Friday, July 25, 2014

The Deadly Attack of--The Wolverine!

Let's face it--nobody can make his own name resonate in an opponent's head like Wolverine.

But remember the days when Wolverine used to attach an article to his name for good measure? Heaven knows Wolverine's reputation preceded him--but when you saw "the Wolverine" coming at his victim, it gave his attack that little extra jolt of terror, didn't it?

So let's take a moment to remember when the Wolverine, rather than just "Wolverine," was making his name felt in the Marvel universe.

I think the article was jettisoned just before John Byrne came aboard Uncanny X-Men:

(Or is that the Uncanny X-Men?)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

From Death To Eternity

In the second meeting between Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, and the manifestation of Death, the encounter was an introspective one, as Death sought to co-opt the mage by weakening his spirit and showing him the effect that death has had on his family and, by extension, his own path which led to the end of his surgical career. Death was obliged to take such a circumspect approach due to the fact that, with Strange's ascendance to his current level of power, he could no longer be taken by Death directly--and so Death resorted to a ruse, which would compel Strange to surrender his life willingly. Ultimately, Strange prevailed. Which is astonishing, when you think about it: it would make him 2 for 2, in face-offs with Death. That would certainly make for impressive feathers in one's cap.

But, what about that first meeting, when Strange had to go head-to-head with Death without such impunity? I mean, the man is good, but how could he possibly survive?

To make a long story short, he did, but he didn't.

And while that sounds like they would have needed to change the title of the mag to "Dr. Corpse, Master of the Walking Dead" (come on, you know you'd read it), Strange managed to survive that encounter on a TKO. And any death you can walk away from is a good one, if that makes sense.

To give you some background to this encounter, Strange has found reluctant refuge from his fatal stabbing by the man known as Silver Dagger within the "unreality" realm of the Orb of Agamotto, and has steadily made his way back to the center of the orb in order to make his escape back to Earth. But as he nears his goal, he also makes himself vulnerable once again to death; yet he has no choice, if he wants to return to Earth as well as to save Clea from Dagger.

Which will involve coming face-to-skull with an entity that has only one goal where the living are concerned.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Overdue Fourth Guardian

Practically every super-group Marvel has formed has had a character who mainly filled out the roster--someone who wasn't really in the same league as the other characters, but who was felt to have other things to contribute and who would serve to balance out the team's power quotient. Ant-Man and the Wasp would fit that description for the Avengers; Sue Storm for the Fantastic Four; Nighthawk for the Defenders; the Angel for the Champions; Tigra for the West Coast Avengers; a toss-up between Marvel Girl and the Angel for the X-Men. For the original Guardians of the Galaxy, who premiered in January of 1969, you might think the team's member in that respect would be the vulnerable Vance Astro--"the 1000-year-old man" who at first had to guard against his copper suit being punctured, exposing him to air and causing him to age rapidly to his death (nevermind how the guy managed to breathe); but Astro would prove to be resourceful as well as a decisive leader, and he also had a formidable "psyke-blast" to use against opponents.

The Jovian, Charlie-27, of course had his massive bulk and strength, gained when his form was adapted at birth to withstand the conditions of his home, Jupiter--while Martinex's crystalline form was similarly adapted for life on Pluto, combined with the ability to convert light waves into extremes of heat or cold. Which left us with Yondu--a native of Centauri-IV, the planet Astro would arrive at after his 1000-year journey from Earth. Yondu's name was just used once in that first issue, and only by a Badoon guard in passing; and while Centauri-IV was an Earth colony, he couldn't share the same sense of pride that the other three Earthmen did when they chanted "Earth shall overcome!" when they decided to band together to bring humanity back from the brink. Yet Yondu could still battle alongside the three against the enslaving Badoon, who had given him common cause with these men when the aliens conquered his own race along with Earth and its other colonies--and he had other things to bring to the table, though it didn't seem so at first glance.

A good example of that would be his introduction, where he and Astro have been captured and brought before the Badoon in order to mock Astro's pointless historic journey:

Youdu and Astro have no real connection at this point; instead, their bond will be formed "on the job," when Astro tricks the Badoon into returning Yondu's bow. But as we'll see, Yondu's weaponry is given much more exposure than Yondu himself:

And if you're agreeing that there's little of substance to Yondu here, you may have stopped to ask yourself: If the "living metal" of Yondu's yaka arrows reacts with his whistle commands to make a much more deadly projectile, why would he need to be given a bow?

The story perhaps takes Yondu's "native" status on his world a little too far, giving him rudimentary speech and instinctive reactions to hostility while in the company of Astro; even in later stories where the Guardians are more developed, he would be regarded as a "primitive" by his teammates, if a highly respected one. When we next see the Guardians, he's at least been given something of an upgrade:

It's a sensible label to give him, one that doesn't really change the character but acts to perhaps reveal abilities he always possessed--and the Guardians would definitely benefit from having a weapons master on the team. Though we'd later see that his more classic talent had been retained:

Despite the return of the yaka arrow, I was gratified to see that Yondu was being handled much better--perhaps not given the degree of exposure that the others received (in a way, you could say the same for Martinex), but developed in ways that made sense for the more spiritual character that he would be revealed to be. And when the Guardians received their own limited series, the journey he was beginning showed a decent amount of promise:

On the other hand, this scene also demonstrates the possibility that the series might pour on Yondu's spiritual nature a little too heavily, which would have his character bordering on becoming a cliché; the Guardians don't need David Carradine as a member, after all. But for the present, Yondu's development has finally allowed him to "balance" the Guardians, rather than detract from them. Now that Earth has been freed from the Badoon, and the Guardians have chosen to pick up the pieces of their lives off-world with their enigmatic fifth companion, Starhawk, it seems that Yondu is now a full-fledged member of this group, rather than on the fast track to becoming a fifth wheel.

(But what do you say we either toss that bow overboard, or ditch the yaka-metal arrows, eh?)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The End Of A Legend!

There can't be many Fantastic Four readers who are unfamiliar with a scene like this:

The Thing, once again sent a mysterious package that's been booby-trapped by the infamous Yancy Street Gang, Ben Grimm's nemeses from his old neighborhood that gets its kicks from harassing him with pranks designed to humiliate him.

The shenanigans of the Yancy Street Gang were among those mainstays in Marvel Comics you could depend on, like Dr. Doom's facial damage or the death of Bucky--foundations of the Marvel universe that were always good enough as is and never needed to be tinkered with. But in late 2002--after forty years of watching the Yancy Street Gang prevail against the Thing and waiting to see what they would come up with next--writer Mark Waid pulls the virtual rug out from under us.

Johnny of course would be the natural choice as the culprit if the YSG were going to be taken off the hook. The question is, why bother with a new angle? This story is well written and funny--but we've spent years getting perpetual mileage out of the YSG, regular Joes who proved they could slip by FF security and nail the Thing over and over. Was it getting "old"? Did identifying the Gang deprive the pranks of their anonymity and fun? Whatever Waid's reasoning, this one story effectively puts an end to a good chunk of Marvel history that will be missed.

But in all fairness, let's see how the story plays out, as Ben beats an angry path to the novelty store so that he can track down the package's sender(s), while Johnny tries to head him off:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mission: Impossible!

With the first half of Fantastic Four #11 being occupied with a nice segment that spotlights the FF in their "down time," there are only eleven remaining pages to devote to a regular FF story--and so Stan Lee and Jack Kirby give us "The Impossible Man," a short, fun bit of fluff that fills out the issue while presenting us with a brand new character (who would, astonishingly, make it into the FF rogues gallery). The Impossible Man, while obviously a menace that needs to be corralled, isn't what you'd call a foe, and certainly no villain--simply a visiting alien who feels the thrill of interacting with beings who are so different from himself and haven't reached the evolutionary point of being able to shape-shift on the spot to any desired form. (At least that's how the story explains it. I don't know why Lee couldn't just say this is what these aliens are able to do, and leave it at that.)

Not surprisingly, no one knows what to make of the Impossible Man, who takes the slightest comment or suggestion from practically any human and runs with it. Institutional authorities are baffled by the alien's tendency to disregard procedures and/or rules--while law enforcement hasn't a prayer of containing him. The Impossible Man finds the human race to be, for all intents and purposes, stimuli--and with the number and variety of humans on the planet, and each and every one reacting differently to him, his potential for misunderstanding or inappropriate action is virtually limitless.

When the FF are called in, right away you get a sense that they'll be drawn into the humor of the story's approach, given the lack of tact with which their assistance is requested:

(Good grief--I'm surprised that inspector didn't throw in "1-Adam-12" or "Car 54" for good measure.)

As we'll see, the FF and the alien don't see eye-to-eye on his behavior. But at least we learn something of his origin, though even that conveys that this story is best taken tongue-in-cheek:

Nevertheless, in the first part of the story we've had our fill of the FF just hanging around--and so this second part gives us a generous amount of panels of seeing them in action. We'll probably have to redefine that term, however, when dealing with the Impossible Man:

Even an army regiment seems daunted by the Impossible Man's unpredictability. Fortunately, we find out that Mister Fantastic can hurl objects into the troposphere (i.e., at least four miles above sea level):

It finally sinks in for the FF that they're not going to be able to handle the Impossible Man on a physical level. But, though extremely reckless, his behavior is more childish than anything else, and so Reed puts that to the test:

You have to hand it to your adoring public--they'll turn on you like *SNAP* that. Nevertheless, everyone follows Reed's advice, and they soon find their reckless menace has become bored out of his mind.

In combination with Part One of this issue, the entire book was likely well-received by readers, a harmless change of pace that was still engaging and fun. Things with the FF would be back on the front burner the next month, when the team would have its first meeting with the incredible Hulk; but fans of the Impossible Man would see him again when he'd deal a mortal blow to Galactus, and then later invades the Marvel Bullpen. Don't look now, Stan, but the Impossible Man wants a word with you!

Fantastic Four #11 (Part Two)

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Dick Ayers
Letterer: Art Simek

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Stephen Strange--This Was Your Life

While most of us are lucky in life to have few if any brushes with death, I suppose we're also fortunate in the respect that we're going to actually meet death only once--and hopefully in just the conceptual sense. I'm not really keen on the prospect of looking into the actual "face" of Death; simply knowing I've died is going to be enough of a hurdle to clear without also having an imposing figure of Death greeting me. (Maybe Death could resemble David Tennant--that would be awesome.)

So picture Stephen Strange, who, in his life as the Master of the Mystic Arts, has faced the prospect of death numerous times but who has also had the displeasure of meeting Death, twice. We know that their first meeting made up one of the trials Strange would undergo in his new existence as the "Sorcerer Supreme"; and the nature of a series of trials is that you're likely meant to survive one in order to face the next. (Seriously, though, you have to be feeling good about your chances if your first trial is meeting Death, and you "pass." What's going to be more perilous than meeting Death?) But meeting Death a second time for Strange would prove to be a more (pardon the word) deadly experience. Strange only survived his first such meeting by accepting the fact that he had to actually die. But if that's not an option, how, then, do you prevail?

In Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #45, though, we'd be offered more than the battle scenario between Strange and Death that played out in their first meeting. Then, it was clear that Strange's abilities could only prolong the inevitable; yet this time, it would be Death that would prolong their contest. Strange is literally at Death's door, having died but still clinging to his mortal existence by a thread. That's something of a contradiction; but suffice to say that his struggle against crossing over would have to take place on Death's terms. The approach this story takes is that Death's most potent weapon would prove to be Stephen Strange's exposure and growing aversion to the concept of death, well before the circumstances that led him to seek out the Ancient One. In the process, we'll learn for the first time about Strange's family--elaborating on what we already know of his brother, Vic, but presented in the form of unpleasant memories and stinging words that few but Death could bring to bear.

And so the tale begins, with an appropriately macabre entrance.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

My Unabashed Letters to Marvel!

We've already covered some of the greats at Marvel who began their climb up the company ladder by rubbing elbows with other fans who contributed missives to the letters-to-the-editor pages, which were waiting for us at the end of a story (and sometimes tucked in the middle) to give an extra bit of fun to reading a Marvel comic. Reading a letters page felt like getting in the same room with other people who had read the same story--each of whom got a little something different out of it, or perhaps had the same points to raise as yourself. And part of the magic was that the responses were so engaging--partially, no doubt, to maintain the "good will" aspect of customer relations, keeping the lines of communication open and making readers feel that their opinions mattered.

It's been awhile, but I think I ended up writing three or four (maybe five) letters myself. I recall three of them, two of which I'd like to share here; the third was a letter which Jim Shooter, chief editor at the time, graciously responded to himself. I say "graciously" because if memory serves, my letter wasn't particularly thoughtful or anything that merited a response--but he addressed the items I'd mentioned point by point, taking time out of his day to answer my letter personally. I've always remembered that about the man, and to this day I'm duly humbled by his generosity.

At the time, writing a letter to the editor was fun in itself; finding your letter pop up in the book with a response a few issues later had you doing a mental Snoopy dance (or the real thing, depending on whether or not you were in public and how inhibited you were). I remember being motivated to write a letter after reading an issue of The Defenders while Ed Hannigan was on the book. There were a lot of issues of The Defenders that were tough to get through for completists like myself who were committed to reading them; so on those occasions when you had a run of good plots and writing, it made you feel like the book was getting its second wind, and this particular issue did it for me.

Reading my letter again, I can almost see FUTURE BLOGGER virtually stamped all over it, which gives me a laugh. It's almost like opening a time capsule.  I was around 22 at the time, and here I was enthusiastically writing a letter to a comic book--and to tell you the truth, I thought nothing of it. Fortunately, it was also during the period when writers were taking the time to reply themselves--and Mr. Hannigan's one-sentence response to my letter was perhaps due to limited space, but the wit in it made me smile.

As you can see, I even had a name to use back then! You'll have to excuse the redaction, though it wouldn't exactly take a rocket scientist to follow the paper trail for the full info if you're intent on satisfying your inner stalker.

And speaking of rocket scientists, we'll need to drop in on one in Nevada to get some context on what prompted me to write this next letter. The story concerns a project that the government has undertaken to duplicate the conditions that produced the Fantastic Four in order to create more such beings. If you've read this story as well as FF #197, you probably have an idea of where I'm heading with this. Here's the gist of what's going on:

Which I thought was, as I put it at the time, a really "cool storyline" to explore.  But it triggered a "Wait a minute--haven't we already covered this ground?" feeling in me:

The (unsigned) reply never cleared things up for me, since it addresses a factor (the communication angle) that didn't come into play until later in the storyline, and which at the time didn't have any bearing on the government's initiative to duplicate the FF's original flight. Though in all honesty, I didn't seriously expect a reply of "Oh. Yeah. Well, I guess we didn't really need to reinvent the wheel here, did we? Our bad."

But it was fun to explore the point with the book's editor(s).  I haven't kept up with Marvel titles for awhile, so I'm not sure if letters pages were phased out at some point or if they're still featured in Marvel mags--what's the story there? In any case, please feel free to chime in with your own experiences with and remembrances of the Marvel letters pages. And I think I can guarantee that they'll see print!

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