Top 10: Favorite Articles at CAC by Jerry Whitworth
Hey Stranger Rangers, I told you I’d be back and here we are. As I said in my last post, ComicArtCommunity.com and I have parted ways and over my five year career with the site, a few of my 267 articles have stood out. Previously we covered the most popular articles on CAC where now we’ll examine my favorite. The criteria for my favorite articles largely encompass one prevalent component: hard work. While I tend to invest a lot of time and energy into many of the pieces I write, some I have really needed to pore over and research. As such, many of these projects I’ve needed to care a great deal about in order to bring to completion (as I assure you, not every article I begin crosses the finish line). Of course, some of the most popular articles were also my favorite (like “Destroy All Monsters! Tokusatsu in America”) but for the sake of this list, there will be no repeats. Without further ado, my favorite articles I’ve crafted for CAC.
Created by a confluence of events in 1940, Captain Marvel was a significant hit for comic book publisher Fawcett that toppled the giant that was Superman. Featuring orphan Billy Batson empowered by gods and kings upon speaking the word “Shazam,” Captain Marvel’s adventures were revolutionary providing wish fulfillment for small children while subsequent characters like Captain Marvel, Jr. and Mary Marvel likely inspired other notable heroes in Superboy and Supergirl, respectively. Early on, DC Comics desperately tried to kill Marvel and his family of characters only to fail until the industry itself collapsed and made Fawcett easy prey. The spirit of the Captain lived on, however, in the United Kingdom with the thinly-veiled copy Marvelman as DC would later license then buy Fawcett’s catalog of properties (while Marvel Comics would trademark the name and produce a series of Captain Marvels). Today, Captain Marvel is likely the most underrated character in print as a live action adaptation of the character in our time has been optioned for years to no avail.
When you talk about the Justice League of America, the name Martian Manhunter likely comes behind his six other founders and yet the character is arguably the heart of the team. One of the most frequent serving members of the group, Martian Manhunter evolved from an alien lawman named Roh Kar in the pages of Batman in 1953 into a Martian detective named J’onn J’onzz in an ongoing back-up series for Detective Comics in 1955. Using his wits to solve cases, when the need arose, the hero employed abilities like shapeshifting, telepathy, invisibility, and intangibility to escape traps or capture crooks. It wouldn’t be until the emergence of the Justice League in the pages of The Brave and the Bold that J’onn inherited much of Superman’s powers as Superman’s appearance in the book was limited and J’onn was used as a stand-in. The League, however, would develop to become J’onn’s family as originally the character was marooned on Earth away from his people only to later see much of the Martian race wiped out by a madman. Attempts were made over the years to try and have J’onn stand on his own in a solo series (some attempts more successful than others), it seemed like the League was his home and remained as such for decades.
Martial arts are about as old as civilization itself and many heroes throughout history employed them, be it mythology or literature. However, many infer martial arts as being an Eastern system as this form of fighting became popular in comics with the advent of Bruce Lee. Responsible for the “kung fu craze” that swept America, Lee remains a legendary figure in martial arts and inspired the likes of Shang-Chi at Marvel Comics and Richard Dragon at DC Comics. Lee would only be the beginning as Emma Peel of England’s The Avengers propelled the craze (inspiring a change with Wonder Woman) while Japanese animation found its way stateside to more people opening up the door for karate, jujitsu, and ninjutsu to get a foothold into the pop culture lexicon (especially the latter). By the ’90s, characters like Connor Hawke and Cassandra Cain made their mark as being deeply rooted in Eastern martial arts as significant plot points for their storylines while in the 2000s Marvel’s Iron Fist would experience a renaissance in the pages of The Immortal Iron Fist.
Since making the decision to produce their own films in 2004, Marvel Studios has experienced success at the box office that largely dwarfs any other franchise in the modern day. With more films down the pipe with a burgeoning television market extending their film continuity, Marvel has changed the game as a multimedia outlet. In 2015, I decided to critically examine the films Marvel had produced up to that point as part of a ranked list of top ten films. Noted in the accompanying piece to this article, lists are a divisive production as a film like Iron Man 3 was weighed by a litany of standards to decide its placement and fun pictures like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy (which broke with previous Marvel formulas) were measured by their merit as a form of entertainment. Movies like Iron Man, The Avengers, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier were provided high marks for a variety of reasons such as breaking ground and story investment.
Wrestling is the oldest known organized fighting system so it is little surprise many of mankind’s earliest heroes of myth and legend were wrestlers. What becomes interesting about this is that today there exists this divide between comic books and professional wrestling despite both deriving from essentially the same source (namely, hero stories). Where comics and pro wrestling begin to align then becomes a challenge because their origins make them so alike it can be indistinguishable. And yet, as early as the 1940s (around the time the comic book was created), crossovers began to emerge as wrestler Karol Krauser provided the figure for the Fleischer Superman cartoons and wrestlers like Antonino Rocca found their way into Superman comics. Pro wrestling would be a significant element of Spider-Man’s origin story while a superhuman pro wrestling organization would be a major aspect of the series Marvel Two-in-One. Pro wrestling figures would make the transition into comics as well as Valiant and Chaos! produced WWF comics and Marvel would tackle WCW in the 1990s. Wrestling comics would spring up in Mexico in the 1950s featuring folk hero El Santo whereas in Japan, 1968’s Tiger Mask would be brought to life inside a New Japan ring followed closely by Jushin Liger, one of Japan’s most popular wrestlers who started out as a cartoon created by legendary comic book creator Go Nagai. American pro wrestling and comic books itself would develop a symbiotic relationship as wrestlers like Hurricane Helms, Rey Mysterio Jr, Matt and Jeff Hardy, Raven, CM Punk, Christopher Daniels, Cody Rhodes, and Mike Quackenbush are comic fans.
All writers go through a phase where they don’t know what to write next and nonfiction authors are no different. From time to time, I’ve asked readers what they would like to see (for example, many of the Creator Profiles articles I’ve written have come about this way because the webmaster at CAC likes them). Such an event occurred when reader Matt Eldridge proposed a challenge to craft the DC Comics equivalent of Marvel’s Mangaverse. While I try to avoid interjecting creative content into my nonfiction, the concept proved intriguing and challenged my knowledge of anime and Japanese pop culture to blend these two elements together. The result was a Dragon Ball inspired Superman, a Batman in line with Kamen Rider and Mazinger Z, a Wonder Woman borrowing from Urusei Yatsura and various delinquent school gang manga, the Power Rangers equivalent of Green Lantern, a Flash in the vein of Durarara!! and Air Gear, and, with Matt’s help, a Cyborg with Astro Boy and Battle Angel Alita elements. I enjoyed the exercise so much, I revisited it four years later in a sequel article.
It’s often the case that life inspires what you write. Such occurred when I entered into a debate with someone on-line about cultural ownership of something when that thing crosses borders. For example, if an idea is created in the United States, character designed and storyboarded in Japan, and animated in Korea, what country claims it? Furthermore, if modern Japanese animation was inspired by American animation and Korea borrows heavily from Japanese production, where does one begin and the other end? The relationship between these countries and their connection to animation was examined as American animation was increasingly farmed out to Japan and Korea in the 1980s whereas Japanese products would go on to be adapted by the Americans (who had Japan animate them) and, in recent years, Japan has farmed out work to Korean studios. The result was a cycle between the countries that continues today to feed into each other.
Anime has found its way to America since its inception. However, the iconic studio GHIBLI changed everything when their remarkable projects earned the highest awards in America and found success in foreign theaters. Putting Japanese animation on the map abroad (as well as redefining it locally), GHIBLI largely grew from two men: Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Young creators for the legendary studio Toei, Miyazaki and Takahata grew weary of being tasked with trying to make animated films that appealed to the foreign market while being under paid, under appreciated, and over worked. Working as veritable vagabonds in the animation market, the duo found success with the release of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) as Yasuyoshi Tokuma of publishing company Tokuma Shoten acquired bankrupt studio Topcraft (of ThunderCats fame) for them to found GHIBLI. Following projects like My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Princess Mononoke (1997), Spirited Away (2001), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), Ponyo (2008), and Arrietty (2010), GHIBLI has remained a global juggernaut in the field of animation as Disney would come to be the foreign distributor for their pictures abroad.
Admittedly a cheat on my part, I envisioned a series of articles focused on geek culture of the 1980s in the wake of a documentary series produced by National Geographic. Entitled The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us, the television mini-series focused on how various advents in American culture emerged over that decade and how they helped define the country as it is today. While pop culture was certainly approached over the course of the show, I wanted to delve in-depth into geek culture of the period. The result was “The ’80s – Geek Edition” which was intended to be a nine-part series focusing on Pro Wrestling, Role-Playing Games, Toys, Fantasy, Horror, Animation, Video Games, Science Fiction, and Comic Books. However, sadly, the final part (and most lengthy portion) involving Comic Books never came to be (though, I invite you to read Keith Dallas’ amazing 2013 book American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s which would likely be more in-depth than whatever I would have produced).
It’s appropriate that the top of this list of my favorite articles for CAC would combine the two most prevalent elements of the Nerdfect Strangers: comic books and pro wrestling. Founded in 2002 and the brainchild of independent wrestlers Mike Quackenbush and Reckless Youth, Chikara was a small promotion in Pennsylvania formed to showcase the talent of the pair’s school the Wrestle Factory. Smaller performers who saw their stars rise with the popularity of WCW’s cruiserweight division, Quack and Youth largely focused on developing talent for this size category by teaching a hybrid form of American, Japanese, Mexican, and British wrestling. In time, the promotion toured the northeastern United States becoming a phenomenon, eventually the largest independent promotion in the United States (only behind corporate owned entities like WWE, TNA, and Ring of Honor as west coast indie company PWG became its rival). What makes Chikara unique, beyond its focus on smaller performers, is its admittance its performances are a work of fiction and employs comic book elements like monsters, time travel, super powers, magic, aliens, demons, and more. To capitalize on this relationship, Chikara’s posters and DVD covers feature comic-inspired art including many homages to classic comic covers. Performers like Cesaro (Claudio Castagnoli), Kassius Ohno (Chris Hero), Sara Del Rey, Drew Gulak, Lince Dorado, Ruby Riot (Heidi Lovelace), Eddie Kingston, Dalton Castle (Ashley Remington), and Chuck Taylor became stars in Chikara before taking to grander stages.
Notable mentions: “Creator Profile: Jeff Parker,” “Adaptability: A History of Marvel’s Licensed Comics,” “Make It So: DC Comics’ Wrestling Earth,” “A Tale of Light and Shadow: History of the World’s Finest,” and “Non-Comic Book DC Characters.”