Posts Tagged ‘Marvel Comics’

Franky Zapata, French Hoverboard Pilot and His Marvel Comics’ Predecessor

July 23, 2019

Yesterday’s I, for Monday, 22nd July 2019, carried a profile on page 3 of the ‘inventor and daredevil’, Franky Zapata by reporter David Woods. Zapata’s a former jet ski champion and French military reservist, who intends to attempt to cross the Channel this Thursday on a jet-powered hoverboard he’s invented. He’s doing it to mark the 110th anniversary of French aviator Louis Bleriot’s historic flight from France to England. Apparently, Zapata will fly from Sangatte near Calais to St. Margaret’s Bay near Dover.

He could only afford to make his vehicle after receiving a grant for £1.1 million from the French defence and procurement agency last December. The board has five mini turbo engines and can run independently for ten minutes, reaching a speed of 118 mph. Zapata has said, however, that he intends to cruise at 86.9 mp.

Zapata demonstrated the craft’s abilities at the Bastille day celebration last week, where he flew around the Champs Elysees waving a gun around in front of Macron and other European leaders. But he’s rather more pessimistic about his chances with this flight. He told the paper Le Parisien that he’s only got a thirty per cent chance of succeeding in this flight, saying that he only used 3 per cent of the board’s capabilities when he last used, but will need to use 99 per cent of them for this flight.

The French maritime officials have said that the Channel is extremely dangerous because of the sheer volume of shipping. They have insisted that Zapata informs search and rescue teams before he takes off. This means that he will only be able to refuel once instead of twice, as he originally planned. This makes the flight, according to him, 10 times more difficult.

I hope he’s able to make the flight and complete it successfully without killing himself. Louis Bleriot’s flight across the Channel is one of the great landmarks in the history of aviation, and hopefully, this will be too. People have been fascinated by flight and inventing flying machines since Daedalus and his son, Icarus, in ancient Greek myth. There are any number of people now building their own, often rickety and highly unwieldy flying machines, many of which use propellers driven by electric motors. I hope Zapata succeeds, and inspires even more hobbyists to create their own machines. Just as I hope his flight isn’t as disastrous as Icarus’. He flew too close to the sun, so that the wax holding his wings together melted and fell out of the air and crashed.

But looking at Zapata and his hoverboard also reminds me of another figure, this time from Marvel Comics. It doesn’t look that much different from the device Spiderman’s old enemy, the Green Goblin, used to fly around on. All it needs is a pair of bat wings. Here it is with the Goblin himself from the cover of Stan Lee’s Bring on the Bad Guys: Origins of the Marvel Comics Villains (New York: Simon & Schuster 1976), as drawn by the great Marvel artist, John Romita. So it seems that this is once again a case of life imitating art, and Stan ‘the Man’ Lee, Jolly Jack Kirby and the rest of the Marvel madhouse got their first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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‘I’ Newspaper on Scientist Building Artificial Arms from Lego

February 13, 2019

Last weekend’s I newspaper for Saturday, 9th February 2019, carried a profile of David Aguilar, a disabled Andorran scientist, who has been building artificial arms out of Lego since he was a small boy. The article by David Woode, ran

Hand Solo?

A university student who was born without a forearm due to a rare genetic condition has created a robotic prosthetic arm using Lego. David Aguilar, who built three other models before his current one, said “I wanted to see myself in the mirror like I see other guys with two hands.

Is this his first bionic arm?

No. David, 19, began experimenting with artificial limbs as a child. he said his father bought him a lego Titanic set aged five and the colourful bricks became one of his favourite toys. David made his first artificial arm, albeit with limited movement, aged nine. ‘As a child I was very nervous to be in front of other guys, because I was different, but that didn’t stop me believing in my dreams,’ he said.

How does it work?

David uses Lego pieces given to him by a friend. Last year he built a red-and-yellow, fully functional robotic arm, it’s fitted with an electric motor and he can bend it at the joint and flex a grabber attached at the end. His latest prototypes are marked MK followed by the number – a tribute to comic book superhero Iron Man and his MK armour suits.

Could this spawn an army of Iron men and Iron Women?

The rookie inventor from the small principality of Andorra is studying bioengineering at the Universität Internacional de Catalunya in Spain. His post-graduation dream is to design affordable robotic limbs for those in need. He said “I would try to give them a prosthetic arm, even if it’s for free, to make them feel like a normal person, because what is normal, right”.

There’s a lot of research going on into artificial limbs, some of it very inspiring. The robotics unit at the University of the West of England has formed a private company to build artificial hands for children. They’ve produced one with the consent of Hollywood shaped like the hand of the Marvel superhero, Iron Man. I think they were also planning to produce one based on C3PO in collaboration with Disney, if I recall correctly. Aguilar’s clearly a very skilled engineer, and his own experience of disability undoubtedly gives him real, personal insight into what disabled people need in artificial limbs and how they can be best designed for them. I wonder what his work will be like after he’s graduated and, hopefully, begun working on them at a higher level. It should be really good.

In the meantime, I’d really have loved to be able to make a proper, working robotic arm out of Lego, Meccano or any other construction kit when I was child as well as knowing how he does it now.

Disgusted by Mike’s Kangroo Court Trial

November 14, 2018

Yesterday Mike had his hearing before a Labour party tribunal in Wales to decide the charge against him of being an anti-Semite. As is clear to anyone who reads anything Mike has actually written, rather than lies put out by a corrupt, mendacious press and the Israel lobby, an anti-Semite is the very last thing Mike is. He isn’t at all racist or prejudiced, as a gay friend of his tried to make clear to three men, who suspiciously approached him last week wanting to talk to him about the charge. Mike found that encounter extremely suspicious. They knew him by name, though he’d never met them, and claimed that they’d read about him in the papers, although as Mike wrote on his blog, he only featured in them in May last year, 2017. That’s a long time ago. It could all have been perfectly innocuous, but Mike wondered if they weren’t there to intimidate him in the last few days before he defended himself. It’s quite possible. It also wouldn’t have surprised me if they weren’t private detectives hired by someone to see if they couldn’t dig any dirt on him. It’d be odd, but it’s not unknown.

And then there was the trial itself. As Mike has said in detail in his blog, it was a complete kangaroo court. They had no evidence against him whatsoever. None. Zip. Nada, nichts, and nitchevo. But it didn’t matter. They were obviously determined to find him guilty. I have absolutely no doubt Mike defended himself to the very best of his ability, and that, were it a properly constituted court of law, he would have won the case. Either that, or even now his lawyers would be filing objections to a miscarriage of justice. But this is the Labour party witch hunt against Corbynites, so truth didn’t matter.

What apparently did matter was how his comments appeared, especially to the ‘Jewish community’. As the numerous left-wing Jewish bloggers on the internet have said with great clarity, there is no monolithic Jewish community. Judaism has always been a community of different opinions and views, as shown by the old Jewish adage, ‘Two Jews, three opinions’. The group the press have chosen to present as Britain’s Jewish community are the official, Jewish Zionist establishment, the Chief Rabbi and Board of Deputies of British Jews. Which basically represents the United Synagogue and no-one else. They don’t represent the secular Jewish community, nor Orthodox Jews. The Board of Deputies of British Jews is solidly Zionist, as defined by their constitution. So they don’t represent non- or anti-Zionist Jews. Tony Greenstein has also cited proper sociological studies from respected scholars, which show that British Jews are almost wholly upper middle class. This doesn’t mean that British Jews are all Conservatives by any means, but those making the smears of anti-Semitism certainly are, as you can see from the political bias of the Jewish Chronicle. It’s a Conservative, business-oriented, religious establishment using anti-Semitism as a tool for smearing its opponents because they threaten them as Socialists seeking to empower ordinary people – which includes Jews – and support the Palestinians in their desperate search for justice against Israeli oppression. And this Conservative, Zionist Jewish establishment is closely interwoven with the Blairites in the Labour party. Blair’s followers are a minority, and always were. But they control the party bureaucracy, or at least key positions in it.

And in that position, they behave as the Stalinists they revile Corbyn’s supporters of being. Before Stalin came to power, the position of General Secretary in the Communist party was a relatively minor post. The secretary was there basically to make sure that only those of good character were party members. Which is incredible, I know, given the bloody history of the Russian Communist party and its satellites in eastern Europe. They gave it to Stalin, because everybody thought he was thick, and would be satisfied with the post. His job would be to throw out the drunks and seducers. Instead, Stalin used his position to purge the party of his opponents, and cram it with his supporters. As the old butcher said, ‘It’s not who votes that counts, it’s who counts the votes.’

And this has been the strategy the Blairites and their allies, the Israel lobby, have adopted in attacking genuine, Socialist Labour party members. They’ve launched a purge of the party, using anti-Semitism and other, equally vague charges as the pretext to get rid of awkward members. And so they have smeared decent, anti-racist men and women. Not just Mike, but also Marc Wadsworth and Jackie Walker, two people of colour, who have been dedicated anti-racists that have consistently battled bigotry and Fascism. Just like Ken Livingstone, who is also no anti-Semite, as is shown very clearly in his book, Livingstone’s Labour. Like Tony Greenstein, a Jewish member of the party, like Walker, and like her and Wadsworth, also an ardent opponent of Fascism. And there are so many people like them. As I’ve pointed out, ad nauseam, the decent people they’ve smeared as anti-Semites and worse include self-respecting Jews, people who have suffered real anti-Semitism, including assault. People who lost family members in the Shoah, or whose parents were lucky enough to survive the horrors of the camps. People, who should never be insulted with such smears.

And some of the charges are risible. One man was accused of being an anti-Semite, because he posted a photo-shopped image of a jobcentre sign saying, ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’. This was the slogan above the gates of Auschwitz and the other concentration camps. It means roughly ‘Work Makes You Free’. Which is the attitude of the Tory party. One of them even wrote a newspaper article using the phrase, until someone spotted it and realized that quoting Nazi slogans against those they persecuted wasn’t going to go down too well with the British public, and the offending paragraphs were removed. And the concentration camps didn’t just contain Jews. They held others the Nazis considered politically or biologically undesirable, like Socialists, trade unionists, Communists, prostitutes, recidivist criminals, the mentally ill, Russian prisoners of war and other slave workers from the Slav peoples, and Romanies. The charge against this fellow was so weak it could have been blown over in a light wind. But nevertheless, he was accused and convicted by people, who had already decided the answer.

It’s also very clear from Mike’s article that they didn’t like him refuting their attacks on other party members in public. This was bringing the party into disrepute. In fact they did that the moment they made their false accusations. The overwhelming concern here, it seems, was to preserve the reputation of the people further up the party, who made the accusations. It’s a very, very authoritarian attitude. Important people have spoken – don’t contradict them! And, to quote the Japanese proverb, the nail that stands up must be hammered down. Blair and his cronies always were authoritarian, centralizing power around them and making it very clear that dissent from Old Labour would very definitely not be tolerated. And so they were determined not to let their superiors be embarrassed by having the public shown the facts.

And it was clear from their choice of chair that Mike was never going to get a fair hearing. The person is charge was Maggie Cousins, who has form in these matters. From what I gather, this is what she does. She presides over these kangaroo courts as a kind of corporate hatchetwoman.

This was, ultimately, a PR stunt to reassure a Zionist Jewish establishment, that will never tolerate a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn, no matter what concessions are made to it, and a wider, Tory media that is seizing on any and every possible opportunity to misrepresent the Labour party as a threat to society.

I’m very impressed by Mike’s speech to them, citing Stan ‘the Man’ Lee, the creator of Marvel Comic’s superheroes with ‘Jolly’ Jack Kirby. Lee, Kirby and the majority of the creators of America’s comics industry were Jews. Lee’s real name was Stanley Martin Leiber. Kirby’s was Jake Kurzberg. There was little specifically Jewish in the comics, except that occasionally there was the odd Yiddish word or two. But there was a concern for the marginalized, and racially persecuted. This was shown in metaphorical form in the X-Men, an underground of young mutants, feared and persecuted for their special powers by outside society, and in more overt forms when Blaxsploitation emerged in the ’70s, and Marvel gave us heroes like Powerman, alias Luke Cage, hero for hire, the Black Panther, Brother Voodoo and more. And as I’ve described before, the tales did show very clearly how the Nazis regarded and treated Jews, albeit in science fictional form. These strips together preached an anti-racist message, which could sometimes be overt, as when the Black Panther went up against the Klan, or when an Adolf Hitler clone took the guise of the Hatemonger to turn Americans against each other. These were the comics Mike and I read as kids, and which definitely influenced us. They taught racial tolerance, respect and co-operation, and that bigotry, racism and oppression must be fought and defeated, at all times, everywhere. And Stan and his fellow inmates of the merry Marvel madhouse spread that vital message through the medium of popular literature – the comics. They aren’t great literature, although there’s some truly great writing and superb art in a medium that has often been critically reviled and disparaged. But they were read and enjoyed by millions, and in their way helped to make Anglophone society more tolerant. That’s Stan’s legacy to the world, which Mike duly paid tribute to in his speech at the end.

RIP, Stan Lee, a true titan of the four-colour funny papers.

It’s disgusting that Mike, and so many others have been treated this way by a party that should be defending people like him and the others against a predatory, Conservative establishment. Rather than propping up it up with lies, smears and derisory pretence at justice, presided over by faceless bureaucrats and cynical, moral cowards.

Mike’s made it very clear that he will fight on to clear his name and redress this gross injustice. I wish him all the best, as I do everyone else, who has been smeared by these bullying moral vacuities.

Mike Smeared Again by Fake Anti-Semitism Accusers for Comic Strip

November 3, 2018

The Blairites and the Israel lobby must be getting the jitters about Mike and his forthcoming hearing to clear his name in the Labour party. And it looks like they’re absolutely terrified that he’ll get the money he needs to sue the newspapers and individuals that started the smears for libel. So they’ve decided to smear him again.

In a piece he put up on Thursday, Mike explains how he was told by a friend through email that a bunch of clowns calling themselves JVLWatch were on twitter. They were targeting those, who had contributed to his crowdfunding campaign to raise money for his libel case by misrepresenting a strip Mike created and wrote for his small press comic, Violent. Violent was Mike’s tribute to Action, the 1970s comic that drew outrage for its violent, gory content and ended up being banned. Its creators then went on to produce the mighty 2000AD. The strip JVLWatch cited as proof that Mike’s a Nazi is his satirical strip, ‘Hardboiled Hitler’. In this strip, Der Fuehrer is given superpowers similar to those of captain America. But while Cap’s powers are acquired decently, Hitler instead steals the syringe containing the supersoldier serum, and injects it into himself in a disgusting toilet.

Mike makes the point that he wrote the strip to satirise Adolf and Nazism, and to warn people about the dangers of their return. The Sun and the Sunday Times also tried to use the strip to show that Mike was a Nazi, and their case was dismissed out of hand by IPSO. As for Hitler punching through gas clouds to justify Aryan supremacy and the extermination of Jews, as JVLWatch claim, this is nothing of the sort. Yes, the strip shows Hitler surrounded by clouds of poisonous gas, but it’s the type coming from the Fuehrer’s bottom. Hitler suffered from meteorism – chronic flatulence. Apparently when he was in full rant, the noises from his rear end sounded off like cannonades. This is obviously not the image the Nazis want to present of their Aryan messiah. And so it is definitely one of the images Mike was determined to show in the strip, to present him as a kind of Fascist ‘Barry Fartpants’. And so Mike included in his piece about the accusation this image:

The caption for it on Mike’s blog is:

—Extreme flatulence: According to JVLWatch, this is a sign that Hitler is being portrayed as a superhero. How many superheroes do YOU know who have the farts?

Well, there is one: Mr. Methane, a man who turns up in superhero costume and makes his living breaking wind in supposedly funny and amusing ways. Like the original Le Petomane in 19th century France, who could fart the tune of the Marseillaise, ending with the fall of the Bastille. But he’s the only one.

For further information, go see Mike’s blog, where you can read the defence he gave to IPSO, and a story from the strip to show this mocks Hitler as a clumsy, posturing clown.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/11/01/fake-anti-semitism-accusers-are-fabricating-hate-to-turn-opinion-against-the-innocent/

Now I’ve some interest in the ‘Hardboiled Hitler’ strip, because I studied the rise of Fascist and Communist regimes as part of my history degree at College in the 1980s. Mike asked me for bits of historical information about Hitler and his squalid, murderous band.

And I confirm that Mike’s intention was always to satirise and humiliate the Nazi leader. He very definitely had no intention whatsoever of making him appear glamorous, or glorifying the Nazi regime.

And the literary style Mike is using to satirise Hitler is called ‘mock heroic’. It’s been used in British literature since at least the 18th century. In it, you give the objects of your ire a heroic treatment in order to show up their failings and paltry character. Which Mike has done here admirably.

I can also remember talking to Mike about the serious issues of the Nazi regime. At that stage, I don’t think Mike had any firm ideas regarding the story, but he was determined that if it did cover issues like the Death Camps, these would be presented absolutely straight. They would be written as grim as possible, with every sympathy going to the Nazis’ victims. Because the systematic slaughter of innocents, Jews, Blacks, or anyone else, is never, ever a laughing matter. He made it very clear to me that if he did show that aspect of the Nazi regime, it would be to shock readers with the terrible reality, to make the point that Nazism, although a suitable subject for satire and comedy, was also absolutely horrific. To make the point that the Nazis deserve to be sneered and laughed at, but the danger they represent should never be underestimated.

I should also point out here that the British comics milieu, as it is now, is very definitely not racist. Certainly not the parts I’ve seen. Mike and I grew up reading Marvel Comics, enjoying the creations of Stan ‘the Man’ Lee, ‘Jolly’ Jack Kirby and others. The American comics industry was the creation of American Jews, as shown in the book about the origins of the superhero strip, Men of Tomorrow. The creators of Superman, for example, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were both Jewish. As is Stan, and Jack Kirby. The Jewish background of Superman’s creators may explain why the Nazis hated the Man of Steel. They attacked him as a Jewish plot to destroy Aryan culture. The last thing Hitler wanted was a guy with superpowers, devised by two Jewish blokes, flying around defending Truth, Justice and the American Way, and particularly not Democracy. If you want to see something of the background in which many of the creators of the American comics industry grew up, try Will Eisner’s A Contract with God and Other Tenement Tales.

American comics often explicitly dealt with racism and prejudice. In one episode of the Superman radio series, the Man of Tomorrow went into action against the Klan. The episode was praised by civil rights and Jewish groups, including the NAACP – National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. In the 1970s both DC and Marvel characters went out, exploring the contemporary racial issues around them. New, Black characters were created. In Marvel, these were the Falcon, Brother Voodoo, Powerman, alias Luke Cage, hero for hire, and the X-Men’s Storm. In fact the X-Men can be read as a reflection of the position of racial and sexual minorities in America. They’re a persecuted underground of people, set apart from normal society, like people from ethnic minorities and gays.

And these stories would deal explicitly with the horrors the Nazis perpetrated against the Jews, and would still like to do. I can remember reading one comic, in which the transhuman Nazi villains Armin Zola and his buddies were trying to create the Cosmic Cube. This was an object that gave its possessor godlike powers over the entire cosmos. They were using humans, wired up into a computer, to perform the calculations needed to create the artifact. However, the calculations were so difficult, they burned out the brains of the unwilling human components, leaving them mindless, drooling idiots. And so the people they were using in this grotesque experiment were Jews. The strip featured the attempts of the story’s heroine to save to her lover, Yusuf Tov, from this fate. And tragically, she’s unsuccessful.

I’m very much aware that this is a science fictional treatment of the Nazis, and that objects like the Cosmic Cube don’t exist. And Nazis themselves don’t look like Arnim Zola, who had upgraded himself through high technology so that he was now a TV with arms, legs and an aerial where his head should be. But it made the point that the Nazis had absolute contempt for human life, and regarded Jews as worthy only of exploitation and murder.

And on this side of the Atlantic, there was Pat Mills and the recidivists of 2000AD, the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. Many of the strips there had a very definite anti-racist content. ‘Strontium Dog’ was set in a future Britain devastated by nuclear war. The Strontium Dogs of the title were mutant bounty hunters, named after Strontium 90, one of the products of nuclear fallout. These were deformed men and women, who were forced to live in ghettos. By law, bounty hunting was the only job they could do. And when they travelled anywhere around the galaxy, it was very definitely in steerage. The strip’s hero was Johnny Alpha, his norm partner Wulf, and their alien friend, the Gronk. One story in the 1980s was about the attempts by Nelson Bunker Kreelman, Alpha’s father, to exterminate Britain’s mutants while trying to hide the fact that his son was one of them. It’s definitely not hard to see that the strip was an anti-racist metaphor.

As was ‘Nemesis the Warlock’, set in a far future where Earth was under the control of the Terminators, a Klan-like outfit led by their Grandmaster, Tomas de Torquemada. They were a pseudo-religious order, who had led humanity into a new Dark Age, and were rabidly against all forms of alien life. Their leader took his name from his own hero, the head of the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century.

Mike was given considerable assistance with Violent by many professional comics writers and artists, many of whom have worked for the mighty 2000AD. They’re great people, immensely talented, and if they had thought for a single minute that Mike’s strip was a genuine glorification of the Nazis, they wouldn’t have touched it or him with a bargepole.

As for the group which made these despicable allegations, their name reveals what they’re really terrified of: left-wing, Israel-critical Jews, and Jewish Corbyn supporters. Like Jewish Voice for Labour. And here we get into real racism and anti-Semitism. As I’ve also blogged about ad nauseam, the Israel lobby hate with a venomous passion self-respecting Torah-observant and secular Jews, who criticize Israel and support Corbyn. Because they give the lie to their propaganda that Zionism, Israel and Jewry are identical. And so they do everything they can to smear them as self-hating, anti-Semitic and use foul language against them, including wishing that they had died in the Holocaust. Tony Greenstein has made the point that Zionism is a Jewish form of anti-Semitism, because it holds that gentiles and Jews are fundamentally incompatible and that gentiles will always hate Jews. Hence their contempt for diaspora Jews, who wish to remain in their parents’ homelands, and who regard Israel with contempt for its colonialist maltreatment of the indigenous Arabs.

It is not Mike and his fellow comics professionals who are at fault here. It is the shabby people of JVLWatch, who had behind internet anonymity to smear and revile decent, anti-racist people and their campaign for a better, more inclusive, tolerant Britain.

Mars as Communist Utopia in Pre-Revolutionary Russian SF

June 7, 2018

I thought this might interest all the SF fans out there. One of the books I’ve started reading is Lost Mars: The Golden Age of the Red Planet, edited by Mark Ashley (London: The British Library 2018). It’s a collection of SF stories written about the Red Planet from the 19th century to just before the Mariner and then Viking probes in the ’60s and ’70s showed that rather than being a living planet with canals, vegetation and civilised beings, it was a dead world more like the Moon. It’s a companion volume to another book of early SF stories from about the same period, Moonrise: The Golden Age of Lunar Adventures, also edited by Mike Ashley. The Martian book contains stories by H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury – from The Martian Chronicles, natch – Marion Zimmer Bradley, E.C. Tubb, Walter M. Miller, and the great novelist of dystopias and bug-eyed psychopaths, J.G. Ballard. It also contains pieces by now all but forgotten Victorian and early Twentieth writers of Scientific Romances, W.S. Lach-Szyrma, George C. Wallis, P. Schuyler Miller and Stanley G. Weinbaum.

Both books are also interesting, not just for the short stories collected in them, but also for Ashley’s introduction, where he traces the literary history of stories about these worlds. In the case of the Moon, this goes all the way back to the Roman satirist, Lucian of Samosata, and his Vera Historia. This is a fantasy about a group of Roman sailors, whose ship is flung into space by a massive waterspout, to find themselves captured by a squadron of Vulturemen soldiers from the Moon, who are planning an invasion of the Sun.

The history of literary speculation about Mars and Martian civilisation, is no less interesting, but somewhat shorter. It really only begins in the late 19th century, when telescopes had been developed capable of showing some details of the Martian surface, and in particular the canali, which the Italian astronomer Schiaparelli believed he had seen. The Italian word can mean ‘channels’ as well as ‘canal’, and Schiaparelli himself did not describe them as artificial. Nevertheless, other astronomers, like Percival Lowell of Flagstaff, Arizona, believed they were. Other astronomers were far more sceptical, but this set off the wave of novels and short stories set on an inhabited Mars, like Edgar Rice Burrough’s famous John Carter stories. I remember the Marvel adaptation of some these, or at least using the same character, which appeared as backing stories in Star Wars comic way back in the 1970s.

It’s also interesting, and to contemporary readers somewhat strange, that before H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, the vast majority of these stories about Mars assumed that the Martians would not only be far more scientifically and technologically advanced, but they would also be more socially and spiritually as well. Just like the Aetherius Society, a UFO new religious movement founded by George King in the 1950s, claims that Jesus was really as Venusian, and now lives on that world along with Aetherius, the being from whom they believe they receive telepathic messages, so there were a couple of short stories in which Christ was a Martian. These were Charles Cole’s Visitors From Mars, of 1901, and Wallace Dowding’s The Man From Mars of 1910.

Other utopias set on the Red Planet were more secular. In Unveiling a Parallel, by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant, of 1893, the Martians are handsome and intelligent, and their women totally liberated. Another feminist utopia was also depicted by the Australian writer Mary Moore-Bentley in her A Woman of Mars of 1901.

And in Russia, the writer Alexander Bogdanov made Mars a Communist utopia. Ashley writes

While the planetary romance theme was developing there were other explorations of Martian culture. The Red Planet became an obvious setting for a communist state in Krasnaia Zvesda (‘Red Star’, 1908) and its sequel Inzhener Menni (‘Engineer Menni’, 1912) by Alexander Bogdanov. Although reasonably well known in Russia, especially at the time of the revolution in 1917, and notoriously because of its reference to free love on Mars, it was not translated into English until 1984. Kim Stanley Robinson claimed it served as an influence for his own novel, Red Mars (1992), the first of his trilogy about terraforming the planet. Although the emphasis in Bodganov’s stories is on the benefits of socialism, he took trouble to make the science as realistic as possible. The egg-shaped rocket to Mars is powered by atomic energy. His Mars is Schiaparellian, with canals that have forests planted along their full length, explaining why they are visible from Earth. He also went to great lengths to explain how the topography of Mars, and the fact that it was twice as old as Earth, allowed social evolution to develop gradually and more effectively, with planet-wide communication and thus a single language. (Pp. 11-12).

So five years before the Revolution, Mars really was the ‘Red Planet’ in Russian literature. I’m not surprised it wasn’t translated into English until the 1980s. British publishers and censors probably disliked it as a piece of Communist propaganda, quite apart from Anglophone western Puritanism and the whole issue of free love. No naughtiness allowed on the side of the Iron Curtain, not even when it’s set on Mars. Russian cinema also produced one of the first SF films, also set on Mars. This was Aelita (1922), in which Russian cosmonauts travel to the Red Planet to start a revolution, though at the end it’s revealed that it’s all been a dream.

Meanwhile, Mars as a planet of mystery continues in the French SF series, Missions, shown at 10.00 Thursdays on BBC 4. This has French spationauts and their American rivals landing on the Red Planet, only to find a mysterious altar constructed from lost Atlantean materials described by the Romans, and Vladimir Komarov, a Soviet cosmonaut, who has been turned into something more than human with three strands of DNA. In reality, Komarov died when the parachutes on his spacecraft failed to open when it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Tragically, Komarov knew it was a deathtrap, but went anyway because Khrushchev wanted another Russian space achievement to show up the Americans, and Komarov did not want his friend, and first man in space, Yuri Gagarin to go. It’s a tragic, shameful waste of human life on what was a purely political stunt, and Komarov is, because of his desire to save his friend, one of the great heroes of the space age.

But Missions shows not only how much people really want us to travel to Mars – to explore and colonise – it also shows how the Red Planet still remains the source of wonder and speculation about alien civilisations, civilisations that may not be hostile monsters intent on invading the Earth ‘for no very good reason’, as Douglas Adams described the motives of those aliens, who wanted to take over the universie in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. One of the French spationauts, Jeanne, has dreamed of going to Mars since being shown it through a telescope by her father when she was a little girl. Electromagnetic scans of the area, when developed, give a picture of her face, and ‘Komarov’ tells her he has been waiting millions of years for her, and she is the true link between Mars and Earth.

Yes, it’s weird. But different. And it shows that Mars is continuing to inspire other forms of SF, where the Martians aren’t invaders – or at least, not so far-but benevolent guides waiting for us to come to them and make the next leap in our development. Just like Bogdanov in 1912 imagined that they would be ahead of us, and so have created a true Communist utopia.

Batman and Wonder Woman Praising the Values of Tolerance and Multiculturalism

September 5, 2017

On a more positive note, I also found on Tomorrow and Beyond this pair of comic book panels, showing Batman and Wonder Woman reminding their young readers that America is composed of people of all races, religions, cultures and ethnicities. And that ‘Justice For All’ means for All of them.

From the style of the art, it looks like it comes from an earlier era of the strips. My guess is that they come from around the Second World War II, when the American government promoted pluralism and racial, religious and national tolerance to fight the Nazis, the absolute antithesis of those values.

And clearly, they’ve been rescued from comic book history and put up by the blogger because they’re as necessary as ever, now that Trump is in the White House, supported by his cronies in the Klan and Alt-Right.

Don’t believe the Republicans and their hate speech and propaganda. These are the values that have genuinely made America great, spoken by American popular culture’s two greatest heroes, not counting Superman, Spider-Man and Mighty Marvel’s stable.

Stephen Hawking and Other Celebs Urge Public to Vote Labour

June 6, 2017

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece reporting that Ricky Gervaise, Dr Stephen Hawking and Mark Ruffalo, the actor, who played Dr. Bruce Banner, the alter ego of the Incredible Hulk, have all urged the public to vote Labour on Thursday.

Gervaise issued a Tweet stating he wasn’t telling people which way to vote, but it was a fact that the only way to keep the Tories out was to vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

Mark Ruffalo stated that he humbly endorsed Jeremy Corbyn, as he offers people an alternative to the corporate status quo, which never ends well for people. This prompted John Prescott to Tweet ‘Hulk smash Tories’.

Indeed he would. Banner and the Hulk in the original Marvel comics were profoundly countercultural figures. The Hulk was anger incarnate, born in the radiation blast of an American nuclear test when Banner tried to save teenager Rick. And Rick was very much a ‘rebel without a cause’, a youth, who’d driven into the test zone, heedless of his own safety, because he didn’t feel society had anything for him.

While Banner was very much a square, whose girlfriend was the daughter of the commanding officer in charge of the test, the tenor of the strip was very much anti-militarist. The commanding officer hated the Hulk, and had resolved to destroy him. The Hulk, however, really only wanted to be left alone, and so one constant theme was the running battle between the Hulk and the US army. Ang Lee’s film version of the strip, which unfortunately flopped, got this part of the Hulk’s characterisation absolutely right. And in the 1970s, the anti-militarist message of the strip became stronger. In one story, for example, Banner discovered and did his best to oppose dehumanising military experiments to link soldier’s brains to battle robots, experiments that had resulted in the troopers themselves feeling robotic and mechanical.

The influence of the Vietnam War in dehumanising a generation of American young men, to turn them into ruthless monsters responsible for horrific atrocities, is shown very clearly here.

And one real-life physicist, who has also come out for the Labour party is Cosmologist Dr. Stephen Hawking. Hawking told the Independent and the Mirror that he was voting Labour, because another five years of the Tories would be a disaster for the NHS, the police and other public services.

His endorsement has been welcomed by people like Dr. Alex Gates. Hawking is best known for his book, A Brief History of Time, though his background is in Black Holes. Dr Hawking even has a variety of radiation named after him. Black Holes, or rather the Event Horizons around them, are gradually evaporating, and the radiation they give off is called ‘Hawking Radiation’.

And so Dr. Gates quipped that Hawking had spotted the Black Hole in the Tories’ NHS budget.

One space scientist, who I feel would definitely have supported Jeremy Corbyn over here and Bernie Sanders in his own country, is Dr. Carl Sagan. Older readers of this blog may remember Sagan from his TV blockbuster history of science, Cosmos, and his SF novel, Contact, which was turned into a film with Jodie Foster as the astronomer heroine, who travels through a wormhole to make contact with an alien civilisation.

I very definitely don’t share Sagan’s views on religion. He was a religious sceptic and a founding member of CSICOP. But he was also a man of the Left, who hated imperialism and militarism, and supported the burgeoning Green movement. In the 1980s he warned that a nuclear war would result in a devastating global ‘nuclear winter’ of the type created by the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

It’s since been shown that this wouldn’t actually occur. But Sagan was right to press for nuclear disarmament, and absolutely right to oppose the new Cold War Reagan and Maggie Thatcher were trying to whip up against the Russians.

He was also critical of the design of the space shuttle. This was supposed to be the vehicle that would open space up to just about everyone, provided you were fit enough to stand the three Gs of acceleration into orbit. The Challenger disaster put an end to that.

Sagan informed the public that the original design for the Shuttle had been for a smaller vehicle, which would have been purely civilian and much safer and more effective. However, the American military had stopped this, because they wanted a larger vehicle to carry their spy satellites. The result was the over-engineered machine, which exploded at least twice, and whose launches had to be cancelled because of engineering problems.

Sagan died of prostate cancer in the 1990s. He was a brilliant scientist and visionary, who speculated about life on Mars and Venus, and, like Hawking, was a staunch advocate of the colonisation of space. And he was inspiration to a generation of young people to have an interest in space and science. One of the most obvious examples of this is Dr Brian Cox, who freely acknowledges Sagan’s influence.

One feels that Sagan would have firmly resisted everything Bush, Blair, and now Trump, Cameron and May have done to destroy the environment and spread carnage around the world through their wars in the Middle East, quite apart from the Trump’s administration hatred of mainstream science.

You don’t have to use Sagan’s ‘spaceship of the imagination’ to travel light years to see the immense harm Theresa May and her party have inflicted on the NHS, the public services and our national security.

And you don’t have to be a great scientist to realise that the Tories’ attacks on education – their spending cuts, privatisation of schools, and burdening students with tens of thousands in debts – will stop the country’s young people fulfilling their academic potential, regardless of the bilge they may spout about encouraging the STEM subjects.

And I think Hawking has spoken out about the dangers of May’s cuts to science funding and research.

The only party that is ready to undo all of this is Labour.

So please, vote for Corbyn on June 8th.

Vox Political: Teachers Go Punk to Send Up Nikki Morgan

March 27, 2016

This is hilarious. Mike over at Vox Political has a piece about a report from the Huffington Post on how Nikki Morgan and her plans to privatise the British educational system went down with Teacherdom Assembled, as Stan Lee would see if he wrote for a teaching magazine, rather than being a comics mogul. The short answer: very badly. First of all, she was heckled when she tried defending her policy to the NASUWT. This in itself is actually very serious, as Morgan is doing what the Tories have been doing for nearly three decades – destroying British education for the profit of private education firms, and trying to make electoral capital by blaming teachers for the defects of their innovations.

What’s funny is that a group of teachers have noted the vacant expression in Thicky Nikki’s eyes – the expression that says ‘the lights are on, but Mrs Brain went walkabout a long, loooong time ago’, and adapted a punk classic to describe it. Remember The Adverts’ ‘Looking Through Gary Gilmour’s Eyes’, about the serial killer, who donated his eyes to science? A group of teachers, Gary Kaye and the Enemies of Promise, have a version of it, ‘Looking Through Nikki Morgan’s Eyes’, which ends by stating that ‘she don’t need her eyes to see’, because Nikki has departed reality.’ It also helps that the band itself is really good, so the satire isn’t forced or hollow.

The articles at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/26/nicky-morgan-mocked-in-song-as-shes-laughed-at-by-teachers-at-nasuwt-conference/. Go there and have a good satirical laugh.

In Search of Moebius’

September 30, 2013

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After Alan Moore on V for Vendetta, more comic book stuff. Last year, 2012, saw the passing of Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, one of the great auteurs of French, and indeed, world comics. Originally broadcast on BBC 4, I found it on Youtube. It traces the career and work of Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, from his from his modest background, as the child of a single parent following his mother’s divorce. He describes the shock he experienced at art school, when he encountered the better-off, and more polished bourgeois students. He never completed his training, as in his third year his mother married a Mexican, and he went with his mother to live in Mexico. The ancient country’s open landscape of deserts strongly influenced his later work. Back in France he launched the Western comic, Blueberry, scripted by Jean-Michel Charlier.

He then moved on to become one of Les Humanoides Associes, with Bernard Farkas, Philippe Druillet, and others who founded Metal Hurlant. Metal Hurlant was the French original of ‘Heavy Metal’, one of the first adult comics. Heavy Metal was later filmed as a cartoon of the same title. It comprised several individual stories based on the strips in the original comic. The ‘Taarna’ sequence in the movie was based on Moebius ‘Arzach’ strip. He was asked by the Chilean director, Alejandro Jodorowsky, to work on his abortive film version of Dune, providing concept drawings alongside Chris Foss and H.R. Giger. When the film fell through due to budget problems and the reluctance of the major cinema chains in America to screen it, Moebius then went back to comics. He continued to work with Jodorowsky, and together they produced the strips Arzach and The Incal.

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One of the classic images from Arzach.

He returned to the cinema to work once more with Giger and Foss on Alien, where amongst other things he designed the spacesuits worn by the crew of the Nostromo. Back in comics, he and Dan O’Bannon, one of the writers of Alien, created the Long Tomorrow strip, a future ‘noir’ story about a private detective. The vast city depicted in the strip influenced the design of the great metropolis in Ridley Scott’s ‘future noir’, Blade Runner. In 1987 Moebius went to America to work with the mighty Stan ‘the Man’ Lee on the Silver Surfer comic book, Parable. This strip met a mixed reception. Several of the comics’ creators speaking in
the film thought that it was largely well received by the Marvel comics readership.

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Others said that comics fans are quite conservative, and didn’t really like Moebius’ distinctively continental style of story-telling. Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, was quite critical of the attitude of the American comics industry towards their European cousins. He felt that, although they were impressed with their work and wanted them to work on their comics, they nevertheless did not want them to work in their characteristic manner. Instead, they wanted to fix them so that they conformed to American conventions. Moebius himself was quite content to work on the superhero strip, but the others talking were much less than enthusiastic about the genre. Mike Mignola credited Moebius with inspiring him to leave superheroes behind. Jodorowsky was highly critical about superheroes, and went on to express his complete contempt for them and America. In the 1990s, Moebius once again returned to the cinema to provide the designs for Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element.

The film also touched briefly on his divorce and remarriage. His former partner on Metal Hurlant, Philippe Druillet, noted that wives of comic book artists are all strong women. While the artist simply wants to draw, they’re the ones, who are interested in percentages and the financial side. He believed that they had to be, as comic artists are all really children, who need a mother to protect them.

The film’s talking heads comprise a veritable gallery of some of the leading figures in American and French comics, including Smilin’ Stan Lee, the founder of Marvel, Jamie Lee, the artist on Marvel’s X-Men, Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, Jodorowsky, Druillet and Moebius himself. In contrast to his bizarre heroes and galaxy-spanning quests, Moebius himself comes across as a quiet, affable man, though one of speakers said that they would be afraid of Moebius the man. The documentary gives a fascinating insight into the life and career of one of the great figures of Science Fiction comics. R.I.P., big man.

Warning: Metal Hurlant was one of the very first adult comics, and inspired similar magazines in America and Britain, such as Epic Illustrated and Warrior, in which Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta first appeared. These comics explored issues around sex, and so a few of the drawings contain sex and nudity.

The movie can also be seen on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNas99oEXBU.