Sunday, November 30, 2008

STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES: "A Sense of Obligation" Issue 184

Michelinie and Talaoc's second issue begins with a six panel grid with three panels detailing the history of two men, paralleling each other. On the left, Heinrich Staub in Germany raised to love his country and people, becoming a soldier, and eventually a Kommando. On the right, a boy in Kansas grows to join the Army after Pearl Harbor and has a grenade explode in his face.

We are given the formula beginning narration by the Soldier himself, that Kansas boy who has transformed himself into what he calls a "soulless killing machine." While performing dojo training, the bandaged Soldier is briefed on his mission by a man whose own face is in shadow, a point not to be taken lightly as both men are involved in the "dirty business" end of the War effort. As with almost every issue of Michelinie's run, the Soldier performs some interesting visual Something during briefing, almost as a small rebellion against his superiors. But make no mistake, the Soldier misses nothing.

With Hitler taking over France, a Fleet of warships at Toulon remained in French hands via agreement, but Hitler is about to send his Kommandos to take the Fleet, rendering the Allies' North African campaign severely compromised. The Soldier's duty is to infiltrate the Kommandos and sabotage their mission.

Taking on the identity of a new recruit to the Nazi commando unit named Karl Greff, the Soldier soon meets another reassigned man, Heinrich Staub. Greff and Staub become friends, as the Soldier attempts to find out details of the takeover mission. No one but the "brass" knows however, and the Soldier must play out his role further. Meanwhile Staub reveals disgust at the hanging of French villagers, and how he truly hates the Nazis but is loyal to Germany. Staub turns out to be a man of high integrity, impressing "Greff."

A final exercise of the Kommando unit finds them assaulting a hidden Resistence HQ in Toulon, which begins as a mass slaughter with Greff helpless to do anything for the discovered French. However, one of the villagers snaps some dynamite in the Kommandos direction, blowing the hell out of the building and trapping Greff beneath debris. Worse, Greff's life-like mask has been lost, just out of his reach, and his scarred death's head is revealed. Heinrich Staub discovers the trapped Greff and saves him. Staub gives back the confused Greff's mask, saying "...This war has left scars on us all! It's just that yours are more prominent than most!"

Staub believes his friend Greff is a scarred war veteran, and promises to keep his "secret."

Meanwhile, the Kommandos learn the Resistence will sink the Fleet to prevent it falling into Nazi hands. Thus the unit will take over the Fleet ahead of schedule and preserve them from the French fighters. The Soldier sends along this information as he prepares to accompany the Kommandos' mission.

Once aboard, Greff sets an explosive charge aboard one of the ships after the Kommandos have secured it. At that moment, the Resistence arrives on their mission to find themselves at the mercy of the Nazis. The Soldier's explosive goes off, killing most of the Kommandos and sinking the vessel. After that, the Resistence detonates the rest of the ships.

"Greff" is escaping with his mission accomplished when he's stopped by a wounded Heinrich Staub, who now knows of the betrayal and the Soldier's espionage. Staub has the drop on the Soldier with his rifle, and intends to hold him for the Nazis. The Soldier turns away, with the intention of parting from this proud German on equal terms. Staub, however, even weakened, attempts to shoot the Soldier. He has a duty to fulfill. He misses with his first two shots while the Soldier politely reminds Staub of their friendship. Staub refuses to listen and the Soldier executes him.

This story is strong and efficient. Talaoc's art is still "loose" but getting stronger. Michelinie doesn't soft-soap the impact of war on these men, and their connection is reinforced at the end in a poignant way.

Three out of Five 3D Men

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bring Back the Man

Opine du 3D Man: "In a world where men get more feminized every year, it's important to realize what it means to be a man. The womenfolk scoff, and the intellectuals rail, but a fact is a fact: everything cool after 1945 was made for men, by men. At this point in time, a whole entertainment culture is still soaking up the profits from those iconic characters we associate with being a Man. The culture is trying hard as they can to feminize manly fiction and movies, you know. It isn't bad enough to run the maleness in the ground with Oprah as moral barometer, but men and women alike have forgotten what true masculinity means. Here's a hint: acting tough and being a man are completely different aspects. The PC culture has twisted the idea of a Man into something wrong, claiming Men are a buffoon without a clue. I for one am sick of it.

"There's a lot of assholes who are Men, by the way, in positions of authority where they abused and neglected what needed to be done to be a man. But those weren't guys like Buzz Aldrin and Matthew Henson, much less Ernest Hemingway or Oliver Reed. Nobody who got their balls blown off during Vietnam or the Gulf will deny war doesn't so much make a man as break a man. The point is, it doesn't take a man to either suffer or commit atrocity against/from his fellow man, woman, or child. We're talking about having personal integrity and decency, while still enjoying adventure, fist-fighting, and stunning femme fatales in manly entertainment. It's what's missing in this current culture. Without a place to go to be men, and live up to expectations of being a Man, the culture itself has lost the cool factor it once had. Blame the 1980s, blame a reward for tenth-place in a foot-race, blame Dr. Spock or skim milk, somewhere along the line men got lost.

"The fiction and movies of the early 1960s through the mid-1970s produced the apex of manly pursuits. Vice aside, secret agents and professional heist men and boxers and macks and ex-pro football players and karate fighters never came off better in books, film, or comics. You had to go a long way to find a woman who was sickened by the idea of James Bond's hairy chest against their lips. It's almost impossible today to imagine women feeling secure in the knowledge that a swank-tough handsome man who keeps to himself doesn't need to be changed...he just needs a reason to protect what's his.

"So, with that in mind, a visual education is always best, since real men really are visual. I refer you to AGENT X9 starring Corrigan, with help from Rip Kirby, in this series of covers from overseas, interspersed with a little Modesty Blaise. In some perfect world, the union of Blaise and Corrigan/Kirby begat an Earth where men retained their creative allure, probing the unknown with the conviction of cool only found in men's fiction. What it comes down to, us men had something to live up to back when, and I for one think we need it back."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Come On Folks...Where's the Shadow Movie TWO

It's time for the Shadow to invade the public consciousness once again.

One of the greatest literary creations ever, right up there with your Tarzan and your Sherlock Holmes, the Shadow hasn't been heard from much in recent years. His copyright owners are probably mostly responsible, as Street and Smith keep a tight rein on who gets to produce Shadow work, from movies to books to comics.

The shame of it all seems to me that no one has written a "contemporary" Shadow novel. Novelists Joe R. Lansdale and Philip Jose Farmer both received permission from the Edgar Rice Burroughs estateover the last twenty years to produce one Tarzan novel each. Farmer wrote one original Doc Savage novel some years ago.

But not many have dabbled in the Shadow. Certainly entertainment media have been slow to realize the potential.

Of course, we have had a fairly well-made Shadow movie, in 1994 and starring Alec Baldwin. Every time I sit down to watch it, I've forgotten almost everything about it except the actual Shadow himself (nice make-up and glittery eye effects.) I watch it and immediately forget what I've seen once more. The worst thing to say about the movie was that it wasn't bad, but it's dated already by its time frame, and not in a good 1970s kind of way.

So THE SHADOW movie was unremarkable, but not bad by any stretch. Acceptable might be another word, but not mediocre.

The last I'd heard, Sam Raimi had designs on making a Shadow could be argued he already has, to a degree, with DARKMAN. If you took the Shadow and mashed him together with Frankenstein's Monster, you'd have Darkman. Love the movie, even though there's flaws...DARKMAN is one of the best neo-Pulp movies out there, made four years before THE SHADOW and not suffering from "gotta be a hit"-itis. DARKMAN gets a point across while THE SHADOW pinpointed the BATMAN crowd like a voodoo doll.

I'm not saying Raimi's the best man. The old joke is, two young people are about to get married. The preacher asks the groom, "Who's your best man?" The groom's buddy steps forward. The preacher says, "Is this the best man you could find?"

Sam Raimi's kind of like that. At least he grasps the concept of what the Shadow could be, and is, if DARKMAN is an indication. What you fear with any Hollywood product is, well, the movie being a Hollywood product.

I think the Shadow would work spectacularly better as a series, one of those HBO type things like "Dexter." The problem with television is a lower budget, and that means losing the 1930s era in which the Shadow operated, as "period" stuff is much harder to replicate and sell.

From a personal standpoint, I don't think the Shadow has to be "period." I find something strangely alluring about the Shadow appearing anytime between the 1930s and the turn of the century. His anachronistic obsession with justice, his views on what constitutes evil from a time when Hitler threatened to take over the world, might clash interestingly with today's "shades of gray" society. The Shadow is an "A is A" kind of guy.

Pretty much everything I'm saying to repeated ad nauseum anytime a character like the Shadow or some superhero thing pops up in movie talks. The idea of television allows the Shadow to operate more as he should, a prevading presence in the lives of criminals and agents. In a modern context, think of Keyser Soze in USUAL SUSPECTS...Soze dominates the running time without physically appearing more than three total minutes the entire film.

My view is that the Shadow should be riding the cresting wave of Pulp Hero interest which has arrived in recent times. Comics (always the forerunners on thematic trends these days) have come around to the idea of Pulp as genre, evidenced by Hellboy's popularity, spawning the Goon by Eric Powell, referencing the Phantom published by Moonstone Comics, and circling to Atomic Robo by Red5 Comics, coursing bloodily through JONAH HEX at DC Comics and insinuating itself in Ed Brubaker's work at Marvel, particularly CAPTAIN AMERICA and the idiosyncratic SLEEPER from a few years ago.

If comics trigger the interest of the buying public, surely the Pulp wave will come next once the superhero "craze" has died down. At some point, American culture always returns to the dark side of heroics, the obsessed fistfighters and bullet dancers of Pulp. Indiana Jones followed SUPERMAN THE MOVIE into the consciousness of our society...BATMAN begat DARKMAN and THE SHADOW and THE PHANTOM movies. What's coming then, in the darkening surf after the superhero waves have passed?

Is that a Shadow of something?

All artwork by spectacular contemporary artists Chris Samnee, John Cassaday, Gary Gianni, Francesco Francavilla at, and the inimitable Jim Steranko on those classic novel covers of the 1970s.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Come On Folks...Where is the Shadow Movie???

I wish I could lay claim to the excellent wallpaper above. I don't even know where I found it online, but it's a work of love.
The Shadow is probably my favorite character of all time, not least in part to his mystery, which has never been adequately solved. Who the Shadow truly is, his true identity, remains a mystery. His author, Walter Gibson, claimed his worst mistake was trying to definitively provide the Shadow with an origin. Instead of being the alter ego of wealthy man-about-town and amateur detective Lamont Cranston, the Shadow turned out to be a former World War One flying ace named Kent Allard. With all of the Shadow's aliases, as a master of disguise, and agents under his directives, it's hard to say exactly who, or what, the Shadow truly was. The facts were, anyone who saw the Shadow's "true face" died a horrible death. Mostly criminals of course, but whose to say there wasn't a curious agent in there somewhere, yanking off the Shadow's concealing crimson scarf in a moment of suicidal betrayal?
We never heard about anyone pulling a PHANTOM OF THE OPERA on the Shadow, that's for sure.
Judge, jury, and executioner (or at least the revenant driving evil men to their own destructions,) the Shadow has never been defined, ad nauseum, by our invasive Internet culture...what the academics and Pulpsters know about the Shadow is little more than anyone who picks up a Shadow novel and is struck by the black-garbed hawk-nosed man with the garosol (fire opal) ring, wielding twin .45s while the Shadow's trademark chilling evil laugh nearly drowns out their thunder. The character's strength lies in immediate accessibility, even while the Shadow himself remains an enigma. None of us knows where lurks the Shadow, but the Shadow knows exactly what lurks within us, and every man and woman is faced with it while reading his adventures, one way or another.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


David Michelinie and Gerry Talaoc's first issue begins with the revelation of the face of a soldier, horribly disfigured by a grenade blast. Informed by the doctor that "plastic surgery is a young science," the man with the skull face breaks down.

Michelinie's introductory caption then succinctly brings the reader up to date: "And so it began. The war had stripped away my humanity, left me with nothing but bitterness. And so I dedicated myself to the destruction of that war. Through intense training I became a human killing machine, a special agent taking missions only a man with nothing to lose would attempt. In short, I became...THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER."

Next, Michelinie establishes the formula for his "man on a mission" stories, beginning with the Unknown Soldier's briefing by a usually unnamed military intelligence officer. In this case, the Soldier is told that an SS Kommando named Shreik was captured and died, revealing that Hitler in 1943 has already established Death Camps in occupied Denmark, and Jews are being slaughtered. The Danes are attempting to transport eight thousand Jews to Sweden, and the Gestapo's man in Copenhagen, Von Kleeg, intends to intercept them in some manner.

The Soldier creates a life-like mask of the SS man, Shreik, and parachutes into Copenhagen to arrive, under faux-fire from the Danes, back to the Nazis. Once back at Von Kleeg's HQ, "Shreik" is immediately attacked by three Nazi soldiers. Swiftly killing them all commando-style, the Soldier learns he has just been tested by Von Kleeg, to verify he is really the highly-trained Shreik. Still, Von Kleeg remains skeptical of Shreik's sudden reappearance. Shreik is introduced to a lovely Jewish woman named Inger. In order to escape the camps, Inger has informed on her own people. While being shown about the Gestapo grounds by one of Von Kleeg's trusted aides, Shreik and Inger are brought under fire by a Jewish man seeking revenge with a lone pistol. Shreik saves Inger while the Nazis gun down the man. Shreik's integrity is immediately brought into question, while Inger reveals the man killed was her own brother.

Von Kleeg, though suspicious of Shreik, puts "Operation Eliminate" under Shreik's command. With details of the raid in hand, Shreik relays the information to a Resistence agent. Back at the Gestapo HQ, Von Kleeg learns of Shreik's meeting, and determines a final test of Shreik's loyalty: execute Inger on the spot. Balancing in his own mind the scales, the Soldier coldly shoots the terrified Inger.

Meanwhile, the Resistence attacks the Nazi raid while the eight thousand Jews escape via boat. Once more at the Gestapo HQ, Shreik has given way to the Unknown Soldier, who kills his way to Colonel Von Kleeg and delivers a final rough justice.

The story ends with the Soldier on a ship ruminating on history's view of his actions, how no one will care how the Jews were saved, or who died and suffered to save them. The last panel shows a ghostly apparition of Inger looking over him, sadly, a tragic incidence of the War.

Talaoc's pencils are especially "cartoony" in this first installment, and later he would tighten them up considerably. Not bad by any means, but interesting to note how Talaoc subtlely changes over the course of his time on the Soldier, including long after Michelinie has departed.

This is a fine story by Michelinie, simple and assured, even if nowhere near the peak of the run. Still, it's a nice piece of story-telling that doesn't try to do more than it sets out to do.

The Unknown Soldier is shown to have the ability to regret his decisions, but by no means does he question what he has to do. I find it interesting that Michelinie doesn't fall into a Romantics trap and have the Soldier hesitate at all. To hesitate is to fail the mission, and die, and the Soldier is far and away the best commando the U.S. has. The mission is bookended by the flashback of the Soldier seeing his shattered face for the first time, and Inger's ghostly resonance. Both people have been damaged by the War, and the link between them is the probability that history will not record them. For Inger, erased from the memory of her people as a betrayer, and the Soldier who is no longer a man but a codename, Michelinie has begun his epic STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES run with the psychological remnants of a world at war, inescapable and hellish.


Three out of Five 3D Men

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mr. Moto...Pulp Enigma

The brilliant Francesco Francavilla has struck again, creating this sweet incarnation of one of the first and best of the Peter Lorre "Mr. Moto" films of the late 1930s.

This was the first Mr. Moto I saw, mere weeks ago, and it is a fabulous Pulp film with a mysterious Asian named Moto (no first name) who is out to destroy a British assasssination ring. Trust me, it's even better than it sounds, as Moto is a seemingly amiable man of the Orient, self-effacing and humble, but turns into a vicious judo master and assassin himself at the drop of a hat! Not only that, but he's a master of disguise, Sherlock Holmes style.

Peter Lorre, it should be said, is brilliant in the role. Suffering from illness in his personal life and addicted to morphine, Lorre's sleepy menace emerges from this dependancy and hallucinagenic calm. Also, Harvey Parry as the stunt man behind some of Moto's more violent judo-refic escapades positively makes today's quick-cut crappy fists fights seem tame by comparison.

Thanks to Francesco Francavilla and Pulp Sunday

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Come in, Tokyo...Come in, Tokyo...

This was just sent my way, and I think it's my duty to report its existence.

A horde of "Avenger" shows (a massive Shadow rip, but entertaining nonetheless!), Charlie Chan, the "Man Called X!"

I'm officially overcome.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Artist Templar: Ernie Chan

Ernie Chan is one of those artists of my childhood in comics that informed a lot of how I see comics.

His style, whether pencilling or inking, had a scuffed reality that I adored and still do.

Chan came from the Phillipines in the early 1970s, originally under the name "Ernie Chua" as it was misspelled on his immigration form. The "Chua" variant cleaves Chan's career almost in half, as "Chua" went on to work for DC Comics initially, pencilling many memorable covers and the interiors on Batman comics.

Once he became a citizen in 1976 under his birth name, Chan was first spotted by me during his stint inking Sal Buscema on THE INCREDIBLE HULK in the mid-1970s.

Of course, Chan redefined an era in Pulpdom while inking Sal's brother John Buscema on various Conan the Barbarian-related comics and kin within that sword/sorcery sub-genre.

Ernie Chan continues to do commission work, several years after officially retiring from comics. His website provides a contact for anyone seeking Chan's newer works on request.

Someday soon I hope very much to get a commission from this man.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Thank you for your trials, men and women of the Armed Forces.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES starring the Unknown Soldier, Part Two

In an interview, David Michelinie (pronounced MIK-A-Lean) didn't really buy the notion of a man whose face was blown apart by a grenade wrapping his head in bandages and then using rubber masks over the bandages to infiltrate Nazis forts. To Michelinie, that seemed too far-fetched even for comics.

Michelinie decided to have the Soldier only wear the bandages when he wasn't on a mission. The Soldier's destroyed face during missions would wear masks with make-up applied directly to the Soldier's actual face. For the first time, the Soldier's true face would be revealed, and Joe Orlando didn't waste any time being coy about it. The cover of the team's first issue gives us Joe Kubert's version, which the great Joe K made a kind of "Death's Head."

Inside the comic, first page, Gerry Talaoc's version is even more horrific, as the Soldier is given his first view of the result of a grenade explosion, breaking down in tears as he's informed "plastic surgery is a young science. Perhaps in a few years..." "Yeah, Doc. Sure. A few...years..."

Thus begins the indictment of war which will inform Michelinie's run. The Soldier has faced the horror of his own maiming, his loss of any meaning outside of war, and is given the choice to become a "super-soldier."

Unlike Captain America and the Mighty Destroyer however, the Soldier is not assisted in this by a secret formula designed to boost his skills and physical abilities. Through sheer, torturous training of mind and body, the Soldier quickly becomes a top commando.

The revelation of the Soldier's true appearance disappointed a lot of readers, particularly War Comic readers who made up a nice portion of the DC Comics audience in those halcyon days of multi-genre offerings. In the letters pages, you get the sense the "old school" War readers didn't care for the approach. The logo of the comic reflected a new "mystery comic" angle, and the grotesque face of the Soldier represented a further exploitative discomfort.

Like many great writers of the era, Michelinie managed to subvert the genre without damaging the formula of the War Comic. Michelinie was breaking new ground (particularly at DC; Marvel had made the illusion of "change" a resounding call to arms, while DC maintained the "tried and true." This fundamental difference would define the two biggest comic book publishers for nearly two decades.) Stories were focusing on themes and situations more adult than any before. The understanding that this could be done in the "b-list" comics, the War and Mystery Comics, insured that the flagship titles like SUPERMAN and BATMAN remained gateways to new comic book readers, an audience that turned over every five years or so. However, the conventions of the medium of superheroes didn't affect the horror comics of the 1970s, like Steve Gerber's MAN-THING or Wolfman/Colan's TOMB OF DRACULA, and certainly DC's offerings like BEWARE THE CREEPER and HERCULES UNBOUND were found too unconventional to catch on with audiences.

Michelinie and Talaoc begin a process of adult story-telling, the kind we associate with later "adult" fare like WATCHMEN and KINGDOM COME, and they do it with a firm hand and eye toward the formula of the genre they're working in. The job presented these men with a chance to produce, while grasping what they produced. At this time in comics, no one thought subversion of genres was a necessity to or of the work.

The job was to produce War Comics for DC. And Orlando, Michelinie and Talaoc did that better than anyone else ever had. And for a side item, they decided to kick the bones of War Comics out of the way and discover something else buried in the ruins. Something gold.

Next up: the first Michelinie/Talaoc story: "8000 to One" in issue 183 of SSWS.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Ghost Who Walks...Is Gonna Keep Right on Walkin'

I'd "reported" that THE PHANTOM series by Moonstone Comics was ending. Dynamite Comics was set, I guess, to take over the franchise, but after some haggling, Dynamite gave it up and Joe Gentile's Moonstone company kept the rights.

It's timely in that David Michelinie, whose Unknown Soldier I'm delving into, is editing this book, thirty-four years after the Faceless Avenger's stories.

Thirty-four years, folks...and I'm 38 in a few weeks!

I'm intrigued by the inclusion of Michelinie, but I'd noted the PHANTOM has been a decent comic but nothing earth-shattering. I like it fine but don't seek it out.

The hope here is that Michelinie brings his writing saavy and Joe Orlando time-tested editorship to the role, introducing some elements into the series that will make it as "evergreen" as former works of his own.

I've had a problem with the Phantom not having many real challenges in these books. It's one thing to use him as a revenger for sins committed against the innocent and all, but I think there needs to be other elements as well. Where Doc Savage and the Shadow have fallen off the pace in recent years (not the least to blame the copyright holders Street and Smith, as I haven't seen a project headlined by those Pulp Heroes in years now,) the Phantom will hopefully advance. I'm hoping the indication that this relaunch happens "years" after the former series will provide the Phantom with dangers and adventures befitting his status as one of the cornerstones of Pulp comics.

Personally, I think the Phantom needs to be more the Ghost Who Walks, who strikes utter terror into men in his territories, which it sounds like will happen.

Also, he needs a counter, a mirror-image adversary. A Moriarty, someone who can oppose the Phantom anywhere under any circumstance.

I'm definitely picking up this Michelinie-influenced edition. Not to slight the current writer and artist, but I'd like to see a PHANTOM comic actually become a hit in the States.

STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES Starring The Unknown Soldier! Part One Introduction

As discussed here the Unknown Soldier had one of the finest series of stories I've ever read produced from December 1974 to December 1976, approximately.

Written by David Michelinie, most well-known for lengthy writer stints on Spider-Man (and he created Venom, for better or worse) and Iron Man through the 1980s, and drawn by the much less-known Gerry Talaoc, another of those talented Filipino artists like Tony De Zuniga, Pablo Marcos, the brothers Redondo, the Unknown Soldier stories came out of the oceanic darkness of comics, movies, and novels in a way I hadn't expected. A wholly unique but recognizable shape from the bottom of the sea, and worth far more than gold.

I first saw Talaoc's work on the INCREDIBLE HULK, as inker over Hall of Famer Sal Buscema and young gun Mike Mignola (creator of Hellboy,) which continued in the Mignola ALPHA FLIGHT for a time. I was never nuts about Talaoc's style on those books, as like Frank Robbins (INVADERS) before him, Talaoc was best suited to Non-Superhero fare. Like the Unknown Soldier.

Before revealing the last ingredient of this great run of exactly twenty comics, I'd like to say I picked up this run of comics sold for a dollar apiece at a comic book "con" in Northern VA, nearly two years ago. The thing was, I'd owned exactly one Unknown Soldier comic in my life, which I hadn't appreciated as much as I should have--mind you, the Soldier and his little bowie knife vs a grizzly bear while Nazi soldiers close in on him (UNKNOWN SOLDIER ish 251.) Thusly:

And that's not even part of the run we're discussing here, that's just a cog in the Faceless Avenger's Awesome Machine.

So, at this con, I ran across some STAR-SPANGLED WAR comics, starring the Unknown Soldier. I hadn't heard good or bad about these stories, but I wanted to try them on the blind chance. A blind purchase, with only a brief perusal of these unbagged, unboarded comics, noting Talaoc's art with an Okay Shrug. I bought issues 187-201. Later I'd pick up the last three issues on the strength of that initial exposure.

After discovering what would be a defining comic book run that I never knew existed, that apparently no one knows existed (which is the point of these entries I'll be making,) DC Comics released the SHOWCASE: UNKNOWN SOLDIER trade, completing my run with issues 183-186 included, in black and white but still...gorgeous to behold.

In interviews I've read with Michelinie, he was a young guy at the time and this was one of those books a young writer could mess with to learn his craft. I'm guessing anyway. Michelinie is also the guy who had a supervillain kill Aquaman's son, yes Aquababy, in a vengeance ploy...and that's about Aquaman's defining moment right there. But that was slightly later. For now, circa 1973, Michelinie is doing what so many rookies had done before him, taking a character who isn't integral to the company, a character without much invested in him, and trying out the formula of the war story as understood in previous issues. Writing for the audience, writing to entertain, and writing for Joe Orlando.

The other part of this equation during the 1970s at DC was Editor Joe Orlando, for whom Michelinie was part of a "stable" of fresh-faced writers breaking into comics. DC had an "apprenticeship program" back then, and Orlando ended up with Michelinie's scripts and saw something in the man, enough to bring him in under this apprenticeship banner. Joe Orlando was a former artist/writer for EC Comics, whose horror-themed books like TALES FROM THE CRYPT and VAULT OF HORROR during the 1950s influenced a young Stephen King, and eventually drew the ire of one Dr. Fredric Wertham, who claimed comics led to juvenile delinguency in his book SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT. This treatise led to one of the first "witch hunts" of the 1950s, as a Congressional Hearing went after EC editor Bill Gaines, and the Comic Code Authority (to censor comics) was formed by the publishers to "self-police" their lines. This led to the dissolution of EC and the beginning of "Mad Magazine" for Gaines, a popular title even today. All those writers and artists from EC who had known wicked creative freedom under Gaines' editorial now found themselves working for the blossoming Marvel or old reliable DC.

In 1973, there's something to be said for Joe Orlando's time at EC, and how his editor skills seemed to push imposed limits. Prior to Orlando, Michelinie, and Talaoc, the Unknown Soldier stories had been exercises in typical War Comic irony, stories with clear meanings and conclusive monochromatic plotting. With Vietnam raging, the Unknown Soldier had already been introduced as a faceless "spirit" of the fighting man of World War II, a rubber-masked mummy-bandaged saboteur who achieved his mission and didn't stray very far from the rigors of the War Comic formula. With Michelinie and Talaoc, under Orlando's steady guidance, that was about to change.

Part Two tomorrow.

Friday, November 7, 2008


3D Man sez: "He didn't smoke the same cigarettes as me, but I don't expect everybody to be as much a man as me. Or three men, as the case may be. Greyshirt loved knocking out teeth, that was his thing. I think he had a collection of incisors. Creepy dude."

Greyshirt is a creation of Rick Veitch, one of those talented writer/artist types linked to Alan Moore over the years, and probably lost in the murky depths of Moore's reputation.

Not that I think Veitch cared much. He's done great work over the years sans Moore. But most of Veitch's major contributions to the bigger comic book companies have come via Moore's influence, one way or another. Moore's the guy who wrote a bunch of stuff you've heard of, from WATCHMEN to V FOR VENDETTA to FROM's boring to list what Moore has done. It's boring to say Moore has had a negative impact on the comic book medium, but he has had an impact, whether you like it or not.

Moore's been blamed for f**king up the comic book industry, twisting it into something it was never meant to be, adultified to the point of alienating the young/new reader, ect. Moore felt bad about that, basically, and created his own comic book line, "America's Best Comics" which was a throwback with a modernization of the formula, in order to layer comics from another, better time with the intellect of post-modern viewpoints...all the while not choking the life from the project.

To this end, Moore brought in Veitch, and Veitch emerged from a place of power with Greyshirt, his Pulp Hero homage to the Shadow, the Saint, and the Spirit, among others.

A detailed, epic origin of Greyshirt was revealed in "Indigo Sunset," Veitch using comic books and sensationalistic men's magazine type headlines to render the story. Greyshirt comes off as a man who embodies a statistical truth about evil, that even the best men have evil in their hearts and only by overcoming it are they elevated from beasts.

It's almost a religion with Greyshirt, implicit in his actions. He's delivering lessons, not justice.

The inventive nature of Veitch, who is obvious a fevered genius, allows Greyshirt to appeal to a vast audience who probably never read the work. Or rather, obviously never read it since there hasn't been a Greyshirt story in probably a decade. The ABC line of comics died and is trapped in its own entropy, and I suspect Veitch has no real rights to this character. Or no interest in telling any more stories with him, which is kind of a shame.

Like the Goon, much more popular and noticeable in comics these days, Greyshirt could be traveling in the same circles of forsaken freaks and lost souls. Albeit, in the shadows.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Project: ATOMIC BEETLE! Version 4

There was certain things this character had to have, as I envisioned it.

A "gas mask" type face/mask with goggly eyes, preferably a filter effect over the mouth, for one.

A "hunchback" appearance, lumbering, brutish, long-armed and short-legged, for two.

Taking it way further, as an artist, Willis incoporated the spiny projections on the Beetle's arms, just like the actual Ox Beetle. He added rivets in the face/mask and chest area, to give the illusion the Beetle is wearing a protective suit over these more "vulnerable" areas.

The lightning bolt effect is a kind of simple, "racing car" stripe to symbolize the "atomic" in the Beetle's name.

When I saw this thing, I believed without a doubt that, indeed, this is the Atomic Beetle.

Personally, I think this is one of Willis' best designs. The character is evocative without being derivative. Everything about the design screams "functionality" instead of "cool for the sake of it." There's a reason why the Beetle looks like he does, whereas many designs today worry too much over straps and buckles and treads and belts and sh*t that serve only to give the artist something else to draw.

Color schemes are next, and I hope to be able to show those soon. There may even be a poll to find out which scheme appeals more to whatever prospective people actually care.

I have stories to tell with this character, but I'm not sure where they'd be seen. Willis might certainly be able to pull off the sequential art aspect of an actual comic, and in reality any forging ahead would occur through the art, not my script. Comic book companies ain't interested in scripts. They want art. It's a visual medium. I understand.

Who's to say? What is there to say? The Atomic Beetle does exist, but only to two guys. Existence is 9/10ths of the law.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Project: ATOMIC BEETLE! Version 3

So Willis busted out the ref books on beetles...luckily for me, the man has always had an appreciation and fascination for the buggers.

So, in getting more fundamental with the natural elegance of the beetle*, and the need for a gruff bruiser, Willis asserted a more circular, shell-like appearance for the thing.

Here, Willis is incorporating the unity of shapes (and he'd be a better one to explain it,) but as I understand it, what you're looking at is two shapes joined to create solidity.

There is a central upside-down "U" shape, ending at two legs, and a standard "U" shape running in the opposite direction, kind of reinforcing the first shape, and ending at the points of the elytra on the back of the body.

The antennae are very prominent, but Willis noted they are not particularly "beetle-like." They are insectoid, in a standard way; some beetles do have extended antennae, but if we're being specific to the Ox Beetle, the antennae are not correct.

As a beautiful dame named Sydney rightly pointed out, antennae are important on this character. In point of fact, she said, there is something strangely "sensual, almost erotic" about antennae. Since she's not a freak by any standard, I took this as a thinking woman's addition. There will be a kind of...eerie eroticism about a man-beetle. Considering the intended "love story" of the main character, who must now communicate love as a monster and not a man, it makes sense these probing scent-catchers are inherently sensual in female eyes. Another good instinctual add by Willis.

The lightning bolts on the back are, as Willis said, "kind of like racing stripes." They're additions on the shell, most likely by military men, who adorn the Beetle in much the way they paint slogans on fighter planes and torpedos, as a way to personalize the machines of war. This fits with the notion the Atomic Beetle is, early on, "Government property." Created by a military-funded accident (much like Bruce Banner's Gamma Bomb irradiation,) I imagine the military trying to make chicken salad out of chicken sh*t and failing. Their mistake has cost a man his life, his humanity, his love, his honor, even to a degree his soul. The military will want to use the Beetle if they can, but I think it'll be hard to convince the Beetle he's little more than a cognizant bomb.

In Version 4, upcoming, we will see what is likely the final preliminary design. And it is well worth the wait, folks.

*"Natural elegance" means how a beetle is put together, but not to indicate how it moves and functions. The indicator of "clunky" in relation to the character is part of the charm of beetles...they really are bulky tanks with little agility and the fearless attitude of the insect, which has a very strict life span (four months for the Ox Beetle) and a job to do, usually involving masticating organic material (including dead animals and other unspeakable filth) until it's a ball of mummified wax, and then finding a female to implant some eggs in that underground bad boy so a bunch of beetle larva can roll around in it and chew on it for a while.

Beetles may not be pleasant, but they're incredibly beneficial to the natural environment. Yeh, I didn't know it either. I guess I figured everything dead just ended up as fly and ant food. Wrongo.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Project: ATOMIC BEETLE...Version 2

Willis decided to "monster-up" the Atomic Beetle "suit-guy," thus resulting in this bruiser.

In this version, you can see the "spires" develop in the character; here, these spires are the ends of the "elytra", which are hard, shell-like coverings over the more delicate wings of the beetle. These spires replicate the horns of the adult male Ox Beetle. The females don't have horns.

Willis convinced me the Atomic Beetle should fly. It sets up a nice contrast with the Beetle being a "burrower" with the thorny protrusions on the arms and legs used to dig beneath the earth. Coupled with a clumsy, ridiculous ability for such a creature to fly, and I started digging the concept.

As Willis indicated, when a beetle flies, it's like a tank with wings. The beetle is not aerodynamic, and is more likely to not only batter into objects while flying, bouncing off and continuing on, but usually crashes when it lands.

My only caveat with "full-on beetle" is the eradication of so much of the "man" aspect to get the creature part. Plus, truth to tell, I'm reminded very much of THE FLY, with Vincent Price. Not that I don't like THE FLY, mind you, I love it...but I wanted more distinction for a character who is actually a beetle, which has its own distinct look.

And, Willis and I were of the same mind about the aspect of a "suit" melded with the beetle aspect, a man trying to hide a deformity behind a mask, and also plating to potentially protect the more vulnerable belly of the creature, which is not quite as tough as that armor shell.

Version 3 begins to reveal the true Atomic Beetle. Stay tuned.

Appendium: I'm reminded again of the Internet Culture, and the improbable nature of such a culture to find fault, even insult, in two characters with the same name.

I realize "Atomic Beetle" is the name of a character in a role-playing game, which I did not know existed before coming up with "Atomic Beetle." Because of the Internet, I looked up the name to see where and how it might have been appropriated, and was met with a costumed crimefighter from the "Virtue Universe."

There's a simple reason that I do not think anyone will mistake my Atomic Beetle with the gamer's version: it's not that version. That is lame, this is cool. Trust me.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Project: ATOMIC BEETLE! "Version 1"

Art: Mark Willis

Concept: Chad Carter

I've decided to use this blog to reveal the process behind a creation of my own, specifically for any comic book that would have it.

Mark Willis is the designer of this character, a "novice" in the sense that his experience is limited. We're both cruising toward 40, so age isn't so much a factor as the creeping hands of cold, merciless death running up our spines. We've worked together on a host of other concepts which are linked together more specifically, but the Atomic Beetle is meant to be more "commercial" and not thematic to the Silver or Bronze Age Era we hoped to evoke in other work.

The Atomic Beetle has it's antecedents in the Universal Horror Monsters, Ben Grimm (the Thing of the Fantastic Four,) and other "tragic freaks" of comics.

I had an idea to fuse a man and an Ox Beetle, a large beetle type found in southern states from Nevada to Florida. The critter looks like this:

Yeh, he's cool.

This led me to thinking hard about what I was looking for in an "Atomic Beetle." I had the name out of nowhere, but I needed a physical manifestation. That's where Willis comes in.

I supplied Willis with some basic materials, demonstrating body type, density and scale, texture, and "human-to-monster" ratio.

I included these panel pieces for reference:

Seeing the concept one way, Willis began with "Man in Suit" action, or "Atomic Beetle Version #1":

This revealed a whole new side to the Atomic Beetle equation: the idea that the man would, indeed, become the Man-Beetle fusion, but would also wear a specialized suit to cover his deformity.

This was a Willis conceit that I immediately thought was better than just "Man into Monster."

Willis, being a "Superhero Guy" began to play with emblems to be worn on the suit.

I wanted, though, a bit more monster, indicating the "Man-Thing" reference here:

As we'll see in Version 2, Willis decides to "monster-up" the Atomic Beetle.