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.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Golden Age, Today: Captain America Meets Sub-Mariner!

OR: "Allies In The Making"

Captain America #423 can't help but give a reader the impression of being a nod by writer Roy Thomas to those old Timely stories where the core heroes of the time--Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, and the Human Torch--were all active in one way or another in the years before America entered World War II. Cap, of course, along with Bucky, was battling domestic threats from German saboteurs and the like--and the Torch, when not fighting crime, was defending New York City from the Sub-Mariner's attacks upon the human race as repayment for explosives being detonated above his Antarctic home. It would be awhile before these three joined forces in Europe as part of the Invaders in common cause.

Yet in those early days, Namor was a powerful, hostile force as far as humanity was concerned, attacking the streets without warning and delivering ultimatums with a raised fist. It would have been difficult to believe at the time that he would ever choose to fight for the human race rather than against it, as intent as he seemed on wreaking havoc and destruction whenever he was spotted descending from the sky. Fortunately for New Yorkers, Namor wasn't making war per se, but was mainly engaging in forceful strikes as a deterrent to further encroachment on his territory by the Americans (though arranging for a tidal wave to engulf the city was definitely going overboard); but humans also had in their corner a defender in the Torch, who was available to match Namor in a battle of the elements, where the Torch usually prevailed due to Namor's vulnerability to fire and his dependence on water for his strength and vigor. Otherwise, Namor was unstoppable, and would have felt emboldened to continue to terrorize not just New York but other American cities on a grander scale.

In fact, the foundation of this story has Namor escalating the already tense situation between himself and humans, after he's has been driven off by the Torch one too many times and is ready to take it up a notch. Only this time, Namor won't be met with fire, but with the fists of America's sentinel of liberty, Captain America, as these two characters meet for the first time.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Sinister Five!

The Sinister Six they're not, but would you believe:

Comprised of the Rhino, Hydro-Man, our old buddy Speed Demon, Boomerang, and their leader, the Beetle (formerly of the Masters of Evil), the Sinister Syndicate banded together as hired guns for anyone who cared to bid on their services. It looks like their targets here are Silver Sable and Spider-Man, who were hoping to capture Jack O'Lantern but who got a lot more than they bargained for.

And though Spidey and Silver Sable gave a good accounting of themselves in the ensuing battle, the Syndicate eventually managed to get the better of them, by bringing almost the entire Coney Island roller coaster down on them:

Fortunately for this pair, the Sandman, who at the time had reformed (heh, "reformed," get it?) and was now enjoying life as a law-abiding citizen, decided to come to their aid and mix it up with the Syndicate--and doing pretty well, too, even with bonehead moves like this one:

This tactic also bombed when Quicksand tried it, so I really wasn't expecting any better of Sandman. But Spider-Man, injured earlier by the Rhino, rallied and desperately fought off the Syndicate along with the Sandman, until the villains decided to bolt.

The Syndicate would make one more go of it five years later, bringing the Shocker into their ranks and pursuing Spider-Man for revenge--but there was a power struggle between the Beetle and Boomerang, as well as further infighting which led to the group eventually splintering and going their separate ways.  There's yet to be any demand for the Syndicate's return, either by prospective employers or from readers banging on the doors of the Marvel offices--so it seems it's Doc Ock and his group whose sinister cred still sets the standard.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Invincible Adam Austin

Artist Don Heck spent almost three years drawing the character of Iron Man, from Shellhead's premiere in Tales of Suspense #39 and culminating with his first battle with (and victory over) the Titanium Man. But after 34 issues, the artistic reins would be passed to Gene Colan, who would continue to pencil Iron Man through the final issue of the title, wrapping up a 27-issue run and launching Iron Man in his own book, as well.

It's obvious just at first glance that the styles of these two artists are very different from one another--yet, at first, Iron Man himself was drawn as stiffly by Colan as he was by Heck, and with no discernible changes in the look of the character's armor:

However, if you look at Colan's work on Iron Man in that first issue (as we'll do here), and then jump ahead just ten issues, Colan demonstrates gaining a clear mastery of this character and a vibrant, dynamic style.

You may have noticed from the credits that Colan uses the pseudonym of "Adam Austin," which he would retain for about five issues. In an August, 2000 interview, Colan explains:

"Yeah, just the one time early on I did [go by that pen name]. I was working for DC then and I didn't want them to know I was also doing work for Marvel. I didn't think it was such a good idea for them to know because I was a free-lancer. I didn't want them to take it out of my hide, so I had Stan, instead of putting my real name, put in Adam Austin. That didn't matter, though, because they knew anyway. Art is like handwriting, you really can't disguise the style. I think all artists have a distinct style. If you get to following an artist, you get to know his work whether he signs it or not. The reason I was working for Marvel on the side was that I just wanted to be kept busy. That's the whole idea of free-lancing. It didn't matter to me which company it was. Of course, if you could get enough work out of any one company then you should stay there. Why knock yourself out. You can only do what you can do. If one company is keeping you that busy, there would be no point in trying to take on another company and wind up maybe disappointing one of them."

As I've mentioned before, reading Iron Man's adventures at this time was a bit frustrating. His armor, while sophisticated, was extremely handicapped in terms of power distribution, some of which needed to be kept in reserve in order to keep his life-saving chest device operational. In practically every fight, Iron Man worried about the strain he was putting on his heart--and he usually needed to recharge, often after only a few minutes of battle against an aggressive foe. Iron Man, one of Marvel's flagship super-heroes with a reputation for being formidable, seemed vulnerable and ill-prepared against his enemies--and no reader wants to see their hero constantly fret.

It wasn't the best time in Iron Man's career for Colan to come aboard, only to likely be informed he'd have to hamper the character a good deal of the time. This first issue for the artist, with the Golden Avenger going up against one of his oldest enemies, the Black Knight, will make crystal clear everything that wasn't working for Iron Man. Unlike Dane Whitman, the later Black Knight who became an Avenger, his predecessor (Nathan Garrett) didn't use a sword, but an array of weaponry to supplement his ever-present "power lance"--and with just that one item and a bit of planning, Garrett soon has Iron Man at his mercy. When Garrett tells a crumbled Iron Man what a disappointment he's been in this battle, I couldn't have agreed more.

But, let's focus on Colan's style, and what he brings to the table here. For one thing, Colan adds more contrast to his panels than Heck, and presents characters in greater detail and more realistic angles:

With the nice job that's being done here of Iron Man sizing up the Black Knight's threat and striding into his foe's lair, we're being led to believe we're in for one heck of a battle. Iron Man is as we remember him in the face of such a threat--cautious, but confident and resolved, maybe even a little eager. I often think of how nice it was to see Iron Man operate outside of the Avengers, since he's at his best when he's autonomous, planning his own strategy and calling his own shots. As battle-ready as he is here, you'd think the one thing he shouldn't be worried about is his own armor going the distance, wouldn't you?

The Knight's stinging words are like salt on an open wound, especially to the reader. On a positive note, Colan's panels give Iron Man some very smooth moves as well as provide a few nice visual touches. I made the comment in another story of how, under Colan's pencils, Iron Man's style of movement in battle is akin to a ballet, as opposed to someone like Jack Kirby who takes a more blunt approach. Unfortunately, Iron Man here has quickly gone from smooth to limp, as the Knight further humiliates him by carrying him into the sky in order to have him plummet to his death.

A victory based on loosening a saddle is hardly one to chalk up on the record books, but at least Iron Man's gambit allows him to save his friend, Happy Hogan. The Knight, however, is mortally wounded from his plunge, and this would be the character's final appearance alive before passing the torch to his successor:

No, I haven't heard anyone refer to the villainous Black Knight as "a benefactor of mankind," either. I'm afraid he's stuck with his legacy as a charter member of the Masters of Evil.

If you'd like to see Colan have Iron Man give more of an account of himself in battle, just have a look at his follow-up fight with the Titanium Man in Washington, D.C. You'd think Colan is as happy to cut loose as ol' Shellhead.

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