Welcome to my inaugural A to Z post. Hoping this goes well. I will ramble, not got the format licked yet, but heigh-ho.
A is for Astro, Vance Astro
Vance Astro is one of my favourite marvel comics characters of all time, if you are in any doubt of how serious that statement is….
He is best described as a Buck Rogers/Captain America sort of character, with elements of both very much in his origins and usage as a character. He first appeared in issue 18 Marvel Super Heroes back in 1969 as part of the original Guardians of the Galaxy team, created by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan. He was an astronaut in the very near future. He was chosen to be launched into deep space to Centauri IV, a world orbiting the nearest star to ours. Due to the limitations of speed, this journey would take over a thousand years. His blood was replaced with something that could preserve his organs and his skin was coated in a sort of plastic/metallic suit as the preserving agents would not work on his skin. Wrapped in plastic and put to sleep, he was sent away, he woke periodically, listening to tapes about the only thing he loved more than space, super heroes and carried on his 1,000 year journey. When he got there, he learned that 200 or so years after he left, faster than light travel was discovered by a man called Harkov and by the time he got to the Alpha Centauri star system, humanity was already there. Imagine that if you can, you’ve given up everything, home, family, chance for a wife and kids and risked your life and sanity only to find, it wasn’t really needed. Imagine devoting your life to a purpose only to find it almost a joke. When Captain America did something similar (admittedly by accident) he was hailed as a hero and carried on doing what he knew to do, also able to build a life in this new world. Vance couldn’t even take his space suit off. After meeting the Centaurian Yondu Udonta (yeah, not the one from the film) Vance gets caught up in the Badoon genocide that starts their war of occupation of the solar system containing the earth. Along with two other beings, these four form the Guardians of the Galaxy and spend the next 7 years or so battling the Badoon to liberate their oppressed victims.
The reason I like him as a character is that he is very much aware of the Captain America parallels, to be honest all of the Guardians are parallels to the early Avengers, but that’s not today’s topic. He is a man out of time, holding on to his past as he forges a new future. He earned the Shield of Captain America, helped liberate many alien worlds, fell in love, was a teacher, a leader, a soldier. He was gripped with self pity and sadness, but fought his way back. Captain America was always a hero, he was worthy of the shield from the get to, all he needed was the muscle to wield it, but Vance, he had to pick himself up off the floor and keep going. I have never been bitten by a radioactive spider, no one gave me an experimental super soldier serum and I am not from Krypton, but I get the idea of feeling like you’re life is pointless, your tasks without purpose and the idea of time being wasted. But Vance met the right people and kept fighting. He was never the headlining character, but I related to him and when I met the right people (once again a shout-out to the Mighty Rosie) I kept fighting to make my own purpose too. Vance was able to take his suit off eventually and face the open air and then he wasn’t able to later on. But he never gave up. There are allegories I could put in there, but I don’t want to be tacky and heavy handed there. He is an interesting character and one of the few that Disney/Marvel are certain not to put in a movie.
A is for Action Comics
Action Comics was first published in 1938 and to my knowledge has kept being published ever since. It is the comic that is most famous for launching both the character of Siegel & Shuster’s Superman as well as many of the building blocks of super heroes as they were and remain today.
It was for the first few years of it’s creation, an anthology, containing such characters as Tex Thompson, Slam Bradley, Zatara the Magician and Pep Morgan. It was Superman who really launched the comic with a lead with staying power. There are few comics that have had such an impact on pop culture, or culture as a whole. Show the Superman S-symbol anywhere in the world, there’ll be recognition. It’s stories have been pulp adventures, humorous tales, science fiction stories and straight up men in long underwear fare. Every decade it seems to reinvent itself. The Superman strip wasn’t the same from era to era and ran long enough for all to have their favourite runs.
1-20 Earlier issues with a more street level rough and tumble man of steel, a social crusader with a low tolerance for bullies.
252-260 More sci-fi tales introducing many ideas and concepts that people think of as vital.
584-600 Post Crisis fun, starting off as a Superman team up book and then returning to an anthology.
643-675 More Post Crisis fun
Vol 2 1-17 Fantastic run by big Superman fan Grant Morrison.
It’s one of those comics that’ll have something you like somewhere, trick is finding it.
A is for Ages:
Comics are often looked at and described both in story and aesthetic regarding the time they were produced and the contemporary mores that surrounded it, it’s become a short hand for describing comics that works within those in the know. This is a silver age story, that was a bit bronze-age etc. I thought I should look at these ages and see how they can be defined and explained.
The Golden Age:
Between 1938 and 1955 is often called the golden age of comics, considered to start at the publication of Action Comics 1, it became a booming industry, Superman’s creation spawning countless copies, alternate takes and other more different heroes. The first super-heroes, the first super team (the Justice Society of America) the first shared universes and the first super-hero related lawsuits were from this time. The art was blocky and at times simplistic, but told the story, the stories themselves started with a very pulp feel, before changing due to the encroaching world war. Maybe comics as they are wouldn’t have kept on as long as they did without that Zeitgeist of the war. Once the war was over, super heroes weren’t quite so interesting anymore, with crime, romance, western and horror taking a greater prominence.
Afterwards the anti-comics sentiment, fanned by Frederick Werham gutted the comics industry and for a while it seems super-heroes were amongst the casualties.
The Silver Age 1956-1970
Now as far as I see there were in fact two Silver Age starting points. The first one was 1956 with the appointment of Julius (Julie) Schwartz to an editor’s position at DC comics, Schwartz was an agent for sci-fi writers and with the dust having settled since the end of the golden age and the non-use of many of National/DC comics characters (OK, I admit, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were still about) and he wanted to give these titles another shot. His first attempt was the re imagining of the Flash. The Flash was followed by several other relaunch/revamps, including Green Lantern, the Atom and Hawkman, even the super hero team make a comeback with the Justice League of America. The story (mostly disproven) is that DC’s success with that comic led competitor Martin Goodman to ask one of his chief members of staff Stanley (Stan the Man Lee) Lieber to write his own super hero team for Timely (Goodman’s company) to publish. Ready to walk out on the whole industry, Lee wrote the comic he wanted to write and if it worked, yay, if not he’d either be fired or quit and that was OK too. This comic was Fantastic Four no 1 and it became the start of the Marvel Age of comics. Stan Lee was something of a huckster and worked damn hard to create the brand of Marvel as a new and exciting thing, making himself something of a legend. (This was often to the detriment to the artists, but I am not touching that with a bargepole) Both companies had a more solid sci fi basis to their heroes, a stronger supporting cast and once more a sense of shared universes. This was the beginning of a resurgence of comics and of super heroes and the competition pushed Marvel and DC to newer and newer heights.
The Bronze Age
This was more of an organic transition than from gold to silver, many of the characters remained and their stories simply carried on. This was more of a refinement period, not a from the foundation rebuild. There was an influx of new blood, people who were kids during the golden and silver ages and wanted to put their stamp on their heroes. New artists like Neal Adams and Gene Colan, Gil Kane and Jim Starlin and so many more created more relevant, more artistic, more interesting and often more bonkers stories. There was a bit of a return of horror comics and some of the earlier tie-in and licensed comics, including the legendary Star Wars comic that has a special place in history. Continuity was paid more attention to and the idea of these stories going on for decades more was considered a likelyhood. Changes were small or slow and it was more the illusion of change.
The Dark Age/Xtreme Era
This was a time that comics wanted to be taken more seriously, there were larger stories, mini series and for the first time there was mature readers comics and larger bookshelf tales. This was the era of Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Crisis and the maligned Secret Wars. Right in the middle was what I often refer to as the X-treme era of comics. This was when image over word was king, comics that were over priced over everything and ridiculous for many many reasons, We had the start of a massive speculator boom and then the bust that led from the biggest sales since the golden age, to hundreds of comic shops and more than one comics publisher spiralling into bankrupcy. In the later few years an emphasis on writing quality and iconic imagery started to return to the fore.
The Modern age (as it is now)
Where we are now is more about movies, decompressed storytelling, trade paperbacks and gouging the fans of a art-form in severe decline. I don’t know if history will be kind to this era.
That’s just how I see, your mileage my vary.
Well anyway for your patience and understanding… here’s Angel & Ape
Next Time: Would it be patronising to say B?