Spring Break

We’re headed out of town tomorrow for Spring Break. Though I’ve been faithfully going to Wizard World Chicago for the last several years, it’s been a long time since we’ve taken a family vacation there to visit friends and see the museums and stuff. We’re especially looking forward to meeting Sue for the first time.

Anyway, the point of telling you that is to let you know that posting here will likely be light next week if I even get the chance to post at all. If I don’t, I hope everyone has a great week and I’ll see you on the other side.

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Art Show: Every Girl Wants a Pony

Namora

Cosplayer Unknown; PhotoShopping by theblackhauke.

Bentlys Trading Post

By Robert McGinnis. [Golden Age Comic Book Stories]

Faeries, aliens, and more superheroes (some of them in fishnets) after the break.

Outside the Law

By Raymond Pease [Illustrateurs]

Zatanna and Black Canary

Cosplayers Unknown; PhotoShopping by theblackhauke.

Snowbird

Cosplayer Unknown; PhotoShopping by theblackhauke.

Fantastic

By Yoshitaka Amano. [Illustrateurs]

John Carter of Mars

By Andy Kuhn. [ComicTwart]

Et Oui, J’ai Vu Avatar

By Mathieu Reynès.

Hulk vs Iron Man

By Das Chupa.

Fantastic Skyline

By Christopher Bennett. [Kirby-Vision]

Art Show: The Dark Swamps of Barsoom

Cursed Pirate Girl

By Katie Cook.

Carrie

By Ryan Cody. [Hey, Oscar Wilde! It’s Clobberin Time!!!]

Richard Sala, John Carter, Flash Gordon, giant robots, more Katie Cook, and 3D Giant Hippos after the break.


Beware the Black Death!

By Richard Sala.

David and Goliath

By David Malki. The only thing better than that image right there is seeing it in 3D. Which you can do at Malki’s site.

John Carter of Mars

By Francesco Francavilla. [ComicTwart]

Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars

Artist Unknown, but Golden Age Comic Book Stories has an amazing gallery of posters from old movie serials.

Padme

By Katie Cook.

Supergirl

By Jaime Hernandez. [Scans Daily]

Robbie vs Robot

By Phillipe “Manchu” Bouchet. [Illustrateurs; as usual with that blog, the post is full of fantastic other stuff and it was difficult to pick just one image. I especially love the art at the top of the post that shows exactly what I thought the world was supposed to look like by now when I was a kid.]

The Marvels Project

By Steve Epting.

Grading Aquaman: Justice League of America #7-10

When people talk about how lame Aquaman is, they usually compare him to other superheroes and highlight his helplessness in the Justice League of America and the Super Friends. I thought it would be interesting to look at Aquaman’s membership in the JLA and document exactly how he contributed (or didn’t) to the cases they took in their early years. Is his perceived ineptness actually just perception? Or is it fact?

Along the way we’ll also poke some fun and/or express some frustration at the convoluted goofiness that infected DC’s Silver Age comics.

It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these, so if you need to catch up, here are Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.

Justice League of America #7: “The Cosmic Funhouse”

The Case: Aliens take over a carnival funhouse and use it to transport visitors back to the aliens’ world so that the aliens can take the visitors’ place and conquer Earth. There’s more to it than that, but the aliens’ scheme is way over-complicated, so that’s the short version.

Aquaman, Attack!: The JLA decides to go undercover to investigate the carnival in their secret identities. Since Aquaman doesn’t have one, he’s left behind to “report on any developments that may arise.” Oddly enough though, that’s not the end of his involvement.

At the carnival, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern are trapped. Flash and Green Lantern are replaced by aliens who return to JLA headquarters to send Superman, Martian Manhunter, and Batman on a wild goose chase. They also send Aquaman back to the carnival, thinking that he’ll be easily trapped as well. He’s not though and he ends up helping his four teammates who’ve been transformed into real-life funhouse mirror distortions of themselves so that they can’t use their powers. He doesn’t use his own powers and his role is completely supportive of the other heroes, but he does save the day.

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: C

Sea serpents, alien conquerors, and Felix Faust after the break.

Justice League of America #8: “For Sale – The Justice League!”

The Case: A scientist invents a mind-control device and then accidentally drops it out the window where a crook picks it up and figures out what it is. The crook decides to control the Justice League and auction them off to help other criminals steal stuff.

Aquaman, Attack!: Aquaman and Green Arrow are both bought and controlled by people who want to loot a floating casino. They arrive at the same time – Aquaman on porpoise-back; Green Arrow in his plane – but Green Arrow strikes first. The casino’s safe is sitting out on deck, so Green Arrow’s able to grab it with a suction-cup arrow. Aquaman has some swordfish cut GA’s line though, so the safe falls into the water.

Not beaten yet, Green Arrow shoots a “reverse-rocket” arrow that goes underwater, turns around beneath the safe so that it’s pointed directly at it, fires its thrusters, attaches itself to the bottom of the safe with some kind of gripping-material, and lifts the safe back out of the water. Boy, it’s lucky he had that particular arrow in his quiver that day, huh?

But Aquaman’s not done either. He calls a sea serpent to the surface to wrap itself around the Arrowplane so that he can get the safe when it comes back down. Unfortunately – or rather, fortunately for the heroes’ reputations – the safe doesn’t fall back down when Green Arrow’s rocket gives out. It keeps ascending; being stolen by someone else.

The other heroes experience similar defeats and the criminals decide to at least take advantage of the League’s helplessness by getting rid of them. Of course, they do this by putting each one in an overly elaborate trap, all in close proximity to each other. Aquaman’s trap, for example, is a tank full of water that drains when a signal is given. The idea being that he’ll die after an hour, but why fill the tank with water in the first place? The other traps are just as ridiculous, with the worst being Green Lantern’s. He’s chained to a bulls eye and an automated, golden (ie yellow) machinegun fires golden bullets at him in a perfect outline around his body. The last bullet in the magazine, we learn, will fire into his body and kill him. Forgetting that these crooks were complaining earlier about how lousy business has been thanks to the JLA, but somehow can get their hands on a machine-gun made of gold, why not just riddle GL’s body with bullets instead of outlining his body?

Anyway, we don’t learn this until later, but it was Snapper Carr – using Doctor Destiny’s flying disks from Justice League of America #5 – who prevented the JLA from completing their thefts. He now takes the mind-control device from the crook who found it and frees the heroes’ minds. Aquaman acts first and has a school of flying fish weave a giant blanket of seaweed in which to carry enough water to extinguish the fire that threatens Martian Manhunter. Manhunter then saves Wonder Woman who saves Green Arrow and so on. After that, they easily capture the crooks.

The whole story sucks, but Aquaman acts quickly and intelligently thoughout and uses a frickin sea monster. Nice work.

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: B

Justice League of America #9: “The Origin of the Justice League”

The Case: When the ruler of a distant planet dies, the seven claimants to his throne go to war to determine who’ll succeed him. Not wanting to destroy their own planet, they decide to hold the war on Earth. Each claimant is of a different race and has the ability to turn humans into members of his race and soldiers for the war.

The claimants land in scattered locations around the world and the various heroes who’ll eventually make up the JLA fight them individually. By coincidence, they all gather simultaneously at the landing site of the last claimant.

The story is told in flashback by the JLA to Snapper Carr and Green Arrow at an anniversary party for the event. Which anniversary isn’t specified, but there are three candles on the cake.

Aquaman, Attack!: The alien that Aquaman fights alone is a glass-creature who lands in the Indian Ocean (a nice globe-trotting touch since the Atlantic is Aquaman’s usual base of operations). Aquaman is turned to glass by the alien’s power, but before he’s subjugated to its control, he warns away the other sea life in the area, calling in just those he needs to fight the alien. He tries several species of fish against the creature before a school of noise-making drum-fish find just the right frequency to shatter the glass-being.

Aquaman learns from local authorities that there’s an unhatched alien who’s landed on the east coast of the United States. He races there and arrives just in time to be transformed to wood alongside Martian Manhunter who’s also just shown up. Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and the Flash get there about the same time and are also trapped.

Aquaman saves the day by using his strength to move his hardened limbs and rub against the wood that’s covering Green Lantern’s ring. Aquaman’s uncovering the ring starts a chain of events that allows Wonder Woman to eventually defeat the wood-creature. Green Lantern explains that his willpower was so weak that he couldn’t penetrate the wooden covering by himself. Whatever. I’m glad that Aquaman got to be useful, but it’s too bad that they had to artificially weaken Green Lantern in such a lame way to do it.

The five heroes hear that the seventh alien is in Greenland, so they go there and find Superman and Batman just wrapping up their battle with it. Inspired by their own teamwork and that of Batman and Superman, the heroes decide to form – as Flash declares – “a league against evil … to uphold justice against whatever danger threatens it.”

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: B-

Justice League of America #10: “The Fantastic Fingers of Felix Faust”

The Case: Felix Faust, a would-be sorcerer, wants to make a deal with three, ancient demons so that he can become the most powerful man in the world. Unfortunately, he’s only able to contact the necessary spirits, not resurrect them physically. They claim that they’re unable to bestow their power on him unless he can bring back their bodily forms as well. In order to do that, Faust must find three artifacts in which the demons hid the secret to their release. Once Faust has those, he can cast the spell that will return the demons to physical form.

The demons promise Faust that it will take them a century to regain complete freedom once the spell is cast. In the meantime, they’d be able to access their powers and would be willing to let Faust make use of them. The catch is that the artifacts were hidden by an enemy of the demons and are protected by supernatural beings. Faust realizes that only the Justice League are equipped to retrieve the artifacts, so the demons help him gain control of the League.

At the demons’ instructions, Faust creates totems that – when a real-life counterpart is touched by a League-member – will cause the hero to fall under Faust’s power. Most of these are absolutely ridiculous. Batman’s totem, for instance, is a sea shell, so he’s captured when he accidentally touches a mother-of-pearl light switch. Martian Manhunter’s is a “death’s head,” so he’s nabbed when he flies through a moth-shaped cloud.

Aquaman, Attack!: The Justice League is fighting the Lord of Time and his armies when Faust strikes. Aquaman’s battling a Viking ship with the help of a giant squid, a porpoise, and a hammerhead shark. Unfortunately, he touches the shark during the melee and since Faust picked a mallet as Aquaman’s totem, the Sea King is captured.

Faust commands him to team up with Green Lantern and Snapper Carr to find the Silver Wheel of Nyorlath at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s protected by a lightning spirit (yellow, so Green Lantern can’t touch it), but Aquaman calls in a giant electric eel to fight it. Aquaman easily grabs the wheel, but the lightning creature manages to shoot a bolt at a nearby cliff, causing an avalanche that threatens to bury Aquaman.

Green Lantern – in a supporting role for once – is able to help out with the rocks and saves Aquaman’s life (though I’m sure Aquaman could have saved himself by quickly swimming out of the way). Snapper even contributes by coming up with a way for Green Lantern to trap the lightning creature without touching it.

The team rejoins the other heroes – who have also been successful – at Faust’s lighthouse hideout and they all turn in their artifacts. Faust is able to cast the spell, but before he’s able to reap the benefits, Aquaman has a whale whip some flying fish into the lighthouse with his tail. The fish pummel Faust, making him lose concentration and release the heroes. They take him into custody and vow to study the artifacts until they can figure out what Faust was doing with them.

As Faust goes to jail, he smirks evilly, knowing that the demons will rise in a hundred years to conquer the world for themselves. We’re promised the sequel to this story next issue.

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: A+

Comics News: Grizzly Shark, Dino Boy, Mystery Society, and More

Sea Bear & Grizzly Shark

Sometimes, an idea comes along that’s so obvious that you don’t know why no one’s thought of it before. Other times, you know exactly why no one has. Sea Bear & Grizzly Shark: They Got Mixed Up falls into the latter category, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome. [Robot 6]

The Return of Reptil

I’ve been generally uninterested in the announcements about the new Avengers team members, much less all the various spin-offs like Avengers Academy. Most of the Academy members are new characters or people I’ve never heard of, but I was delighted to see this promo piece featuring Reptil (the boy with dinosaur powers). I was hoping Marvel would find a place for him.

Nick Mulder and Nora Scully, Firefly comics, and Pedal-Copters after the break.

Mystery Society

IDW’s starting to promote Steve Niles and Fiona Staples’ Mystery Society comic. They describe it sort of as The X-Files meets The Thin Man. That was the premise behind John Rozum’s excellent Midnight, Mass stories too, but I say there’s room for more.

Rozum and Niles have very different styles and I’m looking forward to seeing what Niles does with it. It’s very different from the stories that people think of when they think about Steve Niles, but some of my favorite of Steve’s work is his light-hearted stuff. Really looking forward to this one. It starts in May.

Firefly Comics

Dark Horse has announced two new Firefly comics. The Shepherd’s Tale (written by Joss and Zack Whedon; illustrated by Chris Samnee) will finally reveal the backstory behind the enigmatic Shepherd in a hardcover graphic novel this November. We got some clues to that story in Serenity, but this will be the first time it’s detailed. [Comic Book Resources]

Float Out (written by actor/comedian Patton Oswalt; illustrated by Patric Reynolds) will be a one-shot comic in June. It’ll take place after Serenity and feature some of Wash’s old, non-Serenity friends as they reminisce about him and get ready to start their own adventures. Though no one comes right out and says it, it sounds like they’re hoping this could be the start of more stories with these new characters. [MTV’s Splash Page]

Wondermark, Volume Three

Though it looks and sounds very Steampunk, David Malki’s Wondermark webcomic really (mostly) isn’t. What it is though is freaking hilarious and if you dig Steampunk, you’ll enjoy it anyway. I’m glad it’s getting a third volume in print. [Robot 6]

Pass the Comics: Sinbad, Conan, Deep Sea Spies, and More

I think I’ve finally stumbled onto a title for this feature. When my siblings and I were growing up, there was only ever one section of the newspaper we were interested in. “Pass the comics” was a common request in our house and I’m happy to pass these along to you.

The Captain’s Quest

I don’t know much about the characters of Zip and Li’l Bit, but their latest adventure takes place on a whaling ship. The webcomic just started and updates every Sunday. [By Trade Loeffler.]

K-51: Spies at War

I’ve shared this one before, but it popped back up on Golden Age Comic Book Stories again [you have to scroll down aways to get to this story] and it’s one of my favorites. As the title suggests, it’s not just tentacles that our hero has to deal with. It’s also filthy Nazi deep sea divers.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

By John Buscema. [Hairy Green Eyeball 2]

The Castle of Otranto

I love a good Gothic Romance story. Unfortunately, a lot of them tend to be tortuously long and rambling novels, but Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto isn’t one of those. It’s short, sweet, and chock full of vengeful ghosts, floating skulls, secret passages, swooning damsels, heroic young men, and of course a dark, evil, mustache-twirling villain. The adaptation for Adventures into the Unknown isn’t nearly as fun and atmospheric as the book, but it’s wonderfully illustrated by Al Ulmer. [Pappy’s Golden Age Comics Blogzine]

Hour of the Dragon

The first part of Robert E Howard’s Conan novel as adapted by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane. [Diversions of the Groovy Kind]

Escape from Planet Nowhere

Otis Frampton’s giant robot webcomic has kicked off with a bang (and a couple of thooms).

Finding Aquaman

Colin from Too Busy Thinking About My Comics has a great series of posts about finding the “real” Aquaman amongst the various interpretations that DC has presented over the years [Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four]. Since I’ve spent some time here thinking about this myself, I was very interested in learning what he came up with.

While he does an excellent job of exploring various aspects of the character and suggesting how traditional “weaknesses” could actually be storytelling strengths in the right hands, I’m most indebted to his realization that there is no one, true Aquaman.

If I’m being honest with myself, I don’t suppose that I can even say that I prefer the Aquaman of one era to that of another. The early stories are charming but often bland, the later ones become progressively more coloured by angst and re-vamps, until Aquaman isn’t even Aquaman anymore. I really am partial to Aquaman, but there’s never been an “Aquaman” for me.

It could rightly be said, therefore, that I don’t actually like Aquaman at all. After all, I couldn’t be a fan of Sherlock Holmes if I was lukewarm about the overwhelming majority of his appearances, if I had never believed that his character was consistently well-defined or involving enough. But I don’t believe that’s how we all grow to love certain comic books and certain comic book characters. I think there’s a more natural and creative way that we engage with them. We take the images and the words that appeal to us and we – consciously and unconsciously – join up the dots to create, for example, an “Aquaman” that never existed, and never will, outside of our heads, the Aquaman against which the “real” Aquaman will always be measured, a personal Platonic ideal Aquaman.

Why Colin’s right and why it has to be that way, after the break.

As Colin observes in his articles, it’s a very post-modern approach, but it’s all we have when we’re talking about corporate-owned characters that change based on the interests and whims of whichever editors and creative teams are managing them this month. There are no real, definitive versions. There’s only what’s real and definitive right now.

As Colin also notes, that’s not an issue for characters like Sherlock Holmes who are closely associated with a single creative vision. Though a lot of writers have taken their shots at Holmes over the decades, Holmes fans will ultimately judge the success or failure of those stories on their ability to emulate Arthur Conan Doyle’s work. There’s no re-imagining of Holmes that will ever take the place of Doyle’s version. Same goes with Conan, James Bond, and possibly some other characters we could name.

That’s not true for corporate-owned superheroes though. No one judges the success of a Batman story on how well it compares to Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s work. We expect that the character will morph over time and we’re not just talking about character development. Colin correctly points out that the transition from the ’60s “Holy Oleo” Batman to the serious detective of the ’70s (to the brutal night-terror of the ’80s, I’d add) was neither natural nor planned. Those changes happened because particular editors and creators thought they’d be cool and that people would like them. The same goes for Superman, Green Lantern, the Hulk, and Spider-Man. We either like the changes or not, but we typically don’t measure them against the work of the original creators.

There are exceptions to that of course. Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four comes to mind, as does John Byrne’s Alpha Flight. But mostly we’re just picking and choosing what we like: Frank Miller’s Daredevil, Walt Simonson’s Thor, the Giffen-Dematteis-MaGuire Justice League; Wolfman and Perez’s Teen Titans. The nature of the business prevents a single, defined version by which to measure any corporate-owned character. We can select our favorite versions, but since they’re not always the original ones, we have to admit a level of subjectivity beyond what’s required for creator-owned characters. In effect, as Colin says, we create our own ideal versions.

Which makes DC’s job all the more difficult as they try to come up with their new definitive Aquaman. Will they pick the same elements as Colin? Or the ones that I’d pick? Will they go back to the Golden Age stories for inspiration? To the Silver Age? To the ’60s cartoon? To Super Friends? To Batman: The Brave and the Bold? Or will he be a combination of several of those? While it’ll be interesting to see what they do, in the end it doesn’t really matter, because it’ll just be this editorship and creators’ version. Whether it’ll endure as a popular favorite will depend on its ability to capture today’s audience, not on any similarity to what’s come before.

[Thanks to The Aquaman Shrine for turning me on to Colin’s articles.]