Thursday, October 23, 2014

Within The Swamp, There Stirs... The Glob!

Two years before the Man-Thing began shambling around in south Florida, there was another monster of muck that laid claim to the Florida Everglades, if briefly:

The Glob didn't have an origin as steeped in espionage as that of Ted Sallis; rather, he was a convict who had learned of his beloved's impending death, and escaped imprisonment to race to her side--only to find that the swamp was its own kind of prison, and far more deadly.

But, to backtrack a little, it's the Hulk whom the Glob has to thank for his current state, if this heap of walking swamp were so inclined. But we'll soon see that the Glob has a one-track mind that's instead focused on something else--a dim memory which will end up forcing the Hulk's hand against him.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Start Spreadin' The News... Here Comes A Big Wave..."

Well, there's no getting around it: the Sub-Mariner destroyed New York City in 1941.

Not a dream! Not a hoax! Not an imaginary tale! Although you could argue that a great deal of those Golden Age comics stories were so far-fetched that they could qualify as imaginary tales, assuming the thought of an "imaginary tale" ever occurred to any comics writer in the '40s. But no, Namor created a tidal wive that engulfed New York--and he did it because he wanted to be the next Napoleon.

The classic tale takes place in The Human Torch #5, the Fall 1941 issue. (There was another #5 issue published earlier that summer.) The catalyst for the story is when the Sub-Mariner surveys the vast damage caused to his undersea kingdom by the battles of the war with the Nazis--and, spurred on by Rathia, a "refugee princess" who's been displaced by the destruction, he forms a war council which plans to attack basically every surface country involved in the war until hostilities cease--the "war to end all wars." Rathia, however, has ambitions of her own, and fills Namor's head with delusions of grandeur, convincing him that he could come out of this as the ruler of everyone. And Namor swallows it hook, line, and sinker.

Helping Namor in his cause are two things: the advanced weaponry that all the undersea factions are bringing to the council, as well as the Human Torch, who's eaten drugged food served to him by Namor that has sapped his will. (No, I don't know why an android would be craving a seafood platter--this was well before even my time.) Aside from the Torch, one of Namor's main weapons is a giant turbine that can cause massive sea disturbances, such as whirlpools that can down fleets of ships:

He also constructs a massive fleet of whale and shark ships that manage to systematically surprise and disable every fleet they target. We've read so often of Namor and Atlantis declaring war, only to mainly target New York until a truce is called, that it's admittedly easy to dismiss this kind of thing. The first Fantastic Four annual perhaps comes as close to Namor launching a widespread campaign against the surface world as we've seen.  Yet, back in 1941, his undersea forces were actually on the verge of declaring victory. Something else to also consider is that he was attacking surface forces already armed and prepared for war, and still he managed to prevail in every engagement.

But Napoleon had his wake-up call, and Namor's good fortune doesn't last, either. Eventually, the Torch throws off his enslavement when the sight of an American flag makes him come to his senses and regain control of his actions. Unfortunately, Namor is already poised to attack America, beginning with their Atlantic fleet:

But Namor maliciously decides to go a step further, by using several turbines to send a tidal wave against New York City, without a thought to casualties:

Meanwhile, the Torch, flying above the devastation, takes action to create, well, "drain holes" to dispose of the flood waters, while using the resulting steam to disable Namor's fleet and drive the sea prince out into the open:

It's only then that Namor comes to his senses, claiming he was seduced by Rathia and went a little overboard. Afterward, the two join forces in a massive mop-up operation:

Please, don't ask me why Namor wasn't found as culpable as Rathia, if not more so. I have no idea why he gets a pass. Rathia was merely Namor's Delilah, except that she didn't even betray him; all she did, it seems, was appeal to his baser instincts. It was Namor who thundered ahead and planned these attacks--Namor who captured or destroyed whole fleets--Namor who destroyed a major U.S. city. Yet Rathia is taken prisoner; Namor's forces are taken prisoner; but Namor gets to walk because he's learned the error of his ways. The man is like Teflon.

This story was reprinted in a 1999 one-shot, "Timely Comics Presents The Human Torch," with a new cover painting by Ray Lago which mimics the original by Alex Schomburg:

It's a sixty-page giant that contains much more Golden Age goodness than what you're seeing here, and you can pick it up for a song from Amazon if you're interested in reading the entire story. Roy Thomas also contributes an informative three-page afterword.

Alex Ross presents a double-page spread of the famous tidal wave scene.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

When Convenes the Living Tribunal!

If you're looking for a fair shake in receiving justice on a cosmic level, you probably shouldn't put your faith in the judgment of the Living Tribunal:

The Tribunal really doesn't care about fairness as it pertains to the individual, so much as making sure the universe--heck, the multiverse--operates as it should. And you'd better darn well trust that the Tribunal knows how things should operate, because he's not about to explain himself to you.

And frankly, I'm willing to cut the Tribunal some slack, because I couldn't begin to imagine what it must be like to keep tabs on a single galaxy, let alone the entire universe--let alone all the universes there are, not to mention all the alternate realities, netherworlds, and yes, fast food chains. The Tribunal, needless to say, has a lot on his plate. No wonder he's trying to see in several directions at once.

We met the Living Tribunal when Dr. Strange battled Zom, a mystical entity that Strange released to deal with the threat of Umar, though Zom proved to be the greater threat by far. And I can guess what you're thinking: "How can a character named 'Zom' be taken seriously as a threat?" And I'm with you, because, like you, I always thought "Zom" was just a cool sound effect:

But Zom is definitely real, and one of the more deadly menaces that Strange had ever faced. Yet Zom, for all his power, could be defeated by ripping his forelock from his skull; however, the repercussions of such an act involved upsetting the balance of keeping Earth's minor magicians in check, which would one day lead to destruction on a massive scale. And that's when the Tribunal stepped in--pointing the finger of blame not at Zom, but at the mortal who seemed to roll the dice a lot in his battles without much thought to the consequences:

The Tribunal then declares that he must destroy the Earth in order to set things right again and undo what Strange has set in motion. But Strange, of course, defends Earth, and so he challenges the Tribunal to battle, though the Tribunal makes it crystal clear that Strange is in over his head:

Nevertheless, Strange forges ahead--and what follows isn't so much a battle as it is a reality check for Strange that the Tribunal isn't to be trifled with. Still, we know that Strange is resourceful, and he ends up striking a bargain with this entity--to let him attempt to fix this situation before the Tribunal enacts his "sentence."

Strange is all but successful in his efforts, leading up to one final struggle between the Tribunal and another powerful mystic entity where Strange proves his mettle (and without grabbing a lock of hair this time).

By the way, you must have been wondering: What's up with those three hooded faces? Let's let the Tribunal fill us in:

Again, if you're looking for an entity to deliberate your matter with fair consideration, you might want to steer clear of one that combines equity and necessity with revenge.

The Tribunal has appeared in other stories of cosmic scope and high stakes--for instance, pronouncing sentence in an alternate reality where Korvac was on the verge of realizing his universal dream:

And if you need a nice graphic of just how the Tribunal ranks among the so-called powers of the universe, there's this double-page spread that makes it clear how he presides over and keeps tabs on everyone and everything (at least as far as the speck of cosmic dust that comprises our universe, that is):

Hear ye, hear ye--the Living Tribunal is ready to convene.  Always.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Flight Of The Beetle!

Granted, it's hard to imagine the Beetle being involved in the greatest anything:

...but it looks like the man's moment might have finally come.

In a nutshell: the Beetle has already humbled Daredevil in a brief fight in the city, where DD proved to be no match for the villain. Yes, you read that correctly--the Beetle whupped his opponent in a no-contest fight. You don't see headlines like that very often. Anyway, the Beetle later pulls off a jewel heist on a speeding train and is in the process of making his escape, when who do you think he runs into but:

The Beetle makes a clean getaway, since he's the only one of this pair who can fly--with metal wings, mind you--and thus begins our chase.

And so Daredevil pursues the slow-flying Beetle over rough desert terrain. If you're a fan of Gene Colan's art on this title, then you'll be doing cartwheels, since Colan truly pencils a nice issue here; but if you're hoping to see more than Daredevil spinning his wheels in these twenty pages, you may be disappointed, as we mostly see DD overcome one setback after another in his chase of the Beetle:

Set to music, this might indeed be a thrilling pursuit, even with the story's villain not really in any danger of being caught up with. Colan's work is certainly up to the task, but the story seems to be another matter.

Finally, the chase comes to its close, as Daredevil reaches a small town and gets a big surprise:

I don't know about this being "the greatest chase of all time," if the one you're pursuing has time to kick up his feet at his hideout and has all but written you off. This hasn't been Daredevil's best day--soundly thrashed by the Beetle, and now captured by common gunmen.  Can DD turn things around at this point? We'll have to hope so, because we're not chasing this story to its conclusion.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Carnage of the Crypto-Man!

We've come to the fourth issue in our look at Jack Kirby's last seven issues as penciller of Mighty Thor, after which he would depart Marvel Comics and leave his defining work on the God of Thunder to be interpreted by many other artists to come. The first issue in this countdown saw the Thunder God dealing with the wrath of the Wrecker; issue 6 featured the return of Jane Foster, in a plot by Kronin Krask to gain the secret of immortality; and in issue 5, the rock troll Ulik came looking for Thor but found the Ringmaster, instead.

And now, in our third issue of the countdown, Thor encounters the Crypto-Man, a creation of the final mortal foe Thor would face during Kirby's tenure. As usual, Kirby delivers a provocative cover that has us wondering:  What the heck could have happened to Thor?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Selective Accountability

As one of Marvel's "heroes," the incredible Hulk was in an uncomfortable position, straddling the fence as a character who acted out of good or as a deadly menace, depending on the circumstances. Complicating matters is the fact that a creature of rage is hardly going to care about those times when he's being a menace:

As a result, Marvel--through Betty Ross, Rick Jones, et al.--skirted around the issue of accountability, and tagged the Hulk with an all-purpose label: that he's "misunderstood," a label that gives him a pass when it came down to the level of destruction he delivered. Side-stepping holding the Hulk in any way accountable for his actions is of course no help to these poor pilots, or to other such victims of his rampages who simply had the misfortune of being in the Hulk's path when he felt like smashing.

Yet, what of those times when the Hulk's actions are premeditated, rather than random? In the days before Marvel discarded its iron-clad rule against the use of deadly force, none of the other heroes in Marvel's ranks believed in killing, either in self-defense or in their actions toward the foes who were trying to destroy them--but the Hulk had the same lack of scruples on the subject as did Marvel's villains. For instance, it's probably safe to say that the Hulk really, really doesn't like ships bearing down on him:

But the Hulk gives no thought here to the loss of life that would result from his attack. To him, the punishment fits the crime--i.e., if someone tries to kill him, he's not going to shed any tears if his response causes his attacker's death. For the most part, the Hulk's rage generally runs its course when his foe goes down and stays down, even if they're still alive--yet, on occasion, he's been known to not only threaten someone with death, but to kill outright:

This 1971 story was quick to blame the destruction of the ship on its munitions exploding due to pressure--but the Hulk's words in the scene are clear. These men were being dragged down to their deaths.

By way of comparison, another character who gives a proportional response to attacks on his person is Magneto, though his being a villain cuts him more slack from Marvel in terms of accountability. Magneto is "misunderstood" only in the sense of his worldview being twisted due to his mistreatment by the Nazis; as a result, he's held accountable in the same way as any other villain, i.e., being defeated and imprisoned. "Thunderbolt" Ross has been given an open-ended mission to either imprison or destroy the Hulk, at his discretion; in Magneto's case, the world considers him a dangerous super-criminal on the same level of notoriety as Public Enemy #1. There seems to be little difference in the ways both are hunted and dealt with, the exception being how the X-Men pursue Magneto.

Given what we've just seen of the Hulk's motivations to kill, a scene that quickly comes to mind in Magneto's case is one that elevates him to the status of terrorist, as he makes a bold play for world dominance and issues a series of demands to every major world power, followed by an ultimatum. The response isn't long in coming, as a Russian sub launches a pre-emptive strike:

This time, however, the publication year is 1985, and there is no effort to glaze over the fact that the character in question is directly responsible for the deaths of all hands. (Nor was there really any question in the Hulk's case--the munitions explosion merely expedited what he'd intended to accomplish himself.)

When the dust settles, and Magneto is finally apprehended by Freedom Force, he voluntarily surrenders in order to face the charges against him head-on. Yet, it's interesting to see how both characters are held accountable for their past actions when it's time to face the music, during a period when the circumstances of their lives mirrored one another's. In the Hulk's case, he's finally under the control of Bruce Banner's mind--and, no longer being the destructive "monster" that was constantly hunted, he, too, seeks the acceptance of a verdict of sorts; while at the time of Magneto's apprehension, he's also turned over a new leaf, working with Charles Xavier and the X-Men. Both are responsible for acts of destruction, as well as their share of deaths--yet only one is made an example of in court:

For what it's worth, the Hulk also had his day in court, though obviously unable to testify in his own defense in the same manner as Magneto. The trials of both defendants were inconclusive, with their respective prisoners breaking free and avoiding judgment--but, in a much later issue, the Hulk is given the pass of all passes:

At Magneto's trial, his attorney successfully used the argument that Magneto's past crimes should be stricken from the record for the purposes of the trial, due to Magneto once being regressed by the mutant Alpha to the age of an infant--in essence making him a "new" person when restored to adulthood, and only responsible for those crimes he'd committed since. With Banner being in control of the Hulk, one could basically make the same argument as far as not being responsible for the acts his brutish alter ego committed. The difference, of course, is that Magneto essentially picked up where he left off, and also committed multiple acts of murder that would now be used against him at trial:

Magneto, the doofus, has also made the claim of not being a citizen of any country, which slams the door on any presidential pardon coming his way anytime soon--though he'd be unlikely to see public opinion sway favorably in his direction, as it did toward the Hulk. In any event, all of this seems moot, given the current mood of Marvel heroes these days--realists who have moved beyond the need for adversarial proceedings that confront such weighty issues.  And since each of these stories avoided rendering judgment, perhaps the unsettling part is that they may have paved the way for the less conscionable stories that were to come.

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