Monday, August 29, 2011

FanExpo Canada 2011

Below are some photographic highlights from FanExpo Canada 2011, held this past weekend in Toronto. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend Sunday, but it was still a great experience. Personal highlights included the two Marvel panels: Marvel: The Next Big Thing and Marvel: Your Universe and the multitude of vendors selling great comics at fantastic prices. Enjoy the photos and expect lots of reviews and blog pieces in the next little while -- I have lots to read!

(Outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre)

(The crowd waits for the 10:00 am opening)

(Displays and vendors in the comic book section)

(Gold, Silver and Bronze Age beauties on display)

(By late Sunday holes started to appear in the displays. Not many were made by me, unfortunately)

(From the Marvel: The Next Big Thing panel. Left to right: C.B. Cebulski, Jonathan Hickman, Axel Alonso, Dennis Hopeless, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Sana Amanat, Arune Singh)

(Videogame displays)

(Props from the upcoming film Real Steel)

(The legendary Malcolm McDowell)

(A prop from Terminator #2? Not sure)

(But they did assure me this was Abin Sur from the recent Green Lantern movie)


(The Marvel: Your Universe panel gets ready to take input on the future of the Marvel U. from fans. Left to right: Mike Pasciullo, C.B. Cebuski, Axel Alonso, Jeanine Schaefer, Sana Amanat, Arune Singh)

(Marvel Cosplayers)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Strange Tales from a Silver Age Lettercol

One of the reasons I love old (read: Gold and Silver and early Bronze Age) comics is the uniqueness of their letter columns. These ‘Lettercols’ offer amazing insight into youth culture of their period and give us an understanding of what it was like growing up then.

So during a recent reading of Strange Tales #126 (1964) I came across a letter with two strange aspects. Here it is:

Asbestos Man! Can’t you think of a more dated concept for a comic book villain? WGTB will always count Stan Lee a genius, but apparently even the greats can be dated and err sometimes.

There’s also mention of Rheumatic fever in this letter. This illness, common in North American young people in the 1950s and early 60s, has all but disappeared in the developed world. I hope this young person got well quickly and went on to live a rich and fulfilling life. Still, it's interesting to see how far medical science has come in the past 50 years.

So there you have it. Insight into life in the early 60s courtesy of a Silver Age comic book. We’ve also attached are some great panels of the legendary Steve Ditko’s artwork for this particular Strange Tales. The copy we picked up was rather damaged, but given it's the first appearance of Dormammu, it was still a great find.

(All images from Marvel's Strange Tales #126, November 1964)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Justicia and Batman in Ottawa

Whatever Gods There Be is so named not because it’s a religious website, but because it deals with archetypes and symbols and comics have these in spades.

So, while on a trip to Ottawa this past weekend, I encountered two such archetypal statues outside the Supreme Court of Canada. Upon looking at the one called 'Justicia' I immediately recalled how 'Justice', a very important idea in law, has been represented over the ages.

As a legal concept, Justice is typically personified as a blind-folded woman holding scales and a sword. However the 'Justicia' outside the Supreme Court (by the famous sculptor Walter Seymour Allward) is quite different. Here, it is masculinized with a stern, even vengeful face, flowing cape and broadsword. Naturally, it reminded me of another archetypal justice seeking character and below are some photos and panels of the two juxtaposed. Enjoy!

(This statue was forgotten until 1969 when it was discovered and placed outside the SCC. That's like finding a Detective Comics #27 in a basement shoebox!)

(From DC's Batman #531, June 1996)

(Justicia with the Peace Tower in the background)

(From DC's Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #2, December 1989)

(With the Supreme Court building in the background)

(From DC's Batman #441, November 1991)

(Above and below work well together)

(From DC's Detective Comics #576, July 1987)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Alpha Flight and Canada: The Leader of the Opposition

In Alpha Flight: Fear Itself #2 the Unity Party led by the new prime minister, clamps down on the rights and freedoms of Canadians. In AFFI #1, we learn he can do this because parliament has passed the Emergencies Act, 2011, which suspended the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In AFFI #2 he goes even further:

(All images from Marvel's Alpha Flight: Fear Itself #2, 2011)

Here the police (or military) enters the residence of the Leader of the Opposition and arrests him. The comic makes it clear this is going too far, but that didn't stop WGTB from asking: is this legal?

Let's first start with who the Leader of the Opposition is and what they do. Quite simply, they are the leader of the party (or coalition) with the second most seats in the House of Commons and the leader of a ‘government-in-waiting’. How they came to this role is varied – maybe through a lost election or by their political party – but they are standard bearer of the opposition in parliament. In Canada, they are often sworn in as Privy Councillors, which entitles them to see confidential government documents, but they are never part of the government.

Leaders of the Opposition, like other parliamentarians, are protected by parliamentary privilege and to learn what this is, we must look to 1867 and the BNA (Constitution) Act. Section 1 created a constitution ‘in likeness to that of the United Kingdom’, which gave Canada a parliament, while section 18 detailed the privileges of its members:

The Privileges, Immunities, and Powers to be held, enjoyed, and exercised by the Senate and by the House of Commons and by the Members thereof respectively shall be such as are from Time to Time defined by Act of the Parliament of Canada, but so that the same shall never exceed those at the passing of this Act held, enjoyed, and exercised by the Commons House of Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and by the Members thereof.

Of course, this doesn’t mean parliamentarians have blanket protection from the laws of Canada. Indeed, the Supreme Court’s judgment in House of Commons v Vaid [2005] (using Harvey v New Brunswick (Attorney-General) [1996]) held there are limits to privilege and s.18 did not create 'enclaves shielded from the ordinary law of the land’ such as the Criminal Code or the Human Rights Act.

But the Leader of the Opposition has long been afforded a right to vocally oppose the government. The Bill of Rights of 1689 guaranteed freedom of speech for parliamentarians, and subsequent common law decisions have focussed this idea. Thus, the scene protrayed in AFFI #2 of a government arresting the Leader of the Opposition would be an illegal act. But to take the point further, let’s present our readers with an imaginary scenario. Let’s say the UP government put forth legislation in the House of Commons – let’s call it the Opposition to Government Illegality Act, 2011, which makes it a criminal offence to oppose the government. Would it be successful? WGTB says no and here’s why.

Firstly, the Leader of the Opposition would speak and vote against the bill, thereby creating media attention and possibly opposition from government MPs. He may have supported the government on the Emergencies Act, 2011 but it is doubtful he would support an act that gets him arrested. Secondly, the Senate of Canada would have to debate it and the honourable senators are not accountable to the Prime Minister, nor are they likely to be members of the new Unity Party. Thirdly, the above mentioned provisions of the Constituton Act, 1867 and the Section 3 ‘Democratic Rights’ provisions in the entrenched Charter of Rights and Freedoms, (which are untouchable by the Notwithstanding Clause) would be solid grounds for Judicial Review. Because of this, it is highly unlikely the law would remain on the books for long. Finally, we must remember that Canada is a monarchy and consists of the Queen-in-Parliament, represented by her Governor-General who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces. Because of this, legally speaking the G-G can step in, using his ‘reserve powers’ to stop the prime minister. This would be the most unlikely of scenarios, but we are dealing with a comic book story after all!

So there you go. A little talk about Alpha Flight, law and parliamentary privilege. Like our last Alpha Flight and Canada piece, WGTB is not trying to be a supercilious fanboy here; rather I am hoping to educate about Canada using the medium of comic books. Scattered throughout are some legally focused panels from AFFI #2 because we are enjoying the series so much.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Marvel Comics and Physical Disabilities

When reading Giant-Size Avengers #1 (2008) recently we were struck by a panel contained in the reprint of Avengers #58 (1968) regarding physical disabilities. The sentiment of this panel's dialogue – one where people with disabilities are treated with respect and dignity – was not completely foreign in the late 60s, but it was less commonplace then as it is now. This was due to the fact that disabled people were much less common then and would often not survive the war or illness that caused their disability in the first place. Consequently they are not available to dispel the ignorance surrounding them.

(From Marvel's Avengers #58, 1968 reprinted in Giant-Size Avengers #1, 2008)

This comic also got us thinking about how disabilities have been represented in Marvel Comics over the years. We would argue that from the earliest days of Marvel, the company has done a good job at working towards the universal acceptance of people with disabilities. This short piece will look at four such disabled Marvel characters and how their disability is such an important party of their personalities and superpowers.*

We begin with an instance where a physical disability offsets massive mental strength: Professor X. Charles Xavier, one of the most prominent Marvel characters, is also a paraplegic. Over the years we have seen him walk, but he is most often in a wheelchair. It has been interesting watching the evolution of his disability too. Looking at the earliest Lee and Kirby X-Men, for example, one sees his lower extremities covered by a blanket when they are seen at all. This may have been an attempt to censor it due to the ‘physical agony’ criteria of the Comic Code Authority, but it was also probably an attempt to hide the disability or portray it as it was commonly seen at the time – hidden. As the comic progressed, however, we see the disability became more normalized and the wheelchair, once that of an infirmed person, became more like an astronaut's or captain’s chair.

(From Marvel's Uncanny X-Men #6, 1964 reprinted in The Original X-Men #12, 1980)

(From Marvel's X-Men #1, 1991)

We would count Ben Grimm aka The Thing as another disabled Marvel character. Unlike Professor X, however, whose physical disability exists to offset power, the Thing’s powers are part of his disability. Ben Grimm has massive physical strength but it has also left him (in his mind) disfigured. And make no mistake -- ‘disfigurement’ is a disability. It has seriously limited Grimm’s ability to function and, as a person living in a world where people are judged by their physical attributes, this severely limits him. Also, Grimm, unlike his Fantastic Four colleagues Reed Richards, Sue and Johnny Storm, does not have the ability to revert to his original human form and because if this he doubts the truthfulness of those who romantically love him. It was also a challenge for Reed Richards, the leader of the original space expedition, who feels guilty about causing this state of affairs.

(From Marvel's Fantastic Four #111, 1971)

(From Marvel's Fantastic Four #66, 1967)

Matt Murdock aka Daredevil, is another character whose disability is part of his power. As a young boy, Matt Murdock lived in the Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood of New York where his father was a boxer. One day, while helping someone, he was blinded by acid that fell of a truck and this acid had a two-pronged effect: robbing him of his sight, but increasing the power of his other four senses. This, along with his natural dexterity, allowed him to become the ‘Man Without Fear’. Yet throughout the comics, Matt Murdock the vision-impared lawyer is seen not just as a brilliant jurist, but also a hero who uses his disability, along with this strength and intelligence, to bring criminals to justice.

(From Marvel's Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #1, 1993)

Finally, we look at The Vision and the above mentioned statement by Hank Pym. This is especially poignant because it matches a very interesting event in American history: the Vietnam war. In Avengers #58 we learn that The Vision was a man who had been made mechanical by the villain Ultron. Despite this, he has retained his soul and the essence of his humanity. Dr. Pym's statement and this assertion of his humanity -- while directed at The Vision was not intended for him alone.

And this was due to Vietnam. Wars and the return of soldiers have long created the need for improved limb replacements. This started on a large scale with the American Civil War, one of the first industrial-age wars and with each passing war, prosthetics improved for the returning soldiers. It was the Vietnam War however, with an increased survival rate for vets, new technologies, compounded with improved medicine and increased survival rates for other limb threatening illnesses (such as cancer) led to a growth in the demand of prosthetic limbs. One can only think that Pym is sending a message to every returning vet that he is just as much a man now as he was when he left. Have a look:

(From Marvel's Avengers #58, 1968 reprinted in Giant-Size Avengers #1, 2008)

For this Marvel deserves the thanks of disabled people everywhere. Superpowers have long been held as both a gift and curse in the Marvel Universe and by normalizing physical disabilities, Marvel did its small part to make the world more accepting of them.

(From Marvel's The 'Nam #10, 1987)

* It is not an exhaustive list and please feel free to add to this list in the comment section.