Tags Matching: Steve Ditko

Rugged Individualist Friday

Now I know I promised you something you’d actually want to buy today, and I think I have. Some of you will balk and feign disinterest, but you’ll eventually have to admit that original art from two of comic history’s biggest wingnuts is worth the asking price (even at many thousands…). Both men are among the most fiercely independent and bizarre to ever contribute to comics. And boy did they contribute. These are shadows none of us can get out from under, nor should we want to.

Dave Sim, everyone.

Please show your respect for Mr. Steve Ditko.

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For Asgard, Ron Frenz!

Nothing makes me pine for the winter weather like a good Asgard story. All these glorious Vikings, Valkyries, and Frost Giants fighting… So cool. And for about a six year period, Ron Frenz did it better than almost anyone.

He had big shoes to fill. Saying that is about as much of an understatement as it can get. Sal Buscema did a one year run, but before that was the even present shadow of writer/artist Walt Simonson, who’s run still stands as the best on THOR. But Frenz put forth an effort that did not fall short, and though some of the stories felt dense (honestly, most Thor books of the day had this problem. can’t fault the artist) the pace and ability to just jam the pages with action was brilliant.

His style echoed of the greats like Steve Ditko and even moreso, the great Jack Kirby. Outside of George Perez, no one knew how to fill the page quite like Ron Frenz in the 1980’s, and with style like that, you know you’re doing pretty dang good.

That’s all for my original art bender. I think I got it out of my system for today.
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Coast to Coast with the Blue Beetle.

One of the things most people don’t know or realize about the Blue Beetle, is that the character is actually really old. Like pre World War 2 old. Batman only predates him by a whooping 3 months, though as originally created, the Blue Beetle was almost definitely one of many Bat-copies from the time period.

Originally published by Fox Comics, Dan Garrett was a police man (with requisite murdered parent) who became a costumed crime fighter. Much like the original Green Arrow, he was a straight Bat-copy; driving a Beetle-mobile, flying a Beetle-Bird plane, and carrying a Beetle signal to strike fear into the hearts of criminals (and like the original Batman, he also carried a gun). But he also had a pill called vitamin 2X, that would temporarily give him super powers should he need them for a case.

For a character we now think of as strictly B list, the original Blue Beetle actually got a lot of press. I don’t know how popular the character actually was, but he was popular enough to not only get a newspaper strip, but to get a half year run as a national radio show in 1940. The original comic ran until 1950. 14 years later, Charlton Comics now held the rights, and brought the character back in his own title, though in a much less serious vein.

Yeah. From smashing spy rings and arresting criminals to fighting giant mummies (who aren’t dead). Still, that is what was going on with superhero comics at the time, so you can’t really blame them. While still superficially the same, the character received a completely revamped origin, going from policeman with murdered father to archaeologist who found an ancient scarab that would give him superpowers. This version of the Beetle lasted a mere 2 years, before he was replaced with the original version that most of us who grew up on comics in the 80s and 90s are now familiar with.

Brought to life by comics legend Steve Ditko, the Ted Kord Blue Beetle is the one most modern fans know and love. This Blue Beetle took aspects of both versions of the Dan Garrett Beetle, and combined with a dash of Ditko’s best known creation: Spider Man. A wise cracking genius type, Kord was a student of Dan Garrett, and inherited the mantle when Garrett died fighting Kord’s maniac robot building uncle (don’t ask). Unlike the Garrett Blue Beetle however, Kord’s Beetle never utilized the mystic powers of the scarab; Ditko preferred a more street level hero, so he simply had Kord never figure out how to make it work. Instead, he flew around in a giant Beetle shaped plane, and used a “BB gun” that shot blinding light and air blasts. DC kept this origin intact when they purchased the rights to the character in the 80s as part of their acquisition of the Charlton superheroes, though they did add a splash more of Batman back into the character by making him head of his own company, Kord Industries.

The DC Beetle’s solo series only lasted 2 years, and while a guilty pleasure of mine (I was a big fan of bad guys, and Beetle had some good ones, like Catalyst, a stereotypical poison super villain, and the Hybrid, X-men stand ins who were actually Teen Titans villains, but had a 2 issue spot in Blue Beetle where they turned one of Kord Industries employee’s into one of their number) was fun but relatively uneventful. It was only later that Ted Kord would gain greater fame in a more comedic vein as a member of the Keith Giffen era Justice League International, and then a few short years ago become infamous when DC kicked off it’s systematic destruction of that era by having former JLI figure head (and Sam Neil look alike) Max Lord shoot him in the head.

DC then proceeded to replace Ted with a new, scarab powered Blue Beetle with a futuristic robot look named Jamie Reyes, a Hispanic teenager. By all accounts it was a good book, that was canceled too soon, and the Reyes Beetle is arguably the best of DC’s many late 00’s politically correct replacements for classic B list characters (I will never accept Renee Montoya as The Question, sorry). But for me, the Ted Kord Blue Beetle is the version that stands out the best.

80 pages of Ted Kord being made relevant again, ending with his brains on the carpet. But hey, it’s autographed!

After they blow him to bits… the adventure begins!

One of the things that kind of sucked being a kid in the mid 1980s was that a lot of the more serious turns many comic books took were kind of lost on a 10 year old me. Sure, I knew a comic like Suicide Squad was awesome, but it was awesome to me because it was super villains teaming up to do spy stuff, and holy crap they could DIE. The actual Cold War and political intrigue stuff was lost on me at the time. DC’s original Captain Atom reboot was cool to me in the same way. Sure, half the time I didn’t know what was going on, but the concept was AWESOME.

Originally published by Charlton Comics, Captain Atom’s only real claim to fame was that he was co-created by comics legend Steve Ditko (tho this was enough to make him one of Charlton’s most popular characters). He was just one of several nuclear powered superheroes that came out during the nuclear power years of the late 50s and 60s, and there wasn’t much to make him stick out. Just another scientist who gained super powers via an accident. It wasn’t until the Charlton Comics line was purchased by DC in the 80s that the character was taken in a direction that made him more interesting.

Dig that tag line. And DC made good on it too. The new Captain Atom was a Vietnam era Air Force captain and family man who had been unjustly accused of murder and treason, and forced to participate in a mysterious government experiment involving an alien alloy in order to gain a pardon. That experiment? GETTING BLOWN UP WITH AN ATOM BOMB. Tell me that’s not one of the coolest origins ever.

“So, how’d you get your superpowers?”
“Oh a spider bit me. How about you?”
“I volunteered to be blown up with an atom bomb.”

So yeah, the man agrees to be blown up with an atom bomb in order to at least clear his name for his family’s sake, only to merge with the alien alloy and get blown forward 18 years in time, where he finds that the jerk Colonel who forced him to be in the experiment had married his wife, raised his kids, and had him declared dead rather than issue his pardon. To add insult to injury, the government uses the old charges to force him to go to work as a government super hero under the command of a certain jerk General who once upon a time used to just be a jerk Colonel.

Sure, the Captain can now fly, and shoot energy blasts, and gets to run around mostly naked because he now looks like a shiny silver Ken doll, but he’s stuck being bossed around by the guy who got him blown up and married his wife (who’s now dead), his now grown kids hate his guts and don’t know he’s alive, and he has to pretend to be somebody else while getting used to 18 years of a changed world. Great, great concept for it’s time. A little bit of Quantum Leap, a hearty sci-fi tinged dose of the Rip Van Winkle archetype, a dash of soap opera, and of course some traditional superhero fisticuffs.

Despite a stint with the Justice League during the popular Giffen/DeMatteis era, the Captain never really got a chance to shine on his own again once his series was canceled in 1991, and quickly became nothing more than a go to big gun for when a big gun character was needed. Even worse, the character was recently shunted off into the Wild Storm universe, where he did pretty much nothing, then was brought back and shoe horned into a villain role during Countdown to Final Crisis, making good on the early 90s plans to reveal him to as Monarch, the big bad guy behind the Armageddon 2001 mini series (the plans had been scrapped when the idea leaked, and they changed the identity of Monarch to Hawk, from Hawk and Dove, at the last minute. Which of course made zero sense based on the story that had been told up until the reveal).

Nowadays, the Captain has been cured of his villainous tendencies (courtesy of some convenient amnesia) and is running around in some magical mystical castle world. Yeah, don’t ask me. You’d think a character that was the basis for Doctor Manhattan would get better treatment. Lord knows that jerk General is doing well. He had his mind put in the body of an invincible immortal giant (with tusks), and was last seen trying to stage a hostile take over of the Suicide Squad…

Poor Captain Atom. After all this time, his nemesis still has a more stable life than he does.

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