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Return of the Knave
Drink It Black
Monday, 1 May 2006
Secret ingredient
Talk about a mystery or stay hush about secret stuff, there were government and semi-government operatives who had an outfit to match their code name.

Fantasy shows its hand wherever there is a shadow organisation or secret weapon not catalogued in our own reality; similar to science fiction.

Action. check. Adventure. check. Drama check.

The spy theme is a good one to have fun with.

Then there's the crime crossover. Horror works well with cloak and dagger. All in the dark together.

My tip for the comic chronicler: write an original spy story i.e. the covert operations and the double agents of yore. I did unearth an interesting history of the Wobblies, if you see the political struggles as part of that wider picture; suspicion and hostility between nations supplanted with class wars at home.

Hot and cold running phone taps spies operate during wars both hot and cold.

Finally a good opportunity for the reader to laugh up their sleeves.

Posted by berko_wills at 4:00 PM NZT
Updated: Saturday, 13 May 2006 3:36 AM NZT
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Monday, 24 April 2006
New skins
What is there left to say about costumed adventurers - are their exploits the be all and end all of how adventure works with the genres? It is true that the Fantastic Four owe their origin and their raison d'etre to a sense of adventure. A spirit of scientific enquiry becomes something more in a manned spaceflight through cosmic rays.

While all their battles are 'adventures', perhaps the meaning we are looking for would cover their time travel episodes or journeys to the Negative Zone.

I think you do need a protagonist or group of protagonists for any adventure. The panorama of space does not hint at adventure, only being and nothingness, but put The Spacehawk in the picture, gazing out, and you have adventure. Or, at least, he has adventures.

Does taking classic fantasy adventures and combining them, heighten the fantasy or the adventure or both? Read on.

You'll see horror mixed in with adventure - and in French, while action/adventure is all over the shop.

And, while hesitant to describe war as an 'adventure' (at least, not in the 21st century), comics are dealing with depictions of the battlefield that address such elements.

Western adventure strips have a long and enduring history. The romance of the nineteenth century carried through the twentieth.

Romance and adventure blend quite nicely; often with other elements as well. The same can be said for drama and adventure.

secret agents and detectives are a staple of the adventure strip.

What we all came here for.

Adventure and humour in the mix? You got it, Buster

Posted by berko_wills at 4:02 PM NZT
Updated: Friday, 28 April 2006 4:06 PM NZT
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Wednesday, 12 April 2006
When we first looked at action we said that most comics fit that genre - if it could even be said to be separate. But there are plenty of whimsical humorous strips that have a different focus. It's just that mainstream comics, dealing with the superhero and the other heroes do involve helping heapings of action.

First let's list the other genre types that so closely incorporate action that it would be meaningless to talk of a cross:

We probably did something similar when we were trying to get a grasp on what action was. I have a couple of ideas where we can pick out the action but, to attempt to make it clearer, the genres that can include, but are not known for, their action content:

Presumably we can find instances of a crossblend in these cases. In the first set, is it the moment that the protagonist puts down their gun and rescues a fallen mate, hides in a cave and feeds them on berries and moss? Is it all distilled down to moments of drama and instants of action? Quite possibly.

If you really want to escape this dynamic, where everything is action or contains action with brief moments of dramatic respite, there's always sex and, yes, humour.

Posted by berko_wills at 4:11 PM NZT
Updated: Tuesday, 18 April 2006 3:57 PM NZT
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Wednesday, 15 March 2006
We're treading old and hallowed ground when we look at horror crossovers. After all, these are already fantasy, already science fiction.

There's a point of interest in examining whether a character like The Heap belongs partway in the superhero genre. The dark arts are revisited time and again in mainstream publishing, especially when a character is otherwise a little too powerful for worldly foes. Superman is as susceptible to magic as he is to Red Kryptonite and an early foe is the interdimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk who does the impossible on a regular basis.

For a true pastiche of war and horror the Creature Commandos have the same authority as the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents do in the spy/superhero cross genre or the Metal Men do for 'science heroes'.

Superficially the supernatural divides into action and drama. A number of the best EC stories didn't have a boogie man in sight - it was ordinary but vile humans who were the threat. They resembled the best drama in the way that poetic justice was exerted.
To really illustrate this crossing of paths, I have one particular story in mind: a law abiding father has a son who is 'on the lam'. You can tell this distresses him as he is torn between the loyalty he feels and the troubling notion that his son is a nogudnik. The conflict is pure drama. But then the events with the police in hot pursuit of the felonious offspring reads like straight crime. Hearing them at his door the father hides his son in the cupboard. Things turn to horror at the end when the father, in an attempt to 'prove' that his son is not some fugitive hiding from the law turns and fires repeatedly into the wardrobe!!
Gothic romance is a familiar amalgam. (btw I thought I'd share this with you; it isn't what I was looking for in the way of links but I have a feeling you'll appreciate it as much as I do.)

Asking message board colleagues once to cite real life horror, they nominated the sight of people jumping from the burning twin towers. With the current controversy surrounding the filming of any event related to this, it's interesting to note that there have already been a slew of 9/11 comics

And, for an insensitive segue, if you're looking for scary but funny

Posted by berko_wills at 2:05 PM EADT
Updated: Saturday, 8 April 2006 1:56 PM NZT
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Thursday, 16 February 2006
If you were to group genres according to a set of binary opposites you would likely see science fiction and fantasy linked this way; though the second link should also show how horror is but one muffled heartbeat away from fantasy too.

We've discussed the way in which fantasy and sci-fi are bosom buddies and then opposites in a crystalised breath and perhaps one more example should prove this: take the Golden Age hero Jack Frost a humanoid ice elemental according to the history, and compare him with Hal Jordan. The first is fantasy, right enough, with no better explanation than a secretive Arctic origin but consider the superhero most comprehensively buggered by the writers - worse than Batman's broken back, Superman's "death", Aquaman's loss of a hand, Iron Man's alcoholism - and whom I've lost all interest in.
Subsequent writers may have departed from John Broome's skilful use of the powers to craft storylines, rather than some character flaw in the wielder of those powers, but the silver age Green Lantern does what most revamps of golden age characters do; fills in the blanks by clearing the tommy rot and giving things a more, erm, scientific orgin. Much of the magic is removed and we have the power ring and lamp being handed by an alien who has crashed. That isn't a dramatic departure from the Alan Scott version since much of the space origin is also part of it.

The interesting point of comparison here is in just what a fantastic thing the power ring is; beyond the parameters of science fiction really. Yet that is technically where it resides where Jack Frost's more modest powers are fantasy only.

It's worth noting too that, while the blur of fantasy and SF works in the superhero's favour, the presence of a figure like Killraven or Machine Man while entertaining enough in their own right, do nothing but detract and distract from the powerful original concepts of a War of the Worlds or 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I have never heard of horror being a subset of fantasy, yet it's hard to imagine something that would be a hybrid; they're hyphen worthy
Science fiction, on the other hand, is worlds away in the dark of space.

Romance begs the question as to the manner of fantasy; but it's lonely in outer space.

The major houses have touched on the grand spectacle of wars between alien races: Marvel its classic Kree - Skrull War and DC the current Rann - Thanagar War.

Fantasy is an escape from the reality of war but clashes between various fairy folk are legion in modern tellings.

Science Fiction resides at two poles: there's the weighty intellectual ruminations on how society would develop given a set of circumstances and there's the dogfights in space. Guess which side contains the action. The classic protagonists: Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers of the 25th Century. File under: 'humans conquer space'

And we can look at how action works within fantasy. Fantasy sets up its own constructs but requires movement, even if just repetitive movement.

As with its presence in the other genres surveyed,Action is an element within sci fi and fantasy rather than a cohort.

Could this also apply to drama? Science fiction which bears down on its characters and affects their interactions is the dominant form. We don't think of a sci-fi tinged drama so much as a dramatically-based science fiction story. Ditto fantasy. This could be argued but, clearly, they appear wrapped together rather than being seen as discrete forms.

Adventure in fantasy takes the form of a quest while for techies [cough] the definition of adventure is to boldly go where no fan has gone before

What clues can be found in intergalactic crime or monstrous scientific experimentation for the mystery of space and the space for mystery? Ming the Merciless is a villain and a worthy adversary to the star of the book so he shares as much with Sax Rohmer's creation. DC has reliably flagged mystery in space.
Fantasy puts a microscope to the effect that it has on 'reality'; shows the effect they have on each other.

Science fiction permeates the popular comics and sometimes it even IS comic. A fantasy doesn't need to be amusing, it just needs to be good.

Posted by berko_wills at 3:54 PM EADT
Updated: Saturday, 4 March 2006 3:08 AM EADT
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Saturday, 11 February 2006
Before we go on looking at other genres for the second or third time, let's pause on the barbarians for a while. Sword and scorcery starts and ends with Robert E. Howard and his most popular creation, Conan the Barbarian. Conan has had as many comic books devoted to his adventures as many of the top flight superheroes. There was Conan the Barbarian with the early Barry (Windsor) Smith art, Savage Sword of Conan in the black and white magazine format to allow for more graphic depictions of limbs being hacked off, King Conan.

And though comics companies have attempted to create their own barbarians like Skull the Slayer or Ironjaw, only Warlord has made a lasting impression. But Marvel has produced very good adaptations of Kull the Conqueror and Solomon Kane so perhaps the only rival to Howard is a fellow pulp fiction writer, Edgar Rice Burroughs, who often wrote 'barbarians on other worlds' stories. These two have been adapted, or had new stories written using the characters. Marvel has produced limited runs of Gulliver Jones and John Carter and other companies like Dell have also obtained the license at various times.

Whether it is the spin-off fame of Tarzan that created a demand for more Burroughs or the SF fantasy of bulging muscles and a broadsword, his influence has likewise lasted and all but dominated each character style he portrayed.

You can be sure that sword & sorcery epics that derive directly from the pulps are going to be a better read than Wulf the Barbarian

But as important as all the macho men are to the genre, there is a warrior woman who can kick ass with the best of them: Red Sonja who has made many incarnations and is good in all of them

Posted by berko_wills at 2:04 AM EADT
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Thursday, 26 January 2006
Medicine man
Perhaps the western will always enjoy resurgences. Western comics usually depict a protagonist who bears the character traits of all good protagonists in every genre: fearlessness, selflessness, resourcefulness.

While Matt Hawk is the chronological inspiration for one superhero at least, the supervillain prototypes are over in Kid Colt: The Raven, The Fat Man (and his bewitched boomerang!), Iron Mask. I would contend there's something of the superhero in Lady Rawhide as well.

Horror may not be a naturalistic fit for tales of the western plains but there were certainly western horror tales.

You have to wonder though with curiosities like the space western, whether they can be combined. They've sent Hex into space and yes pitted him against the supernatural. Stories in his natural setting are the best and, really, the best you can get in a memorable western. Little period details are recalled and cults and cultures that were dominant then make an appearance. Genuine villains can be envisioned from the conditions of the time, just as their victims can.
I am not the greatest western fan but I'd prefer to read these exploits before the more fantastic tales any day.

Is the furthest you can ride into the sunset as far as the original Ghost Rider, with all the appearance of a spectral horseman but not really a spook, or part of a milieu where such things existed? While farfetched that someone would wear such a get-up, does that really make it fantasy?

If you look at some sites, the definition of 'western' is broader than just your 'cowboys and indians' and can include the Revolutionary War or War of Independance.

It is another genre where action and adventure are part of it. Romance in the West might be about something else but, again, drama is natural and ever present.

What divides the comic book depiction of past exploits into Western and other (such as sword & sorcery, historical fantasy)? Is it the use of guns vs bow and arrow and guns vs other guns? Is it American History (X) - events leading up to the close of the nineteenth century and divorce from the dusty plain; feted to continue only in Buffalo Bill's revue and racy paperbacks?

We rarely see the work of the detectives of the day so Pinkerton agent, Caleb Hammer's one appearance was particularly welcome; especially since it was a good story and good artwork.

And besides making good heroes, cowboys are also funny.

Posted by berko_wills at 2:52 PM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 9 February 2006 10:52 PM EADT
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Monday, 16 January 2006
Putting aside the fact that the superhero has clear precedence in myth and legend and the pulp fiction of the early twentieth century, the genesis of the modern superhero begins in the nineteen thirties, between wars, so it is natural to expect a correlation between the two.

Comics, though, with the exception of the Commando war books, rarely deal with the ordinary soldier caught up in a combat situation. Two Fisted Tales did a very good job of this and War Is Hell! with its blend of horror also dealt well with the faceless dread. But when a superhero dons a costume, it is bright and spangly - he wears the flag rather than just representing it. Though note the case of Captain America, who is given both his powers and costume by the government and, when he apparently perishes, is replaced by other patriotic heroes Spirit of '76 and The Patriot. This tradition has continued into modern times when Steve Rogers falls out with the government and is replaced, taking on a new identity as Nomad. This idea of the faceless government operative deployed in the war zone is also shown in the personification of the Unknown Soldier.

Naturally romance is rare in a combat zone and only appeared after the war but other things like fantasy and drama combine successfully with battlefield heroics.

Science fiction can always trot out that evergreen War of the Worlds and the macabre aspect of global conflict is represented by Weird War Tales.

As far as I can tell Jonah Hex is the only character who recalls the fact that the Wild West was the battleground for the American Civil War. By the time we read his adventures he is a bounty hunter but he still wears the Confederate uniform.
Now, hot off the presses, is a graphic depiction of the Civil War itself.

Humour and war would seem to be strange bedfellows but the Bluey and Curly strip proved that it was possible.

And you want reality? Lest we forget, the
War artist. Grunts can grunt all they want but you try facing mortar fire with a stick of charcoal and a HB.

Posted by berko_wills at 1:53 PM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 26 January 2006 2:59 PM EADT
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Thursday, 12 January 2006
Although funny animal does not have to be funny, it usually is, and caped critters often have a feature that both plays on their power potential and their name to humorous effect. Underdog springs to mind.

Apart from Joe Casey quips in the Stan Lee tradition, superheroes regularly receive comedic treatment. From normalman, powerless in a world of supertypes to Megaton Man whose exaggerated bulk is reminiscent of those Image titles where everything is drawn large.

Of the other genres that the superhero crosses over with, Ka-Zar may be the token 'Aryan in the jungle' for today's mighty world of Marvel but the one true crossover character is Black Panther.
Having not given sword and sorcery its own entry yet I feel sheepish mentioning Sword of the Atom and that may not be the only reason.

Posted by berko_wills at 1:50 PM EADT
Updated: Monday, 16 January 2006 1:41 PM EADT
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Sunday, 1 January 2006
From the well
There are five possibilities when you find yourself able to turn your body paper thin or you just start wearing a costume and calling out thugs:

  1. become a superhero
  2. be labelled an 'anti-hero' because your cause only intersects with humans at times and your priorities are with your own people
  3. become an anti-hero in truth because your methods of apprehending criminals is brutal if not fatal
  4. remain your slacker self
  5. become a supervillain

    What each of these options, slackers aside, suggest is that there will be elements of drama, crime, and action. Now it is possible that a superhero could use their power to get a kite down from a tree but such fey adventures would not enthrall the average reader, so baddy bopping it is.

    So is there any genre crossover worth talking about? Well, allowing for the fact that many superheroes have fought on the battlefront, making this just a variation on what they do, that leaves the western and spy thriller.
    Masked heroes like the Durango Kid are often written as precursors to the superhero, with the uncanny ability to shoot the gun from outlaws' hands.

    No matter how many mystery men there are who only come out at night, and no matter how dark the costume, however, they are different to Man From U.N.C.L.E.. Spies work for the government in a covert capacity. They dress down more than they dress up (James Bond excepted) though they do share larger than life villains and plots to overthrow the world. The key difference is that many of the superheroes operate as vigilantes and are tolerated by the authorities only to a degree: from the close cooperation of a Commissioner Gordon to the outright hostility you or I would be treated to should we try the same thing in the real world.

    There has been a licensing and corraling of metahumans from time to time, and several plotlines deal with the hero attempting to trap his quarry while at the same time avoiding police or government operatives. But the true synthesis of the two is best exemplified by the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, government agents given their powers and identities by the United Nations and restricted to the task at hand and the need to work as a team.

    Posted by berko_wills at 1:19 PM EADT
    Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006 11:59 PM EADT

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