home Ellis Library, Events and Exhibits Fun Stuff: Comics and Criticism

Fun Stuff: Comics and Criticism

Who’s your favorite superhero? What’s your favorite indie comic? Ellis Library has lots of fun stuff, including comics on display near the Reference Desk.

Okay, okay, we do have some comics criticism mixed in. We are an academic library, after all. Take a look at Wonder Woman comics or learn about the history of this famous character.

 

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Jennifer Gravley

I am a Research and Instruction Librarian with a background in creative writing.

Ice Creatures

In honor of the official first day of winter and the recently fallen snow here on MU's campus, this week's installment of the Fantastic Beasts series highlights creatures that live and breath the ice and snow of the Arctic.  The first two images below show different depictions of Jack Frost, who, in these folk tales from Russia, saves a young girl whose step-mother threw her out in the cold to die.  The image to the right is of a creature from Japanese folklore called the Yuki-Onna (or, Snow Woman) that kills travelers with her icy breath, leaving them frozen.  In other legends, she breaks down the doors of houses with a fierce wind and then kills its sleeping residents (like she is in this picture).  The final three images depict the Frost Giants of Norse mythology.  in the first, the X-Men prepare to go up against the recently resurrected Ymir, progenitor of the Frost Giants.  In the last two, comic book hero Conan battles two such Frost Giants as he pursues their sister across the ice.

jackfrost0006  jackfrost0005  jackfrost0004  jackfrost0003  jackfrost0002

If the weather isn't cold enough for you yet, or you just want to help celebrate the first day of winter, come see us at Special Collections, where we've got all these ice creatures and more waiting to be discovered in the warmth of our reading room.

Vampires Suck

(Your blood, that is.)  How does one even begin to write about vampires with any sort of completeness?  Every culture's got one – some version of a creature that rises from the dead and preys on the life force of the living (either the blood or something more abstract, such as energy or the soul) to sustain itself.  Reflecting this, Dracula and his brethren abound on the shelves of Special Collections – particularly our comics collection where the dramatic nature of the vampire lends itself perfectly to a graphic medium.

While vampires have been around for ages, it was Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula that made them much more prevalent in literature and popular culture.  In more modern times, vampires' popularity has spiked again with television series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and bestselling book series like Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles, Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series, and the Sookie Stackhouse Novels by Charlene Harris.

Let's start with Dracula then, shall we?

This 2004 adaption of Stoker's Dracula presents the comic in a dramatic black and white contrast that plays up the drama of the story.

Another series featuring the Count is Apple Comics's Blood of Dracula, where each issue contains an installment of three different stories featuring Dracula in his own time, in the future, and anywhere in between.  This issue even comes with a record of songs composed to supplement the stories!

Not to be outdone, Warp Graphics (which later turned over most of its titles to Apple Comics) pitted Dracula against Jack the Ripper in its 1986 mini-series Blood of the Innocent.

In addition to its large spread in comics, the story of Dracula has also been taken to the stage over the years, as seen in these scenes from a 1978 production of Dracula starring Frank Langella as the titular feind and famous illustrator Edward Gorey designing the scenery and costumes. 

Stoker wasn't the only one to write about vampires, though.  Folk stories teemed with different versions of the vampire.  This image from a book of Russian folk tales shows the warlock from the tale "The Soldier and The Vampire" who comes back from the dead each night to terrorize a town by cursing a newlywed couple and drawing their blood until he is outwitted and killed by a clever soldier.

In modern vampire culture, many vampires choose to live among us and forgo the drinking of human blood for that of animals.  Two such "vegetarian" vampires are main characters in Vertigo's series Blood + Water.  Adam Heller, a man slowly dying of AIDS finds out his friends are actually vampires when they turn him into one to cure him and save his life.

Men aren't the only ones to play large roles in vampire stories.  Vampirella, the vampire superheroine from the planet Drakulon, fights evil vampires on our world in an effort to save her own.  She appears in a number of comic series and a direct to video movie.

Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake Vampire Hunter book series was adapted by Marvel in 2006.  The leading lady, Anita Blake, lives and works in St. Louis, Missouri as a professional zombie raiser, vampire hunter, and consultant for the police's supernatural department.

Including the scores of other stories both modern and old as Dracula himself, it's clear that no matter what way you slice it, vampires have a powerful prescence in cultures throughout the world.  So this Halloween if you're finding yourself going batty for vampires, come see us at Special Collections.  We've got plenty of vampire stories you can really sink your teeth into.

Bats, Rats, and Spiders

Oh my!

Throughout October the Fantastic Beasts series will be taking a turn for the creepy as each week in October we feature spooky creatures and things that go bump in the night.  For the first week we'll start with some of the tamer creepy-crawlies that lots of us see on a daily basis: bats, rats, and spiders.  Each of these are commonly featured in tales of terror, and are associated with death, disease, or mystery, among other things.  They can also serve as familiars to witches and sorcerors, which is where they picked up a lot of their negative associations.  Truth is, many of these fears are largely unfounded, as bats, rats, and spiders are important parts of any ecosystem and for the most part are either scared of or not a threat to humans.  Giant versions of any of these (such as those pictured below) are, of course, another matter entirely.

  

home Special Collections, Archives, and Rare Books Special Collections at the Movies: Guardians of the Galaxy

Special Collections at the Movies: Guardians of the Galaxy

At Special Collections, we believe a part of our job to be informing patrons on subject matters they may be unfamiliar with. Whether those subjects are found in books from the Middle Ages, newspapers dating back to the American Revolution, or underground comics, we’re always here to give you the scoop on things you didn’t know you didn’t know. But chances are an upcoming summer blockbuster might have you wondering, “Who are the Guardians of the Galaxy and why should I see the movie?” Special Collections is here for you, dear reader!

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Opening in theaters this weekend is Marvel’s newest superhero flick, “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Staring Chris Pratt of “Parks and Recreation” fame, along with a handful of other well-known actors (Glenn Close, John C. Reilly and Bradley Cooper, just to name a few), “Guardians” promises to be a comic book movie unlike any we’ve seen before. And just like any good superhero movie, it never hurts to have a little backstory. Though Special Collections doesn’t have any stand-alone Guardians comics, we do have several Marvel Comics encyclopedias and compendiums, along with several issues of “Avengers” comics (like the ones you see in this post), which take place in the same universe as the Guardians. If you want the full, detailed history of the Guardians of the Galaxy, stop on by and request a book. If you just want the Cliffs Notes version, read on! 

The original incarnation of the space-travelling team debuted in January, 1969. This group of Guardians never found much of a fan following, and the team was relegated to appearing alongside other heroes, like Thor and the Fantastic Four. This team shouldn’t factor in all that much with the “Guardians” film.

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However, in 2008, an entirely new team of Guardians was introduced. Made up of a human named Peter Quill, two aliens – Drax and Gamora – and two personified creatures – Rocket, a talking raccoon and Groot, a living tree – these Guardians found instant commercial success. A feature film set within Marvel’s Cinematic Universe was fast-tracked into production.

This weekend, that movie is released. It will tie in with events that happened in “The Avengers”, and set up future events for “The Avengers: Age of Ultron”, Avengers 3 and beyond. Either before or after you check out the movie, stop on by and see us too!

home Resources and Services, Special Collections, Archives, and Rare Books Special Collections at the Movies: Hercules

Special Collections at the Movies: Hercules

This week's post is by Shelby Wolfe, a Special Collections undergraduate assistant.

While Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson might not be the first person who comes to mind when pondering the classical humanities, his portrayal of Hercules in the most recent film version about the mythological demi-god might spark your desire to delve far back into classical mythology. If so, check out these Hercules-related materials at Special Collections.

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Hercules has entertained generations of adventure-loving readers and listeners for centuries. From pottery and poetry to compendium and comic book, illustrated depictions of the mythological hero are typically easy to identify – a large, muscular man often wielding a bulky club and donning a characteristic lionskin.

This plate in Andrew Tooke’s 1806 edition of The Pantheon details the hero’s attributes. Covered in a lionskin, the main image features Hercules resting his club on the ground. Two roundels above provide a closer inspection of the club and lionskin.

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Likewise, this illustration from Tooke’s 1844 Pantheon shows Hercules outfitted with his attributes. In addition, two roundel inserts depict Hercules in the midst of his Twelve Labors – slaying the Nemean Lion (the source of his lionskin attire) on the far left and his battle with the Lernaean Hydra on the far right.

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For a more modern depiction of the famed hero, take a closer look at this comic book from 1984. Hercules: Prince of Power features a monstrously muscular title character intent on saving the Marvel universe from rebel military forces in the year 2385.

Hercules-Comic

Whether it’s the 8th century BCE or 2385 CE, Hercules is sure to be flexing his muscles somewhere. 

home Special Collections, Archives, and Rare Books Special Collections at the Movies: Planet of the Apes

Special Collections at the Movies: Planet of the Apes

Released today is the eighth film in the Planet of the Apes franchise, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”  Set ten years after its predecessor “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” this film promises a darker, more engaging science-fiction world than any other Apes film before it.  In honor of the new movie, Special Collections is proud to bring you “Books of the Planet of the Apes”!  If you’ve got a monkey on your back, swing in to Special Collections and check out some of our simian stuff!

Gorilla-Hunter

This is a scan from one of the opening pages of “Paul Du Chaillu: Gorilla Hunter,” the noted French-American explorer and zoologist.  Du Chaillu is credited with confirming the existence of gorillas, and worked extensively with indigenous Pygmy tribes in Africa.  His exciting life of adventure and discovery is chronicled in “Gorilla Hunter,” and while some today might find the subject matter offensive, Du Chaillu’s legacy in ape history is unquestionable.

Tarzan

Up next we have a graphic novel adaptation of one of the most famous apperances of apes in popular culture, Tarzan the Ape Man.  Tarzan was created by Edgar Rice Burroughs and introduced in the 1912 short story, “Tarzan of the Apes.”  In Burroughs’ origin story, a family is marooned on the African coast and only their young son survives.  He’s adopted by a tribe of apes and raised as their own.  Burroughs continued to publish stories about Tarzan until his death in 1950.  Since then, Tarzan has been adopted once again, this time into popular culture.  Over 200 movies have been released that feature the Ape Man. 

Jungle-Book

Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” introduced the character of Mowgli, an inspiration for Burrough’s Tarzan.  It also inspired this graphic novel by Harvey Kurtzman, also called “The Jungle Book.”  Kurtzman’s work is a social commentary on the nature of man in society, and how quickly humanity can descend back into its more primitive forms.  Kurtzman satirically dedicates his novel to a half-man, half-ape creature. 

Classification

Lastly, and perhaps slightly less aesthetically pleasing, is a chart from former University of Missouri professor James Gavan’s “A Classification of the Order Primates,” which details the line of descent of different species of apes.  It’s interesting to note which species Gavan cites as being nearest to man – according to his work, gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees are just one evolutionary step away from us.  Published in 1975, more than a century after Charles Darwin pioneered his Theory of Evolution, Gavan’s work still caused controversies.  He participated in a creationism/evolution debate in October, 1975, against a famous creation scientist called Duane Gish, author of several anti-evolution books, including 1972’s “Evidence Against Evolution” and 1986’s “Evolution: The Fossils Say No!”  According to audience reaction, Gish outperformed Gavan in the debate.  A “rematch” was scheduled, but never occurred.  Professor Gavan passed away in 1994, and Gish in 2013.

That’s just a small sample of our simian stockpile.  Don’t wait for the apes to take over – take a look at these (and other great monkey materials) today!

 

home Special Collections, Archives, and Rare Books Special Collections at the Movies: Days of Future Past

Special Collections at the Movies: Days of Future Past

Marvel Comics' winning streak continued in 1963 when they debuted the X-Men, a group of teenage superheroes who received their powers through mutation.  Originally going to be called the “Merry Mutants,” creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby settled on the title “X-Men” since their characters had “EX-tra power.” 

However, this group of mutants isn’t the only one to ever call themselves X-Men.  As we’ve seen in “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” sometimes completely different generations of mutants must band together under the same moniker.  To start of our Special Collections at the Movies blog series, we’ll highlight several different incarnations of those Merry Mutants that we have in our collection.

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This is a reprint of the first X-Men issue, published in September, 1963.  It introduces the original five-man team – Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Marvel Girl – and the X-Men’s most hated archenemy, Magneto.  We can see the team meeting Jean Grey, their newest member, and her amazing power of telekinesis.  Hardcore comic fans might notice something strange about this image – Cyclops’ name is Slim Summers, but we know him better as Scott Summers.  It wasn’t until the third issue of X-Men that Cyclops points out that Slim is just a nickname.

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Next we have an updated version of the same group of mutants, called the First Class.  We can see by the illustration on the cover that the lineup hasn’t changed, but the stories and events have been redesigned for modern readers.  It was this comic book line that was partially adapted into 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.”

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Our third incarnation is also an origin story.  A young Scott Summers is shown receiving his ruby visor, which holds in his optic blasts.  This series is meant to tie in with the animated TV show “X-Men: Evolution,” which focused on the very early years of the team.

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Finally, we have a collection of issues from the Generation X storyline.  Generation X ran from 1994 through 2001, and focused on an entirely different group of mutants.  This group, made of up primarily of Jubilee, Chamber, Husk, Gaia and Synch, often found itself in a moral grey area, often fighting for and against the X-Men. 

These four titles are just a sampling of the various X-Men series we have in Special Collections.  If “Days of Future Past” got you itching for more than the run-of-the-mill mutants, stop on by and check us out!

 

The X-Men Turn 50!

On September 1, 1963, fifty years ago this week, youngsters were greeted by a new comic book series on the shelves. Marvel Comics, after finding success in creating individual characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, decided to take a chance on telling the story of a group of heroes. These heroes were teenagers who, through no action of their own, developed powers through genetic mutations. After being ostracized from society for merely being different, they banded together under the leadership of Professor Charles Xavier and became…
…The Uncanny X-Men! To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the mutant menagerie, Special Collections has put together a list of fun facts and trivia about the superhero squad, both in print and on film.
Did you know that…
…the original five X-Men were Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman and Marvel Girl? Only Beast was in X-Men: First Class, the film adaptation about the formation of the X-Men.

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…Professor Xavier named his students “X-Men” because of the “extra power” their mutation gave them?
…because of the way the X-Men are shunned for being different, mutants have been used as an ongoing allegory of minorities in society, such as African Americans and homosexuals?
…the character Wolverine first appeared in a 1974 issue of The Incredible Hulk?
…the entertainment website IGN lists X-Men arch nemesis Magneto as the greatest comic book villain of all time? He ranks above (or below, depending on your perspective) the Joker, Lex Luthor and Loki.

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…Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine has appeared in six movies (X-Men, X2, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class, The Wolverine), and he will make his seventh appearance in next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past? He holds the record for most film appearances as the same comic book character, followed by Robert Downey, Jr.’s five appearances as Tony Stark (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3).

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…X-Men Origins: Wolverine star Ryan Reynolds has appeared on film as three different comic book characters? He’s portrayed Wade Wilson (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) and Hannibal King (Blade: Trinity).
…the X-Men film franchise has grossed $2.2 billion worldwide, beating out the Indiana Jones, Superman and Star Trek franchises?
…Hugh Jackman has expressed interest in Wolverine joining The Avengers in an upcoming movie? Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to happen, as Fox owns the film rights to Wolverine and the X-Men, while Disney owns the film rights to The Avengers.  However, Fox also owns the rights to the Fantastic Four, and comic book author and screenwriter Mark Millar has hinted at a Fantastic Four/X-Men crossover film.

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…the cast of X-Men: Days of Future Past contains three Academy Award-winning actresses? Jennifer Lawrence, Anna Paquin and Halley Berry have all taken home an Oscar.
…when Patrick Stewart (Professor Xavier) was married in 2013, he asked his friend Ian McKellen (Magneto) to officiate the ceremony? McKellen obliged.
…all of the pictures on this page were taken from comics and graphic novels contained in Special Collections? We encourage everyone, mutant and human alike, to come in and take a peek at what we have to offer!

Celebrating 75 Years of the Man of Steel

Image-1It’s a bird!  It’s a plane!  It’s Superman’s 75th birthday!  On June 30, 1938, Superman debuted in Action Comics #1, marking the unofficial birth of superheroes in comic books.  Through decades of films, TV shows and comics, the Last Son of Krypton has permeated our culture and become as American as baseball and apple pie.

The creation and history of Superman is as fascinating and heartbreaking as Kal-El’s own fictional backstory.  In 1932, a young Jerry Siegel’s father died of a heart attack brought on by the robbery of the family’s small clothing store.  Within a few years, he and his artistically-minded friend Joe Shuster created Superman – an orphan who is virtually invincible, and who fights tirelessly to rid Metropolis of evildoers.  Siegel and Shuster are eventually commissioned to tell the character’s story in Action Comics. They agree to sell the rights of Superman for $130.

Superman radio serialThe Man of Steels, television shows and motion pictures soon followed.  While the radio was Superman’s preferred medium in the 40’s, come 1951, Iowa-born actor George Reeves donned the red and blue suit to portray the first live-action Man of Steel in the TV series, “The Adventures of Superman.”  Reeves stood for Truth, Justice and the American Way for the better part of a decade until he was killed in 1959 by a single gunshot wound to the head.  The circumstances surrounding his death are still a mystery.

After a twenty year absence, the Man of Tomorrow returned, this time played by Christopher Reeve in Richard Donner’s classic 1978 film, “Superman.”  Not only was the film a commercial and critical success, it holds a significant historical importance – “Superman” was the first major superhero movie ever released, paving the way for future blockbusters like “Batman”, “Spider-Man”, “Iron Man”, and “The Avengers.”  Reeve held the role for three more films, consistently surrounded by an all-star cast including Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp and Richard Pryor.  Tragically, the Man of Steel proved to be all too human off screen, as a horseback riding accident in 1995 left Reeve paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair until his death in 2004.

Our Worlds at War

The 1990’s and 2000’s were a transitional period for Superman.  He appeared in two very successful television series, first in “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”, starring Dean Cain as Clark Kent, and then in “Smallville”, with Tom Welling taking the reins.  Both series took root in the hearts and minds of a new generation of Americans, and once again, Superman was soaring. In 2006, Brandon Routh took the lead in Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns.”  Cast partly for his likeness to the late Christopher Reeve, Routh’s Superman faced off against his arch nemesis Lex Luthor, portrayed by Academy Award-winner Kevin Spacey.  While the film was critically successful, it didn’t resonate well enough with audiences’ wallets to warrant a sequel.  For the last seven years, Americans haven’t seen much of Smallville’s favorite son.  Even the most recent actors to portray him – Dean Cain, Tom Welling and Brandon Routh – have all but faded from memory, as they struggled to find quality roles in Hollywood.

Kneel Before ZodBut that all changed last week with the record-breaking release of Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel”, starring Henry Cavill as Superman and Michael Shannon as the villainous General Zod.  The blockbuster proved that Americans’ fascination with Superman is only growing.  That love for the character will only continue to grow in the next few years, as star Cavill and director Snyder have both signed on for a sequel.  Additionally, Superman is slated to appear in the upcoming “Justice League” film, surrounded by fellow superheroes Batman, Green Lantern, the Flash and Wonder Woman.

If your own interest in the character was piqued by the movie, feel free to fly in to Special Collections and check out our awesome assortment of Superman comics, graphic novels and books.  Everything you see here, and so much more, is available to you.  And unless you have X-Ray vision, you’ll need to get here faster than a speeding bullet and take a look yourself!