Monday, October 19, 2009

Answers From the Vault

Sharp eyed readers may recall that last week we introduced one of our new features, "Ask the Vault", where you, the general public, have a rare chance to get answers to whatever existential dilemmas currently face you in your daily lives. Well, the wait is over: today, we're proud to present our first batch of answers. And just like that, the veil of mystery that has shrouded this world since time immemorial is lifted, if only for one brief and shining moment.


Who was that elf in the Steve Gerber Defenders? -- Jim

Thanks for the question, Jim. First, for those of you who may not have read Defenders during the mid-70's (which means... just about everyone alive), Jim is referring to one of the most inexplicable episodes in Marvel history: the Elf with a Gun. First appearing in Defenders #25, the Elf with a Gun is, well, exactly that; during interludes that didn't appear to have anything whatsoever to do with the Defenders or the current story, Gerber would show some random, average person who would then be confronted -- and murdered -- by an elf with a gun. This went on for nearly two full years, with readers desperately wondering just what this had to do with the Defenders and when it would tie into the story. The answer: nothing and never, because in Defenders #46, during one of these interludes (after Gerber left the title, for what it's worth), the Elf with a Gun was run over by a truck and killed.

Needless to say, this drove a lot of people totally crazy wondering WTF had just happened. And the answer depends on who you talk to. Among those who weren't satisfied with the story was (apparently) J. M. DeMatteis, because when he took over Defenders years later, he wrote a long storyline introducing a new Elf with a Gun and explaining that these elves were time traveling agents from the future who had come back in time to prevent some calamity that would destroy Earth -- a calamity caused by the Defenders themselves. Later, however, Gerber got a hold of the character again briefly and revealed that that whole story was just a hoax played on the team for unknown reasons, effectively restoring the mystery. So just what was that original Elf supposed to be doing?

The answer -- based on comments Gerber made over the years -- seems to be that he was just Gerber's way of showing how random the universe is, and how you can work and plan and without warning something can happen that you never could have planned on that destroys everything. Of course, some could argue that Gerber's entire body of work represents this randomness, making the Elf a bit redundant. But for good or ill, there's the answer: the Elf is just Gerber's idea of a cosmic joke.

Which is more egregious: Marvel stealing the Captain Marvel name, or DC making The Black Mask look exactly like The Red Skull? -- James

Good question, James. Good, but for me, very easy to answer. Without question, DC making the Black Mask look exactly like the Red Skull is more egregious. I say this because I don't, in fact, have any problem at all with Marvel stealing the Captain Marvel name; on the contrary, I fully endorse it.

For those who may not be familiar with what James is talking about, back in the 1940's, the most popular superhero in the world -- bigger even than Superman -- was Captain Marvel. Eventually, however, Fawcett, the company that published Captain Marvel, went under and the trademark lapsed. So while Marvel couldn't actually use the character, the name was there and they grabbed it, creating their own Captain Marvel. And since then, they have made sure to at least occasionally publish a new Captain Marvel issue here or there in order to maintain their trademark and prevent the current owners of the actual Captain Marvel from putting out a comic with that title.

So why am I siding with Marvel here? Because Fawcett never would have gone out of business in the first place if DC hadn't sued them into oblivion. DC claimed that Captain Marvel was too similar to Superman, which is in my opinion outright bullcrap considering how many bazillions of comic characters are just as similar or more similar to Superman than Captain Marvel. The difference, of course, is that Captain Marvel was the only one actually more popular. So DC used their massive financial might to tie up Fawcett in litigation that dragged on for a decade or more and eventually caused the company to go bankrupt. And what did they do at the end? After strongarming Fawcett and Captain Marvel's creators out of the industry, they metaphorically pissed on the corpse by then buying the rights to Captain Marvel from them after the fact.

So from my point of view, anything Marvel can do with their own Captain Marvel is more than fair game; it's karmic retribution. Granted, all this stuff happened over 40 years ago at this point, so the people actually involved are almost all dead, but it still was a dirty, underhanded thing DC did and if Stan the Man can get even a soupcon of revenge out of it, good for him.

The Black Mask/Red skull thing, on the other hand, just seems like a lack of creativity. Dudes with skull faces aren't unique, though this is taking it a bit far in terms of how the artists actually depict him. But overall, while I don't think it's a big deal, by default it has to be the more egregious of the two. Advantage: Marvel Comics.

What did you think of Zombieland? -- Chesley

Hey, thanks for the question, Chesley. Zombieland is, of course, a current popular film about a bunch of post-apocalyptic survivors who congregate in an amusement park to escape zombies. My personal reaction to it is, I think, probably specific only to me. As you probably all know, I am currently working on busting into the comic industry and as part of that effort I am trying to develop stories in a wide variety of genres. Now, I don't really care for horror in general or zombies in particular, but I figured I might as well give it a crack, and after some effort I came up with a zombie story I liked okay and that I decided to title "Zombieland". Now, the story itself bears no resemblance to the movie, but I was still a bit irritated when I found out about the movie since I don't have another good title for it.

Of course, I don't think that's what you were asking. As I mentioned, though, I don't really care for zombies, so I haven't seen the movie. But on the third hand, we just discovered yesterday that you don't need to actually see a movie in order to review it, so since I have seen the trailer for Zombieland I will give my opinion: it looks funny enough, I guess, though I have a feeling it doesn't really live up to whatever potential this high concept might actually have. Because of that, the best I can give this trailer is a C+.

Have there ever been any comics about cheerleaders? -- Pat

Wow, that's a good question, Pat. I have to admit, I couldn't think of any off the top of my head even though it seems like there must be cheerleader comics somewhere in the world. Of course, Archie's best gal pal Betty Cooper is a cheerleader (as is Veronica, to a lesser extent), so that probably is the most obvious example of a cheerleading comic character, but I'm not sure that's quite what you meant. While there are issues of Archie that deal specifically with her cheerleading, they aren't really "cheerleader comics" per se.

There have been surprisingly few actual cheerleader comics as far as I can tell. However, my search has been somewhat hindered by what happens if you try searching for cheerleader comics. Let's just say, I don't recommend it. There are some weird people out there. I did find a comic called Cheerleaders From Hell put out about 20 years ago by Caliber Comics, but other than that I suspect that most cheerleader themed comics were "good girl", Archie style teen comedy/romances back in the late 40's and 50's. And I'd back that up with evidence if I weren't afraid of contracting a virus by looking for proof.

Okay, that's all the questions I have so far. Thanks to everyone who wrote in, and as soon as I've gathered enough brain teasers for another go-round, we'll bring you the next batch of... Answers From the Vault!

Bookmark and Share


Okay, for obvious reasons, I'm disappointed with your answer. Just watch the movie for crissakes. And no, you can't now bring up all the films you've made ME promise to watch, but haven't. Except Hellboy, because now I've finally seen it.