Friday, October 15, 2010

Fabian Nicieza and Erik Larsen's unused 1991 "X-Factor" proposal

In 1991, the X-Titles were up in the air, as all the books, with the exception of Larry Hama's Wolverine, lost their creative teams - including Chris Claremont, who wrote the X-Books since 1976, an incredible 15 years. On the other hand, the X-Men were at the height of their popularity: X-Men #1 sold 8.3 million copies, numbers not seen since the Golden Age. There was talk of movies (back in the day when no comic ever got a movie) and an animated series was on the way. So the X-Titles were not only superpopular but also looking for a new direction, a winning combination for really dynamic new proposals.

We all know how all of this ultimately turned out: X-Factor, which was originally a team book with the original five X-Men, which Peter David revamped with characters the X-Office wasn't using, as a government sponsored mutant superteam that received paychecks from Uncle Sam for fighting evil. It was great to see Alex Summers leading his own superteam, as well as old standby favorites like Quicksilver, Wolfsbane, and Polaris.

But it almost didn't happen if Bob Harras had instead gone with Fabian Nicieza and Erik Larsen's proposal for the team!

The above image was the only part of it. Notice that the only two characters to remain the same between the Nicieza proposal and the Peter David run were Havok and Polaris. People forget this, but in Uncanny #250, Lorna Dane lost her magnetic powers and gained tremendous size and superstrength in the Savage Land.

Incidentally, the Erik Larsen costume design for Havok and Pyro (yes, the proposal had Pyro reforming and becoming a good guy) are my favorite, which isn't that hard considering how Alex Summers has never had an interesting look.

Two characters in the proposal would later be used by Erik Larsen in other projects. The cyborg design was re-used by Larsen for the successful Super-Patriot series, and the cute but monstrous lizard girl became a part of Larsen's comic Freak Force. The girl dinosaur would have, as I understand, been a heretofore unseen member of the Morlocks that joined X-Factor.

All things considered, even though the proposal was rejected, things worked out fine. Erik Larsen would go on to found Image and become a multimillionaire, and Fabian Nicieza created with Mark Bagley "the super-team for the 90s," the New Warriors.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt: Unleash the Powers of the Mind!

Did you ever see a character and say to yourself, "this guy is too cool for words. Why aren't they a bigger deal than they actually are?"

Two of my favorite DC characters were always in that category: the villainous Kobra and Pete Morisi's sixties hero, Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt.

First, check out the house ad up top for his first Post-Crisis series. Pretty groovy, eh?

One thing that always blew my mind about Thunderbolt was how he's the only superhero I can think of where his archenemy is a real historical person: Queen Evila, the Ancient Egyptian immortal sorceress, was outright stated to have been Hatshepsut II, who in real world history was the only female Pharaoh other than Cleopatra.

Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt has the extreme distinction of having his imitators and outright ripoffs be more famous than he is. First, there's Iron Fist, who Chris Claremont has flat-out said in every single interview given on the topic was a character "inspired" by Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt: their origins are the same, the American baby raised in Tibet after a plane crash. And everyone knows the role the Charleton heroes played in the creation of the Watchmen, with Dr. Manhattan as an expy for Captain Atom, Rorschach as the Question, and so forth....and Ozymandias was the inspiration and starting point for Ozymandias, with his tremendous speed, martial knowledge, and mystic obsessions.

The common "Marvel Zombie" attitude is that DC is staffed by old phogeys that are totally out of touch with popular culture. And every time I am inclined to think that's an unfair and undeserved stereotype DC does something that reminds me of how totally legitimate it is, by their total failure to cash in on the pop culture zeitgeist.

When Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica was a big deal, DC unveiled their sorry afterthought, Gerry Conway's Atari Force. Marvel, meanwhile, responded to the Star Wars craze by doing Star Wars comics. Then you have DC's years-too-late attempts to cash in on the Martial Arts craze, featuring a lily-white dude (I'm just saying!) named Richard Dragon.

A few recent failures to capture the imagination come to mind. For instance, Barry Allen was a police scientist years and years before the public fascination with scientific/forensic police work and had been dead for decades by the time of the CSI craze. Though in that case it's probably for the best that Barry stayed dead, if Barry was alive, he could have a lot of cachet to do something audiences like.

The second example I can think of is the current popularity of Avatar: the Last Airbender. I'm sure someone must know of the untapped potential here! My God, Peter Cannon could be DC's answer to Avatar! Avatar was a series about a hero raised by Tibetan monks that constantly reincarnates over and over. That's the same with Thunderbolt, also called Vranya (which is a real Indian word, incidentally).

Friday, October 8, 2010

The bad guys have a point

Hey, remember the evil Senator bad guy from the first X-Men movie? We're all supposed to view him as some ugly fascist type, but the thing is, he was mostly right.

"There's a girl in Illinois that can walk through walls. What's to stop her from going into a bank vault?"

I know he's supposed to be a bad guy, a cookie cutter fascist, but that's a pretty darn good point. Mutants can be dangerous and powerful and should be registered and controlled just like the government responsibly registers and controls firearms and explosives. I just don't get why this senator is supposed to be the bad guy of this movie. Jeez, they even went to the trouble to hire a guy that specializes in playing unlikeable assholes, Bruce Davidson, better known as the guy that abandoned Captain Picard when he was a Prisoner of War of the Cardassians.

Then you have the movie "I am Sam," the film that gave the world the ghoulish Dakota Fanning. It's supposed to be a feel-good airplane movie about how love triumphs, where a retarded man wants custody of his daughter. Now, no matter how much goodwill you might have toward a guy as charismatic as Sean Penn, the "bad guys" in the film are totally right: no responsible person could agree that a mentally challenged man shouldn't have full sole custody of a child.

Finally, we have the series True Blood, which a friend of mine lent to me on DVD. The movie explicitly compares vampires to the gays. That isn't in doubt; the show's metaphoric power comes from that. Because an artificial blood supplement has been invented, vampires don't have to feed on humans anymore, and they "come out of the coffin" (a pun that's typical of the show's ah, humor) and demand equal rights. The people that oppose Vampire rights on talk shows tend to be stiff religious types that mention the Good Lord a lot. Their point of view is predictably not that well developed. People that don't care for Vampires are usually (at the very least) unenlightened or downright ignorant.

The thing is, though, the bad guys are pretty much right and the comparison of Vampires to gays is pretty weak. A better comparison would be to registered sex offenders. How comfortable would you be with one in your neighborhood, especially if you have children? And for the same reason. Vampires have a biological, inarguable need for human blood. In the series, all Vampires have the ability to hypnotize others into doing their bidding.

And consider that the blood supplement was only invented two years before the show started. Unless a Vampire was only created after that two-year mark, and the overwhelming majority were not, that means that prior to two years, they had to get their blood from something. The reveal of Vampires should have been accompanied by the same scenario that occurred in former Communist and Fascist countries, where now that there's transparency, a corrupt judiciary and military could be prosecuted for past crimes.

Registered sex offenders are treated differently from other people for the following reasons:
  1. They have demonstrated by their actions to be a danger to society;
  2. They have drives and urges that make them a continuing danger even if they're incredibly conscientious.

Vampires in True Blood meet both of those criteria. If I lived near a Vampire, I'd want him to have a bright orange mailbox. So, yeah, you do your thing, Straw Man redneck godbotherer preacher that doesn't like Vampires!

Incidentally, the only thing I can remember about the show, the single image that stays in my head, is everyone saying "Sookie" with a breathy voice something like 30 times an episode. It reminds me of how the only concrete images I have of the X-Men cartoon from the 1990s was someone yelling "JEAAAAAAN!" every episode and Professor X screaming and fainting. It's sort of like how in Poltergeist III, it feels like someone yelled "Carol Ann!" 500 times, over and over, all through the film.