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X-Men: The Animated Series – IN REVIEW!!

3 Sep
I found myself bereft of the world of Marvel’s cartoons as they did not feature anywhere on Cartoon Network, my premier portal to the world of cartoons. Then, one fine day, “Voila!” Channel surfing on a lazy Saturday Morning, I chanced upon episodes of Spider-Man: The Animated Series on the Fox Kids segment of Star Plus. And an hour later, I found myself watching X-Men: The Animated series on Star World, its companion channel. To be honest, I was never into X-Men in the comics – the three teams I was never able to wrap my mind around were Teen Titans, X-Men and the Legion of Super Heroes – mainly due to the team roster changing frequently and due to the large number of magazines featuring each.
Of course, it was the late nineties, but comics available in India were still stuck in the eighties – we had Marv Wolfman on Teen Titans, Paul Levitz on the Legion and Chris Claremont on the X-Men – which, in retrospect, were the best runs on the titles to date. No matter, the seventh or eighth grade kid in me couldn’t figure them out, so they were trash. More than Spider-Man though, X-Men changed my mindset completely.

While not on the same scale of the later series, the very first X-Men series had good production value, a roster that was classic as well as contemporary and no holds barred action. The roster had Professor X (Charles Xavier), Cyclops (a.k.a. Scott Summers), Jean Grey, Wolverine, Beast (a.k.a. Dr. Hank McCoy), Storm (a.k.a. Ororo Munroe), Rogue , Gambit (a.k.a. Remy LeBeau) and Jubilee (a.k.a. Jubilation Lee), while other characters like Havok, Nightcrawler, Forge, Bishop, Psylocke and Archangel appear in later episodes. Season 1 (13 episodes) features basic introductions and adaptations of some highly acclaimed story-lines from the comics.

In Night of the Sentinels (Parts 1 & 2) we are introduced to Jubilee whose parents have registered her with the Mutant Registration Center. Bolivar Trask’s Sentinels come calling for Jubilee when a group of mutant strangers, whom she (and we) would soon come to know as the X-Men, save her. After rescuing her from the Sentinels and taking her to their headquarters, the X-Men storm the Mutant Registration Center, an attack that goes awry, and ends up with the X-Men abandoning two of their own, one of whom was presumed dead.

In order to be taken seriously, the script called for the death of a character. The character Morph, a shape-shifter was created specifically for this purpose. In the comics Morph played a minor role in a single issue, prior to the revamp by Claremont. The character proved to be popular and was brought back several times in the series and was also reintroduced in the comics, most notably in Exiles, due to his popularity in this animated series. Beast continues to remain in prison for the remainder of the season.

Magneto makes his debut in Enter Magneto, when he comes to free Beast from prison, who politely refuses. Magneto then threatens the world with Nuclear Missiles (what else?) but Wolverine, Cyclops and Storm succeed in stopping them.

In Deadly Reunions, a wounded Sabretooth is given shelter and refuge by Professor X, despite of Wolverine’s warnings about him. Until of course he shows his true colours.

We see Wolverine’s feelings for Jean Grey and also the introduction of the Morlocks in Captive Hearts. The X-Men enter the sewers to rescue Cyclops from the Morlocks and Storm ends up taking leadership of the Morlocks from Callisto.

In Cold Vengeance, Wolverine takes a sabbatical to Alaska but Sabretooth follows him there and a fishing village pays the price for their vendettas.

Slave Island features Gambit, Storm and Jubilee’s vacation to Genosha turns topsy-turvy when they understand that mutants are being kept captive to run their industries and that the production unit for Sentinels – Mastermold – is housed there. The X-Men eventually destroy the operation, with the help of mystery mutant Cable.

The Unstoppable Juggernaut finally makes his debut. Cain Marko is Professor Xaviers half brother, who has always hated him. After gaining the powers of the Crimson gem of Cytorrak, he turns into a superhuman tank – virtually unstoppable.

Apocalypse makes his debut, with Raven Darkholme (a.k.a. Mystique) and Warren Worthington (a.k.a. Angel, and later Archangel) in The Cure and Come the Apocalypse. A scientist, Gottfried Adler is offering all mutants the chance to become normal again – Rogue almost takes the chance, but unbeknownst to her, the process turns the mutants into slaves of Apocalypse. Apocalypse here makes a rather low key debut, for someone supposedly the first and most powerful mutant ever.

In Days of Future Past Parts 1 & 2, Bishop comes from the future, sent by Wolverine and Forge to prevent the assassination of Senator Kelly, Gambit being his primary suspect.

The Final Decision is the Season Finale, featuring the X-Men and Magneto’s (supposedly) final fight against the Sentinels. Mastermold gets destroyed at the hands of Bolivar Trask and Professor Xavier; while the rest of the X-Men rescue Senator Kelly and destroy the remaining Sentinels. Senator Kelly gets Beast released from Prison; and Jean Grey accepts Scott’s marriage proposal.

All’s well that ends well, eh? Unfortunately not; as we shall see later, in the review for the second season of X-Men: The Animated Series.

Fantasising fondly of the "Fantastic Four" (1967 animated series)

27 Aug
When I was a kid in the fourth grade, one fine afternoon a routine bout of channel surfing gave me a completely new channel with a wonderful concept – they broadcast Cartoons right through the day. The channel was then called Cartoon Network, and they used to broadcast mostly Hanna Barbera stuff – which I was new to, back then. I saw a lot of classics I knew (Tom & Jerry, Looney Tunes), new stuff I came to love (Scooby Doo, Huckleberry Hound) and a feature that looked too interesting for words – The Power Zone. I remember this part all too well as it was a two-hour programme that featured only action cartoons.

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At the outset, I remember running home from school to thrill to the adventures of The Fantastic Four, The Centurions, Jonny Quest, Thundarr The Barbarian and Super Adventures – a gamut of H-B studio works, like Space Ghost, Birdman, Mightor, The Herculoids, Shazzan, Moby Dick, Dino Boy and the Galaxy Trio. These cartoons and the ones that followed – Swat Kats, Captain Planet, Sky Commanders, Galtar and the Golden Lance – inspired me to look for comics featuring action heroes, and to be honest I wasn’t reading a lot of foreign comics, so my action comics were limited to Indrajal Comics and Diamond Comics’ Mahabali Shaka, Agniputra Abhay, Fauladi Singh and Lamboo Motu. Only after viewing these did my interest in foreign comics, as well as in Indian publications featuring other foreign characters (IBH & Dolton both printed Indian editions of DC Comics long ago), and my chief inspiration was The Fantastic Four (1967)

Why is all this important right now? Well, I chanced upon a copy of Maximum FF , a deluxe hardcover book which actually tops the DC Absolute editions. The book features the classic issue of Fantastic Four #1, with each panel as a blow-up occupying an entire page. I have that feeling that long before the concept of “widescreen-comics” became, well, fashionable (particularly with Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man & Bryan Hitch on The Ultimates & The Authority), people like Jack Kirby and Curt Swan were using it all the time. The book is a treat to behold, and took me back to my childhood days. It was this which drove me back to the animated series of yore, which in turn brought me back to more of Jack Kirby’s original comics. This series, even though made in 1967 had great production values for the day.
Fantastic Four featured a team of cosmic powered individuals – with one mission – bad guys beware! As the blurb said, those weren’t the days of sophisticated characterization, on TV as well as in the funnybooks written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Jack Kirby. Character designs were by Alex Toth and captured the youthful dynamism of the Jack Kirby illustrations. The series produced a total of twenty episodes, two of which were rehashes of earlier episodes. Of the remaining eighteen, sixteen featured in half hour shows, while the other two made up one hour-long episode.

The series has many of the familiar characters from the comics (a notable few missing are Alicia Masters, Wyatt Wingfoot, Annihilus, The Frightful Four, The Inhumans, The Mad Thinker, Puppet Master and Psycho Man) with subtle differences. Another weak-point is that most characters’ origins are never told, and are introduced as having appeared before, when they didn’t – although perhaps to a kid this makes little difference.
The episode “Klaws” features the team going head-to-head with Klaw, the master of sound. Interestingly, neither the Black Panther nor Wakanda are mentioned here.
The Mole Man makes his presence felt in two episodes, “Menace of the Mole Men” and “Return of the Mole Man”, with his original set up and plans to lower the major cities of the Earth into his domain.
We see the Red Ghost’s origin here, along with his attempts to beat the Fantastic Four in and “The Red Ghost” as well as “It all started on Yancy Street”.
Molecule Man and Giganto appear as one-note villains in “The Mysterious Molecule Man” and “Demon in the Deep” respectively.
The villain getting the most screen time is of course FF arch-nemesis Doctor Doom, having appeared in “The Three Predictions of Doctor Doom”, “The Way It All Began” and “The Micro World of Doctor Doom”.
Doctor Doom’s origin, is as always interwoven with The Fantastic Four. “The Three Predictions of Doctor Doom” has the Fantastic Four trapped in his airship while he takes them out one by one, while in the Micro World story, he traps the Fantastic Four using, what else, a shrinking device.
The Skrulls appear in “Invasion of the Super Skrulls”, wherein the Skrull Emperor sends the Super-Skrull who has the powers of all members of the Fantastic Four. In “Behold, A Distant Star”, the power hungry Warlord Morrat, as part of a plan to overthrow the Skrull Emperor – captures the Fantastic Four.
Galactus and the Silver Surfer make their debut in “Galactus” where the Silver Surfer approaches Earth to determine whether it is fit for consumption until Sue Richards (due to the absence of Alicia Masters from the show) teaches him the value of human life.
In “Prisoners of Planet X”, we see Kurgo and the inhabitants of his doomed planet as he captures the Fantastic Four and forces them to help him.
Diablo is portrayed much like his comic-origin, as an ageless warlock who is the master of alchemy and whose potions can successfully change the world, and also succeed in changing The Thing back to Ben Grimm, albeit temporarily.
A Namor pastiche, Triton appears here in “Danger in the Depths”, fighting Attuma over the fate of the surface dwellers.
The Fantastic Four encounters Kang (as Ram-A-Tut) when they travel to the past using Doctor Doom’s time platform.
Blastaar, the living bomb burst is shown to be an inhabitant of The Negative Zone who gets into our universe using a space portal.
“The Terrible Tribunal” features Blastaar, The Molecule Man and Klaw recollecting their adventures as a judge sentences Reed as guilty. In “The Deadly Director”, the Imposter plots to make a film on the Fantastic Four, as unbeknownst to them he secretly plots their death. The above two episodes, for the most part are retelling of previous stories.
My favourite episodes, in order are:
Behold, A Distant Star
The Three Predictions of Doctor Doom
After watching all this, I have an urge to catch all the Marvel Animated Features – especially those I missed the first time around. Join me next week for the First Season of the longest running show and most respected of them all, The X-Men, wont you?

Will the real Captain America please stand up?

30 Jul

Jack Kirby (& heirs) Vs. Marvel Comics

Yes, I am going there. But for all the right reasons. For a little while now, a court case has been under way to get back the rights or at least get royalties from Marvel Comics for the late Jack ‘King’ Kirby and his heirs from the 100s of millions made from creations which without Kirby would not exist, such as Hulk, Fantastic Four, and oh, that money spinner, X-Men. Every comic fan/reader must know about Kirby for it goes without saying, that he is as important to American/Western comics as Leonardo Da Vinci is to modern art and as Anant Pai was to Indian comics.

 As you may or may not be aware of, this past week saw the final verdict given on the decades long struggle between the estate of Jack Kirby and Marvel Comics -which is owned by Disney.  The court ruled ‘legally’ in favor of Marvel Comics. And therefore all rights to Kirby’s work will remain in the hands of Marvel to do as they see fit and as with any powerhouse they have every right to. Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool has been so cool as to place the entire ruling up for all fans and interested parties to read for themselves. So, I am not gonna try and explain the legal fine print here in this column, but do have a read for yourselves. It will give you a good understanding of how far things have come.

Capt. America #1

For years, to all of us who have/had been Marvel Comics fans due to the great ensemble of superhero and mutant books put out by the stable. The company for years helped various artists and writers to break into the medium in the USA. Having grown into a pop culture icon, Stan Lee has taken the characters Jack created in a whole new universe. Just look at the movies, toys and over the top branding of the recent Thor and now Captain America, both were also co-created by Kirby.
Loyalist and those who believe a person should get recognition for his creations and royalties paid, especially in this age of multi-million dollar lawsuits, and brands which could easily buy some countries around the globe, should at least step aside from the legal decision now that its over,  and look to rectify to the Kirby Heirs and to us, as consumers who indirectly allow an injustice to continue by allowing a man like Jack Kirby to continue (even after his passing), to be treated as a Coolie, carrying the bags of Marvel Comics while others reap of his work, slaving for a company, he felt, had for years mistreated him.

‘King’ Kirby

As both a writer and artist, not trying to say I am anything of any import among these giants, when I hear about someone who is unfairly treated by companies, I get angry, for lack of a better description. As part of my Bachelors Degree in Digital Filmmaking we discussed at length over ownership rights and work for hire and creations made and or, written whilst in the employ of a company, as the legals issues seem not to allow for creator rights in certain situations, (make sure you read the fine print). You see the law is always clear cut when it comes to who owns what, when and also how long for. But what it sometimes seems to ignore is the emotions, creative passions and angst which comes with trying to bring about something out of thin air.
In this case Marvel Comics have won, and also we must remember as has Disney. The losers are of course, Jack Kirby, who just doesn’t seem to catch a break and his heirs.

   Now I am not saying that the fault lies with Marvel Comics or the Kirby Heirs here, but its a done deal. A loser and a winner. But, I as a comic fan and creator feel something needs to be done here for Jack. Its time to let the world know that without him American Comics would not be the rich green pasture it is today and that those comic characters would not have the same appeal they did for fans before us and those who will follow.  But it would behove, Stan Lee to at least set the record straight and put the matter to rest as to who did what and when, now that the gavel has fallen. Lets have a clean slate. Jack Kirby will always be King.

(ARU), Aruneshwar has just finished his Bachelors Degree in Digital Media -Digital Film-making.
Having decided to become a teacher so he can see the world, he has just begun a
Diploma in Digital Media -Multimedia. On the creative side Aru,
is writing and illustrating a graphic novel about the 30yrs of Institutionalised Slavery of
Indians in Fiji from 1885 -1915. He is a prolific script writer and writes in all comic
book genres which include several graphic novels for his own company,
Rising Sun Comics.