Monday, August 28, 2006

TOP 10: THE FORTY-NINERS America's Best Comics, 2005

And we’re back.

Sorry for the lack of posts recently. Life has been hella-busy recently, with numerous competing demands on my time. You know how it is: shit gets hectic sometimes. I get busier than Arsenio Hall. I have to prioritize, and when I prioritize, that means that somebody gets the shaft. In this case, that somebody is YOU, Dave’s Long Box reader!

But now I am back and I’m ready to talk about my favorite graphic novel from the year 2005 -- Top 10: The Forty-Niners. Yes, I liked it even more than that Essential Spider-Woman collection*, Dave said ironically.

The Forty-Niners is a prequel to writer Alan Moore’s Top 10 comic series. This graphic novel, written by Moore with art by my homeboy Gene Ha, tells the story of the beginning of Neopolis, a retro-futuristic city full of superhumans, robots, and supernatural creatures. It establishes the historical background for the characters and events in the Top 10 series, which has accurately been described as “Hill Street Blues with superheroes.”

The story is set in, duh, 1949, and it follows two newcomers to Neopolis: Steve Traynor, former high-flying child hero Jet Lad and future Neopolis police chief; and Skywitch, aka Leni Muller, a former enemy of Jet Lad’s who flew for the Axis during the war but defected in 1943. They try to adjust to life in the strange and wonderful Neopolis.

Muller joins the city’s police force, which begins a campaign against the Neopolis underworld, a criminal organization run by vampires. Only, don’t call them vampires, it pisses them off:

Traynor becomes a mechanic for the Sky Sharks, a Blackhawks-esque organization and develops a close – really close – friendship with one of the pilots, the studly Wulf. Traynor uncovers a plot to bomb Neopolis’s robot ghetto by the leader of the Sky Sharks, who just isn’t the same after the war.

The Forty-Niners is really about family and acceptance and belonging. Moore weaves different plot threads through the story, each exploring the idea of community. Skywitch and Jet Lad are immigrants to Neopolis, anxious to make a place for themselves in this weird city that is growing before their eyes. Jet Lad’s relationship with Wulf, the armored super cop Steel Gauntlet’s terrible secret, the discrimination against the robots – they all touch on issues of acceptance and belonging. Even the vampire gangsters talk about family.

If that is not enough for you, The Forty-Niners has got time traveling Nazis, aerial dogfights, vampire beheadings, and Skywitch’s kick-ass flying broom.

Something for everyone, really.

Aside from Alan Moore’s wry dialogue and clever plotting, Gene Ha’s artwork really makes The Forty-Niners work. His art is finely rendered, almost delicate. Ha puts a painstaking level of detail into each panel, and the book is loaded with visual references to Golden Age comics and postwar pulp culture. The backgrounds are full of precisely drawn deco and futurist skyscrapers and ornate brownstones.

It's insane - the book looks like it took ten years to draw.
In short, Top 10: The Forty-Niners ruled and it gets the double heavy-metal salute from me. I felt like I got my money’s worth on this one.

*I would argue that there is absolutely nothing essential about reprints of Spider-Woman. The trees used to print that book could have been put to much better use – like toilet paper. Ba-DAM!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Talking about Rocket Reds and Guardsmen has gotten me all nostalgic for all the other armored chumps in the superhero megagenre.* I feel a theme week organically developing. Such is the magic of the Internet: entertainment that develops in real time!

Today I would like to talk about my personal favorite group of disposable goons in high-tech armor:

Mandroid units are advanced suits of personal battle armor that are piloted by specially trained S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. They give an extra bit of tactical punch to S.H.I.E.L.D. combat missions and are often deployed against superhuman opponents.

Which brings us to the real purpose of Mandroids: getting the shit kicked out of them by superheroes.

Mandroids are built to take a beating, which is a good thing because everyone from Thor to Kitty Pryde has smacked one around. Designed by Stark Industries, Mandroids were at first used exclusively used by S.H.I.E.L.D., but eventually were used by villains like Moses Magnum (Let me just add parenthetically that I love Moses Magnum). They have titanium armor, force fields, complex sensors, and crazy-ass weapons ranging from neuro-stunners to laser torches.

And they are bright. Fucking. Yellow.

Seriously, couldn’t they have painted the Mandroids a color more appropriate to the battlefield than ultra-yellow? Why not rig them with flashing bicycle lights and big neon “FRANKIE SAYS RELAX” tees? That might be a little more subtle.

The Mandroids have a lamentable track record against any and all opponents. My favorite Mandroid beat-down takes place in the classic Iron Man storyline “The Armor Wars,” wherein Iron Man decides that there are waaay too many people with powered armor running around and decides to whittle the population down. Here he is absolutely humiliating some Mandroids:

As with all things armor in the Marvel Universe, Tony “Iron Man” Stark designed the Mandroids, so he takes them down to Chinatown in a pretty decisive and one-sided battle. You can almost hear the Mandroid pilot’s shrill, panicked screaming in these panels:

Another classic Mandroid defeat is in John Byrne’s album-sized She-Hulk graphic novel. She Hulk is accosted by some Mandroids in Times Square.

Bad call.

I would love to read the after-action report those guys had to file for their S.H.I.E.L.D. superiors:

“…target then grabbed this agent and Unit L3 by our shoulder vents and spun us in the air, cracking our helmets together. Primary life support systems went offline. Hull zones 3 through 7 were compromised. This agent began crying for his mother…”

Getting beat on by a laughing seven-foot tall green woman in an outfit like that could lead to some strange post-traumatic stress symptoms. What is She Hulk wearing anyway? A little silver disco tuxedo thing, complete with bowtie. I don't get it.
Another thing I don't get is why they are called "Mandroids." Are they just like androids, only with an extra consonant? I understand the Mandroid name and brand was likely generated in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Marketing Divison and went through lots of focus groups, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. It sounds cool, and that counts for a lot. Plus, "Mandroid" was probably the best name they could come up with. These are the same marketing wizards that came up with the name "life model decoys" to describe their real androids.
Mandroids: big, yellow, and lovable. Just like Big Bird.
*That’s right, I said “megagenre.” Go ahead and make fun of me, I’m not taking it back.

Monday, August 21, 2006


If you have a superhero universe, you pretty much have to have a group of disposable guys in power armor that heroes can beat on and bad guys can kill. It’s a rule.

The homogenous armored corps in the Marvel Universe are The Guardsmen, super-powered security for places like The Vault. In the DC Universe, the high-tech drones of choice are the Rocket Red Brigade, super-commies in big bulky suits of armor. Both admirably perform their primary role in their respective universes: to act as punching bags for superhumans.

The somber question before us today is, “Which group of armor-clad cannon fodder is better? Rocket Reds vs Guardsmen: Who ya got?”

Let’s start with the Rocket Reds. Originally these guys were created for the Soviet Union during the Cold War by the alien Green Lantern Kilowog. If memory serves, Kilowog briefly subscribed to the tenets of communism without grasping the whole totalitarian regime angle. He lived in the USSR for a while, where he used his technological know-how to create the Rocket Red Brigade.

What a total dumb ass.

Now, a comic blog is not the place to discuss the merits or lack thereof of international communism – nobody comes here looking for my take on geo-politics. Having said that, Kilowog is an utter tool for creating a corps of super-powered soldiers for the commies. You’d think a Green Lantern wouldn’t be such a naïve poozer, to use Kilowog’s term.

Anyway, Kilowog creates the Rocket Red Brigade using Soviet soldier “volunteers” who undergo a process called forced evolution and are slapped into red and white powered armor. The Rocket Reds have super-strength, resistance to injury, flight, and a vague power called “mecha-empathy” which presumably allows them to program VCRs with their minds. It was the Eighties, remember.

The Rocket Reds have kind of a spotty record, and by that I mean they usually end up getting the shit kicked out of them by any and all superhumans. Here’s Captain Marvel and the Martian Manhunter playing with some Rocket Reds, the same way my cat plays with a mouse before she kills it:


Here’s the 1984 version of Black Canary, complete with headband and shoulder pads, giving a hapless Rocket Red a dose of her Canary Cry:


The Rocket Reds make an appearance during DC’s Invasion crossover. In the pages of Suicide Squad the Reds make a half-hearted attempt to take Moscow back from Khund invaders, but are repulsed by laser artillery and beat a quick retreat, earning the contempt of the macha villainess Duchess:

Not their finest hour.

Perhaps it’s the long Russian winters or the vodka or the tradition of existential despair inherent in Russian literature – for whatever reason the Rocket Red Brigade has adopted a fatalistic mind-set that doesn’t serve them well in combat:

The battle cry of the Rocket Red Brigade: “We are doomed.”

You need to have a more can-do attitude, guys. Who are in those suits anyway, Chekhov and Sholokhov? No wonder everybody beats the hell out of you with a gloomy outlook like that.

The Rocket Red Brigade do score major points with me for the original design of their armor. I really love the colors and the boxy, utilitarian aesthetic. They’re not exactly sleek, but they look cool as hell, particularly when drawn by Kevin Maguire. Plus, they wear mittens. Any armored figure that wears mittens is OK in my book.

Unfortunately, the Rocket Red Brigade updated their look in the early Nineties and cast aside their boxy first-generation armor in favor of unimaginative suits that look like utter crap. Not even Mike Parobeck’s art can make them look cool:

Enough picking on The Rocket Reds. Let’s turn the stink-eye on the 100% American Guardsmen and their emerald armor.

The Guardsman was originally Kevin O’Brien, an employee of Tony “Iron Man” Stark who was the first to wear the distinctive green powered armor. O’Brien got dead, but the Stark-designed armor he wore was mass-produced and provided to a small squad of guards at The Vault, the United States Maximum Security Installation for the Incarceration of Superhuman Criminals. If you’ve got a bunch of super-villains locked up in the same place, you’re going to need some pretty tough prison guards to watch over them. That’s the idea, anyway.

In practice, The Guardsmen got the living bejeezus kicked out of them EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. They are the 2000 San Diego Chargers of the superhero world.

I don’t know what the problem is. Tony Stark designed the basic Guardsman suits, so you can’t blame the hardware. Guardsmen can fly, shoot repulsor rays, electro-shock the hell out of people, and can bench press 40 tons. On paper they seem like formidable opponents. But when push comes to shove, Guardsmen are just super-tough cannon fodder.

If memory serves, the Guardsmen first got their asses handed to them in one of the great Avengers Annuals of the Eighties. Hey, there’s no shame in getting beat up by The Avengers. But when you start getting knocked around by a couple of The New Warriors, you are doing something wrong.

Humiliating! Cock punched at super-sonic speeds by Nova! If some nineteen year old punk can cock punch trained professionals in powered armor, you need to go back to your playbook and re-think your strategy.

Plus, the Guardsmen were responsible for making sure that nobody escaped from The Vault. Unfortunately, EVERYBODY escaped from The Vault. It had all the structural integrity of a wet cardboard box. The powers that be in the Marvel Universe have since closed down the porous Vault in favor of more secure facilities like The Raft, the super-prison just offshore of New York City. Good call; nobody is going to be breaking out of The Raft anytime soon! Yessir, that place is as tight as a drum…

But for a while there, The Vault was the only option for supervillain incarceration. And every single time somebody busted out of there, Guardsmen got killed. Makes you wonder why anybody would willingly sign up to be a Guardsman.

Here are a few unlucky Guardsmen during one of the weekly prison breaks in the aptly named Avengers graphic novel Death Trap: The Vault:

These guys are displaying one of the three possible behavioral modes that all Guardsmen operate under:

1) Unwarranted smugness
2) Blithering panic
3) Agony

Venom, of course, totally kills those three poor bastards:

Wow, they are totally dead. As you can see, The Guardsmen are about as effective in combat as the Rocket Red Brigade.

The deal-breaker for me are those horrible outfits. Two-toned green bodysuits with bucket helmets and leg/arm bands? Lame. What tips the scales from average lameness into utter uncoolness is the Guardsman halter top. Look at them: they are grown men wearing green halter tops and briefs. Tony Stark may have designed the circutitry and weapons systems, but it looks like his flamboyant houseboy Francis designed the look of The Guardsmen. Who cares if you can lift a semi-truck over your head if you have to wear an outfit like that? I mean, damn.

I guess when comparing the Rocket Reds to The Guardsmen, it all comes down to armor design. Both groups are equally ineffective as fighting units, so I have to make my choice based solely on shallow aesthetic bias. Based on that, I have to go with The Rocket Red Brigade over The Guardsmen.


Thursday, August 17, 2006


While digging through my boxes trying to find Suicide Squad #23 (Where are you, SS #23? Why do you hide from me?) I found Aquaman #6, with a bitchin' cover by Mike Mignola. This is what I'm talking about when I say that Mignola draws superheroes with barrel torsos. The monstrous Kirby villains on the cover are The Deep Six, Darkseid's rarely used aquatic strike force. I think they look keen.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

HELLBOY: SEED OF DESTRUCTION #3 Dark Horse Comics, 1994

It’s hard for me to imagine now, but there was a time when I didn’t care for Mike Mignola’s artwork.

Perhaps I wasn’t ready for his genius when I picked up Cosmic Odyssey or the issues of Alpha Flight he did covers for. Maybe Mignola’s distinctive character design was too much of a departure for me – I didn’t like the barrel-chested male figures and simple line work that he did for conventional superhero books. I can’t recall what exactly changed my mind, but somewhere along the way I came to appreciate how utterly fucking amazing Mike Mignola’s art is. I did a complete 180 and now am a Huge Fan.

Who knows how or why a person’s aesthetic biases evolve? When I was a young whipper-snapper, I did not like Led Zeppelin. I found Robert Plant’s voice whiny and annoying. Then late in junior high it was as if a part of my brain – the part that appreciates radness – switched on, and I found myself appreciating art that I previously loathed. How could I have not liked Led Zeppelin?

Or Mike Mignola? What the hell was wrong with me?

Thank God for that rush of hormones or whatever that changed my taste in art and culture, because without it, I would be one of those stupid people who doesn’t like Hellboy.

This four-part story, Seed of Destruction, is the first full-on Hellboy saga and the basis for Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 Hellboy film. Mignola’s brash, two-fisted demon with a heart o’ gold battles the resurrected Russian madman Rasputin, who has hatched a sinister Lovecraftian plan that would mean the end of all life on earth or something equally bad.

Hellboy integrates Nazis, ghouls, Gothic architecture, deathless Cthulhu monsters, graveyards, steampunk, and wry pulp action into one beautifully drawn tale. It seems like Hellboy contains everything Mike Mignola loves, distilled into concentrated sequential art form. I don’t have the artistic vocabulary to adequately describe Mignola’s masterful design work, his attention to form and composition. Deep black shadows, clever use of negative space, Kirby-esque flourishes – they all combine to create a unique Gothic-noir vibe. Hellboy is like a German Expressionist film produced by Roger Corman. That’s a good thing.

As Khan says, time is a luxury that I do not have today, so I’ll dispense with any commentary about the Hellboy: Seed of Destruction story or themes or any of that crap. Heck, even if the story doesn’t grip your nads, any Hellboy book is worth picking up just for Mignola’s art alone. This particular comic, BTW, was scripted by none other than John Byrne, based on Mignola’s plot. Little trivia for you there.

Anyway, the point of this whole post is that I used to not dig Mignola but I have seen The Light and am now a Huge Fan. You can’t go wrong with Mignola and Hellboy.
Go check that shit out.

Friday, August 11, 2006


PART TWO (of two)

You won’t find this in any history books, but The Haunted Tank was the single deadliest tank in World War II. Despite its relative lack of armor and firepower, the M-3 Stuart tank commanded by Jeb Stuart and watched over by the ghost of General J.E.B. Stuart personally destroyed half of the German Tiger tanks in existence and shot down approximately ¼ of the Luftwaffe. If memory serves, the Haunted Tank is the only tank in history to ever sink a U-Boat or to shoot down an ME-109 while parachuting. In short, The Haunted Tank is super bad-ass.

I submit that the tank itself is bad-ass, and not just because they have an elite crew and a sort of supernatural radar in the form of the ghost. No, The Haunted Tank is tougher, faster, luckier, and just plain spunkier than any other tank on the battlefield.

In order to punch up the drama, writer Robert Kanigher always pitted the little Haunted Tank against German Tiger tanks, massively armored heavy tanks that packed long-reaching 88mm guns. In Showcase Presents The Haunted Tank, they’re the only German tanks that even appear. We never see any Panzers*, the main battle tank of the Wehrmacht, at all. But Kanigher was going for a David v Goliath thing, so the little M-3 was thrown against hordes of Tiger tanks.

Now, I don’t mean to nitpick, but the 37mm cannon in the Stuart was barely adequate against Panzers and would have had little chance of damaging a Tiger, particularly through the thick front armor. 75 mm shells would just bounce off the hulls of the 45 ton beasts. Most M-3 crews would run away run away if they encountered a Tiger by themselves. I know: I’m critiquing the military accuracy of a comic book about a haunted tank. I should let it go, huh?

Whatever The Haunted Tank lacks in firepower, it compensates with sheer plucky spirit and a can-do attitude. Look at that scrappy little armored vehicle ramming a big ol’ Tiger:

That’s chutzpah! It’s like a cross between R2-D2 and Herbie the Love Bug, only with a 37 mm cannon and twin machine guns.

I haven’t bothered counting, but The Haunted Tank blows the turrets off half a dozen Tigers in every comic. Considering that The Haunted Tank feature ran for a quarter decade in G.I. Combat, and there were fewer than 1,500 Tiger tanks ever made, I’d say that one tank was responsible for the destruction of approximately 900 of them. It’s like they have +4 Vorpal Shells of Tiger Slaying or something.

The Haunted Tank was as agile and quick as a jack rabbit; a common ploy was racing between two Tigers, causing them to fire on each other like the Nazi chumps they are. That little M-3 was always bobbing and weaving, following the cavalry doctrine of their dead guardian with the gay, reckless laugh: always keep ‘em off balance.

Of course, the crew of The Haunted Tank were all a bunch of gung-ho mo-fos as well, so they were a good match for their ride. If there’s one thing these guys were into, it was beating Nazis. And they didn’t need a tank to do it!

On more than one occasion The Haunted Tank teamed up with DC’s legendary war hero Sgt. Rock and the combat-happy G.I.s of Easy Company. That, my friends, is a recipe for a Whup-Ass Omelet. If Sgt. Rock rolls with your crew, you’re doing something right.

If I haven’t convinced you that The Haunted Tank is the physical embodiment of radness, I have failed. Showcase Presents The Haunted Tank is 500 pages packed with tales of weird warfare, all for only $16.95. You can’t beat that. And if you don’t like it, you can always use the thick book as makeshift armor for prison shiv duels. That is a multi-functional book.

I hope the fact that it’s in black and white doesn’t dissuade you. If anything, I think the lack of color really enhances the line work, particularly the stories drawn by Russ Heath. Check out this panel below of two Tigers firing ineffectively at our favorite tank:

I think that’s beautiful, with the sure-handed lines and the deep blacks. Heath was a master of his craft.

Not to be a stickler for detail again, but why are the tank commanders in the panel above screaming “shit” in German?**

Like the Confederate ghost with the gay, reckless laugh, it’s just one of those strange mysteries of war...

*My bad: Tigers actually are a type of Panzer. Like most people, when I think of Panzers I think of the Panzer III and Panzer IV models, which were far more common than the jumbo Tiger.

**Thanks to intrepid and multilingual DLB readers, I have discovered that the German words for "shoot" and "shit" are similar. Apparently the tank commanders are yelling, "To shoot!"

Thursday, August 10, 2006


PART ONE (of two)
Radness, thy name is Haunted Tank.

If I had received Showcase Presents The Haunted Tank when I was a kid, it would have freaked my shit right out.

This is just a massive collection of radness, and by radness I mean awesomeness. And it is massive. This 500-page black & white tome is thicker than my local phone book. You could kill a man with this thing. If you had a number of Showcase Presents The Haunted Tank books, you could strap them to your body and use them as armor – just like that one scene in the Denzel Washington thriller Ricochet when John Lithgow and Jesse "The Body" Ventura fight each other in a prison gladiator match with shivs and newspaper armor. They've folded lots of newspaper into these armor "plates" that afford some protection against the stabbing shivs. Jesse is unlucky enough to have on his chest plate a front page picture of Denzel Washington's district attorney character, who Lithgow hates. When he sees Denzel's face, Lithgow goes nuts and stabs the picture and Jesse Ventura at the same time. Although Ricochet was not a great movie (despite the presence of Ice-T and Lindsey Wagner), any movie that has a John Lithgow prison fight is a must-see in my book.

Um, so anyway, the Haunted Tank book is so thick you could use it as body armor in prison. Sorry, I can get off on these tangents. Let's get back on track and talk about The Haunted Tank.

Showcase Presents The Haunted Tank is a collection of reprinted stories from DC’s long-running war anthology title G.I. Combat. The Haunted Tank was a recurring feature in G.I. Combat through out the sixties and seventies, a contemporary of other DC war comic greats as Sgt. Rock and The Unknown Soldier. Created by writer Robert Kanigher and illustrated by guys like Russ Heath and Joe Kubert, The Haunted Tank is the story of a ballet dancer, sidelined by injury and depression, and the spirited young man who taught her how to break dance… and how to live again.
Wait a second, that’s not it.

More accurately, The Haunted Tank is the story of M-3 Stuart tank commander Jeb Stuart, who is haunted by the ghost of his ancestor, the wily Confederate cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart. In a tank manned by his childhood chums, Jeb pits his fighting spirit against Hitler’s armored hordes, guided by cryptic advice from a spectral guardian only he can see. The Haunted Tank is some high concept shit.

This book includes a reprint of G.I. Combat #87 (1961), the first appearance of The Haunted Tank. In this first story, illustrated by the legendary Russ Heath, we learn about Jeb’s background, and how his destiny seems intertwined with that of the Rebel general with the gay, reckless laugh…

A little background: General J.E.B. Stuart (aka “Jeb”) was a renowned Confederate cavalry commander during the American Civil War. Stuart was a dashing figure, a hero to the South, who followed his exploits. A master of unconventional tactics and lightning raids, J.E.B. Stuart is regarded in some circles as one of the best cavalry commanders to walk the face of the earth. He was a bad ass.

We get a look at Jeb and his posse pretending to be Rebel raiders, and this creepy panel with all the kids looking murderous and satanic:

Yikes, those kids are creepy. It's like Chuck Connors came to town twelve years ago and made love to all their mamas.

Jeb is a natural leader. Using shame and peer pressure, he convinces his krew to join the Army with him at the outbreak of World War II. Portentously, they sign up under a statue of General Stuart. Yet only Jeb can hear the gay, reckless laughter…

Weirdly, Jeb and his friends are all assigned to the same M-3 Stuart tank together. Man, what are the odds of that happening? Jeb is really excited about being a cavalry commander – maybe a little too excited.

The crew of the plucky little M-3 tank battle the seemingly invincible Tiger tanks in North Africa, guided only by their cunning and the sage wisdom of the deceased General. Jeb was always getting advice and encouragement from his patron ghost, with his gay, reckless ghostly laugh...

I love the sound effects in that panel: Clankety! Splash-Splash! You see, because it's a tank, going through water, and that's what it sounds like.

A little background: The M-3 Stuart tank was a quick, lightly armored tank that was first used by the Brits in North Africa, who called it “Honey.” With its thin skin and inadequate 37mm cannon, the Stuart was no match for the Panzers and anti-tank cannons of the Afrika Korps. The British and Russians received the M-3 via the Lend Lease program, and considered it a disappointment. But the Stuart was reliable and fast, powered by a high octane radial aircraft engine. Because they were so quick, they were often used for recon missions, leaving the heavy lifting to tanks like the Sherman. The Stuart tank rolled off American assembly lines in huge numbers – for every one of the dreaded German Tiger tanks there were 25 Stuarts buzzing around. Plus, you have to admit – they looked cool as hell.
We'll discuss the radness of The Haunted Tank in greater detail in part two, but for now let us ponder the issue of General J.E.B. Stuart's gay, reckless laughter...

Holy crap, in every other panel they mention the ghost's gay, reckless laughter! Enough, already! When I picture gay, reckless laughter I see Fred Schneider from The B-52's in a Jaguar convertible doing a ballistic 120 mph on Hog Mountain Road outside Athens, GA, holding a champagne bottle and laughing wildly. That's gay, reckless laughter. So when I see the floating disembodied head of General Stuart, I just hear Fred Schneider and his gay, reckless laughter.

Next: we discuss how The Haunted Tank single-handedly wiped out half of the Tiger tanks in existence.

Monday, August 07, 2006

No Post For You!

No post for you! Too busy and bummed out. I don't feel like blogging, so instead I will post lame pictures for you instead!

A peccary - The strange swine that haunts the thorn forests of Paraguay's Chaco Boreal.

I can't remember where I stole this picture of Sanrio Vader from. CBR, maybe?

Earthrace, a 78-foot space boat that runs on bio-diesel. That's a Washington State Ferry in the background, my commuting vehicle of choice.

Thus ends this non-post.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

THE INFINITY GAUNTLET #4 Marvel Comics, 1991

Alternate Reality Where Everybody Dies Week would not be complete without a look at The Infinity Gauntlet, Marvel’s crossover mini-series of 1991, particularly issue #4, the one where the mad titan Thanos battles an army of the mightiest Marvel heroes – and like, totally kills them.

The brainchild of Jim Starlin, master of the trippin’ balls cosmic comic book, The Infinity Gauntlet is primarily the story of the villain Thanos’s quest for the most powerful handwear in the universe in order to impress Death, who he has a major crush on. That’s right – the guy is literally in love with Death. He loves Death so much he wants to marry her and have babies. Perennial Starlin favorite Adam Warlock teams up with The Silver Surfer and a bunch of Marvel heroes to stop Thanos’s mad scheme to wipe out reality in order to impress girls, and shit gets crazy.
"The Infinity Gauntlet is like a Meat Loaf song in comic book form."

The great thing about The Infinity Gauntlet is that Thanos actually succeeds in getting the Gauntlet about half-way through the story. Most comics would be about stopping the villain from getting his hands on the ultimate weapon, but this one is about what the heroes do after the bad guy has acquired God-like powers.

Plus, since Thanos is arguably the main character of the series, the reader spends a lot of time with the sinister Titan, and darn it, you kinda get to like the guy. As written by Jim Starlin, he’s a little more complex and grandiose than your run-of-the-mill unstoppable cosmic villain. Mr. T has flaws and weaknesses beyond the standard blind arrogance and fondness for expository dialogue that most super villains have. The guy’s doing it all for love, and if the universe has to die so he can prove he loves his woman, then damn it, the universe is just going to have to up and die. That’s beautiful, man. The Infinity Gauntlet is like a Meat Loaf song in comic book form.

In this particular issue, a strike force of heroes attack all-powerful Thanos on his asteroid base, which is like a cross between Castle Grayskull and the stage for Dio’s 1984 Last in Line tour. Despite the superhuman firepower assembled by the good guys, Thanos wipes the floor with them in creative ways.

Cyclops gets a cube of force slapped around his head, which makes it hard to do stuff like fire optic blasts and breathe:

Sure enough, Cyclops only makes it a few panels before suffocating.

Wolverine doesn’t do well, either:

The others don’t fare much better. Iron Man gets his head torn off by Lady Thanos, a creation of Thanos that also kills Spider-Man (Not for real though, kids! Don’t worry, it’s an Alternate Reality so it doesn’t count.); Namor and She Hulk get engulfed by this creepy brown fungus; Nova gets turned into sparkly colorful little cubes; The Scarlet Witch and Cloak explode; it’s not pretty.

Actually, it is pretty. Ron Lim and George Perez shared penciling duties and Joe Rubinstein inked The Infinity Gauntlet #4, so the whole book has a bright, clean look to it that sort of lessens the impact of all the carnage, which is handled somewhat discretely anyway. A lot of the deaths happen off-panel or are done in non-gratuitous ways.

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s Thanos taking Quasar to school:

Sure, the hands getting blown off thing is violent, but let’s put it in perspective: there isn’t protruding bone and arterial spray. Plus, his execution is off-panel. The whole thing is handled with a degree of restraint.
Me, I like that sequence because I hate Quasar so much. Don’t try to talk me out of it; Quasar is no damn good. Let's move on before I start getting angry.

Anyway, how is this comic different than The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe, which also has a high body count? The Infinity Gauntlet #4 isn’t wiping out your favorite heroes as some sort of sadistic exercise, it’s wiping out your favorite heroes because it wants to convey the high stakes and long odds of the conflict.

Plus, although the heroes get taken out easily by Thanos, none of them go out like punks; they all go down swinging. In both comics, Dr. Doom gets killed, but in The Punisher book, he screams like a little girl before he dies and in The Infinity Gauntlet, he gets fried while trying to grab the Gauntlet from Thanos, which is a typical Doom move. I’m fine with characters dying, but give them some frickin’ dignity.

Speaking of dignity, Thanos turns Thor into a pretty glass statue!

Of course, Thanos doesn’t keep his new Thor statue around for very long; it lasts about a page before he gives it the old Infinity Gauntlet Mark II Backhand.

Finally, the only hero left standing is Captain America. The Sentinel of Liberty stands toe-to-toe with the mad god, defiant to the last. Actually the whole battle has been a big distraction engineered by Adam Warlock. When Thanos cocks his omnipotent fist back to administer an old-fashioned coup de grace on the good Captain, The Silver Surfer streaks in at near-light speed, trying to snatch the Gauntlet from Thanos…

…but he misses. D’oh!

Shaken by his close call, Thanos gives Cap the Mark II and recharges his god batteries. Now he is truly unstoppable! Until The Infinity Gauntlet #6, of course, when Thanos gets stopped, big time. All the heroes come back to life and ha ha ha, isn’t life grand?

The Infinity Gauntlet was a big hit for Marvel, and it spawned a series of sequels such as The Infinity War and Pimp My Inifiniti, as well as an ongoing series, Warlock and The Infinity Watch. I’m a fan of all that 70’s Marvel cosmic stuff, so I read them all. Let’s just say that some were better than others.

But that is a post for another day! For now I lift my imaginary glass to Thanos, for daring to dream big and for killing Quasar, even if it didn’t count. I will overlook his attempted homicide of the universe, because his motives were pure.

Love makes you do crazy things.