Comic Book Cats highlights

I did 100 entries of The Daily Comic Book Coffee on the Comic Book Historians group at Facebook. I decided to switch things up after that, and began posting Comic Book Cats. Each day I post cat-centric comic book artwork by a different artist.

Comic Book Cats is being archived on First Comics News. But here are 10 highlights from the first 50 entries.

Steve Ditko

Ghostly Tales #85, drawn by Steve Ditko and written by Joe Gill, published by Charlton Comics in April 1971, and Speedball #10, plotted & penciled by Steve Ditko, inked by Dan Day, scripted by Jo Duffy, lettered by Jack Morelli and colored by Tom Vincent, published by Marvel Comics in June 1989.

Steve Ditko drew a number of stories with cats throughout his lengthy career.  Here is artwork from couple of them.

The first page is from “The 9th Life,” one of the best stories that Joe Gill wrote for Charlton’s horror anthologies.  Ditko did really good work illustrating Gill’s story.

Michael Holt rescues a stray black cat and takes it back to his apartment in the slums.  Michael is depressed about the state of the modern-day world.  The black cat is apparently a shape-shifting witch named Felicia, and she offers to transport Michael back to the past.  Michael agrees, but soon discovers the “good old days” were not so good, with tyranny and disease.  Returning to the present day, Michael realizes that he needs to actively work to make the world he lives in a better place.  He is reunited with Felicia, who joins him on his path of fighting for a better world.

The second page is from the last issue of the short-lived Speedball series.  The laboratory accident that endowed Robbie Baldwin with his kinetic energy powers also gave those same powers to Niels, a cat who belonged to one of the scientists at the lab. 

A subplot running through the Speedball series was Robbie’s repeatedly-unsuccessful efforts to capture Niels.  Getting a hold of a normal feline who doesn’t want to be caught is difficult enough as it is; give a cat bouncing superpowers and the task becomes nigh-impossible!

Dwayne Turner & Chris Ivy

Sovereign Seven #7, penciled by Dwayne Turner, inked by Chris Ivy, written by Chris Claremont, letter by Tom Orzechowski and colored by Gloria Vasquez & Rob Schwager published by DC Comics in January 1996.

I spotlighted Chris Claremont’s Sovereign Seven in a couple of Comic Book Coffee entries.  It was a fun series, so I’m happy to take another look at it.

In this issue Finale of the Sovereigns is caught in the middle of a struggle between international mercenary Marcello Veronese and his fugitive quarry.  Pursuing the sword-wielding fugitive, Finale enters a doorway, only to find herself in the Crossroads Coffee Bar & Inn on the opposite side of town.  Crossroads once again lives up to its name, serving as a portal to different places, dimensions & times.  Greeting the stunned Finale is Lucy the cat, who is apparently dressing as Supercat for Halloween.

I purchased the original artwork for this page from Chris Ivy at New York Comic Con in 2015.  The close-up panel of Lucy on the original really demonstrates Ivy’s very detailed and delicate inking.

David Mazzucchelli & Richmond Lewis

Batman #406, drawn by David Mazzucchelli, written by Frank Miller, lettered by Todd Klein and colored by Richmond Lewis, published by DC Comics in April 1987.

I must have read the Batman: Year One trade paperback a dozen times in high school.  To this day, it remains one of my all-time favorite Batman stories.  Many of the images from this story have burned themselves into my consciousness.  So as soon as I decided to do Comic Book Cats, I just knew I was going to spotlight this page. 

A pre-Catwoman Selina Kyle, her roommate Holly, and their menagerie of cats being awoken at 5 AM by the GCPD’s corrupt, trigger-happy swat team attempting to kill Batman by dropping bombs on him.  Of course the cats now want to be fed, even though it’s much too early!  I’ve always thought David Mazzucchelli did an especially good job on this page.

This is actually scanned from the trade paperback, which was re-colored by Richmond Lewis.  As has been astutely observed by colorist Jose Villarubia, newsprint has a different texture from the paper used in TPBs, and the result is that coloring done for the former will not reproduce accurately in the later.

Batman: Year One is apparently one of the very few times when the original colorist was asked to do new coloring for a collected edition.  Lewis’ work for the Year One collection is outstanding, and I’m grateful that for once DC Comics actually went the extra mile.

Rachel Dukes

Frankie Comics #3, written & drawn by Rachel Dukes, published by Mix Tape Comics in November 2014

Rachel Dukes’ mini comic Frankie Comics is absolutely adorable, a really cute look at quirky cat behavior.  I met Dukes a couple of times at Mocca Fest, where I picked up copies of the first and third issues.  I still need the second one.

In this two page sequence Dukes demonstrates that Frankie has a very cat-like approach to “helping” out his humans.

Dukes showed me a photo of the real-life Frankie, who looks very much like one of my two cats, Nettie Netzach.  Judging by the antics Dukes portrays in her comic, they also act alike.  Michele suggested they could be long lost sisters. You never know.

Bob Brown & Don Heck

Daredevil #109, penciled by Bob Brown, inked by Don Heck, written by Steve Gerber, lettered by Artie Simek and colored by Petra Goldberg, published by Marvel Comics in May 1974.

This is not technically a cat page as it does not feature any examples of Felis catus, aka the domestic cat, but I am showcasing it anyway.  Because, honestly, the dramatic arrival of the stunning Shannah the She-Devil accompanied by her pet leopard and panther is a pretty damn impressive cat-related image.

Bob Brown is one of those good, solid artists from the Silver and Bronze Ages whose work often flew under the radar, but who you could always count on to turn in a professional job.  Over the years I’ve developed more of an appreciation for Brown’s work.  He is effectively inked here by Don Heck, another talented, underrated artist.

Rachel Smith

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #13, written & drawn by Rachael Smith, published by Titan Comics in August 2015.

I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who since I was eight years old.  Over the decades a few different cat-like aliens have shown up on the British sci-fi series, as well as in the various comic book spin-offs.

Several issues of The Tenth Doctor comic book series contained a humorous back-up strip featuring the Doctor and his cat Rose by Rachael Smith.  Yes, the Doctor named his cat Rose; he really was hung up on Billie Piper, wasn’t he?  In this installment Rose convinces the Doctor to try speed dating.  Of course, this being Doctor Who, things go horribly, hysterically wrong.

British artist Rachael Smith has also written & drawn several creator-owned graphic novels.

Joe Staton & Freddy Lopez Jr.

Back Issue #40 cover drawn by Joe Staton and colored by Freddy Lopez Jr, published by TwoMorrows Publishing in April 2010.

Back Issue is a magazine edited by Michael Eury that takes an in-depth look back comic book from the 1970s, 80s and 90s.  Each issue has a theme, and BI #40 spotlighted “Cat People,” i.e. cat-themed characters of the Bronze Age.  One of the characters examined in this issue was, of course, Catwoman.

The cover illustration of Catwoman and her black cat prowling the alleys of Gotham City is by one of my favorite artists, the incredible Joe Staton, who had previously penciled two key Catwoman stories, DC Super Stars #17, the origin of the Huntress, the daughter of Batman and Catwoman on Earth 2, and The Brave and the Bold #197, which revealed how Bruce Wayne and Seline Kyle fell in love and married.

Staton has drawn a few cats in various stories throughout the years.  I’ve always liked how he rendered them, with his cartoony style always giving them genuine personality.  That’s certainly the case here with Selina’s feline companion.  Freddy Lopez Jr’s coloring is very effective, as well.

Back Issue, along with many other great magazine & books, can be purchased through the TwoMorrows Publishing website.

Dan DeCarlo

Josie and the Pussycats #54, drawn by Dan DeCarlo and written by Frank Doyle, published by Archie Comics in April 1971.

“The Cat Woman” is drawn by Josie and the Pussycats co-creator and longtime Archie Comics artist Dan DeCarlo.  This story sees the scheming Alexandra becoming convinced that her cat Sebastian is being taken by Josie as “bait” to lure in handsome Alan M.  After all, Alexandra deduces, that is exactly what she would do if the tables were turned.  Tsk tsk, jealous people are always projecting like that!

It turns out that the real reason why Sebastian keeps wandering over to Josie’s house is because she has a wall calendar with a photograph of a beautiful female cat!

DeCarlo always drew cute gals, and as seen here he also did a good job with cats (the actual four-legged furry kind, as opposed to the kind who play musical instruments) investing Sebastian with a lot of personality.

John Gallagher

Max Meow: Cat Crusader, written & drawn by John Gallagher, published by Penguin Random House in 2020.

In the great city of Kittyopolis, aspiring feline journalist Max Meow takes a bite out of a giant meatball from outer space and gains super powers.  Donning a costume, Max becomes the heroic Cat Crusader, who protects Kittyopolis from menaces such as giant killer cheeseburgers.  However, being a hero is not as easy as it might appear, something that Max must learn the hard way.  Will Max save the day, or will the Cat Crusader be defeated by that rotten rodent, the despicable Agent M?

Max Meow: Cat Crusader is a funny, adorable graphic novel for younger readers by John Gallagher, who previously worked on Buzzboy and Roboy Red.  He is also he is art director for Ranger Rick magazine, published by the National Wildlife Federation.  As explained on the Max Meow website:

“John learned to read with comics, so he is more than excited to share the magic of reading, fun, and imagination with the young readers of the world.”

Curt Swan & Stan Kaye

Action Comics #266 cover penciled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye, published by DC Comics in July 1960.

Curt Swan was the primary artist on the various Superman titles from the mid 1950s to the mid 1980s.  It’s inevitable that at some point or another during that lengthy period Swan would be called upon to draw Streaky the Supercat.  Here is Swan’s cute rendition of Streaky zipping through the sky, along with Superman, Supergirl and Krypto the Superdog.

The inks are by Stan Kaye, who had previously been the regular inker over Wayne Boring’s pencils on Superman for a decade and a half.  Swan and Kaye were often paired up in the late 1950s and early 60s, drawing numerous covers for Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Superman and World’s Finest.

The identity of the colorist for this cover is probably lost to time, which is too bad, because whoever it was did a really nice job.

I hope you found these interesting and informative. Please remember to check out First Comics News for the rest of the Comic Book Cats entries, as well as for the Daily Comic Book Coffee archives.

Sovereign Seven: The Saga of Cascade and Maitresse

Earlier this month while recovering from nasal surgery I started a re-read of Sovereign Seven, the comic book series written by Chris Claremont that was published by DC Comics between 1995 and 1998.  Sovereign Seven ran for 36 monthly issues, two annuals, a Sovereign Seven Plus Legion of Super-Heroes special, and two short stories in the Showcase anthology.

Sovereign Seven was unusual in that it was a creator-owned series, yet it was set firmly within the DC Universe, with appearances by numerous established characters such as Darkseid, Superman and Power Girl.  I cannot think of any other comparable arrangement before or since at either DC or Marvel.

I hadn’t looked at most of these issues in almost a decade.  Reading them again, I found the series is still interesting and entertaining.  Claremont did some good work with pencilers Dwayne Turner (who co-created the characters), Ron Lim, Jeff Johnson and Tom Grindberg on these stories.  Inking was provided by Jerome K. Moore and Chris Ivy on most issues.

The Sovereigns are a group of aristocratic refugees from different parallel Earths whose worlds had all been conquered by the mysterious Rapture. They were gathered together by Rhian Douglas, aka Cascade, who was fleeing from her seemingly-tyrannical mother Maitresse.

We never learn the precise nature of the Rapture, but in issue #15 Cruiser describes it as “the bliss of blind, unreasoning submission, without a soul to call your own, without the responsibility that comes of making a moral choice.”  That actually brings to mind the Anti-Life Equation from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World epic.  Whatever it is, the Rapture has conquered & corrupted innumerable worlds across the continuum.  As explained by Reflex in S7 Annual #1, “The Rapture has cost us everything and everyone we hold dear.”

The main setting of the series is the Crossroads Coffee Bar, situated at the intersection of three states, Vermont, Massachusetts and New York. Living up to its name, Crossroads also contains portals to other dimensions. Crossroads is run by enigmatic, immortal sisters Violet Smith and Pansy Jones. It is here that the fleeing Sovereigns find sanctuary and employment.

One of the most intriguing aspects of S7 was the relationship between Cascade and Maitresse.  Claremont is rightfully recognized as one of the first comic book writers to script three-dimensional, strong, independent female characters.  His work with Rhian Douglas and her mother Morgan continues in that vein, resulting in pair of fascinating characters in a deeply dysfunctional family dynamic.

Rhian and Morgan come from an Earth in a reality where the entire solar system has been imprisoned behind an impenetrable barrier, all to keep Maitresse from escaping.  Cascade first learns of other realities when telepath Taryn Haldane, aka Network, makes contact with her.  Cascade uses her teleportation power to join Network. Exploring the multiverse together the pair locates the other five Sovereigns, rescuing them from the Rapture.

Cascade’s greatest fear is that her mother will find a way to follow her and escape imprisonment.  As seen in Annual #1, the entire fabric of reality on Rhian’s Earth is subject to the moods and temper of Maitresse.  An outraged Rhian lectures her:

“The world’s not some toy, created for your amusement! You can’t just change things – alter peoples’ lives beyond recognition, even destroy them – on a whim. It’s cruel and wrong and I won’t be a part of it any longer!”

Later on in issue #3 Cascade describes her mother as “the essence of all that’s evil” with seemingly only the Rapture itself a greater menace in her mind.

Indeed, at first the evidence appears to back up Cascade’s claim.  We do see Maitresse completely rewriting the fabric of reality on a continual basis on her Earth, and in the first issue she casually immolates her trusted adviser Morgrin for disagreeing with her.  Maitresse, believing that her daughter has betrayed her and become corrupted by the Rapture, is more determined than ever to escape her imprisonment, no matter the cost.

However eventually we begin to see evidence that Cascade’s perception of her mother is not entirely accurate.  In issue #27, during the cosmic upheaval of the “Genesis” crossover, Cascade and Maitresse have their locations swapped, with Rhian imprisoned behind the barrier on her alternate Earth and Morgan joining the other Sovereigns at Crossroads in the DCU.

Having been told repeatedly by Cascade that her mother was their “greatest foe,” the rest of the Sovereigns are very surprised when Maitresse saves them from an attack by the Female Furies, and afterwards lays down in a bed of roses, serenely contemplating the beauty of the natural world.

Cascade soon returns to Earth, with Maitresse once again imprisoned behind the barrier.  At first Rhian cannot believe that the other Sovereigns are now questioning if her mother truly is the menace that she claims.  In issue #31 she angrily challenges their skepticism by asking “If she wasn’t so great a villain, why else would she have been imprisoned?!” However, soon after an event occurs which shakes Rhian’s beliefs to their very core.

In issue #35 the Eristoi, insectoid servants of the Rapture, arrive on Earth.  Cascade comes face to face with their leader, who mind-links with her.  Through this connection, Rhian discovers the true, tragic history of her world.

Rhian’s mother Morgan was her Earth’s greatest hero and protector.  Morgan learns the Rapture is coming to claim her world.  Donning the armor of Maitresse for the first time, Morgan flies up into outer space to confront the Rapture.  Unfortunately not even Morgan is able to stop the Rapture, which fires a devastating beam of energy at the Earth.  Every single living being on the planet is killed except for Morgan and her unborn daughter Rhian.  The Rapture, realizing that Morgan is the one foe who might ultimately defeat it, creates the barrier that surrounds the solar system, imprisoning Morgan for all eternity.

Finally coming out of the psychic link, Cascade is horrified at what she has learned.  Chastened, she explains to her friends:

“My mother. I was so WRONG about her. I believed her to be evil because from childhood I watched her play with our world and all its people as if it were her toy. She would reshape everything, on a whim, without hesitation or regret. And I hated her for it. It never dawned on me that everything I saw was a figment of her imagination. She was playing with ghosts.”

And so we learn that Maitresse, rather than a being of “ultimate evil,” is in truth a sad, lonely woman haunted by her monumental defeat, traumatized by her failure to save her world, and now driven by only two goals: to protect her daughter, and to escape her prison so that she can defeat the Rapture and avenge her fallen people.

Several years ago Chris Claremont was doing a signing at Midtown Comics.  One of the books I got autographed by him was an issue of S7, and I told him how much of an impact the revelation of Maitresse’s true history, and Cascade having to reevaluate her entire relationship with her mother, had affected me as a reader.  I forget his exact response, but I believe he mentioned something about wanting to address the the relationships between parents and children.

Thinking about it, I feel that the reason why it is such a moving development in the story is that it feels both authentic and earned.  Set aside the superpowers and the cosmic menaces and you have a mother and a daughter who have a great deal of difficulty understanding one another.  That sounds like a lot of families, doesn’t it?

In the final issue of Sovereign Seven it is revealed that the whole story was apparently a work of fiction written by two women, one of whom is the “real life” version of Morgan Douglas, and that she created it for her young daughter Rhian.  That is an interesting twist, the idea that Morgan would write a narrative in which her own daughter would misunderstand her and believe her to be the villain.

Perhaps Morgan was attempting to work through her own feelings about the role of a parent, her fears about the mistakes she might make, the difficulty she foresaw in trying to find a balance between being a responsible adult guardian to her daughter while still giving her enough independence and room to grow into her own person?

Looking at all of this from my own personal perspective, I realize that when I was younger I did not really appreciate my parents.  I felt they were too strict, too overprotective, and I resented them for being controlling, for trying to tell me how to live my life.

Now, as an adult, I am able to perceive that my mother and father were trying to be good parents, that they did have my best interests at heart, and that raising me and my two sisters was a very difficult task.  Perhaps their failure to understand why I made certain decisions was rooted not in them being uncaring or mean but instead in them having grown up in very different social and economic circumstances.

I can also look back at my own actions and now realize that there were occasions when I probably should have paid more attention to the advice my parents were giving me, to tried to understand the benefits of their own experiences that they were attempting to pass along so that perhaps I would not make the same mistakes.

Yes, there are definitely still things about my parents that I disagree with, but I do feel like I have a better understanding of and appreciation for them.

That is one of the qualities of Chris Claremont’s writing which I appreciate, that his characters who are real, believable people. His stories offer the opportunity to examine my own thoughts and actions, as well as the world I live in, through a different lens, an alternate perspective.  That is a valuable gift.

The Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part 13

Welcome to the 13th edition of Comic Book Coffee. I previously posted these daily in the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The challenge was to see how many different pencilers I could find artwork by featuring coffee.

(I has nasal surgery a couple of days ago, so if any typos creep into this I apologize. My head is pretty stuffed up right now!)

61) Gene Colan & Tom Palmer

Daredevil #90, penciled by Gene Colan, inked by Tom Palmer, written by Gerry Conway and lettered by Sam Rosen, published by Marvel Comics with an August 1972 cover date.

It’s not all that surprising that during his career Daredevil has encountered four different criminals who assumed the costumed identity of Mister Fear.  What would be more natural that for the self-proclaimed “Man Without Fear” to cross swords with a villain whose modus operandi was the creation of fear?

Here we see Daredevil, hit by Mister Fear’s powers, has crashed through the window of an office building, and is now cowering in terror at the little old lady who cleans the building.  The next panel finds DD a guest of the local precinct, with the cops offering the still-unsteady crimefighter a cup of coffee.

Gene Colan had a style that was generally not an especially good fit for superheroes, yet he is regarded as one of the all-time great Daredevil artists.  Perhaps that is because DD is a non-powered acrobatic character, as well as the fact that, no matter how weird and jokey the series sometimes got, it usually still had one foot planted in gritty noir.  Both these elements made Daredevil an ideal fit for Colan’s unconventional layouts and shadowy penciling.

Colan was reportedly a somewhat-challenging artist to ink.  Tom Palmer is usually classed as one of the best inkers of Colan’s pencils.  They definitely worked extremely well together on Daredevil, Doctor Strange and Tomb of Dracula.

62) John Rosenberger

“What’s Ambition, Anyway?” drawn by John Rosenberger, written by Richard Hughes, and lettered by Ed Hamilton, from Confessions of the Lovelorn #81, published by ACG in May 1957.

Beautiful, talented Jill Sanders dreams of becoming an actress.  She auditions with famed producer-director Carl Rogers, who agrees to see how she works out in rehearsals for his upcoming musical.  While having coffee with Rogers and the rest of the cast, Jill thinks to herself “He’s a real professional — and a swell guy!”  Unfortunately for Jill, her high school rival Marion Major has also joined the cast, and pretty soon the ambitious, arrogant blonde is sinking her claws into Rogers himself.  Due to budget cuts Jill is squeezed out of the chorus and finds herself back waiting tables, and the despairing young woman believes she has lost out on both show business and Carl Rogers.  However, when Carl’s investors back out on him, Jill convinces her restaurateur boss to help finance the show.  It’s a success, and Carl has fallen in love with Jill.

Artist John Rosenberger’s career stretched over 30 years, from 1946 to 1975.  He worked for several different companies, drawing stories in various genres.  His style was definitely well-suited for romance, as he had an aptitude for rendering beautiful, fashionable women.  Towards the end of his career he penciled Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane for DC Comics, where once again his knack for drawing lovely ladies was a definite asset.  Rosenberger became the regular artist on Wonder Woman in 1975, but sadly only completed two issues before taking ill.  He passed away in January 1977 at the age of 58.

The entire story “What’s Ambition, Anyway?” can be read on the Comic Book Plus website.

63) Ron Lim & Chris Ivy

Sovereign Seven #36, penciled by Ron Lim, inked by Chris Ivy, and written by Chris Claremont, published by DC Comics with a July 1998 cover date.

As the final issue of Chris Claremont’s Sovereign Seven comes to a close, the Sovereigns, after a long, hard-fought conflict, have finally emerged triumphant against the insidious Rapture.

And then we see that, apparently, the entire story of S7 has been nothing more than a comic book series created by Casey and Morgan, two young women who are customers at the Crossroads Coffee Bar that appeared so often throughout the series.

Sovereign Seven was a creator-owned series that nevertheless took place in the DC universe, with appearances by Darkseid, Superman, Power Girl and other mainstays.  Presumably this ending was conceived by Claremont to allow the series to end with a clean break, so that in the future he could have his characters return in an entirely different venue.  It’s certainly a metatextual scene, with Casey and Morgan standing in for Claremont himself to reflect on the series’ cancellation.

Of course, as Alan Moore once famously observed, “This is an Imaginary Story… Aren’t they all?”  And so I like to think that in some corner or another of the multiverse the events of Sovereign Seven “really” did happen.  Ah, well, real or not, it was a fun series.

Ron Lim was the second regular penciler on S7.  I have been a fan of Lim since he drew Captain America way back in the early 1990s.  I definitely regard him as underrated.  On most of his S7 issues Lim was inked by Chris Ivy.  They made a great art team, wonderfully illustrating Claremont’s stories.

So, anyone know where I can snag one of those big S7 coffee cups?

64) Frank Bolle

Golden and Silver Age artist Frank Bolle passed away on May 12th at the age of 95.  “Outlaw Gold” was penciled & inked by Bolle. It appeared in Tim Holt #29, published by Magazine Enterprises with an April-May 1952 cover date.

Tim Holt was a Western movie star during the 1940s and early 50s.  The comic book Tim Holt featured a fictionalized version of the actor who assumes the guise of the costumed vigilante Red Mask in the post-Civil War “Old West.”  Tim Holt ran for 54 issues, being re-titled Red Mask with issue #42.  Frank Bolle’s artwork appeared in every single issue of Tim Holt / Red Mask.  Bolle really excelled at drawing Westerns, and his work on this series was definitely impressive.

“Outlaw Gold” sees beautiful dancehall girl Della Martin enlisting the help of Red Mask to locate a treasure which she says her father hid out in the desert, west of Bald Rock.  Pursuing Della are members of Butch Cassidy’s “Wild Bunch” gang, who are all too ready to murder the lovely singer so that they may claim the buried fortune.

On this page, en route to Bald Rock, Red Mask and Della are pursued by a trio of Wild Bunch thugs.  Red Mask makes short work of them, knocking all three out.  He and Della then bunk down for the night, brewing up some hot coffee to keep warm.

Bolle does nice work on this page.  The action flows well.  I like how Bolle has Red Mask’s fist swinging out of that third panel, really highlighting the punch.   Della is beautifully drawn.  And since this is a Western, of course we have horses.  I guess this is another crossover with Jim Thompson’s 1000 Horses series!

The entire issue can be read on the Comic Book Plus website.

65) Jerry Ordway & George Perez

Here is a double dose of Da Ordster!  First up is Adventures of Superman #428, penciled & inked by Jerry Ordway, written by Marv Wolfman, lettered by John Costanza, and colored by Tom Ziuko, published by DC Comics in May 1987.

Here we see Clark Kent and Cat Grant at the offices of the Daily Planet, discussing Perry White’s ongoing investigation of organized crime in Metropolis.  Clark is having his morning coffee, and as we can see from his choice of mug he’s a fan of The Far Side.

This page is a good example of both Ordway’s storytelling and inking.  He does a good job laying out the conversation between Clark and Cat, presenting it from different angles, making it interesting.  I like how Ordway inks Cat on this page.  Panel four is especially beautiful.

I know that it’s undoubtedly a function of my having gotten into DC Comics in the late 1980s, but I definitely regard Ordway as one of the definitive Superman artists.

Jumping forward a dozen years we have Avengers volume 3 #18, written & penciled by Jerry Ordway, inked by George Perez, lettered by Richard Starkings, and colored by Tom Smith, published by Marvel Comics in July 1999.

Ordway wrote & drew a really fun three issue story arc on Avengers to give Kurt Busiek & George Perez a chance to catch their breaths.  This is the final page of Ordway’s last issue.

Hank Pym is in his lab late at night, studying the technology of the cyborg Doomsday Man, one of the threats the Avengers faced during Ordway’s storyline.  Hank has obviously been working for a while, because he disgustedly thinks to himself “*GAH* Coffee’s bitter! ‘Course that pot’s only been on all night…”

Before Hank has a chance to brew some fresh java he is interrupted by the violent arrival of several leering metal monstrosities, servants of his mechanical “son” Ultron.  And so Ordway segues back into Busiek & Perez’s own ongoing storylines, with Perez himself inking this last page as part of the transition.  Ordway must have been working closely with Busiek, Perez and editor Tom Brevoort to get everything to line up so smoothly.

Jerry Ordway is one of my favorite comic book creators, and I enjoyed his short stint on Avengers.  As much as I liked Busiek & Perez, I really wish Ordway could have done more work on this title.  He latter penciled the Domination Factor: Avengers and Maximum Security miniseries, on both of these once again doing excellent jobs depicting Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

I don’t think Ordway’s had any ongoing assignments in the last two decades, instead bouncing around between various short guest runs, fill-ins, miniseries and specials.  That’s a shame, because he’s a very talented artist.

The Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part Eight

Welcome to another collection of the Daily Comic Book Coffee. I have been posting these daily in the Comic Book Historians group on Facebook. The challenge by group moderator Jim Thompson was to see how many different pencilers you can find artwork by featuring a specific subject. I chose coffee.

36) Murphy Anderson

Today’s artwork is from the Atomic Knights story “Danger in Detroit” drawn by Murphy Anderson and written by John Broome, from Strange Adventures #153, published by DC Comics with a June 1963 cover date.

The Atomic Knights was a wonderfully weird post-apocalyptic sci-fi feature created by Broome & Anderson.  It appeared in every third issue of Strange Adventures from #117 to #156, with a final chapter appearing in issue #160.  DC issued a hardcover collection in 2010. 

Set in the far-off future year of, um, 1986, the Atomic Knights were a team of adventurers who sought to restore civilization to North America after World War III left the planet devastated.  The six Atomic Knights all wore suits of medieval armor that, through some fluke, had become resistant to radioactivity.  From their base in the town of Durvale, the Knights fought a variety of offbeat monsters and menaces that plagued the devastated world.

In the previous installment in Strange Adventures #150, “The Plant That Hated Humans,” the Knights encountered an army of giant ambulatory plants created by the botanist Henderson.  The Trefoils turned against humanity, but the Knights defeated them by cutting them off from their water source.

As this story opens, we see two of the Knights, Douglas and Marene, having some after-dinner coffee in the Durvale Community Hall.  They are being served by “an unusual-looking waiter,” namely a Trefoil.  Henderson managed to create a new strain of Trefoils, “one without a trace of the vicious hatred of humanity that the old crop seemed to grow with.”  Nevertheless, Marene bluntly states “That creature Mr. Henderson sent us gives me the jim-jams!”

Looking at this from a 21st Century perspective, you have to wonder at Henderson’s decision to resume his experiments after they almost ended in disaster the first time around, as well as the ethical issues of creating a new life form designed to be servants.

Marene’s thought balloon in the final panel, complete with “and yet I’m just a woman,” hasn’t aged well, either.

All that aside, I still enjoyed the Atomic Knights.  Broom’s stories are imaginative, quirky and fun.  The artwork by Anderson is absolutely gorgeous.  Broom and Anderson both considered the Atomic Knights to be among their favorite work from their lengthy careers.

37) Dave Cockrum & Gonzalo Mayo

Harbinger Files #1, penciled by Dave Cockrum, inked by Gonzalo Mayo, written by Fred Pierce & Bob Layton, lettered by Rob Johnson & Santiago Vázquez, and colored by Mike McGuire, published by Valiant with an August 1994 cover date.

Toyo Harada is one of the major antagonists in the Valiant universe.  An incredibly powerful telepath & telekinetic, Harada established the Harbinger Foundation to recruit & train those with similar psionic abilities.  Harbinger Files #1 reveals his previously-untold origin, as well as explaining how he survived his encounter with Solar, Man of the Atom.

After his private jet crashes on a desolate mountain, the badly-injured Harada is rescued by hermit Dusty Berman.  Recuperating in Berman’s cabin, Harada details his history & motivations.  Seeking to convince the skeptical recluse, Harada uses his powers to levitate Dusty’s cup of coffee.

Harada is an interesting figure.  A charitable view of him would be that he is a well-intentioned extremist, someone who feels compelled to make difficult choices to save the world from itself.  He could be viewed as an embodiment of the expression “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”  A much more skeptical analysis of Harada would be that he is engaged in a massive self-deception, that he is in fact an incredibly selfish, avaricious, tyrannical individual who has managed to convince himself that he is working towards noble goals.

Dave Cockrum was one of the preeminent artists of the Bronze Age.  He played a major role in the successful revamps of both the Legion of Super-Heroes and the X-Men.  Unfortunately by the early 1990s Cockrum, like a number of his contemporaries, was having difficulty finding work, his style regarded by certain editors as “old-fashioned.”  I am a huge fan of Cockrum’s art, so I was glad when he got a couple of jobs penciling for Valiant in 1994.

“Redemption and Reward” is a story that mostly consists of Harada and Dusty conversing, with flashbacks to Harada’s early years.  You need a penciler who is really strong at storytelling & characterization, which is just what Cockrum was.  He does an excellent job with what is mostly a “talking heads” story.

Inking is by Gonzalo Mayo, who worked regularly at Valiant.  The Peruvian-born artist has a very lush style to his inks.  He worked really well over a number of different pencilers at Valiant, giving the art a very nice illustrative look.  I got my copy of this comic autographed by Cockrum a couple of years after it came out, and he told me he liked Mayo’s inking over his pencils.

38) Steve Ditko

I’m glad I located a coffee-drinking page drawn by the legendary Steve Ditko.  This is from the story “Partners” written by the prolific Joe Gill from Ghostly Haunts #29, published by Charlton Comics with a January 1973 cover date.

“Partners” is the tale of prospectors Max Aarens and Henry Farr.  As the story opens Max and Henry are in the Northern Canadian wilderness, sitting by the camp fire drinking coffee as they celebrate having struck gold.  Unfortunately greed & paranoia soon descend, and each man makes plans to betray the other.

Ditko utilizes some extremely effective layouts on this story, superbly illustrating both the brutal blizzard and the psychological trauma that strikes the characters.  The facial expressions & body language of his characters is incredibly evocative.  Even here, on the relatively quiet first page, Ditko deftly establishes the mood of harshly cold isolation, and foreshadows the treacherous nature of the protagonists.

By the way, the lady in green & red on the left side of the opening splash panel is Winnie the Witch, the lovely host of Ghostly Haunts.  As he often did on the Ghostly Haunts stories he drew, Ditko has Winnie lurking in-between panels and on the borders of pages of “Partners,” knowingly observing the unfolding events.

I originally read this in black & white in Steve Ditko’s 160-Page Package published by Robin Synder in 1999, which collected 20 of the Ditko-illustrated stories from the various Charlton horror anthologies.  It looks really crisp & effective in black & white.  There are scans of the full story in color from Ghostly Haunts #29 on the blog Destination Nightmare.

39) Dwayne Turner & Jerome K. Moore

Sovereign Seven, created by writer Chris Claremont and penciler Dwayne Turner, was the result of an interesting arrangement: It was published by DC Comics, and set within the DC Universe, but all of the original characters introduced in it were owned by Claremont. These two pages are from S7 #1, cover-dated July 1995, and issue #6, cover-dated December 1995. Turner inked issue #1, and Jerome K. Moore inked #6. Letters are by Tom Orzechowski & Clem Robbins, and colors are by Gloria Vasquez.

The Sovereigns were a group of aristocratic refugees from different parallel Earths whose worlds had all been conquered by the mysterious Rapture. They were gathered together by Rhian Douglas, aka Cascade, who was fleeing from her seemingly-tyrannical mother Maitresse, although eventually we discover there is much more going on there than either we the readers or Rhian herself suspect.

The main setting of S7 is the Crossroads Coffee Bar, situated at the intersection of three state borders (implied to be Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts) and which contains portals to other dimensions. Crossroads is run by sisters Violet Smith and Pansy Jones, who were based on folk musicians Emma Bull and Lorraine Garland. It is here that the fleeing Sovereigns find sanctuary. As a result, there were a lot of characters drinking a lot of coffee in a lot of issues.

To earn their keep the Sovereigns end up working at the Crossroads. It’s somewhat odd to see a group of what are basically One Percenters sliding into the thankless service industry with a bare minimum of complaints, although it is implied that the societies they came from all possessed systems of noblesse oblige, and that the conquest of those worlds by the Rapture brought these seven down to Earth, both symbolically and literally.

Darkseid shows up at Crossroads in the first issue, and it is suggested that he has frequented the establishment in the past. Sipping an espresso, he satisfactorily comments…

“An excellent brew, Violet, as always. I can’t get anything quite like it at home.”

Perhaps someone ought to explain to Darkseid that if he hadn’t transformed Apokolips into an industrialized fascist hellhole it might be much easier to come by quality caffeinated beverages?

Jumping forward to issue #6, it’s Halloween at Crossroads. Italian mercenary Marcello Veronese has come to town, and he is instantly taken with the fully-armored Fatale, who he spots serving coffee.

Marcello: That waitress in black, she is one striking woman!

Pansy: Say that to her face, you’ll see just how striking.

Marcello: The reward, I’ll wager, would be well worth the risk.

Pansy: You want risk, chum, I’ll introduce you to my sister.

I found S7 an interesting & enjoyable series. That said it probably was overly ambitious. Launching a book with seven lead characters, an expanded supporting cast, and a complex backstory right when the comic book market was experiencing a glut might have been a mistake. I think S7 ended up getting lost in the crowd. It did ultimately last for 36 issues, plus two annuals and one special, which is a fairly respectable run.

We will return to S7 and the coffee-drinking crowd of Crossroads in a future entry, when we look at the work of the series’ second regular penciler.

40) Terry Moore

My girlfriend Michele is a huge fan of Strangers in Paradise, which was written & drawn by Terry Moore.  SiP is a semi-comedic soap opera that eventually ventured into mystery and crime noir.  I figured there would probably be at least a few coffee-drinking scenes in SiP.  Flipping through the first “pocket book” trade paperback from Abstract Studio, I found one from the very first issue of volume one, which was originally published by Antarctic Press in November 1993.

I asked Michele if she could briefly explain what SiP was about.  She started telling me how it was about two women, Katrina, aka Katchoo, and Francine, who are best friends.  Katchoo is bisexual and is attracted to Francine, but Francine is straight and wants to one day have children.  Making things even more complicated is David, an artist who falls in love with Katchoo.  After attempting to summarize the various plotlines that Moore had running through SiP over the years, Michele finally shrugged and said “It’s complicated.”  She then suggested I look it up on Wikipedia.

Michele also had this to say about Strangers in Paradise

“My issue with SiP is that it borrowed from Love and Rockets in regards to the (that word again) “complicated” relationship between Maggie and Hopey. SiP does manage to steer into its own plots. Just that similarity. Terry Moore is a great artist.”

In this scene from the very first issue, Katchoo and David have met for the first time at an art gallery, and David has convinced the very reluctant Katchoo to have a cup of coffee with him.  They walk over to the coffee shop in a rainstorm, and when David suggests to the sneezing Katchoo that she take off her wet clothes, she goes ballistic.

It’s a funny scene that establishes right off the bat that Katchoo is assertive, but also very melodramatic.  The page ends perfectly with a waitress who deadpans “How about that de-caff now, honey?”

Comic book reviews: X-Men Black – Magneto

What if Magneto was right all along?

Magneto, mutant master of magnetism, has been a central figure of the X-Men mythos since the very beginning. Frequently an adversary, but sometimes an ally, Magneto is a figure who has often found himself in the grey area between villain and hero, terrorist and freedom-fighter.

Initially conceived in the early 1960s as a one-dimensional megalomaniac determined to conquer the world in the name of mutant-kind, Magneto was later re-conceptualized by writer Chris Claremont.

It was revealed by Claremont that Magneto was a Jew from Eastern Europe who spent his childhood imprisoned in the living hell of the Auschwitz concentration camp.  Having seen his family murdered by the Nazis, and subsequently experiencing further discrimination after World War II ended, Magneto became convinced that humanity would never be able to accept the emerging mutant race.  Magneto was certain that another Holocaust was inevitable, this time with mutants facing extermination.  Resolving to never again be a victim, Magneto believed that the only way to prevent a mutant genocide was to preemptively conquer the world, to crush humanity before they could attempt to wipe out mutants.

X-Men Black Magneto cover

Claremont, the co-architect of many classic X-Men storylines, returns to Magneto in the new special X-Men: Black – Magneto.  “The Stars, Our Destination?” is penciled by Dalibor Talajic, inked by Roberto Poggi & Belardino Brabo, lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna, and colored by Dono Sanchez-Almara.  The cover artwork is by J. Scott Campbell & Sabine Rich.

As the story opens, Magneto is in his civilian guise of “Erik,” sitting in a café near San Fernando TX, drawing in his sketchbook.  The waitress, a teenage African American named Kate, comes over to talk to him.  The two converse, and Kate explains that her family has owned the café for generations.  Her family also has a long tradition of military service; Kate’s mother tragically was killed while deployed overseas.

Their conversation is interrupted by a television news report that the government’s Office of National Emergency has opened a “detention center” outside of San Fernando to house mutant children who “are being detained for their own safety, as well as the security of the general public.”

Magneto is, of course, aghast, immediately seeing parallels to his own childhood imprisonment in Auschwitz.  He is further disturbed by the reactions of the café’s other patrons, who vocally approve of the government’s actions.

Kate is the only one present who perceives the terrible injustice in imprisoning children who have committed no crimes, arguing “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right!”  Unfortunately her protests fall upon deaf ears, with one customer angrily snarling “How can liberals be so stupid?” and another arguing “They’re talking civil rights, we’re talking the survival of the human race!”

Magneto, seeing how ugly the mood in the café has become, excuses himself.  Kate follows him outside to apologize for how the customers treated him, and she accidentally observes him beginning to use his mutant powers.  She isn’t afraid, though, and Magneto tells her “Today, child, I’ll wager you’ve made your mother proud. Never lose those ideals, Kate.”

X-Men Black Magneto pg 6

After a brief stop at his orbiting asteroid base, Magneto returns to Earth, where he approaches the Detention Center.  He is quickly attacked by ONE forces, including a woman in Sentinel armor.  Although briefly caught off-guard, Magneto soon gains the upper hand.  Using his powers, he destroys all of their weapons.  However, in an act of mercy, as well as so they will pass along his message, Magneto does not kill any of the government agents.

Magneto frees the children in the Detention Center, offering them sanctuary on Asteroid M.  The children ask if their parents and families will also be coming, and Magneto has no answer.  One of the children then tells him that they cannot run away, that they need to stay, to fight for the principles the country was founded upon.

Sad, but understanding, Magneto uses his powers to destroy the Detention Center and spirit the children away from the authorities.  Before he leaves, he addresses the prison officials:

“Your actions betray the bedrock ideals of your nation. You should be ashamed. Mutants are not your enemies. They are your friends, your neighbors, your family… Act as oppressors, you’ll be treated like them.”

Regrettably his words fall on deaf ears.  The ONE agents, completely disregarding Magneto’s act of mercy in sparing their lives, instead resolve to fight that much harder to kill him next time, genuinely believing that they are humanity’s first line of defense against extinction.

X-Men Black Magneto pg 7

In the past I have written about Magneto on this blog.  I have expressed the opinion that he is a man who let his childhood traumas and fears completely warp his thinking.  He is so terrified of another Holocaust occurring that he has become the very thing he despises.  As I saw it, Magneto’s good intentions had paved the road into his own personal hell.

But was I wrong?  Was Magneto right?  The events of the last several years have led me to question my certainty.  Chris Claremont’s story has given focus to my doubts.

Reading the X-Men comic books in the 1980s and 90s, I recall thinking that the anti-mutant racism and hysteria shown in the Marvel universe was depicted in a very overblown manner.  It seemed exaggerated and unrealistic, in comparison to our own real world.

Growing up in the 1980s, I believed that racism was mostly a thing of the past.  Yes, I acknowledged that there were still bigots out there, but I thought that they were now the exception rather than the rule.  I believed that so many advances towards equality were being made, that most people in this country had moved beyond racism… or maybe I should say that is what I wanted to believe.

As a middle class white male in suburban New York it was all too easy for me to ignore the widespread, institutionalized racism that still existed in the United States.  It was foolish and naive of me to believe that a nation that was founded upon the genocide of Native Americans and the brutal enslavement of blacks, a country that after the Civil War saw African Americans subjected to nearly a century of segregation and violent oppression, could completely turn away from racism & intolerance in just a few short decades.

X-Men Black Magneto pg 9

It took the events of the last ten years to finally open my eyes.  The election of Barack Obama to President brought to the surface all of the bigotry that had gone underground over the previous 40 years, but which had been quietly, persistently simmering just out of sight.  The idea that a black man was now occupying the Oval Office resulted in an eruption of vile, paranoid hatred, in the peddling of insane conspiracy theories and cries that the “white race” was in danger of extinction.  The Republicans were more than happy to cynically exploit the racism of their base, utilizing that blind hatred to obstruct Obama and the Democrats at each & every turn.

And then came Donald Trump, who wholeheartedly embraced the racist fear & anger of America, riding it straight into the White House.  Trump, a racist and misogynist who praises neo-Nazis and white supremacists.  Trump, whose administration is engaged in ongoing attacks on the rights of blacks and women and Muslims and the LGBT community and civil liberties and science and rational thinking.  Trump, who has separated thousands of children from their parents, and who has put those innocent children in cages, to the enthusiastic approval & applause of his many followers, who hate anyone who is different from them.

The idea that Magneto was wrong is predicated on the idea that another Holocaust would not, could not occur here in the United States.  However, the last several years have demonstrated that the institutions of democracy & liberty in our country are alarmingly fragile, and that we could very easily follow the evil path that Nazi Germany took 80 years ago.  Some would say that is exactly what we are doing right now, and perhaps they are correct.

And if that is the case, perhaps Magneto was right, and Professor Xavier was wrong.  Perhaps peaceful coexistence is not possible, simply because there are too many willfully ignorant, hateful bigots in this world, people who will not be swayed by appeals to reason or pleas for empathy, people who will happily see their neighbors sent to the death camps.  If that is so, then a man such as Magneto, for all his flaws and zealotry, might actually be a necessity.

X-Men Black Magneto pg 20

In any case, X-Men: Black – Magneto is an effective utilization by Chris Claremont of real-world contemporary issues to tell a compelling comic book story.  To anyone who wants to argue that in the past comic books were not political, Exhibit A for the defense could be Claremont’s original 17 year run on X-Men, which was frequently political, with mutant-kind serving as an allegory for any number of persecuted minorities.

Marvel Comics has been very reluctant to openly address Trump and his followers in their stories.  I am not surprised, given that Marvel is now owned by Disney, which has always endeavored to avoid controversy.  Certainly the recent firings of James Gunn and Chuck Wendig, both of whom have been extremely vocal in their criticisms of Trump on social media, demonstrates that Disney has no desire to overtly wade into politics.

Under those circumstances, the allegorical approach favored by Claremont is probably the best, at least if one is writing at Marvel, or DC Comics for that matter.  I have often commented that science fiction is an effective vehicle for addressing contemporary political & social issues, because the genre enables writers to utilize analogues for real-world controversies.  Claremont is certainly adept at this.  If he submitted a plot concerning the government putting young Hispanic children in cages it would undoubtedly be rejected flat by Marvel.  Instead he writes about a fictional government agency imprisoning mutant children, but it is very obvious what he is really talking about.

If there is one message that we can take from X-Men: Black – Magneto, it is that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.  Democracy is not easy.  It requires active participation from its citizens.  We must vote in every election.  We must contact our government representatives to let them know how we want them to act.  Like both Magneto and Kate, we must loudly, angrily protest whenever injustice occurs.  If we do not, our freedoms will certainly be taken from us.

Peter Wyngarde: 1927 to 2018

Well-regarded British actor Peter Wyngarde, whose career spanned half a century, passed away on January 15th. He was 90 years old.

Peter Wyngarde 1993

There is some dispute regarding early details of Wyngarde’s life. It is known that his father was a British diplomat stationed in Asia before World War II.  When Shanghai was invaded by the Japanese in 1941, the fourteen year old Wyngarde was sent to an internment camp along with hundreds of other British citizens.  The next four years were brutal ones.  Wyngarde suffered from malnutrition, and at one point his feet were broken by his Japanese captors.  One of the few concessions the Japanese accorded their prisoners was allowing them to stage plays in the canteen.  This was the beginning of Wyngarde’s lifelong love of acting.

When the war ended Wyngarde was able to return to Britain. It took him some time to recuperate from his harsh ordeal, but afterwards he was determined to make a living as an actor.  He began appearing in theatrical roles in 1946, starting with bit parts and as an understudy, gradually working his way up to more significant roles over the next decade.  Beginning in the mid-1950s he also worked in television.  His breakthrough role was playing Sidney Carton in the BBC’s 1957 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

Continuing his theater work, and occasionally acting in movies, Wyngarde also made several noteworthy guest appearances on British television. He twice played villains on The Avengers starring Patrick Macnee & Diana Rigg.  In the memorable 1966 episode entitled “A Touch of Brimstone,” Wyngarde portrayed the sadistic Sir John Cartney, the head of the kinky, hedonistic Hellfire Club, who were plotting an overthrow of the British government.  A year later he returned to the series in the episode “Epic.” This time he played Stewart Kirby, a washed-up Hollywood star involved in an audacious plot to film the murder of Emma Peel.  The role involved numerous costume & make-up changes for Wyngarde, and he approached it with over-the-top gusto.

In 1967 Wyngarde guest starred on The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan’s cult classic psychological spy drama. He assumed the role of the Village’s sinister Number Two in the episode “Checkmate.”

Peter Wyngarde The Prisoner

Wyngarde best-known role was the suave, womanizing Interpol investigator turned novelist Jason King. He originated the part in the ITV series Department S, which ran for 28 episodes between 1969 and 1970.  The character of Jason King proved very popular with viewers, and was spun off into his own series, which aired from 1971 to 1972.

Wyngarde was gifted with a deep, smooth voice and a striking presence. Portraying the sophisticated, charismatic Jason King, he was often clad in fashionable, impeccably-tailored suits.  All together this resulted in Wyngarde becoming both a sex symbol and a style icon in the early 1970s.

In a 1993 interview Wyngarde explained that he put a great deal of himself into the character…

“I decided Jason King was going to be an extension of me. I was not going to have a superimposed personality. I was inclined to be a bit of a dandy, used to go to the tailor with my designs. And my hair was long because I had been in this Chekhov play, The Duel, at the Duke of York’s.

“Jason King had champagne and strawberries for breakfast, just as I did myself. I drank myself to a standstill. When I think about it now, I am amazed I’m still here.”

Although Department S and Jason King had made Wyngarde famous, he subsequently chose to return to his first love, the theater. In 1973 he co-starred with Sally Ann Howes in a production of The King and I that ran for 260 performances.  This was followed by a number of other stage roles.

In 1980, in the campy Dino De Laurentiis-produced Flash Gordon movie, Wyngarde played Klytus, the gold-masked henchman to Ming the Merciless. Wyngarde also appeared in the Doctor Who serial “Planet of Fire” in 1984, turning in a subtle, memorable performance.  The late 1980s and the 90s saw further work on the stage, as well as occasional television guest roles.

Peter Wyngarde Flash Gordon

It is a testament to how iconic a figure Wyngarde was that his likeness was immortalized in print in the early 1980s in the pages of the X-Men comic book series by the creative team of Chris Claremont, John Byrne & Terry Austin.  The Avengers television episode “A Touch of Brimstone” inspired Claremont & Byrne to introduce their own version of the Hellfire Club, a cabal of ruthless mutant industrialists manipulating politics and the economy to their benefit, in the now-classic X-Men storyline “The Dark Phoenix Saga.”  One of the members of this Hellfire Club was the X-Men’s old adversary Mastermind, now in the guise of the evil, seductive “Jason Wyngarde,” modeled, off course, on Peter Wyngarde’s performance as Jason King.

As a younger viewer I was passing familiar with Wyngarde from Flash Gordon and Doctor Who. However, it was in the 1990s via the internet that I first learned of how Claremont & Byrne had paid homage to the actor in their X-Men run.  The full Jason King series was finally released on DVD in 2007 here in the States, and I enjoyed it tremendously.  I subsequently viewed episodes of Department S, which was also an enjoyable show.

I was definitely a fan of Wyngarde’s work; he had such a wonderful presence on screen, and a rich, memorable voice.

Peter Wyngarde Mastermind
Peter Wyngarde as the suave sleuth Jason King, side-by-side with X-Men villain Mastermind in his guise as “Jason Wyngarde” as rendered by John Byrne & Terry Austin in “The Dark Phoenix Saga”

Following Wyngarde’s passing last week his agent and manager Thomas Bowington declared:

“He was one of the most unique, original and creative actors that I have ever seen. As a man, there were few things in life he didn’t know.”

Wyngarde was a private man, and wary of the press. He seldom gave interviews.  Last year he spoke at length to Tina Hopkins for The Official Peter Wyngarde Appreciation Society blog.  It is an informative and insightful piece that goes into the details of Wyngarde’s life & career.

Super Blog Team-Up 8: Captain America vs. Wolverine

Welcome to the eighth edition of Super Blog Team-Up! Since the movie Captain America: Civil War is now out, our theme is “versus” as the various SBTU contributors spotlight famous comic book battles and rivalries.

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I’m taking a look at the volatile relationship between two of Marvel Comics’ most iconic characters, Steve Rogers aka Captain America and Logan aka Wolverine.

Although Wolverine made his debut in 1974, he did not meet Captain America until a decade later. In 1980 there were tentative plans by Roger Stern & John Byrne to have Cap and Wolverine meet and for it to be revealed that Steve and Logan actually knew each other from World War II.  Unfortunately Stern & Byrne left the Captain America series before they could tell that story.  Cap and Wolverine did not run into each other until 1984, in the first Secret Wars miniseries, and they did not have their first extended one-on-one meeting for another two years, in the pages of Captain America Annual #8 (1986).

Captain America Annual 8 cover

“Tess-One” was written by Mark Gruenwald, penciled by Mike Zeck, and inked by John Beatty & Josef Rubinstein. The story opens with Logan hanging at a dive bar in northern Westchester County.  Logan’s boozing is interrupted by a huge brawl, as several thugs attack a large figure who they believe to be a mutant.  This turns of to be Bob Frank, aka Nuklo, the intellectually-challenged son of the Golden Age heroes the Whizzer and Miss America.  Nuklo was cured of his out-of-control radioactive powers, but still retains enhanced strength, and he wipes the floor with his bigoted assailants.  Logan is intrigued, and stealthily follows Bob after he leaves the bar.  He is surprised when Bob is suddenly attacked by a giant robot, Tess-One.  Wolverine leaps to his rescue, but the robot flies away, controlled by a costumed figure.

Several states west, Captain America is investigating a mysterious hole that has appeared in the middle of a parking lot. Going underground, Cap navigates a series of death traps, eventually coming to an empty chamber.  Looking at the machinery and the giant footprints in the dust, Cap deduces that the chamber’s previous occupant “must have been some sort of robot.”  And if you can see where this is headed, faithful readers, then feel free to award yourselves a No-Prize!

After rushing the critically injured Bob to the hospital, Wolverine begins tracking down the robot and its human master. The trail leads to Southern New Jersey, specifically Adametco, “the nation’s leading manufacturer of adamantium,” the Marvel universe’s near-unbreakable metal alloy.  Tess-One and its human controller Overrider have forced a truck driver making a delivery to Adamentco to smuggle them in.  After they arrive, Overrider knocks out the driver, but he recovers enough to contact Captain America’s emergency hotline.  Cap arrives at Adametco just as Wolverine is sneaking in.

At last Cap and Wolvie meet, and they are immediately off to a rough start. Cap is upset that Wolverine is trespassing in a high-security area.  He also expresses serious doubts about the X-Men as a whole, given their recent association with Magneto… and, yes, if you were not actually reading Uncanny X-Men over the previous few years to see Magneto’s efforts at redemption, you could be forgiven for thinking the team had thrown in with an unrepentant terrorist.  Y’know, I’ve always said that what the X-Men really needed was a good public relations manager.

Captain America Annual 8 pg 23

Wolverine, who back then was still very much a temperamental loner with little respect for authority figures and a seriously short fuse, quickly has enough of Cap’s attitude. Before you know it, sparks are literally flying, as Wolverine’s claws meet Cap’s impenetrable shield.  The two spar for a couple of panels before they are interrupted by the arrival of Tess-One, now coated in adamantium.  The already-formidable robot is now even more dangerous.  Cap and Wolverine are unable to prevent Overrider from escaping with it.

Realizing they are working on the same case, Cap apologizes for his earlier attitude and asks Wolverine to work with him.  Wolverine isn’t thrilled at the idea, but he wants another shot at Tess-One, so he grudgingly agrees.

Cap heads to Washington DC to search government records on Daniel Schumann, the now-deceased owner of the property underneath which Tess-One had been hidden. Cap discovers that back in 1939 Schumann proposed the creation of an army of robots as a failsafe in case the super-soldiers created by Project: Rebirth ever revolted.  The subsequent murder of Professor Erskine meant that Steve Rogers would be the only successful super-soldier to be created, and so Project Tess (Total Elimination of Super-Soldiers) was shut down.  Tess-One was the only robot ever produced.

Wolverine meanwhile utilizes the mutant-detecting Cerebro device to learn that Overrider is Richard Rennselaer, a former SHIELD with the ability to control machinery. Rennselaer’s son Johnny suffers from “nuclear psychosis,” a fear of the nuclear bomb so overwhelming that he has withdrawn into a catatonic state.  Overrider, desperate to cure his son, wants to destroy America’s entire nuclear arsenal, believing this will end the international arms race.

The next day another member of Cap’s emergency hotline spots Overrider transporting Tess-One to the nuclear command base at Offut Air Base. Tess-One attacks base security, enabling Overrider to sneak in.  Cap and Wolverine arrive via Avengers Quinjet, but are immediately at each other’s throats again, with Logan balking at taking orders from Cap.  Despite this they manage to finally defeat Tess-One, as Cap uses his shield to hammer Wolverine’s claws into the robot’s neck.  Cap, in spite of his dislike for Wolverine, has to admit that the X-Man is one tough cookie to have endured the excruciating pain required by this plan.

Captain America Annual 8 pg 35

The pair head inside the base to confront Overrider. Neither of them is able to talk Overrider down, and finally Cap uses his shield to knock him off his hover platform, hoping he will be too stunned to trigger the nukes.  Cap orders Wolverine to catch the falling Overrider; Logan, however, has other ideas, and pops his claws, ready to skewer the plummeting foe.  At the last second he decides to split the difference; he doesn’t kill Overrider, but neither does he catch him, letting him hit the ground hard.  Overrider is seriously injured but still alive.

Cap, disgusted both by this particular act, and by Wolverine’s general attitude, goes off on him…

“As for you, mister, you’d better hope the X-Men never get tired of putting up with you, because I guarantee you the Avengers would never have you.”

Captain America Annual #8 is interesting if you look at it as part of Mark Gruenwald’s decade-long stint as writer on the series. During his time on the book, Gruenwald would often contrast Cap to the violent anti-heroes who were becoming more and more popular in superhero comic books.  Gruenwald obviously favored the more traditional heroes of the Silver Age, and he sometimes overcompensated by making Cap too much of a humorless, overly-moral boy scout.

Keeping this in mind, it’s surprising that when Cap meets Wolverine, Gruenwald offers a rather nuanced depiction of the later. Yes, he shows that Wolverine is a very different type of person from Cap, someone who is unpleasant and quick to anger and who regards killing as a perfectly reasonable solution.  But Gruenwald also depicts Logan as a very competent individual who will endure hardship & pain to achieve his goal.  He shows Wolverine risking his life to rescue Bob Frank from Tess-One.  On the last page of the story, after gets chewed out by Cap, we see Logan visiting Bob at the hospital to make sure he’s okay, demonstrating that there’s more to the man than just attitude and berserker rages.

Captain America Annual 8 pg 40

I am not a fan of creators who have guest stars show up in books they write just so they can be completely humiliated by the title character.  Garth Ennis writing the Punisher teaming up with pretty much anyone is a perfect example of that sort of thing.  In contrast, you have this annual.  Gruenwald has Cap remaining very much in-character and expressing grave reservations about Wolverine.  But at the same time Gruenwald also writes Logan in a manner that was respectful of the work Chris Claremont had done with the character.  It’s a delicate balancing act, and I appreciate that Gruenwald made the effort.

One of the reasons why this annual is so well remembered, in addition to the Wolverine appearance, is that it is penciled by former Captain America artist Mike Zeck, who does an amazing job. His pencils are ably embellished by John Beatty and Josef Rubinstein, two of the best inkers in the biz.  Certainly the action-packed cover of Cap and Wolverine fighting is one of the most iconic images that Zeck has ever penciled.

This annual was a really expensive back issue for a long time. I missed getting it when it came out, and I had to read someone else’s copy at summer camp.  For years afterward every time I saw copies of this annual for sale at a comic shop or convention it was $20 or more.  In the late 1990s I was at last able to buy it for a mere three bucks.

“Tess-One” would not be the last time we would see Captain America and Wolverine side-by-side. Four years later, in 1990, we would finally see that first time Cap and Logan met during World War II, although it would be recounted by Chris Claremont, Jim Lee & Scott Williams in Uncanny X-Men #268.

Adamantium claws would collide with unbreakable shield several more times throughout the years as Cap and Logan would find themselves at odds with one another. One of the more unusual of these was courtesy of Gruenwald himself in the 1992 storyline “Man and Wolf” with artwork by Rik Levins, Danny Bulanadi & Steve Alexandrov.  This time Cap and Wolverine ended up fighting each other because Logan was hypnotized.  Oh, yes, and Cap got turned into a werewolf.  Yep, that’s right, this was the epic introduction of Capwolf!

Captain America 405 pg 15

Truthfully, Capwolf looked less like a werewolf and more like a Long-Haired Collie. “What’s that, Capwolf? Timmy fell down a well? I tell ya, that’s always happening to that darn kid!”

Despite Cap’s promise on the final page of Annual #8, years later Wolverine did indeed become an Avenger. To be fair, it was Iron Man’s idea to have Logan join the team, and at first Cap was dead-set against it.  Not surprisingly, as teammates Cap and Wolverine would continue to clash over tactics and methodologies.

Eventually, after they had to team up with Deadpool to prevent North Korea from using the technology of Weapon Plus to create an army of super-soldiers, Cap and Wolverine would grow to respect one another. Later, when Wolverine died — he’s not only merely dead, he’s really most sincerely dead… at least for now — Cap was genuinely saddened.

In the special Death of Wolverine: Deadpool & Captain America by writer Gerry Duggan and artist Scott Kollins (December 2014), Steve Rogers and Wade Wilson get together to mourn Logan, as well as prevent AIM from creating a clone of him. Thinking back on their tumultuous relationship, Cap briefly recounts the time he and Wolverine fought Tess-One.  When Cap gets to the “I guarantee you the Avengers would never have you” part, naturally enough Deadpool bursts out in hysterical laughter.

Death of Wolverine Deadpool Cap pg 8

Y’know, I really would like to see a live action face-off between Captain America and Wolverine, with Chris Evans and Hugh Jackman reprising their respective roles. Unfortunately at this point in time it doesn’t seem like Disney and Fox are able to iron out their differences enough to enable that.  Well, in the meantime at least we have the actual comic books where more often than not Cap and Logan will inevitably end up butting heads over one thing or another.

SBTU Continues below

Thanks for reading my entry in Super Blog Team-Up 8.  Be sure to check out the pieces written by the other fine contributors…

New York Comic Con 2015

I was originally not planning to go to New York Comic Con this year.  Then about a week before the show my old friend Mitchell Lampert contacted me to let me know he had two extra tickets for Sunday.  Thanks to Mitchell’s very kind and generous gift, my girlfriend Michele and I were able to attend the show.

As usual, I was on a limited budget, although I did manage to raise a little extra money at the last minute.  Even so, seeing all of the amazing creators who had tables in Artists Alley, I did wish that I could have afforded a few more sketches.  Well, there’s always the future.

Erik Larsen NYCC 2015

When we arrived at the Javits Center on Sunday morning, I immediately headed over to Erik Larsen’s table in Artists Alley.  Larsen is the creator of Savage Dragon from Image Comics.  I’ve been following it from the very beginning, over two decades ago, and for the last few years it has been my favorite ongoing series.  Larsen has been a guest at NYCC several times before, but somehow I’ve always missed him.  I did meet him quite a few years ago, but he had a long line then, so I really did not have the opportunity to talk with him.

Fortunately on Sunday, while there was steady traffic at Larsen’s table, it never got very crowded, and so I was able to spend a few minutes talking to him, asking him questions and telling him how much I enjoyed his work.  Larsen is definitely a friendly, cool guy.

I was able to obtain a couple of sketches by Larsen.  He did a quick free sketch of Malcolm Dragon, and then I paid for him to do a detailed Beautiful Dreamer in my theme sketchbook. Larsen is a huge fan of Jack Kirby, so for a while now I’d hoped to have him contribute to the sketchbook.  I’m happy I finally had the opportunity.

Russ Braun NYCC 2015

Next I headed over to see Russ Braun, a very talented artist who has worked on such series as Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Battlefields, The Boys and Where Monsters Dwell.  I met Russ at a signing at JHU Comic Books a few months ago, where he did a nice drawing of Beautiful Dreamer for me.  Since then we’ve corresponded on Facebook.  Russ is definitely a class act, one of the nicest comic book pros I’ve ever met.  It’s always a pleasure to see the new artwork he’s posting on FB.

I picked up a copy of Russ’ 2015 NYCC Sketchbook, which contains some amazing illustrations.  A lot of these are pieces he’s shared on Facebook in the last few months, and it was nice to see them complied together.  Russ drew a sketch for me in my Avengers Assemble book.  He drew a pretty obscure character named Masque, who you might recall if you were reading the Avengers comics in the mid-1990s.  I will be the first to admit that “The Crossing” storyline was a huge mess.  However, there were certain characters and elements to it that I thought had potential, and Masque was one of those.  Anyway, Russ did a great job sketching the character.

Sovereign Seven original artwork

I was pleasantly surprised to meet Christopher Ivy, an artist I know from Facebook.  He is an extremely prolific inker who has been working in comic books since 1988.  Ivy had some original pages for sale.  I was just browsing through them out of curiosity when I came across one of his pages from Sovereign Seven penciled by Dwayne Turner.  As I’ve written before, S7 was an interesting series.  This one leaped out at me because of the beautiful drawing of Lucy the cat by Turner & Ivy.

Yes, as regular readers of this blog will know, I am definitely a huge cat lover.  So I immediately knew that I had to buy this page.  Fortunately it fell within my budget.  Michele thought it was a nice page, as well.

Chris Claremont NYCC 2015

Chris Claremont, the writer of Sovereign Seven, had a table in Artists Alley.  I brought the page over to get his autograph.  Claremont was pleasantly surprised by this, and he appeared genuinely happy to see it.  I always thought the series had a great deal of potential.  Even though it was published by DC Comics, the characters were owned by Claremont.  I told him that I would enjoy seeing him write them again, if not in comic books then perhaps in a prose novel.  I get the feeling that given the opportunity Claremont would like to revisit his creations.

I spent most of the day in Artists Alley, mostly because it looked like the main floor was very crowded.  Around 3:00 Michele and I decided to give it a try.  And, yep, it was completely packed!  It was almost impossible to move in places.  I felt like we were on the NYC subway during rush hour.

After elbowing out way through the crowd and making our way from one end of the floor to another, we finally arrived at the Action Labs booth.  Unfortunately by that time the creators of the Hero Cats series had left for the day.  Well, maybe next year!

Paris Cullins NYCC 2015

Inching our way back the other was, Michele and I came to the Papercutz booth.  Paris Cullins was there to promote The Zodiac Legacy, the new series he’s working on with writer Stuart Moore.  Cullins asked if I would like a sketch.  He then proceeded to draw Michele and myself!  I think that I look sort of weird, but the drawing of Michele was of course beautiful.  It was a very nice gesture on Cullins’ part.

I met a number of other creators at NYCC.  Among them were Joe Staton, Bret Blevins, Jan Duursema, Tom Mandrake, Joyce Chin, Mike Lilly, Bob McLeod, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Joe Prado, Fernando Ruiz, Jamal Igle, Jim Chambers and Joe Martino.  I hope I’m not forgetting anyone.

There were, of course, some really amazing cosplayers at NYCC.  Michele took a whole bunch of pictures.  Here are a few of my favorites…

Sabine Wren from Star Wars: Rebels
Sabine Wren from Star Wars: Rebels

The Rocketeer
The Rocketeer

Hot Pepper
Hot Pepper

Doctor Strange and Zatanna
Doctor Strange and Zatanna

Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham
Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham

I really admire many of these cosplayers.  They obviously possess a great deal of talent to be able to create such amazing costumes, as well as the self-confidence to wear them at huge gatherings of fandom.

I’m happy that Michele and I were able to go to New York Comic Con this year.  It was fun.  At the same time, I’m glad that I only went one day.  Any more than that and I would have been completely worn out!

Sovereign Seven: “12th Night”

Chris Claremont is most prominently known for his extensive association with the X-Men franchise of comic books published by Marvel.  However, the prolific writer has worked on numerous characters and titles throughout the decades.  This was especially true in the 1990s.  After his 17 year run on Uncanny X-Men unfortunately came to an end due to disagreements with editor Bob Harras, in the succeeding decade Claremont was involved in a variety of projects.  Among these was Sovereign Seven, a title published by DC Comics that ran for 36 issues between 1995 and 1998.

Sovereign Seven 9 cover

Sovereign Seven was a bit of an odd specimen.  It was apparently set within the DC universe, and featured guest appearances by numerous established characters.  But the main cast who were co-created by Claremont & artist Dwayne Turner were copyrighted to Claremont.  In a way Sovereign Seven was off in its own sub-continuity, although occasionally some of the characters would pop up in books written by other creators, such as Mister Miracle and Genesis.  And the wrap-up in the final issue basically had Claremont ambiguously saying “Maybe all of this really did happen, and maybe it was all just a made-up story.”

Considering how notoriously mutable DC’s continuity has been over the past few decades, I’m content enough to regard Claremont’s Sovereign Seven stories as having been real events that took place in some corner or another of the vast multiverse.  Well, as “real” as fiction can get.  As Alan Moore famously observed, “This is an imaginary story… Aren’t they all?”

I’ve been meaning to do some sort of write-up on Sovereign Seven for some time now.  Despite its occasional uneven quality, as well as an abundance of Claremont’s dialogue ticks and favorite tropes (mind control, physical transformation, BDSM), it was on the whole an interesting, entertaining series.  I’d definitely love to pen an exploration of the complex, adversarial relationship between Rhian Douglas aka Cascade and her mother Maitresse.  But in the meantime, since it’s the holiday season, here is a look at Sovereign Seven #9, “12th Night” by Claremont, Turner & inker Chris Ivy.

Sovereign Seven 9 pg 2 & 3

One of the brilliant qualities of Claremont’s work on the X-Men titles was that he wrote characters from diverse cultures & societies, examining how they interacted with each another and strove to understand their differences while finding common ground.  He took that to the next level in Sovereign Seven, as his cast members each came from different worlds, different dimensions.

Thrust together in their flight from the mysterious, insidious threat of “The Rapture,” these seven rulers & aristocrats found refuge on Earth.  Their new home was the Crossroads Coffee Bar, an inn & restaurant located in rural New England run by the enigmatic sisters Violet and Pansy.  The seven exiles had to learn about one another, as well as their new home world.  They also had to adjust from being heads of state & monarchs to assisting the two sisters with the much more mundane tasks of the day-to-day running of the inn.

Another aspect of Claremont’s X-Men writing is that in between major story arcs he would take an issue or two to tell more personal tales, or show the team during “downtime.”  That is also a technique that Claremont utilized in Sovereign Seven.  “12th Night” has the team between crises, helping out at Crossroads in preparation for the holiday celebrations, and having fun engaging in a snowball fight.  Claremont also utilizes this issue to touch upon Reflex’s religion.  The world, the culture, he comes from had its own version of Christmas, and he takes this opportunity to observe his faith.

Sovereign Seven 9 pg 16

The most intense, isolated member of the team was undoubtedly Finale.  As the series unfolded, we learned of her tragic backstory, of the deep price the conflict with The Rapture enacted from her.  Claremont therefore uses “12th Night” to place her in more lighthearted circumstances.  Originating from a tropical water world, Fatale has never seen snow before.  Upon witnessing snowfall at Crossroads, an alarmed Fatale declares “The sky is falling!”  Claremont also allows her to briefly let down her guard.  Touched by a gift given to her by a new acquaintance, she allows herself to indulge in a movement of dance.  As Claremont describes it, “It is truly a sight of wonder and rare beauty to behold.”

As the holiday festivities unfold, Cascade cannot help but compare this to her past, the highly regimented existence she was forced to lead at the behest of Maitresse.  “We did nothing like this at home.”  Rhian, who is so used to living at the whim of her mother’s demands, is struggling find her own unique identity.  Also ever-present in her mind is the worry that her mother will find a way to follow her trail, escaping her other-dimensional prison.  Indeed, we see Maitresse attempting to enact just such a plan.

After an ominous encounter in the woods with an entity calling itself Triage, a being who promises to bring great strife to the Sovereigns, Cascade returns to Crossroads.  There she is pleasantly surprised to find a holiday party thrown in her honor.  At long last, however briefly, Rhian allows herself to relax and enjoy herself in the company of friends.

Sovereign Seven 9 pg 22

“12th Night” is a lovely tale.  Claremont very effectively utilizes the holiday season as a vehicle for exploring his large ensemble.  His florid prose is well-suited to generating a seasonal mood, and to delving into the inner workings of his creations. The artwork by Turner & Ivy very much captures the festive, spiritual atmosphere of the Crossroads community.  In particular, their two page spread at the beginning of the issue is beautifully rendered.

Sovereign Seven was an enjoyable title.  Claremont told some interesting stories working with several very talented artistic collaborators.  He did excellent work developing a unique cast of characters.  It has been at least a couple of years since I’ve read the series in its entirety.  I’m looking forward to revisiting it in the near future and offering up some commentary on this blog.

Magneto vs. the Red Skull round one

The current Marvel Comics crossover Avengers/X-Men: Axis sees the Fascist mastermind the Red Skull gaining the devastating powers of Onslaught, threatening the entire world. A key aspect of this storyline has been the conflict between the Skull and Magneto, the mutant Master of Magnetism.  But this is certainly not the first time those two have encountered one another.  For that we must look back to late 1989 and the “Acts of Vengeance” crossover.

Captain America 367 cover

It is actually a bit surprising that it took Magneto and the Red Skull so long to meet. In certain respects they have much in common; in others they are complete opposites.

Magneto, the long-time ideological opponent of the X-Men and one of their greatest foes, spent his early years as a one-note mutant supremacist. He was almost a Hitler-like figure, a ranting, sadistic conqueror who wanted to crush humanity and rule the world in the name of mutant-kind, who he saw as their superiors.

Then throughout the 1980s, in the pages of Uncanny X-Men, writer Chris Claremont developed a back-story for Magneto. He was a Jew from Eastern Europe who had spent much of his childhood imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camps, who lost his entire family in the Holocaust.  At the end of World War II the barely alive Magneto fled to Russia with the gypsy Magda, who he married.

Eventually, as seen in Classic X-Men#12 by Claremont and artist John Bolton, when Magneto’s mutant powers began to manifest, a fearful mob attacked him, preventing him from rescuing his daughter Anya who was trapped in a burning house. Magneto lashed out in anger, slaying the mob.  Magda fled from him in fear, and he never saw her again.

The death of his daughter, the loss of his wife, and the actions of the mob brought him right back the horrors of the Holocaust. Magneto became convinced that it was inevitable that humanity would attempt to destroy mutants in a new genocide.  Between his overwhelming fear of a mutant Holocaust, and an unfortunate side effect of his powers creating severe emotional instability, Magneto became a violent revolutionary determined to protect mutant-kind by conquering humanity.  In effect, he became very much like the Nazis who he hated.

Classic X-Men 12 pg 10

The Red Skull’s real name is Johann Schmidt. In the back-story originally set down by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, and developed in detail years later by J.M. DeMatteis, Paul Neary & Roy Richardson in Captain America #298, we learn that Schmidt was born to an alcoholic father and his abused wife in a small German village.  When the mother died giving birth the drunk, angry father attempted to murder his newborn son.  He was prevented from doing so by the delivering physician.  The distraught father committed suicide soon after, leaving the infant Johann Schmidt an orphan.  Although only a newborn when all this occurred, the Red Skull claims to remember these events with crystal clarity.

Schmidt spent his childhood and teenage years as an outcast and a vagrant, ostracized by his peers. One time the daughter of a Jewish shopkeeper showed the coarse man kindness.  Schmidt responded by clumsily attempting to woo her, and when she spurned his violent advances, he responded by beating her to death, taking out on her all the rage he felt at humanity as a whole.  The experience filled him with “a dizzying joy such as I never suspected existed!”

Years past, and eventually Schmidt was working as a bellboy at a German hotel. One day Hitler and his advisors were staying there.  By chance, Schmidt was bringing refreshments into Hitler’s chambers right when the Fuhrer was berating the head of the Gestapo for letting a spy escape.  The fuming Hitler was despairing at ever having anyone competent enough to carry out his vision.  Motioning towards Schmidt, Hitler declared “I could teach that bellboy to do a better job than you!”  Glancing at the young man, Hitler was startled to see the look in Schmidt’s eyes.  Within them Hitler recognized a bottomless capacity for hatred and violence.  The Fuhrer realizes this was someone who he could transform into the ultimate Nazi, a being who would mercilessly advance the cause of the Third Reich.  Thus was born the Red Skull.

Captain America 298 pg 14

It is interesting that circumstances both led Magneto and the Red Skull onto a path of violence and conquest, each driven by the belief in their own superiority, by the desire to punish the world for the harms inflicted upon them. The difference, I think, is that if young Magneto had grown up in a different place & time, and never lived through the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust, he might very well have grown up to be a normal, happy, well-adjusted figure.  In contrast, one gets the feeling that Johann Schmidt, even if he had been raised by loving parents, was of possessed some form of anti-social personality disorder and would have inevitable become a cruel, unpleasant individual.  He simply might have become something slightly more socially acceptable, such as a corporate executive or a politician!

These two men finally come face-to-face during “Acts of Vengeance,” when the Norse god of evil Loki brought together several of Earth’s greatest villains and criminals to organize a series of attacks directed at destroying the Avengers. At first Magneto thinks that this is a different Red Skull, believing the original died some time before, not realizing the Skull’s consciousness was transferred into a new body cloned from none other than Captain America.  Nevertheless Magneto cannot put the matter out of his mind.  In Captain America #367 written by Mark Gruenwald, with excellent artwork Kieron Dwyer and Danny Bulanadi, Magneto breaks into the Skull’s office in Washington DC, demanding to know the truth.  The Skull admits he is the original.  He attempts to convince Magneto that the two of them are in fact very much alike, hoping to trick the Master of Magnetism into lowering his guard.  This fails, and the Skull is forced to flee.  (Click on the below image to enlarge it for the full details of their exchange.)

Captain America 367 pg 8 & 9

Despite the fact that the Skull now resides in a body that possesses the Super Soldier Serum, he has never bothered to undergo the extensive regular training that Captain America himself engages in which has made the Sentinel of Liberty one of the world’s greatest fighters. Instead the Skull still relies on lackeys such as Crossbones and Mother Night, and on the advanced technology & robots developed by the Machinesmith.  So rather than possibly having a chance of at least holding his own against Magneto, as Cap probably would, the Skull quickly finds himself outmatched.

Soon enough Magneto captures the Red Skull. He spirits him away to a subterranean bomb shelter, leaving him with nothing more than several containers of water.  Magneto tells the Skull “I want you to sit down here and think of the horrors you have perpetrated.  I want you to suffer as you’ve made others suffer.  I want you to wish I had killed you.”  With that Magneto leaves, entombing the Skull in darkness.  Dwyer & Bulanadi definitely draw the hell out of this page.  That look on the Skull’s face in the final panels, as he silently fumes in a mixture of defiance and horror, is genuinely unnerving.  And you are really not sure if justice has been served, or if you actually feel perhaps the slightest bit of pity for the Skull for not having been given a quick, clean death.

Captain America 367 pg 22

The Skull spends a lengthy period of time imprisoned in the bomb shelter. Eventually he begins to hallucinate.  In Captain America #369, in an eerie sequence written by Gruenwald and drawn by Mark Bagley & Don Hudson, the Skull sees his father, Hitler, and his daughter Sinthea berating and belittling him, urging him to commit suicide.  We see that beneath the Skull’s belief that he is better than everyone else is a horrible fear that he is an insignificant nothing, and that everyone is looking down at him.  The only way he can prove that wrong is to trample the whole of humanity beneath his heel, demonstrating his superiority.

Eventually of course the Skull is located by his underlings. Weakened and dying, his burning hatred of Captain America gives him the strength to keep living and recover.  Even when Cap attempts to offer him the slightest bit of concern and sympathy, all the Skull can react with is venomous contempt and malice.  As far as the Skull is concerned, kindness equals weakness, and only hatred will keep him strong.

Captain America 369 pg 29

Much time passes by. The Red Skull dies and is resurrected at least a couple of more times.  Presently he has been revived within a copy of his own original body in its prime.  As seen in the events of Uncanny Avengers and X-Men: Legacy, the Skull has stolen the body of the recently deceased Charles Xavier.  He has ghoulishly had Xavier’s brain grafted onto his own, gaining the immense telepathic powers of the X-Men’s founder.

In the aftermath of the “Avenge the Earth” storyline written by Rick Remender, Kang the Conqueror’s sprawling Xanatos Gambit to wipe out all future timelines save for the one where he rules and to seize the power of a Celestial, becoming a literal god, was thwarted by the narrowest of margins. It was also a most pyrrhic of victories: Havok was horribly scarred in his final battle with Kang, the young daughter who Havok and the Wasp had in a now-erased timeline is a prisoner of Kang’s in the distant future, Sunfire’s body was transformed into an energy form, Wonder Man’s consciousness is trapped in Rogue’s mind and, as usual, people still hate & fear mutant-kind.

Uncanny Avengers 23 pg 21

Uncanny Avengers #23 by Remender and artist Sanford Greene shows that the vengeful Kang, seeking to rub salt into these wounds, has dispatched Ahab, the cyborg slave-master from the “Days of Futures Past” reality, to assist the Red Skull in his plans for mutant genocide. Thus is set the stage for the Axis crossover, and for Magneto to once again confront the Red Skull.  I will be taking a look at that encounter in the near future.  Stay tuned.

Click here to proceed to round two in the war between Magneto and the Red Skull.