Friday, October 21, 2016

Where Goes Galactus, The Prime Directive Is... Retreat!

Often when researching material for a comics post, I come across an item or three that might pique my interest but may not be quite enough to build a post around--yet, collectively, they turn out to be fun stops along the way, something that many of you who read comics and recall amusing tidbits from scenes or panels can probably relate to. Here are a few that randomly came to mind for me, here and there in the past two weeks or so; in fact, I was surprised at how much I wanted to keep digging through my memories for more!

Let's start off with the Scarlet Witch, who it turns out speaks French quite well--thanks to a little inspiration from Captain Marvel, who's dropped in at light speed from her flat in New Orleans for Jarvis's famous continental breakfast:

Since we're eavesdropping, their conversation translates to:

CM: Eh, well, yes, of course!
SW: You speak french, madame?
CM: Not so well, sadly. My accent is from New Orleans ...
SW: Do not be so modest! You speak very well.

(CF: Je me demande si Pietro parle aussi le fran├žais?)

Speaking of Captain Marvel, when she was being introduced in hero circles there seemed to be a running joke circulating in her stories in terms of people being taken aback at hearing her name, since it must have seemed unusual for someone to claim the name of the late Mar-vell. The person who was meeting her for the first time always reacted the same, pausing in the middle of repeating her name back:

Not much of a joke, admittedly, and one with a short shelf life since people had to stop introducing her eventually--but perhaps it was simply an in-house point of amusement that ran its course.

Then there are those familiar images that a few artists occasionally slipped into their work that no doubt delighted those of us who enjoyed the nod to classic fictional material. Take, for instance, the Leader's manta-style ship that was keeping tabs on Bruce Banner, a ship which made it clear that the Leader was likely a big fan of the "War Of The Worlds" film from 1953:

And, from an X-Men story, we learn that while the hulls of Shi'ar space vessels resemble insects, their interior design--to say nothing of their terminology--hails back to 1966.

Maybe the Shi'ar passed close enough to Earth that year to intercept some of our broadcast transmissions? (They don't seem to have been as taken with other shows from that year, such as Lost In Space, The Time Tunnel, or My Favorite Martian.)

Another space vessel went a little further with its outer design--the ship that the Guardians of the Galaxy christened the "Captain America":

Going back through Marvel comics we can also find quite a few examples of heroes engaging in combat when one of them doesn't realize the other has taken them on under false pretenses. A good example would be Cyclops of the X-Men, battling nearly his entire team in order to shake them out of their funk when a villain has recently shaken their confidence. There's also the Thing doing the same for Mr. Fantastic, at the point in time when Dr. Doom is poised to take over the entire world:

Captain America is also pretty good at pulling the wool over his teammates when necessary, though he goes a little overboard when a new character applies for Avengers membership:

Hawkeye, as we can see, sits back and enjoys the show, as Cap manipulates both Iron Man and Thor into cutting loose on the Vision. Not exactly a welcome mat the guy lays out, is it? A simple "How about a demonstration of your powers?" would probably have sufficed. Who is this guy, the Cap of the 1950s?

Hercules has his own way of shaking someone out of their self-pity when he encounters the Sub-Mariner, living in virtual exile from his subjects after being asked to abdicate his throne. Hercules' methods aren't exactly those of a support group, but then again he's dealing with someone as volatile and stubborn as himself.

And even Hercules can be a sport when it's himself who needs the lesson:

Finally, it's Herc who ends our sampling of tidbits, while his dignity is still intact. (Barely.)

Hercules doesn't strike me as the modest type when it comes to boasting about his *ahem* assets, but this once I'm not complaining.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Two Against The World!

Part Two of a Fantastic Four story from 1976 begins with an incredible development--and if you've already read Part One, you can almost find yourself nodding in agreement with just about everything that's written on the splash page of this story's conclusion:

Picking up where we left off in the previous issue, we find the Thing has suddenly and inexplicably joined forces with the incredible Hulk--not only dropping his three partners in the FF in favor of this new alliance with the green goliath, but also turning on Reed, Sue, and Johnny, as well as threatening the human race. Just how inexplicably this turn of events has come about is evident from the shocked faces and pleas of the remaining FF members--but since this first page serves as a recap of what's already happened, let's go over a few of the things we're being told here, just to make sure we're covering all the bases:

  • "It had to happen--or DID it?" It's an odd question to begin with, one that hasn't a prayer of being answered at this point. Did all of this have to happen? A better question might be, how could a situation like this come about? We can at least identify the catalyst for the events of this story: Ben Grimm, whose strange behavior hopscotched from one peculiarity to the next.  First he began feeling useless to the FF after playing no part in a recent crisis... then he became disgruntled over the FF's pursuit of the Hulk, even though their goal was to cure Bruce Banner... then he took reluctant part in the Hulk's capture, though he'd never expressed such reservations about the many other times the Fantastic Four had been forced to engage the Hulk... followed by his ruination of Banner's cure after seeing the military restrain Banner as a precaution following his treatment... and then, finally, deciding to leave the FF and join forces with the Hulk, while forgetting the fact that this entire undertaking was to help Bruce Banner.
  • "Angered at the treatment meted out to the captive Hulk..." Well, no--Ben was angered by the treatment meted out to the captive Bruce Banner, when the military placed him under restraint following his procedure. And that being the case, why not simply unshackle Banner and join forces with him?
  • "In the name of heaven, Ben--you've got to be kidding!" Words likely (and loudly) echoed by readers being swept along by this story's entwined plot.
  • "We brought the Hulk here to cure him, not to harm him." More accurately, "We brought the Hulk here so that we could cure Bruce Banner." The same Bruce Banner who, earlier in the story, Ben was well aware of as having been the one who suffered from the accident that transformed him into the Hulk. If Ben sympathizes so much with Banner's plight, why take his eye off that ball?

Even now, it almost seems as if this story is trying to make sense of itself, which is turning out to be no small task. What happens when things become even more chaotic, as this situation escalates? There's one way to find out.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Monsters United!

There are a number of Hulk vs. Thing stories on the books, but one of the more interesting twists on the concept came down the pipe in a two-part tale from 1976, where even the cover to Part One makes sure to tell you that, despite appearances, you're in for something a little different this time around.

You're also in for two, count 'em, two SHOCK ENDINGS, one for each segment--so all in all, you're getting a pretty sweet deal for your 50¢.

The story is written by... well, you've already caught a glimpse of the credits on the splash page, but it's a fair bet that one look at the story's title brought his name to mind in an instant--Roy Thomas, of course, who drops pop culture references into his stories often enough to warrant changing his Marvel handle from "Rascally" to "Reliable." In this case, his inspiration likely comes from a 1969 film titled "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium," which boasts a large cast (and notable cameo appearances by a few others) that arrives in Europe for sightseeing tours and assorted hijinks. How that theme possibly relates to a battle between the Fantastic Four and the Hulk is anyone's guess, but for whatever reason it made perfect sense to Thomas, depending on whatever he was thinking about at the time and what unfathomable logic he used to connect those dots. It seems a head-scratcher even if it was meant as a play on words.

You might find more amusement in tracing the phrase back to its original context:  a 1957 cartoon by Leonard Dove that was meant to poke fun at the whirlwind nature of European tour schedules.

As for the FF, they're flying to Nebraska (Commercial passage? Something wrong with the Pogo Plane?) at the request of the military, due to reports of the Hulk rampaging in the area--but mostly in an effort to address the Hulk problem once and for all, by using technology we've seen before.

It's unclear why miniaturizing the psi-amplifier was the key to perfecting it, if that's what Thomas is implying. It was pretty apparent in its previous use that its size wasn't really the problem with its operation. Regardless, Sue's question is a likely cue for the Hulk's entrance--and, it goes without saying, for a near-disaster.

No, I don't know why the Hulk would make such an effort to save a train-load of people in the first issue of The Avengers, yet give the virtual finger to air-transit passengers. Thomas made quite a habit of giving the Hulk a casual disregard for humans' safety, which now has these unlucky passengers fearing for their lives.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Ire, a priestess of a tribe of supernatural beings dating back to the Stone Age, has taken it upon herself to challenge a pantheon of new gods named the Uprising Storm--current-day usurpers who, in her words, are "whelped by this new age... bred from depravity and poison... cast in the blast furnaces of the cities, conjured by incessant tides of data." Ire has pretty much blamed the coming of the Storm on anyone who can't stop looking at the their smart phone for two minutes; but be that as it may, she's involved Gilgamesh, a friend of Hercules, in a gruesome blood rite that will sacrifice the hero (and former Avenger) in order to cleanse the world of the Storm.

To Gilgamesh's rescue comes Hercules, who, in the modern world, has become an example of irrelevant celebrity and has sought to turn his situation around and restore his reputation. Tracking Gilgamesh to a construction site in Queens, he engages Ire and her brood in battle--but his foes are strong, and he faces superior numbers. It seems his efforts to rescue Gilgamesh have proven to be in vain--until he and Ire are interrupted by the mocking arrival of one of the Storm, an unassuming threat who uses the language of the day (God help us) to stop everyone in their tracks and assert the position of his pantheon.

To show you how clueless I am when it comes to text message acronyms and the shorthand of social media interaction in general (in fact, ICIHICPCL), the banter of the Storm's apparent spokesman, Cryptomnesia, had me checking a comprehensive reference list of such jargon so that I could keep up with the subtleties of the banter. Fortunately, his bruiser-in-tow, Catastrophobia, is the strong, silent type, so it's only Cryptomnesia whose language we have to sift through. And as self-assured as this young man might appear to be, Hercules will discover that Cryptomnesia has every reason to feel like his victory is a done deal, with such a powerful enforcer at his side.

Clearly, Hercules, who has dealt with a variety of powerful threats in his immortal life, isn't the type to fold in the face of either naked power or arrogance. Still, he has a fight on his hands. Thankfully, with a smack that had me virtually breaking out in applause, Hercules removes Cryptomnesia from the fight, while Herc is joined by both Gilgamesh and Ire in taking on Catastrophobia. At the end of this no-holds-barred battle, their tall foe escapes--but Cryptomnesia, who has witnessed the battle along with another of his pantheon, Horrorscope, is more than ready to continue the fight on a different front.

Part of the 2015-16 six-issue series, Hercules, the story of the Uprising Storm continues and escalates in the subsequent series Gods Of War, part of the Civil War II event. That should come as no surprise to those of you who by now know the drill in today's Marvel: circle back to #1 issues, and by all means include a cross-over event if at all possible. Nevertheless, it's a fresh take on Hercules that shows a more mature side to this god who always made a beeline for the nearest tavern following a victory that inflated both his ego and his reputation, but who now takes stock of himself and struggles to reconcile his old ways with the new path forward he wants to build. (Though it's regrettable that the continuing story has to be diluted by the Civil War sales juggernaut, IYKWIMAITYD.)

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Mirror Attack'd

If you were a reader of the PPoC three years ago, you might have felt you were left hanging after reading the story of Ilsa Strangway, a woman who struck a deadly bargain with Count Dracula for immortality and paid the price for her rash choice. Because while we indeed learned in full of the tragic fate of Ilsa after she came to realize her misguided conclusion regarding the bite of the vampire, there was another's fate left to be resolved--the fate of Dracula himself, who fell into Ilsa's trap by making use of a demonic mirror which he could step through in order to transport himself to another century. Ilsa had intentionally omitted crucial information regarding the mirror's operation--and Dracula, seeking escape from his enemies, made use of the mirror to vanish from their midst without knowing that he was headed toward his doom.

To complicate matters, there was one other who burst in just as Dracula was disappearing--Rachel Van Helsing's faithful aide, Taj, who grappled with Dracula just as the dark mirror's incantation was taking effect. Caught up in their struggle, neither of these men realize that the mirror is transporting them to a realm that will mean their deaths--the world of the demons who created it.

No, I don't know why Rachel feels compelled to point out at this moment that Taj is mute, or even that Taj is her servant. Does she think that Frank needs reminding of either?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Jack Kirby's Supplemental Covers, Circa 1976-1977

When artist Jack Kirby returned to Marvel in the late '70s, he chose to steer clear of those titles which readers might have hoped to see him take the reins of again (notably Mighty Thor and Fantastic Four) and instead focus on new projects--which put on his desk six monthly titles, a staggering workload for any artist to juggle, even without taking on the plotting and scripting work for these books that Kirby chose to assume as well. So it was interesting to see him go a step further and pitch in on doing cover work for a number of unrelated titles, including those books and characters he apparently didn't want to return to on a regular basis.

Given Kirby's schedule, as well as the fact that his return to the company turned out to be for only a brief period, the covers of any one title don't number very many; on the other hand, they ended up spanning across six or seven different titles, and were quite the surprise when browsing the comics racks for any given month. In addition, they show a remarkable knowledge of the story material and characters within, accurately representing the events of the story and the stakes involved.

Following are just a few examples of Kirby's "extracurricular" cover work from this period, with some notes and observations after each set.

  • Fantastic Four had probably the only set of covers that were a little disappointing, in comparison to those of Mighty Thor where Kirby seemed to have more regard for the character. On the one hand, Kirby is still a master at packing a great deal of imagery into his cover art and having it cover the gist of the entire story; yet the FF are less prominent on the covers, as if they're guest-stars in their own book.
  • You'll also notice in his crowd scenes here and in other titles that Kirby, bless him, still rejects the notion that businessmen no longer wore hats in the 1970s. (Yes, even on Counter-Earth, Jack!) To paraphrase the old saying, "you can take the man out of the late-'50s/early '60s, but..."

  • I'm really fond of Kirby's Avengers cover art, since there are a variety of characters usually present for him to interpret. His rendering of the Vision always had me intrigued to see how he would handle the character in a story (ditto for Yellowjacket and the Scarlet Witch).
  • There are instances here and in his Defenders covers where you'll notice another artist touching up Kirby's work, usually in facial or body features--perhaps to keep the covers coherent and avoid the look of reprints? Unless Kirby "got someone wrong" in a noticeable way, I don't quite understand the need; on the other hand, touch-ups by other artists coming in behind the original work weren't uncommon.
  • Avengers #157: I always felt this cover was too cluttered, even though I appreciated the intention of showing a single, unnamed foe having downed the entire team of Avengers with no apparent difficulty. It's a clever way of putting the Avengers front and center, while still making the threat to them clear; nevertheless, it seems the type of cover that would be rejected in favor of another, something else which also happened from time to time.
  • Avengers #156, showing Wanda's injured arm--a nod to the gunshot wound she sustained while fighting thugs at the Brand Corporation and which kept her arm in a sling for the duration of the Avengers' battles with Tyrak, Attuma, and Doom. Nice attention to the events of the story arc.

  • The last place I was expecting Kirby to show up while doing work on various other covers was The Defenders--meaning only that I can't help but wonder why he would take an interest in the book.
  • No doubt "the suits" were happy to see Kirby continuing to feature the Hulk prominently, as it seemed to be the consensus that the Hulk was the book's draw and moneymaker (which may have well been true).
  • Speaking of which, how curious that Kirby stayed clear of Incredible Hulk covers.

  • It seemed fitting to picture Thor #251 with Kirby's similar rendition of Hela's triumph eight years earlier in #150.
  • You may have caught on to the resemblance between issue #249 and issue #434, one of a number of homage covers from artist Ron Frenz.
  • Issue #255 was a natural for Kirby to wish to revisit. Were the Stone Men ever seen in comics again?
  • I don't believe any of these late-'70s Thor examples were inked by Vince Colletta, which would have certainly brought us full circle.

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