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I haven’t written for High Five in some time now. To be fair I never contribute too heavily and a disruption is measured in months not weeks, but really I haven’t been writing because I haven’t kept up with new comics. Sure, I hit the shop every week and often pick up a book or two, but for the most part the modern world isn’t grabbing me right now.

They say that 1985 is the year comics grew up. Well, I was born in ‘82 which means comics grew up before I did. Mine was a generation that had a kick-ass X-Men cartoon on TV, Superman died when we were still in grammar school, and most of us didn’t realize until later that Wolverine’s hair isn’t actually so out of control.

Since comics matured before I could form memories, my taste in comics has always been “grown up”. Writers like Moore, Ellis, Azarello, and Willingham dominate my bookshelf and before 2010 would have been quickly rattled off in reply had you asked who my favorite comic writers were; which is why I’ve taken a break from all this intensity and have spent the last 6-9 months reading Gold, Silver, and Bronze Age comics almost exclusively.

I’ll be the first to admit that this stuff is incredibly campy and many of the stories don’t make a whole ton of sense, but when you get past the modern bias against silliness a whole world of innocent amazement opens to you. At SDCC 2010 Grant Morrison pointedly remarked, “We’ve already got the real world. Why do you want comics to be like that one?”  which sums up how I feel about comics right now. I ask you: what’s so great about “realistic” dialogue? Why should I read about characters going through intense emotional pain? Why not read about amazing people fighting fantastical fights as pure good battles pure evil with no grey areas to bog us down? Some of you will tell me I’m just unevolved, but seriously: isn’t there room for both? Does one really preclude the other?

Maybe I’m becoming cynical as I age, sinking into some horrid pessimism (or escapism), but I feel like the real world around me is pretty f***ed up most of the time and I’ve gotten tired of reading comics that depict a world equally f***ed up. Nobody is dying when I read Planet Comics, Len Wein could write Phantom Stranger stories that were mysterious without being disturbing, I read Jack Kirby without turning my stomach, and Walt Kelly is pure delight. I’m telling you guys, this is the magic that made comics great.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking the modern creators. I just read Outlaw Nation with much enjoyment and I swear I’m gonna finish 100 Bullets one of these days, but for now and the foreseeable future the world before 1985 is captivating my attention and I feel like I could never leave.

Happy readings,

-Jonny

A charming curio from a time often better forgotten in both music and comics: The early 1990s.

I’m listening to Entombed’s “Wolverine Blues”, released in 1993 with an exclusive mini-comic starring everybody’s favorite Canucklehead.

Though sometimes noted by serious metal fans as less of a “true” death metal record than their previous records (remember, we’re talking about a genre with a disproportionately high percentage of “classic” first records), “Wolverine Blues” is nonetheless a standout and is frequently cited as one of the better and most enduring death metal albums of the 1990s.

That the album was not written or titled with comics’ most popular characters in mind was not  a concern of Earache records, which seized upon the coincidence as an opportunity to make some quick scratch. When the album was released in North America with an alternate (one might even say “variant”) cover, Earache and Marvel’s cross-promotional venture managed to cash-in yet again. Given comics fans’ willingness to buy seemingly ANYTHING in the early 90s, and record’s eventual stature as one of the all-time greats in the history of Swedish death metal, nobody on either side of the deal seems to mind that Earache and Marvel basically succeeded in turning Entombed into a late 20th century version of the Banana Splits.

The borderline “berserker” aspect of Logan’s character has been a tension explored ad-nauseum ever since Chris Claremont renewed focus on the character in the late 70s and early 80s, and it’s not like the anthropomorphizing of a notoriously dangerous Midwestern quadruped isn’t the most subtle of metaphors to begin with. But that level of juvenility has always been what made both Logan and death metal itself so appealing to early-teenaged boys, as well as a natural commercial pairing.

On the title track, LG Petrov growls out the lyrics like he’s the best he is at what he does, and what he does is pretty stupid: “Vicious mammal/the blood is my call/pound for pound/I am the most vicious of all!”

Meanwhile, in the accompanying comic entitled “Just Don’t Look in its Eyes” (written by Ann Nocenti, art by John Bolton, originally printed as a back-up story in September 1988’s Classic X-Men #25), Logan continues his illustrious history of straight-murdering a grizzly bear out in the snow, spending between three and five panels feeling bad about it, and then proceeding to straight-murder the jerk who made him kill an innocent beast. Good times.

And even if it’s not, strictly speaking, the most over-the-top brutal offering Scandinavia might have offered, the death n’ roll on “Wolverine Blues” still makes for an appropriately nauseating soundtrack to enjoying comics’ most popular (and often silliest) psychopath.

BONUS! Despite the band not wanting the album to have anything to actually do with the Marvel character, Earache still managed to get them to do an entire music video with Wolverine all over it. Warning: it’s pretty terrible (so much so, it was featured on an episode of “Beavis and Butt-head” and largely ignored by the duo).

So, we all know how much I love the old Silver Age Fantastic Four books (or, well, anything Silver Age, really). It’s no surprise, then, that I got ridiculously excited when I discovered that in the mid-70s there was a short lived radio serial based on several of the Lee/Kirby issues of Fantastic Four.

The brainchild of Ann Robinson (yes, the same one who wrote that Spider-Man/Planned Parenthood PSA comic) and Richard Clorfene and Peter B. Lewis, a couple of New York City radio DJs,the Fantastic Four Radio Show came about after the two DJs realized that a Silver Surfer radio show would kinda suck. Ann talked to Stan Lee and got the rights to about a dozen characters while Lewis turned 13 issues of comics into 600+ pages of script (most of which copied the dialogue from the comic verbatim).

He managed to get Stan Lee to do all of the narrating for the series and got together a team of voice actors for the series including Bob Maxwell as Reed Richards, Cynthia Adler as Sue Storm, Jim Pappas as Ben Grimm, and Bill Murray as Johnny Storm (which is goddamn surreal to listen to). Unfortunately, Lewis decided to cancel the series after the thirteenth episode was produced, citing the fact that the only funding they got was $25,000 from Ann’s husband’s production company (and that Marvel had kinda stopped answering his phone calls).

Although never commercially released, bootleg copies of Fantastic Four Radio Show are out there. What the hel, I’ll save you a couple eBay bucks and just upload the damn thing for you. Enjoy!

1. “Fantastic Four Meets the Moleman” (Fantastic Four #1)

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2. “Menace of the Miracle Man”(Fantastic Four #3)

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3.”Coming of the Submariner” (Fantastic Four #4)

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4. “Fantastic Four Meet Doctor Doom” (Fantastic Four #5)

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5. “Prisoners of the Puppet-Master” (Fantastic Four #8)

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6. “Fantastic Four Meet the Incredible Hulk” (Fantastic Four #13)

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7. “Spell of the Hate Monger” (Fantastic Four #21)

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8. “Return of Doctor Doom” (Fantastic Four #16)

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9. “Fantastic Four in the Clutches of Doctor Doom” (Fantastic Four #17)

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10. “A Super-Skrull Walks Among Us” (Fantastic Four #18)

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11. “At the Mercy of Rama-Tut” (Fantastic Four #19)

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12. “The Menace of the Red Ghost” (Fantastic Four #13)

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13. “The Submariner Strikes” (Fantastic Four #14)

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Right around the transition from the Silver Age to the Bronze Age, comics loved to start getting into some real serious shit, both in regular series and non-canon PSA comics presented by third party organizations. Marvel cranked out more of these than anybody so a crazy amount of these involved your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. A lot of these PSA comics managed to score some industry greats too, what with Danny Fingeroth telling us about epilepsy awareness, Bill Rosemann getting kids to respect power tools, and Howard Mackie and Al Milgrom warning us about proper tooth brushing habits (yeah, all of these are real books).

But forget those stories. This is far and away my favorite of all the bizarre Spider-Man PSAs, Spider-Man Vs. The Prodigy, in which he faces his most heinous villain yet: teenage boners!

In 1976, Planed Parenthood decided that there were way too many kids running around, fucking the bejeezus out of one another. One call to Marvel later and we end up with one of the most bizarre books I’ve ever read, written by Ann Robinson (who I’m pretty sure wasn’t normally a writer, but the lady in charge of Marvel’s licensing) and penciled by the legendary Ross Andru.

Our PSA starts with Spider-Man climbing the Pan Am building and talking smack on Dr. J when he notices a bunch of teenagers filing into a helicopter. Immediately, Spider-Man gets suspicious. These kids don’t look upper class and look more like “they should be home listening to their new Henry Gross albums.” It’s worth noting that Ann Robinson was married to record producer Tommy West, the guy who produced Henry Gross’ albums around this time. Promoting your husbands’ albums in a quip made by Spider-Man in a free book distributed to kids by Planned Parenthood? Classy!

We cut to a giant mansion where a space alien from the planet Intellectia monologues about his plan to get on national television and use his “magnetic monotone” (according to the caption, his spaceship has shitty shields and the radiation absorbed while passing through the Earth’s ionosphere caused him to get the power to have a persuasive sounding voice) to brainwash America’s youth into making “stupid mistakes.” And what is his plan? Telling them to fuck, kidnapping the babies, and taking them back to Intellectia for child labor!

Back at the Pan Am building, Spidey decides to attach himself to the helicopter and hitch a ride to wherever it’s going. Of course, it ends up at the mansion. As soon as the helicopter lands, the kids are ushered into a classroom where the alien begins teaching them that grown-ups tell them to wait to have sex because they secretly don’t want kids to have a good time. He then tells the kids that unprotected wanton sex is the only way for a teenage boy to “prove hes a man.” And when hes questioned by some of the kids about how that goes against everything their sex ed teachers said, he just replies that getting pregnant is good for you because it “Clears up acne.” After finding out about his upcoming appearance on national television, Spider-Man has heard enough. He makes a totally not-at-all dated Marcus Welby, M.D. joke and springs into action.

 

Pictured: Another way to not get pregnant. Take note, kids!

 

Well, Spider-Man doesn’t get far before he’s spotted by the machine gun-wielding guards who chase him onto the roof. Spider-Man crouches down and pretends to be a gargoyle (seriously) but that doesn’t work because the guards aren’t complete idiots. Spidey knocks them all out between panels and makes his way to the mansion’s private TV studio. He waits outside for the broadcast to start and then smashes the window and rips off the alien’s mask revealing to the world that he actually just kinda looks like a green Sinestro. After Spider-Man wags his finger at the alien for a couple panels, he decides that he needs to “end the power of the Prodigy” (the first time the alien is given a name) and shoots webbing down his throat. One thumbs up to the camera later and the story abruptly ends.

The last three pages of this 18 page book are dedicated to Spidey Facts about everything sex and advertisements for other Planned Parenthood literature with weird titles (what the hell is The Sex Alphabet?). Man, people in the 1970s believed some weird shit. My favorites are that “masturbation won’t make you insane” and that “doctors are both men and women and so are nurses.” You know what? Here. I’ll just show you that whole awkward page.

 

Oh my God, click to enlarge.

 

So, there you have it. The best of the worst of the Bronze Age Marvel comics PSAs. You know, for being as awkward and as terribly written as this book is, Ross Andru still seems to have given it his all. At least it has that going for it, right?

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When I was a young’un, I’d wake up early every Saturday morning to watch the crap out of some Batman Beyond. For whatever reason, a Batman in the future kind of seemed like one of the most awesome things ever (even if the show was pretty much just made up words, Seth Green, and day-glo everything). This is why following Dan DiDio’s 2007 announcement, I eagerly awaited the new Adam Beechen Batman Beyond limited series and some sweet Earth-12 action. I didn’t know what I was getting into.

It all started with Paul Levitz’s Superman/Batman Annual #4, in which Terry teams up with Superman to stop a decrepit Lex Luthor who has been lacing street drugs with Kryptonite.  The issue references the shit out of an episode of Batman Beyond called “The Call” (Superman talks about being possessed by Starro and the death of Lois Lane).  I’d assume it takes place in either the DC Animated Universe or on Earth-12. In other words, this issue may or may not be canon.

This was followed by Grant Morrison’s phenomenal Batman #700. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you do before reading the rest of this paragraph. In the future, when Damian Wayne is Batman, he saves an infant Terry McGinnis from 2-Face-2. The next page (under the heading “and tomorrow”) features a shot of Terry in the Batman Beyond costume beating the crap out of a bunch of Jokerz. Essentially, Batman #700 finally plugged Terry into the main continuity of the DCU.

Now we come upon Batman Beyond #1 (of a six issue mini-series). Let’s get the review portion out of the way real fast; Beechen is comfortable writing for a DCAU character (he wrote for both Warner Brothers’ The Batman and Carton Network’s Teen Titans) and DC made an excellent choice picking him for this project. Ryan Benjamin’s art parallels that of the original series well, but I’ve yet to decide if that’s really a good thing or a bad thing. Either way, pick it up. Totally worth the $2.99 cover price.

Anyway, with the events of Batman #700, it is safe to assume that Batman Beyond is also taking place on New Earth rather than Earth-12. This book starts off assuming that you watched the show and already know who Terry is. Taking place after the Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker movie (but before that Justice League Unlimited episode where Terry finds out Bruce is his dad), this book follows Terry trailing a killer who’s been offing characters from Bruce’s past.

This does raise a lot of questions though. Morrison’s Batman #666 (released in July 2007) revealed that, at some point, Damian will witness the death of a Batman and avenge his death by taking up the mantle. In 2007, we naturally thought Batman meant Bruce Wayne. Fast forward to 2010 and we now know that Dick (not Bruce) has been Damian’s mentor. And Batman Beyond proves that Bruce is still alive in 2039 following Damian’s tenure as Batman. Holy shit. In one fell swoop Grant Morrison killed Dick Grayson and proved that Bruce Wayne will never be Batman again.

Consider the title of Morrison’s The Return of Bruce Wayne. In retrospect, this sort of implies that it is not Batman returning from the past, merely the man. And with Morrison having already touched upon the distant future of the Batman legacy in JLA: One Million (the Batman of which also cameos in Batman #700), it is safe to assume he knows where he’s going with it. The legacy appears safe in Morrison’s hands but, sorry fanboys, it looks like Bruce’s days behind the cowl are over.

-Rob and Jonny

PS: Anybody who says Grant Morrison is hard to follow can suck it.

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Today I was reading through Steve Gerber’s Man-Thing # 16 and staring up at me on the first page was an advertisement so incredible I had to talk about it. Though the world of comics has always been a bizarre and ever-changing landscape a few concepts have remained intact. Among them is the idea of male wish fulfillment, more specifically: Big Muscles. I don’t think I need to back up this claim as anyone who’s even heard of superheroes knows they pack some serious guns.

With nary a thought to this I open my beloved Man-Thing book and there was an ad for Charles Atlas‘ workout program. Take a good gander at this:

If it’s hard to read, I’ve transcribed it below (or you could just click it to enlarge):

Panel 1.
Mac: Hey! Quit kicking that sand in our faces!
Grace: That man is the worst nuisance on the beach!

Panel 2.
Bully: Listen here. I’d smash your face… only you’re so skinny you might dry up and blow away.

Panel 3.
Mac: The big bully! I’ll get even some day.
Grace: Oh don’t let it bother you, little boy!

Panel 4.

Mac: Darn!!! I’m sick and tired of being a scarecrow! Charles Atlas says he can give me a real body. All right! I’ll gamble a stamp and get his free book.

Panel 5.
Mac: Boy! It didn’t take Atlas long to do this for me! What muscles! That bully won’t shove me around again!

Panel 6.
Mac: There’s that big stiff again. Showing off in front of Grace and the crowd. Well it’s my turn this time!

Panel 7.
Mac: WHAM! Now it’s your turn to dry up and blow away!
Grace: Oh, Mac! You are a real man after all!

There you have it, kiddies! Don’t like getting bullied? Gain weight, find the people you hold grudges against, and punch them in the face! I can’t think of a better message for our nation’s youth. Maybe this stuff made more sense 40 years ago.

Upon researching Charles Atlas I learned he was one of the first nationally recognized body builders in America, providing inspiration to countless muscle-men who would follow him. Quite likely if it hadn’t been for the success of ads like this California and Minnesota may have never had a robot hit-man from the future or an alien-hunting jungle commando as their respective 38th governors. What I do know is that the absurdity of Silver Age comics seems to have bled into the Real World in ways I never thought possible before now. This world is bizarre.

Happy readings,

-Jonny

So, a couple days ago over on DC’s The Source blog, they put up a weird cover for a “Red Lantern/Red Arrow” cover tribute to Neal Adams’ Green Arrow Vol. 2 #76. I saw it, kinda went “Well, that’s odd,” and left it at that. Being a gigantic nerd about the show Fringe (to the point where I’m nerdily excited for Wildstorm’s upcoming Tales From the Fringe book), I was psyched for last night’s season finale. And then I saw that cover, along with four others on a wall behind Peter. The Source is going to reveal them in detail later today, but I kiiiinda got some sweet screencaps and figured, screw it, let’s look at them a little early.

From what I can tell, there’s alternate universe tributes to the covers of George Pérez’s Crisis on Infinite Earths #3, Dan Jurgen’s Superman Vol. 2 #75, Neal Adams’ Green Lantern Vol. 2 #76, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns #1, and Kevin Maguire’s Justice League #1. Awesome!

Check out The Source later today to see the covers in full detail.


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