Elastic or Super Stretching: A list of elastic heroes part 2

Flexibility when big, life changes happen is a helpful character trait to possess or develop. This first blog post lists and compares several of these characters in the order they were first published (by publication year). This is part 2 of a two-part post.

I think flexibility is the main reason why super heroes with elastic or super stretching powers are fascinating. They embody adaptation. They can work around most physical obstacles, rising to impossible challenges. At the same time, they look unusual and strange. They connect to the sense of being an outcast or an outsider that comic book characters explore (the X-Men being a long standing example).

Dhalsim, 1991

Dhalsim from the Street Fighter series has less extreme and flowing stretching powers. He can’t elongate his body into a sheet, but his arms and legs still spring out, which is an effective fighting tactic in the two dimensional world of Street Fighter. Some writers have criticised Dhalsim’s cliched and racially stereotyped design; Dhalsim is a practising yoga master from India. He wears skulls and breathes fire. These characteristics show Dhalsim’s elastic design was not deeply thought out or planned when he, and the cast of Street Fighter 2were initially created. He is one part of an ‘international’ cast of characters. Looking for depth, flexibility, and outsider status would be difficult considering the stereotyping behind his design.

Luffy (Monkey.D.Luffy), 1997

Monkey D. Luffy is the pirate captain of the Straw Hat pirates from the long-running One Piece manga. He has several traits in common with Plastic Man. Both have morally chaotic decision making skills, and extreme, stretching abilities. They also have a sense of humour and optimistic buoyant personalities. Luffy has the middle initial of “D”, which marks him as an outsider in the One Piece world. Another elastic hero marked as an outsider.

Mrs. Incredible, 2004

In 2004, Helen Parr appears in the Disney Pixar animation The Incredibles. Similar to Mr.Fantastic, she is a strong family figure, and like Mr. Fantastic, would make tremendous
sacrifices to protect her family. Her elastic powers are also similar to Mr. Fantastic. Mrs. Incredible also made a significant sacrifice in her life when she gave up being a hero entirely to raise a family.

Jake the Dog, 2008

In 2008, Jake the Dog is the first prominent, non-human shape shifter and elastic hero. His story arc progresses from a more carefree adventurer, to concerned parent. He shapeshifts not just to fight and carry Finn around, but also to adapt to his changing responsibilities. He starts in the same, chaotic place as Luffy and Plastic Man, but transitions to become more similar in character to Mr.Fantastic and Mrs. Incredible.

Ms. Marvel, 2013

Finally, in 2013, Ms. Marvel arrives. Her abilities include shapeshifting and stretching, similar to Plastic Man and Luffy. Kamala Khan fights prejudice and stands out as a diverse role model. Another elastic hero with outsider status, who is an authentic American Muslim character, concerned with the safety of everyone in her New Jersey community. The depth and thought behind Ms. Marvel’s design and writing contrasts with the ideas and stereotypes hastily used to create Street Fighter character Dhalsim. Ms. Marvel needs to be flexible to take on prejudice in her community toward Americans who are also of the Islamic faith.

An interesting trend observed just from the publication year is the increase in shapeshifting and stretching characters since 1997. Moving into the 21st century, flexibility is an increasingly valuable character trait. We can see a bit of our own struggle to be more flexible with the demands of contemporary life in these characters.

So, are these insights valuable, or just over thinking? You can head back in time, and read about elastic heroes before 1990 on the Wallflyer.

Elastic or Super Stretching: A list of elastic heroes part 1

Flexibility when big, life changes happen is a helpful character trait to possess or develop. This first blog post lists and compares several of these characters in the order they were first published (by publication year). This is part 1 of a two-part post.

I think flexibility is the main reason why super heroes with elastic or super stretching powers are fascinating. They embody adaptation. They can work around most physical obstacles, rising to impossible challenges. At the same time, they look unusual and strange. They connect to the sense of being an outcast or an outsider that comic book characters explore (the X-Men being a long standing example).

Plastic Man, 1941

In 1941, Plastic Man arrives in Police Comics #1. He is the earliest hero in American comics publishing with stretching powers. A reformed thief, Plastic Man has an overwhelming sense of humour. This brightness was later contrasted with depths of sadness when the character appeared in several Justice League of America story arcs during the 1990’s. Flexible and elastic characters can change with the times. They embody adaptation.

Reed Richards, Elongated Man, 1961

Almost exactly 20 years later, in 1961, two more elastic heroes appear. One more arrives for DC, and a prominent stretchy heroes appears at Marvel Comics. These two heroes are the detective Elongated Man, and the super scientist and Fantastic Four team leader Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic). Richards is a character with strong family connections. He would literally stretch to great lengths to defend his family. Elongated Man is also a character with strong family connections. Like Plastic Man, he is also the survivor of almost overwhelming tragedies, having lost his wife Susan Dearbon (before New 52 relaunch at DC comics) and almost losing Susan again (after the New 52 relaunch) in Secret Six.

Elastic-Girl, 1963

Elasti-Girl of the Doom Patrol appears in 1963. She represents the outsider interpretation of elastic and stretchy heroes. Also experiencing loss and tragedy, she and her team died in a battle to save a small fishing village. Like Elongated Man, she has returned following the New 52 relaunch, however.

Flat Man, 1989

In 1989, a hero with limited stretching or elastic powers called Flat Man appears at Marvel comics. Flat Man joins the Great Lakes Avengers, who are often sidelined or maligned by the Avengers, or the X-Men. Combined with the Flat Man’s character development – gaining the confidence to admit to himself that he is gay and eventually come out to his teammates – the outcast status appears in connection with another elastic hero.

Are these ideas of flexibility, of overcoming obstacles, and being an outcast justified and relevant, or just overthinking? Part two on the Wallflyer will cover heroes after 1991 – Dhalsim, Mrs. Incredible, Monkey D. Luffy, Jake the Dog, and Ms. Marvel.

Update 22/2 Link to part two added to the last paragraph.

Secret Wars #3 – Comic Review

Victor Von Doom, the dictator known as Doctor Doom, reassembled the Marvel Universe into Battleworld, saving millions of lives from destruction as the Marvel Universe ended. Now king and god of this new world, Doctor Doom may slowly lose control. Secret Wars #3 continues this story, and offers:

  • Shocking and confronting artwork.
  • The return of survivors from the Marvel Universe, and key character moments for Doctor Strange and Reed Richards.
  • Questions and ideas on gods and humans.

The opening scenes of the comic show a tranquil and calm space that gives an insight into Doctor Doom’s character, while a later scene delivers another shocking moment for the god and ruler of Battle World, where the reader sees things from Susan Storm’s (The Invisible Woman ) point of view

A truly shocking moment in the artwork for this issue of Secret Wars is Doctor Doom revealing his face to Susan Storm. The pane depicts Doctor Doom staring directly out at the reader. We see the scene from Susan Storm’s point of view for the moment he unmasks. It makes the reveal feel disturbingly close. Without comment on what exactly is show to avoid spoilers, the way this scene plays out does shock.

Backtracking to earlier in the comic, Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom wander through a tranquil, walled garden inside Dooms kingdom at the centre of the Battle World patchwork of worlds. The scene gives an insight into Doctor Doom – he keeps a calm place at the centre of his world, but there is an unusual and unsettling statue that stands out, and is the focal point of these opening scenes.

The survivors of the Marvel Universe return, and listen to Doctor Strange’s explanation about Battleword. Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four is distraught, but Doctor Strange confirms that Doom is an able leader at the end of everything.

Significant plot changes are not brought on by action in Secret Wars #3. The plot pace slows, and beings to muddle along. The information Doctor Strange gives readers about the state of the Marvel Universe, delivered through a question and answer session with other Marvel Universe survivors, enlightens and clarifies what happened. Action is missing. Instead, there are scenes explaining what happened to start Secret Wars, and why Battleworld exists.

Listening to his explanation are several heroes from the Marvel Universe missing since the multiverse finally collapsed. Captain Marvel, Miles Morales and Peter Parker, and Scott Summers are surprised at the changes brought on by Doctor Doom and Doctor Strange. They saved the lives of millions of people, and Doctor Strange points out that Doom is an effective leader.

At the same time, Doctor Doom speaks with The Invisible Woman Susan Storm, saying how he feels he is an uninspiring leader. They talk at length about Doom’s ascent to becoming a god. Is Doctor Doom worthy?

Mr. Fantastic, Reed Richards, is distraught to hear that Doctor Doom governs over a patchwork version of all reality. Even more shocking – the two Doctors assembled this world over the course of 8 years. In that time, they found the multiverse survivors, but kept them hidden and in suspended animation for 3 out of those 8 years.

The comic delves into questions about humans versus gods: are gods that different from humans in terms of motivations, thoughts, and wants?

A question appears: is Doctor Doom worthy of leading this Battle World? Doom remarks at one point “the troubles of gods are infinite and beyond man’s understanding…but it wouldn’t take a god to divine that.” He also says “I am a poor god. I think now that once having made the world, I should have removed myself. Perhaps the gods of old had it right.” Dooms comments on becoming a god delve into ideas on omnipotence. What it means to create and control all things in the world.

Doom wonders if he should withdraw from the world. Susan Storm urges him to keep in contact with the people he governs. The ideas that play out here: gods should interact with the people they govern. Gods are both beyond human understanding, but humans can still figure out their motivations, which are not that different from human wants and needs. The large question that Secret Wars points to, in regards to Doctor Doom here, is are gods that different from humans in terms of motivation, thoughts, and wants?

Despite this, the reaction of the Marvel Universe survivors – Spider-man, Thor, Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and Reed Richards, for example – indicates that a man like Doctor Doom, omnipotent, and in control and being a god won’t be sustainable for long.

Secret Wars #3 is published by Marvel Comics ($3.99USD) Jonathan Hickman (w.) Esad Ribic (a.) Ive Svorcina (c.) Chris Eliopoulos (l.). Cover artwork by Alex Ross.

New Avengers #29 – Comic Review

With a close watch on Reed Richards, themes of loss and emptiness appear in a comic that builds toward Secret Wars. New Avengers #29 offers:

  • Large foreshadowing toward future Marvel events
  • Panel choices that show depth. References to Blankness throughout the artwork.
  • Themes of loss and emptiness built from Reed Richards actions and emotions combined with artwork choices.

This Review Contains Spoilers for New Avengers #29

White Gravestones, an empty, cube shaped prison cell, and an abandoned empty universe appear. Panel choices for the scenes where Doctor Doom explores the empty universe are effective.

It’s only a short panel, but Reed Richards and T’Challa standing in front of white gravestones, a field that expands far away in front of them with rows of perfect white blocks, strikes a bleak moment for the characters. Placing this panel at the start of the page sets the tone: sterile, pared down to colourless emptiness.

Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four appears often throughout this comic. In several long scenes, he answers the question: what chance have the heroes of Earth have against the multiverse collapsing from Incursions?.

Doctor Doom also makes a key appearance. Bleak and white images introduced into the artwork early in the comic, associated with Reed Richards, appear again, but associated with Doctor Doom.

The two men are rivals, and this artwork choice links them together.

Panel choices for the scenes containing Doctor Doom capture a sense of depth. Doom and the Molecule Man descend into the depths of an abandoned, blank, and empty universe In this scene. They search for the source of the Incursions.

Reed Richards is the main character of this comic. The most affecting scene flashes back to his last attempt to save the Marvel Universe, and the memory of almost losing his son Franklin Richards.

In front of the gravestones, Richards says “There’s not much else left” when he and the Black Panther count their remaining friends, and remember the fallen. Last issue advanced Black Panther’s story. This issue sheds light on what Mr. Fantastic has been planning, and what he has been with and planned for confronting the incursions.

Incursions are two parallel universes colliding. The point of the collision is Earth. Richards has tried many stratagems against this universal catastrophe. The price he paid to stop the universe tearing itself down through collisions plays out in New Avengers #30.

The most affecting scene depicts a recent event, where Richards and his son – Franklin Richards – attempt to create a new earth to escape to. The attempt did not work, and Franklin’s life was threatened in the process.

It’s possible that Franklin attempted to recruit his latent, reality changing powers, and create a new planet to safeguard everyone from the Incursions.

Franklin was gravely injured, possible almost killed, by the attempt. Richards shuts his eyes at the memory of almost losing his son. These four panels show Reeds’ descent into the blank, emotionally blank state he remains in during New Avengers #30.

Blank spaces culminate into themes of loss and emptiness. The blankness foreshadows the future of the Marvel Universe, and points toward Reed Richards emotional state. He is a super hero character at his lowest point, having faced the most untenable circumstances. What happens beyond this state is approaching in Secret Wars

There’s a culmination of the blankness shown in two instances throughout the comic on these final pages. By focusing on Reed Richards near loss of part of his family, and Doctor Doom descending into a blank, quiet universe, the themes of loss and emptiness become clear.

Early in the comic, a literal loss happens, when Tony Stark is gone from his cell. The blank, white square shape is empty of it’s contents.

Images like this in the artwork, combined with the gravestones, and the empty universe that Doctor Doom visits – where the white panels on the page create more empty squares – all add to the theme.

Adding this theme to the comic foreshadows approaching events in the Marvel Universe. Specifically, the Secret Wars, and what might follow afterwards.

Apart from this large foreshadowing of an approaching blank state for the Marvel Universe, associating the images with Reed Richards comment on what results from a character losing what he cares about: the Earth, his friends in the Illuminati and SHIELD, and his family. The Avengers and New Avengers comics have focused on what happens to heroes when the circumstances become untenable, and their values are pushed aside. Richards is facing the brink – the lowest point – now. What happens beyond that is approaching, but in Marvel comics being published in 2015.

New Avengers #29 is published by Marvel comics ($3.99 USD). Jonathan Hickman (W.) Kev Walker (P.) Kev Walker and Scott Hanna (I.) Frank Martin (C.) VC’s Joe Caramagna (L.) Cover artwork by G. Dell’Otto.

Comics Review – FF #10

FF #10: Paint it Black

FF stands for Future Foundation, the action and sci-fi comic brought to explosive life by Micheal Allred and Matt Fraction. The Future Foundation, or FF, are a back-up to the Fantastic Four. Their job is to safeguard the students recruited by the Foundation, and protect the assets of the Fantastic Four, including it’s reputation. The comic book has a great sense of humor throughout, and some interesting themes including conservation of endangered wildlife, and youth manipulation.

Art

FF has some incredible art overall, and some of the best art on display in FF #10 are the perfectly aligned, square panel sequences depicting the students of the Future Foundation. Moving from second to second, the panels capture a sense of time passing, and character body language. Characters shift the way they stand, and each panel gives a clear idea of their subtle movement. These sequential scenes see the students on the roof of the Fantastic Four‘s base, the Baxter Building, and playing a guessing game with an evil genius.

Facial expressions morph constantly: skeptical, outraged, disappointed, confused, shocked – there is a range of clever emotion worked into the each character.

Colours are bright and dark, matched to each scene: whether it’s a futuristic prison in the sky, or the green and aqua blue of the micro universe. Contrasting with the colour palette of the micro universe is the scarlet of both the FF‘s uniforms, and FF team member Medusa’s lustrous red hair.

Cast

Despite downplaying their role in the comic book, Marvel comics employees, and Future Foundation creative team, Matt Fraction, Michael Allred, and Tom Brevort appear in the comic book playing themselves. They are the stand-out characters for their humour.

The working relationship between an author, writer, and editor can be fraught with stress. Under a crisis situation, the facets of this relationship is played for laughs – Fraction and Allred hide behind their editor when in danger of being attacked by a giant tiger.

The whole point of inviting a Marvel comics creative team on a FF mission is to have them write an entertaining comic that will improve the team’s flagging publicity. Scott Lang – The Ant-man – effectively leads them through the crisis.

The cast have to cope with an onslaught of strange concepts – the Fantastic Four character Johnny Storm appears, albeit as an older, cynical man from a distant future. This Old Johnny Storm accuses Alex Power , a Future Foundation student, of colluding with Doctor Doom (The FF and Fantastic Four‘s key villain). He’s not wrong, but the accusation creates a snowball effect, leading Alex and several other students to start a guessing game with another evil genius named Maximus the Mad, mentioned earlier in this review, in their search for a way to stop Doctor Doom.

It’s a parade of weird and strange, but the humor and light science fiction work well together.

Themes, Ethics, Values.

A tiger, taken from it’s enclosure in a New York Zoo by Artie and Leech, two more FF students, wrecks havoc on Scott Lang’s expedition with the Marvel Creative team.

Artie and Leech use Hank Pym’s shrinking particles to shrink the Tiger to cat-like size and smuggle it into a backpack. Despite the humor abounding around this crisis, their is a brief comment about conservation here.

Neil Gunn, a blogger for the World Wildlife Foundation, comments that a Bengal Tiger he observed at Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire, UK, looked pretty darn miserable. He goes on to argue that their is value in showing kids real, wild animals in a zoo setting – it can inspire a desire to save animals from extinction. The Future Foundation are doing alright as custodians of the Fantastic Four‘s class, since they are taking them to see the tiger.

Artie and Leech are even a little bit like activists as they free the tiger from it’s enclosure.

This set of values, however, raises a question important to conservation of endangered animals: is it appropriate to use exciting and dangerous exhibits to bring about positive interest in a cause or organisation? That’s what the FF are planning – they apparently have a PR problem, and the Marvel Comics team are going to publish a comic to solve that problem. But there is a real danger to the tiger – it is mistreated by the students – and to the heroes and creative team – the tiger attacks them.

The comic raises these questions, alongside other topics such as manipulation of the young: that evil genius mentioned earlier? He is imprisoned, and plays a game of 20 questions with Alex Power and other students to win his freedom. Maximus knows that he can trick the children with a game.

A bit more on FF #10.

Just a minor observation – other Marvel comics starring young super heroes (Young Avengers) have had repetitive use of pancakes almost to the point of adoration. It’s refreshing to see the breakfast food taken down a notch after Old Johnny Storm throws pancakes on the FF kitchen floor in a blind rage. This comics sense of humour is strong, and it’s combined with top-class art, surprising depth of character, and good science fiction.

FF #10 is published by Marvel Comics. $2.99 USD. Matt Fraction (w.) Michael Allred (a.) Laura Allred (c.) VC’s Clayton Cowels (l.) Cover art by Michael Allred and Laura Allred.