Wednesday, August 24, 2016

If This Planet You Would Save...!

We humans have often been raked over the coals by super-beings who either see little of worth in our species, or have no doubt that we're slowly but surely extinguishing ourselves. Often it's hard to argue with their conclusions; after all, while we're given the impression that we're hearing an objective point of view, it's actually a human who's giving them their words, and that's about as first-hand as you can get when it comes to pointing out our failings and the prospects for our survival. But the notion of someone or something not of our world providing us with a frank assessment of us and where we're likely headed has always been a fascinating one, regardless. And if there is alien life out there capable of interstellar space travel, perhaps the fact that they've chosen to give our world a wide berth after looking us over speaks volumes.

Yet given our focus at the PPoC, it might be interesting to dip into the fictional world of comics and get a sampling of how Marvel's other-worldly characters see our prospects for continued survival. Most of these beings don't have our best interests at heart, of course, so their opinions on the subject can be rather pessimistic--yet you may find yourself feeling that the points they make are difficult to refute.

Jeez, Surfer, don't sugar-coat it--tell us how you really feel!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Deadly Thirst of... Baron Blood!

It's reasonable to wonder why the notorious Baron Blood never made an appearance in the Tomb Of Dracula book, as an antagonist or otherwise. Though it can be fun to imagine how such a confrontation might play out:

"Gaze into my eyes, fool..."
"Gaze into my eyes, fool..."
"No, fool, YOU gaze into MY..."

Yet there's no reason to believe that Blood wouldn't be subservient to Dracula, and willingly, since he's often prided himself at being "a scion of Dracula" and seems to have no qualms about doing his master's bidding.

We know of the original Baron Blood's exploits primarily through stories featured in The Invaders and the more contemporary Captain America, the latter book being where the Baron finally met his end.

From what I understand, Blood was a frequent and formidable adversary in The Invaders, as well as other mags that featured wartime exploits. Thanks to artist Frank Robbins, he certainly has one of the more interesting villain costumes out there, with his hood resembling the head and ears of a bat--and the rest of the outfit completing the look, clinging to a bony frame and accentuated by a large "winged" membrane. It's unclear how Blood can actually take to the air and fly without changing his shape to a bat; perhaps he weighs next to nothing and can simply glide for short distances. Regardless, he remains one of the most eye-catching and striking villains around.

To fast-track the character's origin, the creature who became known as "Baron Blood" is the result of family bitterness combined with leanings toward Nazi Germany. After their father passed away in the early 1900s, the elder of the two Falsworth sons, Montgomery, became Lord Falsworth, while the younger and embittered John struck out on his own and wandered Europe. It's during this time that he ended up in Transylvania--and his ambition led to a fatal underestimation of the being he sought to bring under his control.

It was never quite clear to me how the title "Baron" was attached to this vampire; perhaps the Germans gave it to him when Blood began working with them. My understanding of British titles is that "Baron" has the same meaning as the preferred "Lord," so perhaps Blood felt it was a way to deride his brother's status and claim a bit of his own.

With Montgomery becoming the British iconic hero known as Union Jack and fighting in World Wars I and II, John's resentment of his brother brought Blood into conflict with the Invaders, who met him in final battle at the Falsworth estate, where he kidnapped Montgomery's daughter, Jacqueline, and prepared to slay her. During the conflict, he also revealed how the Nazis helped to condition him to resist the harmful effects of the sun.

But the filthy fiend is prevented from claiming his prize as Union Jack confronts him in caverns beneath the estate and, in a heated battle, is severely injured when hit with a large boulder which crushes his legs. But when the Invaders converge on them, an accident ends the reign of terror of Baron Blood, at least for now.

Since Blood's remains aren't properly disposed of, he would rise again to battle the Invaders, with his menace finally ended by the Sub-Mariner's use of a wooden stake. At that point, his remains are sealed in the Tower of London, and there they stayed for over thirty years--or so it was thought. When a series of grisly murders take place in the area, Falsworth, now old and infirm, calls for Captain America's assistance in tracking down the one who Falsworth feels certain is responsible, against all evidence to the contrary. Consequently, Cap's first stop is to verify that Blood is indeed still present in his sealed coffin, a visit which leads to a horrifying discovery.

Not only is Blood free and at large--he's apparently been so for over a decade. The mystery is why he's kept such a low profile for so long. It's a question that Cap may not live long enough to answer, as Blood makes a preemptive strike by coming to Falsworth Manor in the dead of night and attempting to catch Cap by surprise. Cap, of course, expected this sort of reaction to his presence, and engages Blood in a hard-fought battle--but Blood has the full abilities of a vampire, and Cap is eventually undone, standing helpless as his foe prepares to take his life.

Unfortunately, Blood may well go down as the only vampire to come close to needing dentures, thanks to the unexpected resilience of Cap's uniform. And despite Blood's advantage of strength, Cap manages to drive him off with the approaching dawn.

After a thorough search for Blood the next day and some investigative work, Cap, with the help of "Union Jack," lays a trap for Blood that evening, as Blood again confronts his now bed-ridden brother who appears to have readopted his distinctive uniform from the war. And as the man lies helpless, we learn of how Blood was revived, and why he's stayed under the radar for so long.

But Falsworth isn't as helpless as Blood may think; in fact, it's not Falsworth in costume at all, but a friend of Falsworth's great-nephew who has suited up in order to help Cap spring a well-laid trap for Blood.

However, Blood is able to hold his ground, counting on the setting sun to see his full power restored; and when Union Jack is out of the fight and Captain America is on the ropes, Cap makes the only decision he can make, one which clearly costs him in mind and spirit.

It's the only part of writer Roger Stern's story that doesn't really add up; after all, a man such as Cap who battled through a bloody and relentless world war can be no stranger to death. How many lives was he forced to take on the battlefield? None? Really? Captain America, the country's super-soldier, battling to preserve the lives of the men he fought with yet drawing the line at killing enemy soldiers? It seems unlikely in the extreme, even if we swallow the notion that Bucky was given the dirty work in the partnership. So while it would make sense for a man like Cap to hesitate at the crucial moment, it makes little to no sense to see him balk at killing Blood, a creature whose mortal life was already ended decades past.

Lord Falsworth passed away peacefully while his brother's pyres did their work at last and assured the vampire's final death. But in one form or another, "Baron Blood" would return to seek out new victims and make sure the outline of that feared and ghastly costume would continue to fall across the silhouette of the moon on a still night.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Life eXpectancy

Thanks to an alien invader named Khan (no, not that Khan), Gambit of the X-Men has been captured and restrained and is being used as a power conduit for a beam that opens a portal between dimensions that allows Khan to bring his forces through. When Rogue arrives in an attempt to set him free, the portion of Gambit's power that she's absorbed makes her susceptible to the beam as well, holding her in place above him and making them both vulnerable to the approach of Vargas, a Spaniard who has already killed Psylocke and wants to see Rogue dead because of a vision of the precog mutant, Destiny, that reveals his death at Rogue's hand.

Vargas is hardly the honorable type--and the other X-Men are occupied with Khan. And so with both Rogue and Gambit helpless, you're likely correct in your guess of what happens to these two next--and given that this comic is called X-treme X-Men, and that it's written by Chris "the-more-graphic-the-death-the-better" Claremont, you're even probably prepared for the worst. The question is:

Can you think of any way both of these people lived through this attack?

What if we threw in the fact that Rogue has been impaled through the heart?
It has to be game over for this pair, right?? Come on!!

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Final Stake!

In 1979, the penultimate issue of Tomb Of Dracula contained an announcement by writer Marv Wolfman that the long-time artist for the book, Gene Colan, had several months earlier requested to leave the book and move on to other projects. At the time, there was no decision as yet whether to continue TOD; its sales were consistently solid, and there was a six-month window before a final decision had to be made as to whether to bring things to an end, or change the book's format and/or frequency of publication, as well as deciding on a new creative team. In the interim, Colan had been requested (and agreed) to continue on the book through issue #72, which would allow time to wrap up the storylines that had been put in motion.

If the book had continued past #72, TOD, according to Wolfman, "would have become a very different magazine. As we had done several years ago, new characters would have been introduced, locales would have changed, directions would have shifted." And one could only wonder who would follow in Colan's and Palmer's footsteps.

Unfortunately, John Steinbeck's paraphrased line from Of Mice And Men, "The best-laid plans... Often go awry," has hit its mark often in the eighty years it's been in circulation--and the window that would have allowed Wolfman, editor Jim Shooter, et al. to make plans for any further publication of Tomb Of Dracula in whatever format it would appear in was unexpectedly slammed shut by inadvertent human error which caused the next issue, #70, to be listed as the last of the series, rather than #72. Which prompted another announcement by Wolfman, appearing in what had now become the final issue of Tomb Of Dracula:

"Anyone who reads several Marvel mags each month (and who doesn't?) probably knows we've dropped about a half dozen titles recently and replaced them with some new books soon to be out. As this was being done, TOMB OF DRACULA was accidentally killed three issues early. Our last issue was going to be just that ... our last issue.

"When Jim (Trouble) Shooter noticed the error, he notified the upstairs circulation office, but it was already too late. Computer lists had been redrawn. The expense to bring back the title would be too enormous. At the same time TOD was dropped, a decision was made to convert TOD to a large-size non-Code format magazine. I was asked if the final three issues of TOD could be put into our first new magazine. I felt it would be a mistake, and when I informed Jim of the contents of issues 70-72, which had been drawn for several months at that time, he agreed.

"Jim got on the phone once again and somehow convinced them upstairs to create a Dracula annual. It would be a double-size book, and as an annual it could get around the computer list problem. During the following week, it was discovered that we could simply number the annual #70, which would have been the next TOD issue, and so, here it is, a bit late [three months] because Titanic Tom Palmer was doing a masterful job over Gentleman Gene Colan's pencils for another magazine project--Starlord, but it's here nonetheless.

"Before you ask, yes, pages were dropped from our three issues to make this issue, but none of the dropped pages should hurt the story flow. Most of them were either subplots in #70 which would have spun off into future stories (sub-plots written before we knew TOD was being cancelled), or some action pages which would have come just before Dracula and Torgo began their grudge match. ... Furthermore, because of the Marvel style of scripting (plot followed by art followed by script), I was able to drop those pages and write the story as if they never existed. If this had been done script first as done at other companies, the missing material would be obvious. Now it is doubtful if anyone will know exactly what came from which issue as the three books are interwoven into one.

Which helps to explain why reading Tomb Of Dracula #70 gives the impression of several different things at once being hurriedly resolved and concluded without a chance to catch our collective breath--i.e., not really expecting The End to appear in print for a few more issues, only to discover that we're actually reading the very last story in the issue we're holding. Wolfman is correct: All the bases are covered, all the plots are tied up satisfactorily, and the "many situations that had been set up over the past several years ... to culminate" in the final issue indeed did so. But, given its long and distinctive run and its reputation as a top-notch series of (yes) consistently fine and compelling stories, perhaps we were all looking forward to a final issue that was exclusively reserved for bringing down the curtain, rather than its closing scenes being appended to the issue that resolved several storylines at once.

So rather than a full-fledged review, which doesn't seem appropriate (or perhaps even possible) under the circumstances, we can instead touch on a few of the issue's stronger points that help to bring its title character and some of its cast full circle, as the end finally comes for Tomb Of Dracula--as well as for Dracula himself, a centuries-old monster and nobleman who can cheat death no longer.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

When Wakes The Sub-Mariner!

Aside from the tales we've seen in the What If titles, there are a number of alternate versions of stories involving the Fantastic Four and their adventures as we've come to know them, with many involving a different take on their origin as well as the characters they've met and fought. One extended example which quickly comes to mind is Ultimate Fantastic Four, part of the Ultimate "universe" which spawned a series of titles from 2002-09 and sought to give more of an edge to their stories while burdening their characters with far fewer scruples as far as ethical dilemmas or the use of deadly force. Several of these titles lost steam as the first decade of the 21st century drew to its close--perhaps due to the body count that accumulated across the board growing tiresome, or its characters leaving behind the interesting aspects they'd started out with (the exception to both probably being Ultimate Spider-Man, which had a long successful run and distinguished itself among the others). The Ultimates books didn't hold the monopoly on such failings, with X-Force, Cable, and other trigger-happy titles in "our" universe also blending together as far as their modus operandi.

For awhile, though, Ultimate Fantastic Four was at least noteworthy, and fairly interesting--its team much younger than their counterparts and part of a think tank organization headed by the Storms' father which operated out of the Baxter Building. Naturally, their classic foes had a considerable twist to their own origins and history--with one such antagonist, the Sub-Mariner, literally unearthed after being entombed in the depths of the Atlantic for nine thousand years.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

My Betrothed--My Killer!

It took just a little over three years after her death for Uncanny X-Men to start the ball rolling with bringing the character of Phoenix back in one form or another--that is, if you don't count earlier issues that teased readers with the possibility. Unfortunately, the book's twentieth anniversary issue takes that sort of bait-and-switch treatment and this time applies it to its story's main plot.

Here, the team firmly believes that Jean Grey has returned, and obviously as Dark Phoenix, the character's ruthless, take-no-prisoners manifestation--reincarnated through the form of Madelyne Pryor, Scott Summers' fiancée, a woman whose own resemblance to Jean is uncanny and whose life offers disturbing parallels and coincidences in regard to the woman whose likeness she bears. Not only was Madelyne the sole survivor of a plane crash that occurred at the instant of Jean's death on the moon--but Scott has also found no evidence of her existence prior to the crash, while Madelyne avoids the subject in conversation. Conveniently, Madelyne also seems to be one of those rare humans whose thoughts are closed to Prof. Xavier. All more than enough to raise the suspicions of the X-Men (and certainly Scott) to an alarming agree; but in a Chris Claremont story, people tend to talk a lot about things which should be looked into, and then look the other way until it's too late and the crisis is upon them.

That point comes when Scott can no longer bear the thought of not knowing the truth about Madelyne, and bluntly broaches the subject during an intimate celebration of their engagement in Anchorage.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

War With The Frightful Four!

This looks like a climactic issue that's got a lot of backstory to it, doesn't it?

But because this story takes place in the middle of a tense situation involving the marital difficulties of Reed and Sue Richards, the attack of the Frightful Four is given short shrift--by its own admission, "an interlude in a much greater war--a brief respite, of sorts, between one tempest of emotion and the next." The evil FF haven't been seen in the mag since their all-out attack on the FF which introduced their powerful new member, Thundra--so they were due for a return appearance, no question. Their timing was just off, unfortunately; after all, how do you compete with the added complication of the Sub-Mariner in Reed's and Sue's troubles, and a cliffhanger like this?

(Jeez, talk about the "Red Sea"!)

So, forced to leave Sue with Namor, the team isn't in the best of shape, emotionally or otherwise--particularly Reed, who's just lost his wife not only to pending divorce proceedings, but also to his greatest rival. In two issues, that would all change, when the couple reunite; but what to do until then? If you're the Frightful Four, you're too busy lying in wait in the Baxter Building to care--and if the FF don't get ahold of themselves, instead of going to pieces while coming in for a landing, a fatal crash will do the evil FF's work for them!

Whoa! Did anyone catch the mega-goof on this page?

Friday, August 12, 2016

The End... The Beginning!

Welcome to the final day of Avengers:Transition, winding down our five-day series of posts featuring the issues of the 2005 Earth's Mightiest Heroes limited series which dealt with the team's first lineup change. Forty years after the fact, writer Joe Casey has taken Stan Lee's original tale and re-worked it, providing supplemental material that changes those events to a certain degree while keeping intact the basic structure of the story, allowing the original Avengers to play more of a part in the decisions which led to their exit from the book. In the process, we're given a more dramatic story, with the details of the departure of the founding members and the introduction of their replacements playing out before our eyes, rather than behind the scenes.

Part 1 and Part 2 of this series of reviews focused on the arrival of Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch, with Casey's new material adding a different take to the circumstances which led them to the Avengers' doorstep. In Part 3, it was time to confront the elephant that had been standing in the room for decades: Why did the original Avengers suddenly decide to leave? More to the point, why were they being jettisoned from the book? Casey's material can't answer the latter question, of course (though author Sean Howe briefly addresses the matter in an excerpt included in Part 1)--but he makes an honest attempt to give their departure more context. Finally, in Part 4, we find the Avengers in the midst of parting company, and passing the torch.

Now that the dust has settled, and the new Avengers are on their way into making history, you might enjoy taking a look at some of the other scenes which were a part of this transition--scenes that not only add some helpful perspective to the events involved, but also bring a good deal of additional character to old and new Avengers alike. And while many of these scenes weren't part of the original 1965 story, in a way you may find that they still ring familiar.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Torch Is Passed

You've come to Part 4 of Avengers:Transition, the PPoC's week-long spotlight on writer Joe Casey's reinterpretation of the very first Avengers lineup change that was featured in the 2005 Earth's Mightiest Heroes limited series. So far, we've taken a look at how Hawkeye ended up at Avengers Mansion (thanks to a little push from the Avengers' butler, Jarvis), as well as the addition of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch to the ranks--and as the new team was being formalized, we gained some insight as to the circumstances behind the mass exodus of nearly all of the original charter members.

But there is one Avenger who hasn't been heard from on the subject of leaving, and by this point his silence is conspicuous--Iron Man, who has moved heaven and Earth not only to raise the original team's profile in the eyes of the public, but to secure their A-1 priority clearance status with the National Security Council. Both goals have been difficult, thanks to the Hulk's early and bitter exit from the Avengers--and now that the Avengers are shifting their lineup to adopt replacement members for the ones who are departing, both their public image and their A-1 clearance are in jeopardy since their new members all have criminal records.

Iron Man's thoughts on staying or leaving are yet to be voiced, but we can at least resolve one loose end from when the original members began leaving, one by one--the reappearance of Captain America, who returns to find quite a few changes have been made in his absence.

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