Thursday, January 24, 2019

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Atlantis Blues

What's the first thing you notice about the faces below?  Yes, a lot of them have perpetually angry-looking eyebrows, but the most defining characteristics of the Marvel Comics race known as Atlanteans is their blue skin. Except, of course, for Prince Namor, aka the Sub-Mariner, whose father was a surface-dwelling human, and his cousins Namora and Namorita—those three are white.

Bill Everett's first Sub-Mariner story was first published in black-and-white—in the undistributed Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1, in 1939—but it was colored for Marvel Comics #1 a few months later. On the first page, we meet Namor. He's underwater, which gives his skin a blue tint.

Here he is with his mother, Princess Fen. High-quality scans of this (very valuable) comic are difficult to find, but you can see here that they're both underwater, and both the same color blue.

In a flashback, we see Princess Fen in her younger days. Above water, her skin is white.

When Namor and his cousin Dorma emerge from the sea, they too are notably azure-free.

So it's pretty clear that although these characters appear blue when underwater, it's just the way light is refracted, right? The next issue drives that home:

Here's Namor in Marvel Mystery Comics #3, with Betty Dean, a New York City policewoman. For whatever reason, her skin doesn't appear blue beneath the surface, but above water their skin is the same color.

Skipping ahead: here's the Atlantean Emperor Tha-Korr, Namor's grandfather, in Marvel Mystery Comics #7. Why, yes, he does look like a fish. Meanwhile, for the first time, Namor's skin is shown as white even when underwater. At this point, Everett establishes that Namor has a different color skin than most Atlanteans.

But the whiteness is catching! In Marvel Mystery Comics #10, both Namor and his cousin Dorma (who now has some creepy Walter Keane-like eyes) are below the water, untouched by blue:

Let's check back in with the family. In Marvel Mystery Comics #12, Princess Fen is still white, but now she's got Dorma's weird eyes, too.

In Marvel Mystery Comics #24, Namor rescues Princess Fen from a prison, but apparently doesn't notice that her skin is now green for the first time.

Marvel Mystery Comics #82, 1947. Namora comes to live with Betty Dean. Everybody's totally Caucasian.

Sub-Mariner #33. Phew! Even Fen is white again. Also... hmm. She's a redhead?

With Sub-Mariner #36, Namora's forsaken her own blonde hair for brown.

And that's how things were left when Marvel discontinued the adventures of the Sub-Mariner for the remainder of the 1950s. He resurfaced in the pages of Fantastic Four in 1961, and two years after that, in Fantastic Four Annual #1, the people of Atlantis returned, now as interpreted by Jack Kirby.

Remember Dorma, Namor's cousin? Well, now she's blue, for good. And—oh, family ties!—she and Namor are in love.

As of 1965's Tales to Astonish #96, Princess Fen is blue, too.

Sub-Mariner #1, 1968: in a flashback to the events of Marvel Comics #1, we see Princess Fen brought onto the American boat. This time, retroactive continuity requires that her skin be blue, to remain consistent with what Kirby had established.

....And the rewriting of history is complete: Invaders #20 reprints Marvel Comics #1, but this time, Namor and Fen have different-colored skin.

And that's pretty much how it's been ever since.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

New book about the history of Marvel Comics

"Sean Howe's history of Marvel makes a compulsively readable, riotous and heartbreaking version of my favorite story, that of how a bunch of weirdos changed the world.”
 - Jonathan Lethem

"As a teenager, I never owned a single comic book. Marvel Comics makes me wish I suddenly had 3000 of them in my parents' basement. Exhaustively researched and artfully assembled, this book is a historical exploration, a labor of love, and a living illustration of how the weirdest corners of the counterculture can sometimes become the culture-at-large."
Chuck Klosterman

"A warts-and-all, nail-biting mini-epic about the low-paid, unsung 'funnybook men' who were unwittingly creating twenty-first century pop culture. If you thought the fisticuffs were bare and bloody on the four-color page, wait 'til you hear about what went down in the Marvel bullpen."
Patton Oswalt

"Imagine one of those comic book panels of a woman - bug-eyed, mouth agape, pulling at her own hair. Now imagine she's gotten herself in this state because she's amazed by a book about comics. Page after page, Sean Howe's Marvel Comics manages to be enchantingly told, emotionally suspenseful and totally revelatory. If I knew more about superpowers, I'd be able to explain how he did it."
Sloane Crosley

"Sean Howe is to Marvel Comics what Procopius was to the Byzantine Empire: a court gossip of breathtaking thoroughness and exactitude, and a sly and nuanced writer. It is imperative that this work not fall into the hands of alien species, or we're done for."
 - Luc Sante

In stores October 2012
pre-order here

Monday, June 11, 2012

Little Miss Dangerous

In the summer of 1980, Frank Miller modeled his sai-wielding femme fatale Elektra on bodybuilder Lisa Lyon, who had recently rocketed to fame when she won the World Women's Bodybuilding Championships. This 1991 Spy feature, by John Lombardi, outlines Lyon's connections to Robert Mapplethorpe, voodoo, Arnold Schwarzenegger, PCP, Huey Newton, cocaine, Jack Nicholson, and Day of the Dolphin.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Bob Welch

 Bob Welch (piano); John McVie (lunch)

"I don't know if you've been to Paris, but this song was written in Paris in the midst of 1970, which was a bad year for just about everything," Bob Welch said into the microphone, breaking up a dreamy instrumental passage of Fleetwood Mac's "Future Games." The band was playing a set for radio broadcast at the Record Plant in Sausalito, and Welch was looking through the glass of the booth at his former bandmate Bob "Boob" Weston, who'd been relieved of guitar duties after an affair with Mick Fleetwood's wife. Welch and Weston had stayed on good terms, though, and Welch was happy to find a friendly face in the room. Christine McVie was rolling her eyes; she hated it when Welch did these spoken-word interludes, so Welch locked his stare with Weston and continued. "The only thing that was good that year was the Beaujolais...and the kief was pretty out of sight...but everything else was on the downgrade. We were sitting up in an apartment in Paris—I don't think I knew you then, Boob—we were sitting up in the middle of a blizzard, getting really wasted but getting bummed out at the same time...because everything in the headlines in the paper, and the club owner, everything like that, it was wrong. Everything was wrong; we were trying to put a simple name to what we were doing, the process of analyzing the people that you're close with what your thing is...trying to figure out what's going on, and what will be going on and if you wanna leave or not by the front door or the back door. What?"

Two weeks later, on New Year's Eve 1974, he quit the band.

There's a lot to say about Bob Welch's life and music—his opiated-roué persona of the late 1970s, his time as host of the proto-MTV "Hollywood Heartbeat," his addictions, his lifelong obsessions with the paranormal, his humor. But for now, here's a sampling of Bob Welch's stunning contributions (as guitarist, singer, and songwriter) to Fleetwood Mac—the eerie, Marquee Moon-anticipating "Future Games" and the earlier, lonelier version of "Sentimental Lady" among them. Play them loud.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Superheroes in Session

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

French Assassins

 Ronald Guttman as Emile Calvet in Mad Men

Max von Sydow as G. Joubert in Three Days of the Condor