MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #28: BEN GRIMM/THE THING

The ever-lovin’, blue-eyed idol o’ millions, Benjamin J. Grimm.

Reed Richard, Sue Storm, her brother Johnny, and Ben Grimm launched an experimental rocket into a cosmic ray storm and, crash-landing back on earth, were transformed into the superhuman Fantastic Four.  Reed, Sue, and Johnny gained the power to stretch like elastic, to turn invisible at will, and to become a “Human Torch,” respectively, but Ben… Ben was permanently distorted into a humanoid pile of orange rocks. The Thing.

THE FANTASTIC FOUR #1 (1961)was the beginning of what’s considered the Marvel Age of comics. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s great breakthrough was the concept of superheroes with human vulnerabilities and flaws, who fought and reconciled like a family. In the Marvel Universe there were super-powers, but they came at a cost. Prior to that, superheroes usually had secret identities, mortal alter-egos they could retreat to when their adventures were concluded. The Fantastic Four did not; Ben Grimm couldn’t. 

Always a tough Jewish guy from Brooklyn, Ben was now too tough for the small and fragile world around him. At home only with his surrogate family, Ben channeled his great strength into his adventures with the Fantastic Four. Reed, the greatest scientific mind of his generation, looked for a cure for Ben’s condition, but could never find one. Outwardly Ben put on a brave face, playing the same lovable lout he’d always been, waiting for the moment he can let lose and holler  “IT’S CLOBBERIN’ TIME!”

Hope you’ll pass through this way tomorrow for another installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY.

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MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #26: PRINCE NAMOR, THE SUB-MARINER

They say we like people for their good qualities and love them for their flaws. There may be no Marvel character who better exemplifies this principle than Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Appearing in the very first Marvel comic, MARVEL COMICS #1, in a story written and drawn by a young Bill Everett. (Namor’s title, the Sub-Mariner, is pronounced mr-nr, as in “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” as opposed to as in submarine.)

From the beginning, Namor was a contradictory, angry mess. The offspring  of a human sailor and an Atlantean mother, Namor was amphibious, with Caucasian skin tones (as opposed to his mother’s blue skin), pointed ears and elven eyebrows. He possessed superhuman strength and endurance, which made sense since he lived deep underwater and wore only tiny swim trunks, but he also had a feature unrelated to his human or Atlantean heritage: tiny wings on his ankles which allowed him to fly. It’s an entirely whimsical, Golden Age idea which makes no logical sense, even in a world where radioactive accidents grant more superpowers than they do cancer. But the strange detail made him master of land, sea, and air.

But there was no place Namor was truly at home. Although a prince by birthright, Atlantis considered him a half-breed, and the surface world wanted no part of him, either. So he was a belligerent brat, attacking Manhattan with tidal waves and monsters from the deep over perceived slights. When the US entered World War II in real life, Namor decided he hated the Axis most of all the airbreathers.

In the 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revived the Sub-Mariner, initially as a villain, when the Human Torch found Namor living as an amnesiac vagrant in a flophouse. Although he hadn’t aged, years on dry land had erased his memory, but one good dip in the ocean set him back to his petulant, pompous self.

Constantly vacillating between mankind’s defender and its greatest foe, Namor is somehow nonetheless an engaging character.  Like a beloved drunk who gets violent when he’s had too much, Namor’s friends in the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the X-Men, all embrace him when he calms back down.

I depicted Namor with gills, which John Byrne introduced in his Namor series of the 1990s. He also eliminated the wings and suggested too long in either environment triggers Namor’s mood swings, which struck me as over-explanation. The Hulk is the repressed, raging id of  a bookworm scientist, unleashed with the force of an atomic bomb. Namor? He’s just moody.

I hope you’ll swing by for tomorrow’s installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY!

MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #16: DOCTOR DOOM

When you think “arch villain,” no one fits the bill like Doctor Doom. Originally an adversary of the Fantastic Four, also created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Doom grew to be one of the main antagonists in the Marvel Universe.

Victor Von Doom was a college student from the European kingdom of Latveria when he met Reed Richards and Ben Grimm, who would later become Mister Fantastic and The Thing of the Fantastic Four. Doom was Richards’ greatest scientific rival. When Richards tried to correct Doom’s faulty equation on an experiment, Doom’s hubris kept him from listening. The experiment literally blew up in Doom’s face; he blamed Richards.

Now scarred (Lee preferred Doom’s face be ruin in the accident; Kirby wanted to reveal only a tiny cheek  scratch which to the egomaniacal  Doom would amount to the same thing), he donned an iron suit, studied super-science and magic. He declared himself Doctor Doom (because, after all, he never graduated college) and returned home to conquer Latveria.

If Tony Stark’s Iron Man armor is a cutting edge supercomputer in human form, Doom’s armor is a Panzer tank. With no less than the entirety of Latveria’s resources, and endless supply of lookalike “Doombots”, and one of the most formidable intellects on earth, Doom has set out to conquer the world many, many times. And he even succeeded once.

Doom is a complicated character, conflicted by his own desire to be the best, most noble, greatest man and his own selfishness. Ashamed of his Gypsy heritage, he fought and succeeded to make himself a king. His intellect matched (and exceeded) only by Reed Richards, Doom seeks to destroy him. But like many egotists, Doctor Doom is his own worst enemy. He is just as often undone by his own self-sabotage as by his enemies.

Please return tomorrow for another touching installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY!

MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #10: GALACTUS

Galactus, the devourer of worlds! Born before the universe began, created in the Big Bang, Galactus is an unstoppable force of cosmic balance, roaming the stars consuming the life-force of entire planets, leaving them burnt-out husks.

First appearing in THE FANTASTIC FOUR #48 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966, Galactus brought cosmic to superhero comics. He could only be defeated through the deus ex machina of the “Ultimate Nullifier,” a weapon that guaranteed mutally-assured destruction.

Galactus is generally portrayed as aloof and remorseless, often comparing humanity to insects. Although in stature and seemingly humanoid, later stories indicated that he merely appeared humanoid to us and differently to other intelligent species. This accounted for the subtle differences in interpretation by artists interpreting Jack Kirby’s intricate and idiosyncratic design.

My version here borrows from Kirby’s design, but is also strongly influenced by the late artist Moebius, who once drew Galactus in the wonderful SILVER SURFER: PARABLE.

This is the second time I’ve depicted Galactus. The first was several years ago when I drew a comic outlining what would have happened if Stan Lee hadn’t team with Jack Kirby, but instead with religious tract artist Jack Chick. It was written by my friend Ed Conley, creator of the webcomic ED CONTRADICTORY.

Aw, Shit!

Read the entire comic here: Galactus is Coming!

Come back tomorrow for another too-strong edition of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY!