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Comics

Kirby's Eternals

When i was younger i didn't like Jack Kirby at all. Well, it's not so much that i didn't like him as i thought his artwork looked dated. Recently i've sort of come to terms with that - it's not so much that it looks dated, it's actually just that it is... bizarre. It's most appreciable when he drew the really far out stuff - the cosmic stuff from Fantastic Four or Thor, the ancient mystical stuff in Black Panther, etc. And the bizarreness is definitely a good thing. Some of his drawings are just so crazy, i can actually spend a few minutes just looking at them, whereas with most comics i generally race through them, just glancing at the art while reading the script. So i've definitely been getting back into Kirby as an artist. And when he (or Stan Lee, for that matter), writes, his dialogue is incredibly cheesy and over-the-top, but that actually has its own charm.

Well, years ago a random issue of Eternals fell into my collection, and i thought it was pretty bad, and i'd picked up a few more in bargain bins over the years and was actually stunned to realized that the series was printed in the mid-70s, whereas it read to me more like mid-60s (and judging by Paul O'Brien's comments in his review of the new Eternals comic by Neil Gaiman, it looks like he's still under that impression). But now that i'm having a Jack Kirby Renaissance, i thought i should give it a try. The whole series was only 19 issues + an annual, and i already had a bunch, and i'd just found a great online comic store where you can get stuff pretty cheap, so i figured i'd fill in the rest of the series. The Eternals seemed like it would be a great outlet for Kirby's more bizarre tendencies and it was a series where he had complete creative control since he was both writer and artist and there weren't any other marvel characters for him to worry about*, so i was ready to re-evaluate my earlier opinion.

Well, my earlier opinion stands. Actually the basic concept of the series is great, or at least it is something that i've internalized. The idea is that in the earliest days of mankind, great space giants came down and performed genetic experiments on us. Their experiments resulted in three distinct races of man:

  • Eternals, who are immortal and unchanging, and essentially benevolent and godlike.
  • Deviants, whose genetic structure is so unstable that no two are alike. They are generally not so nice.
  • Humans, the regular folk who had to struggle to survive with no special abilities, but had the potential to surpass either group. Later writers took the idea of that potential to be the mutant X-Factor that allowed some humans to acquire super powers, either through birth (mutants) or when triggered by some external energy, such as radiation or cosmic rays (and of course most humans don't have the X-Factor genes and would die if exposed to the same energy, which is why you can't just create an army of Hulks).

The space giants (Celestials), after performing their genetic mischief, left the three races to their own devices, and come back periodically to check on the results of their experiments. The second time they came back, they found a world where the Deviants had completely enslaved the humanity, and the Eternals had retreated high into the mountains. The Deviants saw the Celestials and attacked them, afraid they had come to end their domain. In retaliation, the Celestials destroyed all of the Deviant civilization, forcing them to retreat into under-sea labyrinths, which is where they remain today.

All good so far as a backstory, and the actual series begins with the Celestials returning again in modern times, with one of the Eternals announcing to the humans that the Space Gods have returned again to judge the three races of Earth over a 50 year period. Great, let's get started! So Kirby takes a few issues jumping around introducing us to various Eternals while the Celestials stand ominously in the background and the Deviants fret about what might happen to them this time. Even though people writing in praise Kirby for not following a formula and making the story about a single group of people, the stories largely focus on Ikaris and to a lesser degree his friends Makkari and Sersi (which is fine). The dialogue is awful, but the concept is good enough for me to plow through it.

But after a couple of issues i start to get antsy. Nothing is happening. Sometimes Deviants attack, sometimes Eternals-gone-bad come up with some crazy schemes, but the larger Celestial plot never seems to move. At one point the Eternals all get together and form the Uni-Mind - a giant organic brain that is literally composed of all the Eternals. They form this as a way to gain consensus on how to deal with the Celestial question, and i think this means we're finally getting somewhere. But when they come out of the big floating brain, nothing comes of it. After meandering for a few more issues, the series ends with no conclusion. Remember, there was supposed to be a 50 year period of judgement and then the Celestials were going to decide to wipe out humanity or let their experment continue. Instead it ends with no resolution at all, the Celestials still just standing around on Earth. Considering this was supposed to have happened in the Marvel Universe, i have no idea how to square that away. (It might have been resolved in a soon to be reprinted Thor story that i have never read but am looking forward to getting my grubby little hands on.)

Now, it's pretty clear that something happened around this time between Marvel and Kirby, because all the books he was working on at this time come to an end. I thought maybe Newsarama's Eternals primer would have some insight, but other than mentioning low sales, it doesn't say why the series stopped** (it does have better pictures and a better plot description if my review isn't doing it for you). I suppose someone could argue that if Kirby had been allowed to finish the story it would have ended better, but after 20 issues of going absolutely nowhere, i have doubts that he intended to tell an actual story with a beginning, middle, and conclusion. It seems more like he was just setting up a new environment to play in.

Seems to me that Kirby is a concept guy. The idea of the Celestials, and their prehistoric genetic manipulation resulting in 3 branches of humanity, was interesting, and have obviously had a lasting effect on the Marvel Universe (although that wasn't his intention). But he didn't seem have the desire or ability to take that concept and develop it into anything more than a playground for cheesy action/adventure stories.

Overall, while i'd recommend the story to a die-hard marvel fan interested in the origin of some concepts that pop-up elsewhere, this isn't a very good series (I recognize that to some people this is heresey as Kirby is a god that can do no wrong). We'll see if Neil Gaiman can do better at taking Kirby's concept and turning it into an actual story.


*The question of whether The Eternals was, or should be, in continuity raged in the letters pages at the time. In the end, a half-hearted concession was made to say that it was in continuity by throwing in some SHIELD agents and a robot that looked like the Hulk (in the worst plot of the whole series). I think it was pretty clear that Kirby didn't want to be bothered with the MU, which would have been fine, but editors or readers pressured him into bringing it in. Later writers integrated the Eternals, Deviants, and Celestials much more deeply into the Marvel Universe.

**UPDATE: From Wikipedia:

Still dissatisfied with Marvel's treatment of him, and their refusal to provide health and other employment benefits, Kirby left Marvel to work in animation, where he did designs for Turbo Teen, Thundarr the Barbarian and other animated television series.

Yeah, Thundarr the Barbarian rocked.


By fnord12 | June 29, 2006, 9:37 AM | Comics | Link



Continuity - it's up to you!

From the best editor in comics today (and next in line for EIC if i have my way), Tom Brevoort:

Continuity. Some people have asked about it, and its role in comic book storytelling. So here's what I can tell you:

Continuity is a tool. It is not an end in and of itself. The purpose of continuity is to enhance stories, the purpose of stories is not to enhance continuity.

Every reader has their own continuity that's important to them. One guy won't mind if you disregard a story published ten years ago in some way, where to another guy, that was his favorite story of all time, and the reason he's a fan in the first place. You can never please everybody.

Continuity was never as seamless as everybody seems to remember it being. We may have spent more effort concealing it, but there was never a point where everything came off flawlessly. But again, see previous point: for people reading ten years ago, they may not have cared about the continuity of twenty years ago the same way the older guys did.

Most continuity is off-the-cuff. Which is to say that we sort of know vaguely which storyline in the assorted Spider-Man books happens when, but we don't obsess over it needlessly, to the exclusion of everything else. As said previously, it's never going to be perfect, and spending too much effort trying to make it so has diminishing returns.

The Marvel of the 1980s, embodied by Mark Gruenwald, promoted a specific approach to continuity, one that the readership as a whole has been trained to accept as "proper" continuity. But even Mark's guidelines, much as I love him, are crazily restrictive at times. And, for example, now that Mark is no longer with us, neither are his rules for how time travel must function within the Marvel U.

I'm going to be explaining Nick Fury in IRON MAN every month until the storyline is done, I can see. Short answer: when we began work on that storyline, we couldn't be sure A) when these issus were going to ship, because we weren't sure when the Warren and Adi run would be wrapped, and B) when the end of SECRET WAR was going to ship. So we proceeded with Fury in place. As it worked out, SECRET WAR #5 came out first, and finally established Fury's status quo at that point in the Marvel Universe. But we've already established in the NEW AVENGERS ILLUMINATI Special that SHIELD has been using a sophisticated Fury LMD to stand in for Nick and cover his disappearance--so you can assume that the Fury in IRON MAN is probably the LMD (same as in HULK #88-91, as well as one or two other places that I'm not going to point out--why ask for trouble?)

It used to be that the fans were the ones who worked at making the continuity function, coming up with rationales for how mistakes weren't mistakes. Heck, we used to give out No-Prizes for just that. But in the last decade, that seems to have changed, and rather than being challenged by continuity, most vocal fans today seem irritated by it, demanding explanations for every seeming inconsistency, and not bringing any thought to the matter themselves. Not that they're required to especially, but it seems like a somewhat more productive approach if something bothers you than just complaining about it everywhere.

So who wants to help me read through all my comics and make sure they're in chronological order?


By fnord12 | June 28, 2006, 9:27 AM | Comics | Comments (4)| Link



Yeah!!!

Peter David:

So Kathleen happened to have the radio on this morning, tuned to a sports radio talk show. And it seemed that the volume and intensity of the discussion was inversely proportional to the degree of importance-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things that the subject matter had.

And all I could think of was how grotesquely unfair it is that science fiction and comics fans are tagged as nerds and dweebs and treated in a condescending manner when sports fans are just as "bad" if not "worse." I mean, where the hell does the media get off being snotty about fans who are dressed as Klingons when you can go to any Yankees game and see 1800 guys wearing jerseys that say "Jeter" on the back. The Klingon language may be incomprehensible, but no less so than watching two sports fanatics tossing around stats, names and abbreviations ("When he wasn't able to DH he was HBP and wound up on the DL when his ERA was 0.73, or else he would have been MVP.") How is it 1500 people, mostly sober, spending a weekend enjoying a mutual interest at a hotel and talking about space exploration, how to avoid global warming, and whether the Hulk can beat Superman...how is that automatically inferior to 43,000, mostly drunkly drunk, spending a day enjoying a mutual interest at a stadium and talking about playoffs, how to avoid the line at the bathroom, and whether the 1953 Dodgers could beat the 1962 Yankees?

Plus science fiction fans have only the Sci-Fi Channel. Sports fans have ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN Classic. Golf. There's a golf channel. A whole channel dedicated to Golf, for God's sake. That's like having a whole channel devoted to "Voyager." And how are fantasy baseball leagues any weirder than local chapters of Starfleet? And where do people get off being snotty about Renfaires when there are those fantasy baseball camps that some organizations offer, where you pay big bucks to dress up like a baseball player for a week? At least Renfaire's don't set you back a few thousand bucks.

So what makes us nerdy and them "mainstream? Because it's "big business?" Maybe the only way science fiction and comic book conventions will gain genuine respectability is if they become designed, not for socialization or debate, but about being as aggressive as possible about separating fans from their money. You know: LIke pro sports.

PAD



By fnord12 | June 27, 2006, 4:52 PM | Comics | Comments (8)| Link



A taste of things to come

Adam tipped me off to this list of upcoming Marvel movies and projects (based on searching for Avi Arad on imdb):

Captain America (2009) (announced) (executive producer)
Magneto (2007) (announced) (producer)
Ant-Man (2008) (announced) (executive producer)
Deathlok (2008) (announced) (producer)
Werewolf by Night (2007) (announced) (producer)
Wolverine (2007) (announced) (executive producer)
Untitled Nick Fury Project (2008) (announced) (producer)
The Black Widow (2006) (announced) (co-producer)
Iron Fist (2006) (announced) (executive producer)
Sub-Mariner (2006) (announced) (executive producer)
The Hands of Shang-Chi (2007) (announced) (producer)
Thor (2009) (pre-production) (producer)
The Incredible Hulk (2008) (pre-production) (producer)
Iron Man (2008) (pre-production) (producer)
Fantastic Four 2 (2007) (pre-production) (producer)
"Wolverine & the X-Men" (2007) TV Series (pre-production) (executive producer)
Luke Cage (2006) (pre-production) (executive producer)
The Punisher 2 (2006) (pre-production) (producer)
Spider-Man 3 (2007) (filming) (producer)
Ghost Rider (2007) (post-production) (producer)
Blade (2006) (TV) (post-production) (executive producer)
Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther (2006) (V) (completed) (executive producer)

...and i just wanted to say to all you complainers out there: When we were growing up, we had Rubber-Ear Captain America, Dolph Lundgren Punisher ("Whyyyyyy do the guilty go unpunished????"), and Howard the Duck, and that's it and we liked it, dammit. So quit yer complaining; you never had it so good.


By fnord12 | June 22, 2006, 2:47 PM | Comics & Movies | Comments (1)| Link



XXX

*Spoilers ahead!* (As if we weren't the last people on earth to see this movie.)

Well, the latest X-Men movie wasn't as bad as everyone said it was, but it wasn't great either. None of them have been great (the second one was the best).

I've never liked the Phoenix Force concept or the cosmic elements that surrounded it (rephrase: i like the stories Claremont wrote, but they have nothing to do with the X-Men theme and i think by doing generic space opera stories in the X-Men you lose the focus on what's special about them. Plus i hate the Shi'ar.). I think the movie did a good job of using the Phoenix as an "out of control mutant" concept without getting into all the cosmic crap. (At least to start with... i think once the mutant was out of control and ultra powerful, they weren't quite sure what to do with her.)

I also really liked the performances of Magneto and Wolverine, and I liked that Storm has finally been given a role in the movies. I like the hard choices / dark side of Professor X that was displayed with regards to his mind-blocks on the Phoenix and his dismissal of Wolverine ("I don't have to justify myself to you of all people.").

I thought the intro was really cool, with the flashback to Xavier and Magneto still working together, and then the scene with Angel, and then (what i thought) was a Days of Futures Past shot (it worked as a Danger Room scenario too, but i was definitely a little disappointed). From there the energy of the movie definitely declined, but i thought it was still a good movie. Decent action, good special effects, the interesting "mutant cure" plot used recently by Joss Whedon in Astonishing, and a glimpse of a slightly less negative future than we are used to seeing.

Of course there was plenty of sucking going on as well. The Beast looked absolutely terrible. Ter-ri-ble. And Jean Grey stood around and did nothing the whole movie, killing any mileage they might have gotten out of the Phoenix half of the plot. The ending was a little happy-pappy. And the Juggernaut sucked, which we all suspected would be the case. And there were of course other things i could gripe about from a fanboy perspective (for example, min is very disappointed about the treatment, or lack thereof, that Psylocke received in this film, but i'll let her speak to that), but overall as a movie that's supposed to take the core concepts of the X-Men and put them up on the big screen for a mainstream audience and provide plenty of cool action sequences and cool inside bits for the comic fans, i think it worked just fine. A solid "B".

I look for something a little more from the X-Men in terms of subtext. The X-Men have in the past been used as a metaphor for discrimination, but it's always hard to make that point when the people you are discriminating against have massive amounts of power at their disposal (This is why the Civil War plot works also as a story where each side has a valid point). I don't feel like this movie actually managed to say anything profound with these (or any) themes which is why it's a B and not an A movie, and i think that's a little disappointing because it sort of reinforces the idea that comics are a source of dumb action and not necessarily anything more that that.

But overall i really don't see what people are complaining about.

BTW the best part of the movie was when Magneto lifted up that first car and Pyro set it on fire before it got tossed at the army, and min jumped up in the movie theater and shouted "COMBO!".

Update: This is our 500th entry. Gods, if we don't do our best to keep you entertained/informed/enlightened while you are bored at work, i don't know what will.


By fnord12 | June 22, 2006, 11:34 AM | Comics & Movies | Comments (9)| Link



Aquaman movie - Parallel wha-huh?

Link:

Readers of Monday's Variety could be forgiven for thinking they had been in the dark about the biggest movie of the year.

Huge letters spread across two pages in the Hollywood trade publication declared that the new James Cameron film "Aquaman," starring Vincent Chase, was the "biggest box office splash in history," racking up an astounding $116 million in its opening weekend.

The ad did not mention that "Aquaman" only exists in the fictional parallel universe of HBO's "Entourage," which follows the travails of Vincent Chase (played by Adrian Grenier), a hot young star who is flanked at all times by his brother and two childhood friends.



By fnord12 | June 21, 2006, 4:08 PM | Comics | Link



Comics... as liberal as CNN?

From everybody's favorite racmu:

DC and Marvel = CNN??

All:
Why the liberal slant in some of the stories from these two comic media
giants?

For example, DC had Infinite Crisis where a villian creates a phony war
in order to change things around to a new universal order. Much like the
way the mainstream media is playing the Iraq War. Also, the current
issue of 52 has some non-USA heroes banding together against USA imperial
designs. Again, the same view that the mainstream media is showing
concerning some countries' concerns about the USA and it's New World
Order philosophy.

At Marvel, they are having a Civll War concerning superhero registration.
Again, like the mainstream media's view about illegal immigrant
registration.

I understand that everyone has a bias. I just wish that the two big
comic book companies would try another slant every so often. Not as
heavy handed as talk radio or Fox News; but, something different once in
awhile.

Keith


By fnord12 | June 21, 2006, 10:17 AM | Comics | Comments (7)| Link



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