There have been one or two posts I've made where I've taken a look at the instances where various heroes have called it quits--so I thought it might be interesting to bookend those posts with the flip side of the coin, and have a look at the times when some of them have reaffirmed their dedication to their calling, with renewed strength and commitment. Those issues are generally timed pretty well, and they end up giving a nice shot in the arm to their respective titles--full steam ahead and all that, beginning a new chapter for not just the hero(es) but also the readers.
Spider-Man, for instance, has had his share of times when he's felt like throwing in the towel. The super-hero life was an uphill battle for him, mostly due to the incessant and inexplicable fanning of public opinion against him by newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson. But a good swift kick by his Uncle Ben from beyond the grave can usually make him come to his senses when he's on the verge of hanging up the web shooters:
In the case of the Avengers, the turnover nature of their group makes it almost impractical for them to come together and reaffirm their bond--much less their mission, which, let's face it, has always been pretty simple:
And when they've tried to clarify that mission, it's been known to lead to disagreement. So their only reaffirmation of their commitment has come informally, either in the announcement of a line-up change:
Or in a spur of the moment rallying cry:
But on rare occasion, it took heavy-duty discussion by seasoned heads to make sure the Avengers continued:
The "new" X-Men, of course, are the poster group for splintering and restarting under different mission statements, all variations of Charles Xavier's dream of peaceful coexistence between human and mutant--often without Xavier even being around. Consequently, they weren't enough of a solid formation to formally disband--so on those occasions where they felt the need to express their renewed vigor, it, too, was also more the result of a rallying cry than to reaffirm their dedication to their ideals:
Captain America's most noteworthy reaffirmation came when he abandoned his identity as Nomad. Yet his comrade in arms, Iron Man, instead had to make sure that his current identity was still necessary, and that he wasn't causing more harm than good:
Thor, as well, has been unsure of his identity, but under different circumstances. And his reaffirmation was more personal in nature as a result:
Still, if you think he's going to be outdone by Iron Man flying off in front of a sunrise:
As for the Silver Surfer, his reaffirmations were also more personal in nature, resolving to remain true to himself and prevail against the evils of the universe. He can really do little else--under the yoke of Galactus, his was a single-minded mission in the service of his master, while his only goal on Earth was to free himself of his captivity. But escaping both served to center him and give him a sense of worth:
It's really the Fantastic Four who stand out above the rest in terms of reaffirmation of their reason for being. Their binding moment came at their inception, needing no personal tragedy (such as the case with Spider-Man) or circumstances (the Avengers) to spur their decision. And when they reaffirm their dedication, you get a sense of Marvel's history that none of its other characters can come close to providing:
Heh--Johnny's reaffirmation sounds pretty conditional in that last panel, doesn't it? But rest assured, he pulled out of his funk and stayed with the FF. Wotta hothead.
In these days of heroes being shuffled in and out of the Avengers like trading cards, I'm glad there are moments like this to look back on where commitment to a hero's founding values was something unique and personal to each individual. I'm not sure if the FF's heartfelt words here would resonate so strongly if they had to run them by Cap first.
If you were stunned to see the 1978 Fantastic Four animated series launch with a diminutive robot replacing the Human Torch on the team, think of the double-take comics readers probably did at seeing the cover of Fantastic Four #209 in 1979, which introduced a new character in the book:
And the Thing may very well have summed up reaction to the development:
Nevertheless, "H.E.R.B.I.E." was now a part of FF continuity:
But unlike in the animated series, HERBIE in the comic was not an active, independent member of the team, but instead a mobile computing aide to Reed--with a permanent link-up to an alien "living computer," without which, according to Reed, HERBIE's design "would have been impossible." This, coming from a man who's come up with designs and breakthroughs that would make HERBIE look like a wind-up toy by comparison. I think Reed is probably overdue for a rest stay at a resort somewhere.
As for the animated series, HERBIE was the brainchild of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and would substitute for the Torch on the team due to the Torch's television rights already having been optioned for a possible solo project down the road, which prevented his use for the cartoon show. You have only to look at the first episode of the series to see the differences in how the two mediums treat HERBIE's role in the FF. In the TV series, HERBIE is something of a take-charge character--almost annoyingly so--actively coordinating the team as well as making decisions as to the team's actions as well as its own. Yet it's easy to see what a hit he'd be to kids watching Saturday morning cartoons--not only do they get to see the Fantastic Four--but their mascot and, dare I say it, friend is a cutely-designed, hovering, mobile robot with a funny voice and a bumpy but good-natured relationship with the gruff Thing.
A relationship which the comic book Thing had no intention of facilitating:
Though it appeared that writer Marv Wolfman wasn't about to let such an opportunity pass by:
But, as HERBIE's initial cover appearance intimated, this robot's seemingly harmless functions are perhaps not what they seem. And there are other occasions which arise that have us wondering if Reed might have missed a few decimals when coding HERBIE's programming:
HERBIE has only a limited time with the FF, though--and it's nine issues later when HERBIE's secrets are finally revealed. And it begins with this computer link-up which gives it information on the team's weaknesses, information which elicits a surprising response from a mere programmed mechanism:
Subsequently, Doctor Sun, later revealed to be in possession of HERBIE, makes his move on the team, incapacitating them one by one:
Yet Sun makes a tactical error in dealing with the Torch, when he leaves HERBIE's form to return to Reed's main computer in order to use the building's own defense systems against the last free FF member:
At that point, Reed comprehends Sun's shift from HERBIE and moves to isolate the villain within the computer. But surprisingly, it's HERBIE who deduces the only possible way to thwart Sun:
And when the dust settles, Ben is ironically (and perhaps appropriately) the one who gives HERBIE his due and brings the robot's appearance in Fantastic Four to a close:
Once the mutual back-scratching of HERBIE's cross-appearances was dealt with, Reed was later free to give HERBIE new life in forms that were a little less intrusive, and blended into the feeling of family which writer/artist John Byrne's run on the FF excelled at. His first such refit for the robot came in the form of a babysitter for Franklin:
Though somebody forgot to clue in Ben:
Unfortunately, this HERBIE would be the first witness to Franklin's power manifesting, which is one of the things Reed created him to monitor. Maybe Reed should have rigged the robot's alarm to be a little less self-contained:
Which is where we'll have to leave our story of HERBIE. But as an interesting footnote to the animated series which spawned his creation, you might have a look at FF #236 (the team's 20th anniversary issue), which takes episode 8 of the show and converts it to a comics story that follows up the regular tale in that issue.
Now that Trek film lore has been reset to begin again the early voyages of the Enterprise under the command of CadetCaptain Kirk, this might be a good time to have a look at a 1997-98 comic book series that filled a niche for those of us who hadn't seen nearly enough of Captain Christopher Pike during his one-episode appearance in the franchise:
Star Trek Early Voyages, written by Dan Agnett and Ian Edginton, features stories with the crew of the Enterprise we met in "The Cage," the pilot episode of Star Trek where Pike and his crew respond to a fake distress call sent from the planet Talos IV. The comics, of course, are no substitute for the characterization a television series might give these people--but in the comic, enough bases are covered in that respect (if perfunctorily) to steadily fill in their blanks. And actually, for a comic book with battles to fight and a quota of blam-blam to deliver, you'll be reasonably satisfied with the time spent on the variety of characters in the book--as opposed to the television episode, where we really only saw meaningful interaction between Pike and Dr. Boyce.
In addition, particularly with some of the elements of Pike's adventures we're already familiar with, the art by Patrick Zircher (who drew most of the series) blends well with the new material and offers some intriguing and at times gratifying looks at scenes with Pike and his crew:
The series came to an abrupt halt after issue #17, leaving readers with one hell of a cliffhanger and no small amount of disappointment at seeing these voyages end, just as we were enjoying the ride. If you never got to read these comics, you can find them collected in this Omnibus that packs them into a hefty 436 pages. Just remember--when you get to the final page and you realize there's no more coming, don't phaser the messenger!