Saturday, August 11, 2007

Period Comics: A Thought or Two

In my very long discussion of James Robinson's The Golden Age and Darwyn Cooke's The New Frontier, I barely touched upon an idea that I find exceedingly interesting: When the Roy Thomas-fueled period comics like The Invaders and All-Star Squadron hit the scene, World War II was only about 40 years old. And that seemed like an appropriate amount of time in which to set a comic book series set in the past. What if we applied that math to the year 2007, and looked back 40 years ago to the year 1967. I'm not talking about an Elseworlds-style graphic novel or mini-series. I'm talking an ongoing, episodic, super-hero melodrama which, like the Roy Thomas stuff, uses the time period as an essential part of the plotting and characterization.

Here's some of the 1967 the historical backdrop (courtesy of handy-dandy wikipedia):

--The Vietnam War.
--Apollo 1: U.S. astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward Higgins White, and Roger Chaffee are killed when fire erupts in their Apollo spacecraft during a launch pad test.
--New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison claims he will solve the John F. Kennedy assassination, and that it was planned in New Orleans.
--Joseph Stalin's daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, defects to the USA via the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.
--In San Francisco, 10,000 march against the Vietnam War.
--In Houston, Texas, boxer Muhammad Ali refuses military service.
--Elvis Presley and Priscilla Beaulieu are married in Las Vegas.
--The Beatles release Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of rock's most acclaimed albums.
--Loving v. Virginia: The United States Supreme Court declares all U.S. state laws prohibiting interracial marriage to be unconstitutional.
--Cold War: U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin in Glassboro, New Jersey, for the 3-day Glassboro Summit Conference.
--12th Street Riot: In Detroit, Michigan, one of the worst riots in United States history begins on 12th Street in the predominantly African American inner city (43 killed, 342 injured and 1,400 buildings burned.
--The Black Panthers Party invades the city of New Haven, Connecticut setting people's lawns and houses on fire.
--Thurgood Marshall is confirmed as the first African American Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
--U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
--Civil rights activists in the US succeed in their campaign to extend the definition of murder to include the killing of blacks.

Can you imagine a super-hero series, using established heroes, set against such a backdrop? After all, the major super-heroes from both Marvel and DC were already created by 1967.

Or is it only the World War II-era heroes who seem to fit in a historical setting?

If a comic book set in the late 1960s did exist, who would be the ideal creative team?

These are the things I think about. How about you?


Marc Caputo said...

It's probably the least important event on that list, but the Beatles thing just gives me a gag reflex. I really reject the notion that "Sgt. Pepper" is the greatest album of all time and here's why:

- it's not even the Beatles' best album ("Rubber Soul", "Help" and "Revolver" easily beat it.
- it's not what everyone claims it is ; a concept album. What exactly is the concept? "Hotel California" is a concept album.
- it's not the best album of 1967; remember, that's the year that we got the first Doors album (say what you will, but that album reached further with influence than Pepper did.) and the first Jimi Hendrix album.

Just wanted to get that off my chest - it's not that I hate the Beatles, it's that I hate them being deified so.

And I like to start fights.

Timothy Callahan said...

Yeah, but can't you just see the comic book potential of it?

The secret history of Sgt. Pepper is that it's actually based on a covert operation from early 1967 in which Sgt. Nick Fury led a strike team of Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Captain America into the dark jungles of Vietnam to stop the war by any means necessary. Instead, they grew moustaches, dropped acid, and recorded an album. The resulting government cover-up led to a dangerous pact with the out-of-favor rebellious musical group known only as "The Beatles."

Records unearthed by Peter Sanderson indicate what the original version of the album might have been, with tracks named "With a Little Help from My (Super) Friends" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Who I Stabbed with My Claws."

Marc Caputo said...

Well, from that point of view, it all makes sense! What a fool I've been all these years!

Speaking of Sanderson, I remember him doing stuff for FantaCo's Marvel Chronicles series back in the early 80s - do you recall them? I met him at NYCC this year and had a few moments with him after he "moderated" an 80s comics panel (only Walt Simonson showed. Oh well.) Nice guy - would have loved to attend his 1986 series.

Richard said...

Marc, I'd argue that Sgt. Pepper is indeed a concept album -- the concept is mythologizing mundane everyday life as represented by their own hometown of Liverpool. Admittedly the concept is best represented by the two songs that got knocked off the album for being so good they needed to become singles: Lennon and McCartney took the everyday place names of "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields" and overnight turned them into mythological places known to everyone in the world. The album itself is full of little slices of ordinary life, but turned into poetry in a way Philip Larkin could only dream of. Picking up a date at her house, reading a newspaper, a girl leaving home, getting stoned or drunk and talking shite with your mates about philosophy...hey look, there's a poster for the circus coming to town! Everyone's lived with this album for so long they've forgotten how utterly bizarre and unprecedented it was that such mundane stuff was the basis for pop songs.

That said, you're so right about The Doors' debut album. I personally would add The Who Sell Out to the list (now there's a concept album!) and the Floyd's Piper At The Gates Of Dawn -- the first two albums ever to be recorded in widescreen Cinerama.

But we digress...

Tim, a superhero book set in 1967 has been one of my pet ideas for a while now, and I don't want to give away everything I thought up (in case I ever have the chance to do something with it!) but there's clearly room for good stuff to be done there. The best attempt so far has been what GM did with Cloud 9 in Zenith. Because of the periodic continuity revisions at Marvel and DC that leave almost none of their major characters active circa 1967, doing it for one of those companies would almost demand all new characters, or the characters done in a "retro" style a la New Frontier which you expressly reject.

(Using Wolverine, though logical, really turns me off conceptually: part of Roy's approach to the Forties was either restricting himself to characters who really did exist in the period, or creating new ones who could have. Logan is just so very not Summer of Love.)

Now, if I were going to pitch a Marvel 1967 comic, the best character to use would have to be Marvel's first Captain Marvel, introduced in that year and the hero most easily retconned as having been around that long. At DC, 1967 is the era of go-go checks and National is still publishing comics about Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis. Some useful characters are the superhero Blackhawks, Bwana Beast, Dial H For Hero, and Deadman -- any of whom could have operated in that era, even by current DC continuity. But as the star for such a book one might choose Metamorpho, by his very nature unaffected by the passage of time, and with a jaded sense of humor that could make him a good viewpoint character.