Doctor Strange #9

dr-strange-9I took a glimpse back into Marvel of the 1970s (August 1975 to be exact) when I read Doctor Strange #9. We’re joined in progress in this story, as the evil otherworldly sorcerer Dormammu has not only managed to claim the powers of the Earth spirit Gaea but has entered our realm by showing up in Arizona.  It’s up to Doctor Strange and his other wizard friends to stop Dormammu from destroying everything.

This part of the story I get, but the rest of Steve Englehart’s plot gets a little confusing mostly because I’ve never really been into Doc Strange’s books. Dormammu has been getting help in this latest scheme by Umar, his twin sister. Thankfully for her, they’re not identical.

A major plot point is then revealed by Orini (a mystic who should be the ruler of the Dark Dimension, but his throne was forcefully taken by Dormammu). Orini is around because he is the father of Clea, who just happens to be Strange’s girlfriend. Got that? It gets a lot more confusing right now. Orini reveals to his daughter the true identity of her mother: Umar.

Umar then steals Dormammu’s power, leading to daughter Clea rebelling against her mother by freeing Gaea and sending her parents and Uncle Dormammu back to the Dark Dimension. After reading this I thought my head was going to explode.

It wasn’t that it was poorly written. The art was by Gene Colan who is great on these kinds of stories. But the problem was there were too many characters to be introduced to at once, let alone that they all had similar sounding names. And if that’s going to be your first encounter with a story, it never ends well.

There was an interesting bit of trivia that I learned from this issue though. The letterer was Karen Mantlo, the then-wife to Bill Mantlo.

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Marvel’s Upcoming Movie Calendar: Guardians of the Galaxy and Beyond

Marvel Studios unveiled a new slate of films for the next two years. So what does the film division of the “House of Ideas” have for us? The biggest announcement was the confirmation of a Guardians of the Galaxy film, slated to come out on August 1, 2014. For most people new to comics or just fans of the movies, the question is why should you be excited about this.

Guardians of the Galaxy first debuted in Marvel Super Heroes #18 back in 1969, a few months before Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Space travel was a big thing at the time and Arnold Drake and Gene Colan created a team of super powered aliens in the 31st century. Present day astronaut Vance Astrovik (with a name like that he really could do nothing else than be an astronaut) is rocketed into space in suspended animation and wakes up way far into the future. That must have been one hell of a nap.

Anyway, Vance teams up with some well-meaning alien warriors to stop the Badoon, a race of genocidal aliens bent on conquering the universe. Occasionally the Guardians would travel back to present day in crossovers with the Avengers and Defenders. The team is probably best known for Image Comics founder Jim Valentino’s series from the early 1990s.

Guardians of the Galaxy was rebooted a few years back, this time taking place in the present day. Long story short, it’s a collection of Marvel’s alien heroes teaming up to prevent catastrophes, whether they be cosmic natural disasters or intergalactic warfare. I would assume that the film will be of how the team gets together and has to save Earth from something awful. Maybe they even might involve Thanos, since it looks like this will be out before Avengers 2,

So who are the Guardians? Based on the concept art that Marvel revealed it looks like the team is the following:

  • Star-Lord: a human who winds up becoming an intergalactic police officer.
  • Gamora: Thanos’ adopted daughter who happens to be the most deadly woman in the Marvel Universe (think a lady version of Chuck Norris).
  • Groot: A humanoid living tree who debuted in Tales to Astonish long before the Fantastic Four.
  • Rocket Raccoon: An anthropomorphic raccoon with mastery of combat and military strategy.
  • Drax the Destroyer: A synthetic humanoid created to kill Thanos.

So yeah, it sounds like Thanos is going to be involved in this. Call it a hunch.

Anyway, this is a big gamble since it is going to be a movie featuring C and D list characters. No matter how great the film is, it’s going to be a harder sell to the public. Do you remember the last time you saw a Drax t-shirt? Me neither. I would assume they are banking on how well received the previous Marvel did. At the very least I hope I can get a stuffed Rocket Raccoon out of this.

As for the rest of the announcements:

  • Ant-Man will be directed by Edgar Wright (of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fame). They even showed some test footage of it, which sadly hasn’t leaked out yet. Apparently they were super-strict about the no photography/videography rule.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier is slated for April 4, 2014 and pretty much confirms that Bucky will be back, turned into the Soviet killing machine. It’s reported that Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) is in negotiations to play the role of the Falcon, Cap’s sidekick/partner.
  • Thor: The Dark World comes out November 8, 2013. Just in time for Halloween!

Random Comics Conversations I Have

So today at work, I got into a discussion with someone about comic books. This guy knew his stuff, and we mainly spoke about the work of Steve Ditko, Bill Mantlo and Gene Colan. The best part of this conversation was that I got to walk away having learned something!

Did you know that the late Gene Colan patterned his Dracula after Jack Palance? I certainly didn’t. The actor portrayed the world’s most famous blood sucker in a made-for-television film in 1974, and he became the basis of Colan’s take on the character! Not that I doubted the gentleman, but I did a little verifying on the Internet and this is one you can mark as true. Who knew?

Spash Page Saturday #2

Dr. Strange #177 splash page by Gene Colan

Paying tribute to the late Gene Colan, this week’s slash page comes from Dr. Strange #177. Colan had the chance to design a new costume for he good doctor , thanks to villain Asmodeus taking over his body in the story.

Dr. Strange creates a new physical form when he returns from the supernatural dimension. This page is its big debut, and its a lot more super hero-ish when you compare it to Strange’s classic poofy shirt outfit.The costume is very sleek, with the mask completely covering his face except for the eyes and mouth. I wonder if this costume had any influence on Jack Kirby’s design of Mr. Miracle, who dresses very similar.

This costume was an attempt at revamping the title, which was suffering from low sales. Dr. Strange wound up being cancelled in issue 183, which hit newsstands in November 1969.

Colan’s work on this is really awesome (dare I say ridiculously awesome?). Strange looks like he can beat the tar out of you, as opposed to his usual crazy wizard appearance. The negative space around the figure really makes him pop from the background, with the flares and lightning only emphasizing his power.

In Memoriam: Gene Colan

Gene Colan art featuring Dr. Strange, Captain America, Namor, Daredevil, Iron Man and DraculaThis morning I woke up to find out that comic book art legend Gene Colan had lost his battle with cancer. Mr. Colan was 84 years old. The last few years of his life were certainly difficult, as he faced many serious health issues (including loss of vision and liver disease), the loss of his wife Adrienne, and even a substantial amount of his original comic pages being stolen.

Gene ColanMr. Colan’s career in the comics industry began in 1944, shortly before he served in World War II. His last published work was last year’s Captain America #601, which one an Eisner Award for best single issue. It’s really impressive when you think about a man at that age and suffering from various health complications being able to produce a full length comic at the quality he did.

He produced books for all the major publishers, but I think he will be most remembered for his work at Marvel. Back in their glory days of the 1960s, he was up their with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita, and John and Sal Buscema as the go to guys. His work is iconic; many of the most memorable images of Daredevil, Iron Man, Namor and Dr. Strange were produced by his hands. Not to mention his 70 issue run on Tomb of Dracula, which is a definite achievement in the art form.

Not to mention he co-created the Falcon, one of the (if not the) first African-American super heroes. Here’s a quote from a Marvel Masterworks compilation:

“In the late 1960s Vietnam War and Civil Rights protests were regular occurrences, and Stan, always wanting to be at the forefront of things, started bringing these headlines into the comics. … One of the biggest steps we took in this direction came in Captain America. I enjoyed drawing people of every kind. I drew as many different types of people as I could into the scenes I illustrated, and I loved drawing black people. I always found their features interesting and so much of their strength, spirit and wisdom written on their faces. I approached Stan, as I remember, with the idea of introducing an African-American hero and he took to it right away. … I looked at several African-American magazines, and used them as the basis of inspiration for bringing The Falcon to life.”

He was also responsible for creating Blade, which later went on to become a successful crossover franchise for Marvel in the movie and television world during the early 2000s.

Mr. Colan had an amazing life and career, and the comics world will certainly not forget his accomplishments.