Monthly Archive: January 2015

Skye’s the Limit – Love Won’t Find A Way

The last we saw of the Inhumans, Maximus, the mad would-be king, had isolated the Great Refuge from the rest of the world behind a barrier that only he knew how to penetrate.  This final, little, spiteful bit played out in the first few pages of Fantastic Four #48 before Kirby and Lee shifted gears and began another influential storyline – the first Galactus story.

It seems to me that at this point they weren’t sure what to do with the Inhumans and whether this new group of super beings would be a hit.  I suspect that the fan response was rousing and sales were brisk because, after a few sporadic appearances in FF #50 and #52, the Inhumans were sharing front cover space with Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny starting in issue #54.


This trend of having a significant Inhuman presence persists, uninterruptedly, from Fantastic Four #54 until issue #159, and then again, briefly, from #301-#317 and Annual #21.  The Inhumans were such a hot commodity that, for a while in late 1967 and early 1968, stories concerning them were running concurrently in both the FF and Thor monthly titles.  The stories appearing in Thor were standalone stories that filled-in the backstory of key characters and of the race as a whole.  There was also a brief appearance of Medusa and Black Bolt on their own in July 1968 in Marvel Superheroes #15.  The following diagram shows a publication timeline from October 1965 until July of 1968.


Obviously, during this time frame, the Inhuman canon was growing in leaps and bounds, and it is impractical to summarize every jot and twiddle.  I’ll content myself with summarizing three major or core ideas: the star-crossed love between Johnny and Crystal; the ultimate explanation of their origins in the influence of the Kree; and the propensity of the Inhuman city to move from place to place. These last two themes are particularly relevant to Skye and her involvement in Agents of Shield and to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole.

The Star-Crossed Love of Johnny and Crystal

I include this component of the Inhuman canon mostly because Lee and Kirby and many subsequent writer/artist teams have latched onto this theme and it forms one of the main ribs in the Marvel Universe.

This summary begins just after the resolution of the first Wakanda arc within the Fantastic Four.  That storyline, which spanned FF #52-54, introduced the Black Panther (the first black superhero in mainstream comics in the USA).  In gratitude for their assistance, the Black Panther gives Johnny Storm and his college roommate, Wyatt Wingfoot, a vehicle called the ‘Gyro-Cruiser’ that will transport its occupants effortless over any terrain.  Eager to return to the Inhumans’ Great Refuge in the Himalayas, Johnny takes the helm of the Gyro-Cruiser (which, incidentally, looks like a large hamster ball with a futuristic driver’s compartment inside) and off they go.

About two days out from Wakanda, the pair suddenly finds the ground giving way beneath them and they are quickly plunged below the sands of some undisclosed desert and into a time-forgotten ruin.  Here we get to see another installment of Jack Kirby’s fascination with ancient cultures, golden ages, and lost cities – a theme that he pursued many times, including his exploration of King Solomons mines in the 1976 Black Panther series.


Upon waking, the lone figure tells Wyatt and Johnny a strange tale.  He claims to be Prester John of the Arthurian legend, and the red wand that he guards is the Evil Eye, a device of unimaginable power.  Johnny, thinking he’s found the ideal method to shatter the barrier surrounding the Great Refuge and get reunited with his love, takes the Evil Eye and speeds off.  Unfortunately, the artifact was building to an overload and, in the last possible second, Wyatt shoots the Eye out of the Torch’s hand before it detonates.


This is a famous comics scene, and the final outcome of these events echo through many later stories, most notably the Defenders/Avengers ‘war’, one of the first major crossover events in comics, and in Matt Fraction’s very trippy, very weird stint on the Defenders (2012), where Prester John is retconned into being a lynch pin of the multiverse.

The drama plays out over issues #55-59, during which we learn that:

  • Maximus’s madness comes from his grievance for losing the crown
  • Black Bolt’s reason for not speaking is that his merest whisper can destroy buildings
  • Johnny and Wyatt tame Lockjaw and try to coax the poach to take them to the Inhumans

Finally, desperate to deliver his people, Black Bolt screams and shatters the dome, destroying the Great Refuge in the process.  The Inhuman Council of Elders confers and conveniently send the 6 core Inhumans (Blak Bolt, Gorgon, Medusa, Triton, Crystal and Karnak) back into the world.


Crystal, now free to reunite with Johnny, eventually becomes a permanent hanger-on to the team in issues #66-#80 and an actual member, replacing Sue during her maternity leave, in issues #81-#105.

During this run, some plot devices are introduced that become reoccurring and tiresome in the years that follow.  The most prominent offender is the ‘Maximus reclaims the crown’ storyline.  It was first introduced in FF #82 and ended in the next issue with Maximus and his ‘evil Inhumans’ fleeing in a rocket.  It wasn’t bad the first time, but this storyline never goes away (I count at least 5 other occurrences), and much like a cold sore, lying dormant until another virulent outbreak, spoils the fun every time it appears.

Another example is the ‘Separate the happy lovers’ theme.  The first time this occurs is in FF #95, when Medusa forcibly carries Crystal off to the Great Refuge, much to the despair and overreaction of the Torch.  Johnny follows and engages in a fracas with the other Inhumans until peace asserts itself (#99), and it is explained that Crystal was needed temporarily to help Black Bolt recover.  The next separation occurs (#105) when, seemingly out of nowhere, Crystal is afflicted with a debilitating weakness.  Reed is able to trace the problem to the pollutions of the modern world (#105).



Crystal must return to the Great Refuge, the only pristine place on the planet (despite the fact the much of the Earth is untouched by human pollution).  Curiously, this weakness doesn’t afflict her when she is turned into a puppet by Diablo (#117-118); perhaps the master alchemist cured her, but no sooner is she reunited with Johnny than she heads off to overthrow Maximus, who once again has claimed the throne.

The final installment in this soap opera begins in FF #129-#132.  Johnny resolves to join the Inhumans and sets out to the Himalayas.  Upon his arrival he finds a less-than-warm welcome from the woman he loves.  It turns out that Crystal, ‘purely by chance’, had come upon a battered and severely injured Quicksilver in the ruins of some battle or another.  Hoping to spare his life, she takes him back to the Great Refuge and nurses him back to health.  Nature takes its course, one thing leads to another, and before you can say ‘Flame On!’ we have a love triangle on our hands. Crystal picks Quicksilver and eventually marries him (FF#150 & Avengers #127).

Next week, I’ll cover the more interesting aspects of how the Kree are involved in the history and future of the Inhumans and what makes their city move around.

Skye’s the Limit – The Origin of the Inhumans

This next set of posts grew out of the eager questioning by family and friends to help them get up to speed with what it means for Agent Skye


to be an Inhuman and for Calvin Zabo


to be her father.  As the primary television offering for the Marvel cinematic universe, Agents of Shield gathers many people who are not primarily comics readers.  In addition, the show’s core demographic regard the years in which both the Inhumans and Dr. Zabo first appeared on the scene as ancient history.  So much like Herodotus, “The Father of History”, preserved the events of antiquity for generations to come, so too do I offer this brief history of the origins and doings of Inhumans and Calvin Zabo from the misty corridors of the 1960s.

The first appearance of any of the Inhumans occurred in Fantastic Four #36 from 1965. The issue’s drama starts to unfold with a meeting between the Sandman, the Wizard, and Paste-Pot Pete.  These somewhat inept super-villains contemplate becoming a foursome so that they can take down the Fantastic Four and, in typical comic book logic of the era, they discuss their need to add a lone woman to their ranks so that they can be the evil analog of the FF.  The Wizard regales the others with a story about a woman he glimpsed on a Mediterranean island.  Here is a snippet of his flashback


This mysterious woman, identified as Madam Medusa, is the first Inhuman that readers ever glimpsed.  I’ve pondered from time to time whether Stan Lee and Jack Kirby planned on her being an Inhuman or whether that idea occurred later to them.  I suspect the latter interpretation is the correct one as there are clear signs of evolution in all the comics of this time and in the Fantastic Four as well.

In any event, it’s only a short matter of time (or a few pages) before Madam Medusa is decked out in a colorful outfit and ready to lock horns with Marvel’s first family.


Initially, the Frightful Four, as our super-villains now call themselves, get the advantage over Reed and company, but soon the tide turns, and Fantastic Four emerge victorious.

In her next appearance, Medusa (for the most part Lee & Kirby have dropped the Madam) is given a back story and the Inhumans proper have been introduced.  This storyline ran in FF #44 through FF #47 (with a bit dribbling over into #48).


In the space of those four slim issues, almost the whole structure of the Inhuman’s mythos is introduced; a structure that remains mostly unchanged to this day.

Events begin to unfold when Medusa crosses paths with the FF for a second time.  Instead of being the hunter, she is now the hunted.  Desperate and on the run, she kidnaps the Human Torch in a vain hope that he can help her elude Gorgon.  As it turns out, Gorgon is a fellow Inhuman who was sent to bring Medusa back into the fold.


As is usual, a melee ensues, property is damaged, and melodrama jumps off the page.  When the dust has cleared, Gorgon has spirited Medusa away to parts unknown.

Shortly thereafter, the Human Torch is roaming around a run-down section of New York City when he comes upon a beautiful blond girl perched wistfully on a crate in the middle of the slum.  As he approaches her, this mystery woman summons a wind storm to knock him down as she flees.  Johnny has no choice but to return back to the Baster Building. Unable to get her out of his mind, the Torch returns to the slum to next day where the girls now uses fire to block his approach.  Finding himself in at home with this tactic, the Torch bursts into flame and quickly catches her.


Impressed by his ‘hidden powers’, the girl, now identified as Crystal, assumes that Johnny is also an Inhuman and she immediately reverses course and befriends him.  She takes him by the arm and leads him to a secret gathering place where he meets other Inhumans, including the martial arts expert Karnak and the amphibious Triton.  Naturally, he also comes face-to-face with Gorgon and Medusa, who instantly blow his cover.

Narrowly escaping a trap, the Torch manages to summon the rest of the FF to the scene.  After an initial skirmish with Karnak and Gorgon, Black Bolt arrives on the scene.  Black Bolt, who graces the cover of issue #46, is incredible powerful and fights the team to a standstill.  During the course of this battle, Triton panics and blurts out that the Inhumans are hiding from the Seeker.


The fight ends inconclusively, with the Inhumans teleporting from the scene thanks to their dog Lockjaw.

Unwilling to let the matter drop, the FF continue to investigate.  This investigation brings them into contact with the Seeker, who captures them and then, as expected, fills them in.  It seems that the Seeker is an Inhuman as well, and his job is to capture all Inhumans who have fled from the Great Refuge.


He goes on to explain that the Inhumans are a master race living side-by-side in an exotic locale far in both sophistication and in distance from mere mortals.


This idea of a hidden race with fantastic powers and sophisticated science is a common theme in many of the creations that Jack Kirby touched.  This theme is seen in the creation of the Asgardians in Thor, the Eternals, the New Gods, and so on.

In any event, the Seeker soon leaves for the Great Refuge, taking Triton, who has been captured by the Seeker’s men.  Seeking to rescue Triton, both the FF and the Black Bolt’s party of Inhumans follow the Seeker, although each group is unaware that the other is on the way.

As the Black Bolt and company arrive, we are privy to a discussion that fills in one more story point.  It seems that the Great Refuge is ruled by Black Bolt’s brother Maximus, who, through some trickery, usurped the crown.  Maximus is quite mad, and his first gesture is to unleash the Alpha Primitives, a slave race of savages that the Inhumans rule, onto his ‘guests’.


However, the Alpha Primitives prove no match and, shortly afterwards, Black Bolt claims the crown and is recognized as the rightful king.  Moments after the crown changes hands, the Fantastic Four penetrate the Great Refuge and Johnny and Crystal, who seem to have fallen in love with each other, are finally reunited.

But the bliss is short-lived as the Inhumans stand in the way of Crystal being with an outsider.  It seems that the Inhumans generally dislike and mistrust humans.  Maximus, who is quite mad and power hungry, activates his ‘Atmo-Gun’ intended to kill all human life.


The weapon detonates, bathing the entire Earth, but it only causes a minor annoyance to the world’s population.  It is in that moment when the Inhumans realize that they are humans too.


Now pushed into despair, Maximus modifies the output of the Atmo-Gun creating an unbreakable barrier between the Great Refuge and the outside world, sundering the newly discovered kinship between the Inhumans and their more numerous if somewhat blander cousins and, heartbreakingly, separating the newfound love between the Human Torch and Crystal.

And thus concludes the main foundational arc of the Inhumans.  Next week, I’ll provide a brief summary of their further exploits in the Marvel history.  The following week, I’ll give the Calvin Zabo backstory and I’ll speculate on what the future holds for Skye.

A Roche Limit Review

I don’t normally like to write about a new comic until the creators have published at least 6 issues, my logic being that it takes a while for the writer and illustrator to find their voice and hit their stride.  But, letting my ‘geekier instincts’ get the better of me, I’ve decided to try something different and put down some thoughts about the new Image dystopic, science fiction comic Roche Limit.

My reason for ‘jumping the gun’ is that I am really fond of the dystopian, science fiction genre for a variety of reasons, and I was excited since Roche Limit touches each one. First off, I have a long and abiding interest in the look-and-feel of science fiction in the visual media (films, video games, and comics).  The lines and forms that can be expressed in these contexts are usually so much nicer than what can actually be engineered or manufactured that it is a treat for the senses simply to immerse oneself in the fictional world.  Second, I enjoy the grittier presentations of the future where improved technology serves to enhance what is best and worst about us.  The greater the technology a character has at his disposal, the greater a magnifying glass we have to examine his soul.  Third, I enjoy that form of detective fiction where the tracing of a small crime leads to a large and profound discovery.  There is a certain pleasure in pulling on a seemingly insignificant thread and finding that it unravels a deep secret.

A prime cinematic example employing all these elements is found in the movie Outland.  In Outland, a small-time and washed-up sheriff comes to a mining colony on the Jovian moon Io and, in the course of his normal duties, discovers a lethal conspiracy by the mining company’s management to improve productivity through the use of some creative chemicals (i.e. drugs). Similarly, the video game Bioshock offers these three elements in an engaging storyline in which the player ‘finds’ himself introduced into the futuristic underwater city of Rapture, where this closed community is suffering under the influence of a turf war between opposing political factions and a bad case of DNA-splicing technology run amok.  Small choices quickly lead to interesting discoveries and troubling ethical questions.

Roche Limit is constructed to deliver a similar experience in comic form, mostly, it seems, by heavily borrowing inspiration from Bioshock with liberal dashes of flavor from Outland to round out the recipe.  The basic premise of the story is that, sometime in the not-too-distant future, a gravitational anomaly has been found in a nearby galaxy.  An eccentric billionaire, by the name of Langford Skaargred,


has funded the colonization of the dwarf planet that is in orbit about (or otherwise gravitationally bound to) the anomaly.  Thus is born the Roche Limit colony.  However, Skaargred’s dream of a shiny, happy future has been quickly corrupted by the realities of human nature, and Roche Limit has turned into something a lot darker.

At the start of the story, Sonya,


a cop from Earth, has arrived on Roche Limit to look for her missing sister Bekkah.


As her search progresses, Sonya becomes acquainted with the seedier elements of Roche Limit.  Primary amongst these is Alex Ford,


the only person in existence who knows how to make the drug Recall


using a secret refining process of a mineral peculiar to the dwarf planet’s composition.

He quickly joins Sonya in her search, as Bekkah and Ford were in a relationship up until her disappearance.  Using Ford’s connections as the preeminent pusher in perhaps the whole galaxy, Sonya soon comes to be acquainted with a whole host of the colony’s most lovable playmates.  These include: Gracie,


the one-eyed madam with a heart of gold for women and vicious streak for men who abuse them;  Moscow, Gracie’s rival in crime,


who seems to be as addicted to Recall as he is blood thirsty; and Doctor Watkins,


a shadowy scientist who is experimenting on human subjects by sending them into the anomaly and then retrieving what is left over.

The whys and wherefores of this story are still developing, and I don’t want to spoil too much, but it seems that there is connection between the Recall drug, Bekkah’s disappearance, the collapse of Langford Skaargred’s utopia, and some mysterious creatures that seem to be in touch with an intelligence that is in or beyond the anomaly.

On the surface, Roche Limit has all the makings of an excellent story.  Futuristic technology – check; Gritty underworld drama – check; Dogged cop on the trail of something big – check.  But, somehow, the whole that I’ve seen so far is less than the sum of its parts.

The characters lack originality.  It’s not that they are one-dimensional, but more like they are clones of characters that have been done scores of times.  Sonya is monolithic in her zeal to find her sister, but I suspect that somewhere along the line she and Ford will become involved.  And the tension between Gracie as the good criminal and Moscow as the bad one seems also familiar and a bit tired.  Most likely, Moscow will go completely off the rails, and Gracie will come out on top as the tough and reluctantly benevolent leader of Roche Limit.

The verisimilitude is also limited.  The creative team seems to want to be true to real-world physics and even include a formula and some diagrams on the cover that are associated with the astronomical concept of the same name.  Nonetheless, in trying to be realistic, they actually undermine their story.  They would have been better off invoking a new and unknown physics rather than trying to adapt to what is known.

Despite these limitations, I remain hopeful that Roche Limit will come through with a compelling story in the end.  The segment about the beings associated with (coming from?) the anomaly, the nature of the anomaly, and the back story of what Watkins is doing with the missing girls, seem quite novel.  And there is a tantalizing subplot involving two young girls who have made a mysterious discovery that is most likely linked with the anomaly.Discovery

Only the months that follow will tell whether or not Roche Limit lives up to its promise, and I intend to stick around for some time and see what happens.  I hope you will, too.

The Pros (and Cons) of the CBLDF

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) is, in their own words,

“[a] non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the First Amendment rights of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers. The CBLDF provides legal referrals, representation, advice, assistance, and education in furtherance of these goals.”


The CBLDF steps in on legal cases where censorship or infringement of first amendment rights is involved with the creation, distribution, or sales of the comic books.

I first became aware of the CBLDF in 1993.  At that time, my wife and I were thinking about opening a comic book shop. During that period, the Department of Justice was headed by then US Attorney General Janet Reno.  Reno had a long history of controversial techniques that she employed as Florida’s State Attorney General to prosecute (some would say persecute) alleged child molesters, and she seemed to have brought that same willingness to her efforts and duties at the federal level.  Her clashes with the Branch Davidians and other militia groups may have been the most remembered events of her tenure, but she also engaged a variety of prosecutorial activities designed to limit free speech.

At the Comic Fest ’93 in Philadelphia, we attended a panel put on by the CBLDF, in which we heard about one such effort.  Unfortunately, the passage of time has dimmed my recollection of the actual names involved, but the vividness of the outline of the story stuck with me, as these details were enough to cause my wife and I to reconsider the whole venture.  The story we were told was, in broad form, as follows.

There was a man who owned a comic shop on the first floor of the building in which he also resided.  As part of his offering, he provided adult comics. On one occasion, a young boy entered his shop and tried to purchase an adult comic.  The man refused to sell the comic to the boy, stating that the latter was an underage minor and that sale of adult material was against the law.  A few days later, the boy returned with his mother, who asked to purchase the comic.  The man asserted that he couldn’t sale it to her if her intention was to give it to the boy, as it was against the law to distribute adult material to a minor.  The woman insisted that she be allowed to purchase the comic, and that she had no intention of providing it to her son.  The man was sure that this wasn’t the case, but he relented anyway.  A few days after the sale, the woman, apparently, actually looked at the material in question, and found it to be offensive.  She complained to the local authorities, who then promptly arrested the man and seized his store (and as a result his home) and his financial assets under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.  Although my wife and I would not have considered stocking adult material, this tale ‘scared us straight’, and we abandoned the idea of owning a store.  We donated to the CBLDF on the spot at that convention, and we have been supporters since that time.

Over the years, I have supported the CBLDF by way of regular donations, and I believe that this financial support has been money well spent. I say this because, in general, the CBLDF goals of combating government censorship are laudable, and they have defended a variety of worthy causes centering on the creation, sales, and consumption of comics in all its many forms.

Having said all of that, my admiration for their good work does not blind me to some places where their rhetoric crosses the line, and where I judge that their tactics do more harm than good.  My attitude towards them changed a bit for the worse when I attended their presentation on comic book censorship at the 2014 Otakon.

The presentation was entitled “History of Comics Censorship” and consisted of a set of Power Point slides that were shown by a CBLDF representative in an hour-long panel.  A prose version of the same information is available on their website as a six-part set of web pages – part 1 of which can be found following this link.

In a nutshell, my problem with this presentation (and, as I infer from it, with their viewpoint) is what I will call their overly broad application of the word censorship to divide the world into a sort of ‘us versus them’ picture.  As in almost all cases of disagreement of this kind, the root of the problem is the definition.  For the record, I cite the following response as an acceptable definition of censorship (received from Google when the search string “censorship definition” was entered):

Censorship – the practice of officially examining books, movies, etc., and suppressing unacceptable parts.


The operative word in this definition is ‘officially’, which can obtain widely different meanings depending on context. To illustrate these different meanings, let’s examine a few different social contexts.

First consider a household consisting of two parents and one or more minor children.  In this context, ‘official’ equates with ‘parental’, and parents can and are expected to act as censors of the materials to which their children are exposed.   The fact that different parents will arrive at different conclusions for a given book, movie, or comic in no way invalidates either the permissive or restrictive end that results.  It is the responsibility and the privilege of the parent to raise their children the way they see fit.  More correctly, I should say that parents are free to raise their children within certain acceptable boundaries as determined by law (i.e., they can’t kill, enslave, maltreat, sell, etc. their children). I have a bit more to say about these boundaries later.

Next consider a business that employs a number of people.  In this context, ‘official’ equates with ‘management’, and typically the managers can and must act as censors of the materials that are allowed in their business.  Employment law generally demands that managers provide a safe work environment, free from all forms of racism and sexual harassment.  As a result, one of the central responsibilities of management is to limit what books can be brought in, what videos can be watched on the internet, etc.

Finally, consider a local, state, or federal government.  In this context, ‘official’ equates to ‘law’ or ‘government’.  It is in this context that the picture becomes the fuzziest.  How much individual liberty should be afforded versus protection to the politic body as a whole? What are the acceptable boundaries in a family or in a business?  Can a parent allow his children easy access to pornography?  What forms of expression are ‘out of bounds’ for employees and managers?  How can a society set acceptable definitions of obscenity?  There are no easy answers.

And this is exactly what I find troubling about the presentation I saw from the CBLDF.  Their entire motif was one of easy answers.  People who are against comic books and comic book creators are bad – people for comics are good. People who burned comic books in the streets are portrayed as ignorant peasants, when they could as easily be portrayed as righteous protesters exercising their free speech?  Public school boards who remove certain materials from a library or who ban certain books are put on par with the Nazis.  But every day, school boards ‘ban’ many books either through budgetary reasons (they can’t afford to buy them), or regulatory reasons (e.g., the anarchists cookbook or child pornography) or through a sense of good taste (e.g., the manifesto of the Ku Klux Klan).

I had hopes to see an adult discussion that recognized that there are valid points on both sides, and that what must be combatted is the coercive arm of the government in all contexts. I expected to see civil liberties broadly embraced – including the liberty to burn books and persuade school boards, and to lobby Congress.  What I saw instead was a set of propaganda materials that divided the world into black and white; that ridiculed their opponents as being ignorant, or stupid, or reactionary jack-booted thugs.

For those who are wondering, I still plan on donating to the CBLDF in 2015, but I hope that by writing this blog I can coax them into seeing a few more shades of gray.