Tor.com on Six-Guns and Strange Shooters

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Territory Emma Bull-small Dust Devil Blu Ray-small Jonah Hex Face Ful of Violence-small

It’s been a very good year for science fiction, horror, and dark fantasy, and overall I am content. But, you know, I’m never totally content, because really, what’s the point of that? This year my crankiness originates from a near total lack of Weird Westerns. It’s like the genre dried up and blew away in the wind in 2019.

At least there are a few Weird West books, movies and comics to fall back on. Earlier this year at Tor.com Theresa DeLucci shared her picks of some of the best in Six-Guns and Strange Shooters: A Weird West Primer, and she managed to point out more than a few I haven’t tried yet, including Emma Bull’s fantasy retelling of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Territory, and the 1990 film Dust Devil. And she reminded me I need to read more Jonah Hex. Here’s what she said about everyone’s favorite creepy gunslinger.

Forget the terrible movie. (You know Josh Brolin wishes he could.) The original 1977 DC comic is considered one of the first popular representations of the Weird West. The bounty hunter marked by a demon’s brand seeks out the West’s worst and also, sometimes, less earthly quarry. He also sometimes time travels and gets into a gun-fight with a T-Rex. Jonah Hex‘s best and creepiest run was written by east Texan horror master Joe R. Lansdale and come highly recommended.

Theresa also showcases The Etched City by K.J. Bishop, the Golgotha novels by R. S. Belcher, the great Deadlands: Reloaded RPG, and much more. Check out her article here.

See all our coverage of the best of the Weird West here.


A New First Comic Strip Robot

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Carper

1903-03-01 Adventures of Inventor Wheelz and his Wonderful Dummy 23 panel 1

Paleontologists constantly push the date of the first known human or the first known use of symbols earlier. Word detectives compete with one another to spot ever earlier uses of a word or phrase or bit of slang. And historians take their reputation in their hands whenever they state that such-and-such was the first one in history.

In my book, Robots in American Popular Culture, I cited Hans Horina’s short- lived robot series, Professor Dodger and His Automatic Servant Girl, which appeared in the Chicago Tribune Sunday comics section in late 1907, as the first comic strip to feature a robot. I didn’t dig that up myself. I found it on Stripper’s Guide, the wonderful blog on old newspaper comics run by Allan Holtz.

As inevitable as Homo Nadali, another comics historian, Alex Jay, found an even earlier robot strip and posted about it on Stripper’s Guide. But there’s a catch. Is it a robot strip or isn’t it?

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Absolutely Spectacular: Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Mister Miracle cover

So my ongoing quest to read as many of the classic comics has covered a lot of ground. I read and blogged about The Immortal Hulk. I covered Image’s Lazarus. Two weeks ago I blogged about Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s Vision. A while ago I talked about a significant chunk of Kirby’s Fourth WorldThe last two bring me to DC’s 2017 series Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads.

In addition to Marvel’s VisionTom King has previously written DC’s Omega Menco-written DC’s Grayson, and Vertigo’s Sheriff of BabylonHis striving for the artistic in comics, and his admiration for Alan Moore are both well-known and he seems to swing for the fences on every outing. That kind of innovation will come with some misses. I know a lot of fans didn’t respond well to King’s Batman or Heroes in CrisisHis natural medium seems to be the maxi-series starring characters who aren’t central to their fictional universes. In Mister Miracle, he and Gerads hit a home run, the kind that netted them four Eisners, a Hugo nomination, and big sales.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Eight

Friday, October 25th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

DEADLY_HANDS_OF_KUNG_FU_9_8_5-1Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #9 featured a Doug Moench-Mike Vosburg story whose sole purpose was to reinforce (in the fashion of the hit television series, Kung Fu) that martial arts is about discipline and control and not violence. Of course, making this point provides ample opportunity to portray martial arts violence since conflict is inevitable within the confines of action-adventure storytelling.

The story gets underway when Shang-Chi stops a mugger in the park and finds himself challenged by Johnny Chen, the local martial arts champion whose arrogance and insecurities demand he publicly demonstrate his superiority to Shang-Chi. The fact that Mike Vosburg draws Chen to strongly resemble Bruce Lee (who could exhibit an arrogant side both and on and off screen) only adds another level to the story.

The real key here is the young Asian-American boy who also witnessed Shang-Chi’s heroism and whose hero worship of him leads to unhealthy projection and deception. The dangers of idolizing those we admire is the second plot strand that points back to Bruce Lee in this story. Given that this was another of Doug Moench’s scripts concerned with the non-violent philosophy of martial arts being ignored amidst the martial arts craze sweeping the West, his decision to paint the most recognizable face of martial arts as flawed and highlight the shortcomings of fandom was particularly daring.

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Quixotic Striving for Happiness: The Vision by Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta

Saturday, October 19th, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Visions of the Future-small

As much as I can, I’m trying to keep up with the best comics in the field. I don’t normally gravitate to the sad tragedy inherent in family drama, so I had started and stopped Marvel’s 2015 Vision series a few times. That’s a statement about me rather than the 12-issue masterpiece by Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Jordie Bellaire and Clayton Knowles. The series is a brilliant science fiction tragedy.

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Gyro Gearloose’s Little Helper

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Carper

Four Color Comics #1267, Dec.-Feb. 1961 cover

I started reading comics in about 1958, or at least those are the oldest ones I still have, mostly bedraggled, torn, or coverless from hundreds of readings. They were age-appropriate Disney comics, from Dell Comics. (Gold Key wouldn’t take over until the 1960s.) I was indiscriminate, of course, having no idea which were good or even what good meant, so I had piles of Mickey Mouse and Chip ‘n’ Dale. I soon realized why I was drawn to those titles. They were all regular features in the flagship Walt Disney Comics and Stories (WDCS), the comic of comics. A Donald Duck tale always ranked first, better told than any of the others. Those stories contained witty adventures, taking place all around the world, and often off it in that post-Sputnik year. Oddly, no Donald Duck comic could be found. Instead, I picked up a comic about a non-title character: Uncle Scrooge. The miserly multiplujillionnaire drove all the adventures, roping in Donald, and his nephews, and the other residents of Duckburg, a city more amazing and more fully realized than Metropolis in the Superman comics I soon found. That superiority was due entirely to writer/artist Carl Barks but I wouldn’t know that for decades. No matter. The difference between a Barks story and anyone else’s was a lesson I took with me to better comics and then to better science fiction. There was fun and there was good and then there was superior. Thus a critic (none dare say carper) was born.

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Talking Rod Serling and the Dawn of Television with Graphic Novelist Koren Shadmi

Saturday, October 5th, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

The Twilight Man graphic novel-small

Rod Serling is famously the creator and voice for The Twilight Zone, but as I recently discovered in a new graphic novel by Koren Shadmi, Serling was an influential creator at the dawn of the television age. Courtesy of Humanoids Press, I got an advanced copy of Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television, a graphic novel biography of Rod Serling. The publisher description reads:

We recognize him as our sharply dressed, cigarette-smoking tour guide of The Twilight Zone, but the entertainment business once regarded him as the “Angry Young Man” of Television. Before he became the revered master of science fiction, Rod Serling was a just a writer who had to fight to make his voice heard. He vehemently challenged the networks and viewership alike to expand their minds and standards — rejecting notions of censorship, racism and war. But it wasn’t until he began to write about real-world enemies in the guise of aliens and monsters that people lent their ears. In doing so, he pushed the television industry to the edge of glory, and himself to the edge of sanity. Rod operated in a dimension beyond that of contemporary society, making him both a revolutionary and an outsider.

I’ve got some exclusive excerpt pages to show you below, and some examples of the depiction of Serling’s military time.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Seven

Friday, September 27th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Deadly_Hands_of_Kung_Fu_Vol_1_15The continuing success of Warren Publishing’s Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella led Marvel to relaunch its black & white magazine division in 1973. While the best of these Marvel Magazine titles supplemented the color comic line with material that could not easily be published in a monthly Code-approved title (Dracula Lives and Savage Sword of Conan, for instance) or offered unique material not spun-off as a companion title to a monthly (Planet of the Apes and Tales of the Zombie, among others), The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu sought a middle ground as a response to the martial arts craze that had taken America by storm on the silver screen, the small screen, comic books, and even the radio (Enter the Dragon, TV’s Kung Fu, Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, and Carl Douglas’ novelty hit single “Kung Fu Fighting”).

Master of Kung Fu may have been the lead feature at the start of the magazine’s run, but the title was never built solely around the continuing adventures of Shang-Chi alone. Articles, interviews, reviews, back-up strips, and reprints were just as important for a magazine that wanted not only to exploit the martial arts fad but also be taken seriously by martial arts students. For the purpose of our continuing series on Shang-Chi, we shall only be considering the black & white Master of Kung Fu strip that featured in most issues with passing reference to other material only where appropriate.

Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 launched in April 1974 with Master of Kung Fu as the lead feature written and illustrated by Shang-Chi’s creators Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin. Following just a few months after the character’s color comics debut in Special Marvel Edition #15, the story returned us to Shang-Chi’s early years in Honan, China when he trained as an assassin in service of his father. We see that as early as age fourteen, the seeds of doubt were sown in Shang-Chi as he questions the deadly violence of his martial arts training after learning from his mentor, Cho Lin that the assassins he dispatched who infiltrated the temple for the sole purpose of murdering the son of Fu Manchu were actually hired by his father as a lethal training exercise. The largest flaw here is that Starlin clearly drew Shang-Chi without knowledge that Englehart wanted him depicted as a fourteen year old. It is a nice touch to see that the deliberate manipulation of Shang-Chi by Cho Lin is intended as a slow fuse rebellion on his part. The monk recognizes that Shang-Chi will eventually reject his father’s doctrine and the deadly force that is Shang-Chi will be turned upon his maker.

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That Buck Rogers Stuff

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019 | Posted by Steve Carper

1930-11-02 Buck Rogers header
1930-11-23 Buck Rogers header

Those of us on the inside, the fans steeped in the history of science fiction and fantasy, mark the beginning of modern science fiction with Hugo Gernsback’s launching of Amazing Stories in August 1926. A thousand historians, critics, and commentators use that date as a dividing line between the proto-fictions of Verne and Wells and the lesser-known William Wallace Cook and George England and the Frank Reade Jr. series of boy’s adventures and Gernsback’s own favorite, Clement Fezandié.

The outside world didn’t see it that way. They didn’t see Amazing Stories at all or its first competitor, Astounding Stories of Super-Science, or the various Wonder magazines Gernsback started in 1929 when he lost control of Amazing. They were invisible, no matter how we today look back at Doc Smith or Murray Leinster or Edmond Hamilton. Or a first story by Philip Francis Nowlan, “Armageddon—2419 A.D.,” a fairly silly and racist Yellow Peril yarn starring one Anthony Rogers, or a sequel, “The Airlords of Han,” in which Nowlan tries to excuse the racism by postulating that the evil Han were not Chinese but alien interlopers who “mated forcibly with the Tibetans.” Disintegrator rays and anti-gravity flying belts and an “electrono plant operating from atomic energy” impinged not a bit on the public consciousness.

Yet by 1935, that “Buck Rogers stuff” was a national catchphrase, in high culture and low. Malcolm W. Bingay criticized Sir Arthur Eddington’s book, New Pathways in Science, as “Buck Rogers stuff panoplied in jargon that passes for scientific terminology.” And talking about new children’s toys, an article reported that “the Buck Rogers stuff backs ‘em all off the sales map, nearly tying Mickey Mouse, who had a head start.”

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Deep Diving into Comic Book History with Ron Goulart

Saturday, September 21st, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Ron Goulart's Great History of Comic Books cover-small

Two weeks ago, I blogged about my reread of Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and ClayLooking back on it, I’ve been consuming comic book history for about the last year.

After having my appetite whetted by Chabon for a bit more of the Golden Age of comic books, I pulled Ron Goulart’s Great History of Comic Books off my shelf and really enjoyed my evening reading. It’s a history book published in 1986, so while it has the disadvantage of being out of print (unless you buy second-hand books on Abebooks.com — I saw copies for $7), it has the advantage that Goulart himself started collecting in the early Golden Age in 1938 and spoke directly with many of the early creators to source this book.

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