Space Giraffe

Crossposted from The Triangle. This game is a special case.

Xbox Live Arcade
New Release
$5
Trailer

If you are able, you must try Space Giraffe. Space Giraffe is something so brilliant and so weird that most people will hate it. Video games of this sort don’t come along every day. It is special.

A hard game to describe, Space Giraffe is like if the classic arcade game Tempest had a baby with OMGWTF-Sweet-Zombie-Jesus-seriously-what-the-hell-is-going-on., and that baby was a KLF fan. Space Giraffe is a game that sure looks poorly designed but is actually staggeringly clever. Space Giraffe is very divisive. Space Giraffe is magic.

One has to mention Tempest when talking about Space Giraffe, since the game is so strongly reminiscent of that classic. In point of fact, the game’s designer, Jeff Minter, designed the popular Tempest sequel, Tempest 2000. And indeed, on first glance, the game appears to be nothing more than a cheap clone of Tempest with overly busy graphics. This is a trap, the game’s first subversion, because when one first plays the game, one wants to approach it as if it were Tempest. Even if a player has never played Tempest, anyone familiar with twitch shooter video games will instinctively want to play this game using tactics that just won’t work because Space Giraffe goes to lengths to defy traditional patterns of play. The first key to Space Giraffe is understanding that, appearances to the contrary, this game is truly not Tempest.

Space Giraffe’s next subversion is it’s graphics. Some will love them, while many will hate them. Space Giraffe has a uniquely crazy landscape. It looks like it is set inside a music visualizer, inside the last 20 minutes of 2001, inside a psychedelic trip. This is very pretty, but it is horribly cluttered, and it makes the onscreen action very hard to follow. A classically grave design sin, Space Giraffe has carefully and deliberately given this game poor visibility, and this partial blindness is essential to the Space Giraffe experience. The second key to Space Giraffe is accepting that not being able to see what is going on can be a good thing.

If somebody told me that a game APPEARED to be poorly designed but that it gave that impression on purpose, and that if you didn’t like it, this was because you didn’t “get it,” well, I would be skeptical. Space Giraffe requires a leap of faith. It breaks cardinal rules of design and this makes it an uncomfortable experience. A Space Giraffe player is going to die “cheap” deaths. A Space Giraffe player must play first and understand later. A Space Giraffe player must learn to abandon reliance upon that which they see. Only when a Space Giraffe player has shed their preconceived notions of gaming can they accept the game on it’s own terms.

The game starts with a tutorial, and it is a cruel thing. It teaches the mechanics of gameplay, while it purposefully obscures the game’s required techniques and strategies. One starts the game with no indicator of what to do. From the beginning, a Space Giraffe player is expected to teach themselves what they need to navigate the game. There is no roadmap.

Players are nudged into learning different techniques one at a time. After they have the basics down, they must learn that sound is very important in Space Giraffe. Your eyes will fail you. One can’t see the entire field at once, so one needs to listen for important cues of what is happening while one’s eyes are elsewhere. The game will lead the player into placing greater and greater trust upon what they hear. Once you have learned to balance the auditory with the visual, once you are comfortable, this too will fail you. Players don’t get to be comfortable playing Space Giraffe.

The threats in Space Giraffe feel less like enemies and more like hostile ecology. Players need to learn to intuit the threats’ behaviors, as in the later stages, what one can see and what one can hear will not be enough to navigate the game. Over time, a dedicated Space Giraffe player will learn how the various elements move and interact, and the player will come to react in a way that bypasses conscious awareness. Intuition informs movement, balanced by what one sees and what one hears. The entire game is spent learning how to play it.

The game is filled with a steady stream of nonsense and non sequiturs in the form of text and sounds and visuals. It is filled with references to chaos and to chaos worship and to the practitioners of such. It is played in a psychedelic environment, a deliberately poor environment for a structured game. All of this creates an atmosphere of Discordian mystique that I feel is reflected in the gameplay. I truly feel that Space Giraffe is a work of chaotic magic.

The whole of the experience of Space Giraffe is one of finding order in apparent chaos. The game is a journey of enlightenment disguised as a twitch shooter. You are in an environment with rules unlike the ones you understand, and every step of the way, the road changes. And as you travel the path, you learn. You find yourself able to play something that looks unplayable. It forces you to alter your perception to gain enlightenment. It transcends gaming and becomes mysticism. Many people will not enjoy this, and many will not understand it. But for the right sort of person, this is perhaps the most amazing game ever made.

SON

Well, The Summer of Nerd has drawn to a close. I’m sad to see it go,
but it was one hell of a summer. And certainly the nerdiest one of my
life.

Gaming was a major element of the summer of nerd. Not only was there
the weekly Magic Night, but I started running a weekly Sunday AD&D
game (Second Edition!). The party consists of a Gnomish Illusionist
with an impressive 22 Thaco, a Half-Orc/Half-Dwarf Thief masquerading
as a priest, and a very tolerant warrior straight man and leader.
Recently, they’ve accidentally killed an entire diplomatic envoy, and
gotten the only NPC to treat them decently arrested. I feel this is
pretty impressive for first level characters. I don’t really like
DM-ing, but this is the first game I’ve ever run where I didn’t want
to kill myself from the stress of running. It has been a lot of fun.

I’ve also gotten to play in a bi-weekly D&D 3.5 game. This is the
first time I’ve ever played a game “straight,” that is to say combat
effective. It is a surprisingly enjoyable experience. We are
badassery incarnate.

This summer we discovered the awesomeness of Twilight Imperium, which
is a very cool board game halfway between Risk and Axis & Allies.
We’re trying to play it once a month, but so far this has not
happened. Also, we’ve found a nifty card game called Dungeoneer.
Everyone has loved it.

I played a liberal amount of vidjeo games this summer. Catan and
Pac-Man Champion Edition made me fall in love with the Xbox Live
Arcade, but Space Giraffe made me want to have sex with a machine. I
took my video gaming a weird step forward by co-founding a video game
analysis and discussion, The Triangle
(http://trianglegaming.blogspot.com).

The William Shatner Bad Movie and Ice Cream Appreciation Society
briefly came out of hibernation only to disappear again. But more
successful was what started as a weekly movie screening, quickly
evolving into a weekly cheesy movie screening. We also watched a
shitload of Doctor Who and Torchwood.

Serving as tentpoles for SON were several nerdy events. The comic
shop party, Potterfest, Origins Game Expo, Great Lakes Medieval Faire,
and the circus. There was always something exciting and dorky going
on. Basically, a hell of a lot of fun was had this summer with a bunch
of great friends.

Now it is Fall, and time for something else.

Gutters

I just finished the script for the original graphic novel I’ve been writing. It is a low-key story about some friends who hang out at a bowling alley. I’m pretty happy with it.

I just need to give it a heavy editing pass for clarity. And find someone to draw it. And find someone to letter it. And find a means of distributing. And find a way to market it.

Finished!!

Giraffegasm

Hey, 360 owners! I’ll be writing a full review for The Triangle, but
in the meantime play the demo of Space Giraffe. It is like if Tempest
had a baby with
OMGWTF-Sweet-Zombie-Jesus-seriously-what-the-hell-is-up-with-this-game-I’m-being-super-serious-here,
and that baby was a KLF fan. I think I’m in love.

Knee Update

It still ain’t good!

My current condition has been downgraded to “cane” but after some follow-ups I may well need surgery, which will elevate my status to “oh shit, this sucks”.

The pain, while still there, is much less. I can put weight on it now. I can bend my knee…to a point. However, I’m still hobbled, and it is probably gonna get worse before it gets better. Also, medical bills.

Kids, don’t play kickball. The cost is too high.

Post-Black Panther Week Medical Delay Spillover Week concludes!

So over the course of last week, I covered most of the highlights of one of my favorite superheroes, T’Challa, The Black Panther. The character has gone through several different interpretations, and for most of them, I think he’s been pretty damn cool.

Black Panther is like a combination of Batman and King Arthur, which is a pretty mythic combo and he’s got a one of the truly great costumes of comics. He’s well positioned for coolness, and this is helped by the fact that most of the character’s important bits have been formed from strong creative talents: Stan Lee, Don McGregor and Christopher Priest. Jack Kirby, Billy Graham, Mark Texeira, and Sal Velluto. These men are great craftsmen and they, along with others, added their own mark on the character, making it a better, deeper character.

Panther has a great origin story. The death of his father is fine, but the character really gets cool when you get to the ritual he has to undergo to become the Black Panther. In order to become chieftain of the Panther Cult, T’Challa had to defeat six fierce warriors in unarmed combat. Only then was he granted the right to eat the legendary heart-shaped herb that gives him enhanced senses, stamina, and agility. How great is that?

And he isn’t really a superhero. He’s a chieftain of a cult and king of a powerful nation. The Warrior King archetype is loaded with great possibilities, and it requires a country as cool as the king. Wakanda is up to the task, a fantastic setting. Not only does it have that fun mix of old ways and science fiction dodaddery, but the culture has ugly tension as a result of this contrast. Wakanda also has the all important, Vibranium-producing Sacred Mound which serves the triple utility of making Wakanda a powerful nation, creating all manner of Vibranium-fueled macguffins, and having a cool-as-shit name. Wakanda is just loaded with personality.

Panther also had a great supporting cast: Taku and W’Kabi, his counselors; Monica Lynne, his love interest; Ramonda, his mother; and of course, Everett K. Ross, his handler. T’Challa’s brother, The White Wolf made for a great foil, and much of the rest of his rouges gallery is a very appealing flavor of “so absurd that they are awesome.”

In short, I think Black Panther is pretty great. Hopefully, during the course of Black Panther Week, I was able to impart a little bit of the character’s appeal to some of y’all. I probably didn’t convince anyone to buy the trades of Priest’s run or to look on ebay for Jungle Action, but maybe I captured the thrills of reading the character a little bit.

End of the line

The current Black Panther series debuted shortly after Priest’s had ended. The last run had left T’Challa in a bad place. He had lost the role of chieftain of the Wakandas, and therefore he wasn’t actually The Black Panther any longer. He was also suffering from a fatal medical condition. The new writer, Reggie Hudlin, was left with a mess to clean up.

The solution, it turns out, was to ignore everything that had ever been established about the character. The whole character’s history was rebooted. The supporting cast, the past character development, all of it was chucked out the window. Things have been screwed up so much so that T’Challa now has an entirely different mother. Any resemblance the current Black Panther book has to past interpretations of the character is wholly coincidental.

Having told every Black Panther fan in the world “fuck you,” Hudlin gives us a dull, shapeless Black Panther, a generic superhero who uses more slang than you might expect. The big event of his run has been, of course, the marriage of Black Panther and Storm. Many people assume this union was formed out of some semi-racist notion of “they are made for each other because they are both from Africa,” but to me it feels like part of a plan to make Panther the boringest superhero in all of comicdom. Hudlin, himself, has no problem writing T’Challa as an uninteresting character, but by not only making his a happily married guy, but by pairing him up with the single dullest X-Man on a long list of dull X-Men, it just makes it so much easier for other writers to match Hudlin’s blandness, as recent issues of Fantastic Four illustrate.

If you are a Black Panther fan, it has all gone bad. The common fan explanation for the wreckage that is the Hudlin book is this: everything that has happened since Hudlin started writing the character is a hallucination of T’Challa’s, brought on by serious brain damage. He actually has married Storm, and has been interacting with the rest of the Marvel Universe, but his perception of reality is all screwed up. The distorted continuity and the awful characterization has all been byproducts of his aneurysm. No one notices, because T’Challa is so weird and cagey. Everyone assumes the odd behavior is part of a deeper plan. Sadly, since Marvel is unlikely to run with this explanation, T’Challa may never get better.

Some closing thoughts tomorrow, as Black Panther Week concludes.

The Story Thus Far

Christopher Priest didn’t want to write Black Panther.  Conventional wisdom suggested that a predominantly white comic book audience won’t buy a book starring a black hero.  And in the 20 years since Panther’s Rage, T’Challa had been watered down into a pretty boring character.  Why write a book destined to be canceled within a year?

He was convinced to take the job anyways, and the book hit the ground running, with the freedom that comes from having nothing to lose.  The first story arc features a complicated conspiracy involving a coup in Wakanda, mud wrestling, Bill Clinton with a hockey stick, and The Devil’s Pants.  And when the book sold just well enough to avoid cancellation, the book just got weirder.

Priest’s T’Challa is a big picture guy.  He sees the world as a chessboard, and he is always five moves ahead of everyone else.  He is Batman with a nation, Doctor Doom with a conscience.  He’s a hard character to identify with, and for this reason, he isn’t really the main character of the book.  That role falls to Everett K. Ross, T’Challa’s government attaché, and self-proclaimed whitest white guy in America. Ross is a (frequently hilarious) everyman, and he narrates almost every issue.

Ross, a cynical wisecracker, completely out of his element, stands in sharp contrast to Black Panther, who is noble and stoic and always in control. The end result feels like two separate comic books layered on top of each other.  T’Challa’s story is one of triple-dog-serious matters of state: A book for people who liked Suicide Squad. On the flip side, Ross’s story is an irreverent deconstruction of the Marvel universe:  Jokes and indignity for people who liked the Justice League International. 

For the whole run, it felt like Priest pretty much did whatever crazy thing he wanted.  The book would have action and adventure and politics and drama and humor, and it would have all of these things in the same 22 page issue.  During its course, not only did it crossed over with Deadpool, it crossed over with Quantum & Woody, which isn’t published by Marvel, and it crossed over with Thor #370, a fill-in issue from 1986.

Panther’s archenemy in this book is The White Wolf, who is T’Challa’s brother, and a Wakandan superspy.  White Wolf keeps doing evil superspy stuff against Panther’s wishes in order to help Wakanda.  And its king. He excellently fills the role of the flip side of Black Panther’s coin.

Also causing trouble in Wakanda is Rev. ibn-al-Hajj Achebe and his hand puppet, Daki.  Achebe is a dude who sold his soul to the devil for revenge and insanity, and who now wants to be king and queen of the universe. This book is weird.

Any part of Panther’s history that didn’t ring true, Priest would try to fix.  Why would an African king fight dress up and fight crime?  Why would he join an American superhero team? There was a teenage Wakandan superhero named Vibraxis, master of Vibration?  What the hell was up with Kirby’s Panther?  This book connected all aspects of Black Panther’s history, including the return of several elements from McGregor’s run, most notably Erik Killmonger, who Priest fashioned into a complex, sympathetic villain.

In celebration of Black Panther’s 35th anniversary, we were treated with a 100 page issue reprinting Fantastic Four #52, 53, Jungle Action #8, as well as giving us a glimpse of the character 25 years in the future, all for $3.50. Then, for the book’s fourth year, my favorite, T’Challa must deal with a man from his past (or is that future) the swashbuckling Kirby Black Panther from the 70’s.

With two Panthers, the book achieves maximum loopiness. Panther and Iron Man steal each other’s companies.  T’Challa annexes a Canadian island.  The whole supporting cast hook up with Thor and Loki in the wild west.  And as Ross tries to figure out who the hell this extra T’Challa was, the serious one becomes increasingly worried that he is turning into a supervillain.  Great stuff. 

And then things changed drastically.  After four brushes with cancellation, Marvel mixes things up in a big way. For the book’s final year Sal Velluto and Bob Almond, the book’s stalwart art team were kicked off of the book, and with them went almost the entire cast, including Ross and T’Challa. The book becomes about Casper Cole, a police officer who finds one of T’Challa’s costumes, and uses it to try to dig himself out of the crime drama-y mess that he finds himself in.  This story isn’t bad, but it is a major letdown after the large scale nuttiness of the prior four years, and it fails to keep the book alive.

The book had been a rollercoaster ride.  You never knew what the next twist was going to be, but you could rely on there being one.  And if it occasionally seemed as if the payoffs should have been bigger, you didn’t worry about it because the book kept moving continuously forward. It was a hell of ride.

Tomorrow, the ride is over as Black Panther Week continues.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

The Story Thus Far

Christopher Priest didn’t want to write Black Panther.  Conventional wisdom suggested that a predominantly white comic book audience won’t buy a book starring a black hero.  And in the 20 years since Panther’s Rage, T’Challa had been watered down into a pretty boring character.  Why write a book destined to be canceled within a year?

He was convinced to take the job anyways, and the book hit the ground running, with the freedom that comes from having nothing to lose.  The first story arc features a complicated conspiracy involving a coup in Wakanda, mud wrestling, Bill Clinton with a hockey stick, and The Devil’s Pants.  And when the book sold just well enough to avoid cancellation, the book just got weirder.

Priest’s T’Challa is a big picture guy.  He sees the world as a chessboard, and he is always five moves ahead of everyone else.  He is Batman with a nation, Doctor Doom with a conscience.  He’s a hard character to identify with, and for this reason, he isn’t really the main character of the book.  That role falls to Everett K. Ross, T’Challa’s government attaché, and self-proclaimed whitest white guy in America. Ross is a (frequently hilarious) everyman, and he narrates almost every issue.

Ross, a cynical wisecracker, completely out of his element, stands in sharp contrast to Black Panther, who is noble and stoic and always in control. The end result feels like two separate comic books layered on top of each other.  T’Challa’s story is one of triple-dog-serious matters of state: A book for people who liked Suicide Squad. On the flip side, Ross’s story is an irreverent deconstruction of the Marvel universe:  Jokes and indignity for people who liked the Justice League International. 

For the whole run, it felt like Priest pretty much did whatever crazy thing he wanted.  The book would have action and adventure and politics and drama and humor, and it would have all of these things in the same 22 page issue.  During its course, not only did it crossed over with Deadpool, it crossed over with Quantum & Woody, which isn’t published by Marvel, and it crossed over with Thor #370, a fill-in issue from 1986.

Panther’s archenemy in this book is The White Wolf, who is T’Challa’s brother, and a Wakandan superspy.  White Wolf keeps doing evil superspy stuff against Panther’s wishes in order to help Wakanda.  And its king. He excellently fills the role of the flip side of Black Panther’s coin.

Also causing trouble in Wakanda is Rev. ibn-al-Hajj Achebe and his hand puppet, Daki.  Achebe is a dude who sold his soul to the devil for revenge and insanity, and who now wants to be king and queen of the universe. This book is weird.

Any part of Panther’s history that didn’t ring true, Priest would try to fix.  Why would an African king fight dress up and fight crime?  Why would he join an American superhero team? There was a teenage Wakandan superhero named Vibraxis, master of Vibration?  What the hell was up with Kirby’s Panther?  This book connected all aspects of Black Panther’s history, including the return of several elements from McGregor’s run, most notably Erik Killmonger, who Priest fashioned into a complex, sympathetic villain.

In celebration of Black Panther’s 35th anniversary, we were treated with a 100 page issue reprinting Fantastic Four #52, 53, Jungle Action #8, as well as giving us a glimpse of the character 25 years in the future, all for $3.50. Then, for the book’s fourth year, my favorite, T’Challa must deal with a man from his past (or is that future) the swashbuckling Kirby Black Panther from the 70’s.

With two Panthers, the book achieves maximum loopiness. Panther and Iron Man steal each other’s companies.  T’Challa annexes a Canadian island.  The whole supporting cast hook up with Thor and Loki in the wild west.  And as Ross tries to figure out who the hell this extra T’Challa was, the serious one becomes increasingly worried that he is turning into a supervillain.  Great stuff. 

And then things changed drastically.  After four brushes with cancellation, Marvel mixes things up in a big way. For the book’s final year Sal Velluto and Bob Almond, the book’s stalwart art team were kicked off of the book, and with them went almost the entire cast, including Ross and T’Challa. The book becomes about Casper Cole, a police officer who finds one of T’Challa’s costumes, and uses it to try to dig himself out of the crime drama-y mess that he finds himself in.  This story isn’t bad, but it is a major letdown after the large scale nuttiness of the prior four years, and it fails to keep the book alive.

The book had been a rollercoaster ride.  You never knew what the next twist was going to be, but you could rely on there being one.  And if it occasionally seemed as if the payoffs should have been bigger, you didn’t worry about it because the book kept moving continuously forward. It was a hell of ride.

Tomorrow, the ride is over as Black Panther Week continues.

No real surprises

Hey it is a meme! I was axed five questions and I’m posting the
answers. Give a holler in comments, and I’ll axe you five questions.
Because why not!

Questions from Mlewys:

1) What kind of dancer are you?
Awkward. People laugh. The crutches only make it worse.

2) What book is currently on your bedside table?

Flight Volume Four. Flight is an anthology of fantasy stories. Not
fantasy like Dungeons & Dragons, but like the sort of fantasies you
have when you are twelve and the whole world is magical and unknown.
These books are imagination given free reign. If you’ve ever enjoyed
comic art, this is a must read.
Also The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon, I Mean Noel by Ellen
Raskin. It is a puzzle-mystery.

3) What job would you not want to try?
The Boss. I want to be accountable for no work other than my own.

4) Of all of the books you were assigned to read when you were in
school, what are your favorites?
I honestly can’t distinguish between most of the books I was assigned
to read and those that I read on my own. There was a lot of overlap
between the two. Do teachers assign kids Vonnegut? The good ones? I
think it is safe to say that no material had a greater affect on my
development than the works of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.: I read every last
one of his novels my Sophomore year of high school. Cat’s Cradle,
Breakfast of Champions, Slaughterhouse Five, Mother Night, these books
taught me that there was nothing that you couldn’t question or laugh
at. These books taught me to think for my self. Kurt is up in heaven
now, and every teenager should have to read Vonnegut.

5) What are your top five songs of all time?

I Don’t Want to Live on The Moon – Ernie
The Rainbow Connection – Kermit the Frog
Flicker – Calamine
I Want to Go Back There Some Day – Gonzo the Great
Honky Tonk Union – Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers

Mr. Happy Pants

If you read super hero comics, odds are you know and love Jack Kirby. In his time he created one brilliant concept after another, including most of the Marvel Universe. He was a non-stop source of manic ideas and gorgeous, gonzo art, the greatest genius to work with superhero comics. And, for all that, his work for Marvel in the 70’s kinda sucked. Kinda cardboard. Kinda warmed over.

His 1978 Black Panther bears no resemblance to the Black Panther of Jungle Action. The dense prose of McGregor is replaced with flat, wooden dialogue. Jungle Action’s naturalism and earthiness is abandoned for Kirby’s space opera style. T’Challa is no longer a contemplative warrior king, he is abruptly a carefree adventurer.

This is not the same character that appeared in Jungle Action. It is clear that Jolly Jack never read McGregor’s work, and it takes some work to reconcile the two Black Panthers. (Exactly how much work we would find out 25 years later.) Kirby only stayed on this book for a year, and for most of that time, the letter column seemed filled with letters either wanting him to leave, or trying to reconcile his version of the character with McGregor’s.

But for all that, even bad Jack Kirby still has plenty of charm to it. While one-dimensional, there is fun to be had in this four-color adventure book, filled with audacious sci-fi elements and ridiculous characters. The book starts with T’Challa in the middle of an adventure to find King Solomon’s Frogs, twin statues that can bend time and space. Then he fights big headed monsters from the future. Then he fights samurai. Then on the way home he picks a fight with George Lucas. Then he fights T’Challa’s half-brother who has turned himself into a monster. Then Black Panther gains ESP. Then Kirby is off the book.

While lacking McGregor’s sophistication, and far from Kirby’s best effort, 1978’s Black Panther was a goofy, fun romp with a handful of cool monsters. After Kirby left, the book lasted 3 more unremarkable issues before cancellation. It would be 20 years before again starring in his own ongoing series.

In the late 80’s he would star in a string of irregular features: After an entirely forgettable Black Panther miniseries in 1988, Don McGregor would return to the character for a stint in Marvel Comics Presents, an anthology book, with a story called Panther’s Quest, where T’Challa rescued his mother from imprisonment in South Africa. The next year, McGregor wrote Panther’s Prey, a four part prestige format story, where T’Challa fights drugs. McGregor liked writing about “issues”.

These later McGregor stories weren’t bad, but they lacked the punch of Panther’s Prey. In the meantime, Black Panther remained an Avenger, and a mainstay of the Marvel Universe. Over time, he became reduced to a dull second stringer, little more than Generic Black Superhero Guy.

But finally, in 1998, Black Panther was at last given a new ongoing series. Although seemingly doomed for failure, this book would become the definitive Black Panther run. Tomorrow, Christopher Priest goes nuts as Black Panther week continues.

Knee Update

FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK!!!

I brushed some dirt on it, walked it off. I thought I was fine. Until the swelling started and I lost the ability to stand.

The pain is constant. I cannot move my knee any direction. My leg can’t support any weight. I’ve torn something, but the swelling has to go down before the doctors suss out what. This is the worst injury I’ve ever sustained.

I’ve been overdue a major injury, I guess. I just didn’t really expect it to be sports related.

Jungle Action

In 1973, T’Challa returns to Wakanda as he assumes the starring role of Jungle Action comics. Despite the wince-inducing title, this book is cool as hell. Panther returns to his land to find that his people are bitter about his playing pajama punch in America, that many are adjusting poorly to the technology he has brought them, and that revolution is right around the corner. So begins Panther’s Rage, Don McGregor’s three year, twelve issue jungle saga. (not exactly a regular schedule)

Panther’s Rage is as epically nutty as you could want a comic book to be. It has politics, it has drama, it has action, and it has the thick, purplest narration. It has villains with names such as Baron Macabre, King Cadaver, and Lord Karnaj, led by Erik Killmonger, which is pretty gutsy naming for a group of revolutionaries. On top of all of this it also squeezes in a fair-play murder mystery.

McGregor’s Black Panther is wise and he is compassionate. But he is first and foremost a warrior. A warrior that spends most of the story getting TORE UP. In the first issue Killmonger throws him off of a waterfall. In almost every issue to follow, he fights an scary fucking animal. He fights a leopard, a rhinoceros, a giant alligator, a pack of wolves, a white gorilla, and freaking dinosaurs. He endures extreme heat and extreme cold, broken bones, deep gashes, hundreds of needles jabbed into his body. This is a man who survives anything thrown at him. Until the final confrontation against Killmonger when… well, I may not like the ending but I appriciate the ballsyness of it.

After the dust had settled from Panther’s Rage, T’Challa revisits America for a funeral…and for a murder mystery, in a tale known as The Panther vs. The Klan. Not quite as hamfisted as it sounds, this was an interesting story with fairly three-dimensional characters, although the Wakandan supporting cast were sorely missed. It also had a lot of speeches. Unfortunately, Jungle Action was abruptly canceled in the middle of this story, before resolving the mystery.

Jungle Action was immediately replaced with a new book, this one actually titled Black Panther. This series was written and drawn by someone already familiar with the character, having created him ten years prior. Jack Kirby had come back to Marvel, and Black Panther was about to get weird.

Learn the mystery of King Solomon’s Frogs tomorrow as Black Panther Week continues.

Yay Kickball!

Somehow I ended up challenging one of my co-workers to a game of kickball. I sent out the call, and tonight a band of my friends showed up to defend my honor in this most noble of pasttimes

It was pretty funny. You see I’m friends with a bunch of flabby nerds, while Danica, my co-worker is friends with a bunch of buff (by comparison) athletes. We were the scrappy underdogs from every sports movie ever. We got slaughtered.

It was a lot of fun, however. Which, even though the thing was my plan, caught me by surprise. I was in a bad mood today, and started dreading this game. On top of which, I hate team sports by default, and also my social anxiety has been flaring up. In spite of all that, none of that stopped me from having a good time.

It took my knee bending the wrong direction to do that.

Black Panther Week begins

I recently re-read all of my comics starring one of my very favorite heroes, Black Panther. As is so often the case with great superheroes, Black Panther was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Introduced in 1966’s Fantastic Four #52, Black Panther is T’Challa, the King and Chieftain of Wakanda, a tribal country deep in Africa, a country more technologically advanced than America because it is home of The Sacred Mound, the worlds only supply of Vibranium, a metal with unique vibrational properties.

The first Black Panther story begins with T’Challa inviting the Fantastic Four to his kingdom of Wakanda for the greatest hunt ever. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Fantastic Four end up the prey in this hunt. They land in T’Challa’s techno jungle, which he has heavily boobytrapped. Wearing a pretty sweet kitty cat suit, which he calls his “stalking costume”, he easily dispatches all four members of the team, with a combination of athletics, wits, and technology, but he cannot deal with that he was not prepared for, Johnny’s roommate, Wyatt Wingfoot.

The team, having been freed by Wyatt, prepare for round two, but T’Challa backs down, and invites the team to accept his hospitality, for real this time. They accept, probably because they are trapped in his country and beating up kings tends to upset people. Panther explains that he wanted to test himself against a worthy adversary, and an American superhero team seemed like a good choice. And then there is feasting and dancing and exposition as we hear The Origin of The Black Panther.

T’Challa inherited the throne of Wakanda at the age of 13 after his father, T’Chaka, was killed by an asshole with a stupid beard named Ulysses Klaw. In grief-fueled rage, a young T’Challa blew off Klaw’s hand. Ten years later Klaw is a supervillian, Panther is a superhero/king/chieftan, and they both hate each other.

Minutes after telling this story, Klaw attacks. Klaw can turn sound into mass. Panther eats herbs that make him a badass. Klaw gets his ass handed and is left for dead. Then everyone plays baseball. T’Challa gives the Four a variety of gifts, including the latest fashions from Rome, and a nifty Kirbyied-out flying vehicle. Reed is a gentleman and doesn’t point out that he’s been building shit like that since he was six. The end.

It was a cool story with a cool protagonist wearing a cool costume. Lee’s Black Panther is a wise ruler, a good man, and kinda crazy. He is a good friend and a pleasant host. And remarkable for 1966, he isn’t a caricature. He is a great character, one that happens to be the first modern black superhero. His blackness is incidental.

Unfortunately, after his introduction in FF, Black Panther ends up Token Black Guy of the Avengers. These stories aren’t terrible, but this makes no damn sense. Black Panther is a genius king of another country, not an American superhero. It would be like Doctor Doom joining the Sinister Six. I mean, c’mon.

Tomorrow T’Challa leaves the Avengers to star in Jungle Action Comics as Black Panther Week continues!