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Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: Soothsayer Kirby

Jack Kirby Collector: Incidental Iconography: Silver Star

Patreon: Webcomics Textbook: Key Texts: Dumbing of Age, Part 3  

Kleefeld on Comics: Why Are Webcomics Still Not Discussed?

Patreon: Webcomics Textbook: Key Texts: Dumbing of Age, Part 4  

Kleefeld on Comics: Some Recollections on Storm

Kleefeld on Comics: Origins of Superman Celebration



I think it was right around the turn of the millennium that I first learned of Superman Celebration in Metropolis, IL but it's actually been held every year since 1979. Using the town's name to play off the well-known fictional home of Superman seems obvious enough, but since I've never been a particularly huge fan of Superman himself, I never bothered exploring how/why it started.

The city was actually named and founded in 1839, with the thinking being that it would become a major transportation hub along the Ohio River. It never did, and it remained largely agriculturally based with the biggest industry otherwise being uranium processing for nuclear reactors. The Honeywell processing facility was built in 1958 and its presence largely inhibited anyone else from setting up there.

Apparently, in the late 1960s/early 1970s (I can't find precise dates) the city started playing with the Superman connection. The town managed to get DC to officially recognize the city as Superman's hometown in a formal ceremony on "Superman Day" -- January 21, 1972. Superman was, of course, a well-known and well-loved character by that point but DC was still a relatively simple comics publisher. They had only just been bought by Kinney Corporation and -- despite having worked the Superman license for decades -- was still largely thinking in a comic book publisher mindset, as opposed to a media organization like Disney. So DC likely saw this as an opportunity to push themselves forward onto a larger media stage.

Superman Theme Park
Enter The Amazing World of Superman.

DC basically proposed a Superman theme park, not unlike Disneyland. They got Neal Adams to design up some sketches, which seemed to draw inspiration from the Supermanland story from Action Comics #210. In 1973, they helped to set up an exhibition in Metropolis showcasing Adams' ideas along with original comic book art and a collection of Superman memorabilia. The exhibit opened in late May but only a few months later, the OAPEC members who controlled around 3/4 of the world's oil started deliberately slowing production to protest other countries who supported Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Coupled with the stock market crash that had begun in January, the US economy -- particularly the tourist economy -- all but collapsed. When it became clear that this wasn't just an overnight event, the idea of building a new theme park anywhere was dropped.

Superman Statue
It took another six years before the city could attempt revitalizing their attempt at building a tourism industry. That's when Superman Celebration first started, trying to capitalize off the first Christopher Reeve Superman film. But it was still a small start. A seven-foot, fiberglass Superman statue that only cost $1,000 wasn't erected until 1986. (I can only find this one small photo of it, at the left.) It wouldn't be until 1993 that it would be replaced by the fifteen-foot, bronze statue that is more well-known today. That was also the year that the Superman Museum opened right behind the centrally located icon. The Noel Neill statue didn't debut until 2010.

In virtually every article I've seen discussing the theme park, there's almost unilaterally a wistful "what we almost had" touch to it. But I wonder if it would have ever been as good as it was imagined. At a projected cost of $50 million (roughly $300 million today) how great a theme park would that have actually built? It sounds like a decent chunk of change, but the recently opened Star Wars themed Galaxy's Edge cost roughly $1 Billion and that consists of essentially only two rides. A single, straightforward roller coaster is typically in the $20 million range. Honestly, to me, it sounds like the original budget would've resulted in a fairly cheap-looking attraction relative to the scale of Adams' drawings. We'd have ended up with either a severely limited version of what he proposed, or a very shoddy looking one. Neither of which, I suspect, would have fared well for more than a decade.

And we wouldn't have the Superman Celebration that we do today!
Uncanny X-Men #180
The first instance of Storm that I recall seeing was Uncanny X-Men #180. I had only really started getting into comics a year prior, and that was through the Fantastic Four. I had seen the Avengers crossover in a few issues, but there wasn't any real interaction with the X-Men. I believe I got this issue in one of those three-for-a-buck bags of comics they used to sell. I believe the bag also came with Avengers #242 and Incredible Hulk #294 -- I know this because all three issues end with their respective heroes heading off in Beyonder's transporter that sends them all to Secret Wars #1. Coupled with the FF that did the same, I found myself tracking down that series. (Although since the three issues were in that bagged form and not right off the newsstand, I believe I was several months behind initially.)

Anyway, back to Storm...

So my introduction to Storm is with her having recently donned a black leather biker-type outfit and styling her hair into a mohawk. Kitty Pryde was still decidedly uncomfortable with Storm's new look, and the two of them talk out some of their issues/concerns, showcasing a lot of Ororo's inner struggles. So that acted as a nice primer for me. Plus, we not only see Storm use some of her powers, but she also takes out a group of common thugs with just her bare hands so she's clearly established as a serious badass for me.

I never became a huge X-Men fan, but I have read some extended runs over the years. I got a greater sense of her background, and her character development from her earliest appearances. Storm never became a particular favorite of mine, but I always did appreciate her demeanor relative to the other X-Men. She always seemed more adult than most everyone -- she tended to hold herself above most petty squabbles. In a somewhat regal manner befitting the goddess she used to be treated as. But if you pissed her off... man, you were in some deep doggie-doo-doo then! That always struck me as one of her more unique qualities. While everyone else was arguing or fighting over some stupid misunderstanding, she tended to hold back and tell everyone they were acting like idiots.

In 1996, I launched a fan site dedicated to the Fantastic Four. Lots of info about the characters, issue summaries and reviews, a merchandise museum showcasing old toys and games and such featuring their likenesses, news updated every week... Tons and tons of info. About a decade after I started, Marvel announced that Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman would be stepping away from the team for some time, while Black Panther and Storm would join. I spent the next several months uploading information about those two characters. As I was still going through slogging through tons of X-Men information I now had to catch up on and add, the issue solicitations noted that Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman would be returning full-time. I was struck by the huge amount of work I still had to put in to get a reasonably comprehensive listing of Storm's issue credits for what amounted to a a half-year stint on the team. My issue library would be overflowing with X-Men appearances, despite the site not really being about the X-Men at all. Just because Storm was a part of the FF for half of 2007.

Between that and the overall negative direction Marvel was taking their entire line, I basically gave the website up. It had become far too much of a chore, and I was getting far, far too little enjoyment out of the comic itself, much less the site.

Seeing Storm only sporadically in the X-Men, but then full-time in the Fantastic Four, made for an interesting contrast. She always felt very much at home with the X-Men, probably in part because A) she was literally created for that team, and B) that's where I first saw her. She didn't seem to fit the FF -- that somewhat regal nature I noted earlier diminished the familial aspect of the book. Even though, on paper, she plays much the same role than the Invisible Woman did. I suspect that's why I also feel Medusa was a weak choice the team, and is possibly one of my least favorite substitute members (after Storm). In fact, the Invisible Woman's tenure as regent to the throne of Old Atlantis seemed off to me, probably also because her generally more motherly demeanor was set aside for a more impartial one during that time.

I think changing the cast of a long-running book can be interesting, in that it forces some new character dynamics, but Storm's personality never seemed to jibe with the Fantastic Four. And the reason it didn't jibe with them is probably also why she's never really jibed with me either.
Webcomics cover
I'm currently going through the final-final digital proof for my Webcomics book. The one where the editor has said, "OK, this is your absolute last chance to make any changes and, really, you're pretty much just limited to typos." Since the last proof I went through, I did have a slight panic attack that was along the lines of, "What if people read this and think it's awful? Like, really awful. Like, laughably pathetically awful. Like, who-let-this-guy-anywhere-near-a-keyboard awful." And it wasn't the random readers I was thinking about, but the people who I actually know and study or create comics for a living.

Reading it again in this proof did put my mind at ease a bit, actually. The language isn't terrible. It seems to flow reasonably well. I don't think I've made any glaring errors or posited any absurd theories. But I had another slight panic attack when I realized that I finished most of the writing for this over a year ago now -- an eternity in internet time. I had made a very conscious effort to avoid tying the manuscript too much to specific technologies that would likely be outdated very quickly, so I'm not overly concerned there. But what about new research? What research have people done and written about and presented that might back up or, worse, contradict what I've written about?

So for the past couple of days, I've been trying to dig around and see what articles and papers about webcomics have been written up in the past year. What about that one doctoral candidate I heard present back in 2018? She was more forward-looking than anyone else I heard that weekend. What about comics journalists? Comicsgaters have surely harassed more women and minority webcomic creators to the point of newsworthiness!

But, there's... nothing.

I mean, yeah, Gary Tyrrell is still keeping up with news nuggets* over at Fleen and Brad Guigar is still providing advice to other webcomikers on Webcomics.com but I'm not really seeing anything else. No change in broader coverage, no new thesis papers, certainly no printed volumes. I had to halt my webcomics column over at FreakSugar (mainly because of health issues -- I was hit by a car and was in rehab for over a year... which put me seriously behind schedule in writing my book!) and no one has stepped up to fill that void. On FreakSugar or anywhere!

Back in 2013, I had someone tell me they were trying to do research on webcomics for his academic work, and one of their biggest stumbling blocks was not finding anything. They said that any searches they did turned up pretty much only my work. I was writing for MTV Geek at the time, and banging out a weekly column that tended to be in the 500-1000 word range. Not particularly long, and certainly not rigorous enough for academia. But that was all he could find.

We're a better part of a decade later, and there's still nothing.

On the one hand, I do appreciate that having a pretty much wide open field means that my book will be the first of its kind. Even if I'm off base on aspects of it, I'm waaaaay out in front just by virtue of no one else trying. But on the other hand, WHERE THE HELL IS EVERYBODY?!? I've said this before but when I started seriously looking at webcomics in 2004, I felt like I was already pretty far behind the curve. And yet, fifteen years later, everyone else seems like they haven't even gotten that far yet.

My hope now is that, regardless of how good or bad people think the book is, it finally kickstarts the conversation. I've been complaining for over a decade now that I'm one of the few people out here talking about webcomics, and it seems like no one's been listening. But with an actual publisher behind this, and their aiming at an academic audience, and the sheer volume of words I put down in one place about the subject -- with all that, I'm hoping it sparks enough people to start seeing, thinking, and talking about webcomics.

And if people think it's good, too, I'll be that much happier! :)

* No disrespect intended to Gary by calling them "nuggets." He is reporting on what's going on, but he mostly just hits some highlights and sends readers over to creators' websites and social media posts. Even though there's not a lot of journalistic digging going on or anything, that's still far more than anyone else is doing. I know I certainly appreciate his efforts.
Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is an excellent piece of cinema and it's often hailed as a classic. Interestingly, the comic book adaptation of the movie however came out in 1976, eight years after the movie's initial release. The treasury edition comic was written/drawn by Jack Kirby, using dialogue not only from the film but also from Arthur C. Clarke's novel as well as an early draft of the script that had some notable changes in HAL's speech patterns. Later in '76, Kirby then launched what turned into a ten-issue series by the same name, but it explored the ideas he took from the movie in other directions.

2001 #5 cover
Of interest to us at the moment is issue #5. The issue starts with a green, monstrous-looking alien hunting down the superhero White Zero. The captions inform us that the year is 2040 and the superheroes of comic books have become an entire lifestyle. White Zero continues battling villains through almost half the book before finally rescuing the princess, only to discover she's the wrong princess! He then calls up management to complain...

It turns out that White Zero is just a fake identity for Harvey Norton, who had paid for an adventure with a business called Comicsville that creates artificial environments specifically for people to pretend to be superheroes. It's a similar idea to what's presented in the Westworld movie, which came out a few years before. However, where Westworld focused almost exclusively on the fictional world/theme park itself, Kirby here focuses more on the society that might give rise to such businesses. What might the world look like that people would be eager for that type of experience and simply couldn't get an actual experience of, say, climbing a mountain or camping in the woods?

The world Kirby creates in scarcely over two pages is bleak. The captions read...
New York, like all large cities of the year 2040 A.D., is a vast community sheltered by an astrodome. It is a great shopping mall, stretching for endless miles -- and Harvey Norton is now just another mote among the shuffling masses... The automated subways are efficient, and as always, overcrowded and overused. The automobile has been scrapped. Only politicians buy the few that are left -- as symbols of prestige... Smog is the mast "outside." Years of apathy have allowed it to thicken until it remain to foul the air for centuries to come. Harvey sees it from the windows of his train. He sees it rotting the structures in the abandoned districts. He accepts it like all the others... Harvey finally reaches the housing area, a massive complex in which millions live and ponder upon the direction of their lives in a world of distorted visions...
2001 #5 page 23
And when Harvey goes to the beach the next day, he shows the reader that it's entirely artificial. "Just another hologram projected on the large walls that enclose the beach--and Harvey's life..." Bleak, huh?

That was the world Kirby envisioned would create something like Comicsville. Not a blissful world of unending plenty, but not a desolate apocalypse either. It's actually not entirely unlike a stepping stone to Kirby's ideas about the Anti-Life Equation he used in his Fourth World series a few years earlier. A prequel idea of sorts. The people shown in Kirby's 2001 aren't entirely without their own agency as is suggested Forever People but they are emotionally/mentally ground down almost to the point of giving in to that should a Darkseid type character come along.

With all that being said, here's a promo video from last week touting a new Star Wars themed hotel/experience that Disney is opening in 2021.
I'll let you judge how close we are to Kirby's vision of 2040, a mere twenty years from now.


Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: Truth: Red, White & Black

Patreon: Webcomics Textbook: Key Texts: Dumbing of Age, Part 1  

Kleefeld on Comics: Right, Robin! We Have to Wake our Friend!

Kleefeld on Comics: Skywald's Butterfly

Patreon: Webcomics Textbook: Key Texts: Dumbing of Age, Part 2  



Butterly
When someone is asked about Black female superheroes, it's usually a safe bet that Storm will come up quickly. She's got greater longevity than pretty much anyone else, and her appearances in the various X-Men movies and TV shows gave her a visibility that most heroes simply don't get. But she was hardly the first Black female superhero.

No, credit for the first Black superheroine goes to Butterfly. She was created by Gary Friedrich and John Celardo. (Maybe. Some sources credit Rich Buckler or Syd Shores.) She debuted in the first issue of Hell-Rider from Skywald Publishing in 1971... four years before Storm's first appearance.

Butterfly was Marian Michaels, a lounge singer looking for her big break. As you can see from the image here, her costume is pretty obviously butterfly-themed, and all her powers seem to emanate from the costume itself. She could fly (via a small jet-pack on her back), she had suction cup fingertips, and her wings had the ability to blind/dazzle her opponents. (She didn't seem affected by the light display at all, so it's possible her mask had some filters over the eyes as well. However, this is never expressly stated.) In the two stories we have featuring her, we don't get even a hint of an origin, and she seems to be a pretty competent and even experienced fighter in her debut. In Hell-Rider #2, she also makes reference to being named Butterfly by the papers, but an FBI agent had never seen/heard of her before, so she's apparently made a few headlines, but not too many just yet. She's calm and confident, and would make for an excellent role model.

Hell-Rider #1 is interesting in that it features four stories to debut the titular Hell-Rider, the aforementioned Butterfly, and a motorcycle gang called The Wild Bunch. Although each of the first three stories focus on a single character, the stories are all connected into a larger narrative about heroine dealers, and that is told in the fourth story which features all of these new characters. The second issue of Hell-Rider isn't so grandiose in its ambitions and features stand-alone stories for each of the protagonists. With a Black female lead in 1971, it should be hardly surprising that her antagonists for both issues are basically hooded white nationalists, one group even overtly being directly compared to the Ku Klux Klan.

Hell-Rider only lasted two issues. It's a little unclear why more issues weren't produced, although Skywald began leaning heavily into the horror genre at the direction of Al Hewetson, who began not long after issue #2 came out. So it's possible that he just didn't care to move further into the direction of superheroes.

Skywald itself only survived a few years. Marvel and DC began producing a number of black-and-white comic magazines themselves and basically got their distributor to push Skywald's titles off the stands just from the sheer volume Marvel and DC were publishing. The last issue of anything that Skywald published came out in early 1975.

Despite not being the household name that Storm has become and coming from a publisher few have even heard of, the Butterfly stories are worth checking out. Friedrich, of course, is no slouch in the writing department -- having written the likes of the Hulk, Captain America, and the X-Men as well as co-creating the Johnny Blaze Ghost Rider and Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan. John Celardo, while not having the name recognition of Rich Buckler or Syd Shores, has a long history as well, drawing the Tarzan comic strip from 1954 until 1968, when he started working on a Lassie comic strip.

Fortunately for you, it seems that all of the Skywald books have become public domain. (I can't seem to ascertain how/when/why however. As they came out in the 1970s, this strikes me as highly unusual.) But many of them, including the two issues of Hell-Rider can be found at the Internet Archive here. The stories are solid, as I said, and go pretty quick, so it's definitely worth your checking out.