“He’s gone quiet,” said Santino Zambrano, one of the condottieri mercenaries of the Rings of Gold company.

“I’ll get him going again,” replied his captain, Giustino Valenti. Rising, he clipped on his cuirass and drew his sword, pounding the pommel on the wooden door. “Hey! You in there! We didn’t do through all the trouble of capturing you so you could sleep! You’re to build us weapons and make a chart of Venice’s naval defenses!”

No response.

Zambrano’s face glistened with sweat. “What if we killed him, or he killed himself? He knows the Medicis and the King of France! Do yuo have any idea what they’d do to us if we not only kidnapped but killed the great Leonardo da Vinci?”

“Quiet, quiet,” snapped Valenti. “Do you want the boss to hear you blubbering like that? We condottieri of the Rings of Gold company are made of sterner stuff. He’s probably just playing dead.”

The mercenary opened the door and advanced into the darkened room, rapier and mein gauche drawn. Zambrano followed with just his boot dagger.

“Where are you, you stinking old sodomite?” barked Valenti. The room was dark; the prisoner had extinguished all lights and only a thin sliver filtered in from the arrow slit in the wall.

“Look at this,” said Zambrano. He had taken up a handful of Leonardo’s papers with the intention of stuffing them down his cuirass and selling them. “These look like gloves and body armor, not cannons and ballista like the boss told him to design for us.”

“Put that down! Do you want to-” Valenti was cut off by movement in the corner of his eye. Something flashed across Zambrano’s field of vision, and he saw his captain stumble backwards, gurgling and clawing at a crossbow bolt in his neck. A figure moved in the shadows, much larger than a man, and moved about with a sudden belching of smoke and fire.

Zambrano fled the room, pursued by whatever he had roused, screaming an alarm. The remaining Rings of Gold mercenaries, save for their absent leader, sprang into action. A phalanx of pikemen surrounded the makeshift prison’s only exit, while arquebusiers backed them up with loaded guns.

Leonardo’s war machine tore through them in seconds.

Emerging into the full sunshine, Zambrano could see that the captive had fashioned himself a suit of armor from the cannon components, somehow using the power of a small stove on his back to allow his frail frame to move the hundredweight of brass and iron and steel. A blade at the end of one arm sliced the pikes to matchwood, while a projector on the other belched Greek fire, breaking the men’s ranks as they died in flaming agony. The arquebusiers, out of range, replied with a volley, but their lead shot clinked harmlessly off Leonardo’s armor. In response, the inventor pulled a lever and a rack of vertically-mounted miniature magazine-fed crossbows appeared over his shoulders; the gunmen fell before Zambrano even heard the twang of the strings.

Cowering, Zambrano threw down his weapons and raised his hands. Leonardo’s war machine approached him and one of the metal gauntlets seized the front of the mercenary’s armor, hauling him bodily off his feet.

“What…what are you?” sputtered the condottieri.

Leonardo’s eyes glistened from behind an armor-plated mask. “I am Renaissance Man,” he growled.

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Javaman was created by Reggie O’Donald (art) and Nate Grimaldi (writing) as part of IC Comics Group’s “New Consumers” lineup. The New Consumers were originally intended as a group of foodstuff-related heroes that could provide IC with another revenue source through distribution to local restaurants and eateries. Most of the heroes from that lineup, like Pastaman or the Burger Avengers, were unpopular and quickly canned. Javaman alone survived the cut.

As with many of the IC heroes, Javaman has several origin stories. In the Golden and Silver Age continuity IC used through 1987, he was born Jan Van Aman, an American-Dutch wealthy playboy and heir to the Van Aman coffee fortune. While overseeing a plantation in Malaya that was run like a slave-labor camp, Jan was kidnapped by native laborers and held prisoner. Moved by their plight, he agreed to be infused with the Sacred Coffee Beans of Fuol Gerre, which granted him the power to control coffee-based substances, super-speed, and super strength at the cost of having to constantly drink potent coffee to maintain his powers.

In the rebooted continuity promulgated by IC starting in 1988, Javaman was John Avaman, the owner of an independent Seattle coffee. Upset with his popularity and scruples, agents of the local Stubb’s Coffee empire (changed to the fictional Queequeg’s Coffee after a lawsuit) attempted to assassinate him by puncturing vats full of an experimental super-potent coffee and drowning him. Instead, John Avaman’s cells were hyper-saturated with caffeine, granting him more or less the same powers. Some later limited series and one-shots (like Javaman #391) tried to establish a link between the Golden Age Javaman and the Modern Age one, positing that Jan Van Aman was variously John Avaman’s uncle, surrogate father, wealthy benefactor, or inspiration.

For all the changes in his continuity, Javaman’s rogues’ gallery has been relatively consistent. His most persistent foe has been Unfair Trade, since Javaman #1 an unscrupulous plutocrat with designs on the worldwide coffee market and armies of hired goons and technology at his disposal. The ambiguous Decaffinatrix, a burglar waging a one-woman war on caffeine after a traumatic accident left her unable to enjoy coffee, has been both friend and foe ever since her first appearance in Javaman #55. And the Expressonator, introduced in Javaman #271, has been a perennial favorite as well.

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Zines. Short for magazine or fanzine. Small-circulation publications, usually made on a cheap library photocopier. Usually a thousand copies or less of each issue, if there is in fact more than one issue. You’d think that they’d be the sort of thing that would slip under the radar, but as Underwater Basket Weaving proved, academics can study anything. As it happens, the Graphic Arts department at SMU is lousy with people that study zines; it falls to me, as the SMU Archivist for Visual Arts and Ephemera, to collect them.

Time was, most of the zines were outlets for paranoid schizophrenia on the Francis E. Dec level or extreme right- or left-wing conspiracy nuts. That was still true for a lot of them, but of course those weren’t the ones my faculty wanted me to collect. Like everything else that had once been an authentic mode of expression, zines have also been appropriated by hipsters. Now the field is full of people with art, design, philosophy, or literature degrees taking an inordinate amount of time and their parents’ money to try and design an zine that looks like it cost $0.50 to xerox.

So I write to peers in Berkley, New York, Austin, Ann Arbor asking for them to collect what zines they can find and mail them to me. I get piles of zine comics (the creators spell it with an X, comix, but I reserve that term for authentic stuff) trying desperately to be edgy and relevant and socially conscious. They typically wind up somewhere around “pretentious” instead. Then there’s the reams of bad prose poetry, cut up and pasted onto a sheet of notebook paper before xeroxing to make the tired odes to revolutionary consciousness and Free Tibet seem more authentic than the regurgitated leavings of petit bourgeoisie in denial.

I carefully place them into big acid free boxes while people come by to look and write impressive-sounding papers about these grassroots artforms. I haven’t the heart to tell them it’s astroturf.

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Werner Voss found Manfred von Richthofen standing next to his Fokker triplane, watching Australian soldiers remove his still-warm body from the cockpit.

“I thought they might send you for me,” Richthofen said, barely glancing in the direction of his friend and rival who had been dead for over a year. “Hell of a thing. I was about to down a clumsy little Canadian when one of his buddies forced me to dive right into some ground fire.”

“I see you were able to land safely,” observed Voss politely.

“And a lot of good it did me. They’re already picking the Fokker apart for souvenirs.” Richthofen sighed. “I bet they give that Canuck wichser credit for the kill too.”

“Would you rather credit went to some Aussie digger?” asked Voss. “In any case, it’s time to go. Unless you’d prefer to spend your eternity haunting what’s left of your plane.”

They turned away from the wreckage and Voss led Richthofen to a spot of blinding light that beggared description. “What’s it like?” the Baron asked.

“Oh, it’s quite nice, actually,” said Voss “You become one with the cosmos and the font of all things and gain total knowledge of the past, present, and future. Even if you were reduced to mincemeat like I was.”

“Total knowledge?” Richthofen cast a sidelong glance at his plane. “So tell me, Werner, what do the people of the future think of me, if they even remember?”

“Oh, they certainly remember,” Voss said, clapping a hand on the Baron’s back. “You’re the best-known fighter pilot from any country for the next thousand years or so! Even the smallest children will know your name.”

“Because of my exploits in securing ultimate victory for the Empire?”

“Ah…no,” Voss said hesitantly. “They’ll remember you from that cartoon, and from the lid of an American pizza box.”

“A cartoon? What’s that got to do with anything, Werner?” Richthofen fussed.

“Yes, there’s an American cartoon dog that pretends to dogfight you. On top of his doghouse. You always win, if it’s any consolation.”

“And the Italian food?”

Voss shrugged. “I think it’s a metaphor for the red of the sausage and sauce and how ruthlessly inexpensive it is? Anyhow, the picture on the lid is very unrealistic. It has a mustache.”

The Baron hesitated at the edge of the light.

“Oh, don’t be like that. Go on in and see for yourself.”