Saturday, November 8, 2014

Days of passed past

So, I want to make a big shout-out to cyber-pal Marc Burkhardt. We've been rattling around the same back alleys of the comicsweblogosphere for some time and have crossed paths pleasantly many times. Marc's still at the blog business and he's even got a Tumblr version, but I seem to run into him more and more on the Twitter. And it was there that he recently gave me a nice gift.

It's just a non-sequitur  Tweet, but it worked on me like a geeky version of Proust's madeleines.

You see, back in the early seventies, when I was a veritable comics-reading machine, the X-Men weren't the pop culture phenomenon they are now. In fact, their comic had essentially been cancelled - it was still being printed, but for about four years they were just reprinting the comics from about eight years earlier. They ended the practice before they caught up to themselves and destroyed the space-time continuum, but what's really important is that they were reprinting those Thomas-Roth stories that Marc is talking about.

And I loved them.

I particularly loved Roth's art. Roy Thomas himself is said have thought Roth's art was not suited for superheroes, since he was really a romance and westerns guy, but I totally dug his look and his diagrammatic approach to action:

He really did shine in the non-combat bits, though. Thomas and Roth created a fauxhemian beatnik world every time Hank McCoy and Bobby Drake (Beast and Iceman) would visit their favorite coffee house (decades before the Starbucks era), and it was a hoot.

Ah, those were the days, my friend. Not as flashy as today, what with the super-duper computerized color printing and grimness & grittiness and the every-comic-is-a-movie-treatment-in-disguise stuff. It was just action and adventure and fun - with some great art.

Roth died way too young, succumbing to cancer at age 52 in 1973 - when I was still reading and enjoying his earlier work. He continued to work in comics until his death, and will always be remembered for his work on the (in)famous Lois Lane race-switch story I am Curious, Black.

My past few days of googling and remembering has been an authentic joy, and I wanted to thank Marc and share the love. Peace out.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Not to beat a dead buffalo, but...

So, I wanted to follow up this reference a little bit more, not with more about bison, but about gorillas - or one gorilla figure in particular.

Man-Ape is one of my favorite comic book villains - heck, one of my favorite comic book characters. Fifteen-year-old Walaka devoured his first appearance in this "Full-length Bullpen Blockbuster" issue of Jungle Action, which had just become the hero Black Panther's solo title. I dug the contrast between the two: white and furry v. black and sleek; big and powerful v. lithe and agile; usurper v. regent. It had all the trappings of classic conflict, and I guess it continued long after I stopped reading mainstream comics. 

But one thing about the character dynamic bugged me, even back in the day, and moreso now.

Black Panther is T'Challa, the ruler of the African nation of Wakanda (at least he was when I knew him; he might have a different job now), and his "senses and physical attributes have been enhanced to superhuman levels by the heart-shaped herb." This is some kind of magic plant (whose properties and accessibility vary with continuity glitches).

Man-Ape is M'Baku, a former Wakandan official who attempted to overthrow T'Challa and continues to oppose him after the coup failed. He "possesses various superhuman abilities as the result of a magical ritual in which he killed a sacred White Gorilla, bathed in its blood, and consumed its flesh."

Now, here's what gets me: Gorillas are predominantly herbivorous, eating shoots and leaves and occasionally fruits (although some lowland gorillas will eat ants and termites as well). Panthers, on the other hand - any big cats of the genus Panthera - are carnivorous.

Given this, wouldn't it make more sense to eat special meat in order to become a magical panther-warrior and eat special herbs to become a magical gorilla-warrior?

Oy vey, sometimes I can't believe the things that stay with me...

The quote abut T'Challa's powers comes from; 
poor second-stringer Man-Ape doesn't even get a listing there, 
so I had to go to the Marvel Wikia for his quotation.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Six of One: Buffalo pals, won't you come out tonight?

So, I had this great image (among other photos of buffalo) show up in one of my feeds, and I reposted it in the spirit of November 1st being National Bison Day (which it isn't yet, although a movement to make it such exists).

I have always had a soft spot for the North American Buffalo, Bison bison; its near-extinction as a species is one of the tragedies of the American story. The buffalo is an impressive beast as well as an awesome-looking one; I have always dug that they are one of the few animals that face into a storm. One friend of bison called them "the fastest-moving slow animal." They are one of the icons of vegetarian badassery, right up there with gorillas.

Thinking about how cool buffalo are of course made me wonder: how many buffalo- or bison-themed superheroes (or villains) are there? It seems a natural choice: all that power and strength, plus a cool, shaggy look.

Surprisingly, there are not many, and none like I expected. I really had to scrape the pot just to fill out this feature - but here they are.


This one is really a leap, but I couldn't resist. He was created by Stan Lee's Pow! Entertainment (remember them?) for the National Hockey League, as part of an ill-fated plan to promote the teams through custom superheroes. Aside from some publicity leading up to the 2011 NHL All-Star Game, The Guardian Project lived and died almost totally beneath the radar. Anyway, this is the hydro-electrically powered Sabre of Buffalo, New York. He's not buffaloey at all, not in the thematic sense.


I had high hopes when I saw this name pop up in my search, but they were sadly dashed. Bison is a Marvel super-villain, a basketball player turned into a "man-bull" by the Egyptian god Seth. Hunh? There weren't ever any bison in Egypt! There's a river buffalo there, a kind of water buffalo, but it's Bubalus bubalis, a different genus and species. Shouldn't this guy have been called Bull, or at best, Buffalo?


This guy was originally a videogame character (a boss) in the Capcom Street Fighter game, but he had a comic book for a while, so I guess he counts. He's not very buffaloey in any way that I can tell, though. He was played by Raul Julia in the live-action movie, and he was more a fox or a wolf than a bison, so I really don't know what's up here.


This guy is a hero from the anime Tiger & Bunny, and I figure he had a manga or a comic somewhere. But I don't know why I made the stretch to include him - he's even less buffaloey than the Egyptian guy. He just has horns on his armor (and great big drills on his shoulders).


Finally, a real connection to the American buffalo. Black Bison is a Native American villain who went up against the hero Firestorm, using vaguely defined shamanic powers on a mission of vengeance. So, besides his name, he's not very buffaloey either. But he is wearing a version of the bison headdress, which was used by some plains tribes, including the Blackfoot, in shamanic ceremonies and as a sign of rank.


This is the only character I had in my mind when I first was considering the existence of bison-based heroes. Flying Stag and I go way back - I remember reading his few adventures when I was just a kid. He was a 15th century Iroquois who gained unnatural strength, speed, and agility from a meteorite sent to him by the Manitou, the Great Spirit of the Algonquin; the bison-mask served to protect Flying Stag's identity when he went into action as Super-Chief (seriously). Why someone from an essentially Eastern nation was wearing modified regalia from the Plains Tribes was never fully explained. Despite this inaccuracy, I liked Super-Chief's look, and he had that earnestness common to Silver Age heroes. Notwithstanding my affection for him and his super powers, I have to admit that he isn't really very buffaloey, aside from his mask. I don't think any of his reboots (including a thankfully short-lived grim 'n' gritty version) were either.

So that's it. I expected some sort of Rhino-like guy, a hard charger, tough and strong, with a really imposing look. But even Dr. Peculiar failed me; the realm of a bison-based hero is apparently an untrodden prairie.

Bonus 7:
Super-Chief did break into the big-time once: In January 1972 one of his stories was reprinted in Superman #245, and on the back cover he got some face time right next to Big Blue himself: