Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Now Let's See You Levitate


I'm not sure if anyone has sealed the deal yet to play Dr. Strange in a film, but there's no shortage of worthy stand-ins should the hold-outs end up asking for too much dinero. Nice work, all of you!







Wait a minute--no one stepping up as the Man of Mystery? That's just asking for a costume!

This Old Hammer


As a comics reader, some of the most thrilling stories I can remember involve the God of Thunder, Thor, charging into battle with his invincible hammer, mighty Mjolnir, raised in defiance. And no matter how insurmountable the odds--no matter how seemingly hopeless things seemed--the hammer of Thor would... would...


WAIT a minute! What gives here?
How's Thor supposed to beat back his foes with a stick?


Which leads us to a shattering new


Marvel Trivia Question



How many times has Thor's hammer bought the farm?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Best Laid Plans


When you pick up Part One of the Future Imperfect story from 1993 by Peter David and George Perez, its cover shows a fighting-mad Hulk leaping over what appears to be a split display of present and future versions of Earth civilization. But it's not until Part Two appears on the racks, with its almost identical cover featuring the Hulk's future antagonist (and future self), the Maestro, that you get an idea how the Hulk of each cover is tipping you off as to which version of the Hulk will receive the greater emphasis in that issue. For instance, in Part One, while we were indeed introduced to the Maestro, we really saw more of the lives of those who lived in Dystopia, the repressive city he'd built from the ruins of atomic war and where he ruled with an iron fist.

As for the Hulk, Part One of the story centered on Bruce Banner from our own time, who had been brought to this future world (as the Hulk) by Dystopia's "underground" rebels to depose the Maestro. We learn of those in the rebel group through Banner, who in turn learns of the people here from "Janis," who led the team who retrieved the Hulk and who brings him to the "proof" that convinces him to lend his total support: Rick Jones, who in this time period is old and infirm, but lucid enough to relay to Banner the circumstances of this future world and its fate following war that wiped out most of the human race.

As we see by the cover of Part Two, this segment of the story will likely (and does) shift its emphasis to the Maestro, the despotic Hulk who has become even more powerful--and insane--due to his absorption of the war's radiation which now permeates this world. At the end of the story's first part, the Maestro had succeeded in locating the rebels' base of operations deep below the city, a location where other refugees had also taken shelter. Fortunately, the rebels had prepared the location well for a possible invasion, and the Maestro's arriving troops are slaughtered. But when the Maestro arrives to personally deal with the lower domain's inhabitants, the area is evacuated--and the time comes for him to come face-to-face with the Hulk, in a confrontation which Rick and Janis hope will end the Maestro's threat.

Unfortunately, since the spotlight falls on the Maestro in this issue, we can assume that this battle isn't going to be a slam-dunk for the Hulk:


...though he seems to have become familiar with the "slammed" part.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Faces Of War


In the pages of Iron Man, we've seen how difficult it was for Tony Stark to shift his company from being a manufacturer of weaponry and munitions to a company instead focused on research and development and on the future of mankind. It was a tremendous undertaking, and often on a personal level; because while Stark had no second thoughts in eventually turning away from his company's association with death and destruction, he would often find himself haunted by his decisions in those earlier days to, in effect, make war more easy to wage while looking the other way.



"Long Time Gone," a story published in 1975 and written by Bill Mantlo, features a time of reflection for Stark concerning an incident in Viet Nam during the war, a period in history when it was sometimes difficult to pin down just what the United States was trying to accomplish, and where the winning of this interminable conflict seemed overshadowed by the heavy casualties on both sides and the seeming pointlessness of it all. Tony Stark, who of course would have been a key figure in the government's campaign due to his proficiency in advanced and innovative weaponry, is overseeing (as Iron Man) the use of a new weapon in the field that uses satellite tracking to pinpoint its target(s). On his arrival, Stark is in full business mode, eager to see his new device perform; but in his thoughts, he recalls more closely the men who greeted him on arrival, whose spirits were lifted just by seeing this hero from home. It's an uncomfortable reminder to him that the "face of war" can be found in the eyes of its soldiers, if one takes the time to look closely:




Major Stargrom and his unit have crossed into enemy territory "unofficially"--that is, the government will disavow any knowledge of his actions, should their mission there fail. It's a curious addition to the story by Mantlo, since at first glance it would seem to have no bearing on either Iron Man's presence or on the field test of Stark's weapon. But when Stargrom is suddenly taken out by sniper fire, the fact that he'll now be blamed for the repercussions of being discovered by the enemy takes on new meaning for Stark, whose weapon could be viewed as this incident's catalyst:



But there's still a job to do, and Stark's weapon is needed now more than ever:



The silence of the enemy guns, under normal circumstances, would indicate that the weapon's use has been successful. But in actuality, the gun has ceased fire in order to lock onto new targets, targets that have much higher heat emissions than ground troops:



The twin explosions cause Iron Man's boot jets to short out, and he plummets down to the jungle, where he remains unconscious for hours. To make a bad situation worse, his armor now has a more serious problem:



With Stark's weapon destroyed, all the men in Stargrom's unit were basically defenseless against the air strike, particularly with Iron Man out of action. But his chest pain leaves him no time to grieve, so he hurriedly arranges for a makeshift charge from the battery of an overturned vehicle. Rendered unconscious again, he doesn't awaken for a couple of hours--and only then does he give in to the guilt and frustration that finally put his role here in perspective. It's a state his sudden visitor will regret having the bad timing to encounter him in:




A punch that lays low an attacking foe would normally provide Iron Man, the super-hero, with a feeling of pride and satisfaction--but Mantlo doesn't let him off so easy. For one thing, Iron Man is still reeling from the tragedy of Stargrom and his men; but also, the circumstances of his attacker deprive him of any feeling of retribution, however minimal:



Iron Man comforts the boy as best he can, and travels with him further into enemy territory in order to try and locate his home. What he finds, however, solidifies for him his role in all of this, and likely plants a seed within him for changing his life's course at some point:




Iron Man then primes his repulsors for one last, grim task, in an absolutely stunning full-page display by artists George Tuska and Vince Colletta:





However Mantlo has made Iron Man face up to this day here, I can't help but feel that he's short-changed this story a little by giving the boy the face of peace, apparently to act as a bridge between Iron Man's actions and the story's ending. At the very least, the boy should feel like kicking answers out of Iron Man. He knows he's been brought home, but hasn't seen what's happened to it--only being cryptically told by this metal person that home is "no more."  So at the very least he's going to want to wander around and try to find his family or anyone else. The next thing he knows, this man he's with emits a terrifying force that makes it seem like he's decimating everyone and everything in the area, the same man who now wants to take him away. It would be more realistic for those tears Iron Man is crying to be due to the accumulated guilt of not only the loss of Stargrom and his men, but also the result of the boy he's trying to take to safety--a boy who, in a more frank telling of this story, would probably be struggling and wailing in his grip after been rendered homeless and bereft of his family. All things considered, there's no reason for Stark to have already come to terms with everything as he walks out of this jungle.

"Home's O.K. now!" Well, maybe for you, Stark.

"Long Time Gone" ends with a classic "stand tall" affirmation by Stark, who appropriately suits up as Iron Man to punctuate it:




Despite the problem I have with how the story is wrapped up, Mantlo, along with Tuska and Colletta, turns in an important and nicely-done tale that begins to chip away at Stark's feelings toward war vis-à-vis not only his later role as an Avenger, but also the course he would ultimately set for Stark Enterprises and his life's work. The story is one of several interim issues inserted into the middle of the Black Lama storyline (another was a reprint), and it's unclear whether it had been shelved as a fill-in story or whether Mantlo and his team threw it together with short notice.  It stands out well in either case.

Invincible Iron Man #78

Script: Bill Mantlo
Pencils: George Tuska
Inks: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza

And Coffee Tables Shall Tremble!


A very happy 74th birthday to Rascally Roy Thomas! It looks like Thomas has been busy this year, putting together this 720-page hardcover behemoth:



Containing essays by Thomas on Marvel's characters as well as on writers and artists of the Marvel Bullpen, 75 Years of Marvel from the Golden Age to the Silver Screen also includes 2,000 images and a 4-foot foldout timeline which spans from Marvel Comics #1 to today's Marvel films. It measures 11.4 inches x 15.6 inches (about the size of the New York Times coffee-table-size "Page One" hardcover, only thicker--and you thought it was going to be light reading), and will cost you a cool $200 to haul over to add to your bookshelf. (Amazon knocks off about $85 from the cover price, so be sure to look for deals out there--hopefully with free shipping.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Onward, To Val Halla!


Of all the parts of a comic book for one last set of eyes in the Marvel offices to scrutinize before it heads to the printer, you'd think it would be the first thing a buyer in the store is going to see--the cover itself. And given that so many hands are involved in creating, revising, and touching up that cover, it's even more astonishing when an "oops" slips through the cracks. Here's a brief and hopefully fun look at a few of those face-palm moments for editors who couldn't bolt to the phone and yell "Stop the presses!" in time.

The first thing you generally notice in a look at cover trip-ups is that, the more captions that are splattered on a cover, the greater the chance that something is going to be too hastily jotted down. Let's take a look at a couple of Defenders covers, for example:



For the cover of issue #56, aside from the minor slip-up of Hellcat having a hyphen added to her name (maybe she idolizes Ann-Margret?), there's a chance that people would be taking a second look at their radios and wondering if "radio activity," like storm activity or solar flare activity, was now a cause for concern. If you noticed a decrease in the number of kids dancing to tunes from their pocket radios, you can probably point the finger of blame at the Defenders.

As for issue #67, no wonder the Defenders seem to be racing toward outer space--it's as good a place as any to start looking for "Val Halla."

This cover to Captain America had me a little perplexed:



For some reason, I kept wanting to continue Cap's thought: "Falcon! Stop! You'll kill him! And if you do--! The crime wave breaks!" And I'd think: "Gee, it looks like Cap is more worried about the crime wave breaking than he is about the Viper being killed by Falc."

(I guess it was a moot point, since the Falcon doesn't seem to be in the mood to pay attention to Cap, one way or the other.)

On this Fantastic Four cover, Omega (not that Omega) is perhaps too busy tackling everyone in the Great Refuge to realize that he's leaving words out of his sentences:



While I bet you didn't know that there was a time when Iron Man powered his armor with a single transistor:



Meanwhile, the Champions may have had a short run, but they had a few noteworthy moments. Yet two things they lacked were (1) chemistry and (2) a proofreader. For instance, how many sons of Zeus do you count on this cover?



On the bright side, "Hercules" appears to be much easier to spell than "Crimson Dynamo":



And after being grappled by Quasar, you can bet that Iron Man will never "interferr" with Dr. Kurarkill again:


(Though he's probably not about to make his attacker angrier by correcting him.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My Way Or The Highway


Dissension In The Ranks


When resentments and disagreements boil over,
even allies can turn against each other in fierce battle that can bring the house down.

(And often does!)


FEATURING:


The Illuminati


It's often been touch-and-go for the Illuminati, the clandestine group formed by Tony Stark (as Iron Man) consisting of key players in the Marvel universe: Stark himself, Reed Richards, Dr. Strange, Charles Xavier, Black Bolt, and the Sub-Mariner. At times, their meetings would involve controversy and/or sharp exchanges (and in some instances, coming to blows), and their decisions would have been questionable in forums other than their own. It was certainly a sandbox for Tony Stark and his proactive mindset--and never more so than when he called the group together to propose consensus on upcoming legislation that was being dusted off and revived:




Sixteen years prior, Congressional hearings were held to explore the registration of super-beings with the government; but given Iron Man's demeanor here, we can assume that this new bill has teeth, and that whatever misgivings lawmakers had before have been wiped away.

Iron Man has clearly called this meeting to ramrod support for this legislation through the group, having already formed a "you need to go along to get along" opinion on the matter--though you could argue that Stark also seems to be exhibiting a bit of paranoia on the subject. As if to underscore the point, Stark provides a worst case scenario to convince his comrades of the gravity of the situation:




Stark is being something of an alarmist here with these men, no doubt--yet, looking at Stark's pitch on paper, what comes across as alarming is the fact that he's phrasing his last sentence as "That is what will happen," rather than a far less alarming "That is what could happen." It's the difference between expressing a cause for concern and possibly having an agenda.

With Xavier missing from the group as a result of the events of House Of M, Strange, Richards and the other two men are deprived of his valuable input on Stark's initiative--not only in terms of his perspective on the Mutant Control Act which is directly relevant here, but also his experience in dealing with humanity's fears with a calm and objective eye. Xavier would have been one of two people who could have defused Stark's push for support here; the other we'll get to in a moment.

When it comes time for everyone to be counted, Namor's reaction comes as little surprise to anyone:



Namor is still feeling the sting of the group's decision, over his strong objections, to banish the Hulk off-world--and he can't help but see Iron Man's move here as further evidence of Stark's disturbing shift toward taking matters into his own hands. Strange also is against giving his support to Stark--though the real surprise comes with Reed's about-face on the issue, given his strong feelings he expressed in his testimony during the prior hearings:



I can't help but wonder how Stan Lee would write Reed Richards as part of this group, as well as how Lee would have him react to Stark's proposal. Reed Richards, under Lee, is one of the most forthright characters in Marvel's stable--assertive, decisive, and not one to withhold his opinion, while advocating taking the higher ground when making a difficult choice. Yet, in the Illuminati, Reed often blends into the background--raising no objection whatsoever to the Illuminati's method of operation, nor in this particular decision which demands deliberative discussion. Reed Richards, meekly waiting his turn to speak here? Stan Lee's Reed Richards would be practically hijacking this debate, with thoughtful and considered counters to Stark's bottom-line calls to fall in line. Richards would normally insist on drawing a new line--and the Illuminati, I think, would be a much different entity if he were free to be himself.

As it is, the Illuminati is effectively disbanded with the dissension on this issue, which Black Bolt, giving his own position on the matter, punctuates as only he can:



I'm glad Iron Man is up on his gestural language. I'm no Medusa in interpreting Black Bolt's wishes, but he seems to be implying something along the lines of Strange's parting words, only with an additional "Or else." tacked on. Reed, however, has cheerfully signed on Stark's dotted line, without so much as an arm twist. Which strikes me as anything but fantastic.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Shape Of Things To Come


The incident in Stamford, Connecticut, as many Marvel readers know, led to the Superhuman Registration Act and the subsequent "civil war" which pitted those heroes who supported the Act against those who opposed being registered. But, 16 years (our time) prior to Civil War, after mutant registration hearings had died down, the U.S. government was exploring the registration of all super-beings in a series of hearings--and with the whereabouts of the Avengers unknown (despite already being a government-sanctioned group), the Fantastic Four's testimony was of particular interest.

The two-part story was constructed around a plot by Dr. Doom to use an "aggression enhancer" to stimulate a number of super-villains to attack the FF, which failed miserably and only served to become a backdrop to the testimony from various witnesses. But in hindsight, the extensive Congressional hearings, which revisited the legislative approach which Senator Robert Kelly first broached when proposing the Mutant Control Act, offer a look at the issue without the provocation of a tragedy driving it forward.

Before the FF appear, a number of other witnesses testify. Initially, the subcommittee was interested in registration in order to take advantage of the abilities of super-beings from a military aspect, and thus explored the issue along the same lines as a draft. Though in discussion, the conclusion proved to be somewhat distasteful:




Next up, a representative of the NRA, who provides a focal point for the subcommittee to explore the registration of super-powers in the same light as gun control. The witness proves to be an advocate for nonregistration, though in testimony that comes across as slightly self-serving:



Of course, no government hearings on super-beings would be complete without the presence of Henry Peter Gyrich, formerly of the National Security Council and at this point a member of the Commission on Superhuman Activities. Gyrich is in favor of revisiting the possibility of equating registration with the draft--and both Gyrich and members of the subcommittee offer disturbing overtones of what would one day in the future become law:





Finally, after being sidetracked by a number of super-villain encroachments on the hearings, the Fantastic Four are called for their testimony:




Thanks to Doom's device, there are more interruptions, leading one of the Congressmen, James Pertierra, to accuse Reed of arranging the attacks in order to sway the committee members into shelving the proposed legislation--a knee-jerk but not entirely unreasonable assumption, given the number of attacks being made along with the curious timing. Reed successfully dismantles Pertierra's inflammatory statements, leaving both himself and Sue to continue their testimony while the rest of the FF deal with further attacks from a safe distance:





It's of course high time that someone made the point with the government that an entity such as the Avengers only needed the government's cooperation, not its supervision--and that members of both the Avengers and the FF are often forced to make split-second decisions that no one in the government is equipped to second-guess. (I might argue that S.H.I.E.L.D. is perhaps qualified to do so--though in a battle, no one is going to be free to run a decision by whoever's on duty on the helicarrier.)

But once Doom's attacks are completely foiled, Reed is free to make more direct points regarding the Registration Act, and with a most surprising demonstration:





Aside from the swinging of a gavel, those jaws dropping in the room signal that the hearings on the Registration Act are over for the foreseeable future. As we would see at that later time, public outrage would negate any re-election shivers members of Congress might worry about.

Next time, we'll hear Iron Man make the case for a new Superhuman Registration Act.  And wait 'til you see who casts his vote in favor of it.

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