The Golden Age of Bronze Age Subtext

From Nightmare #1 (1952)


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So, Brenda, we meet again

A commenter just let me know that a vandalized comic that I found while browsing through the always helpful Grand Comic Book Database and once posted some funny about was currently for sale on ebay.

I wonder if the seller knows Brenda? I’d ask him but I don’t feel like registering with ebay. With this bit of welcome news Brenda is one step closer to receiving the long-overdue scathing ire of comic fandom that she so rightly deserves.

Brenda, Brenda, Brenda! You thought I forgot all about you, huh? Oh, yes. I’ll find you one day, you defacer of Silver Age goodness! Now all that remains is to connect the dots, step through that looking glass and head off to the local grocery store, because they have a 2-for-1 sale on internet blogger forum-comment whup-ass this week and I’m buying a cart full.

12-9-06: Update on the ebay sale. No bids.

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Opus Day

I didn’t participate in National Novel Writing Month this year even though I had planned to do so. I really, really did.

I felt it was time to get published again and I had planned to use NaNoWriMo as the thingus, like some others did it, to do some writing because of the commitment to the structure (for a certain time everyday) where I would force myself to do some typing stuff. So I could start and finish what I started.

I’d go into excruciating, heart-rending detail about why I didn’t participate this year but when I started this blog I made a pledge that I would not use it as a forum diary about sad, pathetic personal tales like so many others do.

Suffice it to say that “things” happened with my employer’s ridiculously dysfunctional payroll department over the last several months that left me a little too stressed to focus on writing a novel. Anything I attempted to write would have just veered away from the plot and consisted of angry rants about the lousy modern American work ethic, people that are promoted above their level of competency and not, as I intended, about the besieged Southern California community invaded by 175 pound mutant tarantulas controlled by brain-infesting alien parasites. Hey, there is always next year.

Kudos to those who participated!

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Stan Lee says: STFU, True Believers!

Back before Stan’s Soapbox was filled with content that resembled the script from a used car salesman’s television commercial, The Man sometimes had something important to say.

This editorial from Spider-Man #96 (May 1971) has (allegedly) Stan Lee bemoaning that Marvel can’t please everyone all the time. While his rebuttal has a point I do find exception that he asserts that Marvel did not editorialize as much as some claimed they did.

Nearly every issue of early Marvel featured the hero battling Communism in some form or another. Often the villains were either direct assaults by Russia or “Red agents” were sabotaging the defense effort. While it may be a stretch of the imagination to extend the commie agenda to the alien races the heroes defended the earth against, many of them were from conformist races where the over-all goal of conquest sublimated the rights, desires and identities of the individuals.

The alien Skrull were of course the most obvious allegory to Communism. Spouting memorized rhetoric by rote the Skrull could change their shape and hide among the peoples of America, a secret army that would strike when the nation was at it’s most vulnerable. Ironically, in their first appearance in Fantastic Four #2 (January 1962) they were defeated by clever American propaganda.

Every good comic book story needs a villain and since Mom and Dad controlled the money with a totalitarian iron fist the content of the comics had to be palatable. Mom knew that Dad wouldn’t mind Junior reading a comic book if it featured those Dirty Reds getting a good what for.

The 1970’s were a good time for comics as far as the writing goes. Stan, a man politically from another generation, must have been mystified by the new guys and gals in the industry then, but that didn’t mean he didn’t know what they could do for the cash flow. While they were definitely professionals, they also clearly had a bias that would be called liberal today. Much of the stories had an underlying theme of The Little Guy vs Big Evil Business/Government and were usually very pro-environment and anti-exploitation. The villains were often some lone inventor screwed by a giant, heartless industrial machine. Even Tony Stark changed from being the Merchant Exporter of Death to Peacenik, building homes for the poor as began manufacturing printed circuits in favor of bullets.

These themes attracted a certain demographic very nicely and Marvel swiftly trounced the more status quo-oriented DC in sales. This lasted until the early 80’s and the advent of Reaganism, when it became cool to once more exploit people, rape the land and drain resources with no thought to the consequences or a plan for prudent management. The only holdover of the last decades’ activism in comics was in the form of the reboot Lex Luthor, an evil tycoon that people loved to hate for his use and abuse of people and the environment. Mother Nature eventually fought back though and Lex Luthor “died” after he contracted radiation poisoning from a piece of a very world he sought to exploit.

While some people downplay the effect of comic book activism has had on people I feel that it is not as minuscule a force as has been asserted. Like many things, comic books would be only a small part of a person’s life education. My childhood was shaped by many different experiences. Parents, daily adventures and of course books and television to some degree. I saw graphic scenes from Vietnam on the news and I read comics that in some clumsy way denounced war and our involvement (Newer fans of comics may recall the Anti-Drug and Anti-Apartheid titles featuring the characters from the Teen Titans). Comic books did not shape me into who I am today but they were a small part of the overall growth of a person. Comic books are a part of an accumulative experience, which may be what concerned the Wertham crowd in the previous decades.

So Stan Lee, in a period of widespread activism in comics made a plea to readers to just enjoy the product as they are just trying their best. The comics Marvel produced at the time were attempting to be topical and greatly appealed to their market audience of college students and young adults with disposable income. Publishers were slowly and carefully edging away from the constraints of the Comic Code Authority and pushing the envelope with their content (This backfired in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s as comics appealed to the wrong demographic by catering to the horny fanboy and quality and the industry suffered as a result). The issue of Spider-Man that Stan’s editorial appeared in was published, without fanfare of any kind, without the CCA seal of approval. It is also possible the company may have been coming to the attention of certain groups or under attack by organized campaigns disguised as honest concerns or opinions from individuals, a tactic that is very common now as special interest groups hijack a process meant for a legitimate voice.

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Thanks, Dave

1943 – 2006

To many comic book fans the artist Dave Cockrum will be remembered for his contribution to re-launching the X-Men franchise. His work created a huge amount of fan interest in what was a C-grade effort of old reprints and carried Marvel and the X-Men title back to the top long before that other artist took over the book.

But for me Dave will always be remembered for his definitive run on the Legion of Super-Heroes. The image of the Legionaires vainly attempting to hog-tie an ornery Cayuseasaurus for the cover of Amazing World of DC Comics #9 was always a favorite of mine due to the subtle mix of genres in the art, that of Science Fiction, Western and Pulp.

Another fav image is the wedding scene of Duo Damsel and Bouncing Boy from Superboy #200 (which also sports an awesome Nick Cardy cover). Back in the day this must have been a time-consuming carpal tunnel-inducing layout. Mike Grell later used the wedding scene as inspiration when he depicted the wedding of two other Legionaires.


And since no mention of Dave’s work would be complete without a representation of something from Marvel, his homage to Star Trek from X-Men #105.


Tags: , Mark Evanier on Dave , Dave Cockrum credits via the GCD