Game Review: Diablo 3

Diablo 3 is out. But is it a game? Or is it the most brilliant money making scam in internet history?

Movie Review: The Avengers

Okay, okay, I posted my Avengers review. Get off my back already, geez.

The Most Important Comic Book You've Never Heard Of

Action Comics #1. Detective Comics #27. Why is All-American Men of War #89 as important as these great comics -- and why have you never heard of it?.

Tales From the Vault: Lois Lane #93

If you thought Superman was a total tool before, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Mass Effect 3: The Official Review

Mass Effect 3 isn't the end of the world, it just portrays it.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

In Memorium: Dick Giordano

The comics world was saddened again this week by the death of one of the industry's most acclaimed creators, former DC and Charlton Executive Editor Dick Giordano, who passed away on Saturday due to complications from pneumonia. He was 77.

For most of today's fans, Giordano is probably best known for his work as an inker. Though he also pencilled many comics over his long career, he rose to fame within the art ranks for his strong work inking Neal Adams on the groundbreaking Green Lantern / Green Arrow "relevancy" run in the early 1970's. During this time he also worked closely with Adams and writer Denny O'Neil on their well received Batman revamp which dumped the camp aspects left over from the 60's returned the character to its darker roots. And nearly a decade later, he inked one of his highest profile projects, working with George Perez to create the artwork for Crisis on Infinite Earths.

But despite his many contributions as both an inker and penciller, Giordano's biggest influence came behind the scenes. Giordano began working in comics in the early 1950's as an artist, but he really gained the notice of the comic book world when he rose to become Chralton's Editor-in-Chief in the mid-60's. In that capacity, Giordano oversaw the creation of Charlton's line of "Action Heroes," which included titles such as Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and The Question among others. Recognizing his abilities, DC Comics swooped in; he soon brought many of his top Charlton talents on board at DC as well, giving creators such as Jim Aparo and Denny O'Neil a bigger platform and introducing their talents to a much larger fan base.

In the early 80's, Giordano became the Executive Editorial Director at DC, overseeing not just Crisis on Infinite Earths but also such groundbreaking titles as Watchmen (which originally was slated to use his old Charlton characters) and The Dark Knight Returns among others. Though his tenure at DC wasn't without some controversy -- in particular his stance against creator rights on behalf of DC rubbed many in the industry the wrong way -- his influence on DC and comics as a whole cannot be denied, either as an executive or as an inker.

In recent years Giordano continued to work on projects such as a graphic novel adaptation of Moby Dick and his biography, which was published by Two Morrows. He also was collaborating with protege (and comics legend in his own right ) Bob Layton, who issued a statement reading in part, "few could ever hope to match what he accomplished in his chosen profession, or to excel while maintaining great humour, compassion for his peers and an unwavering love for the art form." He went on to add that, "his unique vision changed the comic industry forever and all of those who work in the business continue to share in the benefits of his sizeable contributions."

For more information on the life and legacy of one of the industry's true giants, I strongly recommend taking a look at the Dick Giordano page over at our friend Bob Almond's Inkwell Awards site, which inducted Giordano into the inker Hall of Fame last year. And our pals over at Comics Should Be Good have also put together a look at some of Giordano's rare Charlton work from the 1950's as well as his seminal Batman origin story, "There's No Hope in Crime Alley."

A sad day indeed.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Concert Review: Puscifer

On March 15, I had the unique experience of attending a Puscifer show (I hesitate to use the word concert for reasons that will become clear) at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston. Puscifer, in case you're not aware, is the most recent project from Tool and A Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan, or, as he describes it in one of the video segments that appears during his live show, "the latest in a seemingly endless string of bad ideas."

While its true that Maynard's creative energy does seem endless, after attending one of their live shows it's hard to describe it as a bad idea. It would also be inaccurate to describe Keenan's latest band as a side project, both because it isn't a band nor is it on the side. Rather, Puscifer, which Maynard himself calls a troupe rather than a band, is basically a multi-media catchall for his various endeavors. While music is still the centerpiece, a Puscifer concert also encompasses both live and pre-recoded skits as well as some fairly avant garde interaction between the performers and the audience.

And that's just the concert itself. Puscifer the project also brings in elements from Keenan's other passion, wine making -- the Puscifer online store has a real world mirror site at Keenan's Arizona winery complete with winery exclusives, while concertgoers can buy a mega package deal that doesn't just include a behind the scenes meet and greet with Keenan but an actual wine tasting lesson from the singer himself.

Puscifer, then, can really be seen as less of a band and more of a brand, as it's the umbrella for everything non-Tool Keenan does these days. Fittingly, his road show -- which the singer has unapologetically termed cabaret -- consists of a rotating group of players: everyone from Primus drummer Tim Alexander to Nine Inch Nails' Danny Lohner to Milla Jovovich shows up as part of his team of musicians, comedians and performers such as opening act Uncle Scratch's Gospel Revival which live in a nebulous space somewhere between the two. Their satirical take on Christian rock sets the perfect stage for a show that is long on carefully calculated religious subversion and somewhat short on subtlety.

That's not to say that Puscifer's message is less than heartfelt, as Keenan has been delivering variations on this theme for over a decade; but after such a long time it does seem to be included at times mainly because it is an expected part of the package rather than a current passion. If elements like the entire band dressing in priest outfits or a "pope" wandering the aisles giving communion to fans seem a bit familiar and even tired at times, it doesn't change the fact that a large portion of the crowd was still eating it up, no doubt just as Keenan planned.

And those elements were also more than balanced by some of Puscifer's more progressive ideas, specifically the stage presentation. Both Maynard and his current singing partner Carina Round were situated at the back of the stage, with a large black and white television screen placed strategically in front of the their faces. This in turn was attached to a camera perched on their microphone, meaning that from the crowd's perspective, their faces were replaced by somewhat oversized and distorted HD broadcasts of... their faces. It seemed an interesting artistic commentary on the nature of live performance and media manipulation of images -- or maybe it was just something weird to do -- but whatever the purpose, I personally thought the result was very cool.

Perhaps cooler, though, was the front of the stage, where the band had set out an entire living room furniture set complete with couch, love seat, comfy chair and coffee table. During solos or other portions of the show that didn't require all the performers to be active, band members would leave their instruments and plop themselves down on these chairs where they would alternately engage in reading novels, drinking wine and fiddling with their laptops. And these weren't just props; as you can see from Maynard's twitter feed, he often tweets during shows, including some aimed at specific audience members who may be following his feed live.

The overall effect, then, was a strange combination of interaction and inaction; the relaxed vibe created by seeing the band members just hanging around onstage was completely at odds with many of the songs being played but seemed to subconsciously overpower the music, as most audience members remained in their seats, mellowly nodding along to the music instead of jumping to their feet as one might normally expect at such a concert. Indeed, Maynard himself seemed slightly taken aback by the unintended consequence of the living room lounge, as he eventually reminded the crowd that they could, in fact, stand up if they felt like it (a comment that was instantly taken as a command by the audience, who rose in unison and remained standing for the remainder of the show).

You'll notice that one aspect of the concert has been conspicuously absent from my review so far: you know, the music. That's not because the music was bad or uninteresting; on the contrary, Maynard and his troupe were musically impeccable throughout the show and the songs themselves, though not always to my taste (the heavy electronica vibe gets a bit too heavy for me at times), were at the very least intriguing if not always pleasant. But while the actual performance was excellent, in some ways the music was almost beside the point; fans of Puscifer's songs would certainly not be let down, but for anyone new to Puscifer, it seems likely that any positive or negative opinion would be based not on the music so much as on the show as a whole. If you like the multi-media combination of sound, video and performance art, then by extension you'd like the music; and if the didn't like the show, you almost certainly wouldn't like the music.

Because with Puscifer, the live show isn't so much a concert as a fully integrated life experience, like living inside a long form music video. If you're just interested in the songs, well, I suggest you stay home and listen to an iPod or their streaming playlist at But if you're in the mood for a little experimental art, then their live show may be for you.

My Grades: The technical performance by the band gets an A+ for being sharp as razor wire, though the actual songs only rate a B for me on the whole. The show as performance art, though, also rates an A assuming you aren't offended by the sexual and anti-religious imagery. If you are, you really, really need to avoid this show.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Health Care Special: Top Ten Comic Book Doctors

As America buzzes over last night's landmark Health Care Reform Bill vote, our nation's increasingly polarized citizens are dividing into two camps: those who support the bill because they want to have, say, Doc Savage as their primary care physician and those who oppose it because they've fallen under the sway of Doctor Destiny.

Or, you know, something like that. I'm not sure of the specifics, but there's no doubt that everyone's talking about doctors right now, so it seemed like a good time to pay homage to some of the most popular and powerful adherents to the Hippocratic Oath: The Vault's list of the Top Ten Comic Book Doctors.

10. Doctor Faustus

Ever since his first appearance back in Captain America #107, Doctor Faustus has been menacing heroes not with super powers or advanced technology, but with something far deadlier: really evil psychiatry. His mind-bending insights have allowed him to stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of the Red Skull, and we also have him to thank for one of the most complex villains in comics, his protege Moonstone.

9. Doctor Psycho

One of the coolest Wonder Woman villains (which is not saying much, unfortunately), Doctor Psycho is a psychopathic misogynist who also happens to be a telepathic dwarf. In general terms, that's all around a bad combination, and he pretty much uses his powers to do exactly what you'd expect. As interesting as he is, though, he's still not quite as cool as his occasional partner, The Duke of Deception, who no doubt will appear at some point on our list of the Top Ten Fake Noblemen in Comics list.

8. Doc Samson

Therapists aren't always evil, of course, despite what Dr. Faustus and Moonstone might have you believe. They can also sometimes help you, like Doc Samson has helped Hulk over the years. Okay, considering they get in a massive fight every time they meet, maybe that's not the best example, but trust us: Doc Samson is really a cool guy. Hey, he smokes a pipe, so he has to be cool, right?

7. Dr. Manhattan

Don't get distracted by Dr. Manhattan's giant blue junk: despite his odd and usually naked appearance, Dr. Manhattan is a regular ol' American joe, doing his part to help Uncle Sam do important things like win in Vietnam and, you know... build chandeliers on Mars. He's not really a medical doctor, though, he's more of one of them science doctors, so we don't recommend going to him for your health care needs. After all, he couldn't keep his ex-wife from dying of cancer, could he.

6. Doctor Spectrum

Now, there have been a bunch of different versions of Dr. Spectrum -- the Squadron Sinister version, the original Squadron Supreme version, the MAX version and, like, a couple other versions in Defenders or somewhere equally obscure. But the real version, from the real Squadron Supreme, is a real medical doctor, the first on our list. No, wait, sorry. He's an astronaut. Okay, I'm not sure where the Doctor part comes in here, but this guy is way cooler than Green Lantern and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise.

5. Dr. Mid-Nite

Okay, now we're talking. Dr. Mid-Nite is not only a classic Golden Age superhero, he's an actual, honest-to-god medical doctor. When he's not dispensing much-needed medical aid to his fellow superheroes, Dr. Mid-Nite, who is normally blind, wears a special pair of infa-red goggles that allow him to see, but only when it's dark. Because of this he carries around special darkness bombs that plunge the area into pitch blackness, plus, as you can see by this picture, he sometimes has a pet owl. Cool name, cool concept, cool costume. This guy is the bizzomb.

4. Dr. Octopus

Otto Octavius is another science doctor, but we have to hand it to him: he takes things to a whole new level. After all, he's got a bunch of robot arms grafted to his back fat. I have to admit I'm not a huge fan of Dr. Octopus, though I did like the story where he got engaged to Aunt May, but I have to give him his due.

3. Dr. Fate

Perhaps one of the most poorly utilized major superheroes in the history of comic books, Dr. Fate has a fantastic name, a simple but striking costume and a unique mystical skillset (well, unique at the time; there have been plenty of imitators since). Too bad he's usually relegated to second banana status and has been shafted with a typically convoluted DC-style backstory. Someone do something cool with this guy, please.

2. Dr. Doom

Once again I'm not quite sure what this guy has his doctorate in, but I suspect he's like The Doctor on Doctor Who: he's just, you know... a doctor of everything. Still, I'm not sure any health care plan would be able to afford his rates.

1. Dr. Strange

Not only is Dr. Strange one of the coolest characters ever created, and the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth (and don't give me that Dr. Voodoo bullcrap), but he was once also the most skilled and famous surgeon in America. Now that's living up to your potential. He's got a hot girlfriend from another dimension and a way with words that makes Street Poet Ray green with envy. He's just the man. Or, should I say: he's the Doctor.

Number one with a bullet, Doctor Strange, the Top Doctor in Comic Books.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Quest For the F. F. F. : The Conclusion

Welcome back. As those of you have been breathlessly following events here at The Vault know, I recently undertook a quest -- some would say a journey of the soul -- to achieve one of the greatest and rarest honors in comic fandom, Marvel's honorary title of Fearless Front Facer. I began my quest by contacting Marvel editor Tom Brevoort, who informed me that he would need to consult with the ultimate authority on all things Marvel, Stan lee, in order to determine whether or not I was worthy of the honor. I followed this up by preparing a video catalog of my devotion to Marvel, so that Stan and Tom would be able to fully weigh such a serious topic before rendering judgment.

My expectation was that I would have to perform one or more Herculean tasks in order to receive the title of Fearless Front Facer if, in fact, my petition was granted at all. With that in mind, I began a rigorous training regimen that included memorizing Marvel Handbook entries, pouring over Atlas monster titles to identify character protoypes and learning to play the Merry Marvel Marching Society marching theme on the recorder.

However, it appears as those efforts will not be necessary, as I have just received an email from Stan Lee himself with his final judgment. So what was the verdict? Have I achieved Marvel's most exalted state? Or am I doomed, like Moses, to stand forever outside the promised land, destined to call myself a Permanent Marvelite Maximus for all eternity instead?

I'll let Stan's email provide the answer:

"Dear Scott Harris, RFO, QNS, P.M.M.,

Having been deeply moved by your loyalty to the Mother Company that is, and shall be ever, Marvel Comics, and thankful to the ever-caring Tom Brevoort, I most solemnly take this opportunity to make an official pronouncement...

Now and forevermore, the most loyal and deserving Scott Harris shall be known as Scott Harris FFF!

Let no man say him nay!

Scott, you shall be entitled to all the benefits and privileges attendant upon your high and noble rank. All of Marveldom United hereby congratulates you and is certain that you will use your new-found powers wisely and for the benefit of mankind.


Stan Lee"

So there you have it. I am duly humbled by this honor and would like to thank Stan, Tom and all the other Marvel fans who have encouraged me on this epic journey. I know some of you have expressed concern that, should I achieve the title of Fearless Front Facer, my commentary and criticism of Marvel's comics would be compromised, but I assure you, the opposite is true; as a Fearless Front Facer, I feel it is my solemn duty to uphold the ideals of Marvel and ensure that today's custodians of the company meet those high standards as well.

In the meantime, I invite those new readers who have popped in for the Quest to take a look around and check out some of my other ongoing features such as Lettercolumn Classics, Great Moments in Comics and Decade in Review. And as always, Make Mine Marvel.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Great Moments: The Boy Comics Amputation Scheme

Welcome to another episode of Great Moments in Comics. For those of you looking for an update on my Quest to earn the title of Fearless Front Facer, there will be an exciting announcement later this week. In the meantime, I thought we'd take a step back and look at one of the forgotten great moments in comics history. Previously we've explored such legendary topics as The Strange Death of Dr. Synne, The Jon Sable Dance-Off and Sgt. Fury's Casablanca. Today, though, we look at a story that may top all of them in sheer epicness, The Boy Comics Amputation Scheme.

Now, I know I've been teasing a full review of Boy Comics for months, but while that is still in the works, this great Moment will give you a little preview of why the Crimebuster strip from Boy Comics is one of the great comics of the Golden Age.

Appearing in Boy Comics #19, with a cover date of December, 1944, we have the sad and moving tale of a double amputee by the name of Pete and his erstwhile friend Biff. Now, Biff, as we soon learn, isn't much of a friend to poor Pete at all; in fact, he's a straight up con man working his angle. Pete, as it happens, is a very wealthy double amputee, and Biff's plan is simple; by ingratiating himself in Pete's life and acting as Pete's personal chauffeur and companion, he'll be sure to get a windfall from Pete's will when Pete dies.

Unfortunately for Biff, other than missing both his legs Pete is in perfect health. And after years of toting Pete around town and carrying him up and down the long New York subway stairways every day, Biff has just about had it. So he comes up with a cunning new plan to get his money: murder. The question is, though, how to do it while escaping the consequences.

Finally, Biff comes up with an inspired ploy. Hiring a thug to act as hitman, Biff stages an accident. Lugging Pete down to his daily train ride, Biff starts a loud argument with Pete, making sure that witnesses see him, as this is his alibi. Storming off in apparent anger, Biff flicks his cigarette away, which is actually a signal to his accomplice, who "accidentally" bumps Pete while passing by, just as a train approaches the station:

"Oww," indeed. Biff's plan works perfectly; Pete is gone, it looks like an accident and a dozen witnesses are there to prove that Biff wasn't involved with the deed. All that's left for Biff to do is collect the money, so he heads over to the lawyer's office for the reading of the will. Once there, the lawyer tells him that, just as he thought, Pete had left him a fortune of $1,000,000. However, what Biff didn't know is that Pete was onto him all along. He wasn't sure how Biff would do it, but he knew that Biff would eventually not only kill him, but would do it in a way that was untraceable.

Knowing this, then, Pete put his own little scheme into play in his will. Biff would get the money, but only under very specific circumstances, namely:

Unfortunately for Biff it does say exactly that. Now Biff is in a major quandary, as the only way he can get the million dollars -- and mind you, this is a million 1944 dollars -- is to lose his legs. So, naturally, he does what any right thinking man would do -- he decides to have his legs amputated.

Apparently Biff didn't agree with the old saw that if you don't have your health you don't have anything; after all, he would, in fact, have a million clams. Sure enough, the doctor saws his legs clean off right at the hip, and after convalescing, Biff is ready to get his money. Strapping himself to a board, Biff hauls himself up to the lawyer's office again to get his money.

Just one problem: there isn't a million dollars ot get. See, it turns out that there are some major taxes that need to be paid first, not to mention lawyers fees and other deductibles. The final result of this? Biff has only $150,000 left to receive. Not exactly chump change, but hardly the fortune he had anticipated. And worse, he had already promised to pay the doctor $100k for the operation and his hitman accomplice the other $50k!

Infuriated, Biff wheels himself back to the doctor's office with the hundred G's he owes the doc. He gives the money over, but demands that the least the doctor can do in this situation is fit him with some prosthetic legs. But now Biff receives another jolt of bad news: the doctor amputated his legs too far up to attach fake legs to them, so he's doomed to spend the rest of his life strapped to the skateboard.

Unfortunately for the doctor, he delivers this news just a little to close to a giant window -- and with his ankles too close to Biff's ground level hands. Just one second and the principle of leverage is all Biff needs to reclaim his dough and get revenge for the loss of his legs:

Now there's just one loose end left for Biff to tie up: his accomplice, who is still owed $50,000. Flush from his success with the doc, Biff decides to take out the thug as well and waits for him in his apartment, gun drawn. When the guy finally arrives, Biff gets the drop on him and threatens to shoot him.

But that's where he makes his big mistake, because one second is all the time the goon needs to step forward and smack the gun away from Biff. Unable to get away due to having no legs, Biff begs for mercy, pointing out that he's a legless cripple. The thug's reply? "So you are! That's just going to make things easier!"

And saying this, he proceeds to pick Biff's legless torso up and starts throwing him around the apartment like a football!

"This is what happens to guys who hire guys to kill another guy!"

And that, sadly, is the end for Biff. Leaving Biff's bloody body on the floor, the thug grabs the cash and scrams, which is where the hero of the comic, Crimebuster, finally makes an appearance, only 14 pages into the tale. He gets to Biff just in time to hear Biff describe his assailant with his dying breath. Crimebuster recognizes the description as the man he just passed coming into the building, so he rushes out and chases the thug through Central Park, eventually tackling him into a nearby fountain and pummeling him until the thug confesses his crime.

But it's too late for Biff, who learns too late that greed can not only cost you your life -- it can also cost you your legs and your dignity.

Be here next time for another Great Moment in Comics!

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Quest for the F. F. F. -- Episode 2

Welcome back to the Quest for the F.F.F., one man's humble effort to achieve the greatest honor in comics, Marvel's honorary title of Fearless Front Facer. If you're one of the millions of readers who have been following me and supporting me ever since I embarked on this quest back in... last week... you'll recall that on Thursday, I began my attempt by contacting Marvel editor extraordinaire Tom Brevoort and placing myself at his mercy, ready to face whatever challenges and tasks Marvel may deem necessary in order to attain this rare honor.

Now, I'm happy to report that I have received word back from Mr. Brevoort, who, after careful consideration has informed me that he is prepared to bring my petition before the ultimate arbiter of all things Marvel:

Stan "the Man" Lee.

Here's the reply I received from Mr. Brevoort:


Truly, yours is a heroic quest. However, I need to do some digging
before I can better advise you on this matter. In theory, it is probably
within my powers to grant somebody Fearless Front Facer status. But in
actuality, in all of recorded history, only Stan Lee himself has ever
bestowed this most hallowed of ranks upon the deserving.

Therefore, I will need to consult with Stan as to the proper course of
action at this juncture, and get back to you with the results. This is
necessary, for I would not have you walking around with a Ranking of
Marveldom that had not been truly and properly earned.

Tom B"

Needless to say, I am humbled by this turn of events, as there is no higher authority in the world of comics. And indeed, I should not feel worthy of the title Fearless Front Facer if I were to fall short of Stan's standards. Here is the response I sent to Mr. Brevoort:

"Mr. Brevoort,

I am humbled by the attention of Stan "the Man" Lee and stand ready to face his judgment on this matter. I certainly agree that it would be improper to use the title of Fearless Front Facer without his blessing and I wouldn't consider claiming it for myself without having first earned the right.

In order to help Stan and yourself deliberate in this matter, I have prepared a short video segment explaining my past services to Marvel as well as my reasons for initiating this quest. Please understand that I seek to become a Fearless Front Facer not for the glory of the title but rather as a symbol of the dedication all true fans feel for Marvel.

Make Mine Marvel,

Scott Harris"

As soon as I get a reply, you'll be the first to know, true believer!

UPDATE: The Quest has come to a shocking conclusion thanks to an email from Stan Lee himself! Read on, Macduff!

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Quest for the F.F.F. Begins!

Back in the 60's, Marvel Comics encouraged fan participation on a level previously unseen in comics, with lettercolumns, fanzines, No-Prizes and more, all set up to foster a sense of community. But perhaps no Marvel creation had a bigger impact on the emerging fan subculture than the MMMS.

Yes, the Merry Marvel Marching Society, Marvel's first official fan club, was a watershed moment still celebrated by fans today. Comics form the time period are filled with advertisements, blurbs and injunctions to reader, urging them to join the MMMS in order to get their very own Marvel membership card, stationary, buttons and stickers. And the piece de resistance of it all: the MMMS ranking system.

"Know Ye These, the Hallowed Ranks of Marveldom," shouted a banner which appeared in the lettercolumns of every Marvel comic for a number of months. Created by then-fan and now-pro Mark Evanier, the ranks were a way to codify and quantify a fan's devotion to the company, as MMMS members (and regular old readers) were awarded honorary titles for achieving certain milestones. Here are the Hallowed Ranks of Marveldom:

Now, any long time Marvel fan will probably happily admit that at one time or another they've tallied up their accomplishments to see which titles they are entitled to; indeed, for many years, it was standard procedure for fans to sign their letters with their titles, as they are considered the comic book equivalent of a doctorate or hereditary rank. So just as someone out in the larger world might sign themselves "Dr. Robert Bruce Banner, Esq.", a comic fan might sign their letters "T. M. Maple, R.F.O., K.O.F."

And over the years, I myself have been proud to claim the title of Permanent Marvelite Maximus thanks to my efforts on behalf of Marvel Comics. Though I admit to occasional lapses in my buying habits, I have been a Real Frantic One, buying at least three Marvel titles per month, for the last 25 years. During my grade school days, I also introduced a number of other readers to Marvel Comics and comics in general, qualifying me for the title of Keeper of the Flame.

While most Marvel fans have those titles, I have also accomplished the two more difficult requirements for P.M.M. thanks to a particularly inspired burst of activity in 1992. At that time I had a letter published in Avengers #353, where I rightly took Bob Harras to task for his characterizations of Hera and Deathbird in the previous months; despite my pleasure at attaining the rank of Quite Nuff Sayer, the response I received to my extremely valid concerns still rings hollow to this day. And at the same time I and my friend Jason finished our magnum opus, a detailed page-by-page review of the first 350 issues of Avengers listing every character who had ever appeared, broken down by team members, guest stars, villains, cameos, flashbacks and images (such as the ubiquitous photos of past members that grace the walls of Avengers Mansion). We then duplicated this effort for West Coast Avengers and Solo Avengers, adding a listing of every credited creator for the three titles.

For this, I received a No-Prize and the title of Titanic True Believer, which in turn allowed me to forever ink P.M.M on all of my correspondences as a Permanent Marvelite Maximus.

Yet, you'll note that one title has not been mentioned yet. The title that has forever eluded me and the vast majority of Marvel fans, the one title that cannot be earned but must instead be bestowed by the powers that be: the title of Fearless Front Facer. Few men or women who have ever walked this Earth have had the privilege of claiming this prestigious honor, with former Marvel Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas being one of the rare publicly feted honorees.

As you can imagine, obtaining the rank of F.F.F. would be one of the crowning moments in the life of any comic fan and I, like so many others, have for years searched in vain for a way to receive this singular honor. But so far, in vain. Will I, like so many others, go to my grave wondering if I gave the last full measure of devotion to Stan, Jack and the Bullpen? Have I truly done all I can in the name of the MMMS?

I say thee nay.

Starting today, right now, I am proud to excited to announce the beginning of my Quest for the F. F. F. Though I realize the odds are against me, it is my goal now and forever more to earn from the powers that be at Marvel Comics the title of Fearless Front Facer. In this effort I am determined to meet all challenges, exceed all expectations and, if necessary, retcon my own future. Whatever tasks Marvel chooses to place before me, I will conquer.

With that in mind, and with this fan immortality ever present in my vision, I have sent the following email to Marvel editor Tom Brevoort detailing my quest and asking that he and the other poobahs at Marvel consider my plight and set me on the path towards glory:

"Hello Mr. Brevoort,

I am a long time fan of Marvel Comics, and through the years I have had the pleasure of achieving a number of notable milestones on behalf of your company. For over two decades I have been buying at least three Marvel titles each month, qualifying me for the classic MMMS title of Real Frantic One. I also introduced a number of friends to Marvel comics, making me a Keeper of the Flame, and in addition I became a Quite Nuff Sayer thanks to a letter I had published in Avengers #353. Finally, in 1992, I received a No-Prize for my page-by-page catalog of every character to ever appear in an Avengers title.

Thanks to these humble accomplishments, according to the timeless rules of the Hallowed Ranks of Marveldom, I have proudly been entitled to call myself a Permanent Marvelite Maximus and affix P.M.M. to my signature in correspondence.

But despite my efforts, one accolade has remained forever out of my reach: the title of Fearless Front Facer. As you know, this is a title that cannot be earned, but can only be conferred upon a recipient by the powers that be at Marvel. Few indeed are those who have been graced with this ultimate honor and those who have, like Rascally Roy Thomas, have gone down in history as legends of Marvel.

Today, then, I am announcing the beginning of my quest to achieve the title of Fearless Front Facer and I respectfully submit myself and my accomplishments to your judgment. I realize, however, that my fan credentials, however impressive, are not in themselves unique enough to render me worthy of this honor and so I request that you and your peers at the House of Ideas, should you see fit, place before me any tasks you may require in order that I may earn this title. Like Hercules before me, I am prepared to take on these trials in the name of Marvel and I vow not to abandon my quest until I can finally proclaim myself a F. F. F.

I will be chronicling my efforts on my comics blog, The Vault ( so that all might see how seriously fans take the injunction to go "above and beyond the call of duty" in devotion to Marvel.

Thank you for your time and I await word on what tasks my quest for the F. F. F. entail.


Scott Harris

And so, the Quest for the F. F. F. begins. Stay tuned for future updates and, as always: face front, true believers!

UPDATE: The quest is over! After receiving a response from Marvel, the quest continued before coming to a shocking conclusion thanks to an email from Stan Lee himself! Read all about it!

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Lettercolumn Classics: Tell It to Fury

Hey folks, welcome to the first edition of another semi-regular feature, Lettercolumn Classics. You may recall that yesterday, I announced my quest to earn the coveted title of Fearless Front Facer. I haven't yet heard back from Marvel, but our friends over at Comics Should Be Good were kind enough to give us a shout out, so hopefully Marvel will take notice soon and I'll have an update. In the meantime, through a quirk of fate, the thread on CBR about my quest has included some talk about old timey lettercolumns, which is a handy coincidence considering I was actually working on this new lettercolumn feature when I came up with the idea for my quest.

It's no surprise people are talking about lettercolumns, though, because while the advent of the Internet has mostly signaled the end of the printed lettercolumn (though a few upright souls such as Kurt Busiek and Astro City continue to fight the good fight), for any comics reader of a certain age, the lettercolumn is a source of excitement and nostalgia. Indeed, once upon a time, the lettercolumn was actually the backbone of the hobby, as budding comic book fans would get addresses of other enthusiasts and trade back issues and ideas via snail mail, a practice that eventually formed the comics fan community as we know it.

Beyond the importance lettercolumns have as the foundation of comic collecting, though, they also serve as both a permanent historical record of what readers at the time thought of the comics and as an occasional source of amusement. Not bad for a feature that began simply to satisfy postal regulations. Back in the day, you see, comics had to include at least two all-text pages in order to qualify for the special shipping rate offered by the post office. In long ago days, that requirement was satisfied by prose short stories, until someone had the brilliant thought that simply publishing letters to the editor would be faster and cheaper.

The result? Classic lettercolumns like "Sock It to Shellhead", "Let's Rap with Cap" and "Let's Level with Daredevil" were born. Okay, so the late 60's were weird even in the world of lettercolumns, but it's no exaggeration to say that they served not just as a means of fan expression but also as an important launching point for the careers of many pros. Busiek himself first came to Marvel's attention through his letters, for example, while Mark Evanier's letter to Stan Lee suggesting ceremonial titles for fans ended up published in Stan's Soapbox and led to the classic blurb, "Know Ye These, The Hallowed Ranks of Marveldom" that ran throughout the company line and inspired my quest for the F.F.F. honorific. And sometimes romance even bloomed; future Elfquest creators Wendy and Richard Pini, for example, first met through the Silver Surfer lettercolumn.

Lettercolumn Classics, then, will be taking a look at some of the letters, great and not-so-great, that have graced the pages of comic books over the past 60 years or so, presenting slices of life from a bygone age. Today we kick off our feature with a look at a couple letters from one of the more interesting lettercolumns of the day, Sgt. Fury.

Though all of Marvel's titles in the 60's were known for having comparatively more progressive exchanges between the readers and the editors than their competitors, Sgt. Fury in particular was a lightning rod for controversial letters, which on some levels is to be expected considering our nation's involvement in the Vietnam War began (and eventually ended) during the title's long run. But before that there was another, much more surprising controversy that raged for years within the lettercolumn of Sgt. Fury as readers continually wrote in to complain about the treatment of Germans in the comic.

That's right. Hard as it is to believe now, in the early-to-mid 60's, a significant portion of the fan base was upset at the fact that German soldiers were being depicted as the bad guys in a World War II comic! Specifically, many of these letters were defending the average German soldier as compared to the Nazis. These letters would typically go along these lines: all Germans weren't Nazis; therefore it's wrong to depict them all as evil; and even worse to show them as being incompetent; so Marvel should show some good German soldiers just doing their duty defending their homeland.

Of course, to modern sensibilities (such as mine) this is kind of boggling considering most of the "defending" was taking place on occupied land taken by German aggression. Yet, though Stan in particular often shot these ideas down with some vigor in the lettercolumn (often using a variation of the line "If the Germans want to publish a war mag where they are the good guys they can, but as long as we're publishing them, the Americans will be the good guys"), Marvel was sensitive enough to the fan viewpoint that Roy Thomas eventually introduced Eric Koenig, a good German soldier who, rebelling against the Nazis that had taken political control of his home, defected to the Allied side and joined the Howling Commandos (and later SHIELD). Here's a typical example of one of these letters and Stan's response:

The most amazing episode of this heated debate, though, came after Koenig's debut (and ironically in the same issue, #35, where Koenig defected to join the Howlers). In the lettercolumn of that issue, another voice weighed in on the debate, but this time from a unique perspective. Because this writer, you see, happened to actually be a former S. S. officer!

Here's the letter and Marvel's response:

While Marvel sidestepped this landmine, other readers were eager to take up the argument, and in Sgt. Fury #40 Marvel published the following letter from another reader, which we suspect was selected because it probably came closest to Marvel's own thoughts on the matter. It also happened to express those ideas in a particularly eloquent manner:

For all intents and purposes, the introduction of Koenig and this spirited exchange in the lettercolumn spelled the end of the debate over Marvel's characterization of German troops during World War II. Of course, the times being what they were, this was in part because by this point America's involvement in Vietnam had become significant and the letters increasingly turned to focus on Vietnam instead.

But while there are plenty of interesting letters about Vietnam not just in Sgt. Fury but in all war comics of the time -- indeed, I suspect someone could write an interesting book about the topic and how changing attitudes towards war comics shaped the industry and eventually led to war comics almost disappearing entirely as a genre -- those letters will have to be the subject of a future episode of Lettercolumn Classics.

Next Time: From a literal war to a culture war, we shift gears, as the next installment of Lettercolumn Classics takes a look at The Cat and how readers responded to Marvel's version of Women's Lib. Be there!

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

March Answers From the Vault

Welcome back to another round of Answers From the Vault. Earlier this week I threw open the gates of inquiry and you, my loyal readers, flooded through, cramming my inbox with literally trillions of questions. Most of these I will answer in full through private correspondence, so keep sending me questions, but a select few I have decided to post here for the wider internet world to see so that all mankind may benefit from this exchange of knowledge. As always, previous questions and answers can be found here, here and here.

And now, on with the answerings.

So I just learned that the Haunted Tank's nemesis was Attila the Hun. What's up with that? -- Pat B.

Thanks for the question, Pat, it's a good one. For those of you at home who may not be familiar with the comic in question, the Haunted Tank was a feature that ran in DC's classic war anthology G. I. Combat from 1961 until the series was canceled in 1987. It followed the crew of a World War II tank which was haunted by the ghost of Confederate general J. E. B. Stuart, who stood watch over his namesake tank commander by issuing vague and mostly useless platitudes and cryptic prophecies.

But while the Haunted Tank was usually dealing with regular ol Nazis and whatnot, Pat is spot on, as their arch-enemy was none other than Attila the Hun. The reason is fairly simple as these things go: during World War I and to a lesser extend World War II, Germans were referred to as Huns in Allied slang. This was in (very small) part because of the historical link between the Germans and the tribes of the Hun, who way back in the day of Attila did speak some Germanic, but was mostly due to the Hun-like appearance of the German spiked helmets during WWI and Kaiser Wilhelm II's Boxer Rebellion speech comparing his army to the Huns while exhorting them to show no mercy in their dealings with the Chinese. From these things, Allied speakers, including most notably Winston Churchill, often called the German army "the Hun".

So if our boys could have a ghostly protector, then wouldn't it make sense for the Nazis to have their own ghostly avatar? And who better to watch over "the Hun" than the original Hun himself, Attila?

I'm guessing the logic was more apparent to audiences in the early 1960's than it is to today's readers.

Why were the Defenders the greatest super hero team of all time? -- Rob L.

Thanks for the insightful question, Rob. I should start by saying that I don't really agree with your central premise here, as I have to admit I've never been a fan of the Defenders. And I say this as someone who has probably read over a hundred issues of the original series, so I'm not just blowing smoke out my Hellstrom. The series just always seemed flat and uncompelling to me.

However, there are certainly a lot of people who have a soft spot for Defenders and who probably agree with you, so I'll answer the question from the assumption that you're correct.

The main reason the Defenders were the best super hero team ever was their basic premise: the non-team. This, of course, was dictated by the fact that the original members (Namor, Hulk, Silver Surfer and Dr. Strange) were all loners. There wasn't really any logical reason they should want to be in a team or work well in a team, so Marvel just said: okay, it's not a team. It's just a group of heroes that happens to help each other out on a monthly basis.

This flexibility was a perfect fit for the 70's and let the book really flow, as characters would leave, or join or not or whatever with basically no rhyme or reaspn to it. In other words, it was a writers playground, where you could pretty much just go nuts without having to fit your ideas into the more logical structures that titles like Avengers or Fantastic Four demanded. This allowed people like Steve Gerber and Doug Moench (who, as Pat B. correctly points out, didn't technically write Defenders even though the series has his stink all over it) to go crazy with weird ideas (Elf with a Gun, anyone?) crossovers (Guardians of the Galaxy?) and events (such as "Defender for a day," when over twenty Marvel heroes showed up to help on one case and ended up creating some of the most unlikely and chaotic team-ups ever).

Personally, I think this lack of structure played a little too much into the tendency of the time towards self-indulgent navel gazing and that a little more editorial structure could have made for better stories (plus the rotating cast too often was stuck with second stringers and obscure pet characters). But if there's any reason why Defenders can stake a claim to the title of best super hero team ever, this is it.

In your opinion, who are the three most powerful earth-born characters in comic book history? -- Rob L.

This is a classic fanboy type of question, Rob, which I heartily approve of. After all, if we can't debate whether Superman or Thor would win in a fight, what's the fun of comics? Although in that case there's not really any debate as the answer is obviously Thor.

Your question is a little trickier, though, mainly because of the Earth-born clause. That, of course, eliminates Superman and other cosmic powers such as Silver Surfer, but it also puts a few favorites on iffy ground. Thor, for example, was probably born on Earth since his mother is actually Gaea herself. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, wasn't born at all but was formed out of clay that the gods then animated, meaning she is made of Earth but not born on it.

Just to make things plain, then, I'm going to disqualify anybody who has questionable backgrounds like Thor and Wonder Woman. I'm also going to DQ people like Phoenix, since the Phoenix-force wasn't born on Earth even though her host form was; and pet character wankfests like the Sentry, who has been inflated to godlike powers as an on-page manifestation of Bendis's ego.

So who does that leave? Well, for my first choice I'm going to go with the original Captain Marvel from the folks at Fawcett, who was given the abilities of the pantheon but who isn't actually a god himself. Secondly, I'll give a shout out to the nerdy FF villain Molecule Man, whose powers were enough to rival The Beyonder at times.

The third one, though, is a bit of a puzzler. The most obvious choice would probably be Hulk, but he has certain weaknesses that I think render him a little too one-dimensional in terms of his powers, which makes sense considering he's the most one-dimensional comic character of all time. Likewise, Dr. Strange is usually overpowered, but is he more powerful than, say, Dr. Fate?

Anyway, at the risk of parsing continuity and going against my own self-imposed rules, I've decided to go ahead and give slot number three to the Silver Age Spectre. I have to specify Silver Age because DC's continuity is so messed up at this point that there's really no telling what version is appearing these days -- the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the post-CoIE, the Hal Jordan, the post-Infinite Crisis version... whatever, guys. Honestly. But while some of the newer versions have added layers of goofiness to the backstory that would otherwise disqualify Spectre from the competition (i.e. he's actually an angel cast out of Heaven or some other Evanescence-level goth nonsense), the traditional version was both born on and died on Earth.

So there's the answer: Captain Marvel, Molecule Man and Spectre. Three guys you probably don't want to mess with.

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