Friday, November 16, 2018

Day Of The Rabble-Rousers!

In early 1973, when the ongoing Vietnam War was inflaming our national discourse and inciting protests and even, at times, riots, two close acquaintances of the Sub-Mariner--Betty Dean (Prentiss) and his young cousin, Namorita--exemplified the political tug-of-war taking place between teenage children and their parents on the subject. And while Betty is merely acting as Nita's guardian while she attends college, it looks like these two have become examples of another conflict, one that carried over from the 1960s--a little something we used to call the Generation Gap.

In this back-and-forth, we may think we're seeing a completely different side of Betty, though we should remember that she grew to maturity in the 1940s, when America was drawn into World War II and the entire country and its population were united in common cause. The '60s, with its social turmoil and unrest, must have unsettled her quite a bit--and so she clings to values she's cherished for most of her life, never once questioning the actions of those who young people have taken to calling "the establishment." To her, the way to handle Nita's dilemma is simple: Trust in the time-tested practice of democracy to set things right.

Yet it's Nita who, through her time at college, is being exposed firsthand to new ideas and viewpoints as well as the rights granted by the First Amendment to express them. So when you put these two ladies together, with so many years between them, you have a perfect storm that pits the tried-and-true values espoused by Betty against the winds of change that Nita's social passion represents.

Already Betty and Nita aren't seeing eye to eye, nor can we at first glance make the right call here. While it's true that there indeed may have been no need for the police to step in, much less show up, a police presence had become standard procedure at this point in time whenever demonstrators appeared--and there was obviously a difference of opinion on what kind of behavior on either side was the catalyst for violent confrontation. Betty's sympathies appear to be with the authorities; but as for Nita's defense, we frankly don't know which side was responsible for causing things to get out of hand.

At any rate, it's a little amusing to see both Nita and Betty entrench themselves in their respective viewpoints--though Betty seems to be the dogmatic one casting aspersions without having all the facts. Come on, Betty, bend a little! Cut the kid some slack!

And just in case you think a former policewoman wouldn't think anything of a college having women on its faculty, well...

You'll notice that Namor has steered clear of this little dispute. A wise ruler knows when to retreat.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Just A Boy Named Joey

In July of 1966, Stan Lee, working off a plot by artist Steve Ditko, scripted a story of a "regular Joe," as it were--specifically, Joe Smith, who perhaps became the mold for stories that put the problems and concerns of average characters in the spotlight while the issue's title character(s) orbited around them ("Skip" Collins being one example). Joe's story would be appropriately told in a comic where its title character's popularity relied in large part on the fact that he had to constantly deal with the burden of everyday problems, even though he was a hero of great power and, yes, carried great responsibility.

Joe's story begins in a neighborhood gym, where he pursues his dream of being a champion boxer and finally succeeds in pestering convincing one of the fight managers on the premises, Tommy Tomkins, to book a match for him. But, lacking the killer instinct of a ring boxer, Joe washes out as a fighter, and, subsequently, as a wrestler, before Tomkins switches gears for him and lands Joe a job as an extra in a television film. The part is basically for a costumed alien with no dialog who goes on a rampage, which Joe accepts mostly out of appreciation for Tomkins' efforts on his part--but he soon finds his hard luck extends to the stage, though the production's director is pleased under the circumstances.

Unfortunately, the accident has had an effect on Joe, on both a physical and psychological level--with all of the mocking he endured from other fighters at the gym fueling a rage that definitely wasn't part of his script.

And when that rage breaks out to the streets, Joe comes into conflict with Spider-Man, who soon realizes this is no ordinary unhinged fighter he faces. But he learns little else, thanks to Joe's anger reaching a point where he lets his actions speak for him.

Before Spider-Man can return to the scene, Tomkins locates Joe and gets him to safety, just as his head is beginning to throw off the effects of the chemical-electric shock that hit him. It's clear that Tomkins has become sympathetic to the loser status and bad breaks that seem to hang around Joe like an albatross; but his advice to rest is later ignored when Joe begins to re-exhibit the symptoms of the accident while again raving about being a failure. And he decides to take that rage and his returned strength back to the source of his anguish--the fighters at the gym who continually rode him about what a poor excuse for a boxer he made.

Needless to say, Joe's gym "buddies" have a true fight on their hands when Joe lays into them. To make matters worse, Spider-Man arrives, but with a price on his head (thanks to Norman Osborn) which has everyone in the gym joining Joe to put him down. Eventually, Spidey handles the opposition long enough to focus on Joe (you can see Ditko's panels of the brawl in a previous post), just as Joe's head clears once more--apparently for good this time.

It was quite a happy ending for Joe. Or so it seemed.

Which brings us to the streets of New York once more, years later, as a member of the city's Board of Education runs for his life, but cannot outdistance the one who pursues him--a murderous attacker who looks hauntingly familiar to us.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Where My Creator Goes, There Follows This One

Writer Steve Englehart made his stamp on a number of Marvel titles during his stay at the company--some only briefly, while others (among them, The Avengers, Captain America, Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, Silver Surfer, and West Coast Avengers) he took more of an interest in for extended periods. One idea for a post that's been kicking around in the back of my head would be to explore the reasoning behind those titles which he didn't appear to be interested in writing; some, like X-Men and Tomb of Dracula, already had firmly-established scripters in place and thus are fairly easy to cross off the list, though there were a number of others that were definitely in need of a writer such as Englehart who could revive them and offer a fresh take on their character(s) and direction. It's really a thought on my part that never went anywhere; frankly, I think an interview on the subject would be more informative, assuming one isn't already on the books (so to speak).

One thing I did find interesting while poking this train of thought was that, of those titles mentioned above, a commonality among three of them in particular is a character that Englehart created who conspicuously began appearing as a guest-star in each, and all within a span of just under two years:

The last that anyone had seen of Mantis was in the Giant-Size Avengers issue where she joined with one of the Cotati race to fulfill her destiny as the Celestial Madonna and conceive a child. Once Englehart left as writer of The Avengers, however, there was no further exposure for Mantis until over ten years later, showing up in a book whose space-soaring star offered a considerable change in direction for her.

Friday, November 9, 2018

This Destiny Awaits!

Previously, we've seen Namor, the Sub-Mariner, refer to a prophecy handed down to him personally from Neptune, which held great promise for both Namor and his kingdom. When Namor succeeds in restoring his people from the near-death state they succumbed to following their exposure to nerve gas which had escaped from a surface vessel, it's his belief that all that has happened has been in accordance with Neptune's prophecy, and he relies on that belief to revitalize the spirit of the masses and essentially declare a new era for his people.

But has this prophecy been fulfilled, as he declares? To gain some much-needed perspective on the subject, it's helpful to take a look at the "Tales Of Atlantis" segment of Sub-Mariner which illustrated the ancient history of the city, where the prophecy of Neptune had its roots in a vision experienced by the young leader who oversaw the reconstruction of a new Atlantis 5,000 years following the cataclysm which sent the original island continent into the sea. Only on this occasion, it wasn't Neptune, but the spirits of the King and Queen of the surface Atlantis, Kamuu and Zartra, who appeared to Kamuu's namesake and wove a tale of what was to come.

From what we see in the story, the legacy that King Kamuu speaks of wasn't as glorious as he and Zartra make it out to be. At the time of its destruction, Atlantis was on the losing side of a war with Lemuria, which a continent--an empire--of such reputed stature doesn't reach the point of without neglecting flaws in its societal makeup that had likely been building for some time. Indeed, Kamuu and Zartra were both haughty and dismissive leaders during our brief look at their reign--and while the Lemurians may not have been shining examples of civilized man themselves, they obviously were able to take advantage of weaknesses of the Atlantean monarchy to bring them so close to toppling it. Further, it was Kamuu's own gambit to stop a group of Lemurians from breaching the city's massive dome (by drawing up magma from beneath the surface and releasing it over the dome, disregarding the consequences) which was responsible for the destruction which followed*. It was the definition of recklessness and irresponsibility, fueled by only the desire to make a brutal example of any who presumed to attack Atlantis.

*Very much at odds with the city's destruction as depicted in the late-1988 Saga of the Sub-Mariner series.

Regardless, we can take away three key predictions from this vision: One, that the destiny of Atlantis is to rule the entirety of Earth's oceans; two, that Atlantis and its people will be witness to and survive the city's destruction a number of times throughout its existence; and three, that Namor could possibly bring Atlantis to the point where it would preside over the destiny of the entire human race. The first indicates that Atlantis will eventually unite other undersea kingdoms under its banner; the second hints that its rise to grandeur will be a rocky one fraught with conflict and/or disaster. And the third?

The prediction of its rise over all other nations of Earth is really the only part of Kamuu's prophecy which ties in with Neptune's, as Namor seeks the god's counsel after the disaster which befell the city following its (and his own) exposure to the nerve gas. Namor has a bold vision of his own--one that, as it happens, coincides with the words of Neptune:

The encounter stands as confirmation of the part of the prophecy which states that whether Atlantis fulfills its destiny to rise to the forefront--the vanguard--of all nations will depend on the actions and decisions of Namor, while Neptune has also echoed Namor's impassioned wish that he act to preserve the planet itself from man's reckless treatment of it. (Hear, hear.)

With the Sub-Mariner title left by the wayside, both of these prophecies have been given little to no attention in succeeding stories by other writers in other titles, though in the '80s Roger Stern picks it up once more with a brief reference when Namor is captured as part of Zeus's vendetta against the Avengers:

But it also bears noting that it's Namor himself who has often proven to be the weak link in fulfilling a prophecy that specifically names him as its linchpin. In the recent address he gives to his people following their resurrection, Namor appears to believe the prophecy has been fulfilled, though in reality he's merely cherry-picked the words which Neptune spoke to him--focusing on Atlantis rising from its near-destruction while ignoring the other aspects ot the prophecy which have yet to come to pass. He has yet to even begin the work which will see to the fulfillment of his destiny, or that of his people; in fact, consider how he reacted not long after the disaster, when he fled to the surface and all but abandoned his people. It's behavior he's exhibited before, either on his own initiative or due to his own neglect:

All disturbing portents of both his resolve as well as his ability to go the distance as the one responsible for the grand destiny envisioned for Atlantis.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Once More Rises... Atlantis!

As the Sub-Mariner title in late 1973 began what seemed a steadfast march toward cancellation, writer Steve Gerber made a few changes designed to breathe new life into the book and turn around its flagging sales. That decision would translate to a world of grief for Namor, as well as for Atlantis, both of which had seen more than their share of conflict and setbacks already--only this time, what Gerber had in mind would combine their two fates by making Namor the catalyst for what would befall his kingdom. It was an unfortunate time to be an Atlantean, as well as the Sub-Mariner.

Namor's woes began when two powerful enemies, Orka and the She-Beast, joined forces to subdue him by first bringing Atlantis to near-ruin and then going on to eliminate its ruler. And when you have control over a herd of killer whales and have backed your victim against a coral reef, you'd have every reason to feel confident that victory is at hand. But Namor decides on a desperate plan of escape--one that will end up costing him in the long run.

Washed ashore and near death from his exposure to the gas, Namor is retrieved by the Inhuman, Triton, and brought to the Fantastic Four--but upon regaining consciousness, he learns that his collision with the nerve gas cannisters has indeed taken its toll on him.

Meanwhile, Orka and the She-Beast enter Atlantis (or what's left of it) in triumph. But the force of Namor's impact with the surface ship carrying the gas cannisters has caused their contents to spread--and Atlantis, and nearly all within, end up in its path.

At the Baxter Building, Reed Richards has devised a special suit that will allow Namor to remain alive when he's out of contact with water. Yet when he returns to Atlantis, he finds that everything that made his life worth living has been decimated.

However, when Namor is found by his young cousin, Namorita, who arrives with the group of amphibious humans he rescued earlier from a power-mad villain, he discovers that hope yet remains for his subjects.

After relocating to the surface facility where Croft and his fellows were transformed to amphibians, a further step is discussed which is intended to preserve the Atlanteans while the cure for their condition is being researched.

That leads to a conflict with the villain known as Force, who has other ideas for the invention that Namor needs for his people. Eventually, however, Namor prevails, and his kingdom soon lies protected beneath the depths.

By this time, however, Sub-Mariner has shifted to bi-monthly publication, which unfortunately is a fair indication that the writing is on the wall for the mag. That indeed turns out to be the case, as, three issues later, the title folds, leaving the fate of Atlantis and its population in limbo.

Which is our cue to unfold yet another

Marvel Trivia Question

When and how did the resurrection of the Atlanteans take place?

Monday, November 5, 2018

...In The Heat Of Battle!

In 1978, the mutant known as Mesmero successfully carried out a petty scheme which targeted the X-Men--suppressing their memories and forcing them to assume lives as members of a circus troupe. Thanks to Wolverine, who helped his comrades throw off Mesmero's control, the X-Men were on the verge of confronting their foe, when they discovered that someone had beaten them to it.

Capturing the X-Men (and subsequently dealing with Mesmero), Magneto brought the team to his complex hidden beneath a live volcano in the frozen Antarctic wasteland, where he ended the modicum of civility he'd exercised on their journey and began an all-out attack against them.

Its final moments went something like this:

Cyclops is a fine one to talk about coordination and strategy--with the exception of a single optic blast fired at the beginning of the fight, he was virtually missing in action while his team made their uncoordinated attempts to stop Magneto. How about leading your team, sport?

Following his victory lap, Magneto initiates his ultimate plan of revenge against his oldest foes--a living death from which there is no hope of escape.

Which sets the stage for the following issue, and Round Two--taking place in at the bottom of the world far beneath the surface, where no one even realizes that the X-Men are engaged in a struggle for their lives. It would become what many regard as one of the most memorable and classic battles in Marvel's history to this point--and while the issue's cover appears to have already declared the victor, there's also a strong indication that no one may make it out of this fight alive.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Sub-Marauder--Captain Barracuda!

Take one act of piracy from a decked-out sub the likes of which no one has ever seen:

Then mix in a boarding party, whose lousy luck has them boarding the one ship on the ocean with Bruce Banner as a deck hand:

And finally, add the sub's snarling captain, who has the misfortune of not realizing just who and what he's tangling with!

Winding up our week-long look at beyond-the-norm ship captains who have crossed paths with the incredible Hulk, we conclude with a glorified pirate whose name gives you an idea of how far he would go and how many lines he would cross to gain his prize: the infamous Captain Barracuda, who got his start in 1964 in Strange Tales looting a local cruise line, but transitioned to the big leagues and began stealing technology that would allow him to overcome any other ships that went up against him, even going so far as to attempt the theft of an atomic warhead.

Then, it was the Sub-Mariner who interfered with Barracuda's plans--and now, it's Namor's fellow Titan, the Hulk, who takes on the ruthless captain and his scurvy crew, in a two-part story that has the Hulk fighting for the life of... Robinson Crusoe!?

(And if our eyes aren't playing tricks on us, doesn't it look like, from the waist up, the Hulk is striking virtually identical poses on both covers?)

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Infra-World of Captain Omen!

We've already seen the first of several encounters the incredible Hulk would have with ship captains who didn't exactly have his best interests at heart. It seems an odd combination, indeed... a raging man-monster, thrust into an environment where a human issues orders and metes out punishment if necessary--neither of which the Hulk would tolerate from any human, regardless of whatever puny rank they hold. (One has only to look at the Hulk's disregard for Gen. "Thunderbolt" Ross's status as a time-tested example.) Captain Cybor, however, became part man/part machine because of the creature he hunted; and while we could categorize the Hulk's next antagonist as fully human (at least in appearance), the Hulk would discover that both captain and crew were *ahem* out of his depth, as he finds himself trapped in the strange and far-reaching infra-world of Captain Omen.

Regrettably, it looks like we need to add "hostile" to that world's description.

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