Thursday, December 22, 2011

What If Wednesday #9: What If The Avengers Had Been Formed in the 1950's? (On a Thursday. Whatever.)

On Wednesdays, The Amazing Justin Palm! gets drunk as shit and reviews an issue of Marvel Comics’ “What If?” so that you, the reader, can enjoy his drunken ramblings about a comic book whose sole purpose is to talk about shit that never happened, so it doesn’t matter at all. Dear Internet: You’re welcome.
I meant to post this yesterday, but then I didn’t. So you get it today. Just pretend it’s Wednesday or something.

Well, I promised you a good one, and I sort of am delivering. I admit, I’m way more into this issue than probably most people, because I like obscure comic book characters, and, well, that’s what this issue is about. But the 1950’s Avengers have since starred in some really great comics as the Agents of Atlas over the last few years, and that might not have happened without this book. So I’m a little sentimental about it.

That being said, the framing device IS pretty lame, but whatever.

We open in Avengers mansion, where Iron Man has summoned 4 other Avengers- Captain America, Beast (see the X-Men movies), Thor (see the Thor movie), and Vision (too complicated to explain here, he's a robot, and otherwise just go with it)- for a top secret pseudo-briefing. He says he'll explain later, but first, he asks them the question that is this issue's title. What if the Avengers had been founded in the 1950's? Preposterous, I know.

Using a bit of continuity nonsense not worth explaining here, Iron Man shows the gathered heroes a version of the 1950s filled with “I like Ike” buttons and other random crap you might have seen on “I Love Lucy”. We come to a scene in San Francisco in the late 1950's, where secret agent Jimmy Woo, patrolling the streets of Chinatown, is attacked by a vicious gang of bikers. See, way back in the 50's, before the Marvel Age of comics, Atlas Comics (Atlas was Marvel before Marvel was Marvel) made comics about Jimmy Woo, Asian-American agent of the FBI who hunted down the evil Chinese communist (and in no way Fu-Manchu analogue) Yellow Claw. It was a different time.

Anyway, as Jimmy Woo gets his ass handed to him, he's spotted by the 3-D Man. Probably should have warned you, this issue involves a lot of crazy continuity. This issue of What If waits to explain all this later, but I'll fill you in now. So the 3-D Man... uh, okay, this is pretty crazy, so shortest version possible: Experimental test pilot, ran into some aliens that turned out to be the shape changing Skrulls (see my review of Essential FF vol 1), crazy stuff happened, and he and his younger brother sort of ended up combining their bodies, which... turned them into the 3-D Man... look, I don't even know, dude. He wear's a half green, half red jumpsuit, and can see Skrulls. Just go with it. 3-D Man beats up all the bad dudes, and then Marvel Boy shows up to mind read them and find out that the motor cycle gang works for Yellow Claw. Yes. Marvel Boy.

Okay, so, Marvel Boy. This shit’s about to get REALLY crazy, guys. (Crazy. Awesome.) When he was just a baby, his mom and sister were killed by Nazi's. So, naturally, his father built a spaceship and he and his dad went to Uranus, because, you know, why not? There, he grew up with the native Uranians, and got super-powers. I warned you about just going with it. Anyway, Agent Woo is setting up a team to fight Yellow Claw, and 3-D Man and Marvel Boy are two of his recruits. You know how the Avengers movie is coming out next summer? Well, this is basically the same plot, but in the 50's, with Jimmy Woo instead of Nick Fury. Jimmy sends Marvel Boy and his space ship with Jann of the Jungle (uh... think Tarzan's Jame, but in a comic) to find Gorilla Man, and convince him to join the team.

Believe it or not, Gorilla Man rules the schools. See, Ken Hale was a big game hunter who learned of a Gorilla Man, who, if killed, supposedly turned the killer immortal. So, he found this Gorilla Man, and shot him dead, only to discover that the Gorilla Man was really a curse. Turned out that who ever killed the Gorilla Man became the next Gorilla Man, and was super strong and awesome, but also a gorilla. This makes more sense than it sounds, I promise. Anyway, Gorilla Man joins the team, and Jann stays behind, because no one cares about her. Also joining the team is Namora, Namor the Sub-Mariner's cousin who has all his powers; the Human Robot, a super awesome kill-bot who is human in name only, he’s seriously just a crazy robot built to kill stuff; and Venus, who's essentially what she says she is, the Goddess of Love.

It's at this point that we flashback to the REAL Avengers, asking what the hell Iron Man is talking about, and he explains everything I just already covered about who these people are. Anyway, the gangs all together now, and thus the Avengers of the 1950's is formed! Meanwhile, Yellow Claw has formed his own team, which, to be honest, is lame as hell, and you don't care about. Believe me, if I don't care bout them, then I KNOW you don't either. But Yellow Claw has his own team now, and obviously, now the good guys have to fight the bad guys. For CAPITALISM, god damn it!

Anyway, the Yellow Claw's agents kidnap President Eisenhower off the golf course, cuz they're dicks, but Jimmy sneaks underground with them. The 50's Avengers are busy in a fight amongst themselves (it is, after all, the Merry Marvel Manner of superheroing), until they get a coded message from Agent Woo. Then they all band together to go save the President! Back in the Yellow Claw's headquarters, Ike is held captive, and Jimmy visits Suwan, Yellow Claw's grand-niece and Jimmy Woo's long time love interest. Jimmy gets his make out on, until he's captured by the bad guys, cuz he's a worse secret agent than James Bond.

Luckily, the day is saved by Agent Woo's team! The good guys beat the bad guys, Suwan lets Jimmy go free, and although Yellow Claw escapes, Eisenhower is saved, so yay the good guys! Except, uh, it's the 50's. So, because aliens and communists are everywhere in the public subconscious, Eisenhower asks the team to disband, and pretend they never existed. Eisenhower wants to make everyone think none of this happened, because McCarthyism was a crazy time, kids.

So, the team disbands, and we learn why Iron Man selected this particular group. It's kinda silly, but basically: Cap= 3-D Man, Iron Man = Marvel Boy, Beast = Gorilla Man, Vision = Human Robot, and Thor = Venus. Try not to think about it too much.

Seriously, though, Jimmy Woo’s team is awesome, and if you’re bored and looking for something to read, go find a copy of the Agents of Atlas books by Jeff Parker and co. And if you want to ignore all the nonsense involving the Avengers as stand ins for the 50’s Avengers, this isn’t a bad story.

Next time, well, it’s gonna be a weird one folks. Next time it’s “What If Jane Foster Had Found the Hammer of Thor?” I’m not entirely sure how Jane’s going to be found worthy, or what this means to Dr. Donald Blake, but apparently it involves the Stone Men From Saturn from the first Thor story, and I am a HUGE fan of them. So there’s that I guess.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Making Marvel Mine: Marvel Masterworks Sgt. Fury Vol. 1 ( Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #1-13)

Okay, I know I don't usually start like this, but right off the bat, I want you to know, I LOVE this book. Straight up, this is my favorite book I've done a Making Marvel Mine of that wasn't about Spider-Man (to which, I admit, I am extremely biased). And I'm not a big War Story fan or anything. But this book is so far ahead of the curve, and has such an energy, that I don't know what else to call it but a thing of brilliance. Racism and bigotry are taken head on, the horrors of war are experienced, propaganda, concentration camps, and the blitzkrieg are all in there, and a major character gets killed off in a comic book that came out in 1963. That was simply NOT DONE, but there it was. This wasn't just another war comic (there were a lot of those in the sixties), this was a book where anyone could be lost, and the stakes were always high.

It's also a very personal book, at least by the standards of early sixties comics. All 13 issues in this volume were written by Stan Lee, and the art was by Jack Kirby (issues 1-7, 13) and (the often under-appreciated) Dick Ayers (issues 8-12), and all three had served in the U.S. Military during World War II. I don't want to suggest that they were basing the stories after their own memories, because I know that the war wasn't a particularly happy subject, especially for Kirby (he would have nightmares about it all of his life). But I do think they felt the need to express something about the war to younger generations, and this was one of the places they did that.

It's a peculiar thing; the book isn't exactly a glorification of the allied forces, but it is at times deliberately dishonest. I mean that in the best way possible- this is World War II as it happened in the Marvel Universe. The army is integrated, our heroes bust open a concentration camp like it’s nothing- but never once are the complexities and horrors of war undermined or completely ignored. It’s a very shrewd series.

The book opens with immediate fanfare- no time wasted on explaining an origin, simply an action splash page of the Howlers and then two pages to cover the biographiesof each member of the eclectic cast. Sgt. Nick Fury, the "steel-muscled, iron-nerved fighting man" is the leader of the Howlers. Fury is pretty much the biggest, most hardcore man's-man that ever lived, and it's easy to see how, over the years, he'd grow from being this shaggy soldier into the greatest spymaster the (fictional) world has ever seen. At his right hand is Corp. "Dum-Dum" Dugan, the bowler hat wearing, cigar smoking strongman who you might remember from the Captain America movie (Fury himself isn’t in the WWII scenes, for obvious reasons of movie continuity). The rest of the cast was easily the most diverse of it's time: Izzy Cohen, one of the first openly Jewish characters in comics, was a scrappy mechanic who could fix anything with a motor. Dino Manelli was an ex-movie star of Italian-American decent, who left Hollywood to join the army. "Rebel" Ralston was a jockey from Kentucky whose small size hid how deadly he could really be. Jonathan "Junior" Juniper had joined the army as soon as he graduated from an Ivy-League university. And Gabriel Jones was a bugle player who just happened to be African-American. Later on we meet characters like Captain "Happy Sam" Sawyer, Fury's hard-nosed C.O.; Pamela Hawley, a British nurse who falls in love with our brash hero; and Percival Pinkerton, a British soldier who's eventually assigned to the Howler's.

It's hard to talk about this book without spoiling all kinds of things and/or gushing about it, but I would like to talk about the brilliance of my favorite issue in this collection. Sgt. Fury #6, "The Fangs of the Desert Fox!", may be, and I am 100% serious when I write this, the SINGLE BEST COMIC OF THE SILVER AGE, PERIOD. I admit, I haven't read them all, but I've read more than most people, and it really is that good. It’s a complex tale of friendship, bigotry, and the place morality has even in war. It’s not exactly your typical 1964 funnybook.

The story revolves around the Howlers being sent on a mission to stop the unstoppable General Erwin Rommel, Hitler’s greatest general, and leader of the Afrika Korps. Now, if that sounds like a pretty meaty subject on its own, well, it is, but that’s just the frame work to tell a much more grounded story- the personal drama becoming far more important and interesting than the marching armies and grand explosions that surround them. As Fury and his men do exercises to prepare for the capture of Rommel, Dino Manelli is injured in a parachuting maneuver gone wrong, and so he is quickly replaced by the military brass with a soldier named George Stonewell.

It quickly becomes apparent that Stonewell, despite being quite a competent soldier and Red-Blooded ‘Merican, is also a Red-Blooded ‘Merican Racist. His general jerkwad behavior gets Fury right pissed off, and Fury makes it clear in no uncertain terms that Stonewell needs to get over himself right now, or Fury will personally hand his ass to him.

The mission gets started, and is almost immediantly screwed up by Stonewell continuing to act like a general all-purpose asshat. In the course of battle, the Howlers escape and even manage to capture a Nazi soldier. Now, the Nazi soldier sees that Stonewell is a big, strong, blond dude, possibly of Aryan descent. And the Nazi also sees that Stonewell doesn’t seem to particularly like working with Cohen or Jones, and offers Stonewell a secret deal. He tells Stonewell that if he helps the Nazi escape, he will make sure that Stonewell is not executed when Rommel comes in and wins the day for the Germans. Now, the easy-writing route would be to have Stonewell defect and join the Nazis here. But no, see, Stonewell may be a racist, but he’s also a proud American soldier (if a flawed one), and he steadfastly refuses to betray his country. He’s an intolerant dick, but he’s also on our side- a very mature concept, for a book originally aimed at young kids.

I won’t spoil the whole thing, but I will say that the book successfully walks a very tight line- talking about after-school special material without ever feeling like an after-school special. A lesson is sort of learned, but never once does it feel forced; Stonewell never has a ridiculous moment when he suddenly realizes “Hey, maybe I shouldn’t be a racist anymore!” It’s a very human and sympathetic portrayal, one that Stan Lee in the introduction calls his “most impassioned plea for an end to bigotry”. And then, at the end of the issue, you learn that General Rommel himself isn’t the monster he’s suggested to be, and that he was actively planning to assassinate Hitler- in affect, the entire issue is a series of enemies turning out to not be the enemies you thought they were. It’s spectacular.

By the way, pretty much everything in that issue that is about Rommel? It’s true. Not only was he one of the most brilliant Generals in World War II, but he deliberately refused orders to kill captured allied soldiers, Jews, and civilians. He really was a major part of a conspiracy to kill Hitler, and his death was directly because of that fact. In his book, “The Second World War,” Winston Churchill said of Rommel; “He also deserves our respect, because, although a loyal German soldier, he came to hate Hitler and all his works, and took part in the conspiracy to rescue Germany by displacing the maniac and tyrant. For this, he paid the forfeit of his life. In the sombre wars of modern democracy, there is little place for chivalry.”

While Rommel, Hitler, and the invasion of Normandy are all in this book (Normandy to a small degree, but still), not every villain in the series is historical, as this is still a Marvel Comic. The two biggest standouts are clear. Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, a skilled swordsman and scientific genius, is set up by issue 5 to to be Fury’s arch-nemesis, a role he still fills today. And in issue 8 we’re introduced to Dr. Heinrich Zemo, 12th Baron Zemo, and his death ray. He’s a brilliant scientist working for the Third Reich, and I’m sure we’ll see more of him (*cough*Essential Avengers is only two reviews away!*cough*).

Straight up: Sgt. Fury is great comics. It’s not much in the way of capes and cowls, but there are a few in there nonetheless. Captain America and Bucky are in issue 13, titled, appropriately enough, “Fighting Side-By-Side With...Captain America and Bucky!”, and heck, if you’re playing close attention, the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards even has a cameo in an issue! But even if they had never shown up, this would still definitely be a great piece of Marvel history, and seriously, just brilliant work from all the collaborators. This may well be Stan Lee at his very best (I’m hesitant to confirm that, because I have a lot more Lee-scripted Fantastic Four and Spider-Man to read yet), and the art is all top notch. Top marks all around on this book, I highly recommend it, not just to comic book fans, but everyone.

Editors Note: Full disclosure, I bought my copy of this book over a year ago, a hardcover Marvel Masterworks version. Unlike the Marvel Essentials books (which all the previous reviews have been), there are only about 10-15 issues in each Masterworks collection. The Masterworks are gorgeous, fully colored and on really, really nice paper. Essentials are uncolored, and on paper that's basically like the paper you find in a coloring book. That being said, Masterworks are $50 and up for half as many comics as the Essentials (which run $16-20), so I usually stick with the Essentials. When I bought this, though, there was no Essential Sgt. Fury, so this was my best option for the stories. However, a few weeks ago Marvel finally released an Essential Sgt. Fury, probably because the characters are so integral to the plots of the Captain America and Avengers movies. Anyway, I'll eventually get around to grabbing a copy, and you'll get a review of the stories in it that weren't in this volume. Just letting you know.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Monkeys From Outer Space

I know that not everyone cares about Superhero Comics. However, I do, so that's what I'm going to talk about today. Specifically the new DC Comics line-wide reboot that started in September. You may have seen the commercials. Basically, in an act of desperation (because rival Marvel Comics has been beating their ass in sales for nearly a decade straight), DC has restarted all of their comics from the beginning (well, sort of, but whatever). Most of the major characters have shown up by now, but there's one group of characters that haven't been seen at all.

They're superhero mainstays. Super-powered activist for truth, justice, and badassary. They're some of the most powerful beings in the entire DC universe, and I, for one, refuse to just stand back while they get marginalized. I'm talking, of course, about the Legion of Super-Pets.

I am so not joking, you guys. The Legion of Super-Pets is so freaking awesome, it hurts. They're a great example of the zaniness of the 1960s in comics. For a few years, everyone had pet sidekicks. Batman had Ace, the Bat-Hound, a Great Dane that he put a Batman mask and on, who helped sniff out crime. Aquaman had Topo, a rocktastic octopus that was also a percussionist. And Superman... man, the Superman Family had so many pets that the pets formed their own freaking club. That club? The Legion of Super-Pets. Let me break the team down for you:

First up, we have Krypto the Super-Dog. He's easily the most famous member. In fact, he had his own kids' show a couple years ago. Back when Superman was still a baby, before Krypton exploded, his father Jor-El (who had figured out the planet was about to explode) was rushing to create a spaceship to save his infant son from the eminent destruction. However, before he put a six-month-old in an experimental rocket ship, Supes' dad decided he should probably do a test run with the prototype. So, Jor-El, being a rather pragmatic super-scientist, grabbed the closest potential test subject he could find, the family dog. He strapped him into a rocket ship, firing the first Kyrptonian dog into space. Yes, they had dogs on Krypton, just like on Earth. There is much Comic Book Precedent for space dogs, I assure you.

Krypto, now shot into space a few weeks before Krypton's explosion, apparently took the leisurely way to Earth, because he landed there a few years after Superman did. But soon he found his young master, and also discovered, since he was from Krypton, that he had all kinds of rad super powers! Just like Superman is a literal super man, Krypto is a super dog. So, along with being super strong/fast/and flying, he also has dog related super powers, like a super sense of smell. He also would join the Space Canine Patrol Agents, a group of dogs from all over the universe with various super powers who battle space dog crime. Yes, this is a thing that existed. The sixties were weird, you guys. Weird and AWESOME.

That's Krypto for you. Next up, we've got Streaky the mother fuckin' Super-Cat, who is definitely my favorite member of the team. Unlike Krypto, Streaky was once an ordinary house cat (Krypton had dogs, but not cats, apparently). Well, mostly ordinary, except that Streaky happened to be the house cat of Superman's cousin, Supergirl. Dudette must of been living the good life, since her owner was one of the most powerful people on the planet. His or hers, Streaky's gender kind of fluctuates depending on the writer. I prefer Streaky being a her, since all the other Super-Pets are either male or asexual, but whatever.

One day, Supergirl is doing some super science experiments, as she and her cousin often do. She was working on a piece of Green Kryptoninte- you know, the type that kills Kryptonians- trying to find a way to neutralize it's deadly affects. After transforming it into something called "X-Kryptonite" (because you come up with a better name, if you're so smart), Supergirl decided that the experiment was a failure, and in an act of utter scientific short-sightedness, she threw the new compound out the window. That's where Streaky came across it. Cats are curious, as I'm sure you know, so after careful consideration, Streaky touched the weird glowing rock, and suddenly (SOME HOW) got the standard Kryptonian super powers.

Guys, that is FANTASTIC. Okay, dogs are supposed to be loyal, and honorable, and man's best friend, right? So yeah, Krypto is a Super-dog, I mean, he's literally Superman's best friend, always does what's right, all that crap. But a super cat? I've lived with cats all my life. I love my cat. But she is a SUPER BITCH like 95% of the time. Cats do not give a fuck about anyone except themselves. So a cat with all the powers of Superman? YES. That is hilarious, because you just know that the entire world would be on the verge of destruction, and Streaky could totally save the day, she just wouldn't care enough to do it. To hell with the human race, they're only good for being furniture and petting their cats, Streaky would say. Streaky would save the world, but only if she got something in return, like a giant ball of string, because cats are totally self-absorbed. That is hilarious, you guys.

Next, we've got Beppo, the Super-Monkey. Yes, really. So, apparently, on Krypton, they not only had dogs, they also had monkeys. Now, this may sound ridiculous at first, but it makes sense when you think about it. Kryptonians look exactly like humans, right? And humans came from monkeys. Therefore, Kryptonians had to come from Kryptonian monkeys. That's just evolution, people. So yes, Krypton had monkeys too, that makes sense. Most of the rest of Beppo's origin doesn't, but it's comics, so we'll just go with it.

Remember how Jor-El just kind of grabbed Krypto and used him as a lab-rat because he was the closest animal nearby? Well, apparently Jor-El wasn't just pragmatic, but also super lazy, because he had a whole bunch of lab monkeys in his basement or something. Beppo was one of those lab monkeys. And he was apparently running around the El's house when Krypton started to explode. He freaked out and hid in the nearest shelter he could find, namely the rocket ship that the El's were about to put baby Superman in. So Beppo hitched a ride to Earth, and then apparently snuck out of the rocket ship before the Kent's found baby Superman. If this seems bizarre to you, that's probably just a sign that you are still sane, but just go with it anyway.

After sneaking out of the rocket ship and all that, Beppo decided he wanted to live in the jungle with other monkeys. Despite landing in Kansas, this would prove to be no problem, because, as a Kryptonian monkey, pretty much as soon as he landed on Earth, he developed powers just like Superman. So, soon, he was living it up in the jungles of Africa or South America or something, throwing his poop at super-sonic speeds, being the most badass monkey ever. But one day, using his space monkey super vision, he spotted young Kal-El, living some crappy life as a toddler in Kansas with super powers, and Beppo decided to join his former master, and have space monkey adventures with an infant Superman.

So that's how Superman got a space monkey. (With super powers.)

Next, it's Comet the Super-Horse! And while Streaky may be my favorite Super-Pet, Comet is definitely the most messed up. Okay, so, despite his name, Comet isn't really a horse. He just looks like one. So, way back in ancient Greece, there was this centaur, named Biron. You know what Centaurs are, right? Half man, half horse, metaphorical creatures to talk about unobstructed sexual desire? Right, you guys are with me here. Anyway, this centaur Biron really wanted to be a human. He went to Circe, who was notoriously good at turning people into animals, and he asked her to make him a real human. Dude was an idiot, because while Circe was great at turning people into animals, she sucked at reversing it.

Anyway, she tried, but screwed it up, so instead of turning Biron into a real human, she just turned him into a full fledged horse. No surprises there, but apparently Circe was feeling guilty that particular day, so while she couldn't turn Biron (the now regular horse) into a regular human, she did give him super powers. So, now, living life as a super-horse, Biron the (ex)Centaur had super speed, super strength, flight, telepathy, and some bullshit called telepathic vision, which who the fuck knows what that means?, but again, it was the sixties, just go with it.

Cut to two thousand years later, and the silver age of super heroes. Superman's cousin Supergirl comes across this horse with super powers, and she thinks this shit is the most awesome thing ever. And to be honest? Horses and I have never gotten along. But a horse with telepathy, super strength, and who could fly? Pretty great, you guys. So, she develops this weird friendship with a horse, and I REFUSE to go into the psychological implications of that. Not because I'm a coward. Oh no. But because THINGS ARE ABOUT TO GET WEIRDER.

You see, when Circe gave this originally-a-centaur-but-now-a-superpowered-horse his powers, she also rigged it so that every time a comet (see! hence his name!) passed close enough to whatever planet he was on, Biron the horse would turn into a regular, non-super-powered human. Are you confused yet? Because, congratulations if you aren't, I've studied this useless bullshit for years, and I still think this crap is ridiculous.

So, whenever Comet turns into a normal human, he goes by the name (seriously) of "Bronco" Bill Starr, and works as a rodeo rider stunt riding horses. Yes, this is a man (but really an ex-centaur) who rides horses professionally until he turns back into a horse as soon as a comet is too far from Earth. Also, he's in love with Supergirl, who thinks he's just a normal... Super-Horse... when she's riding him. And also she's in love with Bill Starr from the moment she first sees him. And Brion doesn't want her to know he's actually a freak of super magic/science/two thousand years old and in love with a 17 year old alien... basically, Comet the Super-Horse is completely fucked up.

And finally, there's Proty. Technically, he's Proty (II), but honestly, you don't care about that and neither do I. Wikipedia's description of Proty is as follows: Proty is a "shapeless mass of protoplasm" who is telepathic, and a shape-changer from the 30th Century. That sounds like it could be awesome. But it is not. Seriously: Fuck Proty.

But the rest of the Super Pets ARE AWESOME, NO LIE. People who think super heroes need to be SERIOUS maintain that the Legion of Super-Pets are ridiculous. And yes, they clearly are. People who think Cape Comics should be dark and brooding think the Legion of Super-Pets make no friggin' sense. AND THEY DON'T. People, whose names I won't name here, have told me that the Legion of Super-Pets is "the stupidest god damn thing to ever happen in the history of comic books, ever."
And, to those (unnamed) persons, I say this: FUCK YOU.

You know what makes no sense? A dude who was shot here from his home planet moments before it exploded and is now the greatest inspiration for what we as a species can accomplish, ever. A billionaire who, as a child, saw his parents murdered in front of him, and grew up to dress like Dracula to beat up mentally handicapped clowns in dark alleyways. A kid who was bitten by an irradiated spider, who didn't get cancer, but learned to teach by example that power brings responsibility. Yes, Superheroes are inherently ridiculous. OBVIOUSLY.

But once you get past that, once you start seeing the morality lessons; once you start seeing that in every age, we need our myths, well, screw it, why not? Dogs, monkeys, and cats with Superman's powers? Plus, a telepathic, emotionally troubled 2,000-year-old magic horse? How can anyone think that isn't good drama? And/or comedy?

My point is this: DC Comics, stop ignoring these characters. Because they are awesome, and a creative person (i.e.: me) could make awesome comics about them. I know you guys are in a transitional period right now, but seriously, the L.S.P. is so great (except Proty, fuck that guy), and they deserve a spotlight.

Is it ridiculous? YES. Does it make any actual sense? NO. You know what also has those exact answers to those exact questions? ANY SUPERHERO COMIC BOOK COMIC EVER. People don't want seriousness all the time in their superheroes. God knows I don't. They want fun. And in the right hands, the Legion of Super-Pets could be fun as hell. I want to live in a world where super powered dogs and cats are all that stands between me and certain doom. And I know I can't be the only one.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Making Marvel Mine: Essential Iron Man Vol. 1 (Tales of Suspense #39- 72)

Iron Man, Iron Man
Does whatever an iron can
Shots lasers, and he flies
Commie spies, them he fries
To him, life is a big old bang up
With girls who have no hang ups
Life’s sweet for Iron Man!

So.... Iron Man. Okay, I knew going into this that Iron Man, at least in the early years, was NOTHING like the Iron Man we all know and love now. This wasn’t an awesome anti-war robot stompathon like the movies, this was the big anti-communism book Marvel had in the sixties. But... wow, even knowing that before hand, I was totally not prepared for how much anti-communism this book is packed with. It is just riddled with anti-communism. It was a different time... But it’s cool. I actually liked it, especially towards the end, when the book figures itself out.

The best thing I can say about the first issue is that the cover is cool. “He lives! He walks! He conquers!” is a great tagline, though I get the sneaky suspicion that when the cover was made, no one actually working on it had read the book. But whatever, it looks cool. So, Tony Stark is an awesome dude who manufactures the best weapons in the world for the good ole’ USA. One day, he was demonstrating some boss new equipment to the generals in Vietnam, when the group is attacked by “red guerrillas”.

Stark is injured and kidnapped by the commie bastards. Pretty much everything happens here like it does in the beginning of the Iron Man movie, just replace “Afghanistan” with “Vietnam”. Stark is kept alive by chest-piece designed by a Doctor Yinsen, another brilliant scientist captured by evil commie Vietnam rebels. Together, Yinsen and Stark build a set of armor around the chest piece, Yinsen gets killed, Iron Man is born and overthrows the evil Commies. Democracy reigns supreme. Because ‘Merica, that’s why.

Really, I cannot stress to you how many commies are smashed in this comic book. Here’s some of the villains: The Red Barbarian, a feared and deformed general for COMMUNIST Russia! Jack Frost, a disgruntled Stark Industries employee who decides to sell secrets to COMMUNISTS! The Crimson Dynamo, a COMMIE scientist in a suit of electricity powered armor! Titanium Man, another feared COMMIE general, only this time he wears a green super awesome powered armor! The Melter! He... melts stuff. But also, COMMUNIST! Scarecrow! (No, not THAT Scarecrow) A stage magician turned evil who stole plans to sell to COMMUNISTS! The Black Widow! (Yes, THAT Black Widow) Who at this point in her career is still a COMMIE spy! Hawkeye! (Yes, again, THAT Hawkeye) Not actually a Communist, but a disgruntled circus star (really!) who fell in love with the Black Widow, and helped her in her schemes to hurt Stark Industries, and I’m pretty sure that at least makes him COMMUNIST BY ASSOCIATION!

Oh, also there’s your traditional early silver age appearances of evil alien conquerors and time travel trips to bone Cleopatra, but really, at this point, doesn’t that go without saying?

And then we have our most interesting villain, the Mandarin. The Mandarin sometimes gets a bad rap as a Fu Manchu rip off, and while there’s a little bit of that, I think that the character is a lot more interesting than that. For example, despite living in China, it’s stated early on that the Chinese government openly fears him (which is saying something). Not only that, but the Mandarin explicitly states that he isn’t a Communist at all, he’s merely using the Chinese government for his own ends (that’s code for world domination, everyone). He’s a skilled martial artist who can literally beat up Iron Man with karate. And, most famously, he’s the wearer of ten rings, rings of extraterrestrial origin. Each ring has a different power, and they’re pretty much all awesome. Clearly, he’s the ultimate enemy here.

As for the supporting cast, there isn’t one at first, which is bothersome. At first, it’s just Tony, and his bodyguard Iron Man, who, of course, is really just Tony in disguise. This doesn’t make for interesting character dynamics. Luckily, about a third of the way in, we’re introduced to Happy Hogan, Tony Stark’s driver and body guard, and Pepper Potts, Tony’s secretary/Gal Friday. There’s some traditional love triangle nonsense here, but since I know how it ends (because I’ve seen the future... in comics, anyway), I won’t spoil any of that. By the end of the book Happy has figured out Tony is Iron Man, so that should make book 2 more interesting.

Like I said, much like Hulk and Thor, this is a slow burner at first, but by the end it’s much improved, and I was really enjoying it by the end. I look forward to the second volume, now that all the main characters are established.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the Unicorn in my list of bad-guys. But the Unicorn wears an orange and green costume, and he’s kind of lame. And yes, before you ask, he’s also a COMMUNIST.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What If Wednesday #8.1: What If The Spider Had Been Bitten By a Radioactive Human?

On Wednesdays, The Amazing Justin Palm! gets drunk as shit and reviews an issue of Marvel Comics’ “What If?” so that you, the reader, can enjoy his drunken ramblings about a comic book whose sole purpose is to talk about shit that never happened, so it doesn’t matter at all. Dear Internet: You’re welcome.


Okay, so there’s a backup comic in this week’s issue. It’s.... odd. It wants to be funny, but it’s not really. But it’s there, so here it is.

So, sort of like they used to do in “Not Brand Ecch!” (Marvel’s answer to Mad Magazine. I’ll write about it some time), this back up has Marvel Editor Roy Thomas take over for the Watcher in full Watcher garb. Just... just go with it, this is about to get pretty weird. Because in this universe, everyone (except mad scientists?(GIANT mad scientists)) are anthropomorphic animals. So we meet Webster Weaver (REALLY?), a nerdy spider who lives with his Aunt Mayfly and Uncle Bug. And.... okay, lets cut to the chase, this is Spider-Man but with bugs and animals.

So, here’s who everyone is this time: Flash is a goat named Trash, Liz Allen is a … pink snake with hair? Or something? JJJ is a jackass named J. Jonah Jackass (of course), and Betty Brant is (most offensively, in my humble opinion) a pig named Miss Grunt. Webster goes to a science experiment, where the (strangely gigantic human) mad scientist accidentally bathes himself in radiation, goes crazy, and bites Webster’s arm. This, naturally, gives the spider human powers, and thus Webster becomes the Spectacular Man-Spider.

Dear god, it gets worse. Okay, you know Spider-Man’s origin, so can we skip to the meat? Uncle Bug dies because of Man-Spider’s inaction, and thus he becomes a hero. Moving on. All his villains have animal counterparts: Culture Vulture is a vulture with a diploma, Rude Rhino is a rhino in a vest and derby, Marvin the Hunter is a lion with a knife (truly upping the ante in terms of weaponized lions), there’s a truly terrifying Dr. Octopus clone who is now a cat with nine octopus arms coming out of his ass, Leapin’ Lizard is a Lizard in a labcoat (so no real change there) - there’s a bunch more, and they just get worse, so moving on.

There’s actually sort of a plot now- since we have 2 pages left- and the silliness just gets amped up. Some one threatens to destroy the Earth’s atmosphere, so Man-Spider is on the case. The final boss? An anthropomorphic can of bugspray. This is in no way a dated reference (in terms of destroying the Earth’s atmosphere? Just... just look up CFCs, kids). Man-Spider escapes the bugspray, the bugspray isn’t really captured or anything, Roy Thomas is suddenly turned into a woodchuck, the end.

Once again, really, that’s how it ends. It’s not as funny as Not Brand Ecch was, it’s mostly just a less cheerful Captain Carrot riff (I don’t actually know if Captain Carrot came out before this, but I’m a firmly pro-Captain Carrot person, so let’s go with that). But, it is what it is, a back up issue in a comic that doesn’t count. You kinda gotta see it to believe it, I guess.

Guys. This is a panel from this issue, and that's seriously only half the villains with bad names.

What If Wednesday #8: What If The World Knew Daredevil Was Blind?

On Wednesdays, The Amazing Justin Palm! gets drunk as shit and reviews an issue of Marvel Comics’ “What If?” so that you, the reader, can enjoy his drunken ramblings about a comic book whose sole purpose is to talk about shit that never happened, so it doesn’t matter at all. Dear Internet: You’re welcome.

This week isn’t great, but it isn’t awful, so there’s that. Spider-Man, possible ex-Nazis, and a rare What If truly happy ending are all present. In fact, Matt Murdock (Daredevil’s secret identity) should WISH his real life is as sweet as it is in this What If. It isn’t, and that’s why Daredevil can be the best book Marvel prints (seriously, Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, and Marcos Martin are KILLING IT on Daredevil right now). Anyway, I’m digressing right now, something that will happen a lot in this What If Wednesday. Let’s get started.

Ok, so before we even get started, I should probably do a quickie Daredevil origin, cuz I haven’t talked about him on What If Wednesday yet, and most people with good taste didn’t see the awful movie about him. So, when Matt Murdock was a kid, he saved an old dude from getting run over by a truck. Except, as he rescued the old dude, a radioactive canister fell off said truck (whose owners were clearly not big on EPA regulations), and struck Matt in the face. This blinded young Matt (hence this issue’s title) but also augmented all his other senses, which makes him awesome. Also, he’s a lawyer, his dad was a boxer who got waxed by the mob for not throwing a fight, he was trained by ninjas, he has a partner at his law firm named Foggy Nelson (yes, really), his secretary is named Karen Page, she would later go on to become a porn star who betrayed him but that’s not important right now, and I think we’re all caught up. Right? Awesome. Let’s dig in.

We start with a flashback to Daredevil #2, when he fought Spider-Man villain Electro. Guys, a lot of Daredevil’s villains are actually moonlighting Spider-Man villains. The ones who aren’t are either Bullseye or they’re lame as hell. Anyway, Electro has electric powers, if you haven’t figured that out by his name, and in the 60s he spent a lot of time fighting Dardevil. Anyway, in this version, instead of just fighting DD, Spidey was there too. Now, I’ve never read Daredevil #2 (but I probably will in a few months), but what I HAVE read is a TON of Spider-Man comics. And this comic says that Daredevil #2 happened at the same time as Spider-Man #25. Guys, that is BULLSHIT. I know this, because I have read Amazing Spider-Man #16 (twice), where Spidey and Daredevil team up to beat the Circus of Crime. Even if Daredevil #1 had JUST come out when that came out and was bi-monthly (which I think it was), there is no way that issue 2 of Daredevil came out NINE months later when Spidey #25 came out. Writer of What If #8 Don Glut: I CALL SCHNEANIGANS.

Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh right, Spider-Man and Daredevil teaming up to beat Electro. Uh... they do. BUT! In the process, Electro figures out Daredevil is blind, because when Electro shot a “blinding” electricity bolt at Daredevil, he wasn’t blinded by it. This sounds pretty stupid to me, because I don’t think Electro has ever blinded Spidey before, but I guess Electro is smarter than his outfit makes him look, because when he asks Daredevil what color his costume is, DD can’t work it out, so... secret’s out now guys. Electro goes to jail, Spidey makes fun of Daredevil’s outfit (he was still rocking his yellow and red suit, this being before the classic all-red look), and the Daily Bugle does what they’re best at- ruining superheroes’ lives- by publicizing Daredevil’s blindness.

Meanwhile, for reasons that apparently I’ll have to read Daredevil #3 to understand, Daredevil villain The Owl (would be mob boss with hollow bones who can sort of awkwardly fly. I warned you that most of DD’s villains were lame) decides he needs an attorney, and of course he hires Matt Murdock. Comics, everybody. Anyway, as the Owl is waiting for Matt Murdock to come back into his office, Daredevil shows up to beat him up. But since the Owl knows Daredevil is blind he has a device to fuck up his other senses... you know what, doesn’t even matter, cuz with Karen’s help, old Hornhead beats the Owl anyway. Oh, and Karen figures out Matt is Daredevil (duh.). Which is great, cuz now they can get together like they both want, guilt free about the whole “secret superhero” thing. No future as a porn actress in this universe, Karen Page! Oh, also Foggy overheard all of this, so now he knows who Daredevil is, and it bums him out. I gotta say, I like Matt Murdock a lot more these days when all his friends know the truth. Way less of an asshole. But enough digression.

There’s talk of going to an eye specialist to unblind Matt, Foggy is disgruntled, and apparently an ex-Nazi or something gets involved. Okay, that’s never said directly, but Matt and Karen go to Europe to find this specialist or whatever, and we meet Duke Klaus Kruger who rules a small European country with an iron fist. Apparently this is from Daredevil #9, and I really need to read Essential Daredevil vol 1 I guess. But seriously, mid 60’s tyrant named Klaus Kruger. There is no way this guy isn’t an ex-Nazi. And the country is called “Lichtenbad”. Hilarious. The people hate Kruger, but he has robot guards, so it’s kind of a wash. I’m not making this up, you know. These robots are in-explicitly dressed as medieval knights, which makes it even funnier when they show up to kidnap the eye specialist right after he performs surgery on Matt’s eyes.

Daredevil races to save the doctor, beats up Kruger, and the people of “Lichtenbad” revolt against their evil dictator. Democracy totally takes over, Matt is magically not blind, which would be great, except that now his super powers are gone, and we still have 6 pages to go.

So remember how Murdock was supposed to defend the Owl? That dude does not forget a grudge. Matt’s basically kidnapped, and has to defend the Owl in a mock trial at the Owl’s headquarters, and if he fails, the Owl will kill a judge he also kidnapped. Pretty sure the Owl is insane, everyone. Matt calls a witness at this fake trial, and that witness is.... Daredevil. This is a really shitty plan, but SOMEHOW no one notices that after Daredevil showed up, Matt Murdock disappeared. Fighting ensues, and despite no longer having powers, Daredevil saves the day.

After that, Matt decides he maybe should retire from being a superhero, since he has no powers. He publicly releases his identity, marries Karen, and becomes District Attorney. And Foggy gets the shaft, as usual. The end. (No really)

I don’t know enough continuity to comment about this issue much (beyond the GLARINGLY WRONG bit about Spider-Man #25). I guess the moral to this issue is that Matt Murdock’s life would be a lot less shitty if he just went public. I’m kind of... uncomfortable about the idea of “curing” the number one differently-abled superhero in the world, but it’s a what if, so I guess I’ll give it a pass. The Owl is still lame, but whatever, at least he’s not Stilt-Man (don’t even ask).

Next time! Oh man, do we have a treat for you next time, because next time it’s What If the Avengers Had Been Formed in the 1950’s? That may not sound cool, but this next issue has sprung literally dozens of sequel comics off of it, and most of them are AWESOME. See you next time!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

10 Cent Comics: Spider-Man #16

Last time, I read an old issue of Spider-Man from the 80’s that was pretty cool. This time, I read an old issue of Spider-Man from the 90’s that was just.... just awful. So let’s just dive into this right away: First of all, this is the last issue of Todd McFarlane’s stint as writer/artist of (No Adjective) Spider-Man. If you want a quick history on (No Adjective) Spider-Man, read the first three paragraph’s under Volume One in this wikipedia article: I’m too lazy to actually explain it, so moving on.

If you’re wondering what’s up with the cover, it’s sideways in a landscape format, and so is the rest of the entire book, because of course it is, it’s 1991. The title says that this crossover with the recently started X-Force book is “Sabotage X-Over Part 1” but by the first sentence of page 1 it’s obvious that shit went down in the last issue of X-Force that set all this up. And we’ll get to the plot in a moment, but first I want to talk about Todd McFarlane.

I’m not a fan, and I’ve always been honest about it. I have to admit, he draws one hell of a Spider-Man, and it’s no surprise that even 20 years later, many Spidey artists are still following (to some extent) in his footsteps. The thing is, while I like the way he draws Spider-Man, I hate the way he draws EVERYTHING ELSE. And I’d try to forgive that, but in this 22 page comic with the title “Spider-Man”, Spidey appears on 12 pages. 4 of those 12 are double page splashes, of which 1 of those 2 Spidey is just a tiny figure in the background. And 5 of the remaining 8 pages have him as a tiny figure in the background in just 1 panel. That leaves an additional 3 pages where Spidey is sort of important in HIS book.

However, X-Force, who as you remember, are not the main characters here, appear in 17 pages, including a double splash page of Cable rushing into action right at the reader (this 22 page book has 3 double splash pages and 2 more regular splash pages, which means over a third of this book is freaking splash pages). Oh, and before I actually get to the plot, can I just say Cable is in the most ridiculous outfit I’ve ever seen him in, and that’s saying something. To prove how awful the costume is, here’s the cover of X-Force #4, the second part of this “X-Over”:

Why the spikes going into his face? Why the gun longer than he is tall? Why the massive shoulder pads? The only answer is “the 90’s.” And believe me, it’s going to get worse when we get to the plot.

So, the book opens right after B-list X-villain Black Tom Cassidy has... ugh... detonated a bomb on the roof of the World Trade Center. Now, I’m trying to avoid looking at this from today’s perspective, since this was released two years before the first WTC bombing, and 10 years before 9/11, but.... ouch. Not winning any favors with that one. Also, Juggernaut is already on the ground fighting some of X-Force, and Spidey swings by to help say their loser asses. X-Force may be the most nineties-rific book Marvel produced, and lord do they look it. They get their asses handed to them for several pages, and Juggernaut shows us all 50 of his teeth (yes, I counted). I didn’t know the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak gave you extra teeth, but then again, I’m not Todd McFarlane.

Anyway, Spidey tries to reason with Juggernaut, having fought him before, while the X-Force kids down on the street lick their wounds. Meanwhile, on top of the ruined roof of the South Tower (ugh), the rest of X-Force are bitching at Cable for being a terrible leader (which, at this point, I’m with them there), instead of helping rescue survivors. Also, Black Tom is missing. He doesn’t actually appear in this book. Spidey continues to sort of talk down Juggernaut, until Shatterstar (who’s just as stupid as his outfit makes him look) decides the best course of action right now is to stab Juggernaut in the eye.

This enrages Juggernaut, who knocks over ANOTHER building (double-ugh). He drops a skyscraper on Spidey and the X-Kids, then laughs like an idiot until Spidey and the crew dig themselves out of the wreckage, and--

And that’s it. That’s how it ends. To be continued, in a book I hope never to read. And this comic is seriously way worse than it sounds. This was a shitty comic, and if you ever find a copy, buy it and set it on fire if you must, but DO NOT read it. Because if you do, you can never UN-READ IT. Life is just too cruel to let you.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

10 Cent Comics: Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #120

I’m not going to lie, I love me some mid-80’s Spider-Man. Not many people appreciate it like I do, but I really love how rough around the edges it usually is. The stories are often lined with the urban decay of New York in that decade (this one certainly is), and Spidey really goes to some interesting, if dark, places. I don’t think it’s much of a surprise that this was the era when the black costume reigned supreme, and even though it’s not in this book (despite the cover), there’s definitely that kind of aesthetic here.

Basically, the plot is as follows: A greedy asshole of a landlord hires a gang of thugs to scare away all his tenants, because he wants to knock down the building to make way for high rise apartments for rich people. But one old man who’s been there for decades won’t scare, and the gang starts leaning on him big time. This is where are friendly neighborhood Spider-Man gets involved, and learns all of this.

The next night, Spidey is keeping watch on the place for hours, making sure that the old man is safe. But when a nearby mugging distracts the wall crawler, and he has to stop it, the gang strikes, pushing the old man out of the building to his death. After the police deal with the old man’s body, the landlord and the gang just decide to say screw it, and burn the place to the ground. Spidey, meanwhile, has snuck in, and just as the gang member who killed the old man lights the place up, Spider-Man startles him.

The next 6 pages are Spidey doing his best Batman impression, creepily following the gang member through shadows as the building catches on fire more and more. Eventually, terrified, the gang-banger realizes he’s screwed, and break down- There’s no escape from Spider-Man. Spidey forces the guy to confess to everything, and the gang members and the evil landlord are taken away. Also, there’s a little bit of uplifting nonsense about Peter deciding to take action with the other tenants in his own building, but it’s basically just added to appease the Comics Code, I think.

Is it a little heavy-handed and simplistic look at urban decay? Sure. It’s far from perfect, cliched a bit, but I liked it. It’s dealing with some heavy issues, that especially at the time it was written, were very real for most urban kids. Writer Bill Mantlo is one of the great, under-appreciated writers of his day, and he wasn’t afraid to take on some serious shit. And the art by a young Keith Giffen (with long-time Marvel veteran Vince Colletta on inks) is.... well, it’s ugly, but in a very, very good way. His Spider-Man has a lot of the weird angles of Ditko’s, all of the art is exaggerated, but it completely fits the tone of the book. And there’s so much play with shadows and darkness, it has this wonderful, creepy vibe. This isn’t a happy story, and he makes sure it doesn’t look happy, either.

Gotta say, a dime well spent.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What If Wednesdays #7: What If Someone Else Had Become The Amazing Spider-Man?

On Wednesdays, The Amazing Justin Palm! gets drunk as shit and reviews an issue of Marvel Comics’ “What If?” so that you, the reader, can enjoy his drunken ramblings about a comic book whose sole purpose is to talk about shit that never happened, so it doesn’t matter at all. Dear Internet: You’re welcome.

Oo! Triple Threat this week! Three stories all based on the same idea, which... is in the title. We get to see what happens when (Peter Parker’s bully and Spider-Man’s #1 Fan) Flash Thompson, (Peter’s first girl friend and J Jonah Jameson’s secretary) Betty Brant, and (JJJ’s hero son) John Jameson all get Spider-Man’s powers instead of, you know, Spider-Man. Who lives? Who dies? Who gets sexy with nerds?

Alright, after three pages of Spidey rescuing a kid who invites him to dinner, than a quickie Spidey-origin, we’re off. In story one, while Peter Parker is attending the science exhibit that would accidentally give him his powers, Flash Thompson busts in, mostly because he can (and also two impress two girls, I guess?). Anyway, the spider lands on Flash, not Peter, and thus gives him spider powers. After being bitten, Flash brushes it off, and leaves with the girls. Peter, meanwhile, realizes that the spider might somehow give someone super powers, and swipes it.

As Flash and the girls head outside, a car speeds towards them, about to kill them all. Flash instinctively grabs the girls and tosses them out of the way, and then pulls the driver out of the car and freaks him out. Realizing he’s suddenly super strong, Flash decides this is a good time to take up professional wrestling. Just like in Amazing Fantasy 15, a now super powered Flash wrestles with Crusher Hogan to make $100, only Flash, unlike Peter, is unaware of his own strength, and accidentally breaks Hogan’s neck. Flash is pretty freaked out by this, as it was purely an accident, and when the cops show up to arrest him, he responds in the worst way possible, by punching them and making a run for it. What can I say, he’s just a stupid kid.

Realizing that almost everyone saw his face and he is totally screwed, Flash decides to... make a costume that looks almost exactly like Spider-Man’s, and fight crime as (I’m not kidding) “Captain Spider.” Captain Spider fights the Chameleon, the Tinkerer (oy, early Spider-Man stories) and finally the Vulture. It’s this last fight that gets him in trouble, because Flash’s Captain Spider lacks Spider-Man’s web-shooters. So, in mid-ariel battle, the Vulture gets off a good punch, and Flash plummets to his death. Peter Parker happens to see all of this happen, and rushes to Captain Spider’s side, but it’s too late. Peter realizes that Captain Spider was actually Flash, and is touched that his former bully was actually a hero all along.

In story two, it turns out that the scientist giving the demonstration is actually a “close, personal friend “of J. Jonah Jameson, and JJJ promised him top billing in Sunday’s paper. The fact that JJJ refers to his ‘friend’ as “that egghead” is never further addressed. Anyway, Betty Brant is with JJJ to take notes for the article. Peter spots Betty and realizes he wants her in the biblical sense, but just then the radioactive spider bites her, making her feel ill as she gains powers.

Peter catches Betty before she can fall, and also pawns the spider for further research, and cons Betty into going out for coffee with him. For a nerd, Peter Parker is a smooth motherfucker, everyone. Peter asks her about her work at the Bugle, and Betty just freaks out because she hates Jameson, accidentally breaking the table they’re sitting at in her rage. Peter then cons Betty into letting him visit her in her apartment, to put her through a serious of “experiments” to “test her powers”. One assumes they get sexy here.

After testing out Betty’s powers, they make her a (truly awful) costume, Peter invents webshooters for her, and Spider-Girl is born! Seriously, this costume is the worst. It’s Spider-Man’s mask, gloves, and boots, with a blue corset and bikini bottoms and webwings that don’t attach anywhere. It’s like someone looked at Spider-Man’s costume, said “how can we take this, put it on a lady, and make it as unflattering as possible while still looking like we thought it might be sexy?” It is truly, truly terrible.

Anyway, Peter sells photos of her to Jonah over at the Bugle, who of course thinks she’s a menace. Betty is kind of freaked out by her powers, but with the webbing and everything, she rarely needs to really use them. One night when Peter is taking her picture, a mugger runs past, and Spider-Girl- afraid of her strength, remember- doesn’t stop him. The cops chew her out for that, and at this point you can probably see where this is going.

Peter and Betty learn that someone has killed Peter’s Uncle Ben, and Betty heads off to catch him. After dispatching him, she realizes that it’s the same thief she didn’t stop earlier, and that pretty much ends her career. She can’t take the guilt and her own weakness (ugh, that is an awful thing for someone to have to write...), and we get a bit of Spider-Man: No More!, as Betty leaves her costume in a trash can. Peter looks on at the outfit, and wonders....

Story three! This time, JJJ’s son John Jameson is at the science experiment, because why the hell not. If you saw Spider-Man 2, you know that Jonah’s son is an astronaut, and if you didn’t I just told you. Anyway, he gets bitten, has powers, and is awesome. Jameson discovers his son has superpowers, and immediately decides that this is great, and decides to make it public, so John Jameson dons a jetpack and another horrible Spider-Man rip-off costume to become (groan) Spider-Jameson!

Spider Jameson goes off to rescue the space capsule that he himself would ride in normal continuity, and ends up sacrificing himself to save the astronauts on-board. Jameson builds a memorial to his son, and decides to support all future superheroes, because in this universe JJJ has some weird thing called compassion.

The epilogue to all three stories is the same. Having witnessed the potential in Captain Spider/Spider-Girl/Spider Jameson, Peter Parker uses the spider left over from the experiment to create a serum, and become the Amazing Spider-Man! And thus, a new hero is born for a new age! Or something!

So, honestly, I’m a little disappointed with this one. It’s a nice enough idea for a What If, but the execution feels both rushed and off. Like, it would have been better if this had been three separate issues, to let the stories breathe a bit. Also, I hate that all three end with Peter as Spider-Man. It kind of defeats the point if at the end, the story basically goes “and now back to your regularly scheduled universe.” It undermines the whole thing. And only one of these stories brings up Uncle Ben and guilt (the entire point of Spider-Man, guys) which logically doesn’t make sense in terms of the timeline of his death.... oy. And don’t even get me started on the outfits. Apparently, one of the by-products of being bitten by a radioactive spider is dressing in blue and red spandex with a web motif.

Next time! What If The World Knew Daredevil Was Blind? Hopefully it won’t be like that time his identity was outed to the public.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Why The World Should Relax And Learn To Love Miles Morales

“Who is your favorite superhero?” is a question I get asked a lot. Usually, it’s a conversation starter people use when they just met me but know I read a lot of comic books. (A LOT.) But for me, the answer is crazy important. It’s always instinctual, and always the same. Spider-Man. Of course my favorite superhero is Spider-Man, who else would it be? Batman is the greatest superhero, sure, but my favorite has always been Spider-Man. And just about everyone I know knows that. So, when multiple people asked me “What’s the deal with the new black Spider-Man?” I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. I totally was, but I shouldn’t have been.

Mostly I think I was surprised because I don’t think this is a big deal, in any way, whatsoever. And I could probably go on a long explanation about how Peter Parker is still Spider-Man, and that Ultimate Spider-Man is in an alternate universe, and that multiple characters have had their ethnic backgrounds switched in the Ultimate line, but really, fundamentally, none of that is important, because the correct response to revealing the new Spider-Man as Miles Morales, a teenager of African-American and Latino descent is Let’s Be Friends Again’s take on it:

It may sound weird that I really don’t care about this change, seeing as how I love Spider-Man so much. But really, all I want are good Spider-Man stories. I really could not care less about the character’s skin color. And what I find really, really ridiculous about all this is that all of this has happened before, and as far as I can tell no one complained when this guy showed up.

That’s Miguel O’Hara, or as you might know him better, Spider-Man 2099. He’s been in a lot of video games recently, and he totally rocks an amazing costume. He was also the first Latino to be Spider-Man, way back in 1992. He starred in his own Spider-Man title, in an imprint line (similar to Marvel’s current Ultimate Marvel Imprint) for nearly 50 issues. And no one really seemed to think it was a big deal back then. I’m kind of fond of the guy myself.

Now, it would be easy for me to just call all the haters out there racists and idiots who are crying over a comic book character, who is in fact not real. That would be easy, but I’m not going to do that, because I’m a better person than that. Also, it would be kind of hypocritical of me.
*cough* *cough*
So, yes, I’m not going to do that. (You’re real to me, Spidey. You’re real to me....)

What I am going to do is try to explain why they’re really wrong, beyond just being haters. See, as far as I can tell, the people who are really, really upset about this seem to think that this is some sort of new, politically correct statement. They seem to be under the impression that this is some sort of minority pandering, and they’re upset because.... I guess having a non-white Spider-Man hurts... white people? I guess?

Now, I am the first to admit that I don’t understand racial prejudice. And I don’t seem mean “I think it’s dumb”, I mean I will never understand how it feels to be on the receiving end. I’m a white male in the USA who was raised Episcopalian, I am in no way an ethnic minority. And from what I can tell, most of the people complaining about Miles Morales aren’t either. But you know who was? Pretty much everyone who invented famous superheroes.

Lou Dobbs, prepare to have your mind blown. Superman’s creators? Jewish. Batman’s? Ditto. Green Lantern? Same. The entire Marvel Universe? Oh yeah. Together, Stan Lee (born Stanley Lieber) and Jack Kirby (born Jacob Krutzberg), both Jewish-Americans, created the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Thor, the X-Men, the Avengers, and more. Kirby had created Captain America with writer Joe Simon (yes, he was Jewish too) back in the 1940’s. And Lee, along with artist Steve Ditko (second generation Czechoslovakian-American) created Dr. Strange and, of course, Spider-Man.

Not only that, but almost everyone working at Marvel in the 60s had fought in World War II. Jack Kirby spent the rest of his life having nightmares about his experiences in the war. These people had seen the horrors of racial prejudice upfront, and they were upfront about how wrong it was from the beginning. When Lee and Kirby created Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos, a WWII comic that tied into Marvel’s history, they deliberately made one of the Commandos Gabe Jones, an African-American bugle player from New York City. In real life, the army wasn’t integrated until 1948, and Stan and Jack were well aware of that. But historical accuracy wasn’t as important as the message of equality that the Marvel team believed in. This was 1963, by then way, right at the beginning of Marvel’s history.

That’s why Marvel created the Black Panther in 1966, the first black superhero in mainstream comics. That’s why at the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson’s right hand man is Robbie Robertson, an African-American family man who acts as a voice of reason to JJJ’s endless rants about Spider-Man. And he’s been there since Stan Lee introduced the character in 1967. That’s why the X-Men became a book about equality and the hardships of being a minority. And that’s why, in 1992, it was no big deal to introduce a new version of Spider-Man who just happened to be half-Irish and half-Latino.

Comics, especially Marvel Comics, have a long history of being fairly progressive. They slip up sometimes (especially when it comes to female characters), and I’ve definitely been known to complain about it when they do screw up. But this... this feels right. I’m not going to lie, I am interested in the new Ultimate Spider-Man, and I haven’t even read a comic with him yet. Maybe the book will suck, and then I’ll stop reading it. And maybe it will be great, and then anyone who skipped it, because it wasn’t “the real Spider-Man”, well, they’ll have missed out. This isn’t about political correctness, it’s about making new and exciting comics.

I’m going to be honest, if Spider-Man’s skin color is really that important to someone, I can’t change their mind, and I know that. But what I care about is reading and telling good stories. That’s what matters to me. So, I hope Miles Morales (god, Stan Lee would love that name) has a long and distinguished career as the new web-head. Because most of Spider-Man enemies are still out there, and he’s going to have to deal with them awfully fast, I suspect. Also, his new costume is pretty rad.
Who is Miles Morales? He’s a good guy. He’s Spider-Man. What else really matters?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What If Wednesday #6: What If The Fantastic Four Had Different Super-Powers?

On Wednesdays, The Amazing Justin Palm! gets drunk as shit and reviews an issue of Marvel Comics’ “What If?” so that you, the reader, can enjoy his drunken ramblings about a comic book whose sole purpose is to talk about shit that never happened, so it doesn’t matter at all. Dear Internet: You’re welcome.

Eh. I know last week, I promised that this would be awesome, and frankly, the last 2 pages TOTALLY ARE. But the build up, leading to them? Not so much. Honestly, you could skip the first twenty or so pages of this book, and based on the title and cover alone, be aware of what is going on. This is a story where the FF have different powers. Until the very end, that’s it. That’s not just the hook, it’s the whole damn story. And it’s far from perfect.

Oy. It’s three in the morning, and the scotch I’m drinking isn’t old enough to vote yet. Therefore, I guarantee when I wake up tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to regret it. Let’s get this shit over with already. After four friggin’ pages of showing us the regular Fantastic Four fighting terrorists or something, Uatu (the Watcher, if you don’t know his real name) finally decides to get to the freaking point, and start talking about an alternate universe. Point of order, this isn’t an origin, or a quick “who they are and what they do” thing. This is four fucking pages of a battle that has no relevance to anything in the plot of this issue. 4 pages in a 32 page comic? Officially 1/8th of this comic is a waste of space. Officially.

ANYWAY! Uatu finally starts talking about the idea of the title, and then.... four more god damn pages of the ORIGINAL Fantastic Four origin. Seriously. THE FIRST FOURTH OF THIS COMIC IS SHIT THAT WE DON’T NEED, BECAUSE WE ALREADY KNOW. But in case you don’t know (I suppose, technically, I’ve never done a rundown of it in a What If article): Super-scientist Reed Richards, his best friend (and pilot) Ben Grimm, Reed’s girlfriend Susan Storm, and her punk ass brother Johnny go on an illegal space flight to, well, space, to beat the Russians in the space race. 1961 was a different time, people. Anyway, they get blasted by cosmic rays, land back on Earth, and have super powers. Reed is super stretchy, Susan can turn invisible, Johnny can turn into a flammy asshole, and Ben is the Thing, which is like the Hulk, but orange and rocky. If you need more info, check out my review of Essential Fantastic Four vol. 1, because I’m done explaining this shit.

So, in this universe, as the title suggests, the whole gang gets different powers. Ben grows a pair of dragon wings and can fly, which is pretty sweet. Johnny is turned into some kind of “living robot” (a quote from the comic, not my description), which is basically a more robot-like version of Colossus from the X-Men, I guess? Susan now has mainstream-Reed’s stretchy powers, and Reed explodes, turning into a talking, glowing brain (I’m not making this up, you know.). Thus, in this bizarre and mostly weird universe, the Fantastic Four are born!

Anyway, the FF stop a robbery which is perpetrated by some gargoyle-esque demon and his henchmen, we pull out to reveal that Doctor Doom was behind all of it! And that pisses Doom off big time, because that jewelry store robbery was... integral... to Doom’s... ah, fuck it. Doom’s just pissed off because “RICHARDDDDSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!” like usual. After ranting about Blackbeard’s treasure (Doom’s early adventures were kinda lame, okay?), Doom is left behind for two pages, so we can focus on one of Reed Richard’s most important characteristics in What If: moping about life being unfair. Using a serious of apparently hidden cameras, Reed checks in on Ben, who’s living it up; Johnny, who’s life isn’t as great as in our universe; and Sue, who plays with children, but who also has decided that marrying a floating brain isn’t such a great deal, so she’s thinking about hitching up with Ben. Suddenly, an intruder invades the Baxter Building! Reed-the-brain rushes to find him, only to reveal that it’s none-other than Dr. Doom!

In a show of altruism (which is probably part of his evil plan, but whatever), Doom tells Richards that he can make a robot body for him, so that, you know, he won’t just be a gross floating brain anymore. Richards refuses, not because he distrusts Doom, mind you, but because he’s grown “accustomed” (again, I’m quoting the actual goddamn comic) to being a gross floating brain. People, seriously, Reed Richards is an unstable individual.

Reed’s all like “it sure is great being an awesome brain super scientist!” until Doom grabs another (I assume?) invisible camera to show Sue cuddling up to Ben. Reed quickly FREAKS THE FUCK OUT, and is easily convinced by Doom that Doom can save his crappy relationship, when “Mandroid” Johnny shows up and everything turns to hell. Also, the trap that Doom has tricked Reed-the-living-brain into floating into? He calls it the “Cerebro Shield”, so I guess it’s some sort of anti-Professor X technology? I guess? Anyway, Reed’s trapped in it, and can’t talk to his teammates, while Doom whips Johnny’s metal ass. After defeating Johnny, Doom takes Reed-the-brain captive, and heads to his homeland of Latveria. Why doesn’t Doom just straight up kill Richards and Johnny right now, and be done with it? Because this is comics, everybody. Stop asking so damn many questions.

Ben and Sue find Johnny in ruble, and because Doom foolishly named dropped who he is, Ben realizes who was here and retells Doom’s origin. I know, I know, I haven’t explained that in a What If Wednesday yet, but fuck it. I guarantee, if you don’t know, there will be a MUCH BETTER time to explain it. Possibly in episode 22, “What If Doctor Doom Had Become a Hero?”? This is just a thought. So, uh, if you don’t know who Doctor Doom is, despite 50 years of comics history, multiple cartoons and video games, and 2 (really 3) movies.... wikipedia it, okay?

Ben, Sue, and Johnny, high tail it for Latveria. Meanwhile, Reed-the-brain finds out Doom’s big plan is to use him to power his time machine, to steal Blackbeard’s treasure, which, at this point, can I just call schenanigans and assume this isn’t really Doom but actually a Doombot? Cuz this plot is stupid. Anyway, the rest of the FF show up to wreck up the place, and I’d like to pause for a moment, because watching Sue Storm have Mr. Fantastic’s powers is... well, disturbing. I mean, Reed’s faux-Plastic Man powers have always been weird, but seriously, when you add the aspect of the female form to the equation, it gets just down right awkward. I’m not trying to be sexist, I swear, but there are some scenes here where all you can assume based on simple anatomy is that Susan is smothering guards with her breasts. And honestly, that makes me uncomfortable...

Anyway, the team escapes Doom’s deathtraps and such, and start fighting with the man himself. Reed’s apparently psychic powers attack Doom, but Doom still manages to put up a hell of a fight for the FF. In fact, after mostly beating all of them, Doom blows off Johnny’s entire arm... which some how damages his armor pretty seriously. I’m real shy on details, here, not just because of the scotch, but frankly because said details are awfully sketchy. Doom takes down (in a non-fatality kind of way) Johnny once and for all, only to be attacked by Susan’s incredibly inflatable breasts. They wrestle for a page, and then Doom proves himself the equal of all the other three FF, so much so that he’s feeling like King Shit of Turd Mountain. Now victorious, he goes to blow up Reed-the-brain (or something), but wait! Reed is SO PISSED OFF, that he starts mentally attacking Doom! And as Doom hits the “Blow Up Reed-The-Brain” Button, Reed attacks! In the ensuing chaos, Doom has been left brain death, with Reed taking over his body! And thus, a new Fantastic Four is born, led by (Reed’s brain in) Dr. Doom(‘s body)! And thus, does our tale end! (The new Red-Sue-Ben love triangle remains unresolved, I should point out.)

So.... end result? Awesome. Dr. Doom now leads the team, only he’s really Reed in Doom’s body. That’s some high concept cool shit. Getting there? Somewhat less than. I don’t know, I just have trouble with the whole “Reed Richards is nothing but a brain” thing. Again, this ending rules. But, I knew how this was going to end before I read it (thanks to Gavok at 4th Letter, who, frankly, this entire column owes a debt of gratitude too..), and the end sounded awesome. And it was! But the middle? ...Eh. Not exactly a masterpiece.

But hey, this is more evidence for the “Reed Richards is an unstable crazy person” school of thought, so there’s that, right? And seeing Reed in Doom’s armor (in 1977, before everyone else had done it)? Pretty sweet, I must say.

Next week! What If Someone Else had Become the Amazing Spider-Man? I’m not sure, but maybe it’ll be like Andrew Garfield taking over for Toby Maguire? Or something? Anyway! See you next time!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Travelblog: Ames, Iowa- Evil Parallel Universe Version of BloNo

Maybe you’ve heard, maybe you haven’t and so you are about to read about it now, but I’ve decided to write a book. And in that book, what I will do is travel around the country and visit dinosaur museums, and tell stories about them. It will be a fun travel log, and also there will be stories about digging up dinosaurs and stuff. It will be awesome, and in five or six years when it finally comes out (because I’m doing this with a budget of basically nothing) you should totally read it. That being said, it occurs to me that I’ve never written a travel log before, so maybe I need some practice. Enter Travelblog! Where I write about my wacky adventures traveling!

So last month the dynamic duo of Patrick and Justin went to Ames, Iowa for the birthday of our friend Terry. I’m not sure which one of us is Batman and which is Robin, but whatever. Patrick was going because he felt guilty about Terry coming to Bloomington for Patrick’s own birthday. I was going because, you know, it’s not like I had anything better to do that weekend. Our friend Lily (who was the person we met Terry through) offered to let us crash at her place, so we were all set. And thus, one Friday afternoon the two of us had lunch at 2:30, and then we headed west, to the wild, untamed wilderness that is.... Iowa....

Within the first fifteen minutes of crossing the border into the greenish amorphous blob that some people call a “state”, it became increasingly clear that everything I’d assumed about Iowa is true. It is a wasteland. Trust me, I am a dude who has played a lot of Fallout, I know a wasteland when I see one.

Seriously, from the Iowa/Illinois border to the city of Ames is a bitch of a drive, and that’s before you throw shitty directions that skip a highway changeover into the mix (for the record, Patrick was the one who was supposed to get directions, even though I was driving). Until hitting Des Moines, other than farmland and ‘towns’ that apparently consist entirely of a strip-mall and a McDonald's, we saw precisely two things of interest. And I’m using a pretty broad definition of the word ‘interest’ because those two things were the self-proclaimed largest truck stop in the world and an airplane. I think the pinnacle of Iowasuck* had to be Iowa City. As soon as we crossed Old Man River into Iowa, we started seeing signs telling us Iowa City was just 40 miles away. 40 miles later, Interstate 80 greeted us with a sign that proudly announced to us that we were in fabulous Iowa City! Home of the University of Iowa and... and.... and other awesome stuff!

The problem? Well, as far as we could tell, Iowa City doesn’t actually exist. Like some sort of modern El Dolrado, no matter how hard we looked for it, there was no sign of Iowa City anywhere**. There was a house or two, and some more fields of pointless crap, but no sign of a city, anywhere. Patrick speculated that maybe the city was actually underground, and that perhaps the entire state, rather than being an empty wasteland of boring bullshit, was actually composed of an advanced labyrinth of complicated cities and cultures, ruled by a race of mole-people. God, I hope he is right, because otherwise Iowa is depressing as hell.

Either way, civilization finally arrived, in the form of Des Moines. Now, full disclosure, we never actually stopped in Des Moines, so I can only discuss it in terms of someone who saw it as he drove past it on the highway. That being said, it seemed... nice enough? I mean, my opinion is probably tainted by how much the rest of the state had sucked so far, but they had an airport, and a zoo, and it seemed pretty nice, for a city in the middle of a wasteland. Truth be told, though, this is exactly where Patrick’s shitty map came into play. Patrick blames Goggle Maps, Lily says Patrick is just a shitty writing-down-directions guy, I choose to remain Agnostic on the map-suckage-getting-us-lost issue. Anyway, by the time we realized that we were lost, we were visiting John Wayne’s birthplace, which means I know more about John Wayne than Michelle Bachmann. I am fairly sure this is one of several topics where I know more about said topic than Michelle Bachmann, but I digress.

After Patrick consulted with Lily- and I looked at an actual map that I ‘borrowed’ from a gas station- we were back on the right track, and soon in Ames. And that’s about the time we realized we had entered the Bizarro universe, presumably at the same point we crossed the Mississippi. You see, Ames is the home of Iowa State University, which we knew going in. Now for those of you who aren’t from BloNo, Normal (the ‘No’ part of ‘BloNo’) is the home of Illinois State University. So, we knew the acronyms were the same going in. But as we drove past signs for the school, we realized that both schools used the same font for their signs. This... was odd. But okay, whatever, we thought.

Anyway, we shrugged it off, because frankly, after 6 hours of driving, most of them boring as fuck, we just wanted to start drinking, and that meant we had to find Lily’s house and park the damn car. So, we get there, it’s like ten o’clock, Pat and I are hanging at Lily’s, Terry is there, and the dynamic duo is hungry as hell. Turns out, Terry hadn’t eaten yet either, so Lily and Terry told us of a bar that had a pizza place right above it. Pizza + Booze? Yeah, Patrick and I were sold.

We made on our way towards said pizza-bar-combo (whose name escapes me, not that I actually care). Along the way we walked past the SERIOUSLY MOST AWESOME THING WE’D SEEN SO FAR. It was the hollowed out shell of what used to be a Taco Bell, that apparently closed a few years back. But apparently, the town of Ames recognized the importance of this famous former monument to bad taste, and gave the place a FRIGGIN’ MEMORIAL PLAQUE. Now, Lily might come at me with “facts” that describe “reality” and tell me its a plaque teaching about the house that used to be there which was the first house ever in the city of Ames, and that the bulldozing of said house years ago leading to the eventual Taco Bell that isn’t even there any more is indicative of American “fuck you, history” culture ignoring our rich history. But you know... Taco Bell Memorial Plaque? Much funnier. So let’s stick with that.

It’s fairly traditional that whenever I go off to some bizarre foreign land, I leave some small piece of culinary wisdom behind me to astound the locals. In Cyprus, I taught the natives the art of the Jagerbomb, and the drunken orgy with the entire wait staff that resulted remains one of the best nights of my life. In London, I schooled them in the zen of dipping french fries (or as they call them, ‘chips’) into barbecue sauce, leading to what I can only assume was a culinary revolution in English cuisine. And in Oklahoma I showed everyone that it was fucking stupid to stop selling booze at 9 pm, but that state is run by morons, so no such luck there. And Iowa, it turns out, would be no different.

After reaching the bar, we got our drinks, and I placed an order for Patrick’s and my pizza. My order, however, was apparently a deeply shocking and outrageous choice, the likes of which Iowa had never seen (this being the same city that is currently boasting “deep fried butter on a stick” at the 2011 Ames GOP Straw Poll, remember). This choice? Sausage and pineapple. It’s a Patrick and Justin classic! It’s like Hawaiian Style, only with a much tastier part of the dead pig! Lily was appalled. Random-Dude-Lily-knew-sitting-with-us had his mind completely blown. The waitress was deeply confused, and Terry was just grateful for some free pizza. Terry is a swell dude, you guys.

So for the rest of the night (10 to 3, basically), we drank, ate pizza, drank some more, talked about how awesome Patrick and I were, and how lame Iowa was. Terry would laugh and approve, Lily would get all indignant and remind us that Ames was one of the safest cities in the country. *Yawn*. We wrapped up the evening at the Korrito stand (apparently a korrito is a Korean burrito. Who knew?), and headed home.

Day two was a lot less exciting, mostly because, as started before, Iowa is a very boring place (but with some tasty food). I can back this up with science. You see, that night was the birthday party for Terry, and this is what we did before heading to the party that night: Ate breakfast, watched two episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, went to a coffee shop, went to a video game store, went to a comic book shop, and ate dinner. GUYS: THESE ARE ALL THINGS WE DO ALL THE TIME. Seriously, if you had to define Patrick and me with one sentence each, they would be “Patrick is a dude who is seriously into video games,” and “Justin is a dude who is seriously into comic books.” When I’m on a big fancy trip and all I do is stuff I normally do every day, that means that the place I’m taking a trip to is boring.SCIENCE FACT.

Oh, but here’s where Ames proved it really is the Bizarro BloNo- I already talked about the similar names, and the identical fonts, but here’s ISU’s mascot at home:

...and here’s the evil parallel universe duplicate from Iowa State University:

HOLY HELL! This got me thinking, though, because Lily was right, Ames is one of the safest places in the US. Crime is super low, the food is apparently amazing, and 4 out of their last 7 governors weren’t sent to jail. The Bizarro aspect was confirmed, but what if.... what if the Bizarros were us?

But fuck that nonsense! Sure, Illinois is openly corrupt, and Illinois State is riddled with STDs, and the police in BloNo are so messed up that they deny the existence of gang activity in the city (despite the shootings, gang territories, and the well known drug runs). But damn it, at least things at home weren’t BORING. Things actually happen in Illinois, we have the coolest damn city in the world here! History’s worst baseball team is here for us to make fun of! (Sorry Cub fans, but deep down you know I’m right) Al Capone used to drive down Route 66 to steal maple syrup from the Funk’s farm outside my home town! That is awesome!

So maybe we were evil. Maybe everyone else thinks we’re the most fucked up state in the union. But that’s just because everyone else is blown away by our awesomeness. So, Iowa, you keep your politeness and safety and significantly less corrupt civil servants, you’re still lame as hell. (Terry’s birthday party was lovely, by the way.)

…. Which brings me to day three: the escape attempt.
When we awoke Sunday morning a gentle thunderstorm was in the area, nothing too serious, so we thought little about it. We said our goodbyes to Lily and her roommate Lauren, packed up our stuff, and drove off into the city. The rain started to pick up a bit, and then some more, and then we realized that the way out of the city had been locked down with construction. Where had that construction been Friday night? It wasn’t a problem then. Was... was the city trying to keep us from leaving? No, the city hadn’t turned into a soul stealing living thing. It was actually much, much worse.

We kept driving around, trying to find a way out to the highway as the rain turned to sheets. The sky had turned black with rage, the windshield wipers going as fast as they possibly could, just so that we could barely see the road ahead. Finally, we managed to make it to the highway, and we thought we had made it- until hail the size of small rocks started falling out of the sky. It was then that we realized how much shit we were really in, as the sky itself, opened as if some vast, inter-dimensional portal was being created. Over the sounds of thunder and hail ruining my car, we heard the sounds of animals pulling a cart- ANGRY animals pulling a cart. “On Toothmasher! On Toothgrinder!” a bellowing voice cried out, with the lightning and hail intensifying.

I swerved to avoid a lightning strike on instinct. Somehow the car next to us just exploded out of nowhere. A hailstone crushed a highway sign. “Shit dude, I’m glad you’re the one driving,” Patrick whispered next to me. As carnage surrounded us, we were being chased by the mighty Thor himself, and somehow, I knew, I JUST KNEW that this was a challenge. A test, for my mortal hubris.

I had done nothing but mock Iowa this entire trip for being lame, and this was the gods of my ancestors’ answer. “You think you’re such hot shit? Your ancestors were viking warriors! They died in glorious battle! They were so hardcore that they rowed a fucking row boat all the way to America from god damn Scandinavia four centuries before the fucking Spanish! Their gods got drunk and beat the hell out of giants, because they were bored, damn it! They were the most bad ass group of badasses in the history of forever, and you think you’re so damn awesome? Little mortal, this is your test. You can either pull over to try to wait out this shitstorm of horribleness, or you can risk your life for no reason other than stubbornness and glory!” Thor didn’t actually say all that, but I JUST KNEW that’s what this crapfest of awful weather was all about. And my choice was clear. As a nightmare of fire, ice, and lightning brought us ever closer to death, I pressed on, because to hell with dishonoring my ancestors! To glory!

We pressed on, other cars and their drivers dying all around us, but we had almost made the cities limits. As the earth itself began to crumble around us, the highway falling apart, the sky itself shattering, the car lept into the sky like so much General Lee. We landed outside the city limits, and I turned one last time to look at the Thunder God, who stopped, and whispered simply, “Well met.” Suddenly, the storm mysteriously disappeared, the sky turn blue again, and it was as if none of it had ever happened.

There’s not a lot to say after surviving a death race with a Norse god to determine if you’ve got big enough balls, and Patrick and I said very little on the return journey. There was no need to. We had just been in a staring contest with forces far beyond our control, and they were the ones to blink. It had been quite a trip, and while it’s ending was somewhat unexpected (and terrifying), it was sure as hell not boring. Maybe I’d been a little too hard on Iowa, there really wasn’t anything wrong with it. I can’t say I didn’t have a good time.

And hey, it could have been worse. I’ve driven through Missouri before.

*The term ’Iowasuck’ copyright 2011 The Amazing Justin Palm!. All rights reserved.
** I’ve been told by the Ames natives that you can’t see much of Iowa City coming through I-80, but if you come to the city from the south instead of from the east, you get this great view of how awesome it is. Frankly, I call bullshit on this, mostly because I don’t really give a damn, and its funnier this way.