erik lundegaard

Superheroes posts

Sunday April 01, 2012

Lust and Wil Wheaton at the 2012 Emerald City Comic Convention

The 10th annual Emerald City Comic Con (ECCC) at the Convention Center in downtown Seattle on Saturday was my first comic convention in 35 years. I don't know what I expected. But the last thing I expected was to get turned on. Hopelessly, adolescently turned on.

It's not just that more women attend comic conventions now. (Up from about zero in 1975.) It's not just that they wear skimpier outfits. It's that they tend to wear the skimpier outfits of my first sexual fantasies: Star Trek mini-skirts and Batgirl costumes and Catwoman costumes. For every fat Capt. Kirk there was a svelte Black Widow. Some of these women were obviously nerds. Others looked like models. I was reminded of an early “Kung Fu” episode:

SCENE: Young Caine (Radames Pera) sits in the audience of a burlseque show with Master Kan (Philip Ahn). His face looks both amazed and stricken as he watches a woman performing on the stage.

Master Kan: How do you feel, Grasshopper?
Young Caine: (long pause) Uncomfortable, Master.

The place was packed. Packed. I've never seen the Convention Center so crowded for anything—and I pass by it almost every day. It was a relief, after four hours, to come up for air.

I didn't expect Wil Wheaton to be so entertaining, either. Friends and I sat through his 90-minute show and he did recent bits from his blog: a humorous take on spam email; a “Robocop as bad '80s sitcom” script; a STFU PSA ad. All easy targets, and, save for the PSA ad, all posts I would've ignored after 15 seconds. But he performs them well. Then he did a bit from a post called “life imitates art (or: I don't know much about brain scans, but I'll help you fix your computer),” in which—true story—fellow “Star Trek” cast member Jonthan Frakes' email was compromised, Wheaton, the tech-nerd, helped him fix it, and, during the back and forth, Wheaton and Frakes used the language of the show: “I'm giving it all I can, Captain!” and “Run a level-five diagnostic” and the like. Wheaton concluded with this:

This was funny to me, because we're two Star Trek guys (with magnificent beards), making contextually-relevant Star Trek jokes with each other. More significantly, though, is that we did this using handheld computers which were inspired by the show we were on twenty-five years ago.

Wheaton was even better during the Q&A:

Fan 1, recounting her childhood: When I was growing up, liking science wasn't cool.
Wheaton: Welcome to America.

Fan 2, recounting an early affiliation with the early “Star Trek--The Next Generation” episodes: At that age, I wasn't able to recognize bad writing in the episodes.
Wheaton: Neither were the writers.

My other great adolescent lust was for the comic books. Thirty-eight years ago, at the Dykman Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, I bought a dog-eared copy of “Fantastic Four #2” for $10 and was ecstatic for years. Now the dealers seem an afterthought, relegated to the back of the main hall. Even so, seeing a huge wall with nothing but polybagged, Silver Age, Marvel comics on it—early “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” and “Fantastic Four”s—was like seeing a woman dressed as Batgirl. All I could think was: I want, I want, I want. I wound up buying three '70s-era Captain America comics, numbers 153-155, the ones with the crazy, McCarthyite Captain America from the 1950s returning to take America back. That Captain America never really goes away, does he? He'd be on FOX-News now. He'd be running for office on the Tea Party ticket. He'd be asking for Pres. Obama's birth certificate.

The front of the hall is for newer books and strips and artists. They're remaking “Peanuts.” Did you know that? They've hired new writers and artists to keep it going, as they hired new writers to keep James Bond going. The artist creates into popularity and the corporation recreates into oblivion.

To be honest, I didn't recognize half the outfits folks were wearing. I didn't recognize the names of the shows, either. It's not my world anymore. But it was nice to visit. Nice and uncomfortable.

The crowds at the Emerald City Comic Convention 2012

The crowds at the ECCC 2012...

The Angel from "Dr Who" at the Emerald City Comic Convention 2012

... were enough to make you cry ...

The Dark Knight, Batman, at the ECCC 2012

... or call for help.

Posted at 08:56 AM on Apr 01, 2012 in category Superheroes
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Friday March 30, 2012

A Long Time Ago, In a Comic Book Far, Far Out...

“Upon learning that stone-faced Darkseid, ruler of the smoke-covered industrial planet Apokolips, wanted the Anti-Life Equation, Highfather called Orion for help. Born on Apokolips, but raised on New Genesis because of a baby-switching pact that kept the peace, Orion had no idea he was really Darkseid's son. Highfather led him to the Source, a fiery wall and vague cosmic essence that held their universe together, and both watched a disembodied hand write that Orion had to battle Darkseid's men on earth, then meet his father for a infal battle.”

--discussion of the characters of Jack Kirby's “New Gods” comic book, which appeared in 1971, from “Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and the American Comic Book Revolution” by Ronin Ro.

I'm late to the party on this one—decades late. My comic-collecting days were shortlived, 1973 to 1978, and “Star Wars,” possibly, helped put an end to them. More likely it was girls. And, you know, better stories. “Star Trek” led to Aismov led to Vonnegut led to John Irving and Doctorow and Roth and Mailer and Hemingway and... out.

During my golden age of comics, which was post-Silver Age of Comics, basically, Jack Kirby, fed up with how he'd been treated at Marvel, jumped ship to DC, where he was treated worse. I didn't get much of his stuff. I didn't get much DC stuff in general, to be honest, just Superman, Batman, and Kirby's “Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth.” By the time I began to pay attention, “New Gods” had died, I believe. I remember my brother bought “Sandman #1” (Winter 1974), which I didn't understand at all. Sandman was back? But it was No. 1? And he entered your dreams? WTF? I was 11.

I read the above passage this month. Every influential piece of art or commerce has its own influences. Long ago I'd read that “Star Wars” was heavily influenced by Akira Kurosawa's “The Hidden Fortress” (1958), and when I saw it, sure, I saw similarities. A princess. Two bumbling peasants. A general. That form of cinemantic transition where one scene sweeps across the screen and replaces another. But ... it's feudal Japan. Come on.

But this? This is right there. You don't need to be Roland Barthes to see it.

  • The Source = The Force
  • Darkseid = Darth Vader
  • Orion = Luke Skywalker
  • Highfather = Obi wan Kenobi

The Source, like the Force, is the source of power in this universe. Orion is really Darkseid's son, as Luke is really Darth Vader's son. Darkseid is the villain, as is Darth, who wields the dark side of the force.

That said, it ain't a story. I wouldn't be surprised if the story of “New Gods” is as awful as the names Kirby came up with. It certainly sounds bad from the Wikipedia description.

Comments welcome, my nerdier brethren.

The power of Darkseid!

Posted at 07:50 AM on Mar 30, 2012 in category Superheroes
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Friday July 22, 2011

Captain America: From Hitler Puncher to Commie Smasher to Man Without a Country

If you'd asked me in 1974, when I was 11 years old and a year into my serious Marvel-Comics-collecting phase, for the names of my two favorite superheroes, I would've immediately given you Spider-Man; then after some thought, after mentally sorting through Superman and Batman (the only DC heroes worth a damn), and the Hulk, the Thing, Iron Fist and Luke Cage, I would've added, “Captain America.”

Spider-Man is easy to figure. A teenager who feels sorry for himself but has the proportional strength of a spider. Identification and wish-fulfillment in the same package.

But Captain America? He was tall, blonde and strong-jawed. He was draped in the flag when there was no cache to being draped in the flag. He looked like a young adult but was actually older than my father.

Wish fulfillment, sure, but why did I identify?

Image from Captain America #1, March 1941

Drawing taken from Captain America #1, March 1941

Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in March 1941, for what was then Timely Comics, and on the cover of the first issue he's seen decking Adolph Hitler—meaning Captain America was fighting the Nazis eight months before America was fighting the Nazis. He was soon joined not only by the rest of us but by many superpatriotic superheroes: The American Eagle, The American Crusader, Minute-Man: the One-Man Army, Major Victory, Man of War, Uncle Sam, U.S. Jones, The Shield, The Defender, The Flag, Super-American, and V-Man, as well as a character named Yankee Doodle Jones, an artificial man, who, in one of the more gruesome origins ever, was created from the body parts of crippled World War I veterans. Then he was injected with a super serum. 

This last bit was Captain America's origin, too: scrawny kid, tries to enlist, 4-F, but volunteers to be injected with a super serum from a Professor “Reinstein.” The kid is to be the first of a super army. But the Gestapo shoots Reinstein, his formula dies with him, and we're left with Steve Rogers and the legend of Captain America.

Scan the covers of those early, World War II-era comics and they are, albeit with greater Kirbyesque attention to the energetic motion of the human body, typical of the period: carryovers from the lurid pulps, with damsels or young boys (Bucky Barnes) tied up and imperiled, and our hero decking yet another round of sinister Krauts or buck-toothed Japs or various yellow or green grisly monsters and henchmen. My favorite imperilment may be on the cover of Captain America #9, in which a Mephisto-like creature is painting himself in the act of strangling Bucky Barnes. Jack Kirby's wish fulfillment?

Most of the superpatriots either didn't survive or barely survived the war, and Cap was no exception. Captain America #42 was the first issue where Cap is fighting civilians on the cover—bank robbers rather than Nazi or Jap soldiers—and several issues on you can sense the desperation. Cap's dynamic silent covers suddenly became very wordy. A Clark Kent-like private life for Steve Rogers was created. Women went from being imperiled to being the peril. For a time, as horror comics took over the medium, the magazine was retitled “Captain America's WEIRD TALES.” At the height of McCarthyism, the magazine was retitled “Captain America COMMIE SMASHER!” None of it worked. Captain America #78 was the last issue.

Captain America #9  


Captain America covers, 1942-1954: the struggle for survival.

In 1974, I knew none of this history. I merely knew the story Stan Lee created in resurrecting Cap in Avengers #4: How, at the end of the war, as he's fighting Baron Zemo with Bucky, the two climb aboard a missile in flight to redirect it. But Bucky stays on too long and gets blown up, while Cap, screaming “Nooooooo!,” falls in the ocean, is encased in ice, and is thus preserved, World War II-era ready, when the Avengers find him in 1963. 

In a way Cap never gets over losing Bucky. He never gets over his lost 19 years. He remains, in the Marvel comics parlance of the time, trapped in a world he never made!

That was part of the appeal for me. In 1974 my parents were already separated and in the midst of a divorce, and I felt trapped in a world I never made. I felt I had lost something, as Cap had lost Bucky, as Spider-Man had lost his Uncle Ben, and I identified with their respective losses.

The storylines in Captain America were also fascinating. I began collecting Cap with #169, which was the first issue of an six-issue arc in which Cap battles a group called “The Secret Empire,” who first besmirch Cap's name via television propaganda (anticipating FOX-News by 25 years), then frame him for murder. But Cap and the Falcon (now with wings!) infiltrate the organization and stop it literally on the White House lawn. 1974 was a very political year and Marvel, to its credit, didn't run from it. They embraced it. Inside the White House, Cap unmasks the Empire ringleader, a man with “high political office,” whose power was “still too constrained by legalities,” who subsequently kills himself. An issue later, in the exact month Nixon resigned the presidency, Steve Rogers, fed up with what his country had become, resigns being Captain America. A few issues later, with the help of Hawkeye, Steve Rogers becomes Nomad, man without a country. That arc lasted for about a year.

My favorite Captain America storyline, though, was one I discovered via back issues at Schinders, a magazine store on 7th and Hennepin in the then-grungy part of downtown Minneapolis. Captain America #s 154-156 would now be called a ret-con storyline: “retroactive continuity.”

Fans, you see, delving into the history, had begun to wonder how Captain America could have been frozen in a block of ice during the 1950s when there were in fact real issues, “Commie Smasher” issues, being created in our world. This was Marvel's solution. Scripter Steve Engelhart and artist Sal Buscema created a second Captain America and Bucky, both injected with the super serum, who became America's McCarthy-era heroes. The original serum, though, included “vita-rays,” which weakened, slightly, the serum but preserved the subject's sanity. McCarthy-era Cap wasn't so lucky, and, like the worst part of his country during that decade, he became an intolerant, racist superpatriot, a commie smasher who, after Nixon opened China in '72, is resurrected by another commie-hater within the State Department. 1950s-era Cap then goes after 1970s-era Cap, whom he doesn't know is the original until it's too late.

Our Cap, the sensitive 1970s Cap, beats the fascistic 1950s Cap in a battle in Miami. But check out the last panels (taken from the original comic book). He wins but he sees himself in the loser. The victory doesn't make him feel good:

The last panels of Captain America #156

Here, meanwhile, are similar last panels from the Secret Empire storyline:

last panel from Captain America #175

Admittedly Captain America is a cool superhero. He's got a cool name. He's got a shield that, like a bullet-proof frisbee, always returns to him. He rides a motorcycle. Plus he's a tortured soul in the Mighty Marvel Manner. He's suffered a great loss. He has an original sin. He's stuck in a world he never made.

In his post-1963 incarncation, he's also never been a superpatriot. The opposite. He has nothing but doubts about his country. Representing America, he is forced to question it all the more.

But I think the above panels demonstrate Captain America's real appeal to my 11-year-old self. After his incredible victories, against incredible odds, using his incredible muscles, he resembles no one so much as me dragging myself back to my room to mope.

Posted at 06:06 AM on Jul 22, 2011 in category Superheroes, Personal Pieces
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Thursday July 21, 2011

Captain America: Disambiguation

From Wikipedia, natch...

Captain America is a Timely/Atlas/Marvel comic book superhero.

Captain America may also refer to:

  • Captain America: The First Avenger, a 2011 film directed by Joe Johnston and starring Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones and Hugo Weaving.
  • Captain America (serial), a 1944 serial
  • Captain America (1990 film), a film starring Matt Salinger
  • Captain America (album), an album by Jimmy Buffett
  • Captain America, a song by the band moe. from their album Dither
  • Captain America, a character in the film Easy Rider
  • Captain America, a Scottish rock band later known as Eugenius
  • Captain America or Randy Couture (born 1963), mixed martial arts fighter
  • Captain Americas, a themed restaurant chain in Ireland (since 1971)
  • Captain America, a character in the television series Generation Kill
  • Claudio Reyna, former captain of the United States men's national soccer team, dubbed Captain America by British media

The Captain America of "Generation Kill"                         Jimmy Buffett's "Captain America"

Claudio Reyna, Captain America of the U.S. Men's Soccer team    Captain America   Peter Fonda as Captain America on the poster for "Easy Rider"

Posted at 07:55 PM on Jul 21, 2011 in category Superheroes
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A Practically Priceless Drawing of Captain America ... By Stan Lee

I met Stan Lee in 1975 when my father, a reporter for The Minneapolis Tribune, interviewed the co-creator of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, etc., as he was traveling city-to-city for his book, Sons of Origins of Marvel Comics. My father knew nothing about comics—“Superman” would make him think George Bernard Shaw more than Siegel and Shuster—while my older brother Chris  and I were immersed, particularly me. So Dad invited us along for the second-half of the interview at a swanky, dark, downtown restaurant. I held the light for the photograph that went in the next day's newspaper. It was a beginning.

The great part? When the interview was over, Stan didn't turn off. I don't know if he has an “off.” He invited Chris and I over and brought us out. He took out a pen and drew us a cartoonish Captain America holding up a sign. He gave us nicknames in the Mighty Marvel Manner: Charismatic Chris and Erudite Erik. He may have been the nicest famous person I ever met.

Here's the drawing:

A drawing of Captain America by Stan Lee

Thirty-five years are often unkind, with people more than paper, but it's still a pretty cool collector's item for a non-collector like me. 'Nuff said?

Posted at 06:38 AM on Jul 21, 2011 in category Superheroes
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