Bad Comic Panels #10: “Just like a woman! […] you’re too scatterbrained and emotional!”

Just like a woman! Everything I do is for your own good, but you're too scatterbrained and emotional to realize it!
Source: Fantastic Four #23, 1964

Ah, Reed Richards. Few characters have been as consistently portrayed as sexist, in mainstream superhero comics. It’s probably because he and Sue were one of the first “real” couples in superhero comics: they were already dating in the very first issue, and were married in the third annual (1965). Therefore, all the “morals” of the late 50s and early 60s could be seen in their relationship; other couples typically came much later, and the moral zeitgeist had, by then, progressed.

Here we see another great example: Reed (and he isn’t depicted negatively, therefore Stan Lee seemed to agree, at the time) treats Sue as if he was a parental figure (instead of a boyfriend, which he was at the time), and insults her entire gender by saying that women are “too scatterbrained and emotional to realize” how, basically, men know best. In other words, according to this view, women should look up to men, including steady boyfriends and husbands, in much the same way as children look up to their parents, trust them implicitly, and obey them, because parents are adults and are, therefore, the only ones who can be rational and responsible.

And what’s worse is that, in the next panel… Sue agrees! Even though she challenged Reed in the previous panel (with, you’ll note, a childish retort: “go polish a test tube or something!”), after she leaves she admits to herself that Reed was right, that he really knew what’s best for her, and that she — like all women — only didn’t accept it at the time because she’s “too scatterbrained and emotional”.

The early 60s, ladies and gentlemen! πŸ™‚

Bad Comic Panels #9: “Our Communist overlords will slay us if we fail in our mission!”

"We have no choice! Our Communist overlords will slay us if we fail in our mission!"
Source: Tales of Suspense #50, 1964

Since the Anti-Communism entries in the Bad Comic Panel series have, so far, been about the Soviet Union, I thought that such a “monopoly” would be unfair to our Chinese friends in the 1960s, who have been ignored so far. This, then, is the first of several panels I have already chosen to show that, when it came to crude anti-Communism, Stan Lee and Marvel were equal opportunity stereotypists. πŸ™‚

The panel above shows four fearful Chinese military officers who have been sent to negotiate with the Mandarin, who, interestingly, was a Chinese super-villain but not a Communist; his demeanour and trappings were all from imperial China (at least, as seen by westerners in the 60s). We’ll be seeing more of the four — and the Mandarin himself — in the near future. Meanwhile, I couldn’t be compiling this list and not include such a delicious quote as “Our Communist overlords will slay us if we fail in our mission” — or, translation, Communist leaders are evil (hey, but aren’t you “commies” as well?) and regularly kill underlings for failing. Then again, that comes straight from the official Evil Overlord manual, doesn’t it?

Bad Comic Panels #8: “Da! That is why you will never be dictator!”

Khrushchev: "Da! That is why you will never be dictator!"
Source: Fantastic Four #17, 1963

Unlike other entries in the Bad Comic Panels series, this one’s main quote is from an actual historical figure. I really love how the morally simplistic comics of the 60s (and earlier) depicted their opponents — such as Communists, in this case — as “hi, I’m evil!” card-carrying villains. πŸ™‚ In this particular case, we have a dictator describing himself as such — which is rarer than you might think.

Other things to appreciate here:

  • the Commies are depicted as not just being in competition with the US, or “the capitalistic countries” in general, but as actually living just for beating them. They actually sit around a radio set waiting for news of their counterparts’ demise. Guys, get a life, will ya? ((in Soviet Russia — and, here, this is actually appropriate –, life gets YOU!!))
  • not only that, but two of them are shown holding glasses of wine or champagne. Nice! πŸ™‚ Though I’d have though vodka would have been more appropriate…
  • can you really see Khrushchev’s “number twos” addressing him as “Comrade K”? πŸ™‚ And don’t tell me that this was a case of censorship, as, if they printed comics like this, they weren’t particularly worried about what the Kremlin would think of them, or how it would affect US-USSR relations…
  • “Comrade K” is actually depicted relatively benignly here, being the only one among the Communists in the room with a brain. Very different from an Iron Man comic from the same era ((the one with the origin of the Crimson Dynamo)), where he is presented as a sniveling, treacherous coward (we actually see his thought balloons)… and fatter and uglier, too!
  • is the guy on the left, the one wearing purple, supposed to be based on Trotsky? He had been dead for 23 years when this comic was published, you know… Or perhaps that look was based on an “archetype” of the “evil Commie intellectual” common during the 50s-60s… anyone?

Bad Comic Panels #6: General Fang two-in-one

I could have stretched this one into two separate posts, but since they would both concern the very same character (again, much like Karl Kort, never seen again after this story, sadly), and are from the same story, I chose to do a “two-in-one” with the best / worst two panels featuring this fascinating “yellow peril” villain, General Fang, featured in The Incredible Hulk #5, from 1962.

The first is after the Hulk, disguised as the Abominable Snowman (don’t ask), had destroyed a few of Fang’s tanks and weapons. Naturally, his men are worried:

General Fang: "He dared to advise ME! To the FIRING SQUAD with him!"
Most leaders, even actual dictators, typically have advisors. But not Fang. Nosiree. He is far above that.

But Fang, reminding me of a couple of bosses I had in the past, knows how to deal with those pesky outside contributions. I bet the other guy, the one with the simian look and the ridiculous huge bowl with a star, will not ever think, in the future, of offering the slightest suggestion to his most glorious general!

The next panel comes a bit later in the story, after Fang has ordered the launch of his missiles into the peaceful neighboring country of “Llhasa”, which is of course not meant to be Tibet (whose real-life capital is “Lhasa”, with just one “L”), perish the thought.

General Fang: "It's time for the hordes of General Fang to strike terror to those who were foolish enough to survive my missile attack!"
Would YOU be foolish enough to survive his missile attack? Come on, spit it out. Would you?

As the caption in the panel says, the Hulk stops the missiles, but Fang doesn’t know that yet, and so he orders his cavalry (just the right choice for attacking snow-covered mountains, I guess) to attack, and to “strike terror to those who were foolish enough to survive (his) missile attack“.

Because, when General Fang attacks your country, to even survive is but mere foolishness. Makes sense. πŸ™‚ I must use this phrase more often…

Bad Comic Panels #4: “a pretty young lady can always be of help — just by keeping the men’s morale up!”

"A pretty young lady can ALWAYS be of help -- just by keeping the men's MORALE up!
Source: Fantastic Four #12 (1963)

Yes, if your sense of humor is anything near mine, you may be grinning already, after reading the dialog above. πŸ™‚ But, for the full effect, this entry in the Bad Comic Panels series requires a little more background.

So, Fantastic Four #12, which we’ve already seen before, was, I believe, Marvel’s first “crossover” ever; until then, all of its characters stayed in their books. The Hulk (whose identity wasn’t publicly known at the time) was being suspected of sabotaging some missile installations in a military base, and the FF were asked to help capture him. After a page where the three male members of the Fantastic Four boast, very childishly (yes, even Reed Richards) about how each of them will use his own powers to capture the Hulk, the Invisible Girl, Sue Storm (she hadn’t married Reed yet), says that she probably won’t be of much help (this was before she developed her force field / turn other stuff invisible powers; at the time, her only power was to turn herself invisible, nothing more), and General Ross, without realizing how his words could be interpreted in a later, more cynical age, implies that that’s not a problem, as:

… a pretty young lady can always be of help — just by keeping the men’s morale up!

“Morale”? That’s what they called it those days? πŸ˜€

Of course, arguably the best part is yet to come, as Reed — Sue’s boyfriend, and eventual husband — agrees with Ross:

That’s just the way we feel about Sue, general!

In other words, agreeing that her girlfriend — and, by extension, all women — aren’t much good for anything… but that’s OK, because the only thing they need to do is look good. Ah, early Marvel comics. πŸ™‚

Bad Comic Panels #3: “It’s a membership card in a subversive Communist-front organization!”

It's a membership card in a subversive Communist-front organization! That means -- Karl Kort must be -- A RED!
Source: Fantastic Four #12, 1963

Comics, like all forms of art, are a product of their times. In the early 60s, American mentality was still mostly based on the 50s, with their sexism ((and there’s an even better one in this very issue, but I didn’t want to go after the same theme twice in a row, so you’ll have to wait for a future installment of Bad Comic Panels.)), and a huge dose of paranoia, especially in relation to Communism and the Soviet Union. At those times, many people really thought that a Soviet invasion was imminent, and that America was already full of Communist spies and sympathizers. If you read the first year of, say, Iron Man, the Avengers, or the Hulk, you’ll find a lot of “red menace” stories, with “commie” villains so obviously evil that, in a way, it negates the paranoia — there would be no fear of Communist spies if they were so easy to spot. πŸ™‚

The example above is one I always found funny, ever since I read it a couple of decades ago. Obviously, Rick Jones’ dialog is great (“That means — Karl Kort must be — A RED!”), but there’s also that other little morsel: that a Communist spy kept his membership card in his wallet! πŸ˜› Rick’s description of the organization Kort belongs to is also unintentionally humorous, and I have always found it funny to imagine that the card itself read something like:

(hammer and sickle)  RED MENACEΒ  (hammer and sickle)
Subversive Communist-front Organization
Member name: Karl Kort

After all, “subversive” and “Communist-front” weren’t terms that the average teenager was likely to use, were they? So, maybe Rick was in fact reading from the card! πŸ™‚ Anyway, sadly, this colorful and interesting villain, filled with intelligent and original motivations, didn’t ever appear again. Who knows what interesting, innovative stories featuring Karl Kort, and the organization he was a member of, could have been written…

What’s so funny about ‘The Human Top’?

Some of you may recall how, in my recent post about the Wasp’s useful and insightful contribution to a discussion in a room otherwise full of men, as I mentioned that they were trying to capture the Human Top, I included this aside:

a villain whom nobody could take seriously until he later changed his name to Whirlwind, and got himself a new costume that didn’t look like he had a giant onion for a head…

Some, however, may not immediately see what’s funny — and dumb — about a supposedly “serious” villain (i.e. not one simply played for laughs) calling himself “The Human Top”. Especially in the case of non-English native speakers (not that I’m one myself, but…). Mainly because “top“, in this context, is a term whose meaning many people won’t know, mostly because 1) it’s already a common word, as the opposite of “bottom“, and 2) its meaning here refers to something that, while centuries old (if not millennia — I’ve just investigated, and it isn’t known), is relatively unseen these days — most people probably grow up without ever seeing one or even hearing it mentioned except perhaps when their parents or grandparents reminisce about the “good old days” and what they played with when they were kids, instead of these new-fangled Nintendos and Playstations.

This, then, is a top, also known as a spinning top:


And, since the guy’s power was to spin around very fast, that’s naturally what Stan Lee named him after. πŸ™‚ Lee was a great creator, but from time to time he came up with very dubious names for characters or teams: did you know that his original name for the X-Men, overruled by his publisher, was “the Merry Mutants“? The prosecution rests. πŸ™‚

And, naturally, if a character was called “the Human Top”, it made sense that he looked like a top, right? So, here’s the guy:

The Human Top
Source: Tales to Astonish #50, 1964

Yup. He wore a helmet in the shape of a spinning top. Though, to me, it looks more like an onion. πŸ™‚

What’s interesting is that, as I said, this character was supposed to be serious — indeed, he was Giant-Man’s first foe after he added the “Gi” part to his name (before that, he was simply Ant-Man). And his ability — spinning around at an incredible speed — was actually very powerful and effective: he could move extremely fast, was virtually impossible to grab or hit, could “fly” up simply by spinning very fast in one place, and in one later story, he actually managed to beat Quicksilver, Marvel’s equivalent of the Flash. Not only that, he was one of the most intelligent villains at the time, being both a good planner capable of subtlety, and a quick thinker. But who could ever take seriously a guy named after an old children’s toy and who looked like an onion bulb? πŸ™‚ So, nobody can blame him for later changing his name to Whirlwind, and donning a new costume.

Now, I could tell you about the Trapster, formerly known as Paste-Pot Pete… πŸ™‚

Bad Comic Panels #2: “If there’s one thing I like, it’s being in a room full of men!”

Wasp: "If there's one thing I like, it's being in a room full of MEN!"
Source: Tales to Astonish #51, 1964

Sometimes, things that were common and acceptable at one time become unintentionally funny decades later. A great example is the panel above, in which Giant-Man (Hank Pym) and several government types are discussing how they’ll frustrate the Human Top ((a villain whom nobody could take seriously until he later changed his name to Whirlwind, and got himself a new costume that didn’t look like he had a giant onion for a head…))’s plans, what does the Wasp, a.k.a. Janet Van Dyne, Giant-Man’s girlfriend and sidekick, co-founder of the Avengers, who in the future would get to be one of the most successful leaders of that group ((in Roger Stern’s excellent run)), think of the entire situation, and what insight will she add to the discussion?

"Mmmm, if there's one thing I like, it's being in a room full of MEN!"

Yup. πŸ™‚

And this was in a comic by the top creative team at the time, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Now, stuff like this was actually common at the time, and nobody blinked an eye at it, or even saw any possible implications in a young woman claiming to… ahem… love being in a room full of men. πŸ™‚ Those were indeed sexist times, and that included comics; a woman’s goal was, basically, to get married and settle down, and a “proper” woman looked up to men, depended on them, and remained silent while the males discussed the “important stuff”. Even some earlier, innovative female characters weren’t much better: remember than, when Wonder Woman joined the Justice League, she was the secretary of the group (though, of course, that’s been retconned since then). There wouldn’t be real independent women in mainstream comics until the 70s, with Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers) being an early example; she was actually billed at the time as Marvel’s first feminist heroine.

Comics: recap captions and lampshade hangings

If you’re a TV Tropes regular, you’ve probably seen this panel before:

Uncle Scrooge - recap caption lampshade hangingYou can find if, of course, in the page for the As You Know trope: the one where character A explains to character B, in detail, something that character B already knows — sometimes even beginning with the words “as you know” — as exposition for the reader / viewer. The above panel, however, is also a perfect example of another trope: Lampshade Hanging, where the characters acknowledge the presence of a trope; by doing so (“this is like a bad horror movie!”, the character says…), the reader / viewer usually tends to “forgive” the author for the use of an unrealistic trope, even if just unconsciously.

Anyway, while reading Steve Englehart’s run on West Coast Avengers, yesterday I found another perfect (and humorous) example of both “As You Know” and “Lampshade Hanging”, and I can’t resist sharing it here:

West Coast Avengers - 'as you know'

Get it? The “joke” here is that their conversation is totally unrealistic; people don’t talk about things they both know perfectly well with all those expository details, almost as if expecting the other not to know what they’re talking about. Instead, the conversation is solely for the benefit of the reader… and the author even acknowledges (or “lampshades”) that in the caption box!

Of course, any real Marvel fan would need no introduction to those two: he or she’d instantly recognize Daimon Hellstrom, the son of Satan a-demon-who-used-to-be-Satan-but-was-changed-to-a-pretender-so-as-not-to-offend-the-religious-crazies, and Patsy Walker, formerly from Marvel’s 1940s romance comics, and later a superheroine in her own right. But I digress…

Now reading: Steve Englehart’s “West Coast Avengers” run

I’ve read a lot of Englehart’s Marvel stuff in the past, including, of course, his runs on Avengers and Defenders, but this is my first time reading this:

West Coast Avengers #1 West Coast Avengers #2

Loving it so far; it’s far more “crazy” than most superhero group books (though it’s not really a “humor” book the likes of Giffen and DeMatteis’ JLA), and both the characters and their characterization are great; it’s the first time I found the Grim Reaper (Wonder Man’s brother) interesting; I always groaned every time I saw him on a cover, since, to me, he was a boring villain with boring powers ((he was a normal human who carried a technologically advanced weapon in the form of a scythe — thus the name –, which had powers as the plot required and therefore he would always defeat all the Avengers single-handedly, until the last page or so where something would conspire to defeat him)) and a boring motivation ((“you let my brother die! no, wait, you defiled my brother’s memory by having an android around with his brain patterns! no, wait, my brother is back, but he’s not exactly like my mental image of him, therefore it’s not really him and you’re mocking his memory again! no, wait…”))). It also seems to be subtly much more “mature” than most mainstream comics of its era; in fact, I’m surprised that Marvel let Englehart do all he did just in the first 5 or so issues (one word: Tigra). According to Englehart, there was indeed editorial interference (including rewriting his dialogue), but that was at the end of his run (and a good reason as any other to leave a book, I guess), which is still more than 30 issues from now.

Anyway, highly recommended; it’s the kind of “laid back” comics you don’t see these days (where everything must be deadly serious! The end of the world! A crisis!)