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Old Classics in a New Style

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The big news for tomorrow is that Alex Ross, Jim Krueger and Carlos Paul take over Daredevil.

I know what you might be saying. “The Marvel solicitations say that tomorrow’s issue wraps up the ‘Without Fear’ arc” or “No, you’re confused. Greg Rucka is joining Ed Brubaker for a future Daredevil arc, not Alex Ross!”

You would be right. But I am right also. Ross and company aren’t taking over the red-suited, tendency for dead girlfriends, Marvel hero. He is taking over comicdom’s first Daredevil, the one created almost 68 years ago.

When we think of the Golden Age, we think of DC—Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Then, we think of Marvel/Timely—Captain America, Sub-Mariner, and the Human Torch. Maybe then we think of Fawcett, Archie or even Quality.

However, in the decade after its birth, the comic book, especially super-hero comic books, were monstrously popular. It seems that any company with an access to a printing press published comic books. The most notable of these companies were Lev Gleason Publications, Fox Comics and Nedor Comics.

Each had their own stable of costumed heroes. Lev Gleason was home to the aforementioned Daredevil, as well as such other characters as Silver Streak, The Ghost and the villainous Claw. Fox Comics was known for publishing the original Blue Beetle, the Flame and Samson. Nedor Comics had a cult following with the Black Terror, Miss Masque and Fighting Yank.

While these companies and characters were popular in the day, they did not have the lasting power of DC or Timely. When superhero comics took a downturn in popularity in the 1950s, it took these companies with them. By 1956, most, if not all, of the minor comic companies were out of business.

Since there was no company to publish these characters, let alone renew the copyright on them, most all of these characters have lapsed into the public domain, which means that the characters are not owned by anyone and are considered public property. If you wanted to create a Black Terror comic book, you very well could. And you wouldn’t have to pay a penny to anybody for the right to do so. As a matter of fact, Eclipse Comics, AC Comics and even Alan Moore put out titles featuring the Black Terror before Alex Ross included him in Project: Superpowers.

Copyright should not be confused with trademark. Marvel holds the trademark on the name “Daredevil”, which is why Ross changed the name of the Gleason character to “The Death-Defying ̀Devil” and also whenever DC puts out a book featuring the original Captain Marvel, the character is named some variation on Shazam (Marvel owns the trademark on “Captain Marvel, too.)

The fact that these characters are in the public domain also explains why Samson can be a supporting character in Project: Superpowers yet also be featured on the cover of Image’s Next Issue Project. Neither company holds exclusive claim to the character so both can use it freely.

Ross and Krueger have collected characters from all of the defunct Golden Age companies to form the Superpowers universe, resulting, in essence, in an intercompany crossover, sixty years too late. It’s like if Timely and DC were on the opposite end of the success spectrum back in the fifties, Ross might be creating a book with Superman, Captain America and Wonder Woman as cast members.

The story revolves around Fighting Yank, now an old man. Back in the waning days of World War II, he imprisoned his fellow superheroes in an urn called “Pandora’s Box”.  He believed that it was the only way to get rid of evil in the world. He was wrong because evil has a stronger hold on the world than ever before. Now, he must find a way to free the heroes, before it is too late.

I am a fan of history. And any comic that reintroduces these time-lost characters to a new audience is something we all should support. Perhaps Ross and Krueger can unlock the potential these characters have and give them a second life with a whole new generation.

Also out this week:

X-Men: Legacy #208

Regular readers of this column will know how opposed I am to death in comics. But if there is one thing worse than trigger-happy writers killing characters willy-nilly, it’s when a character should be dead, but isn’t. Such is the case of Charles Xavier. He was shot directly in the head, with a bullet which entered his skull and mushed up his brains, yet he still lives.

This issue begins the struggle that Xavier goes through to climb out of his coma. The journey starts with X-villain Exodus, who may be his only hope. What are his motivations? Can Xavier trust him? Not that it matters. It’s not like Charlie can do anything about it. He’s in a freakin’ coma!

Mike Carey (W), Scot Eaton & John Romita, Jr. (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99.   Ongoing Series.

Crime Bible The Five Lessons of Blood #5:

Of all the ideas to spring from 52, the Crime Bible could be the most unique. Setting up a whole religion built around crime, structured by an unholy book of dark lessons and evil deeds? That is creepy and inventive. It takes the idea of organized crime to a whole new level, and somehow makes it even more dangerous.

The miniseries that examined that concept comes to a close this week. Renee Montoya, the new Question, confronts the Dark Faith head on. Will she find all the answers she’s looking for? Or will she realize that some questions are better off being left unanswered—especially when they deal with the Lessons of Blood?  

Greg Rucka (W), Manuel Garcia (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Final Issue.

Marvel Zombies 2 #5:

Some people, and I was one of them, didn’t think that it was possible for the first Marvel Zombie series to have a sequel. After all, most of the Earth was already devoured by the Iron Man and the rest of his Zombie crew. And the few survivors left wouldn’t last an issue, let alone five. But the zombie popularity craze that has infected the world meant that a sequel was inevitable.

Credit goes to Robert Kirkman for making the sequel so enjoyable. He plays on concepts and ideas established in the first series, and took them in fresh and unexpected directions, all the while poking just a little bit of fun at Marvel’s Civil War series in the process. Pundits say the zombie trend is on its way out. Will this be the last sequel? We’ll have to see.

Robert Kirkman (W), Sean Phillips (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99.  Final Issue.

Urban Monsters #1:

“Road Trip From Hell.” Odds are, we have all been on one. Stuck in a long car ride with a couple fighting all the time, or a group who liked to sing show tunes to pass the time, or people who think good personal hygiene is something they hope to attain—someday.  Or perhaps it was a trip with a Sasquatch, a bug-eyed fish creature, a satyr and a dude with detachable limbs.

That is the road trip from hell presented in this book, as the four monsters engage on a trip from New York to Hollywood. Why do the monsters cross the country? For fame and fortune of course (and, also to get to the other side)! And the only barrier to success, other than the 3,000 miles of road and the 3 day time limit, is being in the same car with one another.

Will Wilson & Joanne Moore (W), Tone Rodriguez (A), Image Comics, $3.50. Ongoing Series.

Ropeburn #1:

Everyday life can be a drag. Getting up, going to work, getting yelled at by the boss, dealing with rude customers, going home just to go to sleep early so you can get up and start the whole process all over again. Where is the beauty in life? Where are the joy and the humor?

This collection of strips by Xeric Grant-winning cartoonist, Jeremy Smith, shows that the beauty, joy and humor is all around us, if we only look close enough. These tales of the lowly employees of a small pizza shop reflect what many of us go through in our own lives. The collection shows that the silver lining behind every cloud might really exist.

Jeremy Smith (W/A), Fragile Press, $4.95.  One-Shot.

Deathblow #9:

These last eight issues have been rough for Deathblow. He’s been imprisoned, tortured, betrayed, attacked and abused. He’s faced off against all manner of opponents, from a half-man/half-dinosaur to his own family. He has come to believe that everyone in the entire world was against him. Well, he was right. And now that he knows that, he can finally end it.

This series was part of Wildstorm’s revival of their lynch pin properties that happened last year. It wasn’t solicited as a limited series, but it turns out that it became one. Deathblow’s revival ends here, in his last issue. So this issue is an ending in more ways than one. Could this be the end of the series, the end of Deathblow’s torment, and, perhaps, the end of Deathblow himself?

Brian Azzarello (W), Carlos D’Anda (A), DC/Wildstorm Comics, $2.99. Final Issue.

House of M: Avengers #5:

Thunderbird has done everything he could think of to get rid of Luke Cage. He’s ambushed him, infiltrated his gang, even made a deal with the Kingpin. Nothing has succeeded. If anything, Cage has become an even bigger folk hero amongst the sapiens.

Now, Thunderbird is using the full authority of the House of M to begin a purge of Sapien Town. Anyone deemed a subversive will be captured or killed, even if he has to destroy the whole town top do it. The only thing stopping him is Cage and his Avengers. And that’s just the way Thunderbird wants it.

Christos Gage and Mike Perkins have created a title that might just be better than the series that spawned it, House of M. Their love letter to Marvel’s characters of the 70s and 80s is exactly what an alternate reality story should be.

Christos Gage (W), Mike Perkins (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99.  Final Issue.

###

William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also writes periodic comic reviews for PopMatters, is a weekly contributor to Film Buff Online and writes title descriptions for Human Computing’s Comicbase collection management software. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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