Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Monday, August 25, 2014

My Characters: LaserAvenger!

Drawing by Jan Duursema, which I commissioned at the
1986 San Diego Comic Con, and colored digitally
years and years later.
Time for me to unload a data dump, of sorts, about one of the superheroes I created long ago, which it looks like will never be shared any other way! I will be writing about aspects of these characters that, when I've posted about them before, has never been revealed, so this is full of what would've been spoilers at one time!

This time around, the focus is on LaserAvenger. I created LaserAvenger not too long after creating Nightfighter, part of a sudden burst of creativity that led to my creating a handful of characters that, to this day, I've wanted to publish adventures of. This would've likely been around 1979 or so.

I'm sure some of the inspiration behind LaserAvenger would've been the hero now known as Quasar, although I think back then he was still Marvel Man, if he'd even appeared at all (I might've still been harboring memories of the return of Marvel Boy as the Crusader in The Fantastic Four), but the similarities end with what's around their wrists.

LaserAvenger's real name is Sam Blake. He began life as an orphan, his mother dying when giving birth, and his father disappearing immediately afterwards, stricken with grief. Sam was raised in a series of group homes. For some odd reason, he was never adopted... while he was a well-balanced child (or as well-balanced as any child could ever be), something about him seemed "off," making prospective adoptive parents decide against adopting him. He grew up near Seattle, Washington.

Sam's anchor in his young life was a counselor that he saw on a weekly basis (oddly, I can't recall what name I gave him, although I've probably got it written down somewhere around here). In some ways, this counselor was a surrogate father to Sam, offering him guidance, and always getting him inspired to do his best. By the time Sam was 16, he had decided to go forward with the legalities of being an emancipated minor, planning to use money that had been held in trust from his late mother's estate (such as it was) to live on, supplementing this with other benefits from the state as well as money from part-time work.

In sports and other play, Sam was a natural leader, inspiring his teammates to victory. By the time Sam was in high school, he was a star football player, with many colleges vying for him to attend and scholarships being offered to him right and left. Academically, Sam also excelled, qualifying him for academic scholarships. In fact, academics came rather easily to Sam, and he would often take it for granted that he'd do well on tests. His never needing to study allowed him to balance his life outside of class between football and his part time work.

Football was Sam's primary focus, and when he went to college, it was at the University of Washington, where he soon was a star player on their football team. But prior to this, on his eighteenth birthday, his counselor came to him with a package. It had been discovered among his mother's effects in the family home, with a note indicating it would be given to Sam on his 18th birthday. Sam didn't open the package immediately, setting it aside before leaving for a birthday party his friends were holding for him. Sam soon found that the party had alcoholic beverages present, despite all the kids attending being underage. Sam imbibed himself, despite knowing better, and decided to drive himself home despite being at least a little tipsy.

It was a rainy night, and while driving home, he lost control of his car, running it off the road before coming to a stop in a field. Miraculously, Sam wasn't injured, nor was anyone else injured. He was shaken up by this, and left his car where it was, taking a cab home, planning to return to his car the next day. Arriving back at his studio apartment, Sam finally decided to open the package, which contained two leather wristbands, each studded with five large jewels of a type Sam couldn't recognize. Sam thought these were odd, kind of cool, but not his type of thing, and the next day, he brought them to a pawn shop to see what he could get for them, hoping that perhaps he could come up with enough extra money to pay for the damage he'd caused the previous night.

The pawn shop he took them to didn't offer him more than ten dollars for the wristbands, as the jewels were "obviously fake" (in the pawnbroker's words), and Sam returned home, leaving the wristbands on his kitchen table while he thought about how he could make up for his actions of the night before. As Sam thought, the wristbands sat rays of sunlight from the window. It wasn't until early evening, after the sun started to go down, that Sam realized he'd been lost in thought for so long... and that, although he hadn't thought to turn on a light, there was still plenty of light in his apartment.

The light was coming from the jewels on the wristbands. Sam realized that, somehow, the jewels absorbed the sunlight and stored it, and glowed as a result. He experimented in private, taking the wristbands out to a secluded woodland area, and put them on. Instinctively, he seemed to realize that the wristbands harnessed light which could be utilized. His first experiment demonstrated that he could focus the light into lasers -- forming his hands into fists would create a single wide-beamed laser, while spreading his fingers made smaller lasers emanating from each finger. Further experimentation proved that the wristbands could somehow make him fly!

With college coming soon, Sam decided to table further experimentation, although he planned to develop his skill with them -- to what end, he hadn't decided yet.

The fall came, and Sam's first year of college began. His original major had been in physical fitness, with plans to become a college or high school football coach and physical education teacher, but now, he wondered if this was his best choice.

Halloween approached, and Sam found himself invited to a costume party. He used his wristbands as the focus point of his costume, a red and white affair intended to be a superhero costume, although not of any particular one. The design for the costume came to him easily. He was preparing to leave for the party when his phone rang.

It was a local hospital with news of his counselor, whom he hadn't seen since graduating from high school. His counselor had been working with another child in the foster care system, trying to help him get out of a gang he'd joined up with, and the gang didn't deal with the rejection well. They cornered him and beat him badly. Sam threw a trenchcoat over his costume and rushed to the hospital, where he learned those details from his counselor before the man lapsed into a coma. Due to the extensive internal injuries, the doctors didn't expect him to live through the night.

Sam was deeply disturbed by this turn of events, and decided that he needed to do something. Leaving the hospital, he doffed the trenchcoat and donned the mask he'd made for the costume, flying over to the foster child's home. He got the information from this child as to where the gang tended to hang out, and flew off to confront them, first telling the kid to stay away from the gang forever.

Sam's presence in front of the gang was impressive, to say the least. When he arrived, his entire body glowed with light, making him appear almost as an angel to some of the more religious types in the group. He made short work of the gang, first using his lasers to disable the gang's weapons, and then battling them hand-to-hand (he didn't dare use the lasers on them, not knowing how deadly they might be, although he was sorely tempted). At one point, one of the gang members pulled a gun that they'd concealed, and had Sam in his sights, but when Sam saw the gun, his light glow flared up, temporarily blinding his foes, and allowing Sam to finish defeating them.

Sam tied them up with chains and rope he was able to find, and also located some evidence of criminal activity, including some directly related to the attack on his mentor. He called the police, and flew off, leaving the gang and the evidence for the authorities. He flew back to the hospital and to the bedside of his mentor, telling his mentor that he'd brought his attackers to justice, minutes before his mentor passed away.

Sam realized, as he flew home, that this showed him what he should be using the power of the wristbands for. He also decided that his education could be used to further his effectiveness in using his powers. He immediately started working on changing his major and classes to focus more on the science of light, as well as continuing to work on a teaching degree. He dropped out of the football team at the end of the season to focus on his studies, as well as to have more time to be able to train with his powers.

As Sam further experimented, he developed further applications of his power. Along with the lasers, flight and glowing, he could also use the light to create a force field, although this tended to drain his power storage considerably the longer he used it. He also discovered he could create holograms, and added some art classes to his curriculum to better exploit these. An important power in his arsenal turned out to be the ability to turn himself invisible by bending light around him, although he somehow could still see just fine. He also discovered that the gems on his wristbands absorbed more light during daytime hours than at night, so when operating after dark, he has to be aware of how much of a "charge" he's using, and sometimes finds himself looking for a bright light source to recharge his gems from.

By the time Sam was in his final year of college, he'd grown out his beard, and decided that he was ready to begin operating in his new identity of LaserAvenger. He chose the name because his first time operating as a superhero was to avenge the beating of his counselor and mentor. He took a somewhat unique approach to working with the authorities, presenting himself in person to the police to convince them of his intentions and ability to carry them out. Fortunately, the police chief had been on the force long enough to have worked with a prior generation of costumed heroes, and was willing to give LaserAvenger a chance.

After graduating college and receiving his degree, Sam began teaching at the same University. Finding a balance between his research at the University, teaching classes, and operating as LaserAvenger didn't give him much time for a social life, but fortunately, it wasn't long before other costumed heroes of the new generation started appearing in the Seattle area.

The first two he encountered were Avian (who wore a powered suit with wings that enabled him to fly, along with other bird-like abilities) and Dynamo (whose suit was designed to store electricity and use it offensively). The trio formed the first new super-team Seattle had seen in over a decade, calling themselves the Guardians of Justice. It wasn't long before they'd begun recruiting other heroes to the team, some of whom were well-trained normal humans like the Ace, others using special devices to enhance their abilities (such a the powered armor-wearing Battlestar), and others who had superpowers of their own (such as Nightstar).

LaserAvenger and his allies soon proved to be a great asset to the city of Seattle and beyond, battling criminals and supercriminals alike, but also finding time to provide public services, such as visiting sick children in hospitals, appearing at charity fundraisers, and providing disaster relief.

As time passed, the Guardians added a member who came from the stars, a shape-changing telepath whom they dubbed Doppelganger. This alien was a Khamil, known as the librarians of the universe. They were devoted to exploring inhabited worlds and documenting those worlds' history and culture, using their abilities to assume the identity of the dominant lifeform and their telepathic abilities to learn the language. Doppelganger had been working with the Guardians for some time when he got a recall message from the Khamil homeworld, informing him that their world was being attacked, and all citizens were being recalled to defend their race.

The attacking aliens were the B'elari, a race Doppelganger was not familiar with. A group of Guardians, LaserAvenger among them, volunteered to go with their ally to help. On the way through warp space, Doppelanger consulted his starship's computers about the B'elari, but did not have much data on them other than that they were to be studied at a later date, which would be uploaded to his ship when he returned home.

Arriving at the Khamil homeworld, the Guardians could see that the planet's surface had been devastated by their attackers. A peaceful race, the Khamil had only basic planetary defenses, and no attack capabilities to speak of. Attacks had been made in waves, lasting days at a time, with a short period of a week or two between attacks (at least, as converted to Earth hours, that was the case -- in reality, the solar day on the Khamil homeworld lasted about three weeks in Earth time, with the attacks being made during the daylight hours, and falling back at night).

Doppelganger and the other Guardians presented themselves to the ruling librarians of the Khamil, they being introduced as friends allies, only to be taken aback when LaserAvenger is accused of being one of the B'elari attackers! The B'elari warriors all wear wristbands like LaserAvenger's, and used them in their attacks. The reason for the attacks is still unknown, and with the telepathic abilities of the Khamil, it's determined that LaserAvenger is not allied with the B'elari, although how he came to possess a set of B'elari wristbands is unknown.

When the Khamil daytime resumes, the attacks begin again, and LaserAvenger and the Guardians go on the offensive. The variety of attacks they are able to use proves effective in driving off the current attack wave, and the Guardians press their advantage, pursuing the B'elari warriors into space and to their invasion fleet. In the ensuing battle, LaserAvenger is captured, and the entire B'elari fleet is cloaked, leaving their whereabouts unknown.

As a B'elari prisoner, LaserAvenger learns a shocking truth: He is, indeed, a B'elari warrior, although he never knew it. As part of an experiment to see if the B'elari warriors are able to use their wristbands by right of birth or by means of training, the newborn Earth infant who was the "real" Sam Blake was exchanged with LaserAvenger, with all records altered to keep the deceit in place. They had no way of knowing at the time that Sam's mother would die of complications after giving birth, nor any of the other events of his life. The plan had been to return to Earth in a few years to check on the changeling and compare his development to the Earth child taken in his place.

The child born as Sam Blake has been raised as a B'elari, and had no idea of his true origins, either. Having been raised in this culture, he thinks of himself as B'elari, and when offered the opportunity to prove that his training would prove superior against LaserAvenger's innate abilities in a trial by combat, he readily agrees.

LaserAvenger tries to talk his "brother" into turning against the B'elari and helping the Khamil, but he won't listen, instead going right to the attack. At first, it seems the Earth-born man has the advantage, but LaserAvenger's experience against a variety of foes starts giving him a strategic advantage. While his opponent's use of the wristbands has been taught to him, LaserAvenger has had to discover their capabilities for himself... and he has some abilities the B'elari never considered trying, such as what he calls "lightform," which internalizes his power and makes him into a living hologram. In this form, LaserAvenger cannot be harmed by physical and most energy attacks, and is able to pass through anything that light can pass through, such as glass windows. At first, this makes him appear even more vulnerable to his attacker's abilities, as light-based attacks still affect him, but LaserAvenger manages to utilize this power and, when struck by a laser by his opponent, he latches on to the energy instead, drawing it into him. Normally, the gems on his wristbands just absorb ambient light to power up, but LaserAvenger has learned how to more fully control this ability to draw light into them at will. In his lightform, he's able to increase his own power directly and take even more of a light-charge than usual.

The B'elari warriors observing this reversal in battle are at first stunned, but then decide to attack LaserAvenger anew. Even more powerful than he was before, LaserAvenger absorbs the light energy from all his attackers, causing his lightform body to grow ever larger and more powerful, to the point where he can not even control the glow anymore. He looks almost like a living sun, so bright that he can't be even glimpsed directly. He then releases the energy all at once, to devastating effect. Fortunately for the B'elari, LaserAvenger had developed enough finesse in his abilities that he could choose to fire a light blast that stunned only, and did little or no physical damage. The B'elari leader has no choice but to acknowledge that LaserAvenger has the greater ability, and to unconditionally surrender.

As a result of LaserAvenger's actions, most of the B'elari warriors find their wristbands to be useless, whether burnt out or just temporarily disabled is unknown even to them. LaserAvenger's conditions of surrender include a non-aggression pact with all worlds. And then, he asks the B'elari leader why they attacked the Khamil, when their warriors had a long history of defending their race only. What he hears in response shocks him greatly: It was solely because the Khamil are physically different from them. The B'elari people are relatively homogenous... their skin color, hair color and eye color have only slight variations from one person to the next. While they can tolerate other humanoid races that resemble theirs closely (such as Terrans), they have no use for aliens who look distinctly alien. The Khamil, with jet-black skin, pale white eyes, and no visible nose or ears were just too different to them. Added to this their ability to shapeshift to appear to be any other race, the very idea of the Khamil existing was one that rocked the B'elari society to its core. They learned of the Khamil when the librarian assigned to their world was discovered by accident (they usually stay completely undercover, so as not to affect changes on the worlds they document), and they felt they had no choice but to wipe the Khamil from the universe forever.

LaserAvenger can't believe what he's been told... judging an entire race not by their culture or standards, but just from their appearance alone seems ridiculous to him. He tells the B'elari leader that if they cannot learn to live with other races being different from them, they will find the universe to be a very lonely place, because there are always differences between races, just as there are always differences between individuals. Using his holographic powers, LaserAvenger provides a brief overview of Earth's history with different cultures and how some have been mistreated, but pointing out that we are learning to not only accept the differences, but also to celebrate them. The human born as Sam Blake, never having learned the history of his birthworld, finds himself listening in interest, and wanting to know more. With the war between the B'elari and the Khamil now ended, LaserAvenger offers to arrange permission for emissaries from the B'elari to visit the Khamil computer libraries to learn more about other races in the universe, and how they have learned to live with each other. The B'elari leader promises that he will consider this, although whether it's because it's the will of the person who defeated their entire warrior army single-handedly or because he's truly learned something is unknown.

Before departing back to Khamil, LaserAvenger also points out that he let himself be captured so that he could find out what was behind the connection between him and the B'elari, as well as the reason for the attack on Khamil. If his team had really thought he was in danger, they would've found a way to find the B'elari fleet and rescued him. As if to prove this fact, as LaserAvenger ascends into space, he finds his teammates waiting for him.

Back on Earth, Sam Blake undergoes a bit of an identity crisis. Is he "really" Sam Blake because that's who he was raised to believe he was, or is the fact that he was not the child born named Sam Blake the "real" one? He takes a leave of absence from the University to consider this, and comes to the conclusion that just because he's found out not all of his past is as he'd believed it to be, he is still the same person he was before, although changed by his new knowledge. For better or for worse, he is Sam Blake... LaserAvenger.

Sam's time at the University gives him most of his supporting cast. His love interest as the series develops is a female professor at the University in a different department than his own. As his solo series would develop, I planned on having them first dating (with her never having any suspicion that he was LaserAvenger), and then having her accidentally barging in on him when he's changing into his costume, thus discovering his identity. Up to this point, the only real friends Sam would have would be his fellow Guardians; he'd be on good terms with other teachers at the University, but none could be considered a close, personal friend that he could confide in. With her discovering his identity, she would at first be freaked out, naturally, but then would offer to help cover his absences when he needs to operate in his heroic identity.

As LaserAvenger, Sam is a natural leader and tactician. He's the kind of person that inspires those around him. Of all the Guardians, he's the one who's most concerned about the safety of innocents when battling a super-villain, and will sometimes act to draw fire away from civilians at the risk of his own life. He has a code against killing, but acknowledges that there might come a time when there is no other way to deal with a threat. He is also the most available member of the Guardians when a hero is asked to appear at some civic or charitable function, although he tries to steer clear of appearing to have any particular political leanings. He's publicly recognized as the leader of the Guardians, and when he's not present in the group, there is some confusion as to who should be coordinating things and leading the team. He's on excellent terms with the police, city and federal governments, although he never meets the President in person. Realizing that the next generation of heroes needs to be properly trained, he institutes a program where seasoned heroes can teach younger heroes how to use their powers and abilities, as well as other crimefighting techniques.

Some heroes find LaserAvenger intimidating, especially those who only know him from newspaper and TV reports. They find his example of what a hero should be a challenge to meet up with, although LaserAvenger (or "Laze," as he's nicknamed by his teammates) always does his best to not criticize his fellow heroes, but rather offers ideas and suggestions that might work well for them. While results matter, he believes that so long as someone has given things their best shot, that's a victory all its own.

There are two villains who LaserAvenger tends to deal with the most. The first is Death's Head, a masked villain who wants nothing more than the death of all superheroes. Unknown to any of the Guardians, Death's Head's life is full of tragedy. As a child, he saw his parents killed in the crossfire of a battle between a supervillain and superhero (although not one who's currently active). Seeing his parents die like that, and determining that the hero should've saved them, he developed a life-long hatred of superheroes. While he may make threats against civilians, he never acts upon them, but instead realizes that doing so puts the attention of superheroes squarely on him. It's extremely rare that he gets close enough to the heroes for them to see him, but most often uses either henchmen dubbed his "Death Squad," or more often, a series of "Death-Droids," invented by him and designed to kill superheroes. He had thought that the heroes were all gone until LaserAvenger and other heroes started appearing.

The second villain, or rather, villainess, is focused solely on LaserAvenger. Midnight is a woman whose powers are the near opposite of LaserAvenger's. Whereas his powers are light-based, hers are based on darkness. It's unknown just how she gained her abilities, which include flight, emitting a "black ray" that tends to cause a numbness (some say it doesn't affect one physically, but rather psychically or spiritually), creating areas of darkness, and being able to vanish entirely in shadows. There are times when she's appeared from a shadow and it doesn't seem that she could've possibly entered the shadow in the first place, leading some to believe that she's able to teleport from darkened area to darkened area. Completely amoral, when she encounters LaserAvenger, she nearly always tries to talk him into giving up being a hero and joining her, so they can reign as King and Queen of Crime. Since their powers tend to stalemate each other's, LaserAvenger often has to resort to trickery in order to capture her, although of course, each trick only works once!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Puzzle Time!

Sorry this is appearing late, I appear to have forgotten to set the time code for posting this properly! Wrapping up the week with another installment of "Puzzle Time"! As always, solutions follow after the jump!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Geek TV: Eerie, Indiana

Concept: Teenager Marshall Teller's family moves to the town of Eerie, Indiana, where he becomes friends with Simon Holmes, and the two of them encounter all sorts of odd and downright weird stuff that the town seems to be a locus for.

Total Episodes: 19

Original Air Dates: September 15, 1991 - April 12, 1992

Original Network: NBC


Marshall Teller (Omri Katz): Marshall is the hero of the stories. He grew up in New Jersey prior to his family moving to Eerie. He can be arrogant at times, but is also very smart, resourceful, and thinks quickly on his feet. His best friend is Simon Holmes, although as he becomes interested in girls, he finds himself split between girls and Simon.

Simon Holmes (Justin Shenkarow): Marshall's best friend, Simon's parents argue most of the time. He was a lonely kid before Marshall befriended him. He is the only resident of Eerie who thought anything was weird before Marshall's family moved there.

Edgar Teller (Francis Guinan): Marshall's father, he works at "Things Incorporated," a product testing company. Edgar is a scientist who was the member of the family who decided to move to Eerie.

Marilyn Teller (Mary-Margret Humes): Marshall's mother, she operates her own party-planning business at the Eerie Mall, and tends to be disorganized.

Syndi Marie Priscilla Teller (Julie Condra): Marshall's older sister, ridiculed by Marshall for the spelling of her name. Wants to be a reporter.

Dash X (Jason Marsden): A mystery character, he has no memory of his past, nor how he got to Eerie. He lives on the streets, and occasionally helps Marshall and Simon.

Geek Pedigree:

Joe Dante directed five episodes of the show, more than anyone else. His previous geek credits include directing the genre films Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins, Innerspace, Gremlins 2: The New  Batch and Explorers, segments of Twilight Zone: The Movie and Amazon Women on the Moon, episodes of Police Squad!, The Twilight Zone (1985), and Amazing Stories. Later, he directed the films Matinee, The Warlord: Battle for the Galaxy, Small Soldiers, and Looney Tunes: Back in Action, among other credits. Bob Balaban directed three episodes, he had previously written a single episode each of Tales from the Darkside (1988) and Monsters, directed single episodes of Tales from the Darkside and Amaziing Stories, and acted in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (playing David Laughlin), 2010 (playing Dr. R. Chandra), and guested in an episode of Amazing Stories. He later directed two episodes of the 2002-2003 The Twilight Zone.

Bryan Spicer directed two episodes, he was a director on Superboy, and later directed episodes of The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., SeaQuest 2032, The X-Files, The Lone Gunmen and the movies Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, among other credits. Also directing two episodes was Tim Hunter (who previously directed three episodes of Twin Peaks and later episodes of Dark Justice, The 4400, and Caprica, among other shows), and with single episodes Greg Beeman (also directing two episodes of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color in 1986, a segment of Tales of the Unknown, and later episodes of The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., Heroes, Smallville and Falling Skies and the films Mom and Dad Save the World and Aquaman (2006 TV movie), as well as producing episodes of Smallville, Heroes and Falling Skies), Mark Goldblatt (who'd directed The Punisher in 1989, and edited Piranha, Humanoids of the Deep, The Howling, Halloween II, The Terminator, Nightbreed, Predator 2, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Super Mario Bros., Starship Troopers, and many other films) and Todd Holland (who'd directed episodes of Amazing Stories and Max Headroom, and later The Wizard, episodes of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures and Firefly, as well as the TV Movie The Time Tunnel (2006).

Series lead Omri Katz had previously appeared in an episode of Zorro and played Timmy in Adventures in Dinosaur City, and later played Stan in Matinee. While co-star Justin Shenkarow didn't have prior genre credits, he did voice Jordan Hill and Timmy Frye in the episode "Be a Clown" of Batman: The Animated Series, and did voices in single episodes of The Little Mermaid, Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles, Hercules, Kim Possible, Totally Spies!, multiple episodes of 101 Dalmations: The Series, Recess, and was a regular voice actor on Life with Louie and Hey Arnold!, and assorted other voice acting roles.

Mary-Margaret Humes was previously in History of the World: Part 1 playing Miriam, and guested in episodes of Knight Rider, Manimal, The A-Team, The Fall Guy, Night Court, T. J. Hooker, and later in Dark Justice, Time Trax, Legend, Touched by an Angel, and Ghost Whisperer. Francis Guinan had previously appeared in The Serpent and the Rainbow, Knight Rider 2000, Alien Nation (TV series), and later in the TV-movie Journey to the Center of the Earth, and episodes of Dark Skies, Sliders, Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, Star Trek: Voyager, 3rd Rock from the Sun, and Star Trek: Enterprise.

Jason Marsden is mostly known for his voice work, previously voicing Cavin in Adventures of the Gummi Bears, Peter Pan in Peter Pan in the Pirates, and appeared onscreen as Eddie in The Munsters Today, as well as episodes of Tales from the Crypt and Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Later, he guested on The Adventures of Brisco County Jr and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and voiced in episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, Sonic the Hedgehog, The Mask, Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man, Extreme Ghostbusters, Jungle Cubs, Histeria, Superman (1996-1999, voicing the young Clark Kent), Batman Beyond, and many, many other shows, including voicing Snapper Carr in Justice League as well as Bart Allen and Ray Palmer in Young Justice.

Archie Hahn, who appeared in 6 episodes, had earlier guested in episodes of The Partridge Family, Tabitha, The Fall Guy, Madame's Place, ALF, and could also be seen in This is Spinal Tap and Amazon Women on the Moon. He later appeared in The Brady Bunch Movie, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Doctor Dolittle, Small Soldiers, Once and Again, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, and appeared in a few episodes of the original version of Whose Line is it Anyway?

Geek Guests:

John Astin guested in a handful of episodes, and of course you'll recall him as Gomez Addams from The Addams Family as well as being a regular on Brisco County Jr. and the second Riddler on Batman, among many other credits.

Guesting in single episodes included such actors as Henry Gibson (perhaps best known for being a regular on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In), Tobey Maguire (who went on to be the first big-screen Spider-Man), Matt Frewer (known for Max Headroom as well as a host of other genre roles), Dick Miller (who can be seen in a multitude of genre movies, many of the "B" quality), Rene Auberjonois (perhaps best known for his role on Benson or as Odo in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), and Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian).

DVD Release: Complete series. The series can also be seen on the online service Hulu.

Website: I wasn't able to find an official website for the show, and it doesn't look like a fan site is set up, either (at least, none that showed up in the first few pages of Google results).

Notes: This was another show that my family and I faithfully watched and were disappointed to see it cancelled. The series was later shown on The Disney Channel and Fox, garnering high enough ratings that a follow-up series, Eerie, Indiana: The Other Dimension to be produced for Fox Kids, lasting 15 episodes in 1998. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Essays on Comics Characters: The Original Human Torch!

The original Human Torch was a character I was first introduced to either in Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic-Book Heroes or the anthology All in Color for a Dime. I can't be sure which, as I bought both of those books at the same time.

You may recall the story, I've told it a few times. Basically, I'd seen those books and others in the stores and wanted them dearly, but I didn't have the money for them until one birthday, when I got cash instead of a present from my parents. We were heading up to Seattle either the same day or the day after to visit with some relatives, and I managed to talk my parents into stopping at the Waldenbooks at the Tacoma Mall so I could use my birthday money to buy some books about comics, and those were the ones I'd chosen to get.

Well... that may not be entirely true. Since I can't possibly remember what year it was I got those books, I may have seen the Torch in one of Marvel's comics, such as The Invaders, or maybe even the short-lived Human Torch reprint book, which had one of the original Torch stories reprinted along with a Johnny Storm story from his series in Strange Tales. Or maybe I'd read the Fantastic Four annual that had the original Torch (or a reprint thereof), or saw a reference to him in Avengers or Giant-Size Avengers. Like I said, without knowing the year, I can't say for certain.

One way or another, though, I did get to know of him sometime in the early 1970s. As you probably know (and if you don't, you're not nearly as old-school as I am), the original Human Torch wasn't human at all, but rather an android built by Dr. Horton, an amazing invention predating the start of World War II. The only problem with Horton's android was, when exposed to oxygen, it would become "alive" and burst into flame. How the heck Horton built the thing in the first place without discovering this design flaw is beyond me! Perhaps he had his own sort of ultra-"clean room" where he built the Torch, working in an oxygen-free environment so as to prevent any kind of contamination.

As I noted, the Torch was an android, and not a robot. The difference, as explained in dozens of comics and sci-fi books and stories, is that robots are entirely mechanical, while androids are supposed to be more synthetic versions of a human, duplicating all the major organs and so forth. One might liken androids to homunculi, and surmise that their creation is as much chemical as anything else.

Anyway... the story goes that the Torch was deemed dangerous by the scientists that Horton showed his invention to, and they urged him to destroy it. Horton wouldn't destroy it, but rather buried the Torch. However, a tiny crack eventually allowed oxygen into the Torch's tomb, and he broke free, and managed to learn how to speak English immediately (presumably, Horton had programmed him with this information, even if he didn't get a chance to use it until he was actually alive for more than a few minutes at a time).

At first, the Torch fell in with the wrong crowd, being used by criminals, but he soon saw the light. He went back to Horton after he'd learned now to turn off his flame at will, but Horton wanted to use him to make money, and the Torch didn't care for that one bit!

As the stories went on, the Torch's powers were expanded. Of course, when flamed on, he could fly, and his flame was hot enough to melt weapons used against him, such as bullets. He was fond of throwing fireballs, and could somehow control other flame. Some of the stunts he did with his flame were downright odd, such as creating a flaming cylinder with a lid to capture crooks!

Later, the Torch would join forces with the New York Police Department, although how they could afford to replace all the walls he burnt through in their headquarters is beyond me! Later, the Torch would be involved with the first-ever crossover in a Marvel comic (well, it was called Timely back then) when he met up with and battled the Sub-Mariner, not just once, but several times, back in the day that Namor hated all surface-dwellers. Of course, later Namor decided to vent his spleen on the Axis, and the Torch and Namor, teamed up with Captain America and others, formed the All-Winners Squad.

It would be revealed much later, in the 1970s comics, that prior to that, the three heroes joined forces as the Invaders in the early days of the war, joined by Bucky and the Torch's own sidekick, Toro.

Toro was kind of an oddball sidekick in many ways. Batman chose Dick Grayson as Robin after the young acrobat suffered a loss similar to Bruce Wayne's own. Captain America picked up Bucky at the end of his first story when Bucky Barnes wandered into Steve Rogers' Army tent while he was changing identities. But Toro...

Toro was an orphan who ran with a kid gang of sorts (something that Jack Kirby and Joe Simon would make more use of later in their careers). Fire never bothered him at all, in fact, he used to pull baked potatoes from the fire for his gang. Toro later joined up with a circus as a fire-eater, and it was in the circus that he was given his name (as has been noted numerous times, why someone thought the Spanish word for "bull" was fitting never made sense at all). The Torch met Toro for the first time when, as the Torch flew over the circus, Toro suddenly burst into flame! He'd never done it before, and with the Torch's tutelage, was able to figure out how to do it at will.

The two naturally teamed up, with Toro's costume being a rather scanty shorts and boots affair (he made Robin look covered-up!). Even when flamed on, Toro could be differentiated by having a cleaner look to his flame, while the Torch's flame had the now-familiar scratchy lines through it (better known to most people as the original style for Johnny Storm's flames).

The Torch was created by Carl Burgos, who created a number of other synthetic man superheroes in his career (sort of a specialty of his). He and Sub-Mariner both hit the stands in the first issue of Marvel Comics, although apparently Namor had an earlier one-shot appearance, but this isn't about Namor.

Oddly, or perhaps not so oddly for the time period, the Torch never seemed to have much trouble fitting in with human society and conventions after his initial stories. If he'd been created nowadays, we'd have had as a regular personality trait his interest in learning about human customs and so forth, but back then, comics stories tended to be rather short, usually 8-12 pages max, and such characterizations weren't usually worth using up much space!

The Torch's flame petered out briefly after the end of World War II, although Marvel brought him back for a very short time in the 1950s before he disappeared again. He'd appeared in Marvel Comics, The Human Torch, The All-Winners Squad, USA Comics, and many other titles (Timely's "Big Three" appeared in more books than either Superman or Batman did back in the day!).

One oddball element back in the early days of Timely concerning the Torch happened in the pages of the first issue of Captain America Comics, in Cap's origin story. The US hadn't entered World War II yet, but it seemed inevitable. FDR himself was concerned about the Axis threat, and wanted to be prepared for it, and here's the kicker -- he wondered aloud if perhaps the Human Torch would come out of the comics to battle them! Clearly, the Torch was considered just a comic book character in that Cap origin, something that was never alluded to again.

Anyway, with the original Human Torch gone from the pages of comics, Stan Lee was able to appropriate the name when creating the Fantastic Four. Of course, once they brought back the Sub-Mariner as well as Captain America (in Fantastic Four #4 and Avengers #4, respectively), the readers must've asked when they were going to revive the original Torch!

Well, he did make a comeback of sorts, and it was in a Fantastic Four annual. The Mad Thinker found the Torch's inert body, and revived him to use as a weapon against his foes, the FF. The battle between the old Torch and the new one was epic, to be sure, but at the end, the Torch realized he was fighting on the wrong side, and sacrificed himself. The FF left his body in the Thinker's headquarters, probably not their smartest move.

Around this same time, give or take a year, the Torch had appeared to come back in Sub-Mariner #14, although this proved to be a grown-up Toro, and he, too, battled the Mad Thinker, and apparently lost his life then.

Now, as you recall, in the 1970s, there was a storyline in the pages of The Avengers and Giant-Size Avengers, that picked up on a line from the Kree-Skrull War (when Henry Pym as Ant-Man entered the Vision's body to revive him) in which it was revealed that the Vision's body was previously that of the Human Torch, altered by Ultron... and then much later, in West Coast Avengers, John Byrne revived the original Torch, having coexisting with the Vision, which appeared to be impossible, since they were supposed to be the same being! However, Roy Thomas had previously written an issue of What If? that suggested that the Vision was created from an android named Adam-II, who was Horton's second android, explaining why the two androids had similar construction.

Anyway, personally I was happy to see the original Torch revived, although not so much with what Marvel apparently decided to do with him... which was, for the most part, keeping his flame off! He was later brought into Heroes for Hire, and finally died yet again thanks to a plot by the Red Skull.

Of course, he was brought back again, and used against his former teammates. The dude has a lot in common with the android Red Tornado, who was himself used against the JLA a few times after his own apparent destructions!

Anyway, these days, the original Torch is a member of the modern Invaders, and since I've never read an issue of that title, I can't say anything about how he's being used there... for that matter, the stuff I talked about in the past few paragraphs is info I gleaned from Wikipedia.

So... if I were in charge of the Torch these days, what would I do with him? Well, like with Captain America (or should I say, Steve Rogers, as apparently in the comics Bucky is Captain America now) and the Sub-Mariner, the Torch is one of the few heroes left around from World War II. The three of them have a long connection and friendship that should be exploited, and they should be serving as mentors to the current generation of heroes. If Marvel wanted to revive the Avengers Academy concept, those three should be co-headmasters!