Category Archives: Superheroes

KILLRAVEN TWO: THE SIRENS OF SEVENTH AVENUE

FOR PART ONE OF BALLADEER’S BLOG’S EXAMINATION OF THIS OLD, OLD MARVEL STORYLINE CLICK HERE  The revisions I would make are scattered throughout the synopsis below.

Killraven Sirens of 7th AveAMAZING ADVENTURES Vol 2 #19 (July 1973)

Title: THE SIRENS OF SEVENTH AVENUE

Synopsis: Killraven, wielder of a mysterious force called The Power, continues to lead his Freemen/ Rebel Alliance against Earth’s conquerors, led by the armored badass Abraxas, the High Overlord. (1973 means this was BEFORE Star Wars, so don’t leave comments claiming this ripped off that film series)

We pick up where we left off – Killraven, still reeling from some of the shocking information that the late Keeper Whitman just relayed to him about Earth’s alien conquerors, has just realized that his escape rout from Whitman’s underground lab has been blocked by three beautiful Sirens.

Those Sirens are Earth women scientifically modified to be irresistible to men through their physical perfection and presumably through pheromone enhancements. We learned last time around that these Sirens have been very successful at flushing out for capture many of the rebel bands scattered throughout post-apocalypse New York and New Jersey. Now they plan to bring in Killraven, leader of the most successful group of Freemen. Continue reading

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GLADIATOR: AN OPERA VERSION OF PHILIP WYLIE’S NOVEL

GladiatorEven though there are signs here and there that audiences are getting fatigued with the oversaturation of superhero adaptations for the big and small screens, there still doesn’t seem to be any end in sight.

What better time for an OPERA version of Philip Wylie’s science fiction novel Gladiator, from 1930? Wylie’s work is often credited with inspiring the creation of Superman and every other superhero that followed.

Long before the overrated and overpraised Alan Moore wrote The Watchmen, this very first look at a superhero presented the figure struggling with the moral issues regarding the use of his superior abilities.

Gladiator 2The central character uses his powers in World War One but afterward must cope with the limits of “super-powers” when it comes to dealing with political corruption and other problems that can’t be solved with violence. Or in which flexing his super-muscles would be counter-productive, maybe even ushering in a dictatorship.

In other words, the same type of stories which today are praised as “innovative” for “deconstructing the superhero mythos” WERE ALREADY EXPLORED IN THIS NOVEL EIGHTY-NINE YEARS AGO! 

As a break from movie and television superhero tales I think an Opera format would be an intriguing and unexpected way of adapting Gladiator. Let’s face it – if it was done for television or movies today it would be criticized as “derivative” (irony of ironies) and “talky.”

Gladiator 4 Man God

Marvel Comics’ 1976 adaptation

That talkyness would slide nicely into a staged opera since, as I often point out in my examinations of 1970s Marvel stories, operas – like many comic books – are filled with lengthy expository monologues, but in song form. (There are countless “senses-shattering” origin stories and villain rants that are sung in operas.) 

Think of this piece as a way of using the familiar superhero formula to encourage more people to “give opera a chance.” I love sharing my enthusiasms and I was very happy with the reception of those blog posts where I wrote about Ancient Greek Comedies to make them seem relevant. I want to try doing the same with operas.

Many people may disagree, but operas and superheroics are made for each other. Look at all the operas adapted from tales of ancient gods or other mythical supernatural figures. When you get right down to it, every larger-than life hero or heroine in any given story can be interpreted from a superhero angle. Continue reading

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KILLRAVEN ONE: WAR OF THE WORLDS

masc graveyard newIn the realm of pop culture it continues to be Marvel Comics’ world! Over the past few years Balladeer’s Blog has been reviewing some old, old, OLD Marvel stories from decades ago. From the research I’ve done, I feel the late 1960s through mid-1970s were Marvel’s creative height, with only the Uncanny X-Men title retaining consistent art and story-telling quality beyond that time period.

I’ve covered The Celestial Madonna Saga (1973-1975), which also contained The Avengers/ Defenders War and the original Thanos War within its own storyline. I’ve examined the 13-part Black Panther story titled Panther’s Rage, the original Kree-Skrull War and, most recently, the 7-part Adam Warlock tale The Magus

Readers requested more Marvel, so, since these are fun and light time-passers, here comes Killraven, the Warrior of the Worlds.  

KillravenWAR OF THE WORLDS/ WARRIOR OF THE WORLDS/ KILLRAVEN: In the early 1970s Marvel was experimenting with hybrid titles combining the old and the new by fusing licensed properties with unique Marvel twists.

The most famous and longest-lasting example was Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu. In 1974 Marvel licensed the use of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu plus other characters from the Fu Manchu tales. Rather than just churn out a Fu Manchu comic book series “the House of Ideas” instead combined it with the Kung Fu craze of the time and created Shang Chi, the son of Fu Manchu.

Shang Chi, as a surrogate Bruce Lee, and Sir Denis Nayland-Smith, as a surrogate Braithwaite from Enter: The Dragon, were the core of the new series. Shang Chi started out as an operative of his evil father Fu Manchu, but realized the error of his ways and threw in with Sir Denis and his team to battle his father’s malevolent schemes.

The previous year – 1973 (so BEFORE Star Wars) Marvel had worked similar “synergy” by taking their license to do a comic book series based on H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and combining it with sci-fi post-apocalypse action. The main character was Jonathan Raven, aka Killraven, a charismatic rebel leading an uprising against Earth’s 21st Century Martian conquerors.

Killraven sword and gunKillraven’s use of a sword AND futuristic firearms in action set against a post-apocalyptic backdrop also brought a little John Carter of Mars appeal into the series. By 1976 the promising saga was canceled due to poor sales but gained a cult following in the decades since then.

Killraven’s influence could be seen in the original 1980s mini-series V, especially the element of humans being used as food by our alien overlords and the sentimental “heroic freedom fighters versus evil tyrants” appeal. Killraven writer Don McGregor incorporated similarly themed stories and characters into Sabre, his other post-apocalypse comic book series. 

Even Star Wars reflected some aspects of Killraven’s tales: the Rebel Alliance against the bad guys, the armored badass (Abraxas, the High Overlord in Killraven’s case) and, of course, the way Killraven wielded enigmatic, more than human abilities called simply “the Power” in K.R.’s series. (PLEASE NOTE: Killraven’s use of The Power came years before Star Wars and The Force.) The young sword-wielding hero was slowly mastering the Power as the series went along, but cancellation cut short his development of his paranormal gifts.

Killraven stampAnd yes, I know that both Killraven and Star Wars drew on the same vast inheritance of sci-fi tropes but the close proximity of K.R. (1973-1976) to Luke Skywalker (1977 onward) makes the comparisons inevitable. 

About fifteen years back, Tom Cruise was set to star as Killraven but eventually all K.R. elements were dropped from the project and Cruise starred in simply another remake of War of the Worlds instead. You have to wonder if the Marvel name would have motivated the filmmakers to keep the Killraven angle if the movie had been done AFTER Marvel became the dominant source for cinematic blockbusters that it is now.

At any rate, let’s dive into the very first appearance of Killraven in 1973: Continue reading

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FIFTEENTH CENTURY BLOCK BOOKS

antichristBlock Books from centuries ago were a form of illustrated storytelling, most often associated with religious topics. Naturally in a period of limited literacy the graven woodblock picture- stories made theological tales even more popular with the masses. In approximately 1455 – 1480 these “proto- comic books” addressed the Antichrist and the End Times.

These particular block books depicted the Antichrist being born “unnaturally” through a caesarean section with a demon serving as midwife. The block book Antichrist is a rare blonde depiction of this figure and he is shown getting an early education in black magic and in sexual depravity, just like Harry Potter. (I’m kidding! … Unless you count slash fiction) Continue reading

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HOMBRE (1981): SPAIN’S POST-APOCALYPSE HERO

HombreAT THE END OF THE RIVER – More Weirdness at the End of the World, this time with an adventure featuring Spain’s answer to Mad Max: Hombre himself. This character was created by Antonio Segura and Jose Ortiz in 1981 in the Spanish publication Cimoc. Hombre went on to appear in notably “adult” comic books and magazines around the world, including reprints in Heavy Metal here in America.    

In this age of non-stop comic book adaptations for movies and television I’m amazed that the excellent Hombre series hasn’t been tackled in some form. The adult sexuality, graphic violence, Alien-style mutated life-forms, relentlessly grim storylines and gratuitous nudity are tailor-made for a cable series or R-rated films.

Hombre 2The title character Hombre roams our post-apocalypse planet armed to the teeth and ready to kill or be killed on a daily basis. His first-person narration echoes the best aspects of hard-boiled Film Noir detective stories while the action and mis en scene combine the best elements of Spaghetti Westerns, Post-Apocalypse movies and Martial Arts flicks. Think Six-String Samurai but without the rock and roll samurai.

There is no optimism in the world inhabited by Hombre. Antonio Segura’s writing features often tragic endings which must have put 1980s readers in mind of the downbeat stories on Hill Street Blues and Saint Elsewhere.

Hombre 3Segura mostly avoided easy narratives and my least favorite storyline involved Atila, the badass woman warrior. The character was great, but the tale seemed very UN-Segura-like to me. I probably would have liked her in her own spin-off story but having two such nigh-indestructible figures in one tale put things too far into the realm of upbeat fictional tropes to me. I’m virtually alone on that, by the way, since most fans LOVE the Atila story.

AT THE END OF THE RIVER – Back to the main topic of this blog post, one of the Hombre tales that best exemplifies the series’ aesthetic sensibilities. Our protagonist is the best there is at what he does, but in a much grimmer and more adult way than Wolverine ever managed.  Continue reading

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JUSTICE SOCIETY REVIEWS: LINKS

Wonder Woman and HawkgirlThank you to readers who reminded me that I did not follow up my examination of the World War Two-era Justice Society of America stories with my usual collection of links. I always did that after similar items like The Celestial Madonna Saga, Panther’s Rage, The Kree-Skrull War and most recently Adam Warlock’s encounter with the Magus, Thanos and Gamora.

In addition to examining these WWII stories I added detailed ways that I would have script-doctored them for a more sophisticated age.

All Star 3THE FIRST MEETING OF THE JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA (December 1940)

Gathered together for the very first time, the JSA members each share an introductory story about themselves (braggarts). The government informs them it has a vital mission for them in the next issue.

My Revision: Since it’s their first meeting I would have had the JSA – including the original female Red Tornado – recount their origin stories to each other. CLICK HERE  

All Star 4FOR AMERICA AND DEMOCRACY (March 1941)

The government sics the Justice Society of America on the Greyshirts, a Nazi-sympathizing group sabotaging America’s industries in case the U.S. enters the war.

My Revision: I had the heroes acting as a team, not on individual missions and once again used the female Red Tornado instead of the awful Johnny Thunder. CLICK HERE

All-Star 5THE MYSTERIOUS MISTER X (June 1941)

A masked man calling himself Mister X organizes America’s criminals into guilds and unions to make them more efficient.

My Revision: I had the JSA acting as a team in 3 adventures against Mister X and used the Red Tornado again instead of Johnny “Jar Jar” Thunder. Plus I used Hawkgirl instead of Hawkman. CLICK HERE Continue reading

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ADAM WARLOCK: THE MAGUS – CHAPTER LINKS

Tom Fleming WarlockAdam Warlock, one of the Marvel Comics superheroes who are not that well known to the public at large right now, will probably be a household word soon like just about every other Marvel character who gets thrown at the big and small screens.

At this point if Marvel tried launching film versions of It, The Living Colossus or Fin Fang Foom they’d probably take over Kaiju leadership from Japan & Godzilla. Recently Balladeer’s Blog did an examination of The Magus, the seven-part 1975-1976 Adam Warlock story by Jim Starlin. If you missed it here are chapter links:

Magus 1PART ONE – ENTER: THE MAGUS – Includes my quick recap of Adam Warlock’s fictional history from 1967 to 1975, including his encounters with the Fantastic Four, Thor and the Incredible Hulk.

Then it’s on to Adam’s first clash with the galaxy-spanning Universal Church of Truth and the mad god it worships – the Magus. CLICK HERE 

Magus Part TwoPART TWO: DEATH SHIP – Adam Warlock gains a new ally in Pip the Troll when he is taken captive by the Church’s starship The Great Divide.

While participating in a prisoner uprising to seize the vessel he also learns more about the atrocities perpetrated on over a thousand worlds by the Magus and his Universal Church of Truth. CLICK HERE   

GamoraPART THREE: THE TRIAL OF ADAM WARLOCK – *** FIRST EVER APPEARANCE OF GAMORA *** Overcoming even more Black Knights of the Church and another battle with the Soul Gem, Warlock at last confronts the Matriarch, the worldly leader of the Universal Church of Truth.

She puts Adam on trial for heresy as part of her plan to seize control of the Church from the Magus. CLICK HERE

Magus fourPART FOUR: ONE THOUSAND CLOWNS – Pip the Troll and Gamora, the most dangerous woman in the galaxy, try to free Adam Warlock from the Pit of the Sacred Palace.

Meanwhile our hero resists the Matriarch’s surreal attempts to indoctrinate him into the Universal Church of Truth. CLICK HERE   

Magus 5PART FIVE: THE INFINITY EFFECT – Face to face with the real form of the Magus, Adam Warlock learns the horrific fate that lies ahead for him as he will transform into the Church’s god while being tortured over a period of 5,000 years.

Gamora’s mysterious secret is revealed. CLICK HERE

Magus 6PART SIX: THE REDEMPTION PRINCIPLE – While evading the Black Knights of the Church Adam, Gamora and Pip encounter the dying Matriarch.

Thanos reveals Gamora’s mind-bending, paradoxical origin and the In-Betweener draws ever closer in order to steal away Warlock and transform him into the Magus. CLICK HERE

Magus 7PART SEVEN: HOW STRANGE MY DESTINY – The story’s final mind-boggling developments unfold as Adam Warlock struggles to fight his fate.

Plus Thanos’ real motives for helping our hero are revealed in the final battles with the Magus, his Black Knights and the cosmic being called the In-Betweener. CLICK HERE  

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