Thursday, 19 July 2018

Marvel Years 03.12 - Dec 1963

The month December 1963 is significant in the history of Marvel comics. It's the month in which the first two-part stories were published, in Tales to Astonish (Giant-Man and the Wasp) and Journey into Mystery (Thor).

Tales to Astonish #50

Title: The Human Top

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Human Top (Dave Cannon)

Giant-Man battles with a young thief who can spin like a top. He's too fast and too agile for Giant-Man to catch him. The Wasp is unable to offer much help.

This is the first half of a two-part story. After his defeat by the Human Top Giant-Man prepares to face him again next issue.

This issue also contains three short anthology stories.

Journey into Mystery #99

Title: The Mysterious Mister Hyde

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck

Regulars: Jane Foster, Odin

Villain: Mister Hyde (Calvin Zabo)

This is the first half of another two-part story written by Stan Lee. The medical doctor Calvin Zabo suspects that Robert Louis Stevenson based his novel "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" on something that really happened. He experiments until he has invented a formula which will transform himself into a powerful creature that he calls Mister Hyde. After this initial transformation he can change himself to his normal human form and back by will power.

Thor begs his father Odin for the permission to marry Jane Foster. Odin says a God may not marry a mortal, but he will make Jane an immortal if she proves herself worthy.

The story ends on a cliffhanger. Thor seems to have turned evil, as proved when he robs a bank.

Title: Surtur the Fire Demon

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Gods: Odin

In a short story based on Norse legends, Odin fights and defeats Surtur. The story also shows how the Moon was created.

This issue also contains a short anthology story.

Fantastic Four #21

Title: The Hate-Monger

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Hate-Monger (Adolf Hitler)

Regulars: Alicia Masters

Guests: Nick Fury

A hate preacher has started speaking in New York City, inciting the citizens to turn against foreigners. At first Reed Richards says that it's none of the Fantastic Four's business because America is a free country and people are allowed to say anything they want. He changes his mind when he sees violence in the streets.

Note the mixture of positive and negative language. This is always the start. "Cleaning up the country" sounds positive, doesn't it? Everyone wants law and order.

The second step is to reveal what the "cleaning up" really means. It's about the elimination of everything that's different. The foreigners have to be sent back where they came from. This is a foolish statement to make in America, because it's a country in which almost everyone is a foreigner.

And the third step is violence. Any so-called foreigner who won't voluntarily go back where he came from is attacked.

At the end of the story it's revealed that the Hate-Monger is Adolf Hitler. In later stories we find out that a Nazi scientist has been creating clones of Hitler, so his death in this comic isn't the end.

Nick Fury (now a colonel) meets Reed Richards for the first time since Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #3. Note that he doesn't yet wear an eye patch.

Amazing Spider-Man #7

Title: The Return of the Vulture

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Vulture

Regulars: Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant, Flash Thompson, Liz Allan

The Vulture escapes from prison, after Spider-Man captured him in Amazing Spider-Man #2.

In this comic a romance starts to blossom between Peter Parker and Betty Brant. Isn't he too young for her? He can't be older than 15 in this comic, and Betty Brant must be at least 18 as the personal secretary of a newspaper editor.

Tales of Suspense #48

Title: The Mysterious Mr. Doll

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Mr. Doll

Regulars: Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan

An unnamed man has stolen a voodoo doll from a witch doctor in Africa. If he changes the face of the doll to that of a person he can cause that person pain by squeezing the doll.

In this issue Tony Stark changes his suit again. He gives up his heavy suit because it was consuming too much power to move and slowed him down. Now he has built a lighter suit. I'll reprint all three pages of the description here.

Iron Man's suit changes were a recurring feature in the first few years. This is his third suit in ten issues.

This issue also contains a short anthology story.

Strange Tales #115

Title: The Sandman Strikes

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Dick Ayers

Villain: Sandman

Regulars: Reed Richards

Guests: Spider-Man

The Sandman was arrested after being defeated by Spider-Man in Amazing Spider-Man #4. All this time he's been relaxing in prison. He could have escaped at any time, as the guards should have known. How can you keep a man locked up who can transform his body into sand any time he wants?

After escaping he wants to find Spider-Man to take revenge, but the Human Torch insists on challenging him first.

Title: The Origin of Dr. Strange

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Baron Mordo

Regulars: Ancient One

This is the origin of Dr. Strange. In the comics he was a lot more unpleasant as a surgeon than he was in the recent film. In the comics he had no regard for human life, it was all about money.

Read the editor's note above for an example of Stan Lee's humour. He claims that he and Steve Ditko have to squeeze in Dr. Strange stories between their busy schedule writing Spider-Man stories. He should have mentioned Iron Man as well. In fact, Stan Lee wrote everything published by Marvel. In addition to the six comics that I've reviewed this month he also wrote Rawhide Kid #37, Kathy #26, Modelling with Millie #28, Patsy Walker #112 and Patsy and Hedy #91. That's a total of 12 comics in December 1963, which was a quiet month because he had written 14 comics in November. Excelsior!

This issue also contains a short anthology story.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Queen of Katwe (5 Stars)

"Queen of Katwe" is a Walt Disney film. We know what Disney films are about, don't we? They're about fantasy stories and fairy tales, usually involving children. In that respect this is a typical Disney film. It's about a 10-year-old girl whose family lives in poverty. She can't read or write and she has to sell maize in the street, but within a few years she becomes rich and famous.

What's unypical about this Disney film is that the story is true. It really happened. It's not even a true story from the Middle Ages. The story started in 2006 in Katwe, a slum on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda.

Let me digress for a moment. Very few things make me angry, but one of them is the picture of illiterate children being forced to work to support their family. Any government that allows this to happen doesn't deserve to exist. The government should be overthrown by force, by foreign powers if necessary, and replaced by rulers who offer education to every child in the country regardless of his parents' wealth or social status.

Education is a right, not a privilege. Poverty isn't always the reason for a lack of education. More commonly it's the uneven distribution of wealth. Nigeria is supposedly a rich country because of its oil exports, but recent statistics claim that 64% of the population have never been to school, making it the world's most primitive country. The country's wealth is hoarded by families in Lagos and a few other large cities. The rest of the country is left to rot.

Phiona Mutesi was born in 1996, and she's the third of five children. Her father and her oldest sister died of AIDS. In 2006 she began to visit a missionary centre because the children were given a cup of porridge. When there she was taught how to play chess. Despite never having had a school education she had a natural aptitude for chess. Her skill was recognised, so money was collected to send her to chess tournaments in Sudan and Russia. In parallel she was taught how to read and write by a private tutor, then sent to a school with the fees paid by the Christian mission. By 2012 she had earned enough money to buy her mother a house.

This is a fairy tale. This is miraculous. Of course, it couldn't happen to everyone. Phiona Mutesi was a highly intelligent child, and when she was given a lucky break she grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

The film was made in 2016, only four years after the final events in the story. It's unusual for a biographical film to be made so soon after the events on which it's based. This made it possible for the film to be accurate, because the characters portrayed could supervise the film themselves. Here we see the real Phiona Mutesi alongside Madina Nalwanga who played her in the film. Phiona is 20, Madina is 16.

This is Phiona's mother Nakku Harriet alongside the actress who portrayed her, Lupita Nyong'o.

And this is the missionary Robert Katende alongside David Oyelowo who portrays him.

The film is so uplifting in the way it shows Phiona's success, but it's also heartbreaking to see the many other children who will never have the chance that she had. Can anyone watch "Queen of Katwe" without being deeply moved?

A lot of fuss has been made about "Black Panther" as a film showing black empowerment. It's definitely a good film, but "Queen of Katwe" is better. The acting and cinematography are perfect, but what makes it so powerful is that it's all true. Isn't it strange that it still hasn't been released outside of America?

Boogie Woogie (3 Stars)

This is a film with a world class cast that fails to live up to its promise. It's about the intrigues in the art world in London. (The film was originally meant to be set in New York, but it was relocated to London to save costs).

Alfred Rhinegold (Christopher Lee) is an aged art collector who is facing bankruptcy. He only has one thing of value, a painting by Piet Mondrian valued at £15 million, but he refuses to part with it for sentimental reasons. He bought it from Mondrian personally 50 years ago for £500 cash. His wife Alfreda (Joanna Lumley) conspires with her butler to encourage offers from art collectors to tempt him to sell. In the course of the film the bids rise to £30 million, but he still refuses to sell.

The intrigues aren't just about the art business, they're also sexual. Bob Macclestone (Stellan Skarsgard) and his wife Jean (Gillian Anderson) are happily married, as far as outward appearances go. Bob likes to have sex with younger women, but it's nothing serious. He always goes home to his wife. Jean has always been faithful, but after being seduced by a young artist she decides to get a divorce and move in with him. That was a bad choice. For her it was love, for the artist it was a one-night stand, because he's already having an affair with the art gallery owner Beth Freemantle (Heather Graham).

Bob admires the paintings with his wife.

Paige (Amanda Seyfried) also admires the paintings.

So Bob and Paige go to dinner to talk about what they have in common. He doesn't even suspect his wife wants to leave him.

I haven't even begun to describe all the intrigues in the film. Everyone is involved with everyone else, whether it's business or pleasure.

I would have enjoyed the film more if it had contained more comedy. There are several satirical scenes, especially at the end of the film, but they're all played with deadpan seriousness. Despite featuring several of my favourite actors the film failed to enthral me.

Another problem for me is that I have no understanding for art. I know what I like and what I don't, but I can't put a value on a painting.

This is the Mondrian painting hanging proudly on the wall. I admit that it looks good, and I might pay five pounds for a print, but is it really worth £15 million? Not to me. I wouldn't pay such a large sum even if I were rich enough.

I'd rather look at a beautiful girl. Wouldn't you? That's something I can appreciate.

Order from
Order from
Order from

Monday, 16 July 2018

Glen Or Glenda (4 Stars)

This film was made in 1953 and was later called one of the worst films ever made. After its first theatrical release it disappeared until it was restored and released on videotape in 1982. Why did the studios bother releasing it for the home video market if it was so bad? Maybe the subject matter is a reason. It was a revolutionary film for the time when it was made, discussing subjects that weren't considered appropriate for public debate until 50 years later.

The film opens with an  narrator, an unnamed scientist who looks like someone from a 1930's horror film. His appearance is hardly surprising because it's Bela Lugosi doing what he does best. He's more than a scientist, he's an omniscient being who can relax in his armchair and watch the struggles of the human race. He observes a police officer, Inspector Warren, investigate the suicide of a man dressed in women's clothing. Puzzled by this he visits a psychiatrist, Dr. Alton, to ask him why a man would dress this way. From this point on Dr. Alton takes over as the film's main narrator, relating two stories to explain the subject.

The first story is about a man called Glen who likes to put on women's clothing. As Dr. Alton stresses repeatedly, Glen isn't a homosexual and he has no wish to become a woman. He merely likes to look like a woman. This activity makes him a transvestite, a common word today, but it was a new concept to Inspector Warren. Glen has been engaged for a year and wants to marry soon, but he's afraid of the consequences if he tells his fiancee about his fetish.

The second story is about an air force pilot called Alan who likes to wear women's underwear beneath his normal clothes.

The psychiatrist explains to the inspector that these two cases look the same, but there are different reasons behind the transvestism and the men have to be treated differently. Glen was never loved by his parents, so he wears women's clothing for comfort. He can only give up this fetish if he finds a new loving relationship.

Alan is a pseudo-hermaphrodite. A full hermaphrodite is a person born with the genitalia of both man and woman. A pseudo-hermaphrodite is also a person who has both genitalia, but one of them is underdeveloped and can't be seen. In cases like this the person has to decide which gender he wants to be, and the unwanted genitalia can be removed by an operation.

Although sex change operations are mentioned in the film – and on the film poster! – neither of these cases involves a sex change. Glen is a man who has a clothing fetish that has nothing to do with his sexuality. Alan is a man who has two sexes in his body, and he has to choose which one he prefers.

I admit, the film is disjointed. The mysterious scientist sporadically appears during the film, detracting from the informational value. There's also an extended dream sequence which involves whipping, stripping and other activities. If I wanted to be kind I'd claim that this is to show that transvestism is just one of many fetishes, all of which should be tolerated. In actual fact George Weiss, who financed the film, insisted on inserting these unrelated scenes to make the film more exciting.

The story of Glen, which takes up most of the film's running time, is self-exploration by the writer and director Ed Wood. He enjoyed wearing women's clothing, but had only done so in the privacy of his own home. After writing "Glen or Glenda" he found the courage to appear in women's clothing in public. This subject is dealt with in the biographical film "Ed Wood".

We can be thankful for "Ed Wood", the film made in 1994. Even though it had been available for 12 years nobody paid attention to "Glen or Glenda". I'd never even heard of it before I saw "Ed Wood". People only knew Ed Wood's more famous film, "Plan 9 from Outer Space". After 1994 there was more general interest in "Glen or Glenda", and several critics have reevaluated it. It would be wrong to call it a masterpiece, but it's certainly not one of the worst films ever made. It has a bizarre aesthetic quality. I recommend watching it in a pitch black room with a glass of beer at your side.

Marvel Years 03.11 - Nov 1963

Fantastic Four #20

Title: The Mysterious Molecule Man

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Molecule Man

Regulars: Alicia Masters

Guests: The Watcher

The Molecule Man is introduced as one of the most powerful beings in the universe, so powerful that the Watcher warns the Fantastic Four against him. As such it's surprising, even disappointing, that he was never used again until the 1970's. He became an important character in the post-canon age.

In this comic we almost meet the Yancy Street Gang. A gang member aids the Fantastic Four, but his face isn't shown clearly.

Once more the Baxter Building is ripped from its foundations and is held floating over Times Square. Why does anyone want to risk living there?

There's a bad continuity error on the second page. After finding an acorn inside a meteor he says it's proof that "some sort of life must exist in outer space". Pardon? Didn't he know that already? Has he forgotten the Skrulls (Fantastic Four #2), the Impossible Man (Fantastic Four #11) and the Watcher (Fantastic Four #13)?

Amazing Spider-Man #6

Title: Face to Face with the Lizard

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Lizard (Curtis Connors)

Regulars: Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant, Flash Thompson, Liz Allan

Unlike in the previous comics, Spider-Man's opponent isn't an evil person. Dr. Curtis Connors invented a potion to help himself regrow the arm that he lost in World War Two. A side effect is that it also turned him into a human lizard, with great physical strength but a new personality. If Spider-Man can somehow change him back to his human form he'll be a good man again.

Tales to Astonish #49

Title: The Birth of Giant-Man

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Eraser

Until now Henry Pym has been known as Ant-Man. In this issue the logical progression is made: instead of shrinking he makes himself larger, turning into a new superhero called Giant-Man. Although he can theoretically become any size he wants he decides on the size 12 foot, i.e. double his normal height.

The Eraser is a scientist from another dimension, a different universe that exists parallel to our own.The dimension is called Dimension Z. Stan Lee sure liked picking corny names! The Eraser has been seemingly wiping people out of existence, but in actual fact he's been transferring them to Dimension Z.

This issue also contains two short anthology stories.

Journey into Mystery #98

Title: Challenged by the Human Cobra

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck

Regulars: Jane Foster, Odin

Villain: Cobra

Peter Parker became Spider-Man after being accidentally bitten by a radioactive Spider. A scientist in India thinks that such accidents can be encouraged to happen deliberately. He and his assistant Klaus allow themselves to be bitten by a radioactive cobra. The scientist dies, but Klaus lives on, endued with the strength and capabilities of a snake.

In this issue Jane Foster returns to Doctor Blake after realising that her new boss is a spineless coward.

Title: Odin battles Ymir, King of the Ice Giants

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Gods: Odin

In a short story based on Norse legends, Odin fights and defeats the ice giant Ymir.

This issue also contains a short anthology story.

Tales of Suspense #47

Title: Iron Man battles the Melter

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Melter (Bruno Horgan)

Regulars: Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan

A former business competitor of Tony Stark has designed a ray with which he can instantly melt iron. Is this the one power against which Iron man can't defend himself?

In the following years he became a frequent adversary of the Avengers.

Are you wondering why I sometimes state the real names of super villains and sometimes not? The answer is simple. If the comic that I'm writing about gives the villain's name I tell you what it is. Often the name isn't stated. It's possible that the villain will be named in later comics, maybe in the post-canon years, but I don't give that information here. If you're really interested you can find it in the online Marvel database.

This issue also contains a short anthology story.

Strange Tales #114

Title: The Human Torch meets Captain America

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villains: Acrobat

Regulars: Susan Storm, Doris Evans

Carl Zante, the Acrobat, first seen in Strange Tales #106, returns in the guise of Captain America. But maybe I shouldn't tell you that, because it's a spoiler.

Title: The Return of the Omnipotent Baron Mordo

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Baron Mordo

Regulars: Ancient One, Victoria Bentley

After a gap of two months, presumably waiting for the reader response to arrive, Doctor Strange becomes the regular backup feature in Strange Tales. This is the first step in removing the anthology stories from this long running comic. There's no anthology story in this issue, but a few appear in later issues until the transition from anthology comic to superhero comic is complete.

This is the first issue in which Doctor Strange's teacher is called the Ancient One. In previous stories he was called the Master (with or without a capital M),

The young woman Victoria Bentley is given a big build up, as if she's destined to become a regular character, but we don't see her again for another four years.

The Avengers #2

Title: The Space Phantom

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Avengers: Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man, Wasp, Hulk

Villain: Space Phantom

Regulars: Rick Jones

This issue takes place at the same time as Tales To Astonish #49. We can assume that the first two pages take place before Tales To Astonish #49, because Henry Pym was still Ant-Man. The rest of the story takes place after it.

We see that the relationship with the Hulk is already strained. He's not a team player, and he argues constantly with the other Avengers.

The Space Phantom is a being from a distant planet who can assume the body and powers of anyone he wishes.

X-Men #2

Title: No one can stop the Vanisher

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

X-Men: Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman, Marvel Girl

Villain: Vanisher

Regulars: Professor X

The X-Men meet a mutant who can teleport instantaneously. In the early months of their comic the X-Men were the heroes who were the most detached from the rest of the Marvel Universe. Mutants only appear in the X-Men comics, nowhere else.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #4

Title: Lord Ha-Ha's Last Laugh

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Nazis

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos parachute into Berlin to capture the notorious British man who has been broadcasting propaganda for the Germans. Before leaving for Germany Sgt. Fury met Lord Ha-Ha's father, who said he believed that his son had been tortured into betraying his country. This was the naive optimism of a father. The Commandos rescue Lord Ha-Ha, but he doesn't want to be rescued and runs back to the Germans.

During the Second World War there was a propaganda broadcaster called Lord Haw-Haw. The Sgt. Fury comics usually refer to real life war characters, so I assume it's merely a spelling mistake. There were several broadcasters who used this name, but it's most commonly associated with the Irish American William Joyce.

This is a significant comic, because it's the first time a member of the Howling Commandos is killed in action. Jonathan Juniper, nicknamed Junior, dies on the battlefield, reducing the number of Commandos to six.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Off-Topic: World Cup 2018

The football World Cup, most commonly known simply as the World Cup, is the second biggest sporting event of the world, after the Olympic Games. For this reason they're conveniently scheduled so that they take place alternately. Both events take place in four-yearly intervals, so they can be evenly spaced out.

Whoever wins the tournament – it's always been a European or a South American team – the World Cup has always been an opportunity for peace. Today France won the final match against Croatia, but there's no enmity. President Emmanuel Macron of France and President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic of Croatia walked to the awards ceremony hand in hand like a newly wed couple.

Even before the match was over the couple were observed getting close to one another in the VIP box.

A picture says a thousand words. Vladimir Putin looks on, trying his best to smile, all the while asking himself "Why doesn't she hold me like that?"

At the awards ceremony, surrounded by men in drab suits and soaked by pouring rain, Kolinda stood out like a ray of sunshine in her colourful Croatian team shirt.

She profusely hugged Luka Modric, who was voted the best player of the 2018 World Cup.

Hugs aren't enough for Kolinda. She had to stroke Luka's face.

Then she gave him a second hug. Wasn't Emmanuel getting jealous?

Poor little Luka was practically suffocated by the hugs.

All the other Croatian players received hugs. I have to point out that Kolinda is an expert in hugging. Hugs should always involve skin contact, in this case fingers and bare arms on the neck.

So many men, so little time. She's already eyeing the next player.

Not even the rain could put Kolinda off. Or did the rain make the hugs better?

Her favourite players even received a kiss.

Kolinda especially enjoyed the hug from Ivan Strinic. I wonder where his hands were.

Hugging is fun. Hugging is addictive. Everyone should hug more often.

But Kolinda has a serious word for Milan Badelj. "Look at me! Not that other girl!"

Kolinda looks like she's getting high from all the hugging.

Croatia's goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic kept his hands on the ball, and Kolinda keeps her hands tightly on him.

I don't know who that man on the right is, but he's getting impatient. Will the hugging never end?

"Look at the time. That's enough hugging, Kolinda, I'm getting soaked!"

"I give up! I think the players are queuing up for a second hug".

Kolinda is saying, "We should really do this again in 2022".

The Croatian team wasn't enough for Kolinda. She had to hug the French as well. Kylian Mbappe's hands must have been shaking. Emmanuel Macron has to help him support his trophy.

Even the referees got hugs.

"Come a bit closer. I don't bite".

Not all the referees resisted her.

I wouldn't resist Kolinda's hugs. Would you?

I bet he hasn't been hugged like that for years.

Now Emmanuel finally has to say something. "Do I really have to stand here in the rain watching you hugging other men?"

Evidently Emmanuel can't persuade her to stop. She hasn't got through hugging all the French players yet.

Do you get the impression that Kolinda prefers the goalkeepers? It must be the things they do with their hands.

The officials also get wet hugs. They deserve them.

"Zlatko, darling, I've saved my biggest hug for you".

"You're shivering. Is it the rain, or are you getting excited?"

"Don't worry, Zlatko, this will be our little secret".