MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #22: J. JONAH JAMESON

The worst boss in the world.

J. Jonah Jameson, the self-aggrandizing publisher of NOW Magazine and New York City’s THE DAILY BUGLE, was quick to publicly lambaste the misunderstood hero Spider-Man on the pages of his tabloids. Most of his photos of the elusive wall-crawler were provided by freelance photographer and frequent whipping boy Peter Parker. In an ethical paradox, Peter Parker was secretly Spider-Man: Parker was selling “news” pictures of himself to the miserly Jameson. The fact that James used the pictures to accompany hatchet-pieces about Spider-Man seemed to assuage Parker’s already-heavy burden of guilt somewhat.

Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in SPIDER-MAN #1 in 1963, Jameson took what could have been a one-issue appearance and stretched it out for fifty years and counting. Forever chomping cigars, bellowing “PARKER!” and pounding his fists,  JJJ alternates between buffoonish, moments of occasional menace and even rarer heroism. Mostly a straw-man blowhard, he is sometimes surprisingly human and sympathetic. In one early internal monologue, we learn that Jameson’s hatred of Spider-Man stems from his own feelings of jealousy: Spider-Man is genuinely admired and seeks no reward for his good deeds. Jameson is shamed by Spidey’s selflessness and devil-may-care attitude. Despite all his worldly success, Jameson seems most proud of tarnishing Spider-Man’s reputation.

In recent years, Jameson has actually ascended to the position of mayor of New York City. This has given him a bigger pulpit from which to attack his hated rival, and greater height for him to fall on his face.

Christmas comes a little early in tomorrow’s installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY!

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MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #20: CHARLES XAVIER/ PROFESSOR X

The greatest mutant mind on earth.

The opposite number to his former friend, mutant supremacist Magneto, Xavier seeks peace between mutant and humankind. Where Magneto formed a Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Xavier founded a School for Gifted Youngers. He also created the X-Men, a mutant strike team, because Xavier believes sometimes ideology is not enough.

Generally depicted as a protagonist with good intentions, Xavier has always had a Machiavellian streak, present since his first appearance in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s X-MEN #1. Physically handicapped but gifted with telepathy from an early age, Xavier can easily read minds, cast illusions, and rewrite memories, and if he feels justified, he will with little provocation. He’s not only headmaster of his school, he often takes an authoritarian role with all mutantkind as well. As his student Kitty Pryde (whose parents’ memories of the school’s true nature he erased) once put it “Professor Xavier is a jerk.”

Xavier’s complex morality defies simple black and white characterization. He often does terribly things, such as sending a team of X-Men to their deaths and covering it up before recruiting a new team, for the best reasons.  In service to a dream of peace and brotherhood,  Xavier often pushes his basic humanity aside for the good of all.

I hope you’ll return tomorrow for another shining installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY!

MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #19: MAGNETO

Hero, villain, freedom fighter, terrorist… The mutant master of magnetism: Magneto.

Created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as an antagonist for the X-Men the first issue of their comic, Magneto spent his early years as a standard archvillain, going so far as to call his organization The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. At first we knew little about Magneto’s past or motivations, and Jack Kirby’s helmet design for him even disguised his age.

Many years later writer Chris Claremont revealed aspects of Magneto’s history that underlined why he used his powers against normal humans who would oppress mutants: Magneto’s family had been killed by Nazis and he barely escaped with his own life. When his powers emerged and he was once again part of a persecuted minority, this time he had the power to fight back.

Once a friend to fellow mutant and X-Men founder Charles Xavier, Magneto rejected Xavier’s dream of peaceful coexistence with humans. Magneto felt there could only be peace if mutants ruled, and for that to happen rivers of blood had to flow.

Magneto reformed for a time, tempered by Xavier’s influence, he even assumed  a position as headmaster of Xavier’s school in his absence. But eventually his anger and frustration got the better of him, and he realized that without the extremes he represented, the more moderate Xavier would never be heard.

Although he often wars with humanity, Magneto’s motivations are easily understood by anyone who’s felt powerless in the face of injustice an wished they could reverse the polarities of power. Although a villain, Magneto’s relatable anger make him all too human.

I hope you’ll be back for tomorrow’s extra-special installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY.

MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #18: IRON MAN

Most of you are probably familiar with the story of billionaire playboy inventor Tony Stark, a munitions maker injured by (in most versions) his own weaponry in the field. With a shrapnel precariously close to his heart, a makeshift electromagnet is all that keeps him from death. He escapes captivity and saves his own life by making himself a weapon: Iron Man.

Originally created by old standbys Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, in a story scripted by Larry Lieber and drawn by Don Heck in TALES OF SUSPENSE #39 in 1963. Iron man gets periodic updates to his origin, which originally took place in Vietnam and has been moved to Afghanistan, and to his armor, once “powered” by transistors. He’s always remained ahead of the pace of even real-world science.

Although Tony Stark’s identity as Iron Man was secret for most of his career, in recent years he’s gone public with it. An autocratic technocrat, Tony tries to make the world better with his inventions, at the same time steadfastly guarding against people who would misuse it. He often fails to recognize any authority but his own, which sometimes puts him at odds with government and other superheroes (although Tony was thoroughly pro-government in the CIVIL WAR miniseries which pitted brother superhero against brother superhero). Tony has also hit bottom a number of times, such as in the “Demon in a Bottle” storyline, in which his alcoholism costs him the Iron Man armor and even his company.

Constantly teetering between progress and self-ruin, human and machine, Iron Man perfectly represents the nature of technology. And he does it with style.

Iron Man’s look is always evolving, too. After the initial, bulky, robotic Kirby design, Steve Ditko created the first version of the more iconic, streamlined yellow-and-red armor. Although the version I’ve done, inspired by artist Adi Granov, is not his favorite, I dedicate this piece to Iron Man fan Steve Bannister, who’s as resolute (and right more often) in his opinions as Tony Stark himself.

Tomorrow I’ll present a very attractive character for 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 #14: MARY JANE WATSON

“Face it, tiger…”

Before she was finally revealed by creators Stan Lee and John Romita in SPIDER-MAN #42, the running joke was that Peter (Spider-Man) Parker didn’t want to be set up with Mrs. Watson’s niece Mary Jane. Steve Ditko had teased readers with glimpses of her here and there, suggesting she was a high-fashion femme fatale. But when Peter opened the door to meet her, it was Romita’s version that greeted him.

Peter was smitten with Gwen Stacy at the time, and MJ was introduced to complicate things with a love triangle. She was immediately irrepressible, the ypart girl to Gwen’s chaste girl-next-door. Peter was destined to be with Gwen, it seemed, but MJ was hard for him- and readers- to resist.  She was fun but troubled. Smart but irresponsible. Lovable but frustrating.

Eventually Gwen was murdered by the Green Goblin. Over a surprisingly long time, Peter and Mary Jane became a couple. A retcon (retroactive continuity addition) had Mary Jane declaring she’d known Peter was secretly Spider-Man all along, had loved him from afar, but couldn’t be with him because of it.  They were eventually married, had numerous rocky years, and their marriage was, after two decades, magically annulled by editorial fiat in a story too dumb to waste any time on. Such is the grind of monthly comic book continuity.

Because she was never designed to be Spider-Man’s girlfriend- at the time that was Gwen- Mary Jane’s life didn’t revolve around his the way numerous other superhero-accessory-girlfriends seem to. She had her own interests, and disappeared from Peter/Spidey’s life for long stretches. Later stories would suggest a more longstanding connection between her and Peter, but they were never able to tamp down the larger-than-life spirit that first told Peter that, upon meeting her, he’d “hit the jackpot.”

That’s all for today, but don’t be blue: more MIGHTY MARVEL MAY tomorrow!

MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #13: BEAST

Hank McCoy ought to be the poster child for mutants. As created by stalwarts Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in  X-MEN #1 in 1963, Beast was a hirsute, agile man, with oversize hands and feet, but recognizably human. His brutish exterior  was at odds with his eloquent, erudite manner and genius intellect. Seeking the genetic cause of human mutation, Beast transformed himself into a blue-furred, apelike creature (courtesy of writer Gerry Conway and artist Tom Sutton. He also got a great Gil Kane cover out of it!). He could no longer hide his mutation from the world.

More gray than blue on this great Gil Kane cover. And more people need to work “lo” into sentences.

Far from withdrawing from society, Hank became a celebrated member of the  Avengers and continued his work as a scientist. He was a quirky, verbose, well-adjusted guy. Years passed and Hank mutated once again. This time the mutagen was writer Grant Morrison’s mind.

Morrison and artist Frank Quitely redesigned the X-Men for the 21st Century beginning with NEW X-MEN #114. “Increased sunspot activity” was blamed for secondary mutations around the world, and Beast was now a blue-furred, catlike humanoid who felt “like a Hindu sex god.”  While rebuffing an ex-girlfriend, he also alluded to being gay, a revelation which was hastily retracted by Hank himself a few issues later (I’ve always suspected the change was mandated by Marvel’s management, who realized Beast action figures were sold at Walmarts around the country and feared a conservative backlash). Hank’s shifting orientation was not as controversial as his shifting appearance. Although many embraced his leonine look, which he has to this day, others wished for a return to his earlier, more apelike appearance.

I like both looks. My guess is that Quitely was inspired by Jean Cocteau’s Beast in La Belle et la Bête. I went with this version because I haven’t seen it represented in 3D as often.

With luck, you’ll be back for another edition of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY tomorrow!