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Fantastic four: Full Circle by Alex Ross

Abrams ComicArts did what Marvel comics was apparently hesitant to do — put out a comic featuring the Fantastic Four, starring Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic), Sue Richards (The Invisible Woman), Johnny Storm (The Human Torch), and Ben Grimm (The Ever-lovin’ Blue eyed Thing).

I’ve missed them.

Oh, Marvel puts out a monthly Fantastic Four comic, and it has for years, allllll the way back since the days when it used to be known as The World’s Greatest Comic.

And it was, back then. 

For the first 100 plus issues, Stan Lee provided the dialog and personalities for the foursome, and Jack Kirby provided the pulse pounding, powerful, pencilled artwork, aided by a few inkers, most predominantly, Joe Sinnott. This was during the majority of the 1960’s starting in 1961, and ushered in the Marvel Age of Comics. It literally changed the way comics and their characters appeared to the outside world in which we lived.

Until the FF showed up, comic book superheroes were rather two dimensional, with interchangeable personalities. Reed Richards was a passionate man who would go to any lengths for scientific discovery, the most brilliant mind on the planet. Sue Storm was a brave and devoted girl friend, teammate and later wife of Reed, who eventually became the most powerful member of the team and the one to keep the rest in line. Johnny Storm was the teenage hothead who was always blazing for a fight. Ben Grimm was the powerful, rock covered monster who used wise cracks to cover his pain. 

For the second 100 issues, Stan Lee’s writing style was utilized by his replacements to maintain the consistency of the characters, but they weren’t Stan. And though there were different artists taking on the visuals, and some were truly magnificent, they weren’t Kirby. As the comic reached well past the 200th issue, John Byrne took over the writing and art, giving us an FF with some of the original flavor. He turned Reed into a less passionate, colder egg head, but he did advance Sue’s character, giving her her much needed due respect, taking her out of the 1960’s mindset towards women. 

As the decades passed, many creative teams came and went, putting their stamp on the team, to varying degrees of quality and success. Come the turn of the century, things continued to change. These days, Reed and Sue have two kids, an entire secondary foundation with more kids, Ben finally married his long time love Alicia Masters, and they adopted two kids, and Johnny’s been married a couple times already. Yes, it’s now the Fantastic Four Hundred. 

All the members of the FF have “died” at least once, been replaced, or both. That’ll happen over 60 plus years. 

Which now brings us to the present, and Alex Ross’ Full Circle.

Alex Ross is a devoted and opinionated comics fan boy who paints comics beautifully, and realistically, truly bringing superheroes to life. Think “Superheroes meet Norman Rockwell”. He’s been doing so for 30 years, beginning with “Marvels”, a four issue masterwork with writer Kurt Busiek about the major past events in the history of the Marvel universe. If you haven’t got it in some form, do yourself a favor — go find it and buy it. While you’re at it, go find and buy Kingdom Come, another masterwork with writer Mark Waid about the apocalyptic future events in the DC comics universe. 

He’s also done hundreds and hundreds of covers for many comics in his painted style.

In Full Circle, Ross has taken a different visual approach, this time just inking the pencils, instead of painting them. Ross is working with a colorist, Josh Johnson, to create a very potent, vibrant color scheme here. The whole production hints that it might be cool to view it with a black light (having done it, although I can’t say the effect is full on fluorescent, it adds to the creepiness of the experience, just in time for Hallowe’en.) There are however some flashback panels where it does appear Ross has painted them to give a different feel.

Ross has always been severely dependent on extensive photo reference for his art in order to accurately present likenesses, lighting, etc. Back in the early 1990’s and the above mentioned “Marvels”, he was the first artist to visually suggest Professor Charles Xavier looked remarkably like Patrick Stewart. Back then, Ross also suggested that Reed resembled actor Russell Johnson, who portrayed the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. Recently, he shifted to another visual reference when drawing Mr. Fantastic, this time going with actor Gary Conway, from the cast of Land of the Giants, another show from the ’60’s. Conway has the distinction of not only looking like Reed, but looks a bit like a Jack Kirby character — another plus. 

The visual depiction of the Thing is also a treat. For many years now, Ross has based the character’s look off a life sized Thing bust sculpted by Lou Cella. Of the myriad number of artists who’ve drawn the Thing over the past 60 years, the Cella model ranks only behind Kirby in giving us an accurate representation of Ben that hi-lights his personality, so to see Ross utilize it for so long, in so many ways, is always a treat. Hopefully Kevin Fiege and his people in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been taking note. When the FF finally show up in the MCU, if they don’t base Ben on Kirby, it had better be Cella.

Ross’ usual realistic rendition on the characters takes a step back in favor of a more graphic approach, but what remains the same is his usual superior composition, the other half of what makes his art special. Even realistically painting superheroes can end up being boring if you don’t present them in a powerful way, and Ross always does compose exciting and interesting angles and panel layouts for the scenes.

Full Circle is the result of the influences of two creators on a third.

Talking about the book, Ross is quick to give numerous nods to Jack Kirby, and Ross pays homage to the King, presenting various tech, vehicles, and the visual experience of Kirby’s version of the Negative Zone. Ross’ photo referenced style doesn’t permit him to indulge in Kirby’s exaggerated anatomy to drive the visual with power, but Ross’ striking composition helps to bridge the gap.

Perhaps because writing is not his usual vocation, Ross doesn’t talk about that aspect as much, but here, he successfully channels Stan Lee to an extent, being *possibly* the first person in fifty some years to get all four character’s personalities right. Either as Stan wrote them, or in Sue’s case, the best version of her. Giving Stan due credit for his influence here is crucial. Without Stan applying those distinctive personalities way back when, as great as Jack’s art and storytelling was, without Stan’s daring and delightful dialog, there might not have been a Marvel Age of Comics.

Without spoiling things, Full Circle revisits and pays off a couple old Lee/Kirby stories, one of which is a mighty classic. A few other notable Negative Zone stories are referenced as well. It really is an ode to the best era of the FF, and Lee and Kirby.

*** I think if I had one real criticism of Full Circle, it’s the lack of a real payoff, a big Kirby visual climax where the bad guy gets his. On the positive side, one can look to some things that outshine all the other FF material that Marvel’s been putting out for decades.

In addition to the lovely art, solid action, and accurately written characters, I liked the fact that it’s just the four of them. No Franklin and Valeria, no Future Foundation. No Alicia, no adopted kids, alien kids, moloid kids, Dragon man, and whoever Johnny’s married to this week. Currently in the comics, the FF has so much baggage they drag around, the original premise has become buried beneath a ton of extra family. 

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not suggesting retconning Frank and Val out of existence (even though Val was bizarrely retconned IN), but just because Reed and Sue have a family, it doesn’t mean they have to feature them as part of the team all the time. 

In Full Circle, we do see the kids in one panel, sure, but basically, the story is about the four main characters going on an adventure and exploring a mystery. It was just a joy to see the FF get out of the house and go to work, without dragging an army with them. Just the four of them. Somehow, that’s become a lost art. 

Another big element of this story is explaining and revisiting things. Again, without spoilers, we revisit a classic story, and there’s a very nice resolution, heartwarming even. We revisit another, far less classic story, which falls a bit short. Frankly, now that I think of it, we could have used a little bit of Clobberin’ Time.

Conversely, I can truly say that for the first time, I had a better grip on some of the physics of the Negative Zone thanks to Ross, who even had some nifty ideas regarding new outfits and ways to navigate the Zone. 

So, Full Circle. I’d give it an 8 out of 10. Not sure why Marvel had to partner with someone else to get this put out, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more. 

And someone, please let me know when they start putting out the black light posters of some of these pages.


Because the Thing IS.

“Live every day like there’s no tomorrow.” – Some idiot

We were watching After Life, starring Rick Gervais in his latest misery guts dark comedy, and that sage advice was given to him by a friend.

At a graveyard. 

Where she spends every day talking to her late husband’s grave stone. 

So basically, Ricky’s character should live every day like there’s no tomorrow, while she sits on her ass on her bench. It’s mostly a well done show, just bring a crying towel (hey, did you know Gervais has an acerbic wit?), but the point is– who actually listens to such advice? Words DO have meaning, if you’re paying attention.

Live life like there’s no tomorrow. And then when there is a tomorrow, you do it all again— now wait a minute. 

Maybe it’s just me being too literal, but what fantasy are you playing out here? Live life like there’s no tomorrow because tomorrow the asteroid hits? Because if that’s the case, I think there’ll be a lot of wonton violence, sex, and skullduggery. 

Yes, skullduggery. 

I guess live your best life, but live like there’s no tomorrow?

Where do we set the goalposts? If you and I BOTH are supposed to live life like there in fact is NO tomorrow, –and don’t think THAT’s not a problem in itself >cough< the Purge >cough<– well then, you would act as if everything is ending. No consequences! So, unless you want to be on the front lines when the CHUDS start eating people, you’re going to off yourself through some hedonistic means. Or your next door neighbor, who might *also* be living by this code might just impale you on the wickets of your croquet set and run off laughing before you even *get* to spend your day acting like an idiot!

The only person this philosophy actually works for is Bill Murray in Groundhog’s day, and we no longer have access to the sorcerous abilities of Harold Ramis. He’s dead. I’m not sure if he lived that last day like there was no tomorrow, though.

Hey, you could travel the world! Ah, but you’ll waste half that day today just *getting* to Europe. Oh, and by the way, you’ll need gobs of money for the bigger enterprises, because no one’s going to fund your day of never ending bacchanalia, fight clubs and orgies. Sure, by this new motto, there’s NO tomorrow, but the electric bill’s coming the day after that, and there’s slightest chance that if you don’t kill yourself cliff diving, you’ll need to microwave a burrito for lunch at some point. If you’re not too busy BASE jumping off the Eiffel Tower.

Sure, the whole thing makes for a moving speech by old women in graveyards who bring their lunch, but suppose you tell this to some who’s not as comedically, darkly brilliant as Mr. Gervais? Suppose you tell it to an average joe who just says screw it and punches a cop? I’m not necessarily saying there are a LOT of stupid people in the world… 

…well, yes I am. Seems like a good chunk of idiots are trying embrace this code.

Bye kids! Have fun storming the Capital!

But for those sage viziers out there, maybe choose your words a bit more carefully? Maybe don’t stir up images of flying to Vegas and putting your life savings on 22 black?

How about this– Make today the *best* day you can. Do the same tomorrow. 

Now that didn’t hurt, did it? You don’t *have* to climb Everest or even onto your roof. You don’t *have* to go streaking around the neighborhood, but if you do, wear a disguise and make damn sure you can run faster than anyone else who might be chasing you. Like a cop. Or a German Shepherd who’s craving a Snausage. 

Here’s an idea: maybe be NICE to a stranger! Maybe pay for their meal if they’re behind you in the drive thru line. 

Maybe just compliment someone on doing a good job.  

How about whatever you’re job is, don’t act like it’s “beneath” you and don’t behave like an entitled prick?

Perhaps when you’re on the internet, you use your *real* name, instead of something you once thought was clever as a username, then *don’t* tear everything down, no matter how much you want to click bait your audience for your YouTube channel. You don’t have to be unswervingly sweet either, just consider both sides, and don’t hide behind anonymity and your keyboard. You’ll still say stupid things, but at least you’ll own it, and you’ve got greater odds on saying something profound and relevant, too. 

But enough with the cockeyed, pie in the sky, super advice that simply never works.

You can’t run a marathon every day, because one day you’ll stop and gain 500 pounds and be on reality tv–and not in a good way. 

Instead of selling your soul to Tik-tok, hey, FaceTime with somebody. That way, at least you’re socially interacting with someone face to face instead of shoveling poop emoji’s. Again. 

Or do something creative. That’s pretty much all I’ve got on quiet days when there’s no work. I’ll work out, I’ll draw. I’ll even do Sudoku to keep my mind sharp. 

Such as it is. 

Just get something accomplished. It doesn’t have to be HUGE. Start a hobby. 

Or if you put in a hard day at work, or spent a couple hours shoveling, or both, just relax.

Maybe … live each day like it’s a gift. 

All depends on how you wrap it. 

And who you give it to.

Waiting for casting on Doctor Who and the FF…

ANY week now. Or so I’m hoping. 

I, and countless other fans, are awaiting casting news on two franchises. The first is who will be picked as the 14th Doctor Who. The next is who will be cast in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s version of the Fantastic Four. Some crazy and unsettling rumors abound with both, but I won’t focus on those today.

On the Doctor Who front, we’ve certainly been here, done that, but the new Doctor is always news, just as is the new showrunner when there’s a switch over. It has never been more apparent just *how* important a showrunner is than now. 

Chris Chibnall’s reign of devisive retconning is quickly coming to an end, and we’ve never needed a new showrunner more. Mind you, it’s not Chibnall’s fault that he *got* the job. He originally turned it down. The BBC actually begged him to take it on, solely because of his high ratings on Broadchurch. So it was the Beeb who forced a deal with the devil, and the Doctor was the one who had to give up a soul. 

Once more for the record– I don’t blame Jodie Whitaker. She was miscast, mislead, fed bad scripts and woefully underprepared for the whole thing. I fear Chibnall mishandling of the circumstances has hurt the female Doctor cause. It certainly hasn’t helped. At one point, I wished we could have had Jodie stay on to see what she could do with a good showrunner and good scripts, but she’s forever locked up with Chibs.

According to the latest reports, new and returning showrunner Russell T Davies has already written some of the first episodes. Phil Collinson will also be returning as producer as he was with RTD last time, between 2005 to 2009. Russell also announced a few weeks ago that the auditions for the new Doctor are officially underway.

The auditions are an exciting piece of news. In the past, Davies cast Chris Eccleston and David Tennant as the 9th and 19th Doctors respectfully, as he’d worked with them previously and he knew what he wanted. This time around, he’s opened the doors wide to find the 14th incarnation. I can’t help but wonder if he wasn’t influenced a bit by Steven Moffat’s auditions that landed Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor. Either way, exciting news.

The official new era will begin in the autumn of 2023 around the time of the 60th anniversary of the show, which will include a celebratory special, series 14, and most likely, the return of the beloved Christmas special, a time honored tradition in the U.K.

Although we’re still 22 months away from showtime, the rumor mill is pumping them out and running overtime. But in the meantime, we await word on WHO the new Doctor actually is. 

Speaking of waiting…

The MCU has, for the most part, been killing it with bold, live action versions of all sorts of Marvel superheroes. Adding extra layers and usually elevating said characters. And believe it or not, *they* were the second stringers. Yeah, Iron man, Captain America, Thor are all great heroes, but at the same time, it was basically all Marvel had left after they sold off the movie rights to a lot of their creations back in the ’90’s when faced with bankruptcy. 

Luckily for Marvel, the characters they had may have been second stringers, but they also just happened to make up the Avengers, so that all came together wonderfully, *and* turned those characters into first stringers.

BUT…. If Marvel had had all their properties at the start, they *probably* would have started with the X-men, Spider-man and the Fantastic Four. The Avengers, etc., would have been a few phases down the road. Once again, I’m ecstatic things worked out like they did, catching Robert Disney Jr., Chris Evans and the gang exactly where they did in their careers. 

But Fox owned X-men and the FF, while Sony had Spider-man. Sony had solely produced five Spider-man films, but half of them were not very good. Eventually, Sony and Marvel/Disney struck a deal to co-produce Spider-man and the results have been pretty great for three movies now, and the relationship between those companies were usually very pleasant. 

Fox had produced a dozen X-men related films, some great, some good, some not so good. They’d also done three Fantastic Four films, two okay and one very bad mistake, and that’s on Fox. Then, Disney/Marvel bought back the rights to the FF and X-men from Fox. Marvel was never going to work together with Fox anyway though, like with Sony, because there was a lot of bad blood between certain factions in the companies. 

So of course, the second Marvel got the rights for the FF back, I’ve been sitting patiently on the front stoop, wagging my tail, panting heavily, waiting for the MCU’s version of Marvel’s first family. I think we first got word about the deal in ’18, and all the paperwork was finalized in early ’19. And we waited. Then pandemic. 2020 passed. We only recently got word that the FF movie was on the slate for possibly late ’23, coming after “Ant-man & the Wasp: Quantumania” in July of ’23, as there’s a couple alleged tie ins that lead in to the FF. 

And now… nothing. No new word, no changes, but most shockingly, no news even of casting. A LOT of speculation, –I did a blog on one such rumored report–but absolutely no word on who the FF are going to be. It’s officially in the casting process now. I get the *feeling* that Kevin Fiege and Marvel are treading very, very carefully. 

There have been four FF films in the last 30 years. None have been what they should have been. Some had very good parts, and some good casting, but on the whole, all were seen as disappointments. On a personal note, the big problem was that they didn’t deliver the EPIC. 

So even for the MCU, with their *very* good track record, this is going to be their biggest hurdle to date. They kinda HAVE to get this right. 

If they don’t, you’ll hear it from me. But for now, who the hell are they going to cast? 

I’m waiting on the stoop. Tail is still wagging. Come ON already!

Look! There, there! A 7-11!

This was the fevered declaration, every time my grandparents and I would travel down route 41 in southern Florida, circa the mid 1970’s. Ever since my grandparents left Chicago for the warmer climate in 1973, my mom would plop me on a plane (I was 11 years old) and send me down there every summer. I did love my gama and gapa.

Those were my nicknames for them almost before I could talk. 

Florida in the summer. I’m trying to remember if my grandparents had air conditioning in their house. If so, it had to be pretty brutal out there before they actually used it. I DO know that they had the only house in the neighborhood with no pool. It would have been nice, but it seems like there’s a lot of upkeep and headaches that my grandfather wouldn’t want to deal with, and we’d never really been a big swimming family. 

Heat’s always been my Kryptonite, but after a week or so, you kind of acclimate to your surroundings, especially as a kid. Mowing the lawn, riding my bike, actually, that was about it, as far as activities went. There were never any other kids around, as it seemed to be mostly old folks who lived around there. 

It was a whole new housing community being built. Rotunda West! It was to be a grand experiment that, from above, would look like a big pie, with seven “slices” of neighborhoods, all pointing to the center where there’d be a huge shopping mall. The eighth slice was supposed to be a lake of sorts that fed into the Gulf of Mexico. There were also proposed golf courses, etc., but it all fell through, funding failed, so they only got as far as three slices. They might have completed a fourth slice in the last 50 years, not sure.

For the first several years my grandparents were there, there was no mail delivery to the houses in the community. So you had to go pick up your mail five miles away. Sometimes that was my job on my bike. Got heat stroke once. Maybe that’s when they started to turn the A.C. on….

I do remember passing time during those hot days. My grandfather and I would be watching pro wrestling or a baseball game on tv, my grandmother sewing. For relief from the heat, I think we had lemonade or Shasta cola, as the tap water was horribly smelly and there was no water purifier (1970’s), so no decent ice water. My grandma did have these ice cold pickles in the fridge though. When you’re ambling around a house constantly sweating, a cold pickle is truly magic. 

I would usually be drawing–such as it was at 11 or 12 or so– and my supplies were mostly typing paper, and some pencils or pens. Unfortunately, if I came into contact with the paper in one spot for too long, I’d sweat all over it, it stuck to my arm, guh. Paper got soggy, thus rendering it useless. I wonder if that’s how I sped up my drawing time, keeping ahead of the sweat? Dunno. 

The best thing about those summers though, by far, were the trips to the 7-11s. 

We’d be driving down the main business thoroughfare to some friend’s or relative’s house, and I would be in the backseat, hunched forward, hovering directly behind my grandparents, scanning the road ahead for that wonderful convenience store. Yes, I was hanging on the backs of their seats because there were no seat belts being used, as it was 1973. There were also no bike helmets. Just sayin’. Oh, to have the telescopic vision of an eleven year old again. Scanning…scanning. 

We were already familiar with some of the 7-11 locations from past trips, although my grandfather hoped in vain that I’d simply miss them, and he could keep moving. The *big* ask was spotting one on the other side of the street. This would be a huge pain in the ass, as route 41 had two lanes going both directions each, often with a median separating them. So the mechanics of finding an opening in the median, doing a U turn, then going back to said 7-11, then having to get back on track… well, sometimes I wouldn’t bother him. Who’m I kidding? Yes, even then, I was relentless.

Really, it was even worse without the median, trying to make a left hand turn in that mess, yikes. But if that 7-11 was on *our* side, easy-peasy, slam dunk, oh, yes. 


oh, and another thing about the 7-11s? 

Air conditioned. It was kinda more like Heaven-Eleven. It really was so beautiful an experience. 

But what greeted you once you entered was the spinner rack full of comics. 

Ah, the spinner rack, chock full of Marvel, DC, and other comics. Hopefully they had the next consecutive issue of the comics I collected, but there were no guarantees. They had what they had. I scoped out the situation quickly to see if there was anything I wanted or needed (couldn’t spend *too* much time in there–the grandfolks were waiting in the car, after all).

Sometimes, the comics rack was packed *too* full, with the comics getting jammed in there. The comic in front would be getting the Heimlich maneuver from those front pincers– and not in a good way. Trying to take it out could rip the cover off. It became a delicate piece of surgery to extract a comic from the middle of the bunch, to grab one hopefully without damage. This also helped future customers, as such an operation released a bit of the pressure from the stack and would slightly ease the Heimlich hold.

After picking out my comic book selections, I had to pivot to the magazine rack. Mad magazine, featuring the delicious art of Mort Drucker, Dave Martin, Dave Berg, Sergio Aragones and more. Cracked magazine, featuring the magnificent illustrations of John Severin. And finally, National Lampoon. For the foto-funnies. Because they had topless women. I doubt that the guy behind the counter ever knew that mag hid such things within. My grandparents certainly didn’t, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to say anything. 

But that wasn’t the end of my mission. Next was a dash to the Slurpee machine, to see what the latest superhero cup was! Captain America, Iron man, the Thing, you name it. My main goal was to collect each of the Fantastic Four, natch. Somehow, these plastic cups, with the great illustrations of my favorite heroes were some of the most important things in the world at the time. 

I saw an article recently about them — I had no idea there were 60 total. No clue how many I had, but I wasn’t collecting them all, just getting the ones I liked. Hard to beat a nice, cold, sugary Slurpee on a typical Florida day. Of course, it being the technologically primitive mid ’70’s, all the beautiful artwork was destroyed the first time you mistakenly put the cup in the dishwasher. 

So the rest of the day was spent on a sugar high, and reading comics. I’d read all this stuff until they were tattered. But the magazines would last longer, as Mad tended to have SO much going on in every issue. Sergio Aragones would fill the margins of every issue with tiny little doodles. They were very cool, and I even tried to draw some myself. There was the featured Al Jaffee fold-in on the back cover, and of course all the strips, comedy, art, you name it.

At the end of the summer. I usually had a nice little stack of comics and mags that I took back home with me. All thanks to that marvelous lil’ series of shops.

7-11. The most important sales establishment during the decade of the 1970’s. I salute you, Heaven-Eleven.

George Perez

At some point in 1975, after a couple years without them, I was able to locate an alternative place to buy my new comics. I found a drug store that was a mile from my house, so I hoofed it over there each week for new comics. 

Amongst the offerings was I *think* the first Avengers issue I ever picked up. Maybe I got one earlier, but this was definitely the first memorable one. It was Avengers #141, that featured the world’s mightiest heroes going up against the Squadron Sinister. 

The cover sported art by Gil Kane and John Romita sr., a fantastic duo. The issue was written by Steve Englehart, who had a good feel for the team. The man who *inked* the issue was Vince Colletta. Possibly the worst professional inker in the history of the art form. 

But none of that matters, because the artist who did the pencils was a young guy named George Perez, and his artwork spoke to me. He was fairly raw with his rounded style, but he was bold and exciting. His stuff was also able to shine through the crappy inks. This guy’s art was fun and powerful. It was how *I’d* like to draw. 

Over the next few years, I’d enjoyed Mr. Perez’s pencils (with better inkers) on the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, enjoying every minute of it. 

The only down side was the fact that he seemed incapable of doing more than five issues in a row. That was very irritating to me at the time, until I learned it was because of a medical issue. Something to do with his hands. I’m not sure if this was the start of his battle with diabetes or something else. I was just happy to get any issues from him.

In 1980, he jumped over to DC comics, where, in addition to a stint on Justice League of America, and co-created The New Teen Titans, where, amongst other things, he actually made Robin cool. No mean feat. The *most* impressive thing he did though, aside with carrying the book for five years with his art, was get better.

This wasn’t just a matter of improving with age as you ply your craft, learning this and that. No, George rededicated himself to taking a giant leap forward in his art, using more reference and doubling down on anatomy. 

He didn’t *have* to do this. He was already arguably the most popular and best selling comic artist in the industry in 1980. He simply could have kept on going as he was, but he still went the extra mile to make himself even better, and it showed.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a pro of the highest order.

It was the early ’80’s, he was better than ever, and highly in demand. Then, the opportunity of a lifetime for any comic artist opened up. Marvel and DC were planning  a special crossover event, JLA/Avengers. The two most high profile teams of the era, together in a four issue series, and George was slated to draw it. 

It fell through though, due to editorial arrogance and miscommunication. We did get a look at the pencils for the whole first issue though, and it was a tantalizing taste of what might have been. We’ll never know exactly how good the story would have been, only that the pencils would be fantastic. The killing of the project broke a lot of people’s hearts, but none more so than George.

But time moved on. George left the Titans and did a long stint on Wonder Woman. He eventually moved to bigger projects in the later ’80’s, such as The Infinity Gauntlet. Sound familiar? George drew the first three of six planned issues. 

Why only three? Because A) George was always in huge demand, B) because he’s a nice guy and C) he could never say no to a project, even when he should have and best/worst of all D) detail. 

George was always very busy, always a lovely man, who was loved by *everyone*, not only as a comic artist, but as a person at conventions, you name it. Beloved. He loved drawing comics, superheroes, big stories with more detail than almost anyone in comics. Had he skimped on some of the details, he might have been able to meet his obligations, but if he did that, he wouldn’t be George. He’s always loved adding details. Look at most any costume he designed. Pity the poor artist who followed him!

There were several projects he should have said no to, but he couldn’t help himself. Universally beloved or not, he found himself in hot water with editors after a certain point. He eventually vowed to get control of his schedule, and he did. 

In the 1990’s, he stepped back up to the plate and began a sizable stint on the reboot of the Avengers again, this time with writer Kurt Busiek and it was again, magnificent. Around the turn of the century, that once in a lifetime opportunity came back *again*, as DC and Marvel righted an old wrong, by planning a new JLA/Avengers series, almost 20 years after the last attempt, with Busiek and Perez at the helm. 

The original idea back in the early ’80’s was to consist of four, twenty four page issues featuring the existing teams. This one was four, *forty eight* page issues, which would go on to include every single member of both teams from the last 40 years EVER, plus every villain they ever fought. 

This was George Perez’s dream come true. Mine too. I still refer to it as the single greatest comics story ever. It certainly was the pinnacle of George’s career as a comics artist. 

After that, the years rolled on, with George moving on to many other projects, but also continuing more of his charitable work, providing commissions and having a ball going to conventions where he continued to be, without a doubt, the most loved guy in and around comics.

Because George knows what it was like to be a fan and he never, ever forgot it. He always paid it forward. It was appreciated. 

But even though he was still only in his 50’s, his diabetes had started to affect his vision, slowing him down, until he had to retire from comics all together a few years ago. He’d become blind in one eye, and had distortion in the other. For anyone, this is a horrible thing. For a visual artist, just another added level of hell. 

And at the beginning of December, on his Facebook page, he announced he was diagnosed with inoperable cancer, with a life expectancy of six months to a year. 

I’d go on about the bizarre happenstance of fate, or, if there is some higher being pulling the strings, that he really, really is a loathsome piece of crap–by all indications– but there’s not much point. WTF, karma?

In this instance, diabetes has destroyed a man’s livelihood and taken his eyes. Cancer is simply piling on. 

But George is now receiving an amazing amount of love and support from so many people. It’s an instance where the clock is now ticking, but George will know exactly how much he is appreciated, and yes, loved. 

Too often, the person in question doesn’t get the opportunity to know these things until it’s too late. But George knows. 

George also decided to not go the chemo route to *maybe* extend his life. For a guy who’s enjoyed as robust a life as he has, I can understand not wanting to live out your finals days in a deteriorating state. An extra couple months like that maybe doesn’t seem worth it to him. And, in the time he has left, he’ll still have some semblance of sight.

He’ll see the love. 

I was going to flood the rest of this piece with images, but while I’ll put a few up here, check out George Perez’ Facebook page and hell, just do a google image search on George Perez art. You won’t regret it. 

And thank you George.

The Uphill Battle

Saw the most interesting comic strip in the newspaper the other day. My wife was reading the paper, and it caught her eye. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, so she showed it to me.

We questioned what the deeper gag was. I mean, okay, Sisyphus endlessly pushing the rock up the hill. The Thing = rocks. Rocky hide. Head. Rock. Okay, but it was still gnawing at me — what was I missing? Or, was that it?

It’s obviously a Thing head drawn by Jack Kirby, co-creator of the Marvel universe. I frequent a Facebook page called “Old Guys Who Like Old Comics”, and lo and behold, the strip popped up again.

This one guy scanned it in from his Sarasota, Florida paper — this strip was probably all over the country, as it was syndicated. This guy was just as bewildered as I was. What was the gag beyond the obvious?

King Sisyphus was condemned to roll a rock up to the top of a mountain, only to have the rock roll back down to the bottom every time he reaches the top.

The guy in the group mentioned a variation of this, but obviously, there were others that detected there was more here than meets the eye.

What kicked this to the next level for me was being reminded that it was *King* Sisyphus. Jack “King” Kirby? Then the whole thing leveled up. 

I know nothing of the artist himself, Harry Bliss, but it was mentioned he’s also a big Kirby fan. 

Jack Kirby was one of the major creators and influences in the comic book world. Along with Joe Simon, he created Captain America in the early 1940’s. Kirby was fast, prodigious and powerful with his storytelling and pulse pounding panels. He drew for most of the major companies through all of the ’40’s and ’50’s. In the early ’60’s, he co-created the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Thor, the X-men, and more. 

He worked most every day at home, down in his den at an old, battered drawing table, on a hard, simple, uncomfortable looking chair. No one worked harder. 

Jack kept his head down and drew. That’s it, just churning out page after page, day after day for years. He’d get a plot synopsis from editor and co-creator Stan Lee, and then breakdown the issue’s plot across 20 pages, taking whatever liberties he could along the way to build up the story, making it bigger, bolder, more explosive.

He made dialog notes in the margins as he went and when done, brought the pages back to the office. There, Stan would add the dialog building up the story even more, working from Jack’s pencil layouts. 

But as the 1960’s rolled on, Jack felt he wasn’t getting his due credit. As I say, Jack kept his down and drew. He never read the finished product of any of the comics. He just handed them in, thinking Stan would just use his, Jack’s notes for the dialog. Then have the pages lettered, inked, colored, published. 

Jack was under the impression he wrote the books because of these miscommunications. But Jack was not a writer. Stan did the writing but Jack –amazingly–didn’t realize this.

Stan knew enough to be the first to put prominent title boxes at the beginning of every comic giving credit to all the creators, but Jack never saw it. 

Jack wanted absolutely nothing to do with the money end, promotion end, business end of the comic world. He only wanted to draw, so Stan was the face of Marvel, and unlike the quiet Kirby who kept his head down to just draw, Stan was the ultimate pitchman and he was everywhere. So the media made it all about him. But Jack didn’t like that very much either. There was resentment.

Stan’s style of prose was explosive and dynamic in it’s own right. Perhaps the single most universally recognized constant about Marvel at the time, be it on the Fantastic Four with Kirby, Spider-man with Steve Ditko, or any of the Marvel comics of the day, was Stan’s writing. By that point, Stan had been writing for Marvel for 20 years, stretching back to when it was still called Timely comics. 

But when Jack first worked with him around 1940, Stan was the newly hired kid who looked after the office and got the coffee. So to now be working for him 20 years later had to be a bit awkward. But Stan knew the talent he had access to and with this band of artists, the Marvel age of comics were born. Jack just kept on drawing.

Most of all, Jack wanted a raise, and that’s where the real problem emerged, as Jack had a family to support. But the guy who paid the bills, publisher Martin Goodman, considered Jack to be nothing more than another cog in the machinery, and an unimportant one at that. So no raise for Jack. The resentment built. 

And Jack drew. 

In 1970, Jack moved over to the competition, DC comics, formerly known as National comics, who was initially ecstatic to have The King come on over. Jack had held back some of his ideas from Marvel, since, in his mind, he wouldn’t get the credit for them anyway. So DC got Darksied and the New Gods, all part of The Fourth World Series. He also took on the duties of Jimmy Olsen’s comic.

But there were unforeseen problems. Jack thought he could just start a ton of new books with new ideas and then leave the property to the next creator, as he kept churning out ideas. But DC didn’t want other creators to continue, they wanted him, his style. 

But the DC fans didn’t. Jack’s style was “too rough, too Marvel” for the rather sedate, clean, pleasant, or placid look of DC books. To add insult to injury, Superman would guest in Jimmy Olsen’s book but editorial had a different artist come in to redraw Superman’s face, as Kirby’s was thought to be too harsh. This insult did not make Jack happy.

Then you had ultra realistic artists like Neal Adams, who produced intense, beautiful artwork, which was the polar opposite of Jack’s rough, powerhouse style. 

In the end, Jack was not considered a good fit for DC and by the mid ’70’s was back at Marvel. But this was a different Jack, who didn’t want anyone else writing his books, as he finally wanted to get credit for the work. 

But again, Jack, although he was the King of comic artists, wasn’t a writer. The New Gods at DC was a strange enough animal that Jack got away with some of the clunkier verbiage, but his remaining days at Marvel were not the best.

In the ’80’s, Jack was greeted with open arms in the animation world, coming up with new creations like Thundaar the Barbarian, and did a lot of storyboard breakdown work for the companies. He and his wife Roz moved from New York to California for the better climate and all this worked great, seeing as how that’s where the animation studios were. When leaving NY, the *last* item to be loaded in the moving truck was Jack’s drawing table, so it was the first thing off-loaded in Cali. Jack had to draw, to work.

It was during these last years that Jack finally got his due credit. Proper compensation and finally benefits such as health insurance for him and the family. Perhaps greatest of all, he was the guest of honor at many huge comic conventions, where thousands upon thousands of people finally had the chance to thank Jack for his decades of magnificent work. 

Marvel still dines out on the many characters Jack co-created, but DC has long since had Kirby’s Darksied as their main cosmic villain, some 50 years after Jack created him.

The thing is, simple gag or not, and take from it what you will—that image of the King and his struggles really got me thinking.

Multiverse, Multiverse, what is Multiverse?!?!

It’s theorized that there are other realities besides ours. Each time we make a decision, that there’s another reality, or parallel world where we make a different decision. That in fact, there are millions of billions of alternate/parallel earths/galaxies/universes that co-exist side by side. It’s a fascinating, authentic, scientific theory. That can never be proven.

But it’s great for comic books! Hoo-CHA! Oh, the comic companies have cherished the alternate realities and parallel world bits for over half a century. They simply can not get enough. 

The first big breakthrough came via DC comics with “The Flash of Two Worlds” in The Flash issue #123 in the late 1950’s. It was HUGE, bringing the original golden age Flash of the 1940’s (Jay Garrick) from his world, to the silver age Flash (Barry Allen’s) world. It turns out that parallel worlds simply exist on different vibrational plains. Jay’s super speed allowed him to vibrate his molecules to match the different “frequency” of Barry’s earth and cross over. 

It was a big event, opening up unlimited possibilities. When Realities Collide. There would be a lot of it in coming decades, starting with DC building on the Flash’s encounter by bringing the golden age Justice Society of America over to the world of the Justice League of America. This also was HUGE. Oh, the things one could do, playing with realities!

Well, over half a century later, the concept has been utilized, covered, explored, pressed, steamed, folded and abused to the point of ridiculousness. As you do. 

Marvel comics has dipped their toe in over the decades, had characters from parallel worlds pop in here are there, mostly to take a dig at DC, bringing in the Squadron Sinister, or Supreme, —different teams that greatly resemble the JLA. But Marvel has done some properly confusing alternate world stuff as well.

But DC has been the main architect of multiverse abuse. By the early 1980’s, DC felt that their collection of other parallel earths (earths X, S, 1, 2, Prime, etc.) had really gotten out of hand and wanted to simplify things. So they had a nasty villain pop up to threaten the existence of all of the realities, destroying one after another. There was a big fight and in the end, there was only one reality. One earth. The series was a huge hit.

Eventually all the other realities came back again, and it eventually devolved into a rinse and repeat. In a comic company, your continuity is only solid as long as the current editor in chief stays in place to keep a steady hand on the reins. Once he’s gone, it’s the wild west. They still mess around with it to this day. Marvel does too, to a certain extent. They’re not innocent in this. 

But this brings us to the current era of superhero movies and tv shows. Both Marvel and DC have begun a journey into their respective multiverses, but they’ve taken different paths.

Marvel usually has a plan carefully put together. In the first season of Loki, the actions in the finale result in the timeline being split and diverted into thousands of parallel worlds. Order falls to chaos. Because of this, there will be significant fallout, evidenced in the events that take place in Spider-man: No Way Home this December and Dr. Strange: Multiverse of Madness coming next February. Then we’ll undoubtedly see other dominoes falling farther down the line in future MCU films. 

The DC Extended cinematic Universe took a different approach. They let any number of creators do films with DC characters, and whenever they duplicate a character and do something completely different from what came before, they cite the multiverse. 

Todd Phillips takes elements from two Scorsese movies and turns them into a Joker movie, featuring a character only remotely resembling the DC villain. A dramatically different actor and version of the character from the Suicide Squad version, or the Dark Knight version. Oh, its not that we’re unorganized regarding what projects we green-light, it’s just a different Joker from a different reality. Multiverse. There’s a Flash character in the Justice League movie that bears little resemblance to the version in the CW tv show. Different Flash. Multiverse. 

In fact, the CW group of DC superhero shows did a Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover a while back, cementing the multiverse notion by blending various DC past and present movie and tv characters and elements. While not a resounding success, it definitely had some classic moments, such as when the CW Flash momentarily met the Snyderverse film version in person. They touched on the old ’66 Batman tv show, along with the ’89 film. They even brought back the Donner reality Superman with an older Brandon Routh. 

So, the crazy happenings of the multiverse *does* have their advantages. On the horizon in theaters is 2022’s The Flash, based on another comic that tinkers with the multiverse, “Flashpoint”. In it, Barry Allen, the Flash, goes back in time to prevent the death of his mother. In doing this, he inadvertently cracks the time continuum wide open, causing realities to bend, collide, and shatter. He makes a mess. But thankfully, looking into these other realities also brings out different versions of familiar characters to the screen, such as Michael Keaton playing Batman again after 30 + years. 

As wonderful and fun as all that is, caution should be observed. Events like this should be rare, and the next year will have more superhero based films than ever before. This is mostly due to the pandemic shifting the movie schedule. For years and years, many have predicted the audience getting burned out on super-flicks. Well, because of COVID-19, we did get a break from the films. Maybe audiences have gotten their second wind?

Let’s hope the year of the multiverse plays out correctly and the whole genre doesn’t simply get played out. 

Hey, Here Comes Another Batman…

Director Matt Reeves’ picture The Batman is coming out in theaters next March. Robert Pattinson heads an impressive cast including Jeffrey Wright as James Gordon, Andy Serkis as Alfred, and even Colin Farrell as… the Penguin? Okay, most of that sounds solid, and the trailers so far have looked good, yada, yada, yada.

     I’m a *fairly* big Batman fan. One of the first two comics I ever picked up featured the caped crusader, and before that, I enjoyed the Adam West tv show in the ’60’s. In 1989, after initially disregarding Michael Keaton as being physically all wrong for the part, he proved me wrong by delivering the best live action Batman to this day. His “Battitude” won the day and won me over. 

     Batman the animated series featured the voice of a Kevin Conroy, regarded by many to be THE version of Batman. Val Kilmer and George Clooney also stepped in to play the live action role.

     In the 21st century, Christian Bale took over the role, fleshing out a compelling version of Bruce Wayne, with a barky voiced Bats. Then just a few years later, yet another Batman sprung up via Ben Affleck, proving critics wrong, presenting a quality portrayal of both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Yes, we’ve had a lot of Batman. TONS of Batman.

     In the past 32 years, we’ve had live action films featuring Batman in: Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight rises, Batman V Superman, Justice League, and a cameo in Suicide Squad, plus the Snyder Cut. 

     In those films, we’ve seen Bats go up against three Jokers, two Catwomen, two Banes, two Two-faces, the Riddler, Penguin, Scarecrow, Ras Al Ghul, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Plant master, Victor Zzazz, Harley Quinn, Lex Luthor, and gobs and gobs of thugs, mobsters, you name it. Oh, and Superman. Totally kicked his ass. 

     We’ve seen his origin (a few times), seen Batman at the beginning of his career, seen him in his prime, and even a Batman at the end of his run, a twenty year veteran. We’ve seen multiple Gordon’s, Alfred’s, and a Robin. And a Batgirl. We’ve seen… a lot. 

     So I find myself mostly unmoved by the impending arrival of The Batman. Although I have to say kudos on grabbing the one Bat title no one had the imagination or initiative to use yet. I also hear that there’ll be more of a detective angle in this one. This would be welcome, as there’s been precious little in past films to indicate that the character IS the World’s Greatest Detective. Such a huge part of the mythos, yet largely unexplored.

     The trailers usually focus on a more film noir take of the proceedings, and Batman kicking ass. But that’s nothing new, nor is the tortured soul of the character, or the interplay between he and Gordon or Alfred. Now, this film might be amazing. It might be a fresh take on the character. It might WOW me. It’s got some big shoes to fill, considering some of the past entries. 

     Currently, I’m not the least bit excited about it. If I’m honest, I’m far more excited about the Flash film coming out later next year, *only* because Keaton is reprising the role of Batman. And I hear Affleck makes an appearance too. I can’t tell you how jazzed I am about that. 

     But I do hope that The Batman is good. There is, of course, a trilogy planned, because there’s always a trilogy planned. And when that’s done in seven or eight years, there’ll be another Batman… again. Actually, with how the current DC extended cinematic universe is set up, there may be any number of other Batmans popping up in their multiverse. 

     Yeah, multiverses are a thing. I’ll delve into that next time. For now, just waiting on the next Bat-signal.

The Time Tunnel!

In 1966, innovative producer Irwin Allen created what he later called his favorite tv show production. The set was a massive undertaking, occupying two whole sound stages at the studio, and was the most expensive show made during the 1966/67 television season. It’s the story of two men lost in the corridors of time. 

     Some 800 stories beneath the Arizona desert, a fantastic, top secret installation containing both military personnel and scientists have been working for ten years on a project involving sending a man back through time and retrieving him. 

     Taking place in 1968, down in the heart of the complex, we’re introduced to the project director, Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert) and co-director Tony Newman (James Darren), along with General Haywood Kirk (Whit Bissell), Dr. Ann McGregor (Lee Meriwether), and Dr. Raymond Swain (John Zaremba). 

     The team is showing a U.S. senator around the amazing underground city/installation, and of course, the massive focal point of everything, the giant circular construct that inside, almost appears to reach back into infinity. 


     But… amazing as it all is, after ten years and over 7 billion dollars spent, Washington needs to see results– now– or they’ll cut the project’s funding. They have to test it and send a man back immediately. Tony volunteers to go through, but Doug adamantly says no, as it’s too soon, and the Tunnel hasn’t been perfected yet. He wouldn’t risk a man’s life. 

     Later that night, the main control room is deserted. Tony, desperate to keep the project alive, sneaks in, sets the controls, and runs into the mouth of the Tunnel. There are miniature explosions and flashes as the Tunnel throws him back in time. I won’t say where, but suffice to say, he’s in danger. (Oh, okay, he lands on the Titanic. See? Danger.)

     The rest of the team, alerted to the situation races in and manages to locate Tony in time, as he administered a radiation bath before departure, allowing the team to track his signature. Finding Tony, the team is able to get both audio and visual on him and see his predicament. Because of the imminent danger (pssst, iceberg), Doug must also travel back to the same point in time to help Tony escape. 

     While the project had now been successful in sending two men through time, the team back at the installation found they couldn’t manage to bring them back, only remove them from their current time and send them to another era. The senator assures them that the funding will continue until both Newman and Phillips are brought back home. 


     It had been decades since I watched the show, but thanks to a weekend marathon on the Decades channel, and then more eps on YouTube, I was reacquainted with this gem. It’s great fun, informative, action packed, and absolutely bonkers. Let’s start with the fact that there’s an installation that’s as big as a city resting underneath the Arizona desert, some 800 stories deep. Everything’s also driven by a humongous nuclear power source. The show features a couple very cool model shots and matte paintings to show us the depth and enormity of this wondrous set up. It is sci-fi heaven. The design of the constructed tunnel itself is beautiful. Science fiction meets pop art, and it really is huge, with the mouth of the tunnel stretching both 25 feet high and wide. 

     Two arches emerge from the sides of the tunnel to transmit a semi-transparent screen so we have a visual of wherever the guys are in time. Their “cameras” are our cameras. Their microphones are ours. How exactly do they accomplish this, much less send these guys back in time and move them around to different places in different times? Sorry, that’s classified.

     But it is pretty damn impressive! I mean, this incredible project, ten years in the making, in *1968*, technically is more advanced than a lot what Star Trek’s Starfleet is able to manage a couple hundred years down the line! When you think about the fact that in one ep, the tunnel sends Doug and Tony a million years in the future, well, Captain Kirk’s got nothing on General Kirk. It is, in effect, time teleportation.

     The boys do get around in that *30* episode season, usually landing in some big time trouble that they’ve got to think, talk and/or punch their way out of it. They land on an island– it’s Krakatoa. You get the idea. The team back at the installation did their level best to try to assist the boys whenever they could, sending messages, or shifting them away from danger when possible, etc.

     The show did get decent ratings, at least enough for ABC to green light a second season, IF Irwin Allen agreed to cut the budget, which he could not in all good conscience do, if they wanted to maintain a certain level of quality. 

     When constructing the episodes, Allen focused on a couple of dressed backlot sets and location shots, but for big and grand historical crowd or battle scenes, they utilized the appropriate stock footage from films, which tied everything together. But even with that type of strategic budgeting, it was still the most expensive show on tv. 

     So, The TIME TUNNEL lasted only one season. Allen has said that if they did proceed with a second season, they would have shifted the focus a bit. They would have the ability to bring Doug and Tony back and forth, but they’d send them on missions to right certain wrongs in history, or fix certain problems or anomalies that surfaced, etc. Basically taking the Quantum Leap approach 25 years before that show began. 

     There have been at least two attempts at revivals over the years, but they never got past a pilot. Maybe that’s for the best though, as there was a distinct look and feel to the 1960’s sci-fi shows. They were usually more colorful, more impactful, with fantastic visuals, impressive musical scores (John Williams composed the theme song), and of course plenty of wonderfully choreographed fist fights. 

     The thing is… any production company these days would be hard pressed to even design a look for the Tunnel that could compete with the original. Although, an enterprising studio could always take the approach that that city is still there under the desert, with it’s nuclear power core. Maybe dust off that amazing structure at the heart of it (just rebuild the damn set piece!), and go from there. 

     How do you go about watching this classic? Well, I think they’ve got a couple volumes available on Amazon, but beware some full season sets and region 2 and don’t play in America, but they alert to you those. Also available on Amazon Prime video, I think you can also buy the series. All but one of the 30 episodes are available on YouTube. However, of the two people that put them up there, there are caveats. 

     First, because of the lower resolution where they had to grab them from, the picture appears smaller and wedged into a brick framing device, or an otherworldly background. This isn’t really an issue as it’s for the good of the resolution of the picture. 

     Second, of the two YouTubers who have posted the eps on there, “Greenside”’s eps are fine, but Logan Bianchi has, for some reason, sped them up a tad, resulting in chipmunk voices. go figure. He’s got the majority of them up there with the brick background. 

     Mind you, I like the show so much, I didn’t let that stop me from watching. And maybe keep an eye on the decades channel to see where they actually run the show, etc. It’s worth the time and viewing.