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Sep 14

House to Astonish Presents: The Lightning Round Episode 11

Posted on Wednesday, September 14, 2022 by Al in Podcast

The Thunderbolts are back, and Graviton is making heavy weather of things for them. Can Archangel tip the scales in the heroes’ favour? Can you imagine how embarrassed he would be if he didn’t? We’re looking at issues 27-30 of Thunderbolts (1997) this time out, and there’s a guy with too many baguettes, some highly unfortunate kerning, and a high society scandal in the world of military robotics to deal with.

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Bring on the comments

  1. Mark (Don't Call me Charles) Coale says:

    My favorite villain nominative determinism is the Riddler being Edward Nigma.

  2. Chris V says:

    I nominate Thomas Oscar Morrow (who likes to be known as T.O.).

  3. Jim says:

    The almost nothing I remember about 1993’s Aspen Extreme tell me that a skiing themed sports bar in Colorado sounds completely sensible.

  4. Si says:

    The culmination of the Mankiller bartender subplot is kind of funny. You see her and Josten in the bar, knee-deep in feminist and lesbian iconography, just shuffling through posters and flags piled in drifts like autumn leaves, and she says “you think I’m in love with you or something? I’ll never love a … superhero. I play for the other team. You know, supervillains.”

    Points for trying I suppose.

  5. Roswulf says:

    Speaking of nominative determinism, Man-Killer’s alias of “Wilma” is surely a reference to Wilma Mankiller- an activist who in the 1980s and 1990s was the first woman to serve as leader of the Cherokee Nation.

    She did not admittedly kill any men outside of tribal politics.

  6. Si says:

    I didn’t know of Wilma Mankiller, cool. I thought it was a strangely old-fashioned name for the character to use.

  7. Omar Karindu says:

    I think a lot of Graviton’s weakness as a character comes from his start as one of those characters Jim Shooter developed to explore the idea of a power fantasy.

    Graviton’s first appearance has him gaining literally world-shaking, world-changing power. And he uses it to terrorize the co-workers he resents while trying to force his workplace crush to dump her fiancé for him now that he thinks he’s a god.

    As with the Molecule Man and some more minor characters, Shooter uses Graviton to suggest that an ordinary person, given the ability to act out their power fantasies, would be simultaneously pathetic and destructive. That’s a theme, to be sure, but not a good basis for a continuing character.

    So, as with a lot of Busiek stories, there’s an effort to return to the original motives or concept fr the character and explore them. In the case of Graviton, this becomes a story of how the guy is just utterly unreflective despite having literal world-shaking power. The best he can do is enlist other people with equally stupid power fantasies to prop up his own stupid, childish egocentrism.

    It probably says something about the cycle of superhero comics that both “Edward Nigma” and “Thomas Oscar Morrow” seem to occasionally get retconned into aliases the characters took on deliberately.

    In the case of the Riddler, at least, the retcon was originally an experimental little story by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman was playing up the comparative innocence and camp of the 60s Batman show in the gritty 80s. So for Gaiman, Eddie Nashton choosing to become Eddie Nigma is played as an ordinary man finding a way to be joyfully extraordinary.

    It’s kind of the polar opposite of how Graviton is handled in this Thunderbolts arc and in his initial Avengers appearances.

  8. Daibhid C says:

    Graviton’s real name should totally be Dr Gavin Tron.

    The line about Highlander fans kind of feels like Busiek suddenly thought “Hang on, why is there a guy with a sword?” Answer: He’s the Highlander fan! That’s probably an authentic replica of the very sword Conner Mcleod uses, which he got from an ad in the back of Starlog or something.

    Comics keep doing this bit where guys like Graviton get a bit of power and are immediately surrounded by women, and it is always deeply skeevy. The worst one I remember was those time-travelling idiots in Spider-Man and Wolverine, who were somehow picking up historically significant women. Including, I swear I’m not making this up, Joan of Arc.

    Very much showing my age here, but thinking about the concept of the TV showing skiing highlights, I now have “Pop Looks Bach” stuck in my head.

    Looking forward to episode 200, and Hail Hydrators!

  9. Daibhid C says:

    @Omar: I think “Eddie Nashton” first appeared in a Question story, which very much went the Graviton route, reinventing Riddler as a pathetic loser with some Freudian issues who Batman was only vaguely even aware of. By nodding to it in a story which lovingly restored Eddie’s classic origin, Gaiman was kind of depowering its place in canon by saying “Well, maybe, but also this”.

  10. Mark Coale says:

    Are comics just using super powers as a means to attract women just a substitute for creepy men using being rich for the same reason?

    Was in West Coast Avengers were Graviton recruited villains who had the other three fundamental forces as powers?

  11. Chris V says:

    Yes, that was during the Steven Englehart run, issue #12-13 to be precise. He gathered Zzaxx, new character Halflife, and Quantum (one of the Dakkamites, the race from which Wundarr came).

    I forgot about “Eddie Nigma” being treated as an alias in The Question and the Gaiman Secret Origins story. I remembered it being used in that way on the Batman Adventures cartoon. Batman figured out that the Riddler was using the alias “Edward Nigma” as a clue to the Riddler’s identity. I think Robin reacted, “Of course! E. Nigma! That couldn’t be his real name.”
    Strange I remembered the cartoon version rather than a comic series I absolutely loved (O’Neil’s Question) and another of my favourite comic writers.

  12. David Goldfarb says:

    The kids attacking Comix Experience in the opening pages of issue 27 are not Evan Dorkin’s “Eltingville Club”. They are Bagley’s renditions of Rich Koslowski’s “The 3 Geeks”.

    (And yes, Brian Hibbs and Comix Experience were definitely already a thing.)

  13. Omar Karindu says:

    Chris V. said: Yes, that was during the Steven Englehart run [of West Coast Avengers], issue #12-13 to be precise. He gathered Zzaxx, new character Halflife, and Quantum (one of the Dakkamites, the race from which Wundarr came).

    As I recall, there’s a line of dialogue in that story suggesting Graviton didn’t get his first choice to represent electromagnetism.

    At the time, the speculation was that this as a little joke that Magneto would have fit that force better, but of course was wholly unsuited for the plot in terms of characterization.

    I forgot about “Eddie Nigma” being treated as an alias in The Question and the Gaiman Secret Origins story. I remembered it being used in that way on the Batman Adventures cartoon. Batman figured out that the Riddler was using the alias “Edward Nigma” as a clue to the Riddler’s identity. I think Robin reacted, “Of course! E. Nigma! That couldn’t be his real name.”

    It’s odder than that: the animated series treats the pun as the Riddler’s real name, but changes the spelling of the last name to “Nygma” with a “Y,” I guess for…a stab at plausibility?

    The dialogue from Robin is just Robin spotting the pun that the Riddler has used on his real name to develop his costumed alias, not a suggestion that the Nygma name itself is a fake.

    And that spelling change seems to have stuck in several adaptations and reboots that make his real last name “Nygma,” such as the movie Batman Forever. I think “Nygma” was even used as the spelling for the New 52 version of the Riddler as adapted by Scott Snyder.

    Daibhid C. said: I think “Eddie Nashton” first appeared in a Question story, which very much went the Graviton route, reinventing Riddler as a pathetic loser with some Freudian issues who Batman was only vaguely even aware of. By nodding to it in a story which lovingly restored Eddie’s classic origin, Gaiman was kind of depowering its place in canon by saying “Well, maybe, but also this”.

    I vaguely remember that Question story now, and I think I remember reading it once and not really liking it. O’Neil really didn’t like the Riddler; I get the sense he saw the Riddler as everything he’d tried to get Batman away from.

    In his old The Law Is a Ass column on legal issues in comic books, Bob Ingersoll complained mightily about the Question letting the Riddler go, since his accomplices had gunned down some people and he’d just gotten done trying to commit armed robbery.

  14. Voord 99 says:

    So, wait — in comics published in 1999, four years after the Oklahoma City bombing, Marvel thought the “Marvel Militia,” surrounded by camouflage-print imagery, was a good idea?

  15. Sparv says:

    Is there a Marvel Universe James Randi, and if so what is his take on telekinetics, magicians, etc?

  16. Chris V says:

    Considering the fact that even someone like Uri Geller actually has psychic powers in the Marvel Universe (Daredevil #133), you have to guess a James Randi doesn’t have as much of a career. I guess he would be the equivalent of DC’s Doctor Thirteen, a guy who seems deluded but does some of the time uncover frauds.
    If there are so many individuals in the Marvel Universe with actual parapsychological powers, it would probably be even easier to set up a scam to make money off rubes.

  17. Omar Karindu says:

    There were a couple of Silver Age Doctor Strange stories with Marvel Universe debunkers, one of which involves a reporter going in to debunk a haunted house and having to be rescued by Strange, and the other of which is a TV show called The Twelfth Hour that also debunks the supernatural.

    Roy Thomas later did a story circa 1989 or 1990 in which The Twelfth Hour had been revived as a new show, but one that now tried to prove the supernatural existed, frustrating Strange when he went on it in hopes of being debunked to get some privacy back.

    There was also Bill Mantlo’s wholesale lifting of an old Charles Harness story, “Probable Cause,” for the trial fo the Wraith in Marvel Team-Up v.1 #51. There, the trial hinges on the court’s apparent skepticism that telekinesis and telepathy exist, with folks like Charles Xavier called as expert witnesses.

    As in the harness story, the ending has a twist in which the judges of the case turnout to have psi powers themselves, but have kept the public record ambiguous to protect their secret and prevent public panic.

    There’s also the old bit where Marvel stories show people living outside New York City tend to think all the stories of superheroes are exaggerated or media fabrications, but that only lasted into the mid-1980s or so as a recurring bit.

    But really, once the Fantastic Four are running around in public fighting aliens and Atlanteans and cosmic entities in midtown Manhattan, I think the concept of skepticism goes out the window.

    At most, you’d get the whole concept where people think, say, Thor’s not really a god, just a delusional superhuman. And even that may be gone after all the stuff with Asgard floating in the skies and trolls invading New York.

  18. Chris V says:

    Ah yes, the story where Mantlo ripped off Charles Harness. The Harness story actually wasn’t even ten years old when Mantlo decided to steal the plot for Marvel Team Up. Terry Carr had talked Harness into coming out of retirement to contribute a story to his anthology series. Little did Harness realize Mantlo would steal his story. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only time Mantlo would rip-off a science fiction prose story for one of his comic plots. Unlike Harlan Ellison, I don’t believe Harness ever discovered about the Mantlo heist. I don’t think the lawyer Harness would have accepted a life-time subscription to any Marvel series he wanted, like Ellison.
    I wonder if those judges are on Krakoa now?

  19. Omar Karindu says:

    Mantlo did get called out on a letters page a few issues later, and there was a fairly unconvincing “we forgot to paste in an inspired by… credit” note from the editor.

  20. Matthew says:

    Ski Cross (4 racers) and Parallel Slalom (2 racers) are two downhill skiing events that have multiple racers at the same time. Ski Cross seems pretty intense, so I can see people getting into watching it in a bar.

  21. Josie says:

    I just do not remember these issues at all. The entire back half of Busiek’s run post-Zemo really doesn’t do anything for me. I’m not sure I’d say Nicieza’s run was “better,” because there were some clunkers among his stories, but god was it interesting. You could never criticize it for growing stale or settling into a routine.

  22. I concur with David Goldfarb–that’s the 3 Geeks in issue 27. I had been wondering how the Eltinville gang had gotten to San Francisco… (Not that the 3 Geeks are West Coasters, either.)

    Fun episode about a story that I know I read but had *completely* forgotten ever part of.

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