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So, was Matt overhearing someone’s television or did Mark Waid confirm the existence of Jack Donaghy in the Marvel 616?
From Daredevil #6 by Mark Waid and Marcos Martin

So, was Matt overhearing someone’s television or did Mark Waid confirm the existence of Jack Donaghy in the Marvel 616?

From Daredevil #6 by Mark Waid and Marcos Martin

LIFE OF RECORD: CREATING COMICS TO CHRONICLE SUCCESS AND FAILURE
By Mike Balderrama
2008 was an odd year.
I graduated university, and had a solid 5 months of unemployment before getting a museum desk job. Sitting at home while hunting for a job definitely took its toll. But after getting the hang of things at the museum, the dawn of 2009 seemed to look pretty bright. I needed to commemorate it, to really push myself to appreciate the ups and downs of my life—create some written record. How about journaling?
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Well, I’m awful at writing journal entries. They always seem so emotionally disconnected from my day. Who am I writing for, anyways? Some future civilization that could laugh at the way I consistently misspell “traveling” with 2 Ls? No. If anyone was going to laugh at my life, I should be the one in control of the humor. I loved comics, I loved to draw, but I often times hated the work I created, especially after putting a sketchbook down for a while. I always worked in pencil, only inking things I found worthy of the time and investment (I lose inking pens easily), so combine that with the quality of paper I’d pick up, you can count on smudges galore!

First panel ever
So I made up an arbitrary New Years resolution that’s made a lasting effect on my daily life.
Acquire a sketch book.
Acquire a set of ink pens.
Only draw with ink. No pencil sketches.
If you think you’ve “screwed up” keep drawing.
Fill every page. If you skip, go back and draw.
You can only buy a new sketch book if you filled every page.
Right off the bat, it felt like a chore—some sort of self-imposed punishment. “Who does this?!” “Ugh! It’s so hard!”  “I want to start over!” All of these things I said out loud, and even put down on the page in messy inked lines. My first few pages had a very strict grid—almost trying to confine the inspiration for fear that I’d abandon it like I had in the past.
Then my great uncle died.

I was angry, upset, frustrated, worried—a whole slew of emotions aimed at a whole series of people, where compartmentalizing just did a complete disservice to the process of grieving. I could see the border lines begin to wobble and shake, and the very next page was completely text. It was a letter I’d never send to a loved one I didn’t speak to ever again after that. Gone were the hangups about whether I was doing this right. I was doing what needed to be done. Comics became less about being a good story and more about being my story. My hang ups, my emotions, my perspective.
What I inadvertently found myself doing was making a mixed media journal. Like it or not, I was journaling.
That’s the beauty of journal comics. They could be the most mundane observations about the day, but when they’re in a pictographic format, I found I could swallow the truth a little easier when looking back. Exposed nerves, pain, frustration—they’re all challenging concepts that you have very little perspective of in the moment they’re manifesting. I have whole sketchbooks devoted to me going back and forth about the merits of loneliness, of yearning for that person beyond my reach, of going through hardships in those relationships I did have. I still pull them out to this day and use them to help process my present-day roller coaster times.
I didn’t just revisit them for drama advice. I came for reminders of the joyful things that enriched my past. That promotion I got, or when I finally got accepted into grad school—all of these little personal victories came through the encouragement and support of my close friends, all of whom found a place in the comics I’ve drawn.

I was lucky to work at a space that was focused on art and design: my time working the front desk of the museum enabled me to whip out my sketchbook and pens to create a series of workplace True Tales pieces that morphed into their own mini-comics I’d share with staff. Then, I picked up something really special: Jeffrey Brown’s Funny Misshapen Body. If there’s a corpus that really codified for me what i wanted out of my experiences, Jeff Brown’s work delivers.
It’s funny, it’s confessional, above all, it’s honest.
We each read comics for very different reasons, right? Some of us do it for nostalgia, for escape, for humor, for catharsis, maybe even for a familiar perspective or a completely new one. Underneath it all, we’re looking for truth. This is the very elemental thing that I believe writers struggle with when writing comics: am I telling the truth. Maybe it’s a story about super-human mutants saving the world, but the types of successful X-Men tales resonate because the characters often times go through the same shit average people do.
If the challenge is on all of us to be perfectly honest with each other, it begins with staying true to the self. That comes out through writing, by creating, by refusing to shy away from the difficult or ugly parts of our lives. I couldn’t continue self-editing in erasable pencil, it has to be in messy permanent ink.
I’m 6 sketchbooks in, and I don’t have any plan to stop. I think all of us could benefit from starting.


 

LIFE OF RECORD: CREATING COMICS TO CHRONICLE SUCCESS AND FAILURE

By Mike Balderrama

2008 was an odd year.

I graduated university, and had a solid 5 months of unemployment before getting a museum desk job. Sitting at home while hunting for a job definitely took its toll. But after getting the hang of things at the museum, the dawn of 2009 seemed to look pretty bright. I needed to commemorate it, to really push myself to appreciate the ups and downs of my life—create some written record. How about journaling?

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MARVELS
By Steven Miller
This week I spent some time reading and reflecting on Marvels, the graphic novel by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross. It’s a story that has always had a lot of hype, but admittedly I chose to avoid it due to my ambivalence to the work of Alex Ross. I appreciate the work he does and find much of it to be beautiful, but I always find it hard to be excited by his panels. Kingdom Come never had much impact on me. Maybe it’s the uncanny valley? But alas, I was having a bad day, and it was for cheap at the local used toy store, so I grabbed Marvels on a lark.
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Marvels tells the story of Phil Sheldon, a freelance photographer that sometimes worked with the Daily Bugle, as he witnessed the appearance of Marvel Comics heroes on the scene for the first time. Through the eyes of a non-powered human, we gained new insight on World War Two, the coming of Galactus, and the death of Gwen Stacy. Marvels explores what the world would be like if heroes and villains were real, how exciting, terrifying, and dangerous the world would be. How could any of us really live, knowing that aliens and deadly robots hide around every corner?
If we’re to believe the interpretations of most stories in comics, the general population seems to be mostly oblivious to what’s really happening in the world, of course the heroes step in and avert disaster. Yet even if I lived in the suburbs, i’m sure i’d notice the sky turning colors, or purple robots crashing through my neighbor’s roof, or my neighbors disappearing after the Skrull invasion. But we don’t ever think about that, we don’t ever get to explore that point of view. Which to me, is what makes Marvels so brilliant. We always see humans fearing mutants from the perspective of the mutants. But we don’t really take time to think “you know, this team has a guy who destroyed New York City like..2 years ago, and didn’t that Russian girl try and sink us all into hell?” It’s a valid point. Even if we’re not afraid, we’re left with an existential crisis. Evolution is leaving us behind. How can I believe in one true God, when Thor just stopped by office building from toppling over? How do I live knowing that the destruction of Earth is perpetually being halted by a single group of people?
One motif that Busiek repeatedly touches on in Marvels is the idea that heroes are loved when they’re stopping the apocalypse, and then instantly despised, feared, and vilified. When humanity comes back out the other side, they are always quick to say they would have figured it out, or it wasn’t that bad, or it was all a hoax. Yet the heroes keep coming back and helping, despite the vitriol. We see this over and over in the stories we read, and it’s something I’ve never really thought about too deeply as a trope. Our fictional heroes are in an abusive relationship with humanity.
This got me thinking. What if they didn’t come back? What if all of the super-powered heroes walked away? Or never got involved at all?
I think a lot about Star Trek and the Prime Directive. The Prime Directive is a Federation rule that states Federation officers are not allowed to interfere in the development of alien planets. Philosophically, it was deemed too dangerous and disastrous to get involved as an outside party with advanced technology and knowledge. Yet time after time, the Federation found ways around that policy, to change the course of events around them.  Sometimes it probably wasn’t always for the best. Certainly, in the Marvel Universe, there are a lot of important events influenced by the superhuman community. There would be no Ultron without Hank Pym, the Skrull may have never been interested in Earth without the Fantastic Four. Yet, without those same beings, Galactus may have eaten Earth, or it would be ruled by the Skrull,  or just straight up destroyed by the Phoenix Force. So just imagine the Marvel world if Avengers, mutants, and irradiated beings stepped away to live outside of the human community?
What would be more terrifying than people among us with incredible abilities? Imagine those incredible people observing from a distance, watching us, judging us, but not doing anything to help us. Leaving us alone to destroy ourselves.

MARVELS

By Steven Miller

This week I spent some time reading and reflecting on Marvels, the graphic novel by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross. It’s a story that has always had a lot of hype, but admittedly I chose to avoid it due to my ambivalence to the work of Alex Ross. I appreciate the work he does and find much of it to be beautiful, but I always find it hard to be excited by his panels. Kingdom Come never had much impact on me. Maybe it’s the uncanny valley? But alas, I was having a bad day, and it was for cheap at the local used toy store, so I grabbed Marvels on a lark.

Read More

DOOMED!
By Kira Kristine
Listen, I know it’s in style right now for villains (and heroes and anti-heroes) to have a complicated, emotional backstory to explain why they are the way they are, but have you considered the option of a villain who’s just a great big bag of dicks because why not?
Dr. Victor Von Doom can be that villain for you.
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The malevolent dictator of the fictional Eastern-European nation of Latveria doesn’t care about anything much other than his own person bizarro agenda which usually involves taking over something or getting revenge on someone. Sure, he had a crappy upbringing, but geez, so did like 80% of the heroes in the Marvel universe. Hell, a lot of real life people have terrible childhoods and very few of them grow up to be malevolent scientist dictators.
The source of his ridiculous evil probably stems from his mom selling her soul to Mephisto in exchange for super-intelligence and a monarchy for her son, then still in utero. Having your genius come directly from the devil probably doesn’t do a whole lot for your inherent morality, so if there’s any outside influence that lead Vic down his villainous path, it was that.
After his mom got killed or whatever by Mephisto, Vic was adopted and eventually went to school in America with Reed Richards, who honestly doesn’t seem like he’d be great at working on team projects, and Vic is left scarred after a Scientific Experiment Gone Wrong when something explodes in his face.
Because he’s ridiculous, he decides that he needs a permanent metal mask on his face, goes to freaking Tibet and commissions a magical suit of armor and proceeds to put it on before it’s done cooling, because HEY WHY NOT. So now what was some facial burn scarring that probably would have mostly faded after time and maybe applying some Neosporin if he really wanted to cover it up was made 800 times worse for literally no reason.
"Literally no reason" is probably the phrase that best describes Dr. Doom, in general. He just kind of does things, usually as evilly as possible, and to hell with anyone else or the consequences. One time he killed somebody just because he’d been working with the Fantastic Four and didn’t want to seem like he’d gone soft.
The first time we meet Dr. Doom, the villain, he kidnaps Sue Storm in order to lure the rest of the Fantastic Four to his hideout and blackmail them into working for him. I know this was during the dark ages but this kind of Snidely Whiplashery was the best they could come up with.

Thankfully, not a whole lot has changed since he first appeared on the scene, twirling his figurative mustache. In a memorable recent appearance in Children’s Crusade, he was engaged to a memory-addled Scarlet Witch in a plot to steal her powers because power-stealing requires a solid commitment like marriage.
His first act after obtaining Wanda’s abilities was to make himself into a chiseled, glittery Handsome Guy straight out of the Shoujo-iest Shoujo manga. (Sans mask of course, which begs the question, why he couldn’t have just not put on a fucking boiling hot metal mask in the first place, because again, his initial facial scarring was not that bad, and since he’s a goddamn genius in a world full of goddamn geniuses, I’m pretty sure he could have figured out a way to smooth his face out if it was that important to him.)

Anyway, following his prettification he just up and kills Cassie Lang, because somebody’s gotta die, I guess, so we might as well push Scott Lang’s character development along or something.
When this plan eventually fails thanks to the efforts of The Good Guys, he takes responsibility for all of Scarlet Witch’s actions, not because he cared about Wanda catching any flak, of course, but because ONLY HE, DOOM, HAS THE POWER TO CREATE SUCH A SCHEME. THE SCARLET WITCH WAS ONLY A PAWN IN DOOM’S GAME.
All of this might come off as a sarcastic, ironic appreciation, and it’s not. I legitimately love Dr. Doom. You can keep your Lokis; Dr. Doom is my dream supervillain husband. It might be a pure distillation of comics as escapism; Vic is pretty cut-and-dried. You might not know his master plan, but there’s not a whole lot of gray area when it comes to his goals, even when he’s working with The Good Guys. It might be that he’s just so cartoonishly evil, so balls-out egotistical and megalomaniacal that it goes over the top and loops back around so that it’s over the top again, but at the same time he legitimately cares about his mom and risks his life repeatedly for her well-being. There’s the level of mystery to him with his hilarious mask and armor and magic and science. He’s grumpy and shout-y, he talks in third person, and he’s too smart to wholly rely on people and instead builds robot duplicates of himself. ROBOT. DUPLICATES. OF. HIMSELF. MULTIPLE ONES.

Also he’s a Star Trek fan and that’s extremely important in any relationship.
Image Credit: Fantastic Four #5 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; Avengers: The Children’s Crusade by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung; Unknown Marvel

DOOMED!

By Kira Kristine

Listen, I know it’s in style right now for villains (and heroes and anti-heroes) to have a complicated, emotional backstory to explain why they are the way they are, but have you considered the option of a villain who’s just a great big bag of dicks because why not?

Dr. Victor Von Doom can be that villain for you.

Read More

FUN IN THE SUN: THE MARVEL SWIMSUIT SPECIAL
By Steven Miller
In the spirit of summer, I decided to take some time and share with you the magic of Marvel Illustrated: Swimsuit Issue. I don’t have a huge collection of comics these days, but for some reason I did decide to collect all of them (there were 5 volumes in total…the others I might share down the road). They’re absolutely bizarre, and today I’d like to talk about the premiere issue.
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So we start with a cover of She-Hulk being oogled by a bunch of dudes in the Savage Land. Actually, I’m a little bummed they didn’t go with Sauron creepin’ on her, but nevertheless, we get a lot of thigh. I’m not sure that is how She-Hulk is actually built, but I guess (green) sex sells. The cover is by Brian Stelfreeze (I got him to sign it for me at a convention because I’m that kind of awful). I have to say that one of the strangest things about this book is that actual writers and artists worked on it; it’s not full of fill-in work by unknown house people. So we get a Wolverine deodorant ad and the typical magazine credits/table of contents pages before we get right into it with an introduction by fashion designer Janet Van Dyne and Tony Stark. The thing that’s weird about this (beside the fact that they are really trying hard to remind you that Wasp is a designer) is that they’re treating the Savage Land as this beautiful oasis resort, instead of the typical deathtrap that it’s been every other time it’s been visited. Further, the whole thing is a benefit for the preservation of the Savage Land and they are world-broadcasting a charity concert there with Dazzler and Lila Cheney. So let me get this right…you want to help save the secret prehistoric land hidden in Antarctica by telling everyone in the world that it’s there and a beautiful place to vacation? This is Jurassic Park all over again. Nature finds a way, y’all.
There’s a quick interview with Northstar, and then we get into the “Super Olympics”, where we are being lead to believe that the Marvel heroes actually compete in Olympic-style competitions to score points for their respective teams. Alright. It’s actually a really detailed breakdown of the standings and I appreciate that Dagger, Dazzler, and Kitty Pryde were the finalists for figure skating. And then there’s the She-Hulk workout (which I think I’ll be trying this week):
15 minute of stretching
bench press – 12 reps – 4 sets - 30 tons, increasing each set
incline dumbbell flies – 5 sets
cable crossovers
standing curls – 10 reps – 5 sets - 25 tons
seated dumbbell curls – 15 tons in each hand
undetermined tricep exercises
We get a Beast shampoo ad, a story about Silver Surfer, and some concert photos of Dazzler and Lila before we get into what everyone has been waiting for…the T&A!

Pyslocke is offensively yellow for some reason, but it looks like she’s enjoying some time snorkeling in prehistoric shores full of bacteria and microorganisms her body can’t process. Don’t drink the water.

Diamondback displaying some serious thirst in regards to being so close to Cap’s loins. Have some self-respect, woman.

The boys and their soft butch looks. I don’t like the look on Hulk’s face.
As I flip the page to Jubilee and Boom Boom trying and get Cable to put on a leopard print bikini, I’m left wondering who in the world the target audience of this book is? Is it me? A gay man who loves comics and and bad 90s swimwear? The thing about this book is that it totally objectifies women, yet it also serves up some serious beefcake. I guess there’s something for everyone who has sexual feelings about comic book characters.

Fortunately there are plenty of grottoes and waterfalls in the Savage Land where the ladies can go to just have a good time. This is a feature I remember quite well from the X-Men video game on Sega Genesis. Sometimes if you crouch behind those waterfalls, you get extra health. But you have to be careful because sometimes the dudes with spears will hide back there, too. And did you know you can use the Iceman bridge to skip the fight with Juggernaut in that level? Man, that game was great. Probably the only time that Gambit is useful.

There’s a big purple snake joke here that just writes itself. John Romita Jr. should be ashamed of himself.

Fortunately the villains also have some downtime take in the sights before trying to murder each other. It’s really actually very nice that they set their differences apart for charity. Because really, without the Savage Land, where else are they supposed to set up a villainous base of operations? Madripoor? (I’m pretty sure one of the other Swimsuit Specials is set there, actually.)

Finally, we get a spirited game of tug of war that doesn’t seem remotely fair when you consider the the left side has two Gods, She-Hulk, and Captain America. But then again, Wanda could just use her hex power to wipe them out of existence, so, maybe it is an even match. There’s a shaving cream ad with Thor on the back cover, which is a shame, because I always liked him better with the beard.
And so I close the book and wonder why none of the residents of the Savage Land were found within it’s pages. I mean, what’s the deal with that? They are already wearing loincloths, so the bathing suits aren’t much of s stretch. Where were Ka-Zar and Shanna? Did pollution and foreign invasion of the jungle starve out Devil Dinosaur? What of poor Moon-Boy? I reflect on what I’d just read and finally realized how important the charity concert and group vacation to the Savage Land really was.
Mockingbird isn’t wearing a thong for sex appeal, she’s doing it to save  the environment. And that’s something I think we can all get on board with.
But seriously, why is Iron Man wearing swim trunks over his suit?

FUN IN THE SUN: THE MARVEL SWIMSUIT SPECIAL

By Steven Miller

In the spirit of summer, I decided to take some time and share with you the magic of Marvel Illustrated: Swimsuit Issue. I don’t have a huge collection of comics these days, but for some reason I did decide to collect all of them (there were 5 volumes in total…the others I might share down the road). They’re absolutely bizarre, and today I’d like to talk about the premiere issue.

Read More

THE BATMAN BIBLE PART 3
By Ben Rawluk
Welcome back to our celebration of Batman, we’re glad you’re still with us! If you didn’t catch the first 2 parts, you should read those first. In honor of Batman’s 75th birthday, we’re exploring The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told. Enjoy!
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X. BOMBAST
And with “The Blockbuster Invasion of Gotham City,” the membrane shivers.  Tone shift. Into the mid-1960s, we leave the flat children’s book illustrations of Dick Sprang and his ghosts behind, taking on depth for the first time as Carmine Infantino takes the stage.
But don’t worry. Batman can still do anything (after we’ve seen him struggle, of course). Robin can still quip.
A behemoth like the Blockbuster is a throwback, of course, to Hugo Strange’s monster-men. But by now he’s given up the guns. The Batplane no longer fires weapons like that.  There will be no death. Instead, he stops him through trickery, through the magic of his secret identity. Mark Desmond, who becomes the Blockbuster, knows Bruce Wayne and can’t bring his monstrous body to hurt him.

XI. REMBERANCE OF VIGILANTES PAST
“Ghost of the Killer Skies” is an odd story, notable for the eerie opening page with a plane careening out of the blank and pitiless whiteness of the page, streaking into the comic book’s panels from the infinite and choking gutter. The impact even cuts into the narrative captions.
Batman must investigate problems on the set of a film about the Enemy Ace, an old DC property focused on a German anti-hero during the World Wars. Look, when I cracked open this volume for the first time, World War II was still a nebulous thing for me, and this was the first influx of a DC Universe from outside of the Justice League, a DC Universe that didn’t just wear tights and capes.  At the time, it may not have resonated with me very much but within the context of the book, this story hums with the shivering, trickling fringes of its universe.
If The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told is a holy book, around it swirls vast and almost immeasurable apocrypha.

XII. A LIFE OF NEVER-ENDING PLOT-TWISTS
Harvey Dent. Two-Face. Thinking about it, this book may have been the first time I ever really encountered Two-Face. He wasn’t—from what I recall, the Adam West TV version which danced around him, since they couldn’t do someone so grotesque. “Half an Evil” opens with another spectacular opening page—unlike the biplane shooting into the narrative, we are observers as Batman haunts the swamps of Gotham. I’d like to think, a fervent lover of Seven Soldiers, that this is Slaughter Swamp.
We are firmly into the Gotham of the 1970s, by the way. The old days will be referenced only in flashback, a veneer of nostalgia overlaid upon them. Here in particular: Harvey Dent is introduced to us as Two-Face, having received an appropriately doubled origin; his face reconstructed and the man re-introduced to society, this Two-Face has already undergone the trauma of rebirth twice, a second dangerous attack on his chiselled jaw. I like that this story balances Batman’s multiplicity well; while the previous two stories mark the transition in style to the darker “more realistic” Batman from the storybook version, “Half an Evil” mirrors its villain. Knifing through the moody waters and dealing with Dent in tight quarters, there’s real grit to the narrative, but this is still essentially a gimmick caper, Two-Face calls attention to himself with a double-themed crime.  He relies on the double-headed silver dollar to make his choices.
This is part of why this book had such an impact on me, part of why it feels woven into my core, why I can still look back at it as an adult and receive a taste of the old electricity. Because, even with the history of Batman elided, even with elements that I have come to think of as key (Batgirl, for example) unacknowledged, the stories chosen do not turn so suddenly that you receive whip-lash. Even the Infantino story is a point of transition more than an abrupt snap, the art shifting but the colours remaining quite bright. You can always sense the other versions of Batman shimmering like a mirage, overlapping the text of whichever story you’re reading. And “Half an Evil” reinforces that, of course, by suggesting that there will always be another plot twist, always another tone shift. You might think your face repaired by science, your sanity restored, but there’s always someone waiting to splash acid in your face again. But, at the same time, there’s always a Batman ready to pull you out of the hole and fix you back up again.

XIII. YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LAST OF THE MONSTERS
The most hypnotic panel in Frank Robbins’s “Man-Bat over Vegas,” for me, was always an odd, wide shot of a troupe of chorus girls locked in a moment of absolute fear, eyes wide and alarmed. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with them beyond fear, in the context of the story, but they are frozen and pale like vampiric brides. This always bothered me as a kid.
Of course, while Kirk Langstrom—the Man-Bat—isn’t a vampire, he’s certainly a monster, a creature, shifting shape at night to fly across the skyline, murder in his heart. The ghost of the Monk hovers at the edge again.  Batman investigates a lead in Vegas, a man bitten and drained of blood.  Kirk Langstrom—a scientist and a friend, one who has already become the Man-Bat in the past—is the prime suspect.  The case is more complicated than that, of course.
What I like about this story now is what I didn’t like about it when I first encountered it. I found “Man-Bat over Vegas” terrifying.  Frank Robbins’s brusque, choppy artwork unsettled me.  Those petrified chorus girls.  It’s moody and expressionistic, Nosferatu climbing back into those lines.  And you can’t hide behind the constant reminders of Batman’s disconnect from the supernatural, even when he’s away from the Justice League. The story whispers to you that magic might not be real, but there’s no reason science can’t reproduce it, no reason we can’t make vampires when there are none.  The story is a threat.
And it’s sexy in an overt way, mixed in with the death; it is revealed that the actual vampire is a She-Bat, Kirk’s wife Francine, overcome by the formula he created to transform himself—and the final confrontation features an eerie Francine poised among the rocky outcroppings of a deep cave, offering her husband a venomous Come Hither disguised as a desperate plea for help.
I often skipped over “Man-Bat over Vegas,” before.  Now I read it hungrily, and dream of further adventures under Robbins’s hand.

XIV. THERE’S A BATMAN FOR EVERYONE
Recently, a friend of mine wrote a piece for NPR about Batman (Link), and more specifically about The Dark Knight Returns.  She talked about how the version of Batman—let’s call him Cranky Bat-Dad—running through those pages wasn’t “her” Batman.  She’s a few years younger than me, is more solidly founded in the Bruce Timm-run Batman: The Animated Series, but her remark struck something for me.  After all, of course, this essay is particularly focused on the idea of a seamless Batman narrative that actively contradicts itself, that marries alien tones and styles together.  That Batman’s methods can change, growing more or less aggressive. I certain agree with her, to a certain extent—it’s hard for me to look at Cranky Bat-Dad and see “my” Batman, because my Old Batman is square-jawed and married to Catwoman.
But then you turn to “The Batman Nobody Knows”—oddly enough, another Frank Robbins story, but one with more conventional artwork by Dick Giordano—and it’s like someone taking you by the hand and leading you to a room filled with longboxes, a little Bat-emblem on each box, the exact details of the logo dependent on the box.
This is a classic story. A bit like how “Robin Dies at Dawn” is recalled decades later by Grant Morrison, this story has been adapted several times, although I’ve found its adaptations weaker, notably removing the race component from the story.  Bruce Wayne takes a trio of orphans on a camping trip as part of his Wayne Foundation charity activities.  They sit around the campfire and tell, not ghost stories, but ones about Batman.
More specifically, they talk about who Batman is, what he must look like.  This was years before DC would push in the direction of settling him into the role of being an “urban legend,” one of the most ridiculous editorial decisions I’ve ever seen.
The boys tell the story of Batman taking down a particular crook, each one spinning or warping the idea of what Batman is.  In one, he’s a supernatural vampire, passing effortlessly through walls, something closer to Man-Bat in spandex.  Another boy describes him as similarly supernatural, a lighter-than-air giant at ten feet tall.  The third boy describes him as a black man with a jetpack and giant bat-wing glider.  That last one was the Batman in the story that I most liked as a kid—the super-technology, the design, the wingspan. In retrospect, I like that the black version of the character is the most human of the three.

Bruce, of course—in a moment of vanity—throws on his real Batman costume and jumps out to scare the kids.  They see right through him, though, and laugh it off.  They yawn and turn in for the night, telling him he’s too old for that “kid’s stuff.”
The takeaway for Bruce is that the Batman can only terrify the evil, but it’s snaked through with this feeling like we all get to choose our own Batman, we can all select the version we want, something that feels, at times, gets lost in DC’s quest for gritty-edged relevance.  But it’s also something to keep in mind when talking about Batman, when you feel yourself frustrated taking in these other renditions of Batman that don’t quite fit what you want.  It’s something I need to keep in mind.

XV. THE AGE OF IRRELEVANT DEBUNKING
As I mentioned with “Man-Bat over Vegas,” we have started to breach an era of Batman where debunking happens—a mystery has an apparently supernatural component but turns out to have a scientific backstory—but the debunking is somewhat irrelevant because the supernatural can be reproduced. “Deathmask” makes nods to this—its eerie villain, a South American death god be-decked in a frightening skull-mask, really does have unnatural strength even if it’s the result of your generic Jungle Narcotic Used For Rituals By The Savages—but in retrospect reads as a bit of a Scooby Doo adventure. Yes, the mystery is who is under the mask, but while the revelation that Francine Langstrom has also become a (Wo)man-Bat like her husband before her is heartbreaking and traumatic, the death god is just another disgruntled museum employee trying to kill people under the guise of a monster.
The story does point to some of the undercurrents running through Gotham and Bruce Wayne’s position as an elite in the city’s seemingly overflowing population of rich white people.  Similar to Catwoman’s diamond mine aspirations back during “The Jungle Cat-Queen,” this story relies on the acquisition of cultural artifacts from “savage” societies far removed from Gotham through colonization, artifacts that are then displayed for the elites of the city and become the hinges of criminal plots. Even when they aren’t being used as weapons against others, relics acquired through American imperialism are rampant in Gotham, constantly targeted by a criminal population hungry for any opportunity to quench their thirst for thematically-appropriate booty.
One must wonder how much of Egypt’s cultural heritage ended up in some dingy factory, guarded by a giant mechanical leopard while Catwoman mooned over Batman.

XVI. BATMAN ALOFT
Planes have always been connected to Batman for me.  Aircraft.  There was the Batwing from the first Burton movie, particularly that moment when it bursts from the clouds to pause in front of the moon before descending, ready to take on Jack Nicholson’s Joker. There were those spectacular scenes with the perfect Pop Art vehicle of the 1960s, Adam West’s Bat-Copter, the silhouette of its pilot stencilled pristinely into glass.  And there was this book, with its Batplane, then the Enemy Ace and finally “Death Flies the Haunted Sky.”
After the grittier, lined figures we have experienced since leaving the storybook behind, Alex Toth’s line work is simultaneously a breath of fresh air and a sideways dislocation; it is looser and suggests his animation background. Of anyone in the book, he is the closest you’ll get to my current tastes in comic book art. While this is very much a story taking place in the Gotham City of its day, with bombastic infernos and actual crime rather than the pastoral energy beams and winking laughter of the Super Friends—one of Toth’s animation projects—I can still imagine Batman here, under his hand, speaking with Adam West’s voice.

THE BATMAN BIBLE PART 3

By Ben Rawluk

Welcome back to our celebration of Batman, we’re glad you’re still with us! If you didn’t catch the first 2 parts, you should read those first. In honor of Batman’s 75th birthday, we’re exploring The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told. Enjoy!

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THE SUMMERS FAMILY TREE
By Steven Miller
When it comes to families, there are few more dramatic and complicated than the family of Scott Summers, otherwise known as the X-Men’s Cyclops. Maybe you’ve picked up a few comics, or watched the incomparable 90s cartoon, or maybe even just watched a few of the lackluster movies. No matter what you’ve dabbled in, Scott Summer seems to be front and center…what’s the deal with that?
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Some say he’s boring, old-fashioned, or just the worst, but like it or not, his genes (and Jeans!) are everywhere. So for today’s Comics 101, we’re going to attempt to break down exactly what’s going on with the Summers family and understand how one person can be connected to alien races, children he never had, the Fantastic Four and Magneto! It’s probably the easiest to start at the beginning with Corsair.
Christopher Summers (Corsair)

Christopher was a test pilot living in Alaska, married to a woman named Katherine. Christopher and Katherine had two soon-to-be-revealed-as-mutant children named Scott and Alex. While on a flight with his family, Christopher’s plane was shot down by an alien ship on an exploratory mission. Alex and Scott were given the only parachute to escape the burning plane, leaving them to the Alaskan wilderness. Christopher and Katherine were taken aboard the spaceship of the alien race known as the Shi’ar. They come up again a lot later. Katherine is killed by the Shi’ar emperor, a man named D’Ken. Christopher is imprisoned, where he becomes friends with various alien prisoners, who eventually escape and become outlaws of the Shi’ar. Known as the Starjammers, Christopher’s group become space pirates vowing revenge. Little does Christopher know that Katherine was pregnant with a third child, the fetus raised artificially by the Shi’ar after Katherine is killed. Christopher takes on the codename of Corsair and has various run-ins with Marvel characters, including the X-Men, when Jean Grey is put on trial for her crimes as the Phoenix. It is eventually discovered that Cyclops’ father is in fact Corsair. It takes many years for the two to reconcile.
Alex Summers (Havok)

Alex and Scott were rescued from the wilderness and were sent to an orphanage where they were adopted separately. During this time, a boy named Nathaniel Essex takes particular interest in the two. Alex eventually manifests his powers (energy blasts somewhat similar to his brother Cyclops). Alex (now Havok) eventually connected with his brother, but stayed mostly disconnected from the X-Men, and instead chose to align himself with the government, leading the X-Factor team. Currently Havok is working with the Uncanny Avengers team, helping bridge relations between the Avengers, the public, and mutants. Alex has been in a long-term relationship with the mutant Polaris for more than two decades. They are one of the longest running, yet never married, couples in the Marvel Universe. Polaris is the daughter of Magneto, connecting the Summers family to Magneto and her half siblings, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Scarlet Witch and the Vision’s imaginary children became real in the form of Young Avengers Speed and Wiccan, making them Alex and Scott’s nephews in a strange, non-blood but magic sort of way. Quicksilver also has a daughter with the Inhuman Crystal, connecting the Summers family to the Inhuman royal family. Film viewers may know a version of Havok from the movie X-Men: First Class.
Gabriel Summers (Vulcan)

Remember that unborn baby that was raised by the Shi’ar? That baby, Gabriel, became a slave for the villain Erik the Red. While on Earth with Erik, Gabriel escaped and was taken in by friend of the X-Men, Moira MacTaggert. When the original X-Men are unable to escape Krakoa the Living Island, Moira and Xavier send Gabriel and a new team in to rescue them. They all die. Except that Gabriel doesn’t, he actually gets trapped in a volcano. Enraged, Gabriel becomes free, attacks the X-Men, including his brother Scott, and flees into space, wanting revenge on Emperor D’Ken for murdering his mother. Now known as Vulcan, Gabriel discovers that D’Ken is in a coma, and a new ruler, D’Ken’s sister Lilandra , is in power. Vulcan becomes romantically involved with Deathbird, the sister of Lilandra and D’Ken. Vulcan wakes D’Ken, marries Deathbird, and then kills D’Ken, as well as Corsair. Vulcan becomes emperor of the Shi’ar empire, and Havok and Polaris form a new Starjammers group to take down Vulcan. Eventually Vulcan’s ambitions for domination become too great, and he dies during a clash with the Inhuman king Black Bolt.
Scott Summers (Cyclops)

Well, wasn’t that all just exhausting? Finally, we reach the focal point, Scott Summers, otherwise known as Cyclops. Cyclops comes under the wing of Professor Xavier (who hooked up with Lilandra of the Shi’ar…apparently mutant men have a thing for bird ladies). Cyclops was raised up as leader of the X-Men and adopts Xavier as his father. During his time with the X-Men, he meets a woman with whom he falls madly in love, Jean Grey. Jean’s mental powers make her the target of a space entity feared by the Shi’ar known as The Phoenix. As the Dark Phoenix, Jean destroys a solar system, causing a lot of grief for the Shi’ar who want her dead. She ends up killing herself, leaving Cyclops really sad, until a mysterious woman shows up who looks just like Jean! Well, this turns out to be a woman named Madelyne Pryor, a clone created by Nathaniel Essex, now known as the creepy Mr. Sinister! Remember that boy Nathaniel from the orphanage? Yeah, same dude! Mr. Sinister is devoted to creating the perfect children via the seed of Cyclops and Jean Grey, so he does a lot of tricking them into not having sex through the years for some reason. It’s weird.
Anywho, Scott and Maddie shack up and get married (probably shotgun), and she gives birth to a baby named Nathan. I don’t even want to get into the fact that this baby is probably named after Mr. Sinister.  Scott leaves Maddie and Nathan when Jean Grey returns to life. Jean and Scott never have any kids before she dies once again. Now Scott is in a long term relationship with former villain, Emma Frost (aka White Queen).
But now it gets interesting. In the mid-80s, a redheaded woman shows up from the future named Rachel. Rachel turns out to be the daughter of Scott and Jean, and is dismayed to find that her mom is dead, and a clone is pregnant with little Nathan. It’s a pretty major existential crisis to find out you’re never going to be born. She also can channel the Phoenix Force. Through some weird circumstances, Rachel takes Nathan (Cable) and raises him in the future, but they both end up back in the regular timeline. I should also mention that in the future, Rachel is married to Franklin Richards, the child of Reed and Susan Richards. There are also some alternate future timelines where Nathan is born from Scott and Jean (X-Man), and also a clone of Nathan (Cable) raised by the villain Apocalypse (Stryfe). Meanwhile Scott has a future child with Emma named Ruby, who they never actually meet, but the X-Factor team does. Emma and Scott also raise/train the Stepford Cuckoos, who are a group of girls cloned from Emma Frost from the same Weapon program that altered Wolverine, Captain America, Sabretooth, Fantomex, and others.

I’ve included a chart for reference.


Also worth noting is the vengeance/kill connections:
D’Ken kills Katherine
Corsair tries to kill D’Ken
Vulcan kills D’Ken and Corsair
Havok tries to kill Vulcan
Lilandra dies during an attempt to kill kill Vulcan (Lilandra being Vulcan’s brother’s step mom)
Black Bolt kills Vulcan (Black Bolt being Vulcan’s brother’s sister in law’s brother in law…Vulcan-Havok-Polaris-Quicksilver-Crystal-Black Bolt)
Jean Grey kills herself during the Shi’ar trial (charges lead by Lilandra)
Cyclops kills Xavier
Madelyne Pryor tries to kill everyone, lead by Sinister, the man created her and who genetically experiments on her and Cyclops to have baby Cable and Stryfe
Magneto and Xavier (now related by Polaris-Havok-Cyclops) are friends but also sworn enemies until Magneto changes sides.
And I think maybe that’s everything.
So there you have it, the very simple Summers family tree. It actually gets a lot more complicated as you start adding more timelines and more families, so we’ll just leave it as it is for now.  Just know that there’s probably about a dozen more Summers kids floating around and Cyclops is not paying any kind of child support.
So yes, it’s definitely murky, but at least now when you read a comic or watch a movie and think “this guy is the absolute worst”, you know why he’s the worst!

THE SUMMERS FAMILY TREE

By Steven Miller

When it comes to families, there are few more dramatic and complicated than the family of Scott Summers, otherwise known as the X-Men’s Cyclops. Maybe you’ve picked up a few comics, or watched the incomparable 90s cartoon, or maybe even just watched a few of the lackluster movies. No matter what you’ve dabbled in, Scott Summer seems to be front and center…what’s the deal with that?

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THE BATMAN BIBLE PART 2
By Ben Rawluk
Hey there, kids! We’re back with part two of Ben’s examination of The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told! We hope you’ll be in love as we are!
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IV. ALL THOSE WONDERFUL TOYS
“The Birth of the Batplane II” is such a weird little story.  You sort of expect, at times, to read a story about how Batman’s boot treads came to be, but it serves an important function, ostensibly, in establishing that there is a world and commerce involved in the production of those “wonderful toys.” A second Batplane is created after the first is stolen—there’s a sky battle—for me, reading the radio announcer dialogue, taking in the reactions of the gruff mechanic Batman hires to handle his production of vehicles, highlights that it would be a stretched, hallucinatory experience to live in that city.

V. THE BOY WONDER
Everybody seems to agree that Robin is kind of terrible, right? I know so many people who hate him, or kind of roll their eyes a bit when he comes up.  Batman should be dark, they say, and lonesome. His only human contact should be a late night consultation with the cops—with Gordon, the one honest cop in town—and then busting some horrible serial killer in the face. He can have sex, too, but he’s required to brood after, because he is so alone, so very alone.
I grew up liking Robin. When I was a kid, I probably had a crush on reruns of Burt Ward. His costume was dorky—in a feverish way, evoking the common cold for the city of Gotham. I remember Julie Newmar and Kitten, some pink evil sidekick with a bob cut, straight-up brainwashing Robin.
Robin is one of the Daring Young Athletes of Gotham. He was the first, followed by the Bat-Girl and Batwoman, Batgirl, a whole flock of later Robins, the Huntress, the Spoiler—Batman has a lot of sidekicks in his life, which only makes sense. He’s an orphan who picks up orphans. Robin—and by extension, all the sidekicks to come—seem rigorously logical to me in the context of haphazard, dangerous, delirious Gotham. Batman picks up strays and he inspires people. If—like Barbara Gordon, who is sadly quite absent from the Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told—you are motivated and willing to develop your skills, why is “Batman” not a valid career choice in a freakshow city like that?
After sneaking into the narrative—a bit like the TV show, Robin just “being there” with Bruce, emerging from the ether—we are given “Operation: Escape,” a solo adventure for Robin. Extracted from his feature in Star-Spangled Comics, it is barely a story. There’s no mystery, the villains are small-fry gangsters. It is told in the retrospective, it is a lecture. Robin is lecturing Police Academy students on how he escapes from a death-trap. It’s an instructional. This has the effect of reminding us—reminding me, at nine years old—that for all their skill, Batman and Robin are essentially human. A good number of writers portray them as nearly magical in both their deductions and their escapes.
As I grew up and my exposure to Batman stories grew, I read more examples of stories like this—ones with actual story involved, definitely, but ones that were willing to walk you through the escape, ones that demonstrated that Batman’s power was his skill and his lateral thinking, rather than the magical weapon of the Jump Cut, the escape as masterful post-production editing.
Robin has never bothered me. Bruce Wayne always builds a family, even if it’s just him and Alfred Pennyworth. There’s something heartening about Robin and the others being inspired by Batman’s presence, because so often people fall back on this preferred narrative that Batman should only inspire monsters to put on masks and hurt people. I mean, obviously all of this is a terrible idea in the real world, but we’re not talking about the real world here.
And Batman and Robin are magical.

VI. KINK
We haven’t really talked about women yet. Julie Madison is long since abandoned, presumably splitting up with Bruce after her traumatic experience with the vampire. Vicki Vale will have happened in the mean time, but for me she is always Kim Basinger, screaming at everything, the one sane person in town. But Catwoman.  The Batman Bible taught me he’d marry her in the end, after everything was said and done—but I’ll get to that later.
“The Jungle Cat-Queen” introduces Catwoman into the text for me. It is notable for two things, really—one, that Batman and Robin spend a good deal of deal running around in little more than improvised animal furs and muscle after crash-landing in the generic, colonized jungles of Batman’s 1954. The other is Catwoman’s cat-plane, a horrifying extension of the Batplane: it glides in from above, a full-scale panther cast in metal and welded to the nose of a jet with horrifying, mechanized paws that reach down at the touch of a button to claw the Batplane’s wings like fingernails over a battle-scarred back.
Much of the story is devoted to Catwoman hunting Batman through the jungle, followed by him faking his own death and taking her out when she stops short, shocked, expecting Batman to have escaped as he always does.  Catwoman leaves tools behind, perhaps subconsciously to aid him; this is at best a game, a prolonged sexual role playing session with Robin and Catwoman’s diamond-mining henchmen dragged along while they play out their kinks. The other women come and go, are fleeting distractions between cases, but Catwoman’s relationship with Batman is thick with regret and hunger.

VII. ORIGIN STORY, WITH REVISIONS
The case wasn’t really “Solved,” no matter what Batman thought when he tracked down Joe Chill, finally. “The First Batman” seems to suggest that it will never be completely solved, that there will always be some hidden twist in the Foundation Stone of Batman.
Doing whatever it is that they do when not wearing fetish suits, Dick Grayson finds old furniture in the attic of Wayne Manor. He was probably looking for a mystery to solve, as Bruce has taught him, because we are into the blush of the Frederic Wertham days—solving mysteries and fighting crime distracted from depravity. Among the old, discarded objects they do extract a mystery: a battered and beatened Batman costume. Or something close to it, something approximating it.
It was missing the emblem and there are certain aerodynamic difficulties suggested by the cape, but as a kid, I loved this costume. The mask alone—
But that’s neither here nor there. “Dick,” says Bruce. “I think I’ve seen this costume before—on my father—long, long ago!”
What follows is: reading an old diary, watching an old movie reel. Back when archival footage wasn’t born aloft on the cloud. Again, like “The Origin of Batman,” we see things in the retrospective: Thomas and Martha Wayne in costume for a Halloween party—Thomas Wayne dressed as a kind of enormous Man-Bat—leaving little Bruce behind. Always abandoning their son. They’re caught in a brawl at the party and Thomas punches out some gangsters. Caught on film, so that Bruce can see how big and powerful his daddy was. And then he can take Thomas’s old costume and wear it when he faces down the gangsters’ boss, Lew Moxon.
On the face of it, a weird digression—filling out the origin story with unnecessary details—it highlights a trend that will grip the Batman Family for decades afterwards, this obsession with Thomas Wayne, what more can they do with him, while Martha remains a cipher for the most part.  Who cares who Martha Wayne was?  Just a fading image, just some pearls. Not when there’s a father around.
But that costume, man. I wanted that costume.

VIII. TEAM-UPS AND DREAM-UPS
As important as Robin and the Joker, Catwoman and Thomas Wayne, there is that other super-hero: Superman. While both took part in Justice Society—and later Justice League adventures—Batman and Superman have always had a relationship that is held apart from other super-heroes.  In many ways, Batman is the “good” Lex Luthor, an A-Plus Human whose willing to put his skills and determination towards bettering the world around him, even if that mostly just happens through punching and vaguely free-associative stabs at detective work. Of course they’d be friends. Superman needs a friend, someone who isn’t trying to trick him into marriage, someone his own age.  Batman around about this time can—well, he can relate.
“The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team” (oh, and Robin’s there, as well, always the silent partner, always trailing behind, if you’re dating me then you have to get to know my son) burns bright in my mind for two reasons: one, it introduces the one-off costumed identity of “Powerman,” a hero who strides into Superman’s life when Superman starts to refuse to let Batman and Robin team up with him—yes, that’s right, this going to be another retrospective story, Superman and Batman having teamed up for years—who turns out to be a robot. The costume haunted me. Much like Thomas Wayne’s Batman, I dreamed at nine of stories featuring the robot, who was little more than a remote-controlled dummy with a tape-recorder in its throat. These stories constantly hint at a larger world I wanted to witness and absorb, a world that would later disappoint me.  And there is the other thing.
As we learn the tale of the first Superman-Batman team-up, we see for the first time Superman dressing up as Batman (just a cowl) and Batman dressing up as Superman (a life-like pseudo-flesh mask pulled down over a cowl with pointed ears, no bunching or weird, unsettling rumples in the skin).  Even as a kid reading a dumb story, this switcheroo bothered me.  Batman isn’t supposed to be magic, they say, but he’s so good at everything.  Batman can conquer the Uncanny Valley without pause, without reflection, he can conquer it using only a rubber mask he produces in the Batplane in five minutes.
Let’s be honest. Batman probably had the mask in the plane to begin with, another scenario running through his head, millions of them, millions of untold stories, millions of unfulfilled prophecies running through the madcap, enchanted brain of Bruce Wayne.
But no, you say.  Batman’s cooler than Superman because he doesn’t have unlimited powers.
For me, Batman has always had unlimited powers.

IX. DON’T WORRY, ROBIN-HATERS
Years later, Grant Morrison would have a strangely protracted run along several Batman books starring several Batmen. In and among that, he would invoke all past Batman history, even the stuff that was retconned and contradictory.  I loved that, of course—because that’s how I can’t help but seeing Batman because of this book: a mess, a blurry figure produced when so many Batmen are super-imposed on each other.
And in among that star-smear of infinite Batmen that Morrison drew from was a strange, horrifying drug trip that Batman went on in 1963, where he’s subjected to the death of Robin.
“Robin Dies at Dawn!”
You have to understand, The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told is the ur-text for me, it is the book, something which is constantly thwarted by the corporate powers that own him. By the time Morrison took over, Crisis had happened, and Zero Hour, then Infinite Crisis.  A constant string of reboots and tone-shifts, and endless pull in the direction of “serious” Batman where he prefers to work alone despite his many sidekicks, where he didn’t help found the Justice League, where he will argue against the presence of the supernatural.  The goofy Batman movies were all derided and thrown out.  We wanted, I was told, a Batman with a whiskey-soaked voice and very little in the way of neck movement. A Batman who was more and more the rich sociopath beating up the mentally ill.
And then they moved back to this overlapping, multitudinous model. The postmodern Batman made of pieces. And they drew on “Robin Dies at Dawn” for material. I am programmed, like Powerman with his throat-tapes, to respond to references to my ur-text.
And ha-ha, Robin makes it out alive.  His death is a dream, a hallucination experienced alongside a dream of an alien world.
So you can suck it.

THE BATMAN BIBLE PART 2

By Ben Rawluk

Hey there, kids! We’re back with part two of Ben’s examination of The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told! We hope you’ll be in love as we are!

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THE AWESOMENESS OF SEGA’S X-MEN: PART 2
By Steven Miller
Last time, I told all you Nintendo people why Sega people are the best via the incredibly awesome and odd X-Men. This time around, I’ll be exploring the sequel, X-Men 2: The Clone Wars, which builds on the success of the first one, with a few new twists. A lot of people site this game as being better than the first, but I’m not so sure I agree..I mean, that Excalibur level was awesome, and only one of these games features Shi’ar Majestrix Lilandra Neramani of Chandilar. But anyway, here we go!
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X-Men 2 has a cold open. I mean that figuratively and literally, as you are dropped in the snowy first level with a random character you didn’t get to choose.  I guess it’s supposed to be Siberia. It only snows in Canada and the Soviet Union in the X-Men universe, so it’s a pretty safe bet to place any snow experience in one of those two camps.  There’s some good news/bad news about this level. The good news is that Omega Red is not in it. The bad news is that Omega Red is not in it. It’s basically just a test level so you can see how cool the powers are compared to the last game. It’s kind of the same, except that everyone can double jump now. The graphics are also greatly improved this time around. Things are a bit more “3D”.

After beating up some tanks, we get our intro screen…the game has begun! We learn from the title that there’s going to be some clone action. It’s a little vague what that means…will it be some Mr. Sinister plot, or a crossover with Spider-Man? Spoiler alert, it’s the Phalanx.
Next we wander down into a Sentinel production facility, which I guess is why we’re in Siberia! Can I get an assist from Darkstar? This level set is actually really neat because there is a giant Sentinel in the background, and it’s like the facility is built around this giant robot.  I wish it was a Master Mold (it bakes babies in its tummy), but it’s really a great concept.  It’s also something that the X-Men do like, every day. They wonder why they get such a reputation as terrorists…maybe it’s because they’re never not exploding a government facility in and out of US borders. Anywho, you fight an easy boss and blow this thing up good!

The next level is inevitably the worst kind of level ever made in platformers….the escape. You know that thing where you have to run to an exit point while a wall or explosion is closing in behind you? Yeah, the worst.  If you have a quick character and don’t get trapped in a corner, you should be able to make it out, but it might take a few tries to memorize the maze.
Let me break to mention the playable characters in this game, as it’s a little improved from last time. You can be Cyclops, Gambit, Nightcrawler, and Wolverine again, but they’ve also added Beast and Psylocke…remember how they were in a couple of cutscenes last game? That’s progress! It’s annoying that there is only one female character, and it’s weird that she is the one they would choose out of the entire catalog of Marvel characters they had the option to utilize. But hey, dem thighs. Not surprisingly, I chose Psylocke as my playable character.
After a long day of international terrorism, the X-Men are off to Avalon! Not the Excalibur-related Avalon, but the renamed Asteroid M space station. Seems like they would use the same name as the prequel, but I guess Avalon sounds more exotic. Cerebro sends us a secret message letting us know that the Phalanx have infiltrated Magneto’s ranks and replaced his followers with clones. Ok. Who are the Phalanx? Who are Magneto’s followers? We don’t really get any info on that yet, but comics fans will know instantly what’s up. The Phalanx are some of the more popular X-Men villains of the 90s, a techno-organic alien species that consumes and replaces the population of a planet. It’s like a viral, shapechanging Borg situation.
So we get to Asteroid M and we’re off to find Magneto, except that we’re being shot at by…some dude with a jet pack…wait…is that…Fabian Cortez? Continuing the series tradition of featuring random 90s characters, we are chased by Fabian, one of Magneto’s acolytes. He has the power to enhance mutant powers, but that’s not really important for this game. Just know he’s got a gun and a jetpack. Avoid his target sight. Finally you get inside where he can’t really fly too well, and you can shred him up.

We then get another platform classic, the free fall pit level.  When you finally land, Exodus (who?) is waiting for you to stop you from reaching Magneto. He doesn’t do a much better acolyting job than Fabian Cortez did. You finally reach Magneto, who probably is understandably confused about why the X-Men have broken into his base to rescue him, but after you slap him down, I guess he decides to listen. AND THEN MAGNETO JOINS YOU AS A PLAYABLE CHARACTER.

From this point on, most people aren’t playing as anyone else. It’s like how no one plays as Spider-Man in Maximum Carnage after Venom is unlocked.
Cerebro (read: a computer screen with text and annoying bulletin sound) tells us that the Phalanx are invading Apocolypse’s systems and he’s letting it happen. This maybe seems counter-intuitive to his usual scheming, but I guess it’s an excuse to get us into a jungle level that’s not the Savage Land, where we can fight good ol’ En Sabah Nur.

We get a mini-boss fight with the obscure Tusk and then it’s APOCOLYPSE ON A SURFBORT, SURFBORT, SURFBORT.

So now that we’re out of the jungle, Cerebro takes us to the Sav…..age….Land. Cool. Apparently the Phalanx love hot, humid climates where they can just get away from it all. We land at the new Sandals resort find ourselves in a very annoying, booby-trapped version of the Savage Land.

There’s a raising water level area (uhg), and then you fight Brainchild…the only other available Savage Land villain since they already unsuccessfully used Zaladane last time.  It’s actually really annoying because this Brainchild clone has a bunch of different stages and he turns into gold balls like Vectorman in between. Again, it’s odd that they never thought to use Sauron in these games because no one has ever heard of anyone else.
I’m afraid they’re starting to retread into first game territory going back to the Savage Land, but then we decide to throw caution to the wind and just go ahead and decide to storm the main Phalanx ship. We learn that they can destroy a central nexus, but the Phalanx will clone us if we get too close. Fire up the Blackbird!
This is easily the longest level, and it’s really a shame that they didn’t didn’t split up this last level into some more locations. Two games and we don’t even get to trash a shopping mall. Maybe they were saving that for the next sequel, Jubilee: Mall Babes and Chili Fries on Sega Saturn.
We get in and blow some stuff up, and then get on one of those giant elevators that seems to go forever (uhg). Video game lairs are always so spacious! Deathbird appears. Oh hey, girl. It wouldn’t be the X-men without the appearance of a bird lady. We work our way through, and I should add this is really rough…most people are using cheat codes to get this far, and then you fight a giant Brood Queen clone.

Glad to see that the Phalanx are appreciating alien matriarchs in this level.  We wrap with clones of the X-men fighting you and if you win, you get some text! It’s over.  Xavier tells you that since you blew the ship up, the Phalanx agree to give back all of the mutants it stole and leave quietly. It’s…kind of anti-climactic. There’s some weird philosophical reasoning, and then the credits roll.
Many people site Clone Wars as being a much better sequel with better music, but I still really enjoy the first game a lot more, even though it’s really hard and doesn’t make tons of sense. But then, we’re dealing with an X-Men game, so it’s never going to be very logical. That said, the pair of games are still way awesome, and y’all should be jealous if you never got a chance to play it, since I’m still jealous I never got to play Zelda.

THE AWESOMENESS OF SEGA’S X-MEN: PART 2

By Steven Miller

Last time, I told all you Nintendo people why Sega people are the best via the incredibly awesome and odd X-Men. This time around, I’ll be exploring the sequel, X-Men 2: The Clone Wars, which builds on the success of the first one, with a few new twists. A lot of people site this game as being better than the first, but I’m not so sure I agree..I mean, that Excalibur level was awesome, and only one of these games features Shi’ar Majestrix Lilandra Neramani of Chandilar. But anyway, here we go!

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IN DEFENSE OF COMICS AS LITERATURE
By Stephanie Hoos
Thank goodness the world has started to accept graphic novels as plausible in-class reading. However, the larger debate rages about the literary merit of such additions to the curriculum standards we’ve come to know and love.
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I’ve seen eye-rolls and heard multiple critics of these new incorporations plead that this visual medium might as well be television or movies, for all the literary good it brings to the classroom. I recently attended a professional development session when the esteemed presenter put up a slide:
“What is immediately apparent is how lexically impoverished is most speech, as compared to the written language…. [comic books have almost twice the amount of] rare words per 1000  [than do] popular prime-time adult television shows and three times that of adult speech between college graduates.” (Source: Cunningham, A. E., & Stanovich, K. E. (1998). What reading does for the mind, American Educator, 22, 8-15.)
Other than feeling like there was a total crack in the planet, I furiously began to compose a response in my mind. Of course, literature is the best vehicle to introduce difficult vocabulary and ambitious literary theoretical concepts. This is not the debate. It’s the relegation of comic books to pure entertainment the way one might a prime time television show. Take into account the amount of children in the world who are assigned books they can neither read nor understand. Might it be a smart stepping stone to give these students a piece of relatable literature with audio-visual components like dialogue and pictures attached so that they can experience higher level vocabulary while simultaneously doing what they’re supposed to do all along? (Hint: I’m talking about reading).
Not to sound snarky, snippy, or sarcastic, but I find it extremely frustrating that comic books have received such a bad rap from educators who think that they’re a poor excuse for what kids should read. I think the important thing is that kids read. We focus so harshly on getting kids to the apex of thought without realizing that there are steps to reach that goal. Why not use the greatest materials that we have at our disposal to bring out enthusiasm? Whatever those materials might be.
I’ve touched on this briefly in my commentaries on choosing graphic novels and also in my experiences as a teacher and tutor. We’ve all met the disinterested kid and the struggling kid, but we rarely acknowledge what it might take to bring that particular student to the table with other readers, as opposed to ostracizing and isolating him/her from the experience of readership. If everyone reads the same material while simultaneously exploring different facets of that material, then the participation in the reading becomes a means to an end as opposed to the creator of value (AKA good reader as good student and bad reader as bad student) in one’s position in the classroom.
The “best” readers (speaking purely from a decoding standpoint) can be the poorest students because they do not synthesize their reading into high-level inferential thoughts. The “worst” readers can be the best students because they can generate new and interesting ideas and arguments from the text itself. This produces the necessity for some students having things read to them, as opposed to having them struggle with the decoding only to have wonderful ideas and not enough time to put pen to paper. This lack of regurgitation and production of originality can only help the cause of creating an ideal student, one who can actually read the source material and then extrapolate directly from it.
Comic books can alleviate some of the tension, but we first have to change the minds of those who see these publications as less-than. They’re not. They’re just different. It’s as if we’re saying that someone shouldn’t have a learner’s permit before a driver’s license. Shouldn’t there be steps to reach a common goal? It’s unfortunate that there are children out there in the higher grades with much lower reading levels, but those students should not feel infantilized or burdened by this fact (whether due to impairment of some kind or other circumstances). Opportunity should be universal. So let’s make it so.
Exposing students to comic books and graphic novels is not a replacement. It’s not a crutch. I’d call it the equal playing field we all wish we had that can lend itself to vocabulary growth and inferential opportunity. Just look at the research. And let’s party like we’re Cunningham and Stanovich in 1998.
Educational Context and Utilization of Context Clues
Every graduate student in the education field has heard one, if not all, of the following buzz words and terms: multiple intelligences, multi-sensory education, common core standards, teaching to the test, context clues, and/or scaffolding. These terms all acknowledge that we learn differently but that we all have to learn the same things. Unfortunately, there is very little variation in widespread education for educators that takes into account new ways of seeing what we all see on a daily basis: when you have 30 kids in the room, they’re all going to have separate interests, favorite subjects, learning ability levels, processing speeds, and ideal ways/methods of learning the material. It’s interesting that this fact is widely acknowledged in all spheres of education, but none of us with our boots on the ground are given any sort of road map for success. That’s simply because there is no road map. The journey depends on your students as well as your ability to relay material to said students. You have to be your own map (and compass, and guidebook, and fire-starter and nature expert…).
In traditional reading lessons, most graduate students have to focus on context clues and text features in order to concretize student learning as well as draw out higher-level thinking and inferences. How often has a teacher said, “Use the text to help you find the answer,” and pointed at the page? It’s an interesting model for learning. It’s as if there is a grand wizard standing at the front of the room telling you to look around the answer in order to find the answer that you seek. With literature, most often there are questions of who, what, where, and when in order to get the most concrete details before asking the ultimate tricky why. This lends itself very well to graphic materials.
In comics, each plot bubble/thought bubble/dialogue bubble within refers to a visual image. I’ve had students stand up and actually mime the positions of the characters on the page as well as their facial expressions. What is this character feeling? And once the students are able to grasp the emotion of a particular scene, I allow them to recite the dialogue. What tone does this character use? Are any of the words in italics (indicating stronger emphasis)? Now, what has happened in this scene? Who are the key players? Finally… why did this happen? Why do they feel this way? Using the context of a physical body (not just words on a page) can create the illusion of obvious interpretation.
To a visual learner, the posture of a character can be enough to indicate the answer. To a linguistic learner, the dialogue shifts the response. For a kinesthetic learner, miming the actual movement of the character brings the answer to light. For someone who thinks more logically/mathematically, taking in the whole picture and watching the scene unfold can aid in true understanding. Most children combine these intelligences together in one way or another. It’s best to understand that the tangibles of teaching comics can translate to the tangibles of teaching anything from a play by Shakespeare or Mamet to a traditional novel like Catcher in the Rye or The Great Gatsby. It just adds a layer of context, avoiding some of the pitfalls of confusion that a narrative without visual components can create.

Your Classroom, Your Research
The most important research you need is the knowledge of what goes on in your own classroom and how a comic book might give certain students the ultimate in a confidence boost where one is desperately needed. There is only one truth that’s universally acknowledged: kids who feel stupid cannot learn at the same rate and level as those who feel confident in their abilities. No one says that comic books are for stupid kids. Comic books can be for everyone. They can serve everyone, because they can give some structure to a lesson that revolves around scaffolding that will eventually lead to inferences about plot, character, and resolution.
Since educators know that the world revolves around standards of curriculum development, I understand that it’s difficult to “sell” comics to an administration that wants you to read Tom Sawyer. Play it like this: your class is not a class about graphic content. Your class is about fundamentals leading to mechanics leading to engaging debate and individualist thought. It’s not as if comics are devoid of all of those things, but they can be incorporated into a reading list that’s more widely accepted as containing the necessary components to breed brilliance in the classroom. Artists as well as writers create comics, and these are two occupations known for incorporating left-brained as well as right-brained thinkers. This should be your pitch: you want to incorporate multiple intelligences and multi-sensory techniques into your daily classroom motivations and objectives. Even if you read Tom Sawyer alongside a graphic novel version of a similar story, you’ll grab each student utilizing the many “intelligences” at each level of reading and processing.
That should grab their attention.

IN DEFENSE OF COMICS AS LITERATURE

By Stephanie Hoos

Thank goodness the world has started to accept graphic novels as plausible in-class reading. However, the larger debate rages about the literary merit of such additions to the curriculum standards we’ve come to know and love.

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RIP: MARVEL’S INHUMANITY (DECEMBER 2013-JANUARY 2014)
By Steven Miller
As Inhumanity #3 finally drops today, Steven eulogizes an event that just wasn’t meant to be. 
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I love the Inhumans.

When I think about all of the characters in Marvel Comics that stand out to me as being incredible in concept and design, I jump straight Black Bolt and Medusa. How could you not? They’re mysterious, they’re powerful, and they have a relationship with the Fantastic Four that teeters between enemy and ally. They’re a family, and species, that deserve their due; and in recent years, it seems like they might finally be getting the spotlight they deserve. There have been murmurs in interviews with Marvel Studios world that the Inhumans are always there on the list, and it seems like Marvel has been trying to build their reputation to springboard into film.
Last year, during the Infinity event, in which the Avengers fought off invasion from the villainous Thanos, Black Bolt unveiled the secret plan he had been building over the past months. In a final push, he destroyed his kingdom Attilan, which hovered above Manhattan. With its destruction, a gas cloud of terrigen (the mist that allows Inhumans to gain their superhuman power) began to engulf New York and traverse the world via the jet stream. After decades of struggle, the kingdom of Attilan was in shambles, and new Inhumans were springing up around the globe. How would Medusa manage cope with her family missing and dead, and still bring together the new Inhumans of the world, who are being killed or recruited by other parties?
It’s a tall order.  An order we were promised by Marvel to shake the foundations of the comic universe forever.
Eleven months after the destruction of Attilan, I’m sad to say that there’s been barely an aftershock.
Time of death: August 13, 2014 at 11:00 a.m.


Readers knew what was coming before the Infinity event even ended. We were seeing advertisements for the new series, Inhuman, which would spin directly out of December 2013’s Infinity finale. Matt Fraction would be writing Inhuman, and also the companion book Inhumanity. To do this, he was stepping down from Fantastic Four and FF (Future Foundation) before the end of his planned arc. For many, this was a major letdown, and the only consolation was that he was stepping down to work on the Inhumans stories, and from his scripting of Medusa  in FF, there was something to be excited about.  In December, we got the premiere of Inhumanity #1. It was a very solid start, laying out the history of the Inhumans and a surprising death, especially impactful for Inhuman fans.
But then the problems began.
January rolled around and Inhuman #1 wasn’t on shelves. Despite Matt Fraction leaving other books to work on this, it was announced he was leaving Inhuman due to conflicts with Marvel over the story direction. Inhuman #1 didn’t hit shelves until April. A full seven months after the destruction of Attilan, four months after the previous Inhuman story installment.  This is supposed to be the biggest event at a multi-million dollar publishing company?  Inhuman finally seemed to be on track with issue #2 released at the end of May, but it was then announced that artist Joe Madureira would leave after issue three, further pushing that book into limbo after June’s Issue #3.
Well, guess what? It’s two months late, but Inhuman #3 is on shelves today. Better late than never? Even worse, when the announcement was made to push Inhuman #3, it was supposed to be pushed to July 23rd, but instead we actually get it 3 weeks later than the late date. Issue 4 was scheduled for July 30th, but is now on track for August 27th. With Ryan Stegman doing the art starting with issue 4, maybe the story can get back on schedule, but a year after we were supposed to be excited about it, is anyone excited about it?
But what of the other Inhuman book, Inhumanity? Similar problems, unfortunately.  The end of the first issue promised a following one-shot called Inhumanity: Medusa #1.  By the time Medusa #1 came to print, it had been renamed Inhumanity #2.
What happened to the original Inhumanity #2?
 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Further, after the release of Inhumanity #2 in January, the issue previewed in the back was Inhuman #1, which was finally released in April.  So what of Inhumanity #3? Well, that still doesn’t have a release date, from what I can tell. It doesn’t appear to be solicited yet, which means we shouldn’t expect the book to ship before November.
Original Sin, the big event starting several months after the first issue of Inhumanity will be done before next issue of Inhumanity.  As another gauge, Guardians of the Galaxy premiered its first trailer in February, AFTER Inhumanity #2, and was in theaters (and might be on DVD) BEFORE Inhumanity #3. Marvel is also starting up the massive AXIS event in October, so there just doesn’t seem to be any room for our friends from house Boltagon.
Combining with these disappointments are several tie-in stories in other Marvel books under the .INH title (example – Superior Spider-Man #15.INH).  These books were meant to show the impact of the new Inhumans on the rest of the Marvel Universe, but did more to interrupt other, more interesting stories. Very few (if any) of the characters introduced in the .INH issues actually went on to do anything in those books after the one-shot. The exception to his being Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel. Kamala is a direct result of the terrigen cloud, and it’s too bad we’ll probably never get a chance to explore what that actually means about her heritage because the Inhumanity storyline will be forsaked and forgotten.
The delays and staffing changes have been bittersweet for Inhumans fans like me, who were hoping that Marvel would be giving these characters their moment in the sun. And now that there are other events for Marvel to be concerned about, it’s hard to judge the Inhumanity event as anything other than ‘Dead on Arrival’.
I think about Karnak, the Inhuman with the ability to identify weak points in any opponent or structure. There’s some irony to the fact he was the first Inhuman to die in this event.
(Did I use irony right here? I think maybe Alanis Morissette has ruined me forever on that concept.)

RIP: MARVEL’S INHUMANITY (DECEMBER 2013-JANUARY 2014)

By Steven Miller

As Inhumanity #3 finally drops today, Steven eulogizes an event that just wasn’t meant to be. 

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