Stories of extraterrestrial emigration to our beautiful blue planet are nothing new, particularly in recent years when the question of alien identity has become such a hot-button issue. Comics like Port of Earth and Border Town address the varying degrees of xenophobia that continue to simmer forth, putting our preservation and admiration of diversity ever more on the defensive.
The first issue of LaGuardia, by Nnedi Okorafor with art by Tana Ford and James Devlin, immediately sets itself apart from any sci-fi allegories of immigration. In this near-future world, Nigeria was the site of extraterrestrial first contact, and Lagos now operates the most important interstellar airport on the planet. The country, furthermore, has benefited greatly from its early communion with otherworldly species, and advancements in science and technology are ever-present.
But controversy is inescapable, and secessionists recalling the Nigerian Civil War amass, violently opposed to the influx of alien races and influence. Nigerian-American physician Future Nwafor Chukwuebuka arrives in New York City via LaGuardia, now the only interplanetary port in North America, pregnant and intent on smuggling in a mysterious little plant-based alien lifeform who adopts the rather loaded appellation of Letme Live.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, we hope you’ll be able to join us on Tuesday, December 18th for a special Stan Lee Tribute and Trivia Night. Idle Time will be hosting another evening of funnybook quiz questions (many of which are barely comic book-adjacent; don’t be intimidated) at Mission: Comics and Art in the City.
Entry is free, and there will be lots of prizes, including store gift certificates, Stan Lee memorial comics, and surprises from our friends at Super7!
Grab some pals, a mustache & aviator shades, a six-pack of whatever we’re drinking, and let’s hang out.
With the recent news that Marvel Studios is developing The Eternals as the next major entry into the MCU, as well as the focus on The Celestials in Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness’s new Avengers series, the selection of this year’s longbox excavation and research project was pretty easy. I’d long been fascinated by Jack Kirby’s concept of the three branches of humanity (adding Deviants and Eternals to our own lineage) ever since I pored through Mark Gruenwald’s Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe in the 80’s.
I’d had a working knowledge of the group, and of course followed Sersi during her tenure with the Avengers, as my inner teenage fanboy followed me off to college, but until now I’d never pieced together the formation of The Eternals, and hadn’t appreciated the extent to which Kirby’s vision had evolved in the decades since their inception.
The latest in our series of Four Color Primers unravels the origins and development of The Eternals, with a special emphasis on Sersi, historically the most interesting and active of this band of demigods. The aim with these posts has always been to function as a character survey (hopefully less convoluted than your average Wikipedia article, albeit almost always more verbose) that puts a primary consideration on the historical progression of concepts and stories passing from one creative team to the next, rather than a strict fictional biography. This is especially pertinent for The Eternals, whose original conception places their origin a million years in the past, a timeline that has seen refinement and elaboration from numerous writers and artists since Kirby first introduced us to the group in 1976.
Along the way, expect reading recommendations (in collected print format, as often as possible) so that you, too, can gain a firsthand appreciation for the source material that has been inspiring the recent pop culture explosion of four-color superheroic fantasy.
In that eponymous inaugural series, we learn that the Eternals came to life when titanic space-faring beings called the Celestials visited our planet eons ago and, as god-like cosmic entities are wont to do, experimented on our evolutionary ancestors. Using pre-human hominids, this “first host” of Celestials manipulated the genetic stock of our forebears in order to create three distinct branches of life: we humans, the beautiful and seemingly immortal Eternals, and the hideously unstable race of Deviants.
To fully appreciate the inspiration for Jack Kirby’s Eternals, however, we need to first go back several decades, before The King’s groundbreaking work at Marvel and the launch of their 1960’s superhero revolution. Jack and ancient aliens have had an impressively long (and, as conspiracy theorists have suggested, eerily involved) history together.
This week I wanted to focus instead on a character that impacted me greatly in my teenage years and into adulthood. Although not technically a Stan Lee creation (and in fact the character’s provenance was the source of some controversy), the story of the Silver Surfer is undeniably associated with Stan and is an important part of the writer’s legacy. In tribute, here’s a look at the comic book that brought me closer to Stan Lee’s worldview as seen through the eyes of the lonely sentinel of the spaceways, and gave me a better appreciation of the man who helped make Marvel Comics what it is today.
The Silver Surfer #1 (1988)
By eighth grade, I was well and truly entrenched in the Marvel universe, but apart from random issues of 70’s Defenders and summarized tales in Marvel Saga, I didn’t know much about the Silver Surfer until the debut of Steve Englehart’s series and the release of Joe Satriani’s Surfing with the Alien. Both of those artifacts were gateway drugs into the immersive world of Marvel’s galactic space opera, and I spent many of my high school years moving backwards and forwards into the Jim Starlin and Ron Lim eras, digging on Warlock, Eternity, and all the trippy Infinity Watching and cosmic handholding.
But in 1988, another Silver Surfer hit the stands under Marvel’s Epic imprint, and it felt important enough that, despite its incongruities and lack of adherence to all-important continuity, I was compelled to add it to my weekly pull. It was the first of the two-part “Parable” story by Stan Lee and French artist Moebius.
Still in shock that I like a Hulk book this much. I wrote a little about this comic when it debuted and how I was impressed by Ewing & Bennett’s initial issue, but now that we’re six months into Marvel’s Fresh Start, I can say that this is by far my favorite thing the company is putting out.
Al Ewing really won me over to his storytelling sensibilities with The Ultimates but for some reason I thought that would be more of a one-time thing. He just seemed more attuned to that cosmic grand scale story. But Ewing proved me wrong with The Immortal Hulk.
This Hulk story reminds me of old EC horror comics. Morality tales of humans and being judged by some sort of supernatural being. They never have happy endings and always leave you with a bit of incoming dread. That’s exactly what Al Ewing and artist Joe Bennett accomplish with their first arc in The Immortal Hulk.
Ewing weaves together different morality tales with each issue and somehow moves the ongoing story of the Green Door onward. Is the Hulk an avenging devil? A gamma detective dispensing justice?
I really like Ewing’s strategy of making Banner and Hulk secondary characters in their story. You hear more about them and their impact through other characters. Everyone treats them as larger than life figures so when they make an appearance, they really pop.
Jason Aaron’s time with the God of Thunder has given the character and his universe some of their best stories. He introduced Gorr, the God Butcher, a foil to Thor that made the son of Odin question his entire existence, an act of forced self-awareness that would ultimately cost Thor his mantle.
Next we got Lady Thor, Jane Foster, picking up the hammer and continuing to fight for the nine realms, even as doing so slowly killed her. These stories could not have been more different, and they were both certainly divisive, but they represent two extremes upon which Jason Aaron operates. Now the next major chapter in Aaron’s incredible saga begins but where on the Aaron spectrum it lies is still uncertain. We have a return to the muscled macho God of Thunder, but one who has been humbled by unworthiness, one whose job was held by a woman, his ex, while he was deemed a failure. Aaron has spent the bulk of his time on Thor so far breaking down the Son of Odin while building up the people around him. Finally Aaron is rebuilding the broken Thor, and it couldn’t be more beautiful.
The whole world is on the brink of destruction again and only the combined forces of the greatest caped heroes can save the day. Some assembly required.
Cue the new roster of the Avengers, 2018, and they’re staring down the barrel of a very large and very old gun in the shape of the Celestial Final Host. You got your standard members like Cap and Shellhead, but neither of them are leading the charge this time around. That honor goes to the King of Shiny Things, the Cat with the Vibranium Gat, the Wakandan who needs no Palm-frondin’ – Black Panther. Seems like a promising move in new leadership especially with the added angle of the US government rejecting the Avengers as a domestic asset. A foreign national leading the Avengers?! Ooooh we’re gonna have some great issues surrounding sanctions and tariffs for sure.
The Celestials were first introduced by Jack Kirby who was inspired by the almost-definitely true theory that ancient aliens visited earth before we were smart enough to write anything down and kick-started our development. Was Kirby himself a direct descendant of a Martian genetics experiment to produce advanced illustrations of perspective and action? Ancient astronaut theorists saaaay yes. There’s a great collected timeline of this developing hypothesis through sci-fi books and comics for your further edification.
I’m a fan of the retro-cool style of these new god-like threats as well with their 70’s jagged metallic patterns and circuit board chic. Thankfully it’s the 70’s and not the 90’s or these gods would be descending with giant shoulder pads and even gianter shiny guns. Also swords probably. The 70’s still looks cool – everything but the boots. What the hell is going on with that oversized floppy boot cuff that every superhero just kinda has for some reason? What are these modeled after? Did boots come in one-size-fits-all styles where you just pulled the excess boot over itself? Thankfully these Celestials have fastened metal boots with no extra material.
I knew they’d be back. We all knew they’d be back. I have to say, even though I’m no die-hard fan, watching Disney/Marvel put 21st Century Fox in a chokehold by cancelling The Fantastic Four comic was a little hard to watch. Disney really tried to regain the FF and X-Men properties , but Fox really wanted to keep pushing out mediocre movies, so Marvel decided to replace mutants with Inhumans, and the FF got canned.
The Fantastic Four are a flagship franchise. They’re Marvel’s first family! Shutting that book down was symbolic of how ruthlessly protective the Marvel Movie Empire is of its agenda. Whenever the Internet explodes over a celebrated director being removed from the helm of a Marvel movie, I just think, “they shut down The Fantastic Four, of course they’d tell Edgar Wright to shove it.” If there was any illusion that Marvel would remain the same ol’ ever lovin’ comic company that it had been before being bought out, it ends when they shut down an institution to avoid inadvertently promoting a Miles Teller movie.
Fortunately for readers, endings aren’t so permanent in the comic book world. Even if we act like it’s over, we expect a comeback. Disney’s recent purchase of 21st Century Fox paves the way for Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Woman, The Thing, and The Human Torch to enter the Marvel Movie Universe. So naturally the comic has to come back with them.
For those of you who don’t know, Reed Richards and Sue Storm, “Mr. and Mrs. F,” didn’t die when their book got cancelled. Reed, Sue and their two children, Valeria and Franklin Richards, rode off into the figurative sunset when they walked off into the edge of the universe to explore who knows what after the end of Marvel’s Secret Wars event. There was an ambiguous ending built into their finale so that when it was time for the FF to come back, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch (sorry). Nevertheless, resurrections are big events in the comic book world, and when something as monumental as the FF is dismantled, you need to have a helluva team to honor its tradition and restore its prestige. This Dan Slott-Sara Pichelli led creative team is doing just that.
We all know how much Stan Lee meant to the world. There are few figures in the twentieth century that have had as significant an impact on popular culture as had the Forever Face of Marvel Comics. While he modestly downplayed his contributions to society, Stan’s indelible mark on history has given, without question, joy and inspiration to several generations of fans and followers. And will continue to do so for generations to come.
I can’t properly enumerate all the ways in which his enthusiasm, his vision, and his words have influenced me. Without his contributions to the industry, I may never have become the avid devotee of the medium that I am today, and my lifelong Marvel fandom owes everything to his prolific output and creative genius. Stan’s larger-than-life personality is matched by a portfolio of characters that transcend comics, themselves becoming a vital part of our social fabric, and many of whom have meant a great deal to me personally.
So as a small means of tribute, here is the first in a series of reflections on some of my favorite Stan Lee co-creations, and the related comic book issues that recollect childhood excitement and have earned lasting admiration.
Amazing Spider-Man #50
It really began for me with Peter Parker. I can’t remember how old I was when I thumbed through my first Spider-Man comic — no more than five for sure — but I do have vivid memories of watching that old syndicated cartoon on a tiny tube television from the floor of my family living room. I had committed the “does whatever a spider can” theme song to memory, and convinced two kindergarten classmates to perform it with me at a school-wide talent show. The only things I remember from that performance is that my two friends didn’t sing a word (boy did they look stupid standing next me, closed-lipped) and my folks didn’t try to talk me out of wearing my Spider-Man Underoos over my corduroys (damn, I must’ve looked cool). Continue reading In Memoriam: Stan Lee 1922-2018→
As much as I enjoyed Mark Waid’s post-Secret Empire run on Captain America, the entire arc felt like it was doing its best to avoid dealing with the fallout from Nick Spencer’s subversive epic. Initially, Waid’s book, launched under the Legacy trade dress, took the form of a Steve Rogers road trip, an effort to reconnect with a country that had been torn apart after Red Skull successfully re-wired Captain America’s reality to create a bastion of fascism and a conquering leader of Hydra. Then, before that reflective journey could really get going, Cap was frozen (again) and awakened in a future U.S. similarly gripped by an oppressive authoritarian regime. It’s almost as if the editors asked Waid to reinvent Empire, but with Steve now as the savior, rather than the enslaver. And when that little escapade had concluded, we got a few more fill-in issues featuring yet another far-flung future America, this time under the control of the Kree, and with Rogers’s descendants cast as the heroic protagonists.
We expected Marvel to put some distance between “Captain Hydra” and the relaunch, but avoiding a storyline that was so clearly part of Marvel continuity began to feel somewhat cowardly.
Everything about Secret Empire, from its fomenting lead-in story in the pages of Steve Rogers: Captain America, released during the summer of 2016, and the eventual event series, which premiered in 2017, feels like a dark fairy tale of the Trump Era. And, as such, maybe it would have been better received, and, indeed, more impactful, had it been a self-contained “Elseworlds” type story.
Don’t get me wrong — I applaud Spencer and Marvel for boldly following through with such a politically charged story. The problem arises when the comics introduce themes of external forces manipulating our democracy, denials of freedoms, and paralyzing social divisions directly into the mainstream Marvel universe, but then seemingly ignore the repercussions.
Enter Ta-Nehisi Coates and Leinil Francis Yu. Uniting the acclaimed political writer and author of the inspired new Black Panther series with the artist responsible for Secret Invasion seems to be, on the surface, a pretty clear indication that the series was finally ready to address the ominous overtures of last summer’s crossover event. And their first storyline, “Winter in America” does not disappoint.