is utterly convinced of the justice of his actions -- which should make him far more terrifying to those who are in his sights.

Comixfan: You've touched on changes to the Hulk since the last time such a large-scale battle has occurred. Can you elaborate?

Pak: The Hulk has been through many different incarnations -- the average person's probably most familiar with the caveman-speak savage Hulk and the mute Hulk from the television series. But for "Planet Hulk," we're taking inspiration from Peter David's run as well as the original Stan Lee stories from the very first appearances of the Hulk back in the 1960s. Our Hulk is crafty--he doesn't say much, but when he speaks, it's clear he knows exactly what's going on and how to deal with things. He's smart enough to learn and strategize -- which means he can understand and take responsibility for his actions. But at the same time, he's as angry and savage as ever. So we have a character who can really struggle with this central question of whether the Hulk is a hero or a monster.

During the course of our story, the Hulk's grown from someone who's full of rage towards everything and everyone to someone who's actually begun to trust the people who prove themselves to him. The strength and anger which make humans call the Hulk a monster are actually virtues on the savage planet of Sakaar. And as he's led the Warbound gladiators against the Red King, the Hulk has begun to wrap his head around the possibility that he might actually have a place, a world, a people, and a Queen to call his own.

Comixfan: The Hulk's alter ego, Bruce Banner, has been conspicuously absent from the majority of "Planet Hulk," and gone with him the dichotomous tension some say is essential to the Hulk. Will this dynamic change in World War Hulk? And how does the metamorphosis between man and monster operate these days?

Pak: Banner's always been present in "Planet Hulk" -- we just haven't seen him. We've given some hints in The Incredible Hulk #103 about Banner's evolving relationship with his big, green alter ego -- more will be revealed during the course of World War Hulk.

Comixfan: The Hulk can be a formidable force by himself, but he's had his "Warbound" group to side with on Sakaar. Introduce us to some of the Hulk's allies during World War Hulk.

Pak: In The Incredible Hulk #103, Hulk married the wicked Red King's former bodyguard, the fierce woman warrior known as Caiera the Oldstrong. His other allies include the insectivorid Miek, the last king of his dying race; the nameless Brood Creature, perhaps the last surviving member of the species best known as impacable X-Men foes; Korg the Kronan, a great stone man who was one of the very first opponents of the Earth hero you puny humans know as Thor; Elloe Kaifi, an angry young Imperial woman from Sakaar; and Hiroim the Shamed, a Shadow Priest turned warrior.

Comixfan: Tell us more about the Hulk's queen, Caiera--how the idea for her came to be, and explain the differences between her and love interests in the Hulk and Banner's past.

Pak: One big idea of "Planet Hulk" was to see how the Hulk would react if he were thrown into a world where his anger and strength might actually be virtues. Caiera is a woman warrior on this savage planet who can actually match the Hulk's strength -- and appreciate him precisely because of his fury and power. I'm a big fan of previous Hulk/Banner love interests, such as Betty, Jarella, and Kate Waynesboro. But most of these women spent most of their time in love with Banner, or in love with the Banner in the Hulk's body. Caiera may be unique in loving the Hulk first and foremost as the Hulk.

Comixfan: Which of the Hulk's Warbound allies has been the most interesting/fun to write? Why?

Pak: I love 'em all. Korg has probably been the most fun from the beginning--he's a rock, the Warbound's heart and soul, and I've really enjoyed finding his steady voice. More recently, Hiroim's been developing in interesting ways--his spiritual struggle feels more compelling with each passing issue. But it's Caiera who's been the most gratifying to write over the past few issues -- she's grown enormously as a character, progressing from the Hulk's enemy to wary ally to lover and Queen. She has incredible strength and integrity -- it's been a real kick watching her develop.

Look for big moments for...[all of the Hulk's] Warbound -- in the pages of World War Hulk.

Comixfan: The Hulk seems to be quite at home on Sakaar. He's king, he's married, he has friends there. Is he merely returning to Earth for revenge, or is there more to it? And do all of the Hulk's Warbound brethren reach Earth?

Pak: At least three will return with him. Beyond that, I can say no more. All will be revealed in The Incredible Hulk #105, the climactic issue of the "Planet Hulk" saga.

Comixfan: The converse of the above: who are some of the Hulk's main antagonists once he returns to Earth?

Pak: The Hulk has four principal targets -- Mister Fantastic, Iron Man, Black Bolt, and Dr. Strange, the four so-called heroes who exiled him to Sakaar. But anyone who gets in his way had best update any relevant health insurance documents.

Comixfan: With all the emphasis on the Hulk's new warbound friends and on the conflict with Earth's superheroes, will the Hulk's main friends on Earth, such as Rick Jones, Betty Banner, et al, be seen during this conflict? What about General Ross, and the Hulk's other foes?

Pak: I can't say too much for fear of spoilers--but at least one of the characters you mention above will play a key role in World War Hulk.

Comixfan: Much has changed since the Hulk departed Earth--all more or less detailed in 2006's big Marvel event, Civil War. How does the Hulk view what has happened in his absence, and how do those situations play into the setup for World War Hulk?

Pak: Again, I can't say too much for fear of spoilers, but fallout from the Civil War has affected a number of characters in interesting ways--and may help determine which Marvel heroes are crazy enough to actually side with the Hulk when he returns. The story of these heroes is told in The Incredible Hulk #106 to #109, which runs concurrently with the World War Hulk miniseries.

Comixfan: Could this same storyline have been told without the backdrop of Civil War? Why or why not?

Pak: In an interesting way, this story has framed the Civil War. The Illuminati exiling the Hulk heralded the beginning of the divisions that led to Civil War; now, the Hulk's return will play out against the aftermath of Civil War.

Comixfan: What will the main thrust of The Incredible Hulk (the main title) be during World War Hulk?

Pak: We all know who's going to fight the Hulk when he returns--but who will fight for the Hulk? The ongoing series follows teen-genius-on-the-run Amadeus Cho, a.k.a. Mastermind Excello, as he tracks down potential allies of the Hulk in anticipation of the Green Goliath's return to Earth. If you're interested in seeing where She-Hulk and Namor stand, don't miss The Incredible Hulk #106 and #107, respectively.

Comixfan: From writing the World War Hulk mini so far, have there been any characters, aside from the Hulk and his Warbound brethren, who have stolen the show, or been just plain fun to write? Who and why?

Pak: Within World War Hulk, I'm having a ton of fun with Dr. Strange--his scenes promise to be both poignant and terrifying. Within The Incredible Hulk book, Amadeus Cho and Hercules are a huge amount of fun to write -- they're part of a group of renegades who will play a critical role in The Incredible Hulk #108 and #109.

Comixfan: What other Marvel staffters were involved in planning World War Hulk?

Pak: Editor Mark Paniccia is my chief partner in crime. But in a project this big, many, many people have provided input along the way. Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada has played a critical role, all of the various Marvel editors have had their say, and the project's been discussed at a number of creative summits where other writers had a chance to bat ideas around. And now that the tie-in books are underway, there's a whole 'nother group of writers and editors that we're conferring with as we proceed in order to make sure all the stories make sense and fit together.

Comixfan: As a first-time writer of a line-wide event, what have you found to be the pros and cons of writing a story on such a big scale?

Pak: The pros include having the chance to play with all the toys in the Marvel Universe at once, which is incredible. The cons include the fact that a story gets analyzed by a dozen or more people and you have to constantly convince the group of how essential and awesome each element of the story is. Of course, in many ways, that's actually a positive, since the rigorous criticism and feedback you get on a project like this can really hone a story in a fantastic way.

Comixfan: World War Hulk will have many tie-in issues (a Peter David-written prelude, World War Hulk Prologue: Worldbreaker; Christos Gage's World War Hulk: X-Men mini; etc.). How much freedom have you had in shaping the storyline, how much coordination have you done, and how much have you left to your capable editor, Mark Paniccia, and Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada?

Pak: With an event this big, there are a million different factors which can affect the story -- from practical issues like publishing schedules to creative challenges like making the story work in conjunction with dozens of other ongoing stories within the Marvel Universe. Throughout the months of story development, there were multiple times when Mark and I would need to rework the outline based on a brand new kink. I think the trick is to know what your story is--to fully understand the central premise and emotional experience of your main character. Then you can roll with the punches, adjusting small and big details when necessary, because the central story's crystal clear--it's just a matter of choosing the best path to take in telling it.

Without a doubt, Mark's the true coordinator -- the grand shepherd of the entire event. But he's pulled me into every stage of the process as the kind of resident expert on the characters and stories and themes of "Planet Hulk" and World War Hulk, which has been great -- it's always fun to talk with other writers and it's a blast to bounce ideas around and see what folks are doing with the characters. I've been trading emails with Paul Jenkins (who's writing the Frontlines tie-in) and Christos Gage (the X-Men and Iron Man tie ins) and just had a very fun exchange with Zeb Wells regarding his Heroes for Hire crossover, which'll have everyone buggin' out.

Comixfan: The classic trouble with line-wide crossovers often comes down to style over substance. What differentiates World War Hulk from other big events?

Pak: Just about nothing promises more incredible action that a Hulk-versus-the-Marvel Universe storyline. So for sheer visceral thrills, you just can't beat World War Hulk. But what makes the story really work is the emotional arc at its core. We've been planning this story for years; it's the culmination of all the character building that's been going on all year in "Planet Hulk." This isn't just the biggest action piece in ages; it's also the biggest and most critical emotional and character piece for the Hulk in recent memory. Don'tcha dare miss it!

Comixfan: Well said. On that note, let's start closing things out. Personally speaking, what have been the highlights of working on The Incredible Hulk for your first year?

Pak: Every single issue's been a highlight. Honestly, "Planet Hulk" may be the most gratifying creative experience I've had thus far in comics--working with editor extraordinaire Mark Paniccia, artists like Carlo Pagulayan, Aaron Lopresti, and Gary Frank, and the entire creative team has been a dream. I think all of us have felt that the book is something special and have gone that extra mile to make every panel and every word as perfect as possible. I remember talking with Chris Sotomayor about the color palate of the planet -- he came up with the brilliant idea that the Hulk should be the only green thing we see--except for Caiera's eyes, giving a kind of subtle hint of their eventual relationship. I remember Aaron Lopresti doing five or six layouts of one big splash page until he found just the right image. I remember assistant editor Nate Cosby calling me to talk about the best word to pick for the Sakaarian equivalent of "mile." It's been an amazing experience, and I hugely appreciate all of the people who have worked so hard to make it come together.

Comixfan: You say one of the key lures to World War Hulk is matching the Hulk against the entire Marvel Universe. What do you have to say to those out there who may not be huge Hulk fans and are sitting on the fence as to whether to participate in Marvel's latest big crossover story?

Pak: First, you should be a Hulk fan! The ginormous hardcover trade of "Planet Hulk" is coming out in June, I believe, and that's a great chance to jump on board an epic Hulk tale that leads right into "World War Hulk." A large number of our readers hadn't ever read the Hulk or hadn't followed the book for years and are now hooked--it's an easy place to start, so come on board!

Second, World War Hulk features some giant moments for a number of key Marvel heroes as they face the consequences of their actions from before and during Civil War. If you want to find out what's happening to the big guns in the Marvel Universe this summer, you need to read World War Hulk.

Comixfan: One last thing: have you gotten your "Planet Hulk" action figure (released as part of the first wave of Hasbro's Marvel Legends series) yet? Seeing such a thing must be a pleasant surprise.

Pak: I did indeed get it, and it's awesome. Of course, now I want figures of Caiera and Korg and Hiroim and Brood and Elloe and Miek...

Comixfan: Thanks for the great interview, Greg. Anyone wishing to know more about Greg's future projects can visit his website, http://www.pakbuzz.com! And don't forget, The Incredible Hulk #105 is on sale this Wednesday, and the road to World War Hulk begins next month in the regular book's 106th issue, plus World War Hulk Prologue: Worldbreaker, followed by World War Hulk #1, on sale in June!


Hammer Thursday: Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter!

Two young girls go frolicking in the forest, but when one goes to get some flowers to braid in the other's hair, a stranger approaches. Hypnotized, the blond girl drops her mirror and takes to the hooded figure like a long-lost friend. When the other girl returns, she stands transfixed in terror. The town doctor rides along on his horse and spots the two of them. Coming closer, he realizes the blond girl is now old--prematurely old! Who could have done this? Moreover, how and why?

If that dramatic introduction doesn't entice you to read on, then I'm plumb out of reasons for you to continue. This entry is the first in what I hope to make a regular series. Since today is named after the Norse God of Thunder, and the God of Thunder has a hammer, I thought, what better day to throw emphasis on films from my favorite horror studio? I have to dedicate this opening salvo to British artist and fellow Hammer aficionado Simon Williams, who told me he'd never seen the film in question. Well, get ready, Simon: here's Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter!

The titles. Director Brian Clemens still has the ring fashioned after the logo!
Written and directed by Avengers alum Brian Clemens in the waning days of Hammer Films' original era, Captain Kronos tells the story of a pot-smoking, sword-slinging former army man (Horst Janson, dubbed by Julian Holloway) turned hunter of the undead. He travels the countryside with his trusty sidekick, the hunchbacked Professor Hieronymus Grost (John Cater), a man knowledgeable of all things supernatural. As the picture opens, they pick up the beautiful gypsy Carla (Caroline Munro, among the best of Hammer's late-era leading lasses) en route to the village where Kronos' friend Dr. Marcus (John Carson) has summoned them.

Kronos: Man of action!
Marcus and Kronos renew acquaintances, and the doctor informs his friend and Grost about the village's problems, which Grost wastes no time in proclaiming the work of vampires. Therein is the first hint that something's different about this film from the rest of Hammer's oeuvre. "You see, Doctor," explains Grost, "there are as many species of vampire as there are beasts of prey. Their methods and their motive for attack can vary in a hundred different ways." Methods of their demise differ, too: "Some can only be destroyed by hanging or decapitation, or fire or water, or by other means." Hence, the vampire film is recast as mystery--not only of the vampire's true identity, but also of their weaknesses. It's a novel idea that, even today, remains not wholly explored.

Professor Hieronymus Grost philosophizes about the vampire.
The film vividly entreats us to visit this village not through the eyes of the vampire, as do the studio's series of Dracula films starring Christopher Lee and the Karnstein Trilogy of more recent vintage, but instead through the eyes of the vampire hunters. In particular, the entry point into Kronos' universe is clearly the raven-tressed Carla, who over the course of the narrative becomes the hero's lover. Munro, just 24 at the time of filming, oozed sex appeal in every scene she was in, to the point one wonders who could resist her charms! Carson's Dr. Marcus also provided the questions that Kronos and Grost could answer about vampirism, with he in turn providing them information about the village and its denizens. He pays the price for his own investigations, but he doesn't look quite so delicious as Munro when doing so.

Oh, Kronos will have her, all right. Caroline Munro in all her glory.
Once explanations are granted, the story really gets moving, with more grisly deaths due to old age, with bosomy young victims reduced to made-up old hags. This is a Hammer Film, after all! In the middle of the action Clemens introduces Shane Briant (then groomed to be "the next Peter Cushing") and Lois Daine as Paul and Sara Durward, son and daughter of a family whose deceased patriarch, Hagen, was "The Greatest Swordsman of His Time" according to his gravestone. (Pretty nifty to throw that into a film about a swashbuckling vampire hunter, no?) Their mother, Lady Durward (Wanda Ventham), is apparently in ill health and seldom interacts with any outside her kin. Could those kin be keeping a secret...?

The Durwards, with dear old dad in the painting behind them.
Clemens admirably texturizes the film, with Grost's unusual tests that prove a vampire is in their midst as well as Kronos' bedroom confessions of why he began hunting. The film's inarguable centerpiece is a remarkable, deliciously campy sequence in which Marcus discovers that he has become one of the life-sucking vampires Kronos seeks. Kronos subdues his friend and then he and Grost elaborately try to kill him. They impale him with a wooden stake. They tie a noose around his neck and hang him. They threaten to set him on fire. Isn't this fun?

John Carson's Dr. Marcus, shortly after he finds out the ugly truth.
Eventually, of course, they find out how to kill him (and it suddenly all makes sense why the hero is good with swords). With one mystery solved at last, Kronos sets off to find the master vampire, whom he suspects has a connection with the Durwards. Simply put, the connection isn't quite what any of the characters believed, and the revelation of the vampires behind it all leads to an epic (by Hammer standards) swordfight between Kronos and the main antagonist. At the end, the good Captain triumphs, kisses his girl Friday farewell, and rides off with Grost in tow toward another thrilling adventure.

Who's this? You'll have to watch the movie to find out...
Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter is one of my very favorite films from Hammer, owing to its unique treatment of the vampire legend. I first saw the feature many years ago, on the USA Network, and loved it immediately. It's truly unique among the vampire subgenre. I mean, swashbuckling vampires? I could just see the further adventures of Kronos and Grost, traveling to new villages where altogether different breeds of vampires existed. It's too bad the planned trilogy of features never happened! I hear, too, that Kronos briefly headlined a British comic strip, but that rights issues prevented its publication beyond the first few stories. Perhaps the new Hammer might venture once more into the macabre realm of Kronos, doing battle with all manner of creatures of the night?

Ah, perchance to dream...

I'd love your thoughts on this new feature! Your suggestions for future Hammer Films to be spotlighted would also be horrendously (ahem) appreciated. delusionalhonesty [at] gmail[dot] com.

Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter is available on Region 1 DVD from Paramount/CBS, and will soon be available again on Region 2 DVD from Icon Home Entertainment (September 12).



Taking the Good with the Meh: Incredible Hulks #634, Fear Itself #5 Reviews

I usually wait a few days to review books. While one of my reviews here is--let's face it--more than a few weeks late, it figures into the outcome of another of the books I'm reviewing that was only released today (or, if you're on the East Coast, then it'll be yesterday by the time I post). Shall we dive right in?

FEAR ITSELF: THE WORTHY #1 - Marvel Comics, $3.99
"Nul: Breaker of Worlds" Feature by Greg Pak, Lee Weeks & Frank Martin Jr.

Certainly, I could say more about this issue, which features seven five-age stories each centered on one of the seven members of "The Worthy," possessed of mystical hammers granted them by Fear Itself's "big bad," The Serpent. Of the seven featured characters, only three regularly appear in a monthly book, and only one has a title all to himself. As all such books cobbled together from online mini-comics are, this one's a mixed bag. (On the plus side, Martin Jr.'s colors on the Titania story make Clayton Henry's art look the best it ever has!) Although I really should comment on all the stories, the only one that deserves full mention is the one that stands out because of its creative team alone.

Greg Pak and Lee Weeks have crafted a story in just four pages that cuts to the heart of the Hulk character, and provides an interesting take that mirrors what Pak has been doing in his final arc, "Heart of the Monster." "By Design..." recaps Green Genes' origin in the words of the man-monster himself, and marks one of the precious few instances of such a retelling. It's not Pak's first time retelling pieces of the puzzle, and at first glance, the writer appears to contradict himself from Incredible Hulk #94 In that story, he told the Warbound that Banner intended the gamma bomb to kill him, but that it only succeeded in making him stronger. By contrast, here the Hulk concludes that Banner used the G-Bomb to give birth to his own dark side incarnate so he had someone to blame/hate for his own failures. The Hulk is Banner's way of dismissing the guilt over killing his own father, and over not being able to save his mother from his father's wrath. He sublimates his self-hatred into the hatred of a being everyone can hate. That's a tortured psychology at its finest.

It's simple. It's brilliant. Yes, Frank Martin Jr. spends all the goodwill he earned on coloring the Titania story by miscoloring the Hulk green during the flashbacks to his first appearance. But this story alone? Buy It. If you don't want to fork over the cash, it can be read for free online at Marvel's website. Go. Now.

FEAR ITSELF #5 - Marvel Comics, $3.99
By Matt Fraction, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger & Laura Martin

In "Brawl," the latest part of Marvel's summer event that chiefly draws attention to its "Captain America" and "Thor" franchises, the Avengers fight the Serpent while Thor takes on the Hulk and Thing--er, Nul and Angrir (now that they've got those fancy-ass hammers).

I can say "ass" in this review; after all, Thor said it himself in the comic. "And him I liked," he says over the fallen body of the Thing. "But you?" He looks at the Hulk. "You were always a giant pain in the ass." Okay, I guess--to be fair, Thor's trippin' because his daddy mistreated him, and he's really trying to hold back the end of the world. Is this an excuse to walk back a lot of recent characterization? You be the judge.

Of course, with this book being one that's clearly set up Thor, on the strength of his summer movie, as "the good guy," and the Hulk, as one of the Worthy, as "the bad guy," you can see the battle's denouement a century away.Honestly, Hulk is less a character here than a prop for Thor to wallop on. On the opposite tack, the resolution surrounding the Thing comes out of absolutely nowhere and is a deus ex machina if ever I've seen one. And in the first real clash between a core of heroes and the mighty Serpent, you can bet it won't amount to much because there are two issues left in the series.

In spite of some pretty fight scenes, it's really an issue full of banal dialogue and situations, with an air of utterly contrived hopelessness that makes one want to slit his own wrists. With each issue, this book continues to fall to new depths just like its cousin Flashpoint. I expected better of Fraction, Immonen & co., but the plotted-by-consensus event does the opposite of impress. Fear Itself is too unwieldy and should have honestly been restrained to the original Cap/Thor event it was intended to be. At least that way, its focus could have been necessarily tighter, and the book could well have been far better for it. For now, Burn It!

THE INCREDIBLE HULKS #634 - Marvel Comics, $2.99
By Greg Pak, Paul Pelletier, Danny Miki, Morry Hollowell & Jesus Aburtov

Whereas Marvel's big event of the summer is shaping up to be as much a dud as DC's, the penultimate chapter of Greg Pak's final Hulk story proves to be every bit the engaging affair one imagined it would be. Stepping back from the abyss of last month's lackluster chapter, "Heart of the Monster" part five gets back to a talking lead character and the deciphering of the ongoing mystery of who made what wishes, leading to a thrilling cliffhanger that brings the Hulk and his cast to Ground Zero--in more ways than one.

This issue brings together the Hulk, Red She-Hulk, Dr. Strange, Amadeus Cho, Dr. De Cosimo and all the villains unleashed over previous months for one big powwow in the Dark Dimension. That means, of course, that this time we don't see Rick, Jen or anyone left on Earth this time, but we're reminded they're there, and the time they spend off-panel leave one to hope things are improving for them. In the meantime, it's incredible, rampaging Hulk action as only Greg Pak and Paul Pelletier can deliver, plumbing the depths of the character's unique psychology while providing powerful, evocative visuals and some of the biggest fights this title's seen.

From the halfway point forward, the story kicks up a few notches, with Pak playing up the aspect of the "Worldbreaker" he introduced in World War Hulk above and beyond any previous showing. It won't do fans who prefer a more realistic, less Silver-Age take on ol' Greenskin any favors, but for those who like seeing him let loose, you'll get that and more here, all dynamically drawn by Pelletier and Miki. Hulk fans from the early Peter David years will get a special kick out of the last page, but really, Greg Pak is pulling no punches in providing the enormous finale fans have earned. With only one chapter left in the Incredible Hulks opus, I'm happy to say that the whole team brings the pathos needed here. Buy It!

What d'you think, sirs?


We Now Interrupt This Blog: Dylan Ratigan Tells It Like It Is!

Finally someone has the guts to tell it like it is. Watch and enjoy, folks.

Bravo, Mr. Ratigan. Bravo.

We will return later this evening with yet another comic-related post. For now, you're seeing another "incredible" somebody who isn't a fictional character.



DCnU: Obsessive Continuity Disorder (2)
(How 'Crisis' Changed Everything)

(DCnU Continuity Series:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5)

Continuing the fifth in a series of articles inspired by DC Comics' September relaunch, we return to a discussion of the perils of continuity on comics. Last time, I analyzed DC's accidental creation of their own multiverse, and Marvel's considered development of their own, as well as fans' creation of the umbrella term "omniverse." This time out, we emphasize one company's decision to scale back their own multiverse.

Before I go too deeply, I really have to say I owe both the extended break I've had since writing the first section of this series--and the additional insights I believe I've gleaned--to a few books any self-respecting comic book fan owes it to him or herself to pick up. Do yourself a favor and track down Grant Morrison's Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God From Krypton Can Teach Us About Being Human (Spiegel & Grau, $28USD) for an excellent overview of the history, in-world and out, of the comics medium courtesy of one of its very finest writers. The other books are out-of-print, and were never really all that well-circulated to begin with. Mark Gruenwald's Omniverse fanzine, in only two volumes released in 1977 and 1979, is known more by reputation than by anyone in current comics culture having actually read them. Read them I have, and impart to you their lessons I must, and good God, beginning to speak just like Yoda I am, rrrr! Somebody stop me!

While I'm at it, if anybody out there has the text of Gruenwald's 1976 opus A Treatise on Reality in Comic Literature, or the follow-up co-written by Myron Gruenwald A Primer on Reality in Comic Books, hit me up with a message to delusionalhonesty [at] gmail [dot] com, willya? The former--not Omniverse as alluded in my last post--was where the "omniverse" term was first coined. Muchas gracias!

Now then: Omniverse expanded on trends established by Marvel during the 1960s when they created their "shared universe" brought together by close continuity between their titles. Little things happened at first, like Spider-Man wanting to join the Fantastic Four, or the FF being recruited by General Ross to take down the Hulk. The introduction of Rama-Tut, followed by Kang, followed in turn by Immortus and even the Scarlet Centurion established a complex, unifying continuity whereby all ended up being variant versions of the same being! The folks at Marvel were experts at bringing disparate bits of continuity up as catalysts for interesting stories.

For the longest time, DC struggled to keep up with Marvel's "new" way of telling stories. In the sixties, not seeing Marvel as much of a threat, they stayed "continuity-light," with one story not mattering much in context of the next. The important things stayed the same: Superman was still from the planet Krypton (although not so much the "sole survivor"), and Batman's parents were murdered in Crime Alley, but it didn't matter that last month everyone in Metropolis was turned into Bizarros, or that Batman turned into a giant, King Kong-like creature and terrorized Gotham.

Eventually, DC seemed quaint in light of Marvel's bold approach to an ongoing continuity, and bit by bit they started coming around. Green Lantern & Green Arrow was a step in the right direction, and Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' renovated Batman was another. Those successes still couldn't stop Marvel from becoming #1 above DC in the early seventies. Still, instead of slavishly echoing the kind of continuity that made Marvel successful, DC seemed to emphasize their multiple continuities, with books like Batman Family focusing on Batmen and Robins and Catwomen from across the multiverse, and Superman Family shedding light on Kryptonians. They birthed the first Huntress, they birthed Duela Dent, they carried on adventures of the elder "Mr. and Mrs. Superman."

Then, somebody over at DC evidently noticed Gruenwald & co.'s repeated postulations regarding alternate realities in Omniverse. In the first issue alone, the fans treated DC's icons in their multiple continuities more seriously than the company itself had ever dared do, concluding the existence of a third generation of Superman and Batman in between the two extant versions--a "World's Finest" duo (the appellation coming from their sharing one of DC's longest-running series) who had "super-sons" who were teens in the seventies, who didn't fit with either generation already out there. Somewhere out there, somebody got worried that DC's multiple continuities were growing too complex.

Meanwhile, Gruenwald took up a staff position down the street at Marvel, where he edited some books and wrote others--some of which even starred those analogues of DC's own Justice League, the Squadron Supreme. One of his earliest successes at conveying his unique ideology in the Marvel system is Marvel Two-In-One #50, a tale written and drawn by John Byrne wherein the Thing cures his past self, and in so doing creates a divergent timeline instead of curing himself in the present. In general, Gruenwald posited that major events led to crossroads in reality, where new realities were created that explored each path of divergence. Time travel could cause divergence, such as in the MTIO example, but also there were divergences the like of which were seen in What If...? regularly.

While Marvel kept rolling forward with Gruenwald's revolutionary theories, down the street at DC writer Marv Wolfman was plotting to implode it all. And when Gruenwald's brainchild, The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, debuted in 1982, DC followed in late 1984 with Who's Who in the DC Universe. Meanwhile, Wolfman and artist George Perez, who'd renovated DC's teen characters in The New Teen Titans in 1980, started work on a series that would, for better or worse, bring continuity to the forefront and pave the way for everything else that's been published since. In 1985, the year of DC's fiftieth anniversary, the twelve-issue Crisis on Infinite Earths was published. And nothing in comics would be the same again.

Wolfman's Crisis one-upped Marvel's newly-created "everybody versus the big bad" event series (1984's Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars) by applying several bits of DC continuity in the mix, including Krona's inadvertent creation of the DC Multiverse in Green Lantern #40 and all the various storylines with a "Crisis" moniker over the previous two decades, including "Crisis on Earth-Two," "Crisis on Earth-Three," et al. The company took the series as an initiative to renovate what management saw as a convoluted continuity, and set about showing what a convoluted continuity it was by giving art duties to the most detail-oriented artist in the business, who loved jamming in tens of characters in every panel, and concocting a storyline that featured--no kidding--virtually every major and minor character to ever have been featured in any DC Comic ever published. It was like Wolfman and Perez were screaming, "See? See how complicated it all is? See how many characters we're jamming into every issue? We have to clean all this shit up, right? See! Are we right or are we right?"

Of course, I don't really think DC proved anything of the sort regarding the Multiverse. Even Grant Morrison in Supergods stated Crisis "began...as an elegiac continuity audit made to purge all story meat that was seen as too strong for the tender palates of an imagined new generation who would need believable and grounded hero books. There were complaints that the parallel-worlds system was too unwieldy and hard to understand, when in fact it was systematic, logical, and incredibly easy to navigate, particularly for young minds that were made for this kind of careful categorization of facts and figures." DC refuted the very concept of the multiverse as Gruenwald had defined it, with the end result of Crisis that virtually all of the "infinite Earths" (someone do the math, quick!) were destroyed, and bits and pieces of the five Earths that remained congealed into one Earth and one Earth only. This one Earth represented the entire post-Crisis DC Universe continuity in all its plain, vanilla glory.

And then, with a few notable exceptions, DC's spate of regular series went on and on. Oh, sure, a few titles were canceled, but mostly it was business as usual. Originally I've heard the intent was to relaunch every DC title with a new #1, similar to what they're doing next month after the finale of Flashpoint, but they couldn't make it work logistically. Instead, Superman and Wonder Woman enjoyed relaunches under superstar talents John Byrne and George Perez, respectively. Wally West took on the role of the Flash in the wake of his predecessor Barry Allen's demise. Batman's origin was renovated by Frank Miller a bit later, and Justice League of America was relaunched with a new team (as if there'd never been a league in the first place).

Without a solid coordinated effort, several continuity gaffes arose in a short amount of time, particularly surrounding characters like Hawkman and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Superman made critical "post-Crisis" appearances before Byrne's Man of Steel relaunched the character--and the series was to have been the formal introduction of the character in the new continuity. In addition, the Legion of Super-Heroes created a big problem just by existing, as they'd palled with Superboy back in the day. Problem was, Clark Kent never became Superboy in post-Crisis history! Oops. (So then, DC created a "pocket universe" to solve the issue--tantamount to invalidating their own "one universe only" rule. Double oops.)

Even more interestingly, a company that was so adamant about telling stories only set in one universe soon published a few stories clearly set outside that universe--and all the better for it. Yes, friends, I'm talking about Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen.

Make of that what you will.

In spite of apparently doing away with the Multiverse, the plain fact behind Crisis on Infinite Earths was that Marvel's cultivated attitude toward continuity finally pervaded DC. Everything had to be connected, simplified and pre-categorized in guides like Who's Who to appease fans also immersed in role playing game lore (e.g. Dungeons & Dragons, hitting its stride in the early eighties). Such categorization only reinforced the skew of comics demographics toward older fans as result of the proliferation of comics specialty shops from the late seventies and throughout the eighties.

From here on, continuity was never not the focus. And, of course, anything DC did, Marvel had to do better.

Next: Continuity3 (All You Need Is Pr0n)

(DCnU Continuity Series:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5)