More Comics! The Black Panther to be precise, it is such an exciting time right now, with Ta Nehisi Coates revamping the Black Panther for Marvel (I love this revamping) — even as Netflix’s Luke Cage series is filling my facebook feed. I have to wait until Christmas to see it. Too long to wait, sure — but it is also a good sort of present. It will also let me finish reading those early Marvel beginnings. These two Black superheroes of the Marvel universe couldn’t be more different, but I have enjoyed them both immensely.
Black Panther is the first, appearing in July 1966, Fantastic Four issue #52, and then sporadically — guess I’ll have to hunt down those issues. I didn’t so much care for the Fantastic Four, mostly as white and wealthy and respectful of 1950s conventions and American as apple pie. There was none of the fumbling towards their powers either, or deep interior conflict which made me love the Hulk so much. The Black Panther has none of the same kind of interior conflict either, but his debut is fascinating in terms of both the white gaze on race, and the white gaze on Africa. he is T’challa, prince of Wakanda, a small African kingdom made rich by the presence of an extraterrestrial metal (vibranium), and thus torn between the heights of technology but also tradition. The Essential Collection contains the collected stories from Jungle Action (1973-1976) #6-22, and then the new Black Panther (1977) #1-10. The first few covers:
There is some crazy jungle action going on here. This is Jack Kirby’s initial vision for…the coal tiger! Ha, I’m glad they didn’t stick with that. I do like those shoes though! And the collar. This also reminds me that all of these were originally published in most garish colour — you forget that reading these collections in black and white, and it changes the experience of them.
There’s some geography in here too, because that’s how they used to roll in those days. From the end of the first ish:
Piranha cove! Serpent Valley! Panther Island! I would have fucking loved this map when I was 13. This parallels in its way the diagrams of the Fantastic Four’s secret but not-really-secret headquarters in the big city. It allows the writer to play more as well.
So back to the jungles…look at me taking some these pictures in the October sunshine.
A lot of these enemies are from the U.S. — where T’challa has just returned from (bringing with him the lovely black power figure of Monica Lynne, who causes all kinds of uproar and jealousy amongst the ladies — he rescued her in NY, but we don’t get to see that). Below we have Venom, ‘he had been known as Horatio Walters, and when he was young, he thought the name quite poetic — until scorn and derision killed the poetry in him.’ It’s surprising (or is it) how many of the villains have been twisted by bullying and discrimination in the U.S., and some, like Venom, are white even.
There are many references to pulp in here (I love it), and an interesting narrative of hero returned (from the U.S. to Africa — a familiar longing expressed in these times), an interesting shift in culture — ‘Damn! He thinks, must all of his reference points be so foreign to his native land?’ There is also so much poetry in Don McGregor’s prose. Like ‘The mist is carnivore pink…’
Such a different feel from Marvel’s other comics — at least the ones I’ve read. There’s a lot more detail as well, cool use of silhouettes, good monsters. And the Black Panther ‘consumed by a sense of his own mortality.’ Wrestling with what all this fighting is turning him into.
Being Africa, there is, of course, the obligatory dinosaur issue. But still, DINOSAUR ISSUE. ‘The valley is aptly named. It is evolution denied, time standing as stagnant as the air and water.’ This is evocative of so much adventure fiction and views of the African continent as a whole. But with a twist,
Dinosaurs being used to fight a technologically advanced African kingdom. They are being transported in a pleasantly maniacal plan by Eric Killmonger — one-time native of Wakanda, exiled and ended up in Harlem. Which broke him more or less.
This is a liberal comic you see, there’re some thoughts on revolution — and how it never works out. Bad guys? They’re for it, but it’s all an illusion. Makes you feel for the bad guys.
So it’s really interesting when T’Challa and Monica Lynne leave Wakanda (after another adventure or three). Lynne feels so liberated-sister-from-New-York-or-Oakland, but really she’s from Georgia, and returns there when her sister dies. And thus begins the most interesting series of all, as the Black Panther goes up against the Klan. But look at this cover.
I found this amazing actually. ‘In the heart of civilization, T’challa battles the primitive power of the clan!’ I’m liking this contrast of civilized and primitive. I can see why this might have been controversial.
Her sister had been doing some investigating, and died in suspicious circumstances… there’s a mix of historical stuff in here too, as Monica imagines a different fate of her great grandfather if the panther had been there to save him from lynching at the hands of the soul strangler:
There is a plucky investigative reporter, a crochety father who eventually overcomes years of practical silence and decides to stand up for himself. There are racist white cops supported by a generally racist white populace, a lot of daily harassment and threats — it’s enjoyable watching the Black Panther give them their dues, I have to say. Because it’s the clan, you’re just waiting for when T’challa gets tied to a burning cross… and escapes. Monica’s sister worked in a real estate office and was killed there, there’s more than a hint that the night riders that are caught up in development schemes and corrupt politics and it’s hard to see just where all of this will end up. But it’s good to see that we are being reminded of how much our present is shaped by this past…
And then suddenly it is all over. Cut off in the middle. Poof. I was very sad.
And we are on to the Jack Kirby revamp in the Back Panther issue 1, and it’s 1977.
A crazy, very campy superhero run-in with the collectors. Oo-ooh. Not that I didn’t enjoy it. There are some special characters, like Colonel Pigman, and Mr Little. The Black Panther mostly runs around without his mask on as well, it makes it feel very different — but everything about this version is different, from the blocky vitality and force of Kirby’s drawings to the treasure maps and silly villains. No klan here.
And I don’t know what I think about this vision of a ruling African family, apart from not liking it much.
But they do all join together to defeat a powerful foe, each of them finding their own power inside. That was nice.
I look forward to more…
Road trip! Day one, a long driving day to get up past the sprawling monster of Phoenix, up up to the top of our enormous state. This all used to be two lane highway when I was a kid, but it’s four to six now most of the way…and has traffic to fill it. If you build it bigger they will drive it say the planners, and they are right.
I just realised there is almost no traffic in this picture. But honestly. It’s there. It is anything but carefree. I kind of admire the effort some planner put into this though:
We put a lot of effort into destroying the desert too… sucking up the groundwater reservoirs to grow crops, leaving the rest of the valley dry as dust edged with an unbelievable green:
Like the efforts of a corporate chain pretending they have any kind of authentic history, but without making too much of an effort:
Enough of that kind of effort though. Getting up to Flagstaff, cooler air, and the Lowell Observatory, now that was amazing. Lowell — built in 1894 by millionaire Percival Lowell of the Lowell, Massachusetts mill owner Lowells. You know. Those fucking Lowells. Which makes this a place that combines a quixotic history with quite a lot of space-exploration awesomeness.
So…I was excited to come here because Lowell believed — and tried desperately hard to prove — that Mars was covered by immense canals being built by martians in an immense hurry to channel water from the poles to held save their dying civilization. That is my all-time favourite Mars theory, and yes, yes it was inspired by reading a lot of science fiction (it also inspired a lot of science fiction, as you can guess). But also because a famous Italian astronomer by the name of Schiaparelli wrote a book about the canali of Mars, which should simply have been translated as channels (natural), but were instead translated as canals. And Percival Lowell being one of those fucking Lowells and the guy who funded and ran the observatory, there was no one who could really budge him from that hobby horse. So he spent a lot of years working on these maps, drawing canals that no one else could see because they just weren’t there given the low resolution of the telescope.
I still love them. Especially as there are apparently three theories about where these lines actually came from. The first is — his own eyelashes. The second — shit, I have forgotten the second. The third — that he spent a lot of time staring into bright skies and he was actually seeing the patterns of his own retina reflected back the way you sometimes do when getting your eyes checked. That was my favourite.
But back then he had some credibility — this from the New York Times on August 27, 1911 (105 years ago yesterday! That’s a bit of a coincidence).
The Clark observatory today:
Inside it’s even better:
Lowell hired two guys to build this dome who had never built a dome before — and you can pretty much tell. But it works. It needs to move of course, so originally that dome sat on great castors and two men with ropes had to move it according to Lowell’s instructions. The next attempt was my favourite — to set it floating on a course of salt water (to prevent it from freezing). Our tour guide (who was awesome) noted that it worked great. For all of two hours. All kinds of things went wrong, some of the stains are still visible on the wood. So they went back to castors and two guys pulling it with ropes, but then the next director came along and had the bright idea of using tires. So it is now cushioned on original Ford 1957? steel rims and hubcaps — the tires themselves have to be replaced frequently given the weight of the dome.
I haven’t even gotten to the more exciting parts, like the way Vesto Slipher (!) actually discovered from his observations here that the universe was expanding, though his measurements of the various spectrums of stars and the realisation that most of them were moving away from us. Spectrum analysis also proved that those spiral things people were seeing were actually entirely separate galaxies. This meant that universe was actually much bigger than just our galaxy. Imagine that jump when the two had always been conflated. Imagine how the universe expanded then (not literally you understand, but our understandings of it).
Vesto presented his findings and had astronomy’s first ever standing ovation in 1912 — in the audience sat the not-yet-Doctor Hubble, who would first try to put a number to the expanding universe.
Then in 1930, Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto.
That turned out trickier than expected of course, given it was not a planet at all, but still.
I loved the Rotunda too, though we didn’t get enough time here as we still had far to go.
Inside we had a little fun with spectrum analysis ourselves. We got to wear glasses.
And these simple and flimsy things revealed wonders when staring at tubes of neon or mercury. Not quite this good, but close enough. This is neon:
We got a quick look at everything else…I wanted more time but we couldn’t wait until evening when they were opening it up fully.
From there we drove up to Tuba City…and a sign on the side of the road said dinosaur footprints and mom said ‘hell yes, let’s do it’ (or something to that effect). We had seen a dinosaur earlier of course:
But look at these things, they are amazing…
I’m not sure I can say the same about this toenail polish which I bought on a crazed whim — I am never colour coordinated like this.
This place is one of my favourite in the world. Mum says it took her forever coming from England to get used to the space, it made her feel so small, so insignificant. Me, I feel like this space makes you humble and at the same time opens you up, gives you a spirit big enough to fill it. It makes me so happy to be back here again in the red rocks. Especially staring across an ancient seabed at dinosaur tracks.
We gave our guide and her partner a ride into Tuba City, it being the end of the day, and then found a hotel. An expensive hotel. Damn. But the Hogan Restaurant next door? The best waitress ever and they had mutton stew with frybread on the menu which probably gave mum more joy than anything else through the day — she grew up on that in postwar England don’t you know.
Me, I had a cheese burger — on fry bread. Which was delicious but oh. my. god. Filling. I can’t tell you how filling. I could eat almost no fries, but that was probably a good thing. As it is, I feel I should run the first ten miles tomorrow alongside the car…
Tomorrow, Anasazi ruins! Chama! So exciting.
Titanosaurs! Such extraordinary things. Why didn’t I become a paleontologist? I could have been in the Argentina deserts looking for bones. Driving the straight-backed midnight blue Chevy of my dreams. I might have been trekking across a huge sandy plain littered with Titanosaur eggs and shells. I might have been the first to see a fossilized fragment of a baby dinosaur’s skin. But I wouldn’t mind being the 500th or 500,000th.
I could have been dishy Diego Pol curled up next to a femur:
I could have been unraveling the mystery of these incredible creatures.
I love that now we watch ostriches for possible clues. The way their (absurdly cute) babies can walk after an hour and band together for safety. I love that we look to elephants to learn how dinosaurs of such immense mass could ever possibly move across the earth — though the Titanosaur weighed over 70 metric tons. 15 elephants worth. This dinosaur had tendons connecting its femurs to its tail, a swathe of muscle and tissue so the massive swinging weight of its tail could help move those massive legs.
Guess. What. Komodo dragons have those too!
With such legs, such weight, Titanosaurs (and elephants, don’t you know) developed elastic bands of skin around their ankles that work much the same as airplane socks — even with hearts weighing more than four grown men they were vulnerable to blood clots and bad circulation.
But they weren’t as heavy as you might think. Their bones were not solid, they were full of holes, like those of birds to provide strength without weight. Giant sacs helped fill the lungs with air, lessened more weight. This incredible creature…watching this documentary is like staring at the stars, full of wonder and enormity that makes you feel small, fragile, part of a world that is more amazing than you could ever imagine it.
Here’s how these guys compare to other enormous thunderlizards.
I’m quite charmed that someone is probably kicking themselves for having named the dreadnoughtus too early…
What could possibly have fed such creatures? Monkey puzzles! Or something very like. No competition for food way up there. And now I know where those amazing trees come from. Huge forests of them crowning hills, they are amazing. And endangered. I shall love them more now when I see them standing solitary and enigmatic across the English landscape.
I love trees. But enough about them.
So what fed on this enormous Titanosaurus?
Tyrannotitan, that’s fucking what.
To build a model of the dinosaur they found an enormous abandoned wool warehouse…the industrial skeleton of one age to house the reptilian bones of another. 101.6 million years in between.
It is incredible.
And incredibly cheesy that final CGI Titanosaur waving its head over a tiny spotlighted David Attenborough, but I damn well loved it.
The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show is one of my favourite things in the world…I have gone almost every year for…well. Since I was very small. People come from all over the world to sell unique and beautiful things, rocks and minerals and fossils that are much more impressive than those you could see in any museum. There are geodes of amatheyst twice as tall as I am, crystals that I cannot wrap my arms around they are so big, dinosaur skeletons, glimpses of the creatures that crawled the seas millions of years ago in extraordinary detail, trays of jewels and faceted gemstones ordered by size and weight and color, carvings and artwork in jewelry and gems and stone that make your eyes widen…I cannot even begin to describe it. And I took a couple of pictures to get a sense of the grandeur of it but I am highly unsatisfied with them artistically speaking. Maybe tomorrow. Still, the economy is hitting it with a sledgehammer. Usually it’s so packed you can barely move, but today was pretty empty, and the vendors said that sales were down…over 50% from last year for most. Sadness.
So I shall live for the day, and appreciate everything to the fullest. First, the opalized ammonites from Canada. If I had several thousand dollars of disposable cash, this is undoubtedly what I would buy, hands down. I love the shape of them, the color of them, the age of them, the rarity of them, the impossible beauty of them.
These are fossils, and the ammolite in the top picture is over 3 feet across. As they roamed wild in the oceans they were preyed upon by these huge dinosaurs that were truly the creatures of nightmare (among many other things, the sea is a wondrous but truly nasty place).
It’s only in death that these two could ever meet, as one ravaged the oceans and the other ravaged the land. I am quite thankful, however, to live in an era when things with teeth this size no longer exist. One of the ammolites had rows of holes in its shell almost an inch wide, it didn’t survive the attack. The reason so much of the shell survived is that these things were actually bigger than what you can see, there was a whole additional chamber that held the creature itself. And the attackers? Scientists now think they were warm blooded, which I find extraordinary. Neither reptiles nor fish, but mammals! And closest in structure to birds.
So for today, the only other good shot I took were of these rather random jellyfish…glass ones I believe. But since they’re from China, well, you never know. They were very cool.
They had laser lights however. Which made them cool but also somewhat…er…cheap? I think that might be the word. I don’t buy anything with laser lights. I do, however, have a thing for trilobites. And I bought this beauty from Morroco (Devonian period)
Gorgeous isn’t he?? And I am always torn by the fact that this show is full of incredible things I can afford (barely), though in a just world I should never be able to were anyone along the food chain getting a just wage. Like my trilobite here. But at least he shall be treasured.
So there’s a whole new age contingent present, which affords infinite…and I mean infinite amusement. So I’m going to share one ridiculous description a day I think, they come from the Metaphysical Guide to the Tucson Jewelry, Mineral, Gem & Fossil Show. This is possibly my favourite annual publication. And actually, the descriptions below are very short versions of the catalog from the Heaven and Earth store, since I can’t be arsed to type the articles in spite of the fact that they are infinitely more amusing.
Merlinite (ahh the gullibility of the American public)
Merlinite is the name given to gemstones, which exhibit the combination of white quartz & black psilomelane. The best specimens, found in New Mexico, sometimes show druzy crystallization.
Mystic Lore: Intuitive sources say that Merlinite is a stone of magic, conjuring the memories of wizards and alchemists. It is said to blend heavenly and earthly vibrations, allowing one access to multiple realms. It can be used to access the akashic records, to draw upon the powers of the elements, to enhance shamanic practices, and to bring magic into one’s life.
The wind bites like fall, the buses throw up whirls and swirls of dead leaves reaching above me as they pass in the street, my black wool coat is warm and my scarf snug about my neck. I forgot how much I love fall. How I love the chill of it, the change and trembling in the air, the tingle in my cheeks, and the feel of snuggling under the warm cloud of a down comforter. I got into Toronto last night and met up with Dawn after her writing class, we went to eat and then walked the long way back to the streetcar, through Kensington market which was lovely…empty but lovely. And great graffiti, which is always enough to warm my heart if narrow streets, cool pubs, tiny little neighborhood stores, coffee houses and such were not enough.
I spent the night feeling like a small woodland creature curled up in a little nest between the radiator and some shelves, an old mattress bundled with extra blankets and a sleeping bag on top for softness, with a sheet on top of it all, and then me, and then…I said it already I think, a warm cloud of downy warmth. And I slept deliciously, glad that I am too long for the couch.
Woke up late…for Toronto. Early for L.A. Spent the morning chatting over coffee and omelet with Dawn into early afternoon, and then headed out into the fall…I had a bit of work to do, a bit of wandering to do, so I mixed both and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I still have to take some good city photographs, but here is one from outside the Royal Ontario Museum which is where I ended up.
I used another friend’s card to sneak in…the woman asked me for id and I said I didn’t have any (!), she looked at me funny, I thought I’d probably have to cut and run, but then she said she could look me up. I was imagining my friend’s picture coming up and seriously thought of cutting and running. Then she asked my address and I confidently gave it to her, I suppose the right street allayed her fears? She said oh dear we have the address wrong, upon which I pulled the little card where I had it written down out of my back pocket and confirmed that no, I was the one who had it wrong. Upon which she handed me an entrance ticket. She was beautiful. Because I don’t think I really pulled it off, but i am staring incipient poverty in the face and that ticket was golden.
And I didn’t even know it, but they have the most marvelous collection of dinosaur skeletons I’ve seen in ages, bits of originals, some casts, but all around extraordinary. They had a 90 foot Barosaurus, one of only two in the world, it has a hugely long razor thin tail that some believe they cracked like a whip. I believe it, I think that makes them much more interesting:
They had an original triceratops skull, a stegasauros, a tiny little compsognathus in a glass case…my dad used to tell us stories about compsognathi when I was little, one day you’ll be reading about them too in the adventures of Osa and Aggie (and me, Michael, Daniel and Tristram. And some of it is even true). They had this enormous fish thing with sharp pointy teeth
and this amazing knobble headed dinosaur that I tragically did not record the sumptuous latin name of:
It’s perhaps my favourite photo of the day. And possibly my favourite dinosaur. And I don’t even know his name. But they also had a rare type of hadrosaur…this one is crested and looks like it pranced about rather joyously and is called a parasuarolophus walkeri. The name rolls of the tongue. and looked very cool
And finally the stuff of nightmares…highly recognizable and always strikes fear into the very heart of me, the one, the only, Tyrannasaurus Rex
But pictures can’t do him justice really. He towers over you, his teeth are huge, even the bare bones of him are big and ravenously hulking. I’ve actually had family discussions about whether T-Rex or Allosaurus was scarier…some say allosaurus was smarter. As if we know. Still, this is the one that scares me.
Other things that scare me are lifesize painted representations of people and animals…like the mechanical cartoon figures at Chuck E Cheese and Disneyland’s Splash Mountain, and apparently Chinese wooden temple statues beginning from the 13th century. Fear is too strong a word perhaps, I’d prefer to think of it simply as a deep unease. But one of them had real human hair as his long beard. Painted statues are really popular in Catholic Churches as well, and the blood is never skimped on, and in fact I remember the crypt of a church in Bahia with mummified bishops still wearing their sacramental robes sat upright and staring down at you. Fear is not to strong a word for that experience, I suppose this “deep unease” has been building for some time. There was also a large section of stuffed birds…creepy, definitely creepy. I really wonder who first thought it was a good idea to kill something alive and beautiful and stuff it.
Anyway, that’s enough proof of my nerdiness for one evening. After the museum I had dinner with dawn and then we went out and did some more work and had some quiet drinking with a tasty piece of Canadian apple crumble which apparently includes dates and raisins and is a wee bit chocolatey…I wasn’t complaining, it was deliciously unexpected. And now I am headed back for the nest after kicking Ozzie the giant half husky sort of dog out of my room. She snores.