Kim Davis versus same-sex marriage

I have been following with interest the events in Rowan County, Kentucky.  Since the Supreme Court handed down their decision in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26th legalizing same-sex marriage, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has refused to issue marriage licenses.  Davis has cited her sincerely held religious beliefs as an Apostolic Christian, specifically her opposition to homosexuality, as the reason why she should be exempted from issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples.

Represented by the ultra-conservative Liberty Counsel, Davis took her case all the way to the Supreme Court.  On August 31st they declined to stay the United States District Court’s ruling that Davis must issue marriage licenses to all applicants.  In response, Davis continued to refuse to issue licenses, arguing that she was acting “under God’s authority.”  In a statement earlier this week Davis declared:

“To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience.  It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision.”

Finally, on September 3rd Davis was jailed by Federal District Judge David L. Bunning for contempt of court.  Bunning ordered Davis’ deputy clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses, which they did the following day.

I have no doubt that Davis’ beliefs are deeply and passionately felt.  Nevertheless, for several reasons, her actions are wrong.

First of all, there is a question of hypocrisy on Davis’ part.  She has been married four times to three different men.  As reported by U.S. News and World Report:

“She gave birth to twins five months after divorcing her first husband. They were fathered by her third husband but adopted by her second. Davis worked at the clerk’s office at the time of each divorce and has since remarried.”

I am not a Christian.  Nevertheless I know how to use Google.  After conducting a quick search I came across this passage:

“But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 5:32

Davis’ attorney argued that whatever her past sins, when she converted to Apostolic Christianity four years ago it wiped the slate clean, and she has been a God-fearing, righteous woman since then.  That’s a more than bit convenient!  But let’s go with that.  Even if that was the case, are we to believe that Davis didn’t issue any marriage licenses to divorced people since she found God?  If she now values the sanctity of matrimony so much, shouldn’t she be denying not just gay people licenses but also people who were previously married?

Kim Davis bigotry cartoon

Second, the argument that she should not have to perform the duties of her job because they violate her ethical and moral beliefs is nonsensical.  Most people will be able to tell you about occasions when their jobs required them to perform tasks that they found onerous.

Speaking from personal experience, I worked at a health insurance company for seven years. On several occasions that company canceled group short term disability policies held by businesses because they had too many claims. I was told to inform those businesses that A) their policy was canceled and B) they still had to send us their past due premiums.  I thought it was wrong to cancel policies like that.  But I did what my bosses told me to because I had bills to pay and I did not want to get fired.  I did not say to them “I refuse to perform my job because what you are asking me to do is against my personal moral beliefs, but I expect you to still keep me on as an employee.”  If I had really felt that strongly then I should have just resigned.

And that is what Davis should have done. If you believe that you cannot perform your job without violating your “sincerely held religious beliefs” then quit and find a new job that will not present that conflict.

Just imagine if a situation similar to this occurred with, say, an ultra-conservative Muslim man who worked for the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Suppose that Muslim refused to issue drivers licenses to women due to his religious beliefs.  I fully expect that the same ultra right-wing conservatives who are championing Davis’ cause would be utterly aghast at this.  They would be screaming in horror about “Sharia law” and predicting the downfall of America.  But because Davis is a white Christian woman she is a “martyr” whose religious liberty is being trampled, or some such nonsense.

As for why Davis doesn’t just quit and find a new job, per the Lexington Herald-Leader, there is this:

“County clerk jobs are worth quite a bit. Davis earns about $80,000 a year in a county where per capita income is about $15,600 and median household income just under $30,000, according to recent numbers from the U.S. Census.”

Davis wants to have her cake and eat it too.  She wants to follow the dictates of her faith and keep her well-paying position.  In this matter another Bible verse immediately comes to mind:

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” – Matthew 6:24

Third, Davis and her lawyers argued that gay couples simply travel to the next county and obtain marriage licenses there.  To which I would respond, why should same sex couples be subjected to an inconvenience that heterosexual couples do not have to deal with?  And let us say that these couples did travel to the next county to obtain licenses.  What happens if they get there and that county’s clerk, due to his or her “sincerely held religious beliefs”, also decides not to issue them licenses?  How far do these couples have to travel before it becomes utterly unreasonable?  Fifty miles?  One hundred miles?  Five hundred miles?  How much is too much?

In any case, the whole “go to the next county” argument is more than a bit reminiscent of segregation.  It is like a black person being told “No, you cannot use this water fountain, it is for whites only, but there’s another water fountain out back that you’re allowed to use.”  Simply put, that is humiliating.  It is an affront to basic human dignity.

sanctity of marriage

Fourth, and most important, the United States is not a theocracy.  We have a very clear separation of church and state.

On September 3 the Anti-Defamation League issued the following statement:

“Many of us make important decisions in our daily lives grounded in our religious values and beliefs. That should be respected, even per­haps, applauded. However when one chooses to take an oath of office or accepts a position as a public official in a secular constitutional democracy like ours, she has a responsibility to do the job she was hired to do. Rowan County Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis’s job requires her to issue marriage licenses to anyone who may legally get married.

Likewise, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear stated that upon being elected Davis swore an oath of office to perform her duties.  Therefore:

“Neither your oath nor the Supreme Court dictates what you must believe. But as elected officials, they do prescribe how we must act.”

Davis’ religious freedoms are not being suppressed or discriminated against.  She still has the right to go to church and worship God in the manner she wishes.  She is not being asked to change her mind about gay marriage.  When she is not at work she is free to get on a soapbox and preach to the world about the supposed evils of homosexuality, or to spend all her free time campaigning for the passage of a Constitutional amendment outlawing same sex marriages.

But when Davis is in the County Clerk’s office, acting in an official capacity as an agent of the state, she must perform the duties of her job.  Either that or she must resign.

Yes, some laws are bad and should be fought.  But there are proper methods to challenge unjust statues, by court actions, peaceful protest and civil disobedience.  A person cannot simply argue “This law is wrong, I refuse to follow it, and I am going to perform my job the way I personally believe it should be done. Now go away and leave me alone.”

If Davis is accommodated in this case it would set a dangerous precedent.  Imagine if any government employee could refuse to follow orders or perform their duties due to ethical or religious concerns?  The result would be complete chaos.

Perhaps you may be wondering why I, as a heterosexual male, feel so passionately about this.  Why am I happy about the Supreme Court’s decision in June?  Why am I so alarmed by the actions of Kim Davis and others like her?

Well, in addition to actually possessing empathy for other human beings and feeling distress at seeing others denied equality, there is also my personal background.  I was born & raised Jewish. Growing up I learned all about the immense suffering and discrimination that Jews experienced over the centuries in countries that had an official state religion.  I am a very firm believer in the separation of church and state.

So when I see the rational for denying gay couples the right to marry as “God defined marriage as between a man and a woman” or “the Bible says homosexuality is a sin,” no, I am not going to stand for it.  Keep your religion out of my government.

Summertime with the Amazing Heroes swimsuit special

It’s the end of August and summer is winding down.  Yes, technically it doesn’t actually end until September 23rd.  However, the unofficial end of the summer season here in the States is Labor Day, which is only a week away.  Most people regard these as the closing days of summer.

So before all the kiddies return to school I wanted to end the summer with an appropriate post.  Let’s cast our eyes back to 1988 and the pages of Amazing Heroes #138, their second annual swimsuit issue.

For younger readers, Amazing Heroes was published by Fantagraphics between 1981 and 1992.  It featured in-depth articles and interviews on both mainstream comic books and the ever-growing independent scene.  For most of its existence Amazing Heroes was edited by Kim Thompson.

Amazing Heroes had a few swimsuit editions in the late 1980s and early 90s.  Unlike many of the comic book swimsuit specials that would follow from other publishers that were tacky T&A fests, Amazing Heroes approached theirs with tongue planted firmly in cheek.  A diverse selection of artists contributed to their specials.

Amazing Heroes 138 cover signed

The cover to Amazing Heroes #138 is penciled by the legendary Neal Adams and inked by Art Nichols.  It features four lovely ladies from Adams’ creator-owned Continuity Studios books.  I’m not familiar with the gals in the middle.  But on the left is Ms. Mystic and on the right is Samuree.  I always chuckle at this one.  In the Ms. Mystic series the title character’s costume is always rendered by Adams with zip-a-tone.  So the joke here is that, in lieu of a swimsuit, Ms. Mystic is wearing an actual sheet of zip-a-tone to the beach.

I got this autographed by Adams recently.  It’s a lovely piece by him, a playfully sexy pin-up illustration.  I hope one of these days Adams collects his creator-owned material into trade paperbacks.  I feel that is an often-overlooked aspect of his career.

Here’s a look at just a few of my favorites from the many great pin-ups featured in Amazing Heroes #138…

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 31 John Workman Big Barda

John Workman renders Big Barda of Jack Kirby’s New Gods in a bikini.  Workman is best known for his extensive work as a letterer, frequently working with Walter Simonson.  But Workman is also a talented artist.  As can be seen from this, he also has a great sense of humor.  This is a cute send-up of good girl art, simultaneously sexy and self-deprecating.  That “tapioca pudding” line totally cracks me up.

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 38 Hernandez Bros

If you are Fantagraphics and you’re going to do a swimsuit special, certainly you’re going to ask two of your best artists, Love and Rockets co-creators Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez, to contribute a piece.  After all, both brothers are well-regarded for their depictions of the female form.  Of course, Beta and Jaime draw some good looking guys, too.  Here’s a jam piece by Los Bros Hernandez.  On the left is Israel by Gilbert.  On the right is Danita by Jaime.

This pin-up and a great deal of other material that had originally appeared in a variety of places was reprinted in the Hernandez Satyricon trade paperback.  As much as I love Gilbert & Jaime for their very compelling characters & intricate plotting it was also nice to have many of their beautiful pin-ups gathered together in one volume.

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 39 Fred Hembeck Ditko Zone

I really enjoy Fred Hembeck’s fun, cartoony artwork.  He is a huge fan of Silver Age comic books, especially the Marvel Comics work of Steve Ditko.  Hembeck has done quite a few loving Ditko homages over the years, including this one, “Surfing in The Ditko Zone.”  It brings a smile to my face seeing Doctor Strange, Clea and the dread Dormammu in swimsuits riding the waves in one of Ditko’s psychedelic alternate dimensions.

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 45 Reed Waller Omaha

As I’ve mentioned before, my girlfriend Michele is a fan of Omaha the Cat Dancer by writer Kate Worley and artist Reed Waller.  I’ve never read the series, but Michele has all of the collected editions, so one of these days I’ll sit down and immerse myself in it.  Omaha is an exotic dancer / stripper, and the book is definitely for mature readers.  The series was partly created as a protest against censorship.  It perfect makes sense that Waller would draw Omaha as “Ms. First Amendment” here.  It’s a beautiful illustration.

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 72 Bo Hampton

In the late 1980s Eclipse Comics was publishing their revival of the Golden Age aviator hero Airboy written by Chuck Dixon.  The talented Bo Hampton was one of the artists who worked on it.  For this swimsuit issue Hampton renders Airboy / Davy Nelson III, the near-mindless swamp monster known as the Heap, and the femme fatale Valkyrie at the beach.  I always chuckle at the sight of the Heap in a pair of swim trunks!

IDW is currently reprinting Eclipse’s Airboy in a series of trade paperbacks.  I recommend getting them.  They contain excellent writing and artwork.

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 84 Evan Dorkin

Here’s a great pin-up of the whole crew from Evan Dorkin’s irreverent creator-owned series Pirate Corp$ / Hectic Planet jamming at the beach.  It always amazes me at the insane amount of detail, as well as the just plain insanity, Dorkin always manages to pack into his artwork.  He draws a huge crowd of characters and successfully invests each one with an individual personality.  Dorkin is definitely one of the most talented and underrated comic book creators around.

In the late 1990s Slave Labor Graphics released three trade paperback collections of Hectic Planet.  You can find them on Amazon at affordable prices.  Again, I recommend them.  Dorkin did good work in those stories.

Amazing Heroes 138 pg 81 Bruce Patterson original

Bringing things to a close, here is a scan of the original art for a pin-up of Purity Brown and Nemesis the Warlock from the pages of 2000 AD drawn by Bruce Patterson.  As an inker, Patterson has worked with a diverse number of pencilers.  This piece demonstrates Patterson is also able to do extremely good work on his own.  Purity Brown of course looks damn sexy in her black bikini.  As for Nemesis, there’s comedy gold in seeing the alien chaos lord clad in a black Speedo holding a beach ball.

I won this on Ebay about 15 years ago.  Only a couple other people bid on it, so I got it for an amazingly low price.  I’ve held onto it ever since.  The art board Patterson drew on had warped a bit by the time it made its way into my hands, but it still looks great.  This is a piece that I feel, due to the subtle shading Patterson utilized, did not reproduce especially well on black & white newsprint.

Older fans often look back at the demise Amazing Heroes in 1992 as an unfortunate setback to serious journalism on the industry.  I think that’s a valid argument.  Even more so when you consider that following in Amazing Heroes’ footsteps was Wizard Magazine.  If Amazing Heroes was the New York Times of comic book reporting then Wizard was definitely the NY Post!

Many of the old Amazing Heroes issues can be found on Ebay for low prices.  They’re well worth picking up for the interviews and the in-the-moment examination of the dramatic changes the comic book industry underwent throughout the 1980s.  And, of course, you also had fun features like their swimsuit specials.

Monsters Who’s Who

It can be a mixed experience revisiting a piece of your childhood, equal parts joy and surprise.

I’ve been a fan of science fiction and horror and monsters ever since I was a kid in the early 1980s.  As I’ve mentioned before, I was definitely a geek.  I didn’t have many friends; instead most of my free time was taken up by books and movies and cartoons.

The school library at Davis Elementary in New Rochelle had a handful of books about monsters, the kinds from movies, the ones from myth, and the supposedly-real creatures hiding just out of sight.  These were a real pleasure for me, a momentary escape from the tedium of homework and book reports.

One of the books from the library was Monsters Who’s Who, published in 1974 by Crescent Books.  It was a huge illustrated encyclopedia containing profiles on a diverse selection of strange, scary beings… at least that’s how I remembered it.  I hadn’t seen that book in literally decades, but last week on a whim I decided to see if it happened to be on Amazon.  Much to my surprise there were quite a few used copies available dirt cheap.  I ordered one for a mere 84 cents… plus $3.99 shipping & handling.  You have to laugh when postage is more than four times what you’re paying for the book!

I was working in the lab late one night when my eyes beheld an eerie sight...

I was working in the lab late one night when my eyes beheld an eerie sight…

The book arrived in the mail, and with it were a couple of surprises.  The first was that it had a completely intact dust jacket.  I’d never seen the cover before; the school library copy was missing the jacket.  It’s actually a rather nice illustration.

As for the second surprise… hey, wasn’t this book much bigger?!?  When I was seven years old Monsters Who’s Who seemed immense!  My memory of it was that it was a huge, thick volume.  Instead the reality is that it measures 11 by 8.5 inches and is only 122 pages.

Oh, yeah, after all these years I’ve finally learned just who wrote Monsters Who’s Who.  Seriously, there’s no author credit inside the book itself.  But the front flat of the dust jacket reveals that it was penned by none other than Dulan Barber!  Um, wait… who?!?  That has got to be a pseudonym.

Okay, putting aside my unreliable 30 year old memories of Monsters Who’s Who, it actually is a neat book.  I’m not at all surprised that I was so interested in it when I was a kid.  It contains a really diverse selection of subjects.  Yes, the write-ups are for the most part extremely short.  But the photos & illustrations are great.

Among the absolutely-fictional entities profiled in Monsters Who’s Who are such iconic figures as Dracula, Frankenstein, the Phantom of the Opera, King Kong and Godzilla.  A variety of mythological & religious creatures including the Chimera, the Hydra, Medusa, the Sphinx and the Unicorn are also found in these pages.  Third, there are the real and possibly-real beings, such as dinosaurs, the Loch Ness Monster and the Yeti.

Some of the profiles of mythical beasts are accompanied by very old artwork.  Very few of them are credited, regrettably, but they are certainly beautiful.  And occasionally you have an odd piece like this one…

Who's a good doggie? Who's a good boy?

Who’s a good doggie? Who’s a good boy?

This might have been the first occasion when I heard of Cerberus, the fearsome three-headed dog that guards the entrance to the Greek underworld.  Even at eight years old I found this illustration to be not so much fearsome as forlorn.  All three of Cerberus’ heads wear a sad expression, as if they want nothing more than to receive a nice tummy rub!

There are also a few comic book characters, specifically from the pages of Marvel Comics.  I had forgotten that Monsters Who’s Who was the first time I ever learned of the oddball Incredible Hulk character known as the Bi-Beast.  The Hulk himself also has a profile in the book.

Actually, the writer plays very fast & loose with the term “monster.”  The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man (spelled as “Spiderman”) have entries in this book.  Admittedly this does make a certain amount of sense.  The early Marvel universe devised by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko was definitely a weird, unsettling place populated by strange beings which did not neatly fall into the categories of “good” and “bad.”

Made it, Ma! Top of the world!

Made it, Ma! Top of the world!

There were also a few profiles of Doctor Who monsters!  Seriously, the timing of me discovering Monsters Who’s Who in the school library was perfect.  I’m not totally certain, but I think it was in 1984 when I was eight years old.  I had just started watching Doctor Who on PBS station WLIW Channel 21 only a couple of months before, first seeing the final season of Tom Baker and then the beginning of Peter Davison’s run.  Finding this book right on the heels of that helped me understand that the show had been around for quite a few years, and that the Doctor had fought some interesting monsters in the past.  I remember wondering if any of them would ever show up in the episodes I was now watching.

It must have been only a week or so later and I was at home one weeknight watching Doctor Who.  The TARDIS had landed in some dark caves.  A bunch of soldiers armed with ray guns were searching for something, not realizing that they were being hunted by these two mysterious androids.  Next thing you know the soldiers had come across the Doctor and his companions.  After the usual misunderstanding where they assumed the Doctor was their enemy, they joined forces when those androids showed up and started shooting.

And then the episode came to a completely shocking cliffhanger ending when the beings controlling the androids were revealed… at which point my eyes jumped out of my head.  Silver robot-like creatures with handles on the sides of their heads?  There’d been a photo of them in Monster Who’s Who, hadn’t there?  Oh, how I wished I had the book beside me at that moment!  The next day at school during lunch I broke land speed records getting to the library, grabbed Monsters Who’s Who off its bookshelf, and flipped rapidly through it.  Yes, it was them!  It was the Cybermen!

Destroy them! Destroy them at once!

Destroy them! Destroy them at once!

That was my very first Doctor Who related geek-out.  Obviously it left a major impression on me to remember it so vividly 32 years later.  I know I was equally thrilled when that night episode two of “Earthshock” aired on WLIW and contained actual clips from old Doctor Who stories.

I think that in the 21st Century we often take for granted the immense amount of information that we have at our fingertips.  Just hop on any computer, or turn on your smart phone, and within minutes you can Google any subject or look it up on Wikipedia.  You can download old movies and television shows with little effort.  It’s very easy to forget how things were in the pre-digital, pre-internet age, when discovering a book like Monsters Who’s Who was like unearthing a geek goldmine.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to start with one of those “when I was your age” tirades.  I am not that bad.  Well, at least not yet!  Nevertheless it is nice to recall some of my more pleasant childhood memories.  Just me and some monsters taking a stroll thru the past.

Doctor Who reviews: The Comfort of the Good

The first “season” of Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor from Titan Comics comes to its conclusion with issue #s 14-15.  The two-part “The Comfort of the Good” by writers Al Ewing & Rob Williams, artist Simon Fraser and colorist Gary Caldwell satisfactorily brings to a close many of the plotlines set up within the last year.

After the events of the last few issues the TARDIS has rejected the Doctor, leaving him, library assistant Alice Obiefune and the shape-changing ARC stranded in Rome in 312 AD.  Elsewhen, future prog rock god Jones has merged with the amorphous Entity.  Jones believes he is dead, but in fact the Entity is rocketing backwards in time towards the beginning of existence.  Through ARC’s telepathy, the Doctor and Alice are able to contact Jones, who merges with the Entity.  Rescuing his friends, Jones brings them to London in 2015, in search of the TARDIS.

Doctor Who Eleventh Doctor 15 cover signed

Throughout the prior 13 issues, Ewing & Williams had done interesting work exploring the Doctor and the disparate qualities of his personality that had been set up within the television series itself.  Simultaneously a lonely god and a deeply flawed fool, the Doctor allowed his long-buried yearning to reunite with the Time Lords to be twisted and used against him by SERVEYOUinc and their Faustian agent the Talent Scout.

Ewing & Roberts open issue #15 in a scene that parallels their very first issue.  In The Eleventh Doctor #1 we saw Alice in a grey, rainy graveyard, attending the funeral of her mother.  Now a year later it is the Doctor in that same cemetery, mourning his own “death.”  He may still be alive, but he has lost faith in himself, and he has lost what is (in certain respects) his oldest friend, the TARDIS.  He is marooned on one planet in one time, unable to explore the whole of time & space, which is for him the thing that makes life worth living.

Within these two issues Ewing & Roberts bring to a close the trajectory of character development for their entire cast.  The Doctor is able to work on mending his ways and repairing his relationship with the TARDIS.  Alice, who was left adrift by her mother’s death, discovers the means to let go of the past and move forward with her life.  Jones is able to tap into his full creative potential, setting him on the path to becoming a revolutionary musician.  ARC and the Entity are reunited, once again becoming a single being.  Even the Talent Scout finds closure.

I enjoyed the scripting by Ewing & Roberts.  They do a good job giving each character a unique voice.  Their dialogue is both poignant and witty.

“The Comfort of the Good” ties everything together while laying the groundwork for future stories.  Alice has a new lease on life and chooses to continue to travel with the Doctor in the TARDIS.  And it seems likely that SERVEYOUinc are still lurking about somewhere, plotting their corporate intrigues.

Doctor Who Eleventh Doctor 14 pg 6

I was extremely impressed by the artwork from Simon Fraser in these two issues.  Once again he renders these amazing cosmic vistas as we see Jones, merged with the Entity, gliding through the universe.

Fraser’s storytelling is excellent.  In issue #14, there is a two page sequence with the Doctor facing the TARDIS, first pleading and then demanding to be let in.  Cutting back and forth between the two, the “camera” slowly zooms in on each, and we see the Doctor become more and more distraught & angry.  It is very effectively done.

As I’ve mentioned previously, Fraser’s depiction of Matt Smith’s Doctor is not a photorealistic likeness, but it absolutely works.  Fraser superbly captures the personality of the Eleventh Doctor, his facial expressions and body language.  It is a very natural, organic rendering of the character.  Fraser also continues to bring to life Alice and Jones, two characters he designed, gifting them with nuance and subtlety that effectively complements their development by Ewing & Roberts.

The coloring by Gary Caldwell is wonderfully effective.  It works in conjunction with Fraser’s art to create tangible moods throughout these issues.

Doctor Who Eleventh Doctor 14 pg 15

While the past year of The Eleventh Doctor comic book series was not without some hiccups, on the whole it worked quite well at presenting an interesting, compelling storyline.  Certainly these two issues serve as an effective denouement.  I’m looking forward to reading the entire series again to see how it works.  Much as with various television episodes of Doctor Who, I expect that there are further layers and meanings to discern from reexamining these stories.

Comic book reviews: Justice League “Gods and Monsters” prequels

As a lead-up to the direct-to-DVD animated feature Justice League: Gods and Monsters, DC Comics released a trio of prequels that delved into the origins of the alternate-reality versions of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman who make up the team.  Released as digital-first comics, print editions have subsequently come out over the past three weeks.  These were co-plotted by Gods and Monsters producer Bruce Timm, co-plotted & scripted by longtime comic book writer J.M. DeMatteis, and illustrated by several talented artists.

Gods and Monsters Wonder Woman cover

I haven’t yet had an opportunity to pick up the DVD but I enjoyed these three prequels so I expect that I’ll be getting it in the near future.  Here’s a quick look at them.

The Batman prequel reveals that in this reality the dark knight of Gotham is scientist Kurt Langstrom (who in the mainstream DCU is the shape-shifting Man-Bat).  Langstrom was suffering from cancer and attempted to devise a cure.  In a way he succeeded, although it resulted in him becoming a vampiric creature that needs to feed on blood to survive.  In an attempt to alleviate his conscience Langstrom becomes a vigilante, draining the blood of criminals.

For a couple of reasons I was a bit underwhelmed with the Batman book.  There were a lot of similarities between Langstrom and the Marvel character Morbius the Living Vampire.  In addition, the concept of a vampire Batman was already done very successfully in the Elseworlds trilogy Red Rain.  This feels a bit like a needless retread.

Nevertheless, despite the somewhat less-than-groundbreaking nature of this alternate Batman, DeMatteis does a good job examining Langstrom’s tortured psyche.  The artwork by Matthew Dow Smith is effectively moody, although some of his storytelling is a little unclear, his characters a bit stiff.  The cover by the super-talented Francesco Francavilla is very good.

Gods and Monsters Batman pg 9

I was definitely much more impressed with the Superman prequel.  One of the qualities of Superman in his various incarnations is that although he was born on Krypton he was raised on Earth by the Kents, who instilled in him morality, responsibility and empathy.  Whatever the circumstances of his birth, he became a hero because his human parents raised him to be a good person.  Various alternate-reality versions of Superman have examined how, if the infant Superman had instead arrived somewhere else (such as the Soviet Union or Apokolips) he would end up a very different person.

The Superman in Gods and Monsters is not Kal-El, but rather the son of General Zod.  Nevertheless, he is still a product of his upbringing.  Found as a baby by a family of Mexican migrant workers, he is named Hernan Guerra.  Young Hernan is raised by a loving family that tries to teach him to be responsible with his powers.  Unfortunately he grows up seeing his family being exploited by farm owners who force their employees to work long, grueling hours for slave wages.  He is also regularly subjected to racism and xenophobia, harassed by people who accuse him of taking jobs from “real” Americans. DeMatteis has the story narrated by Hernan’s sister Valentina, who explains the conflict that the young outsider must endure…

“All he knew was that he had the powers of Heaven – and yet his entire existence was of the Earth: The son of migrant workers whose lives were defined by unending work. Constant fear and suspicion.”

Despite his parents’ best efforts, Hernan grows up full of resentment.  He wants to use his powers to make the world a better place, but his anger pushes him to extreme actions.  He is a Superman who is balanced precipitously on a moral tightrope, a well-intentioned hero who is in danger of becoming a tyrant.

The art & coloring by Moritat effectively depict both the innocence of young Hernan and the bitter disenchantment he continually experiences as he grows older.  Moritat superbly brings to live the complex characterization that DeMatteis & Timm have invested in their protagonist.  The cover by Gabriel Hardman demonstrates the majestic yet stern & brooding nature of this Superman.

Gods and Monsters Superman pg 5

The last of the prequels, Wonder Woman, features Becca, a New God who flees to Earth in a Boom Tube in 1962.  Living in exile among humanity, Becca is struck by the extreme dichotomy of humanity…

“And yet the very duality of this world calls to me… and I have no choice but to answer. So I travel from overcrowded cities to isolated mountains. From places of breathtaking natural beauty to war-ravaged wastelands. I observe the flow of life – with both wonder and horror —  never interfering in the events unfolding around me.”

Becca eventually finds herself in New York in 1967.  She is drawn to the hippie counter-cultural movement.  Joining a group of teenagers known as the “Hairies” at an upstate commune, Becca admires their willingness to attempt to expand their consciousness, to discover the larger universe, but despairs at them relying on harmful drugs to do so.  She attempts to help these young people achieve their enlightenment through more benign means, sharing with them the telepathic technology of her Mother Box.

It can be a difficult task to follow in the footsteps of Jack Kirby when revisiting his New Gods.  The characters and stories were such a personal expression on his part, and very much rooted in the social & political climate of early 1970s America.  Many a subsequent writer who has attempted to utilize the New Gods has either fallen into slavish imitation of Kirby, or has instead written material that feels very disconnected from the original stories.

DeMatteis has on occasion explored the New Gods.  He wrote a Forever People miniseries and several issues of Mister Miracle in the late 1980s.  Looking at those, as well as his work on this Wonder Woman special, I really feel that he is one of the more successful writers in revisiting Kirby’s concepts.  Yes, DeMatteis takes a very different approach to the execution of the characters, but thematically his utilization of them is akin to Kirby himself.

Much of Kirby’s work on the Fourth World books was rooted in his dissatisfaction at the American landscape of the late 1960s and the early 70s.  He was very troubled by the Vietnam War, by the Nixon presidency, and by the rise of the religious right.  Kirby saw in the hippies and flower children of the time a possible hope for tomorrow: a group of young people who rejected violence and discrimination and who wanted to create a better, inclusive society.

DeMatteis very much taps into this in “The Dream.”  Becca simultaneously regards the Hairies as both naïve and admirable.  She very much agrees with their goals, but recognizes that it takes not just ideals but hard work to make dreams a reality.  Nevertheless, she cannot help but think…

“Perhaps, I mused, naïveté is our best weapon against cynicism. Perhaps innocence is the only antidote to the soul-crushing disease of experience.”

Becca stays among the Hairies, hoping to assist them in working towards their goals.  For all their flaws and moral blind spots, she recognizes that their ideals are noble and worth striving to achieve.

Gods and Monsters Wonder Woman pg 15

The special is very effectively illustrated by longtime artists Rick Leonardi & Dan Green.  I have always found Leonardi’s style to be a bit sketchy & surreal, with a quality that can be either dreamlike or nightmarish.  That very much suits the tone of DeMatteis & Timm’s plot.  Green’s inking complements Leonardi’s pencils perfectly.  They have previously worked together on several occasions, always to excellent results.

The cover for the Wonder Woman prequel is by Jae Lee, with coloring from June Chung.  It is certainly a beautiful piece.  Much like Leonardi, Lee possesses a quality to his work that is simultaneously hyper-detailed and illusory.  His depiction of Becca is beautiful and striking.

Overall I was satisfied with the Gods and Monsters prequels.  Timm & DeMatteis did a good job developing the back-stories of the characters.  The scripting by DeMatteis is top-notch.  He has always been really good at getting into the heads of his characters.  The end result is that I am certainly interested in seeing them again in the animated movie.

Comic book reviews: Sensation Comics #11

Although Sensation Comics #11 starring Wonder Woman came out over a month ago, I was only just able to pick up a copy of the issue last week.  It made an impression on me and I wanted to discuss it here.

“Vendetta” by writer Josh Elder and artists Jamal Igle & Juan Castro is an incredibly well-told story.  In the past I have commented on the fascinating dichotomy of the character of Wonder Woman, in that she is both a warrior and a diplomat.  Elder’s story addresses these seemingly disparate roles head-on.

Sensation Comics 11 pg 1

Diana has been asked to help negotiate a ceasefire in Itari, an African nation that is plagued by civil war.  The long-simmering conflict between Itari’s two major tribes, the Uwange and the Mbindi, has exploded into full-fledged violence.  Both sides are committing atrocities, and thousands are already dead.

Wonder Woman’s already-difficult task of bringing the two factions into peace talks are complicated by the war god Ares who wishes for the bloodshed to continue.  He raises an army of inhuman monsters to kill Diana, the UN representatives, and any members of the two tribes who are considering peace.

Despite the fantasy trappings, Elder sets up a scenario that is very much rooted in the real world.  There are no good guys or bad guys.  The Uwange and the Mbindi each have legitimate grievances against the other.  Both ethnic groups contain factions that have engaged in war crimes and acts of brutal persecution.  For decades each tribe has passed down their hatred & distrust of the other from one generation to the next, perpetuating the violence.

Elder depicts Wonder Woman as a warrior whose goal is to make herself obsolete by ending war.  He opens the story with an appropriate quote by General Douglas MacArthur:

“The soldier above all other people prays for peace, for the soldier must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

Diana knows that, as terrible as the past actions of the Uwange and the Mbindi against one other have been, if they continue to focus on them, on obtaining so-called “just” vengeance, the conflict will never end.  Yes, it is important not to forget the past.  But at the same time one must also learn from the past so as not to keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

Elder utilizes some of the ideology of Wonder Woman’s creator William Moulton Marston, his espousing of “loving submission” to bring an end to conflict, and insightfully applies them within this story.  Diana advises the leaders of Itari’s two tribes:

“We Amazons believe that war is a contest that may be won, but peace is a gift that must be freely given. If there is truth to our philosophy, then peace will only be achieved if both of you surrender – to each other.

“For all unions that endure – be they between two people or two peoples – are built upon a foundation of mutual submission and interdependence, a commitment to compromise, and a willingness to forgive.

“That is my counsel. The path will be difficult. The risk, great. But the alternative is certain death and despair for friend and foe alike.”

The story closes with the fate of Itari undecided; peace is a possibility, but so is continued conflict.  Elder recognizes that Diana, for all her powers & abilities, is not a messiah or miracle-worker.  It is the responsibility of the Uwange and the Mbindi peoples to decide for themselves if they will continue on the path of war or set aside their hatred and attempt to chart a new course for their nation.

Sensation Comics 11 pg 11

“Vendetta” is set within the post-Crisis revamp of Wonder Woman by George Perez.  It definitely demonstrates just how effective and influential Perez’s work on the character was, as all these years later many of the creators working on Sensation Comics have set their own stories within that now-classic era.

Like Perez before him, Elder draws heavily on Greek mythology.  In a dark sequence, Ares explains the origins of his I inhuman army:

“Take heed, oh soldier, to the tragic tale of Cadmus, he who slew a great dragon, then sowed the dragon’s teeth into the earth. The seeds bore fruit, and from the soil rose a poison crop: the Spartoi, red of hand and black of purpose.”

Obviously that was part of the inspiration for the now-iconic final battle in the 1963 movie Jason and the Argonauts, when the Hydra’s teeth are sown by King Aeetes to “grow” an army of seven skeleton warriors.  As a fan of Ray Harryhausen, I enjoyed seeing the mythological basis for this iconic sequence utilized by Elder in his story.

Sensation Comics 11 pg 21

The artwork by Jamal Igle & Juan Castro on “Vendetta” is absolutely amazing.  I’ve been looking forward to Sensation Comics #11 ever since it was announced several months ago that Igle would be penciling a story in it.  He is an incredibly talented artist, and I have been a fan of his work for a long time.

Igle does excellent work penciling this story.  He is great with both action sequences and quiet character moments.  As with all the great Wonder Woman artists, he draws her as a figure that is simultaneously beautiful and strong and determined and kind.  Some artists appear to struggle to successfully convey that broad range of characteristics & emotions within Diana.  But Igle very much succeeds.

I am not too familiar with Castro, but his inking appears to be well suited to Igle’s pencils.  I’ve seen Castro’s name in the credits of other DC Comics series, and those stories looked good.  There are some nice before & after examples on Castro’s Deviant Art page that demonstrate what his inks bring to the finished artwork.

After reading Sensation Comics #11, I found myself wishing that Elder, Igle & Castro were the creative team on the regular Wonder Woman series.  Yes, I do realize that Igle is busy on his creator-owned title Molly Danger, which is very much a labor of love.  He’s doing excellent work with it and I’m looking forward to the next installment.  Having said that, if Igle has any free time in the future and is asked to draw Wonder Woman again then I would be very happy.

Sensation Comics 11 cover

Sensation Comics #11 is topped off by a cover illustrated by Stephane Roux.  Due to the anthology nature of this book, most of the covers regrettably have very little to do with the material inside.  It would have been nice if the editors could have coordinated things so that Roux had drawn a cover that reflected the story.

Oh, well, even if it is more of a pin-up than a cover, the talented Roux does beautiful work on it.  And I guess you could say that Roux’s art does tie in with the story thematically, as we see Diana with a white dove, which can be regarded as a symbol of peace.

As is the case with nearly all anthology titles, Sensation Comics is inevitably an uneven series.  Nevertheless I have enjoyed most of the stories featured in it over the past year.  Issue #11 is definitely one of the highlights.

Alan Kupperberg: 1953 to 2015

Comic book creator Alan Kupperberg passed away on July 16th at the age of 62.  I was fan of Kupperberg’s work, had met him at a few conventions, and was friends with him on Facebook.  I knew from his recent status updates on FB that he had been diagnosed with cancer several months ago.  Kupperberg had really been fighting his illness, and for a time it was hoped he would recover.  So it was unexpected and sad when his passing was announced by his brother, writer & editor Paul Kupperberg.

Like so many people who came to work in the comic book biz in the 1970s, Alan Kupperberg was very much a fan of the medium.  As he related in The Jack Kirby Collector #29 from TwoMorrows Publishing, in 1970 while still a teenager Kupperberg “was a regular pest – er – visitor to Marvel’s small, six room, dozen-person office” doing various odd jobs in the Bullpen.  A year later he was working in the production department of DC Comics, learning the intricacies of the business.  Kupperberg also worked at Atlas Comics during their very brief but still-memorable revival in the mid-1970s.

In the late 1970s Kupperberg was once again at Marvel.  Over the next decade he worked on numerous different series in a variety of capacities: writer, penciler, inker, letterer and colorist.  Kupperberg could do it all.

Invaders 37 cover

Kupperberg’s first ongoing assignment was the World War II superhero series The Invaders.  He came onboard as the new penciler with issue #29, cover-dated June 1978, replacing the outgoing Frank Robbins.  Kupperberg remained on The Invaders until the final issue, the double-sized #41 (Sept 1979) and he penciled the majority of those issues, working with both writer & editor Roy Thomas and writer Don Glut.

I imagine that The Invaders was not the easiest of series to pencil.  It was a team book set in the early 1940s.  This required Kupperberg to present clear storytelling so that the action was balanced between the numerous characters in action sequences.  He also had to render historically-accurate depictions of the people and the settings of the Second World War.  I think that he did very good work on the series, penciling some memorable, exciting stories written by Thomas and Glut.

Looking at Kupperberg’s time on The Invaders, one of the highlights is definitely issue #s 32-33, which had Hitler summoning Thor from Asgard and manipulating him into attacking the Soviet Union, bringing the thunder god into conflict with the Invaders.  Another noteworthy issue was the finale of the series, as The Invaders faced off against the so-called Super-Axis, a team of fascist supervillains.  Kupperberg, paired with inker Chic Stone, did very nice work on that climactic battle, helping Glut and Thomas to finish the series in style.  The issue concluded with a wonderful double page pin-up drawn by Kupperberg featuring every hero who had ever appeared in The Invaders.

Invaders 32 cover layouts and published

It was while penciling The Invaders that Kupperberg had an opportunity to collaborate with Jack Kirby.  He drew a rough layout for the cover to The Invaders #32.  The published cover artwork, based out his layout, was by the superstar team of Kirby & Joe Sinnott.

As Kupperberg recounted in The Jack Kirby Collector…

“I’d never been fond of drawing covers, but when I was asked to provide a cover layout or rough sketch for Invaders #32, I didn’t hesitate a tick – because it was for Jack.  I’d be interpreting Thor, Captain America, Namor and the Human Torch – for their artistic father!

“The Jack’s pencils arrived.  They blew my tender little mind – Kirby interpreting my interpretation of Kirby.”

Aside from The Invaders, Kupperberg never had a particularly long runs on any Marvel titles.  He was briefly the penciler of Thor and worked on several issues of What If.  Aside from that, Kupperberg was one of Marvel’s go-to guys for fill-in stories in the late 1970s to mid 80s.  He drew issues of Avengers, Captain America, Dazzler, Defenders, Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, Marvel Two-In-One, Moon Knight, Star Wars and Transformers.  In 1984 Kupperberg penciled a four issue Iceman miniseries written by J.M. DeMatteis.

Captain America 240 pg 11

As a fan of Captain America, I liked Kupperberg’s depiction of the character in The Invaders, Avengers, and Cap’s own book.  Kupperberg penciled a trio of fill-in stories for Captain America, which were in issue #s 240, 260 and 271.  The first of these, “Gang Wars,” is noteworthy for the collaboration between the two Kupperberg brothers.  Paul plotted the issue, Alan penciled & scripted it, and it was inked by the talented Don Perlin.  I think this was the only time that Alan and Paul worked together.

Another of my favorite Marvel stories that Kupperberg worked on was Avengers #205 (March 1981).  Kupperberg and inker Dan Green did excellent work on this issue.  The second chapter of a two-part story plotted by Bob Budiansky & scripted by David Michelinie, this issue saw the Avengers attempting to thwart a plot to conquer the world by the diabolical Yellow Claw.  The cover to this issue by Kupperberg & Green, featuring the Vision in fierce combat with the Claw, is really dynamic.  As the saying goes, they really don’t make ‘em like this anymore!

Avengers 205 cover

In the mid-1980s Kupperberg began doing work for DC Comics, as well.  He became the penciler of the offbeat Blue Devil series written by Dan Mishkin & Gary Cohen.  Kupperberg started on issue #12 (May 1985) and remained on the book until its conclusion with issue #30.  He also worked on Justice League of America and Firestorm.  Kupperberg’s guest pencils on All-Star Squadron #66 in Feb 1987 (the penultimate issue of the series) saw him briefly reunited with writer Roy Thomas, who had spent the last several years chronicling the adventures of DC’s superheroes during World War II.

Anyone who has ever met Alan Kupperberg or read an interview with him will definitely realize that he had an amazing and unconventional sense of humor.  That was certainly reflected in his comic book work.  He worked on a number of humorous, not to mention unusual, projects throughout his career.

Somehow or another Kupperberg became associated with not one but two evil clowns during his career.  The first of these was Obnoxio the Clown, created by Larry Hama in the pages of Crazy Magazine.  In early 1983 Obnoxio landed his very own one-shot.  Written, drawn, lettered and colored by Kupperberg with edits by Hama, this bizarre special had the cigar-chomping Obnoxio running rings around the X-Men, getting summoned for jury duty, answering fan mail and just acting as rude as possible.  All these years later I am still amazed that this issue got published!

Obnoxio the Clown pg 6

Kupperberg also illustrated the misadventures of Frenchy the Clown, the star of the “Evil Clown Comics” feature in National Lampoon.  Devised by writer / actor / comedian Nick Bakay, Frenchy was a violent foul-mouthed alcoholic womanizer in greasepaint.  Several years ago Kupperberg was working on reprinting the “Evil Clown Comics” stories in a collected edition, but unfortunately this didn’t come to fruition.

Doing much more family-friendly humor work, between 1988 and 1990 Kupperberg drew a number of all-new five-page Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham stories that editor Jim Salicrup ran in the back of the Spider-Man reprint series Marvel Tales.  These were written by Michael Eury, Danny Fingeroth and Kupperberg himself, with Joe Albelo inking many of the installments.

One of my favorites of these Spider-Ham stories from Marvel Tales was his encounter with Frank Carple aka the Punfisher (obviously a fishy funny animal version of the Punisher).  Eury, Kupperberg & Albelo pitted the uneasy alliance of Spider-Ham and the Punfisher against the tentacle menace of Doctor Octopussycat!

Marvel Tales 215 pg 30

I highly recommend visiting the official Alan Kupperberg website which was set up by Daniel Best.  This fantastic site has numerous examples of Kupperberg’s art.  There are several articles wherein Best speaks with Kupperberg at length about his work.  It is an amazing resource.  Additionally, on his blog 20th Century Danny Boy, Best interviewed Kupperberg regarding the “Evil Clown Comics” stories.

As I mentioned before, I was fortunate enough to meet Kupperberg on a few occasions when he was a guest at comic book conventions.  He struck me as a genuinely nice guy.  I’m glad I was able to talk with him and obtain a couple of sketches by him.  I will certainly miss him, as will many other comic book fans who grew up reading his work.