Sunday 31 May 2015

Are You Strangely Silent or Silently Strange??? The Thor Letters

Here’s something which surfaced when I was deleting some old files to make some space on a cluttered hard drive. It arises from an exchange of emails – dated February, 2004 – with a friend, newly arrived in China, on the theme of the superhero comics of our youth. At one point another mutual pal pitches in, although a lot of his contribution sadly had to be excised on the grounds of decency. It picks up with Mick’s response to an observation that Flash is a rubbish superhero, and a confession…   


I would never admit to selling off my comic stash for an Emerson, Lake and Palmer LP…Even if it was true! Halcyon days! Full of hope and sunshine.. But hey, they are not over yet... No sirreeeeee!!!! 

Yes, I agree that Flash was a particularly crap superhero…I certainly wouldn't want my daughter to marry him. 

And Antman too, although he does for the Incredible Hulk in #26 of the Fantastic Four (‘Enter the Avengers’), and he did try to redeem himself by becoming GIANTMAN – but to no avail, size isn't everything… He kept getting dizzy spells every time he grew over nine foot... He was also called Henry Pym which sounds like a Junior Minister for Crap Super Heroes. Yes, a contender indeed. However, the biscuit is taken by none other than the Man from Mars, Johnner Jozz, who had a crap costume and had all of Superman’s powers, but as he came from a cold Planet his one weakness was heat!!! As soon as a bad guy lit up a Lucky Strike he got a dizzy spell and fainted… 

What about Crap Super Villains????? 

Yesterday we got the bus into town (10p flat rate any distance) and Cindy wanted to explore a large building before going to the supermarket. Actually she saw a throng of people outside a building and wanted to join a queue. Well, it was a massive bookshop with four floors, with just about everything, mostly in Chinese but with some interesting English sections too and an extensive video section as well. I bought Double Indemnity and The African Queen for 75p each.

But what really got me about this place was that it was absolutely packed to the gills with people actively devouring books. Literally. I saw a family of four all sat down with noses in their books: mom, dad and the kids in rapt attention. This appeared to be normal behaviour.People just stood there reading. I don't know if they had bought the books or not, but they were engrossed. The queues for the cashiers contained lines of thirty or forty people each with three or four books... It was wonderful to behold and I instantly started to warm to the Chinese people.

* * * 


The path from comics to records was smoothed by the likes of Roger Dean, and then there was that Neil Adams cover for Groundhogs. I won't mention the tank/armadillo on the cover of Tarkus by ELP, because the memory causes pain. [15 Record Covers For the Child Within, circa ’70-’73, off the top of my head…

Talking about crap superheroes, it's salutary to think that the greatest of them all, the Mighty Thor, started out as a very crap superhero indeed, with a completely rubbish origin story. A reprint brought it all back. Do you remember? The lame (in every sense) Dr Don Blake is holidaying in Norway when his rest is disturbed by a race of Stone Men invading from Saturn. It happens all the time. Fleeing from the beasties, Dr Blake takes refuge in a cave and comes across a cane which, on accidentally striking, turns him into Thor, the legendary Norse God of Thunder. 

In short, Stan Lee grafted an implausible origin story onto one of his hackneyed space invader plots. 

The exact relationship between Thor and Dr Blake was always a bit fuzzy. The first tale suggests that Thor is an alias of Dr Don Blake, as Batman is to Bruce Wayne, but a bit more reflection reveals glaring metaphysical holes. I remember puzzling over it as a kid. Did Thor exist before Don Blake struck the cane? If not, then how to explain all those Boyhood of Thor stories that were such nice extras in the comics? Where was Thor when Dr Blake was fulfilling his medical duties? Or, alternatively, where was Dr Blake when Thor was jousting in faraway Asgard? 

Anyway, Dr Blake, having served his role in the hospital romance subtext (dare he reveal his love to nurse Jane Baxter, now that he is immortal and omnipotent?) quickly becomes a shadowy figure and an embarrassment to his creator, and the revenant soon takes complete possession of his host.   

[Only the day before last, I was having lunch and noticed a woman on the next table so completely absorbed in her reading that she took about two desultory bites of her buttie in the time I took to finish my meal. Being nosey, I had to see what the book was. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell, in fact. It gladdened the heart to see, and is much more rare in the UK than in China.] 

* * * 


Checked out eBay and, well it’s just a frigging market BUT saw the cover of FF#25 (‘Hulk vs Thing’) and “all the Luminous Past came back tenderly”. Also blow me down, but wasn't old Dr Don just a figment of ODIN's imagination and DID NOT, repeat, DID NOT EXIST before being the conduit for Thor’s exile into Shame which throws up an even BIGGGER philosophical conundrum: what happened to all the lives that met and interfaced with Dr Don when he became The Mighty Thor [TMT]?! Later he also became doppelganged with a SIGURD but this seems to be after my time...

Oh Well, as Peter Green once said!!!!!!! 

A Bit Drunk and in love with our memories

* * * 


I’m working my way through Thor's adventures in the reprints in chronological order, and I'm not yet past The Crap Years. Stan Lee’s default position, it seems, was to bash alien invaders and, on a bad day, he wouldn’t even be bothered with the metaphor, he would just go bashing Commies directly. There's a doosie in Thor's second adventure, ‘Thor vs The Executioner’, when Dr Don Blake goes on a mercy mission to help victims of an epidemic in San Diablo (which closely resembles Cuba) and it’s leader, The Executioner (who closely resembles Castro) sends war-planes to sink the unarmed medical ship. For why? The answer is contained in a speech balloon coming from a war-plane. 'THE EXECUTIONER DOES NOT WANT THE PEASANTS TO BE CURED! HE WANTS THEM TO REMAIN ILL SO THEY WILL BE UNABLE TO OPPOSE US!' 

This crude propaganda comes from 1962. It wasn't until, oh, 1968 or so that Marvel developed a social conscience, reflecting the change in public mood and the wave of protests against Vietnam. I haven't got there yet.   

Talking of splendid sixties survivors, I saw Joan Baez last night. She was inspiring actually. Joan is a true star. She manned the barricades, sang to Martin Luther King and screwed Bob Dylan. In other words, she went a lot further than most were prepared to go. 

• • • 


I seem to remember that Loki was a puny sort of eternal God in the beginning, often hiding behind boulders and plotting. A right sneaky bastard, as I think we said at the time. Come to think of it, Thor underwent a course of steroids in the latter half of the 60s. Or was this when Jack Kirby became fully responsible for the flaxen haired wonder? I remember the Hulk vs Thor as if it were yesterday (or was it the Avengers?). The Hulk even lifted the Mighty Hammer off the floor!!! A feat no one but Thor was thought capable of. You can imagine the trouble we had with the pronunciation of Mijonnir [Mjolnir] or whatever the bloody thing is called. Yes, yes, I still have problems pronouncing and spelling it today. 

The FF underwent similar changes during the 60s. Notice the way the Thing changed appearance after about issue 9 and the personality of Ben Grimm was given a higher profile. Also the shedding or absence of side-kicks, a popular storyline in many earlier superhero mags. 

Remember the Action Comics’ ‘What If’ Superman stories? There was one where Superman was exposed to Red Kryptonite and split into two people, one in an all blue cozzy and the other in an all red one. This enabled him to cure the world’s problems and find a cure for cancer. It also enabled him to lawfully marry both Lois Lane and Lana Lang, famously rivals for the Man of Steel’s affection. At the end the editorial announced “This is just a fantasy story and did not really happen”!!!

I should be working but I could go on like this forever!!!


Joan Baez… but didn't she turn Robert E Lee into a steamboat in her version of 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"?

Greetings Fantasy Lovers

Alstuglen writes:

Just got back to Blighty after a few days in Barcelona and was delighted when Glen opened her box (e-mail) to reveal some real cultural statements. Your correspondence is however getting rather bitchy lads - more Cowpen than Bullpen. Poor old Flash surely deserves an accolade or two for his dress sense alone. Even in his early yellow incarnation he cut a dashing (excuse the pun) figure. Once the man went into his overdrive with his new scarlet cossy his rivals looked positively dated. Not till years later did the sartorial supremacy get challenged by Daredevil (who else?), in my opinion the Oscar Wilde of S.Heroes! However I digress. 

Admittedly Flash didn’t have much else to recommend him and if it were not for my own elemental leanings towards being well heeled (Flash’s little wings were just perfect) I might join you in putting the old boy down. Zero charisma as DD (that’s Denis Docherty) might say. 

Auberaughn Parry, the Peter Wimsey of S. Hero worshippers. Flame On!!!

• • • 

Nothing like a trip down memory lane to get the gander up. Flash wasn't exactly my worst superhero but often you can rate a superhero by his adversaries, and I don't recall Flash having too many memorable villains. 

There have been many great superheroes of course, but there was one that nearly always stole the show as a guest and that was Hercules, a silver tongued Lothario of incredible proportions who always left Thor fuming with frustration and jealousy.

Can you remember the various effects of the Kryptonites? Green = death. Red = a temporary alteration of comic/cosmic reality. Gold = total PERMANENT loss of all powers. Thats all I can remember. 

OK gotta go. Flame OFF!!!!!!!

PS Good to have you on board old chap and glad you enjoyed the Barce, a wonderful place. Named after the Barca family from Carthage famous for Hamilcar and his son HANNIBAL..check out Salambo by Flaubert, nothing to do with Barcelona. It’s just a good read. I may be making this up but I hope I am not. My brother Macca and his good wife came to Qingdao last weekend and it was rather spiffing!!!!

OK got to teach.

Lovage Mick xxxx  

• • • 


I might revisit DC after my Marvel binge. I have a residual fondness for Superman. Although Marvel were always light years ahead, DC had a weirdness beyond the sweep of Marvel. Whereas the Marvel cosmology was always consistent, DC were all over the place. So it would announce intriguing plots on the cover, and invariably disappoint with implausible twists and clunking anti-climaxes. Yet there was more genuine eccentricity in DC, and their ineptitude is more charming than Marvel's slickness, if that isn't too heretical coming from a Thunder God worshipper. 

Yes, Hercules was fab. The characterisation was really developed by this time, and the contrast between Hercule’s Dionysian hedonism and Thor's uptight Puritanism was striking. It's the difference between the Mediterranean and Scandanavian sensibilities. I thought I had a giant-size reprint of the epic where Thor and Hercules fight to win Jane Foster, and Hercules signs a Hollywood contract, he thinks, but is really signing his soul away to Pluto, God of the Netherworld. Now that I have most of the original comics [from eBay] you can have the reprint if I can find it (I might have loaned it out to someone). 

But for all of Thor's earnest prissiness, he's the god for me. Indeed I might instigate a revival of Nordic Paganism here in Manchester. It’s less messy than the Inca option, and there’s something about thunder and rain which really chimes with Manchester. 
Flame ON!!!!!!

• • • 

Hi Mike, 

But hey you showed me the issue of the Thor and Hercules meeting in Scarborough when we were there.You said that you had discovered an old pile of comics and this was included. It is one the funniest issues ever. The difference between a Maurice Chevalier and Ingmar Bergman is apt. Maybe you left it at Al’s.

Yes you are spot on about DC and especially the wild lurid covers of Action Comics. One memorable one showing Superman in an arena sweating with fear as improbably proportioned beasts get ready to devour him. Then you noticed that the Sun was RED in which case, as everyone knew, Superman lost all his powers. There are whole stretches of the Universe that are off limits to him. Another "what if". 

It all got a bit out of hand… Superboy was OK, but Supergirl/Dog/Cat… I ask you!!!

One DC bright spot during the 60s ascendancy of Marvel was the Green Lantern who was very popular with some of my mates at the time. He sort of reminded me of Dr Strange. In the early 60s when just getting into comics I remember listening to the Beach Boys and Roy Orbison. Gosh we are OLD!!!!!

Flame OFF!!!!!!!


Hi Mike, 

It’s Friday, f*** work, this is the important stuff... 

Remember the early DC groupings of the Justice League of America... Mon El who fainted in the vicinity of LEAD plus a load of well, erm, pretty unmemorable so-called heroes (safety in numbers, my arse.) And wasn't there a group of Metal Men whom I rather enjoyed...Tin Man, Gold, Lead etc. They all had their Chemical symbols on their chests. Elastic Man was also a fore-runner of Dr Reed Richards, pre-cosmic rays. 

The thing about Marvel heroes was that they had an originality of character and depth rarely matched by DC. For instance Reed Richards and Dr Doom, his arch enemy, had a shared history which explained his bitter wickedness. Peter Parker was an adolescent who had to look after his aged aunt and reflected all the insecurity and arrogance that only the young possess.

The reader usually identified or at least recognised this while reading a cracking good story. The characters also evolved in personality and looks/physique just as we did through our teens. Further, Marvel did something that DC couldn't manage, and that was to get in tune with the Times. Christ!! Thor had long blonde hair and could have been in the Lovin' Spoonful, or more aptly The Pretty Things!!! Captain America used to suffer prolonged bouts of self doubt usually after a ragging by anti-War demonstrators….”Maybe they are right!!!! Maybe it's my values that are at fault.!!!" It also became manically self referencing – "See #17 FF”, which of course you just had to get and know about. In addition they came up with good snazzy catch phrases,"Nuff Said" and "Flame On!!!" Also genuinely good Super Villains – Doom, Magneto, Green Goblin, Submariner etc. Some like the Hulk and Namor straddled the fence between good and evil. And... they came along in the 60s, when we were looking for something new, and accepted just about anything no matter what its failings...

OK OK I guess I ought to do some work....

Nuff Said....Flame Off!!!!


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