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.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What If Wednesday #5: What If Captain America Hadn’t Vanished During World War II?

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 right off the bat, I promise that THIS WEEK I won’t fill up this article with a bunch of Greek Mythology nonsense. That said, I haven’t read this week’s issue yet, so we’ll see if I can keep that promise. Onward! (Editor’s Note: He actually keeps his promise!)

Short version? Personally, I really kinda liked this issue. But, realistically? This story is so burdened down with continuity, that no one who doesn’t get all of the history, PLUS respect the fucked up nature of comics’ “sliding time scale” could really make heads or tails out of it. This issue works, as long as you’re cool with saying that all Marvel comics started 20 years after WWII. But when you start thinking of history as, you know, literal history? It all falls apart.

EVEN SHORTER VERSION: I liked it. But a lot of people probably won’t get it.

Okay, so page one, at least they acknowledge that this week’s story is similar to the last issue, so that’s something. They also say that it “isn’t” that similar to the last issue, so we’ll see. So, (Jesus) after ANOTHER recount of Avengers #4, we get to see what happened in this universe. This time, Cap manages to take over the missile’s systems, he and Bucky get to safety as the plane/rocket/bomb/whatever goes off, Zemo escapes to the safety of Nazi Occupied France, and all is well for the moment.

Zemo returns to his master, the Red Skull, who quickly kills him for being the douche that he is. The Skull realizes his plans (whatever they were) are bullshit, and that Captain America and Bucky will soon arrive to kick ass, so he flees in the name of not getting his ass handed to him. His men are all pissed off about being abandoned, but then Cap and Bucky show up and basically pound the shit out of all these Nazi scum. Say what you will about the Red Skull, but stupid he is not. The Red Skull rants about some secret weapon involving Zemo... and well see if that matters later.

Anyway, after 1945 WWII ends (duh), and Cap and Bucky (who now insists on being called ‘Buck’, whatever) quit fighting Nazis and start fighting communists. Which, frankly, is ironic if you’re a student of history (cuz, you know, the communists seriously helped defeat Hitler more than everyone else), but if you’re a student of COMIC BOOK HISTORY like me, you just accept it without any feeling of irony. Sod off, historical irony!

So, anyway, in this universe, Nick Fury dies in the Korean War or something, and Cap and Buck(y) keep fighting the good fight. But by 1965ish, things have changed. So, here’s the lowdown- just like in the regular Marvel universe, a bunch of former Nazi big bads have formed a terrorist organization called Hydra (complete with their own big bad, named Supreme Hydra). And, just like in the Marvel Universe, the former allies/UN have formed a new spy organization called S.H.I.E.L.D.. But with Nick Fury long dead, LBJ asks Captain America to lead this new effort!!!

Except, Cap refuses, and suggests Buck(y) for the job. He accepts, and it goes okay. It’s all well and good, for a few years. But one day, Captain America and Bucky are hanging out, when suddenly the Hulk shows up to wreck up the joint. (This apparently parallels some issue of Cap from years ago, but whatever.) Captain America is injured, and as the Hulk destroys the building, Bucky saves Hulk’s best friend Rick Jones from being killed under all the ruble. The Hulk is an assholeish friend, you guys. And seriously, we’re like 2/3rds the way through this issue, and nothing comes close to last issues Hitler-frying. I’M JUST SAYING.

So, after all that nonsense, Cap (meaning Steve Rogers) feels guilty over Rick Jones being injured by the Hulk. Does this really make sense, since Rick hangs out with the Hulk constantly, despite him being a raging madman? No, not really. But Cap feels guilty anyway. But then, suddenly! As Steve is feeling bad about Rick being in the hospital, who is he confronted with? None other than Captain America! Or, at least, Bucky in Cap’s costume. Bucky’s all like “Cap, it’s been over 20 years, you’re too old to be Captain America!” and Cap’s like “No I’m not, cuz the Super Solider Serum is awesome!” and Bucky’s like “You are too!” and then he goes “Hey, Rick, how’d you like to be my new sidekick and be the new Bucky?” and Rick’s like “WOULD I!?!?!?!”

So, Steve Rogers keeps fighting the good fight, basically taking over for Bucky as head of SHIELD (which he was trying to avoid in the first place, remember?), but Bucky (as Cap) still gets the girl (Agent 13, aka Sharon Carter, Cap’s girlfriend in normal continuity), and Hydra still isn’t beaten. In what is apparently the final push to stop Hydra, Steve Rogers, Agent of SHIELD, Bucky as Cap, and Rick as new Bucky are all captured, and (no real surprise here) the new head of HYDRA turns out to be Baron Zemo after all these years (How Zemo wasn’t killed earlier? Not really explained). Zemo is so crazy these days that he doesn’t realize that Rogers is the original Cap (despite unmasking him decades earlier), so he needs to... kill... Bucky? I guess? Honestly, the motive here is rather unclear. Anyway, Steve punches Zemo out, and everybody makes with the grand escape...

… Which sort of... honesty, I’m not sure. Zemo suddenly realizes Rogers is the original Captain America. Then Zemo gets killed. And then Dum Dum Dugan shows up to be awesome, but then Bucky Cap dies for freaking no damn reason (see Fear Itself, modern comics readers (just sayin’)). Anyway, after the funeral, turns out Sharon blames Steve for Bucky’s death. Like, majorly. But as Steve feels sorry for himself, Rick shows up in full Bucky costume, and despite Steve being 50 to 60 years old, he convinces Steve to be Captain America once again! Thus ends this issue!

So... Ok, upfront, I know way too much about Cap history to view a Bucky/Sharon relationship as anything other than icky. But still, this issue at least isn’t boring! And honestly, more than any of the previous issues, this mostly rings true. If Cap didn’t get frozen, (and remember, the original Marvel universe started only 15 years after WWII ended), I can totally see this being the world we would have lived in (in Marvel Comics). And that’s mostly pretty great, I must say. So fuck the haters who gotta hate, I liked it.

Next time! What if the Fantastic Four Had Different Super Powers? I... I assume that things would have been vaguely different? I guess? (SPOILER: I know how it ends, and it is awesome. Don’t miss it!)