Sunday, November 28, 2010
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Monday, November 8, 2010
On November 9, 2010 the Direct To Video Feature DC Showcase: Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam will be released. In honor of the new animated short film I'll be doing this list of my top ten favorite comics on the lead hero of the piece, the World's Mightiest Mortal, Captain Marvel!
10. Shazam! - The Monster Society Of Evil
A Four issue mini-series by Jeff Smith of Bone fame (which I admit to having never read) that I think is a terrific introduction and retelling of the beginnings of Billy Batson and Captain Marvel. It retains all the wonder and grandiose nature that a Captain Marvel story should have, yet has the time to reflect on the homeless orphan aspect of Billy's upbringing as well as Captain Marvel's newly acquired taste for Hot Dogs.
The only thing I really take issue with is Sivana as Attorney General, which regardless of your personal politics seems forced and dates the story, unless the idea is that we should be vigilant no matter who is in a political office, but I really don't think that is the message here. Either way the moments with Sivana really take me out of an otherwise great story.
I enjoy Billy as a little kid and his little sister even more. Tawny as a shape-shifting Ifrit makes a talking Tiger a little easier to swallow and Mr. Mind actually looks pretty frightening in this piece rather than a cuddly evil doer as he has in the past. The Monster Society hearkens back to the original Captain Marvel Adventures and even the titles of the individual chapters need to be decoded, like the messages encoded in the original comics from the 40's.
9. Captain Marvel Adventures #28
"Sivana For Governer"
A pretty awesome story about Sivana pretending to clean up crime in Fawcett City so he can run for Governor (of whatever state Fawcett City is in)
and then pardon's all the crooks he helped Captain Marvel nab. This seems to be a running theme in later comic story lines whether it be with the Penquin running for Mayor in the Adam West series or Batman Returns, Lex Luthor as President, Norman Osborn's run as President in Earth X, or the most recent take with Osborn's Dark Reign.
8. Whiz Comics #16-18
"Captain Marvel vs. Spy Smasher"
I've mentioned this story before in the third part of the History of Comics on Film, but it's definitely worth mentioning again here. This 3-part storyline in the pages of Whiz Comics features a mind controlled Spy Smasher that Captain Marvel has to hunt down and bring to justice. In many ways the story is a precursor to future Superman-Batman face offs and provides a decent reason for their face-off unlike the randomness of heroes fighting heroes that would eventually become common place in comics. The Spy Smasher's arch-nemesis The Mask (not to be confused with the Dark Horse character) has turned his foe against the very country and government he has sworn to protect using a device called the Hypno-Chair. Luckily Captain Marvel is there to foil Spy Smasher now that he has been brainwashed to attack America. Not counting All-Star Comics #3 with the Justice Society, this story from 1941 may very well be one of the earliest face-offs and team-up of two superheroes. Superman and Batman did not meet until 1945 and that was only on the Adventures of Superman radio series. It wouldn't be until 1952 in Superman #76 that these two would actually meet in the comics. By Whiz Comics #18 Spy Smasher is back to normal and he and Captain Marvel team-up against the Axis powers and 5th Columnists that threaten the country.
7. L.E.G.I.O.N. '91 #31
"Where Dreams End"
Written by Alan Grant and penciled by Barry Kitson, the Licensed Extra-Governmental Interstellar Operatives Network is an interplanetary police force headed up by Vril Dox. One of the many operatives that work for Dox is the bounty hunter known as Lobo. Trying to get away from his duties as a L.E.G.I.O.N. operative the aggressive Czarnian bounty heads to a local dive bar to have a drink when Captain Marvel fresh from the War of the Gods crossover comes tumbling into the bar crashing directly on top of the self-proclaimed "Main Man." Captain Marvel tries at all costs to avoid being provoked by Lobo, but eventually when Lobo stuffs a patron into a toilet bowl Captain Marvel has had enough.
Basically this is a fun brawl between two super-powered titans slugging it out. Of course the battle is not really finalized as Marvel is teleported back to the War of The Gods crossover, but it still makes for a rather entertaining romp, even if it's nothing but a random slug-fest.
6. Shazam! #33
"The World's Mightest Race"
Fun little story from E. Nelson Bridwell about a face off between Captain Marvel and Mr. Atom during the Indianapolis 500. Mr. Atom is kind of like an evil Jet Jaguar or the Avenger's villain Ultron, an evil super-powered robot bent on world domination. Mr. Mind rescues Mr. Atom from hurtling through space from a previous Justice League story and so in this story Mr. Atom is acting as an agent of Mind. Mr. Atom uses his head to power a race car called the Atomobile that if not defeated by a challenging race car will flood the city with radiation. Captain Marvel then talks to the Elders and decides to build his own Shazamobile to enter into the race. Powered by the magic word Shazam it has the same durability as Captain Marvel and lightning nitro speed to boot!
5. DC Comics Presents Annual #3
"With One Magic Word"
Written by Roy Thomas (who I know best from his work on All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc.) and penciled by one of my favorite artists Gil Kane (famous for the designs of the Silver Age Green Lantern and Atom), the story begins with Superman victorious in a battle against Captain Marvel's arch-nemesis Dr. Sivana. Sivana uses a gigantic mecha to attack New York City on Earth-1, but Superman defeats his Mech-Armor and sends Sivana on his way back to Earth-S. Not to be outdone, Sivana uses science to manipulate the wizard Shazam and when Fawcett City is threatened and Billy says the magic word that turns him into Captain Marvel, half of that power is funneled into Sivana, turning him into the super powered villain calling himself Captain Sivana. Sivana keeps altering his title as he defeats other members of the Marvel Family such as Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. Now proclaiming himself Colonel Sivnana, he decides it's time to get revenge on Superman for his defeat at the New York City of Earth-1. Heading to Metropolis, but mistakenly arriving at the Daily Star of Earth-2, Colonel Sivana draws out Kal-L the Earth 2 Superman into the conflict. When he defeats Earth 2 Superman with the aid of a Kryptonite meteor shower, he decides he'll be General Sivana and finally heads to the proper Earth for the showdown with Kal-El (the Superman of Earth-1). Kal-El clearly has the upper hand until Sivana springs a trainload of Kryptonite on him while Captain Marvel watches horrified from the Rock of Eternity. Pulling a Spider-Man, Captain Marvel gets a pep talk from the Elders and gets back into the game stopping General Sivana from delivering the killing blow to Superman. Kal-El jumps over to Earth-2 to save the older Kal-L from the meteor shower, while Captain Marvel is the one who finally lays the smack down on "General" Sivana. With Shazam released he turns Sivana back to normal and everybody heads back to their proper universe. Again I like this because things are as they should be. That Superman could've beaten up Sivana if not for the Kryptonite and Captain Marvel gets to finish off his arch-nemesis which is also how things should be. A fun story within the old multiverse context with great art and exciting super powered fights.
4. Underworld Unleashed #3
"Seduction of The Innocent"
This book written by Mark Waid with art by Howard Porter of JLA fame, is something that I always point to when friends would accuse the DC Universe of being too Superman/Batman-centric. Although my buddy Michael Vargas, whose video game blog you can read about here, would always laugh about how in most DC Crossovers it would ultimately come down to how "Superman's the bestest!" (which while I laughed along is something I generally took pride in) But this tale that features no trace of Batman or Superman in a huge company crossover, actually turns that conception on its head. Much like the Marvel crossover Acts of Vengeance a council of villains have grouped together under the direction of DC's lord of the underworld Neron.
Superman just so happened to be in the deep reaches of space at the time, but the other heroes didn't know this. Thinking Neron had captured Superman, Captain Marvel and a group of DC's remaining heroes come to Neron's domain seeking the soul of Superman, only to discover that Neron was never interested in any soul other than the pure and true soul of Captain Marvel himself.
While all the other heroes are going bat-shit crazy, Captain Marvel is much like the Silver Surfer to Neron's Mephisto, remaining pure of heart and his soul unaffected by the corruption of the underworld. If it wasn't for Captain Marvel and his magic word then the other heroes would have never been freed and with some help from The Trickster, Captain Marvel's soul is offered out of pure altruism which is so selfless it defeats Neron himself. Anyway even though most story lines are about Superman (or these days Batman) being "the bestest", this was a nice moment where The World's Mightiest Mortal got to shine and stand out among the other heroes of the DC Universe.
3. JSA #48
Maybe this is a cheat, but when Captain Marvel is stuck in the Shadowlands along with Courtney Whitmore aka Stargirl he can no longer access his abilities and is transformed back into Billy Batson. Courtney is surprised to discover that within Captain Marvel is a boy of her own age. Making their way through the Shadowlands where people's nightmares become actuality, they fend off ghosts of Alan Scott's past. In between all the hoopla Billy tells Courtney a story about how he tried to use the wisdom of Solomon to cheat on a test which he couldn't study for because he was off fighting Black Adam instead. Of course the wisdom of Solomon knows that cheating is wrong and so he can't even pick up his pencil. In the middle of this heart-to-heart the two share a kiss. It's a sweet and rather obvious pairing brought to fruition by David Goyer, Geoff Johns and Leonard Kirk.
"When Earths Collide!"
One of the over-sized comics typical of the late 70s Superman/Shazam! is
written by Gerry Conway with art by Rich Butler and Dick Giordano.
In this epic tale, Karmang an evil Martian wizard (from Earth-S one would assume) brings back Black Adam and the Quarmer (the Sandman Superman from the famous Denny O'Neil run on Superman) to hatch a plot that will eventually collide Earth-1 and Earth-S destroying both worlds forever. Formerly a scientist whose quest for immortality led to the destruction of his people, Karmang knows that the power generated by the destruction of both Earths will bring his people back from a ghost-like state that his last disastrous experiment caused. Black Adam arrives on Earth-1 posing as Captain Marvel and zonks Superman with red solar rays that have a maddening effect on the Man of Steel, while The Quarmer disguised as Superman attacks the World's Mightiest Mortal with the Judgment Ray.
This pits the real Superman and Captain Marvel against one another angrily fighting as if possessed. Supergirl and Mary Marvel soon figure out that it was Black Adam and the Quarmer who tricked their cousin and big brother into fighting one another and decide to track down the impostors themselves. Supergirl defeats Black Adam and Mary Marvel is victorious over The Quarmer and the pair agree to tell the girls what they know about the wizard Karmang. Shazam instructs Captain Marvel to prolong the fight while Karmang downs Supergirl with his magic. Mary Marvel is unaffected by his assaults and presses on. While Superman defeats Captain Marvel, horror of his violent actions finally snap him out of his possessed funk. Shazam then reveals where the girls are and the Captain Marvel is weaker on Earth-1 much like Superman under a red son. The two heroes then head out to help their cousin and little sis. Supergirl manages to power down Karmang's Space Time Engine controller while Mary Marvel holds the villain off. Cap and Supes then stop the Space Time Engine Karmang has set up to collide the two worlds. Superman maintains the gravitational forces while Captain Marvel destroys the device smashing it to pieces. The heroes have saved the day and Karmang is stuck in some kind of Purgatory forever. I think this is probably one of the best and longest fights between Captain Marvel and Superman. Since showdowns between these two characters are often clamored for and greatly anticipated, I thought I'd include my favorite showdown here on this list.
1. Captain Marvel Adventures #22-46
"The Monster Society of Evil"
This long running 25 chapter comic storyline would be advertised like a movie serial, containing face-offs with many of Captain Marvel's greatest villains and even the movie serial trademark of a secret "hidden" master villain who hides behind his radio squawk box. The master villain calls himself Mr. Mind and is the leader of The Monster Society of Evil made up of a variety of villains and monsters that all do the bidding of the unseen Mr. Mind. Other previous villains of Captain Marvel who would do his bidding in this Knightfall-esque storyline were Captain Nazi in issue #22, IBAC who is kind of directed by Mr. Mind via radio like Old Man Wayne instructs Terry McGuiness in Batman Beyond in issue #23, the Mad Scientist Dr. Sivana in issue #25, the oh so politically incorrect Nippo from issue #24 (but really Nippo isn't really any worse than Voodoo Annie)and even Adolf Hitler himself would do the bidding of Mr, Mind!!! (issue #28)
Captain Marvel finally figures out that Mr. Mind is a tiny super-intelligent worm when his sidekick Steamboat nearly eats Mind who has burrowed into an apple.
Mr. Mind would attack America and other Allied Nations of the era such as Russia, China, Scotland and Britain using alien Crocodile Men from the Planet Punkus, Japanese Axis mad scientists, Nazis, as well as his underwater Monster Brigade made up of a gigantic whale, octopus, hammerhead shark, and a sea-serpent.
A funny moment to me is when Captain Marvel and the US Marines liberate a Japanese occupied island where Mr. Mind is stationed (#31) - Cap is lured by a cigarette machine, which he plans to use so he can take some packs out "for the boys."
After the first 5 or 6 chapters the story was less of a barrage of Captain Marvel's greatest villains and more of a hunt for Mr. Mind as the world's most wanted criminal. Mr. Mind would often start a plot to destroy America and the Allies which Captain Marvel would foil, then Mind would escape or Billy would be caught in a death-trap bound and gagged unable to say the magic word to turn himself into Captain Marvel.
In one story in issue #38 Mr. Mind discovers Hollywood is making a movie about his evil deeds and like a true fanboy, he is rather disappointed in his adaptation to film.
Eventually by the final chapter of the serial, most of Mister Mind's Monster Society of Evil have been defeated by Capt Marvel and his remaining assistants have all quit. Mr. Mind then gases Billy Batson and decides to electrocute him for payback. Luckily Billy wakes up and smacks Mind away. As Mind escapes yet again Billy turns into Capt Marvel to track him down and then Captain Marvel hires an exterminator to gas the building and is able to capture Mr.Mind. Mind is brought to stand trial for his war-crimes, where Captain Marvel serves as the prosecuting attorney and the defense even hopes Mind gets the electric chair.
The story actually ends with Mr, Mind being found guilty and executed by electric chair. Hammers of Justice Indeed.
Anyway this final tale I think is the epitome of a Captain Marvel story and is fun and makes great use of the serialized nature of the comic book medium, which is why this is the number one pick on my top ten list.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
On November 4, 2010 a brand new motion picture from Dream Works animation and Paramount pictures was released called Megamind. This movie was a pretty funny and entertaining take on the Superman mythos.
From the unaffected Lois Lane character to the twisted Jimmy Olsen with Super Powers gone bad (who reminded me of the James Olsen of Ultraman's Crime Syndicate from the DTV Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths), I enjoyed watching the twists and turns with Metro-Man and Megamind in this currently released animated comedy. Because of this I was inspired to provide this list of some of my favorite non-Supermen.
10. Goku - Dragon Ball Z
I know otaku around the world are crying and screaming that I would even suggest that Goku is a Superman clone. But after the introduction of his background as a member of the alien race called the Saiyans it was kind of easy to see the parallels. A young baby who was rocketed to Earth and raised by humans as one of their own, who uses his awesome abilities to defend the Earth and her people. Never mind the erroneous mention of Goku's "scientist" father in the early Ocean Group dubs who was supposed to have created the faux-moonlight guns so Saiyans could all go Ozaru whenever they wanted that made me instantly think of Jor-El. When I first started watching Dragon Ball Z after graduating from Loyola Marymount University in 1999, coming from a comic fan's perspective I saw a lot of Superman in Goku. His background, strength, speed and ability to fly, not to mention his death and rebirth much like the Doomsday storyline and the subsequent Return of Superman storyline that followed which I grew up reading while attending James Logan High School.
Say what you will about the man of one thousand fiery suns; that a Superman type character has no place in the Marvel Universe, that his introduction to fans as a "lost" creation was all a bunch of weak-ass marketing hype, that his dementia and ultra-violence as a super hero has been realized better in titles like Miracleman; but I will always be grateful to the Sentry for one thing.
Thank you Sentry for chucking Carnage into outer space. You might have gone completely nuts, tried to destroy the world and done questionable things to Rogue, but you're still tops in my book buddy.
8. Gladiator - The Uncanny X-Men
Usually appearing in the Uncanny X-Men or any number of Marvel's cosmic titles, Kallark the praetor of the Shi'ar Imperial Guard is another Marvel Comics take on the character of Superman. Probably more analogous to Mon-El of the Legion of Super-Heroes than Superman himself, still comparisons to the Man of Steel are inevitable. I think my personal favorite Gladiator moment is when he punches the shields of the Enterprise in the Star Trek/X-Men crossover.
One thing that is always mentioned among fans ( at least I remember this always being brought up on the now defunct Wizard World "Superhero Showdowns" message boards) is the fact that Kallark's powers wain when his confidence level decreases. Along with being affected by a rare form of radiation, much like Kryptonite affects Kryptonians or Lead affects Daxamites, the decrease in his confidence level is another variation on the Superman archetype. This is how Thor usually wins his fights with Gladiator, by telling him his hair looks funny.
A character from the Milestone imprint of comic books originally published in the early 1990s, Icon is the story of an adult alien named Arnus whose star ship crash lands in a cotton field in the American South in the year 1839. The ship's computer alter's Arnus' appearance so he looks like a child of the first human being that he comes across, a African-American slave woman named Miriam.
Arnus survives all the way up until present day, still looking like he was in his mid-thirties. Going by the name Augustus Freeman IV, he eventually is convinced by his new sidekick Rocket to fight crime in Dakota city in the super hero persona of Icon.
6. Omni-Man - Invincible
To me this comic was always a take on Superman with a Dragon Ball Z twist. In this Image comic by Robert Kirkman of Walking Dead fame, lead character Mark Grayson is a pretty normal teenager except for the fact that his Dad is the heroic Omni-Man, another archetype analogous to Superman.
Omni-Man is of course an extraterrestrial superhero of the Viltrumite race who marries a human woman and his son Mark eventually gains his own super powers by the age of seventeen.
The big twist to what would start out as a "Superman and Son" type tale comes when Omni-Man kills off the Guardians of The Globe, the equivalent of Superman's Justice League. It turns out that Omni-Man and the Viltrumites are actually a race of alien invaders, and he was sent to initiate a hostile takeover of Earth.
5. Hyperion - Squadron Supreme
Mark Milton aka Hyperion was yet another Marvel Comics take on the Man of Tomorrow. In an alternate universe dubbed Earth-712 (the mainstream Marvel Universe is known as Earth-616), the Squadron Supreme are a super group that are basically DC Comic's Justice League, but gave the writers leeway to go to darker places that DC Comics would never let their flagship characters traverse.
Pulling an Authority way before that title ever came out the Squadron put themselves in charge of government and policy in a dystopic United States, with good intentions paving the road to disaster. Echoed later in Justice League Unlimited with the Justice Lords, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and you are right there along to watch the ride. While there may be other Hyperion's from other universes in the various Marvel titles, the pioneering nature of the 1985 maxi-series paved the way for great works like Watchmen and even the Authority or more recent stints on Wild C.A.T.S. featuring Mr. Majestic as leader of a Utopian Hawaii in a rather dystopian world setting over in the Wildstorm titles, which is why this version of Mark Milton gets my deserved attention.
4. The Visitor
The Visitor is an 1995 comic title published by Valiant Comics, which features a mysterious lead character introduced into the Valiant Universe calling himself the Visitor. For the Valiant Universe, which prided itself on more down to earth "realistic" characters, having a character who was a caped super hero who may or may not have been from another world, was a little out of character for the company, but also reflected an inspiration from the Man of Steel.
Although the alien background was later revealed to be a smokescreen and his origins as a time-displaced alternate future version of Peter Stanchek of Harbinger were more akin to the complicated origins of Cable of the X-Men than Superman, the character's visual appearance and desire to save the public from helicopter crashes, bank robbers, and by smothering bombs underneath his very person made him quite the imitation of a Superman archetype in the Valiant Universe.
3. Mr. Majestic
Mr. Majestic is the aforementioned hero from the Wildstorm Universe created by Jim Lee. I will always remember Majestic's original solo title being described as "the best Superman title out there that wasn't actually a Superman title." This was at a time when I think the creative forces behind the Superman titles at the time like Dan Jurgens had overstayed their welcome and had run out of event storylines, like Doomsday, Return of Superman, Superman Red and Blue, and the Death of Clark Kent (featuring my favorite Kryptonite Brownie transformed baddie Conduit, pre-Smallville tv series no less!) to keep readers interested.
By 1999 the books had become monotonous and old hat and along came this title of Mr. Majestic, which was essentially a poor man's Superman from the Jim Lee created Image Comic WildC.A.T.S. (who were now separated from Image and were being published by DC Comics under the Wildstorm imprint). Reading the stories by Joe Casey and penciled by Ed McGuiness were like a breath of fresh air and it didn't matter that Majestic's fortress was inside of Mount Rushmore instead of at the North Pole inside a Kryptonian fortress of solitude, you got the general idea, and before long DC got the general idea as well and ending up placing Casey and McGuiness on their Superman titles (albeit not the same titles) in the year 2000.
While Alan Moore wrote some really terrific Superman stories such as "For The Man Who Has Everything" and "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" (and even a great little Majestic story called "The Big Chill" - check it out! -D), I think he would acknowledge that he still had plenty of great Superman stories left in him, and the way he got those off his chest was through the highly criticized Rob Liefeld's Awesome imprint.
Supreme was a character of his that started out as an image book as well. Not exactly highbrow comic books, the kindest way I can describe the original intent of Supreme was a Superman with the arrogant personality of a Namor the Sub-Mariner or Vegita from Dragon Ball Z. Basically it was a title that had the same action level of the popular Superman-Doomsday books of the day and asked the question; What if Superman was just a big egotistical jerk?
This went on for about 40 issues or so and a few mini-series. One of the only writers who I think really "got" the concept of the original Supreme and managed to execute it well was Keith Giffen. His Legend of Supreme Mini-series is one of the better titles released from that time period.
Anyway around 1996 and issue #41 Alan Moore comes along and just takes the opportunity to use a defunct ersatz-Superman's title to tell some of the greatest Superman stories that at the time DC Comics wouldn't have let him tell anyway. This was in the hey day of the Lois & Clark television series mind you, so sexy, down to earth, my cape can rip, John Byrne Superman revamp was what was in and DC wouldn't have wanted to mess with that by letting Alan Moore retread the kind of classic Silver Age goodness and goofiness he wanted to explore in the character. So Supreme became the outlet for those eventual musings. From Ethan Crane as Clark Kent to Radar as Krypto, the man was unchained by the constraints of current fads and this led to some really terrific as well as timeless non-Superman Superman tales.
1. The Plutonian - Irredeemable
This being my number one pick might get me some flak as it is current, and makes me feel like I'm writing a Wizard top ten list and trying to hock the latest comic book title so the company will send me free swag or whatever Gareb Shamus got out of pimping books like The Authority or whatever was the hot item at the moment.
Anyway Irremeemable asks the question "How does a man go from being the world's greatest superhero to its greatest supervillian?"
In this ongoing series by Boom Studios and the writer of Superman: Birthright, Mark Waid, the title character is the Plutonian (who asks his friends to call him Tony). The idea of a Superman gone bad is not necessarily new and innovative in the world of comics, but the execution of the idea and the story that follows is. Since the book is ongoing and has yet to conclude, I don't feel like spoiling too much, other than to say this is a great read for a current modern day comic story.