Saturday, February 07, 2009

365 Days with Ben Grimm: Day 38

FF #310
Panel from Fantastic Four #310 (January 1988), script by Steve Englehart, pencils by Keith Pollard, inks by Joe Sinnott, colors by George Roussos, letters by John Workman

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Captain America (and the Avengers) "Zemo and the Masters of Evil!"

Captain America in "Zemo and the Masters of Evil!" from The Marvel Super Heroes (1966), produced by Grantray-Lawrence Animation, with Arthur Pierce as Captain America and John Vernon (Yes, Dean Wormer from Animal House) as Iron Man

"Zemo Strikes!" (part two)

"The Fury of Zemo!" (part three)

Friday, February 06, 2009

He's not only merely dead, he's really most sincerely dead

Hey kids, let's read Avengers #15!

New Avengers #15

Uh, no. Not that Avengers #15. I mean the one...

Avengers  Initiative #15

No! Absolutely no cheap Skrull alternate cover rip-off parodies...!

Mighty Avengers #15

Look here, are we going to get to read a classic, regular issue of Avengers #15 or not? Because if you...

Los Vendedores #15

Now cut that out!

Avengers #15

That's better.

Great cover by the late, great Jack Kirby, huh? But tear yourself away for just a moment from the dramatic figures of Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and the teeny-tiny itsby-bitsy Wasp and take a big steaming gander at those cover blurbs. "The thriller you never expected to see!" "Now By My Hand, Shall Perish a Villain!" "The world's mightiest super-heroes in mortal battle with the world's deadliest villains!" "The M.M.M.S. wants you!" Oh wait, you can ignore that last one. Despite what Benjamin Grimm tells you.

There's a few key words here that look like they might just be hyperbole: perish, mortal battle. Take these literally at their word—which, to be fair, is never a good bet with the covers of comic books that promise "nothing will ever be the same again!"—and you just know one of Stan 'n' Jack's colorful cornball characters is going to be crooning the choir celestial (and I think we all know how painful that can be!)

Every time you see a cover like that, especially in the Silver Age, you're entitled to think "Yeah, that's really gonna happen. Mind you, it's not only in the cover. In the previous issue's blurb for Avengers #15, Stan gleefully proclaimed that only one person was gonna walk away from this fight under his own steam...and to quote Steve Rogers..."And it won't be me!"

Avengers #14 next issue

Whoa. Heav-ee, man. So, somebody's gonna die, huh? Let's read carefully, panel by panel through the issue, gathering up all the clues and foreshadowing, to try and detect who will...

Oh, heck, let's just flip to the last page and see who buys the farm.

Avengers #15
Panels from Avengers #15 (April 1965), script by Stan Lee, layouts by Jack Kirby, pencils by Don Heck, inks by Mike Esposito (credited as Mickey Dimeo, letters by Artie Simek

Ah, it's Baron Heinrich "Ach, Mein Mask ist Verstucken" Zemo, Nazi super-scientist and inventor of Chemical X, the secret ingredient that created the Powerpuff Girls Adhesive X, the mega-muselage so powerful that you can never, never get it off. Pity the poor Baron—had he only lived into the 1990s, he coulda made a mint selling Adhesive X on late-night TV infomercials: just hire Vince Shamwow to hawk the stuff and you'll be rolling in it in no time! (Which would be a bad idea, because you'd be stuck to the carpet.)

Anyway. Baron Zemo's dead. Well, yeah, but this is Marvel comics, where people come back from the dead so fast it makes Captain Jack Harkness dizzy. Zemo'll be back in ish #20 or 25 or so, right, Stan?

Avengers #15

Wow! Mighty strong words from The Man in the letters column header of Avengers #15. From what Stan says, dead means dead...Zemo ain't coming back!

But surely...sooner or later...he's gonna pop up again, right? Give Stan a couple months and he'll realize that he could bring Zemo back by saying he was trasported away just as the rockslide hit, or that it was a clone or a robot who got trapped, or even that Zemo's still alive under that pile of rubble, living large with the Mole Man. Isn't that correct, Stan-writing-in- a-letter-column- in-Avengers-18?

Avengers #18 LOC

Holy cow. You know, I'm beginning to think Mister Lee meant business when he snuffed the Baron. Herr Zemo not only merely dead, he's also most sincerely dead. an ex-Zemo!

And here's the amazing thing: not a single Marvel writer has overturned that story. Sure, Baron Zemo appeared in Avengers #353, but he's a rotting zombie trapped in hell (ergo, still dead):

Avengers #353
Panel from Avengers #353 (Late September 1992), script by Len Kaminski, pencils by M. C. Wyman, inks by Ariane, colors by Rob Tokar, letters by Chris Eliopoulos

Poor guy. His flesh rots from his face and that darn mask is still stuck on with Adhesive X. That's some great glue!

Oh ho, wait a minute...what the Sam Scratch is goin' on here in Captain America #362?:

Captain America #362
Panel from Captain America #362 (Mid-November 1989), script by Mark Gruenwald, pencils by Mark Bright, inks by Don Hudson, colors by Bob Sharen, letters by John Morelli

Blast you, Mark Gruenwald—overturning the decision of Stan Lee to kill off Baron Zemo permanently! Why, haven't we already got his son, Baron Zemo II: Electric Boogaloo in the Marvel Universe and this very storyline, the haunting tale of a young supervillain in our modern age trying to recapture the memories of his deceased father by building a monument which will return him from the dead? Why, it's almost a Nazi version of Field of Dreams.

Captain America #362

Oh, wait a minute. Clever, clever Mark Gruenwald! That isn't Der Baron after all, but simply an evil life force inhabiting the exhumed corpse of Zemo. Why, that happens every week in the Marvel Universe. Twice a week in Garth Ennis's The Punisher versus Resurrected Nazis.

Speaking of whom, here's Marvel's very own "I'm pretty much like the Punisher except I wear my skull on my face, hah, bite me, Frank Castle": Crossbones!:

Captain America #362

You know Crossbones is a man of his word, because when Crossbones declares that this "son of a swirly star saturn shazamsymbol moonknightsymbol must die!", he means it:

Captain America #362

Oooh! He can't take it there! And for those of you keeping track, this is the second time Cap's shield has killed Baron Zemo. That thing's just darn unlucky to have around if you're a Nazi, I think!

So, some surprising comic book history there, I think. Baron Heinrich Zemo goes down in the Marvel Universe Hall of Fame not for his invention of Elmer's Guide Extreme, not for his snazzy all-weather stripey ski mask, but for the distinction of being the only person in the Marvel Universe who died and didn't come back.

Except for Uncle Ben. Who, you gotta admit, you never saw at the same time as Zemo. And hey, you never saw Zemo's face...huh! And, when Zemo fought Spider-Man in Spider-Man and His Ginchy Gal Gwen #7 (September 1964), Baron Zemo did utter this immortal dialogue "Peter! Don't you recognize me! It's me, your Unc... AIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" before falling into a pit of tigers swimming in corrosive acid.

Baron Zemo: he was a rotten, no-good, dirty, murderous, Nazi dog. But unlike the rest of the Marvel Universe, at least he had the basic human decency to stay dead.

That's right, Hawkeye...I'm lookin' in your direction.

Embrace the darkness

Embrace the Darkness

(Unfortunate jpeg placement, as seen on

365 Days with Ben Grimm: Day 37

FF v.3 #60
Panels from Fantastic Four v. 3 #1 (October 2002), script by Mark Waid, pencils by Mike Wieringo, inks by Karl Kesel, colors by Paul Mounts, letters by Richard Starkings and Albert Deschesne
(Click picture to Duckworld-size)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Unknown Colorists

In the letters column of Fantastic Four #41 (cover dated August 1965), a avid FF fan asks a quite logical question...

FF #41 LOC

And Stan, or whoever was writing the editorial reply, jokingly refuses to answer the question.

It's good for a laff and fits right in with the jolly and jovial tone of the Marvel comics letter column replies, but it results in a sad gap in our knowledge of early Marvel: who did color Jack Kirby's FF? Longtime readers of this blog may note that whenever I reproduce panels or pages from a comic, as much as possible, I try to credit all the creators involved: scripter, penciler, inker, colorist, letterer. Every one of 'em, every man Jack (and Stan and Steve and Don and Roy and Gene and woman Marie and all the rest—contributed to our favorite comics, and even if it's in 9 point type, I do try to pay homage to the men and women who toiled away to bring us such great flights of fantasy. Even when I make a joke about Vince Colletta, he still deserves credit for his work.

My recent "365 Days with Ben Grimm" project, however, has brought to my attention the sad fact that those early FFs did not carry a colorist credit, and it's hard to ID that work. You or I could ID a few dozen pencilers, inkers, and even letters at thirty paces, but there's not a lot of ways to identify a individual colorist. Online databases, too, haven't filled in the info even after a period of years, so it's likely that without the aid of some serious comics scholar or a Kirby expert like Mark Evanier, we're probably never going to know the many artists who colored Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four artwork, let alone specifically the colorist of #38.

Well, sure, we don't know the colorist of those early Kirby Klassics, but (you're thinking to yourself) surely we gotta know who did the later ones. We certainly must know the colorist who first made Galactus's spacey armor red and green (with shorts and summer sleeves), right? Um...well, no. Fantastic Four didn't credit a colorist on the splash page in issue #48, the first appearance of the Big G. In fact, Marvel did not credit a FF colorist until...well, go ahead now. Take a guess. What issue do you think there was first a colorist credit printed in Fantastic Four?

Got your guess of which issue it is? Let's see if you're right. Is it...this one?

FF #130

That's right. Colorists were not credited in the FF mag until ish #130...January 1973, where Petra Goldberg was added to the credits box. That's nearly twelve years into the magazine's run...two years after Jack Kirby left.

It's a shame we don't know who colored FF #1-129, these powerful and influential examples of contemporary superhero art. There were likely dozens of talented artists who worked on these books, turning four colors into the Negative Zone, Attilan, the Microverse, Monster Island: the brilliant blue of the FF uniforms, the earthy orange of Mister Ben Grimm, the glorious green and grey of Doctor Doom. Sure, I love the Marvel Essentials black-and-white volumes, but there's a dimension missing there, a spectrum of shade, a polychromatic passion: one of the many brilliant and bright reasons that so many of us fell in love with the dynamic comics of Marvel.

Until some clever scholar or researcher finds records, can identify the work, or even simply points out in my comments that I'm missing a reference to their identities elsewhere, however, let's all salute the grand pantheon of Unknown Colorists: they made the Marvel universe a more colorful place. And, especially, give a rainbow-tinted toast to the artist who Ben John of Mt. Carmel, PA wondered about: the colorist of Fantastic Four #38:

FF #130
Final page from Fantastic Four #38 (May 1965), scripted by Stan Lee, penciled by Jack Kirby, inked by Chic Stone, lettered by Sam Rosen, and
colored by the Great Unknown Colorist of FF #38.

Addendum: As I suspected, it's Mark Evanier who has a pretty good answer: it was likely Stan Goldberg. (Thanks, Mark!) And author Eric Houston wrote in to say he checked with Kirby expert John Morrow, publisher of The Jack Kirby Collector and gave me an authoritative confirmation: “His answer: Stan Goldberg colored most of the early [FF] issues.” Thank you too, Eric 'n' John!

365 Days with Ben Grimm: Day 36

FF: House of M #1
Panels from Fantastic Four: House of M #1 (September 2005), written by John Layman, pencilled by Scot Eaton, inked by Don Hillsman III, colored by Dean White, lettered by VC's Cory Petit (Click picture to von Doom-size)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Peaceful poetics/Beautiful eastern verse forms/Lois Lane haiku.

Clark Kent, where are you?
That man is never around.
Look, it's Superman!

Let me puncture Clark
With this pin. If he's super
He won't feel a thing.

This story is hot!
A Pulitzer Prize for sure.
How do you spell "splayed"?

Lois Lane

Jimmy, get that shot!
That's front page material.
Ow! Your watch is loud.

So, Smallville, let's go.
It's your turn to buy me lunch.
I'll have...where'd you go?

You're a fiend, Luthor!
Superman will stop you cold.
What's with the green rock?

Lois Lane

My own comic book?
Cancelled. Never was written
By Grant Morrison.

How come Supergirl
Has her own comic? I don't.
Need a belly shirt.

Here's that story, boss.
No thanks to Clark; he's AWOL.
He missed Superman.

Hatcher? Kate Bosworth?
Margot Kidder? Who the hell
Hired them as me?

Superman can't see
That I love him, but he saw
My pink underwear.

Lois Lane

"I am Curious
(Black)"? So, what the hell was Bob
Kanigher smoking?

I told you, Jimmy
The man's got a heart of gold.
But don't call him chief.

Final Crisis? Hah!
The only crisis 'round here
Is my missed deadline.

Lois Lane

Maybe Superman
Will ask me to marry him
If I kill Lana.

Can you read my mind?
Do you know what I'm thinking...
Hey! Don't you let go!

Look, up in the sky!
It's a bird! It's a plane! It's...
Hey, where did Clark go?

365 Days with Ben Grimm: Day 35

Mighty Marvel’s on the move again
Marvel house ad, printed in Fantastic Four #98 (May 1970)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

365 Days with Ben Grimm: Day 34

FF #26
Panel from Fantastic Four #26 (May 1964), script by Stan Lee, pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by George Roussos (aka George Bell), letters by Art Simek

Sing a Song of Superman

Final Crisis Song

Bemused? Befuddled? Bedaffled? My prescription is to check in with the good Dr. K for a Rx of context, folks!

Reading tonight: Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner

Bones of FaerieWhat am I up to tonight, you ask? (I'm glad you did!) I'm off to see my good pal Janni Lee Simner for a reading and signing of her newest YA novel Bones of Faerie, which is, despite my first impression, not the saga of the irascible Southern doctor who barks out "He's dead, Tinkerbell!" or "I'm a doctor, not a tulip pollinator!" No (cool as that would be), it's the story of an apocalyptic world ravaged by a brutal war between humanity and the fay world. (Those little buggers don't fight fair, let me tell you! I never did get back my Frisbee after shooting it in the wrong direction in their woods.)

Jane Yolen's given it heck of a blurb:
“This book has one of the best first chapters I know—and the rest of the book more than lives up to its promise. Pure, stunning, it is impossible to put down or forget.”
And you know Jane Yolen knows her stuff! You can read that first chapter right here. See? You can't put it down.

Janni will be reading and signing tonight at Barnes and Noble (Greenwich Village), 396 Avenue of the Americas (that's Sith Avenue to you and me), at 8th Street in Manhattan. (Plus, there is a Pizzeria Uno across the street! Yum yum.) Drop in to say hi to Janni and pick up a copy of the book! If you see me in the audience, I'll be happy to shake your hoof!

If you can't make it to the signing but still wanna read the book, well, in the words of Miss Stefan, iwhat you waiting for? Click on the Amazon link to the right and order yourself up a copy. Me, I'm trying to find my fairy wings to wear tonight, because it's always important to look your best when you're representin' the Clan Faerie. Isn't that right, Bones of Faerie?

Bones of Faerie

Monday, February 02, 2009

Busy reading classic literature!

Busy reading classic literature

Back tomorrow!

(You can read classic lit about cows, too!):

365 Days with Ben Grimm: Day 33

FF Cake advertisement for Fantastic Four cakes, based on the movie starring Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm (printed in Fantastic Four #528 (August 2005)

Mystery Science Monday: Gumby in "Robot Rumpus"

"Robot Rumpus," a Gumby cartoon (1956), this riffed version from Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode #912 (1998), featuring Michael J. Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy

Sunday, February 01, 2009

365 Days with Ben Grimm: Day 32

Thing #2
Panels from The Thing #2 (August 1983), script and inks by John Byrne, pencils by Ron Wilson, colors by Bob Sharen, letters by Rich Parker

Ten of a Kind: Are you ready for some FOOTBALL?!?

(More Ten of a Kind here.)