Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Happy Canada Day!

We're happy to be back at the blogging game and have a number of feature articles to post in the next little while. In the meanwhile, we wish all of our Canadian readers a very happy Canada Day. Thank you for reading.

Image from Marvel's Uncanny X-Men #120 (April 1979).

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hiatus Over!

Just like Magneto, Whatever Gods There Be always bounces back! We'll start posting again shortly, but in the meanwhile, please enjoy this image of Magneto from X-Men #2 (November 1991). You may recall, this is the follow-up issue of the first adjective-less X-title that sold over seven million copies.

Image from Marvel's X-Men #2 (November 1991) co-created by Chris Claremont & Jim Lee, inking by Scott Williams, colours by Joe Rosa and Letters by Tom Orzechowski. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

On Hiatus...Sort of...

I know it has been almost three months since my last blog post. Well, the reason for this is some important professional responsibilities have taken up a considerable amount of my time and will likely to do so in the future. So while some draft posts may be placed, and if something important relating to comics, sci-fi and pop culture comes up, I will certainly post those items. But until such a time, this blog will largely remain on hiatus for an indefinite period of time.

Here's some Silver Age Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D to THANK YOU for clicking and reading over the past four years. I've thoroughly enjoyed blogging as a hobby, and hopefully will continue to do so once things have settled down. 

Image from Marvel's Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D  (November 1968) written by Archie Goodwin and illustrated by Frank Springer.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy 1931-2015

I don't normally become sad when a Hollywood figure passes, but today is very different. While I grew up watching and loving the original Star Trek series, my first personal encounter with Leonard Nimoy was at a Toronto Star Trek convention in the early 1990s. I went solo so as to not be tied-down by others, and after getting a drive to the airport hotel from my dad; proceeded to explore the various organizations, displays and merchant tables who happily took my hard-earned allowance in exchange for books, badges and other Star Trek-related knick-knacks. 

Special thanks for Comic Book Resources for this image.
All told, I would go to three other conventions of this kind and many more comic and fan-cons over my years, but seeing Leonard Nimoy in that crowded convention hall and hearing him speak about his time as the First Officer of the original starship Enterprise, was one of the best times I've ever had at a convention and something I'll remember to the end of my days. Indeed, since 1991, my good luck charm has been a Commander Spock trading card in a plastic case. This little memento has gone with me through exams, graduations, jobs interviews and almost every other cerebral challenge I've ever faced. And while it hasn't always worked (it's only a photo of Spock and not Spock's Brain after all!) I never-the-less will not go into any brain-focussed challenge without it again. To this day, not only does this little card remind me of the greatness of Mr. Spock's intellect, but also those fun times as a nerdy teenager decades ago. 
Spock from Star Trek. He has long been my favourite character in science-fiction and an inspiration. Today is a difficult day.
I know Leonard Nimoy was an actor, writer, director, photographer, philanthropist and musician. (A very good friend of mine, who I met in 1993 after sharing our mutual love of Star Trek emailed this partial Twilight Zone episode featuring Nimoy today – here it is.) I also know his first biography, I Am Not Spock sought to put some distance between him and the character that made him one of my heroes. But as I recall him, Leonard Nimoy will always be, not only a gifted actor who helped create one of science-fiction's most memorable and inspiring characters, but a funny, warm, erudite and welcoming man who loved every fan he met and subsequently brought a smile to their face. As I hinted, the news of his passing has turned an otherwise sunny Friday into a much more difficult one than I had anticipated this morning. Of course, the stars above will continue to burn and call to us – even if only in science-fiction stories – but knowing Mr. Spock is no longer with us, diminishes them just a little. LLAP, Mr. Nimoy – you will be missed.

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Précis of the J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth to the End of the First Age - Part III: From the Three Houses of the Edain to the Battle of Unnumbered Tears

Forward

Below is the third installment of the history of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth in the First Age. This is the third of four blog entries on this topic, and because it does take some time to write, please forgive the month between installments 2 and 3. I'll probably read The Children of Húrin for the fourth and final installment, so it may be another month until the next one arrives. In the meanwhile please enjoy this précis and yes the story of Beren and Lúthien is featured. Also this book features passages taken directly from The Silmarillion itself and they are from the Unwin Paperback (1991) edition.  

The Three Houses of the Edain

The Edain eventually divided into three houses. The first house was the House of Bëor, who became friends with Finrod and entered into Beleriand about 300 years after the sun first rose. The second house was led by Haldad and later by his daughter Haleth and settled in the Forest of Brethil, which lies on the other side of the River Sirion from Doriath. This house is unique as it is named after a matriarch and was known as the House of Haleth. The third house of the Edain: and the one which became the most renown, entered Beleriand marching in rank and column and first was led by Marach, who brought them over the mountains. Eventually, however, the house became known as the House of Hador, named after Marach's great-great grandson. Hador’s line would include Tuor, who married Idril of Gondolin and is therefore related to Eärendil the Mariner, who himself is father to Elrond of Rivendell (who chose to be an elf) and the mortal, Elros, the first king of Númenor, the great island kingdom of the Second Age. Because of this, the Kings of Gondor and Arnor, including Aragorn is also descended from Hador.

The poster from the film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King which was released in December 2003. Aragorn, who is the King of Gondor and Arnor is a descendant of the Edain of the First Age.
Morgoth Strikes Back!

Fingolfin followed his half-brother Fëanor to Middle-earth, in order to not abandon the Noldor to his temperamental elder half-brother. When Fëanor arrived in Middle-earth, he did not waste any time and the host he had immediately went north where they quickly routed an orc army in the northern area of Ard-galen. From there Fëanor marched further north, but was met with a defence of Balrogs and was killed in battle against Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs. In a later counter-attack, led by Glaurung, Father of Dragons, the host of Fëanor was taken by surprise and the new High-King of the Noldor, Maedhros, the son of Fëanor was captured by the enemy.  

When this occurred, Fingolfin’s son Fingon -- who was close with his cousin -- went to rescue Maedhros and when he was successful, brought both his cousin and peace back to the Noldor. Recognizing both the valiance of Fingon's deeds, as well as the sins of the past, Maedhros then relinquished his line's claim to the kingship of the Noldor in Middle-earth, and the crown passed to his uncle, Fingolfin. Fingolfin is generally considered amongst the wisest and ablest of the Noldor and while he was part of the Kinslaying, this was only because he arrived late and did not understand how the event had started. Fingolfin would eventually die at the hands of Morgoth himself, after the Dagor Bragollach, a battle which saw Morgoth break a siege on Angband and meet the High-King of the Noldor in one-on-one combat. Before this happened, however, Fingolfin crippled him permanently. 

Morgoth and the High-King of the Noldor by Ted Nasmith. From the 1991 Tolkien Calendar.
The Story of Beren and Lúthien 

Of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, the story of Beren and Lúthien is perhaps the most important both to the larger legend, as well as Professor Tolkien himself. I say this because it is the names "Beren" and "Lúthien" the are inscribed onto the mutual gravestone of Tolkien and his wife, Edith Mary, in their final resting place at Oxford. The story is also recounted by Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings as he and the hobbits are fleeing the Nazgûl and on their way to Rivendell. 

The grave of Edith Mary Tolkien (Lúthien) and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (Beren) in Oxford, England.
Beren was a mortal man. His father, Barahir, was a friend and ally of the elves and Beren was one of the last survivors of the Dagor Bragollach, the battle that saw Morgoth reach down into the northern portions of Middle-earth, as well as kill Fingolfin. In the defeat, he escaped south and was driving into the northern reaches of Doriath, home of Thingol and Melian. Amazingly, despite the power of the Girdle of Melian, Beren "passed through the mazes that Melian wove about the kingdom of Thingol, even as she had foretold; for a great doom lay upon him" (The Silmarillion pg. 197). When he arrived in Doriath he came across Lúthien, the daughter of the monarchs and the most beautiful of all the Children of Ilúvatar. As he watched her dance, he immediately fell in love and gave her the nickname Tinúviel which was elvish for "Nightingale".

But Lúthien was loved by another, a minstrel named Daeron, and Daeron betrayed Beren to King Thingol, who immediately disliked him. When the two met, it was an exchange for the ages, probably one of the most enjoyable in the entire book:

Then Beren looking up beheld the eyes of Lúthien, and his glance went also to the face of Melian and it seemed to him that words were put into his mouth. Fear left him, and the pride of the greatest house of Men returned to him; and he said; "My fate, O King, let me hither through the perils such as few even of the Elves would dare. And here I have found what I sought not indeed, but finding I would possess for ever. For it is above all gold and silver, and beyond all jewels. Neither rock, nor steel, nor the fires of Morgoth, nor all the powers of the Elven-kingdoms, shall keep from me the treasure that I desire. For Lúthien your daughter is the fairest of all the children of the world. 


Then silence feel upon the hall, for those who stood there were astounded and afraid, and they thought that Beren would be slaim. But Thingol spoke slowly saying: "Death you have earned with these words and death you should find suddenly, had I not sworn an oath in haste of which I repent, baseborn mortal, who in the realm of Morgoth has learnt to creep in secret as his spies and thralls."


Then Beren answered: "Death you can give me earned or unearned, but the names I will not take from you are baseborn, nor spy nor thrall. By the ring of Felagund, that he gave to Barahir my father on the battlefield of the North, my house has not earned such names from any Elf, be he king or no. (The Silmarillion pg. 200)

When Beren showed that he indeed was great among the mortals of Middle-earth and that he wore Finrod’s ring, Melian, sensed that something greater was afoot, and warned her husband: "For not by you," she said "shall Beren be slain; and far and free does his fate lead him in the end, yet it is bound with yours. Take heed!"

But the king did not listen. And in his pride ordered that the price for his daughter's hand, was a Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth. In making such a brash request, he therefore tied himself to the fate of those accursed jewels, and also came under the Oath of Fëanor.  

The Quest of Beren

Beren left Doriath and set out on his quest to retrieve a Silmaril from Morgoth. Before heading north to Angband, he went east to Nargothrond, the home of Finrod, who had sworn an oath of friendship with Beren’s father. In his quest he was joined by ten warriors, and was led by the king, who was also warned by Celegorm and Curufin of the Oath of Fëanor. They went north under the guise of orcs, but while doing so where captured by Sauron, who discovered them in a battle of wills with the Noldorian king. When Sauron emerged victorious, the party was imprisoned in Tol-in-Guarhoth, a watch tower that was originally named Minas Tirith but had been captured by the forces of Morgoth. Sauron, had werewolves under his command and one by one the compatriots of Beren will killed until there was only him and Finrod left. When it came time for a werewolf to kill Beren, as it attacked, Finrod broke his chains and countered, killing the beast. It was written: "He died, then in the dark, in Tol-in-Gaurhoth, whose great tower he himself had built. Thus King Finrod Felagund, fairest and the most beloved of the house of Finwë, redeemed his oath, but Beren mourned beside him in despair." (The Silmarillion pg. 209 )

Just then Lúthien arrived. She had been following Beren and had been held in Nargothrond by Celegorm and Curufin. Aided by a massive dog named, Huan, she fled the palace and headed north. Huan then battled the werewolves, including Sauron himself in werewolf form, and defeated them. From there Lúthien claimed the island and demanded mastery over it. With this, Sauron fled in the form of a vampire bat, to a region of Taur-nu-Fuin, a forested area north of Doriath.

Beren and Lúthien approach Angband by Ted Nasmith.
Now free, Beren wanted to continue his task of retrieving a Silmaril, but this time Lúthien insisted on accompanying him. When she made this demand, Beren understood that they "could not be divided from the doom that lay upon them both, and he sought no longer to dissuade her". Through magic, they took the shapes of a bat and a wolf and went north to Angband, eventually finding their way into the throne-room of Morgoth. Once there, Lúthien sang a magical song that made the Dark Lord and his court fall asleep. Then:

All his court were case down in slumber, and all the fires faded and were quenched; but the Silmarils in the crown on Morgoth's head blazed forth suddenly with a radiance of white flame and the burden of that crown and of the jewels bowed down his head, as though the world were set upon it, laden with a weight of care, of fear, and of desire, that even the will of Morgoth could not support. Then Lúthien catching up her winged robe sprang into the air, and her voice came dropping down like rain into pools, profound and dark. She cast her cloak before his eyes, and set upon him a dream, dark as the Outer Void where once he walked alone. Suddenly he fell, as a hill sliding in avalanche, and hurled like thunder from his throne lay prone upon the floors of hell. The iron crown rolled echoing from his head. All things were still. (The Silmarillion p. 217)

Beren then cut a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown. However, he could only get one as when he tried to cut the others, his knife broke and a shard of it fell into Morgoth's face, rousing him from his sleep. From there, Beren and Lúthien attempted an escape, but their path was blocked by a massive werewolf named Carcharoth, who was also the sworn enemy of Huan the Hound. In the subsequent mêlée, the werewolf attacked and bit-off off the hand of Beren which carried the Silmaril. The creature then swallowed the jewel and ran off in a madness as it burned him from within. As is often the case in Tolkien’s work, Eagles then came and carried Beren and Lúthien away to safety.

Beren and Lúthien few back to the kingdom of Doriath, where they spent some time in peace together. As word of their quest became known, Thingol's heart softened towards his would-be son-in-law and eventually they came before the king, who asked where his Silmaril was:

But Beren said: "It is fulfilled. Even now a Silmarils is in my hand." Then Thingol said: "Show it to me!" And Beren put forth his left hand, slowly opening his fingers but it was empty. Then he held up his right arm; and from that hour he named himself Camlost, the Empty-handed. (The Silmarillion Pg. 221)


But the task was still unfulfilled and from there Beren and Huan helped hunt for the werewolf with the jewel in his belly. In the beast's madness, he drove into Doriath and in the hunt both Beren and Huan were slain. But as Beren lay dying, Malblung, an elven warrior cut open the body of the dead beast and put the Silmaril into Beren’s hand before he handed it to the king, thereby completing his quest. He then died.

Grieving for Beren, Lúthien also died, and as immortals do, went to the Halls of Mandos. As she sang a lament for her lost love, Mandos was moved with pity and restored them both to life. (How he did this to a mortal man, who had left the bounds of the world, is unknown.) Lúthien then left Doriath and went east where she and Beren lived the rest of their days, both eventually dying as mortals.

The Battle of Unnumbered Tears

The Battle of Unnumbered Tears or the Nirnaeth Arnoediad was a major battle in the history of Middle-earth. The battle was prompted by Maedhros, who wanted to end the reign of Morgoth, and forged an alliance with the Edain, dwarves, and other mortals to combine and defeat the forces of Morgoth. Unfortunately, the sons of Feanor, having alienated many in the kingdoms of Beleriand meant that the army from Nargothrond was only a token of what it could have been, and from Doriath only two captains joined of a force of some 45,000. Turgon did some forces from Gondolin, but without the Kingdom of Doriath and Thingol on side, the attacking force was considerably limited.

Never-the-less, the army arrived in the north. Maedhros' plan was to attack from the centre, so as to draw out Morgoth’s forces and have Fingon’s army attack from the west, thereby taking out the flank of the enemy's forces. Unfortunately, Morgoth learned of the plan through his agents, specifically, Uldor, a man who had sworn fealty to Carathir, but was also secretly working for Morgoth. Uldor caused considerable trouble with the attacking force and disrupted the coordination between the various forces, in one instance preventing the lighting of a signal beacon. Having come to know the plan of the allied forces, Morgoth also sent a force of orcs to the west, whereby they outflanked the forces of Fingon and left him harried and alone.  

When one of Morgoth’s orc-captains, not above brutal psychological warfare, captured one of the elves from Nargothrond, he tortured and beheaded him in front of Fingon’s forces who were concealed above in the mountains. As this happened, a group of elves, in a fit of rage, attacked the orcs and betrayed their position. Fortunately, Fingon’s forces were successful in breaking the ranks of Morgoth’s forces and from there Gwindor of Nargothrond, whose brother was the one who had been executed by the orcs, made a chage for Angband itself:

Now his rage was kindled to madness, and he leapt forth on horseback and many riders with him; and they purposed the heralds and slew them, and drove on deep into the main host. And seeing this all of the host of the Noldor was set on fire, and Fingon put on his white helm and sounded his trumpets and all the host of Hithlum leapt forth from the hills in sudden onslaught. The light of the drawing of the swords of the Noldor was like fire in a field of reeds and so fell and swift was their onset that almost the designs of Morgoth went astray. Before the army that he sent westward could be strengthened it was swept away, and the banners of Fingon passed over Anfaughlith and were raised before the walls of Angband. (The Silmarillion pg. 230-231)

As soon after this elven host banged on the doors of Angband, they were surrounded and killed, except for Gwindor himself who was taken captive. Fingon, while charging to the aid of the attacking force, did not arrive in time and Morgoth’s forces were able to respond out of the secret passages of the Thangorodrim (the mountains that protected Angband) and engaged with the king's forces. Soon Fingon’s host was in full retreat back to Hithlim, with many of the Men of Brethil in the rearguard killed in the process. Indeed, of all the Men of Brethil only three returned from the battle.

Next into the breach were the Gondolindrum. Emerging from his self-imposed exile in the heart of Middle-earth, Turgon, had held back his forces from the beginning of the battle. However, upon seeing the slaughter before him, he sent his army into the battle and they quickly broke the enemy's lines. When this happened, he met with his brother Fingon, as well as Húrin, a captain of men, and there was "renewed hope for the elves". Soon afterwards, Maedhros joined the fight from the east and the forces of Morgoth looked like they were (again) about to collapse. 

But Morgoth was not finished and just as it appeared the elves, mortals and dwarves were to achieve victory, the entire effort fell apart. At that point, Angband emptied and Glaurung attacked, preventing the two hosts of the allied forces from uniting in the middle. Then, Uldor and a large contingent of his men, betrayed the effort and, turning-coat, attacked the eastern army from within, almost killing Maedhros before they were finally put down. As the seven Sons of Fëanor gathered what was left of their forces, the dwarves from the eastern Blue Mountains, attacked the dragon in a rearguard action, using their fire resistant armour to cause considerable damage to the monster. Indeed, it was the King of Belegost himself, Azaghâl, whose fatal stab in the dragon's belly, killed it before it collapsed upon him, killing him in-turn. The dwarves then raised the body of their lord and carried it away.

Fingon, High-King of the Noldor fights Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs, in a depiction by Ted Nasmith.
With the eastern army destroyed, the forces of Fingon and Turgon soon found themselves surrounded. Then Gothmog, the Balrong, and the high-captain of the forces of Morgoth, attacked and made a path between him and the Noldorian brothers. Gothmog pushed the forces of the elves back to the marshlands called the Fen of Serech, north of the River Sirion. Then, after killing the host protecting Fingon, he turned his attention to the king:

That was a grim meeting. At last Fingon stood alone with his guard dead about him; and he fought with Gothmog, until another Blarog came behind and cast a thong of fire about him. Then Gotmog hewed him with his black axe, and a white flame sprang up from the helm of Fingon as it was cloven. Thus fell the High-King of the Noldor; and they beat him into the dust with their maces, and his baner, blue and silver, they trod into the mire of his blood. (The Silmarillion pg. 233)

It was now over and Turgon, counselled by mortals Húrin and Huor, called for a retreat to Gondolin, at which time Huor prophesied that it was from Gondolin and the House of Turgon that "shall come the hope of Elves and Men" although Turgon knew that this defeat also meant Gondolin would not remain hidden for much longer. When Maeglin, Turgon’s nephew heard Huor make his prophecy, he took note, yet remained silent. 

By the end the battle became a rout. The Men of Dor-lómin indeed fought to the very death and won renown, not just for themselves but their entire race. Huor was killed by a poisoned arrow through the eye, and Húrin, friend and counsellor to elves, was the only one left standing. Upon being taken prisoner, he was brought before Morgoth after being bound by Gothmog himself, and was tormented by the Dark One himself for twenty-eight years. The curse that Morgoth placed upon him and his children will feature in the next installmeant of this feature and has been written about extensively in the 2007 book The Children of Húrin

The Battle of Unnumbered Tears is a watershed moment in the First Age. Morgoth emerged from the battle controlling most of Middle-earth except for the kingdoms of Nargothrond, Doriath and Gondolin, whose elves and mortals could only now hide. Moreover, while the mortals who helped the elves would never be forgotten, the treason of Uldor would also not be forgotten and the races of mortals and elves were now estranged. Also in a foreshadowing of future events, upon returning to Gondolin, Turgon asked Cirdan the Shipwright, to build seven swift ships to go to the Undying Lands to seek help. Of the seven, only one returned and spoke of a massive storm that prevented them from getting through. 

In Part IV: The Children of Húrin and the end of the First Age

Sunday, February 8, 2015

King-Size Kirby!

Make sure you check the Diamond Marvel Previews this month. There's a lot coming over the horizon for both the Big Two and the Others, but one of the most notable for students of the history of comics is that a King-Size Kirby hardcover is slated to be available this July. It's going to be a massive 816 pages and $200.00, but it looks like this will be the book to have for fans of Jack "The King" Kirby. I'll start saving the pennies for a review this summer! 

Captain America as drawn by the legendary Jack Kirby. Found the Marvel Previews (February 2015). 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

WGTB Reviews Star Wars #1

There is a lot for Star Wars fans to be excited about these days: The Force Awakens trailer went up on the Internet in December, and was a fun taste of what will undoubtedly be the hit film of 2015-2016. Also, just a few weeks ago, Disney which now owns both Lucasfilm and Marvel comics, brought the Star Wars licence back to the publisher who had it from 1977 until 1989 when it was taken over by Dark Horse Comics. Of course, Dark Horse's work with the property from 1994 to 2014 proved they were worthy custodians of the Star Wars universe, but this only means that Marvel Comics' first issue in decades would have to be strong and lasting impression.

Marvel's Star Wars Vol.2 #1 (March 2015) Written by Jason Aaron, art by John Cassaday, colors by Laura Martin and letters by Chris Eliopoulos.
So how did Marvel do? All in all, I would say Marvel didn't do too badly. All the main characters were present -- including Darth Vader -- who is always cool to see. John Cassady's art has a photo-realism that works well, especially given that it's a franchise readers cannot help but bring their old awe-struck memories to the reading experience. The ships and technology was also great, and the fact that Star Wars has always had the best naval architecture of any science-fiction/space opera franchise, was not lost on Cassday and the Marvel crew. Have a look for yourself:
An AT-AT in Star Wars #1

And it's not just the technology: the gang's all here in Star Wars #1...
It's almost a truism to say Jason Aaron is as skilled a writer as comics can get. His work with the various Thor titles since the Marvel NOW! re-branding has lent itself to space-opera and stories of epic proportions, as did Wolverine and the X-Men which was never afraid to go to outer space when needed. So while it's probably too early to tell whether these stories are going to great, I think Aaron is both the right person for the job and at this point is off to a good start. The book is at a $4.99 price point, which seems to be where Marvel is heading these days (Avengers!) which was slightly unpleasant, but this particular edition included sample pages from the upcoming Marvel releases: Darth Vader and Princess Leia, both of which looked like good beginnings to a fresh look at the Star Wars universe. 
... as is Darth Vader!
So while it's probably too early to tell whether these stories are going to great, I think Aaron is both the right person for the job and is off to a good start. In either case, while the Dark Horse material is no longer canon, (Will it become an Ultimate Star Wars universe?) it will be interesting to see how Marvel does with this line of Star Wars comics, especially given the new films are just over the horizon. However, from a first impression, things look to be in good shape. 4/5 STARS