Wonderment

It feels like a long time since I last posted on this blog! I have in mind posts about Daredevil and Batwoman- the former might wait til the Netflix series is on dvd.

Today however is a crossover with my Some Fantastic Place blog and it’s a Wonder Woman post.

Thirty years ago, in the era of The Dark Knight Returns and Heroes Against Hunger and in the wake of  Crisis, Trina Robbins and Kurt Busiek wanted to say a fond farewell to the Golden Age/Harry Peter Wonder Woman: that weird blend of Greek myth, sci-fi and fantasy in an ornate, cartoony style. Their vehicle in May 1986 was The Legend of Wonder Woman.

I decided to buy this miniseries on ebay because I’m interested in having the quintessential versions of the Justice League in my collection. I’m not really much of a WW fan: I first encountered her in the Ross Andru era of the mid-60s and I followed the 80s Perez reboot for a while. The simplicity of Robbins’ style intrigued me enough to try this title.

Issue one-Legends Live Forever: in a series of spare, colouring book images, we are introduced to the extra-dimensional threat of Queen Atomia and the naughty child Suzie, an avatar of Robbins herself. The writing voice is not unlike the melodrama of 80s Roy Thomas comics.

The Land of Mirrors: the action shifts to an Agartha-like civilization in the Gobi Desert where twin sisters struggle for power over the Sun Jewel. This is supposedly a callback to a Golden Age story- the milieu is certainly exotic and charming.

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Inside the Atom Galaxy: the green and orange cover really pops and the action moves again to the Probability Hills of the Atom Galaxy. Amusingly, Suzie becomes the spoiled and tyrannical Susan the First.

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Splitting the Atom: the kanga polo game is my second favourite cover. The Amazons take the battle to Atomia and bratty Suzie saves the day. In the final scene, Aphrodite turns the Amazons into constellations in a rather beautiful scene.

Given that this project is also from the era of Teen Titans Spotlight On… when Marv Wolfman was trying to write about apartheid in South Africa, it’s a little too kitschy for me. I understand the intention to pay tribute however, even if GA WW is not to my taste; this child-friendly series is not unlike the kind of stories told in Astro City (with more naturalistic art. of course). If you’d like to see what I have to say about Grant Morrison’s Wonder Woman, visit http://somefantasticplace-dougie.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/wonderment.html

Coming soon: Dalek Empire

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A Plant in The Audience

I read yesterday that, presumably because of the success of Deadpool,  a Batman cartoon movie  will be R-rated.  R stands for restricted. Again: that’s a Batman cartoon.

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Now, I hate to sound stuffy and middle-aged but I don’t care how much reverence is shown to the brutal Killing Joke. If Batman were (however bizarre this sounds) purely a Mature Readers/Viewers property and if it were a film, or under  the Gotham umbrella, I could see the justification. But it’s a cartoon and Batman cartoons have had a history of  being part of children’s programming from the 1960s until as recently as 2008 (on the BBC website).  Asda sells Batman fancy dress costumes for kids.

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Edgy and “mature” themes appear in many iterations of Batman, however, even in the noir-ish, all-ages Batman Adventures series of the 90s. I recently bought a copy of Batman: Harley and Ivy The Deluxe Edition:

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Here, there is a dissonant blend of cartoony hi-jinks and overtly adult imagery and dialogue.  Introduced in the animated series of the early 90s that took its inspiration from the Tim Burton Batman, Harley was, perhaps an iteration of the Golden Age Green Lantern’s “loving enemy”, Molly Maynne. Harleen Quinzel’s indoctrination by and abusive relationship with the Joker was recounted in Mad Love. Of course, New 52 Harley ( shortly to appear in the PG-13 rated Suicide Squad) has become even more of a provocative, even  transgressive character.

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Poison Ivy, meanwhile, has always been portrayed as an alluring and sexually aggressive villain, even in her earliest and campiest incarnation, some fifty years ago. While a B-lister bat-villain, she was also characterised as the temptress in the infamous Batman and Robin.

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This book opens with a 2004 miniseries, Harley and Ivy, which traces the pair’s quest for the Zombie Root. Their close relationship in comics always reminded me of Violet and Light(ning) Lass in the Legion: romantic but underplayed. I was surprised, therefore, by the cheesecake shower and underwear scenes in this series and the sequences that recall tentacle hentai.  I suppose I personally find it difficult to picture people getting an erotic charge from cartoon characters.

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Harley and Ivy also encounter their own distorted reflections: a couple of burly male aggressors named Slash and Burn, who are also implied to be gay ( through their proximity, an earring and a comment about “not liking girls”). The final installment is admittedly quite a clever parody of Hollywood superhero movies but the mixture of horror and humour ( and even environmental themes) is all overtly adult.

Even the 90s features which comprise the rest of the collection often strike a tone which seems very arch or even suggestive.

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24 Hours is a silent vignette from 1994’s Batman Adventures Annual in which Harley tries-and fails- to go straight. The look is playful but the arc is pessimistic, even tragic.

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“The Harley and the Ivy” is a seasonal screwball comedy from The 1995 Batman Adventures Holiday Special. That’s the comic that really  rekindled my affection for Batgirl, since Babs’ costumed identity had been retired in such a brutal, ugly way in the aforementioned Killing Joke.

Here, Bruce Wayne is kidnapped by the pair and they go on a spending spree. It’s the most all-ages example of material in the book.

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Harley, Ivy and- Robin?” With a callback to a classic Infantino image, it’s nice to see a B&R tale ( from 1996).  But the Robin-enslaved-by-Ivy trope leads to comments such as “cradle Robin” and ” There’s something about ’em when they’re this age” which seem rather creepy and inappropriate.

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 I had read “Oy to the World!” before, in the 1998 Batgirl Adventures Special. Babs and Harley team up to save Ivy from Kit Nozawa, a Yakuza assassin. Kitsune, (Japanese for “fox”) is well-suited as a Batgirl villain: her martial arts prowess is augmented with a hypnotic jewel a la the Legion’s Universo. There is a supposedly comic scene where Babs asks if Harley and Ivy are a couple, which again seems awkward and out of place.

I think it’s a positive thing that DC can portray two leading characters in a same- sex relationship. Challenging discrimination and promoting equality are admirable. But I can’t help feel there’s an unfortunate frisson because these characters are criminals– even murderers.

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I think, if you look at Marvel’s b/w magazine range in the 70s, it was abundantly clear that those characters were intended for a teen to adult market. The visual cues were different from the colour comics. Of course, there were several exceptions- McGregor’s Killraven and Black Panther or Gerber’s Man-Thing all presented challenging-even shocking-images.  I would question, however, if these characters were ever marketed to children in quite the way Spider-Man or Batman have always been.

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I’ve written before about my imaginary b/w 70s Batman mag which would have been somewhat more harder-hitting than Detective Comics, say. but I always visualised something that clearly depicted it was less child- friendly. In this “deluxe edition”, the visual language of animation is blurring the lines.

As I’ve said before, DC once proudly proclaimed comics aren’t just for kids anymore. I sometimes feel that should now read : at all. As a business strategy, it makes no sense to pander to an ageing, shrinking audience.

However, here and on Some Fantastic Place in the next couple of weeks, I intend to redress the balance with reviews of comics and graphic novels with a broader appeal…

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Nor Iron Bars A Cage

I first encountered The Prisoner through my parents’ recollections and repeat billings in the TV Times, in exotic regions like Southern or Westward, I suppose.

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I finally saw one episode as part of an ITV celebration “The Girl Who Was Death”. I had no idea that it was something of a spoof and not indicative of the style of the series.

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I also think it might have inspired the early scenes of The Tides of Time. Later, I was aware that it was an influence on a FF arc in the late 60s and we glimpsed the abortive Kirby project above.

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It wasn’t until the Channel 4 repeats of the early 80s, however, that I saw the majority of episodes in this eccentric, allegorical sci-fi spy thriller.  In the 80s, I read the Thomas Disch novel and of course, I paid some cursory attention to the desert-based remake in 2009. Now Big Finish have released an audio box set, “re-imagining”  the series.

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Departure and Arrival sets the series squarely in 1967, with a bit of back story for No. 6 and his incarceration in the Village.

The Schizoid Man: another tv adaptation as No.6 is cloned and also develops a telepathic link with No 9, who has a melodic Caribbean accent. This version is more overtly sci-fi than the original.

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Your Beautiful Village is a new story and is the most intense of the four episodes as No.6 is traumatised when his senses fall under Number 2’s control.

The Chimes of Big Ben: the third adaptation of a tv episode and one in which No. 6 and Nadia,  a defecting Soviet swimmer, use a Village art competition to stage a (temporary) escape.

I found the series more satisfying than I’d imagined: Mark Elstob mimics McGoohan’s clipped, snarling delivery but imbues the character with more vulnerability. Michael Cochrane’s disturbing jollity makes for a memorable No.2 and the  theme music is a convincingly Sixties arrangement- an Earth-Two version, if you like: similar but not identical. I think this is more successful than the Noughties  tv reboot.

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On my long weekend in Glasgow- made longer by trains diverted to Central Station- I listened to another BF collection: the second Doom Coalition box. The previous quartet of audio plays introduced the Eighth Doctor and glum space medic companion Liv Chenka to 1960s languages scholar, Helen Sinclair. We also met supervillain The Eleven, a Time Lord criminal with a multiple personality.

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Beachhead is a bland Earth Invasion adventure from Nick Briggs, reviving the alien Voord. There’s no callback to Domain of the Voord, which portrayed them as a cult-like society but the female-dominated cast is a pleasant change.

Scenes From Her Life, the most satisfying episode, is basically Gormenghast in Space. A trio of grotesques are carrying out horrible experiments in an unrecognisable Tardis. Their victim is revealed to be the telepath Caleera, Clarice Starling to the Eleven’s Hannibal, and the Doctor enables her to escape.

The Gift is a magical realist Marc Platt tale set during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The eponymous gift is a mysterious destructive power which passes from host to host. This episode was more bombastic, given that it involves actors and actor-managers.

The Sonomancer, Matt Fitton’s concluding disc, is also the new identity of the destructive Caleera. Aboriginal people on the volcanic planet Syra are being exploited but Prof. River Song is fighting back.  As in The Diary of River Song box, the Doctor can’t meet his future wife but we have to assume she will play a part in the ultimate showdown.

I found this box set more engaging than its predecessor but I would like more of a sense of where the series is going; there’s really no apparent arc, merely a sense of the episodic. Also, like box one, I found the production values poorer than usual: I struggled to make out some of the dialogue ( McGann murmurs at the best of times!) and the whole thing sounded muffled.

Finally, following up yesterday’s post, here are my top five Doctors, in traditional reverse order:

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5) to my surprise, watching the box set of the second series, I find the austere and unknowable Twelfth Doctor captivating. While I understand that his experiences as a war veteran twice over would have made this Doctor more abrasive, I think the move towards a more playful performance was a wise one.

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4) in my forties I had cooled toward the suave, protective Third Doctor played by the commanding Jon Pertwee. A decade later and his psychedelic adventures, while rather morally simplistic by modern standards, have won me over again.

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3) the image of the freewheeling, unpredictable Fourth Doctor dominated the series for so long- conceivably until the arrival of David Tennant. His era is divided (somewhat unclearly) between the teatime body horror of the mid-70s and the Postgrad playfulness of the later years of the decade. Increasingly,it’s that capriciousness I enjoy now.

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2) the gauche, hyperactive Eleventh Doctor, like his successor, took a long time for me to learn to like. His foibles and quirks disguised the depth of emotion Matt Smith could mine. Now, he is for me, the most endearing of the modern Doctors.

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1) It had to be really. The first Doctor I ever knew: the ambiguous, whimsical performance of Patrick Troughton will always be my Doctor.

Coming soon: Wonder Woman; the Legion; the Infinity Entity

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Le Medecin Malgre Lui

Having been a fan of Doctor Who, as you’re aware since before I could actually read,  it might be a surprise that I’ve never ranked my favourite Doctors in a blog! It seems such an obvious “fan” thing to do. I haven’t included Doctors who are solely audio, like David Warner. Nor have I included Nicholas Briggs since his Doctor ( although a multimedia one, as we’ll see below) was a bit of continuity nightmare. It’s just for fun- don’t write in!

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Joint 17: Mark Gattis in his Lewis Carroll guise from Dr. Who Night  in 1999 ties at the bottom of the list  with the laconic and lovestruck parodic Doctor of Steven Moffat’s charity spoof The Curse of Fatal Death.

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16) The paternal but authoritarian Doctor of Seven Keys to Doomsday and  15) the grizzled, self-doubting War Doctor…

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14) The energetic but guilt-ridden rough diamond Nine and 13) the sprightly, eccentric, entirely human Cushing Doctor…

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12) the calculating and mysterious Seven  11) the snobbish and haunted REG alt-Nine;

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10) the dynamic, sorrowful but self-righteous Ten;  9) the bombastic ,egotistical and theatrical Six.

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8) the irascible but mischievous One; 7) the energetic but exasperated Five  and at 6) the passionate, aristocratic Eight

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I was a little surprised that 80s Doctors overtook modern Doctors.  Perhaps that’s because of the impact of stories in other media?

The Good Soldier is a collection of Seventh Doctor comic strips from DWM in the very early 90s. I wasn’t reading the magazine in those days- too gauche and corny for the dastard actor laddie I fancied myself. But I bought the book in Aberdeen a month or so ago to catch up with the ones I had missed.

Fellow Travellers is a photorealistic three-parter by tv script editor Andrew Cartmel and Look-In/2000 AD artist Arthur Ranson ( no relation to the Swallows and Amazons author). A hitch-hiking alien  entity takes over a nana and menaces her a family. They seem to be related to Travers -the explorer from Troughton’s era- but it’s quite unclear. The strip captures the blend, however, of the Gothic and the domestic that flavoured DW in its last 80s incarnation.

 

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Darkness Falling and  Distractions by Dan Abnett and Lee Sullivan are preludes to The Mark of Mandragora– once a graphic novel in its own right ( and on the shelves at the central library in Aberdeen a few years back). This is a UNIT adventure set in the late twentieth century, where the Mandragora entity is invading in the form of a designer drug. It’s very much in the vein of the Virgin books of the early 90s.

 

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Party Animals by Mike Collins and uberfan/ addict to superfluous continuity, Gary Russell introduces us to an audio Doctor played by Nick Briggs, whom we’d see years later in the Eighth Doctor Strip.  There are also glimpses of Captain Britain, Steed and Mrs. Peel, Sapphire and Steel and the Freefall Warriors.

The Chameleon Factor, by Paul Cornell and Lee Sullivan is a trifling vignette about the First Doctor’s ring and features a cameo by Ben and Polly

The eponymous Good Soldier, by Andrew Cartmel and Mike Collins, is a rather gruesome Cyberman story, set in Atom-Age Nevada. It’s followed by A Glitch in Time, a timey-wimey “Sound of Thunder” parody.

Finally, Seaside Rendezvous, from the 1991 Summer Special is an early collaboration between modern-day comic stars  Cornell and Gary Frank . This is DW as “shared student flat irony-fest”. It’s set in Blackpool and features a Vic Reeves gag. Ho ho.

Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see the Doctor of the New Adventures developing here. The more adult and “gritty” aesthetic of the novels is very apparent in the Abnett/Cornell/ Cartmel strips. Just as in the novels, however, there are far too many fan-service “kisses to the past” and groansome in-jokes .

The reference to the Audio Visuals plays ( and their Doctor) is at once bold and hermetic. I only knew of them in a passing reference in a text feature within the magazine itself; ironically, Big Finish, direct descendant of the AVs has become the most prolific ( if traditionalist) generators of DW stories.

In the near future, you’ll find out who my top five Doctors are…

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When You’re Talking With Your Super Friends

That quote from Blondie introduces today’s post on the Justice League of America. When I was last home in Glasgow in February, this tpb was an impulse buy.

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My earliest memories of comics revolve around 80 page issues of World’s Finest Comics and the JLA . They are images of sunny days ( aren’t they always?) outside my dad’s pigeon lofts on endless afternoons.

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I still love seeing Mike Sekowsky’s block, bulky heroes in pairs or in trios soaring all over the world -or on sidereal worlds- or to the star suns of Aldebaran or Fomalhaut.

Rip Jagger’s Dojo is doing a far better job that I at reviewing these seminal science fantasy romps :(http://ripjaggerdojo.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/silver-age-jla-cosmic-fun-house.html)

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However, the highlights for me from this collection include Ilaric, the time-travelling master-robot; the manticore and the dryads; Kanjar Ro and his three arch-enemies ( especially the strangely alluring Hyathis) and the Cosmidoor.

Starro, Despero and Amos Fortune ( whom, I noticed for the very first time, is wearing a black and white robe!) are such quirky, grotesque menaces- right up there with Sinestro or Flash’s Rogues.

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 I missed the Atom and his tiny, floating chair and I quite like Edd Byrnes rip-off, Snapper Carr, as the POV character. I hope Cisco/Vibe is his replacement in future tv or movie JLA project.

 But I confess I am still bored by Batman and Superman stand-ins, Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter. Aside from her cameo as Kathy Kane in “The Cosmic Funhouse, why no Batwoman? Her feminine gimmicks would have been an amusing counterpoint to the essentially magical powers of Wonder Woman or Green Lantern.

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We would then have a League in the early Sixties that looked a little like Alan Davis’s take, above. The parallel world popularised by the summer team-ups with the Justice Society have often inspired me to other fancies…

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In my personal, alternative history of the JLA, Batgirl replaces Kathy Kane in 1967. That might then mean there’s no need to transfer Black Canary from the JSA when Wonder Woman is depowered, of course. But I am so accustomed to the Green Arrow/Canary team that I can’t countenance her retirement, really.

Around 1975 (on this Earth-D for Dougie) Len Wein stays for one more year as JLA scribe and Elongated Man is elected chairman. I think this is a logical step for a character Wein introduced as a member.  Another, perhaps more audacious idea, would be a third transfer to the JLA from Earth-2 in the shape of fan-favourite, Wildcat.

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I’ve posted before about the street-level JLA I envisage circa 1975-76: my “Justice Incorporated” with Batman leading a vigilante squad including Green Arrow, Wildcat and the Creeper.

Here’s a link to my first thoughts on that grouping, from four years ago .http://somefantasticplace-dougie.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/mystery-men-of-1975.html

(Later, I’d change my mind about Talia, Rex and PS)

But I don’t think it would be long before the sci-fi success of Star Wars ( which saved late 70s Marvel, basically) would have an influence on my alt-JLA.

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I could see Gerry Conway and Mike Vosburg at the helm of a JLA team of “star-warriors” including Captain Comet and Conway’s own Bronze Age Starman ( perhaps stifling the Ditko/Levitz iteration.)

And what if JLA Detroit didn’t come about in 1984? The huge success of the X-Men, the New Teen Titans and the Giffen/Levitz LSH in the early 80s eclipsed the original super-hero team of E-1 under Conway, Buckler, Heck and Patton.

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So, just imagine instead, movie writing partners Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas- perhaps with Jerry Ordway’s pencils- launching a younger, fresher take on the JLA. Gerry might induct his  own creations Firestorm, Power Girl and Vixen; Roy, formerly scripting stories with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman and a lifelong fan of Hawkman, might bring in the Winged Warrior.

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Real world locales were replacing the Star and Coast Cities of the DCU and with Hollywood scribes, perhaps the JLA would be based in Los Angeles.

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There might still have been a Crisis Crossover in 1984- perhaps introducing the Centurions, the heirs to the JSA- but if the “New Adventures of the Justice League” was a hit, there may have been no need to streamline the DCU with a COIE.

Anyway, it’s just a series of Imaginary Stories! After the Easter weekend, more Doctor Who comic strips here and on SFP, my top ten Time Lords.

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A Song For Europe

I had been planning to revisit my earliest memories of the JLA, with the arrival in the UK of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow series ( one which owes a huge debt to our Doctor Who but also features some terrible dialogue). However, at present, the first JLA stories are being dealt with in depth on this site:

http://ripjaggerdojo.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/silver-age-jla-despero.html

I still think I might link to a post on the Silver Age Batwoman and Batgirl and their contemporary counterparts on Some Fantastic Place. In October, to celebrate the fortieth birthday of Captain Britain, we’ll look at his Bronze Age career; his adventures with Excalibur; and other super-Brits, such as Micromax, Caledonia, Beefeater and the Knight and Squire.

But today, with the Brexit saga and the Eurovision Song Contest final in May, I thought it might be amusing to look at European super-doers from Marvel and DC. ( For Erin’s finest, please see, from 2012,  https://materioptikon.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/st-dominics-preview/ )

Allez maintenant, let’s celebrate the Auld Alliance in La Belle France:

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Despite his rather villainous attire, Marvel’s Le Peregrine is a winged, French martial artist hero  and a horror writer in his civilian identity. Romantically linked with Ireland’s Shamrock,  he appeared a few times in the 80s and very early 90s. Peregrine doesn’t mean falcon in French, however…

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The Muskeeter was one of the Club of Heroes ( the, ahem, inspiration for Roy Thomas’s WWI hero, the Crimson Cavalier from Freedom’s Five). He retired and became rich on the profits of his tell-all book. Dem Frenchie.

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Fleur De Lys, co-created by Len Wein, made her debut in the late 80s page of Infinity Inc. A secret agent who had lost a child, she had a liaison with Deathstroke. Poor choice, mademoiselle!

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The role of Crimson Fox was in fact shared by taloned twins, heirs to a perfume fortune. One of the twins was murdered by the daughter of GA villain the Mist.

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Nightrunner is a Muslim superhero. A parkour expert, he was also a member of Batman Incorporated.

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Hauptmann Deutschland is the, er, Captain America of Germany, with powers over kinetic energy. He was briefly renamed Vormund, which seems to mean guardian (as in ” parent or…” Oops.) His last appearance was surprisingly recent:  Al Ewing’s Mighty Avengers 4, February 2014.

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The Wild Huntsman was one of the Global Guardians from Super Friends, introduced in the summer of 1981. I think he’s awfully like Thor, with a magic horse and hound.

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An earlier ENB iteration was a member of Evillo’s Devil’s Dozen in a whimsical mid-60s LSH tale.

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From Bella Italia and another member of the Club of Heroes, The Legionary was another surrogate Batman. Armed with a lance, he ended his career ignominiously as a gluttonous slob and was murdered in Grant Morrison’s Black Glove Bat-serial. Ah, peccato.

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Marvel’s Ultimates introduced a Captain Italy.

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The only Spanish DC hero I can find was created by Jack Kirby. The Troubador was one of the Green Arrows of the World ( archery-themed versions of the Batmen of All Nations, including the Phantom of France and The Bowman of Britain). Unfortunately, Troubador seems to just be a fan designation .

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Captain Spain, with Captain France just off-panel

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As we’ve seen, there was also an Ultimate Captain Spain at Marvel and of course, the evil mutant Empath, (getting his comeuppance, above).

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Norwegian heroine Icemaiden later became known simply as Ice and had a long career in the 80s and 90s JLA/JLI. She had a confusing backstory that had some Thor-like elements.

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The Blackhawks, in their Sixties ” Junkheap Heroes” phase give us a number of bizarre international heroes: the Leaper (Sweden), the Weapons Master (Netherlands), Golden Centurion (Poland) and  M’sieu Machine ( France, n’est-ce pas?)

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Finally, from Denmark and Greece we have the Little Mermaid ( an aquatic mutant) and The Olympian, who has all the powers of Jason’s Argonauts.

The big question is, naturally, could any of these characters be viewed as legitimate contenders for membership in a  Big Two super-team…or their own strip?

Well, in my opinion, with a name-change, Marvel’s Peregrine and Hauptmann Deutschland are contenders as European Avengers. Neither Captain Spain or Captain Italy have anything much to recommend them, however. As for DC, unfortunately, Olympian duplicates Wonder Woman’s shtick (and any iteration of Hercules) while Crimson Fox is trumped, really, by Vixen. Fleur de Lys has a simple, heroic look however and is a blank slate. So, vive la France, it seems! I could also see an all-ages, fish out of water miniseries for Norwegian naif Icemaiden.

In the future, with the aforementioned Captain Britain anniversary, we may well look at the histories of Justice League Europe and Marvel’s Euroforce.

Coming soon, Harley and Ivy.

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The Fifth Element

Even now, I have  hazy childhood memories of the very early Seventies: far-off , summery days in my dad’s garden, with its collection of ramshackle, pungent pigeon lofts.  I would be squinting at “American comics” in the rare Scottish sunlight: Buscema’s epic Thor; Astonishing Tales with Ka-Zar and Doc Doom; occasionally, the Industrial Iron Man and very rarely, a polished Thomas/Buscema Avengers.

DC selections might be a rare Tuska Legion story in an old Action or Superboy; the ginchy new Satellite JLA or maybe something spooky like the Phantom Stranger or the dread Batman.

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Above all others, though, came the Fantastic Four. I think this issue might have carried a fan letter about a grown-up Franklin Richards joining  a Fantastic Five. That idea really caught my imagination and astoundingly, I lived to see it happen.

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The F5 made their debut in the late 90s Spider-Girl comic, a very popular title. (Why isn’t there a movie for Mayday?  For more Spider-Girl thoughts, see my other blog Some Fantastic Place:http://somefantasticplace-dougie.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/why-have-cotton.html)

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The MC2 universe seemed to be set some ten-to-fifteen years ahead of mainstream Marvel continuity, where the heirs of Wolverine, the Black Panther, Black Goliath and Hercules were adventuring and Nova was a leading light.

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With characters like Johnny’s Skrull wife, Lyja and the Psi-Lord iteration of Franklin, Tom DeFalco developed ideas and plot threads from his 90s FF run but the first series was curtailed after five issues. The Five returned several years later, however, for a miniseries in 2007. I’ll look today at the trade paperback of that run. I picked this one up in Aberdeen just before last Christmas.

final doom

The first thing to note is that, as the title implies, the arc is simply about an apocalyptic struggle with Dr. Doom, very reminiscent of the “Cosmic Doom” saga of the mid-Sixties. There are some subplots about child custody featuring the second Ms. Marvel, Ben Grimm’s ex, Sharon Ventura.

Dr. Doom, imprisoned in the ruins of Atlantis by a goatee-d Namor, finally breaks free, and imbues multiple robot duplicates with the Power Cosmic.  One Doombot defeats Reed, Johhny and Doom’s protege Kristoff. In a flashback, we learn how Ben was originally injured by the suicide attack of Terrax. Ben’s bionic implants are destroyed but he escapes Doom’s prison.

Doom gives Reed a diabolical dilemma- exile his son, Ben’s two kids and Johnny’s son , the shape-changing Torus, into space- or NYC will be hurled into the sun(!)

When not  subsequently torturing Reed and Namor, Doom declares himself emperor of Earth, crushing the Avengers.

Avengers next

In a reprise of Jean Grey’s fate in X-Men 100, Franklin becomes supercharged by cosmic rays and leads the kids in an attack on Doomstadt.  In an echo of both The Final Victory of Doctor Doom and Simonson’s run, Reed and Doom become locked in eternal mental battle. Sue and Kristoff remain  in Latveria with Reed and look after the comatose Reed, while Rad/Alyce goes home with her mother.  Grimm/Jake ( who was born in his mutated, orange form) takes Reed’s place in the F5.

Franklin, by the story’s end, is a masked radioactive “freak”, not unlike the Doom Patrol’s Larry Trainor. There’s an hysterical note of tragedy that I don’t really associate with Stan and Jack- tormenting the heroes is more of a Byrne trope.

The art is cartoony and the figurework attenuated but it has energy and some charm. While the theme of family and legacy is appropriate, the dialogue is a drawback: corny and generic . There’s little character or individuality in its soap- operatic tone. Doom is a ranting megalomaniac with none of the black humour or chivalry that made him Marvel’s greatest villain in the Sixties.

In some ways, I preferred the vitality and scale of the Larsen maxi-series we revisited last time. Fantastic Five is still a more entertaining read than the Lost Stories volume but probably more to the taste of 90s comic fans.

Coming soon: the 60s JLA.

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