Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Major Who Wouldn't Die!

We've followed the career of Major Glenn Talbot from when he first arrived as the new security chief under General Ross's command, and watched as he progressed in his career while being instrumental in discovering the true identity of the incredible Hulk. And through it all, he made an effort to grow closer to the General's daughter, Betty, even though she remained in love with Bruce Banner.

Talbot has been practically in Betty's orbit throughout her experiences with both Banner and the Hulk, seemingly to no avail. He was the textbook example of unrequited love--with Betty at times giving the impression that she was responding to Talbot's affections, but ultimately continuing to hope that Banner would one day be free of his curse as the Hulk so that they could finally be together. In short: Talbot had it bad for this gal, but never stood much of a chance while Banner continued to come between them, even mostly in absentia.

Yet, there came a time when Talbot's patience would finally be rewarded, when the Hulk was presumed dead after being reduced to ant size by exposure to Henry Pym's serum and subsequently crushed by the Chameleon. The news hits Betty like a sledge hammer:

But just look who springs up out of nowhere to seize the day:

This isn't the first time Banner has been mistaken for dead, of course--but, in an odd turn of events, Betty now accepts the news with finality and gives Talbot the green light. And, before you know it (really--just one issue later!), we find the two of them at a resort, with Talbot moving in for the kill and Betty all but responding with "Bruce who??"

Betty is probably referring to Banner's growing affection for Jarella, the woman he met during a prior sub-atomic experience and whom he'd recently reconnected with. Jarella had the good fortune to establish a relationship with both Banner and the Hulk, though she was literally worlds apart from them--and so Banner enjoyed a unique relationship with her, something he'd also tried to have with Betty during the period he could control his transformations but which ended in disaster. And so, while it may seem that Betty is writing off Banner rather quickly this time, in a way Jarella had made it possible for her to (as she says) see a future for herself without him. And as we've seen, Talbot was right there for the hand-off.

So are congratulations finally in order for Major Talbot? Is this where the guy finally gets the girl?

Well, yes and no. How dead do you think the Hulk is?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Deadly Aim of--Deathbird!

In Part One of a story involving a terrorist group's abduction of Lilandra, Empress of the Shi'ar, we saw Corsair, leader of the Starjammers, arrive on Earth and involve two of the X-Men, Storm and Cyclops, in a firefight with alien bounty hunters. And if you're a little dizzy at just reading that, you'd best strap yourself in, because Part Two isn't likely to notch down the action for you. With their Empress in the hands of enemies, it doesn't take long for the Shi'ar to mobilize and follow their trail, which unfortunately leads to Earth.

In addition, Cyclops has finally discovered that Corsair is his biological father. To say that it hasn't exactly been a pleasant family reunion is an understatement:

But the family drama will have to wait--because if anyone would take the direct approach in their dealings with other races, it's the Shi'ar, who have arrived in Earth orbit and immediately assemble the X-Men from whatever locations they happened to be in, in order to make use of Xavier's telepathic abilities to locate Lilandra. They're also wanting a few words with Corsair, who's being charged as a co-conspirator in Lilandra's abduction:

Xavier, as Lilandra's consort, fortunately carries some clout with the Shi'ar, which is the only thing keeping them from taking a bull-in-a-china-shop approach to the problem and landing on Earth like storm troopers. And so a compromise is reached in order to minimize the potential collateral damage:

With this incident obviously having shaken up the Shi'ar as far as trusting anyone, Araki also insists that two of the X-Men (in this case Kitty and Nightcrawler) remain on board as hostages while the X-Men's rescue operation is attempted. Reluctantly, Xavier, Storm, and Cyclops agree to the condition, though Xavier establishes a mind-link with Kitty for an undisclosed mission aboard the Shi'ar ship. And so we return to Earth, as the X-Men race against time to locate Lilandra and uncover her captors before the Shi'ar take matters into their own hands.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Transitional Tabulation of Titillating Treatises!

With this blog just having passed its two-year birthday--and man, has this been a blast!--I was curious to see which posts all of you were finding the most interesting. Given the variables involved, that kind of list is never going to be an accurate indication of what's being read the most, particularly since more recent posts haven't had the advantage of drawing readership over time; but the results were still interesting to see, because they were totally unexpected. It's not only a fascinating mixture of material, but also subjects I wouldn't have necessarily predicted as being so in demand. Once again, you've surprised me--and that's how it should be.

On to it, then. Here's a countdown of the top 10 most-read posts here at PPOC--as compiled by ISAAC, the super-computer of Titan. (Not really.)

The All-New, Intergalactic Black Panther
A review of Black Panther #2, as Jack Kirby begins this new series in 1977.

A Boy And His Droog
A profile of the villain known as the Gremlin! And leave it to this child prodigy to have his own bio-engineered pet--that speaks in rhymes while it's trying to kill you.

The Death-Trap of Mr. Freeze!
Spider-Man vs. the Sandman in a knock-down drag-out! Will the Sandman succeed in putting Spidey on ice?

Trapped In Outer Space!
The Avengers fall into the trap of the leader of Zodiac! Are they fated to spend their days in a warehouse in orbit? With no butler??

Keystone Kops, Killer Clowns, and--Rocket Raccoon!
The first comic book appearance of a future Guardian of the Galaxy--and teaming up with the Hulk, no less!

Avoid Lurching Trick-Or-Treaters
A Halloween one-shot--featuring the Marvel Zombies, who just can't seem to leave the dinner table. Will Katherine Pryde and her young son survive in a world of the dead?

Meet The Fists of--Captain Spider!
A review of What If? #7, where Peter Parker must watch three other people take on the identity of Spider-Man!

Demon In A Bottle!
Reviews Amazing Spider-Man #96, which set aside the approval of the Comics Code Authority to do a special issue on the dangers of drug abuse.

The Frankenstein Surfer!
It's the Silver Surfer vs. the ancestor of Victor Frankenstein, and the monstrous creation spawned from the power cosmic!

And the #1 most-read post:
The Doomsday Machine!
In the 300th issue of Invincible Iron Man, Ultimo returns to wreak havoc--and an army of Iron Men races to stop him! Will Tony Stark's brand new suit of armor be able to topple this colossus once and for all?

I'm glad to see you've all been enjoying yourselves--believe me, the pleasure's been all mine! My humble thanks again to Marvel Comics and its pool of creative talent for all the fantastic stories of years gone by, and the good memories and fun they still provide to readers all over the world--and, of course, thanks to you. Onward!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Father, The Space Outlaw

After artist John Byrne left Uncanny X-Men, the title found its legs again when Dave Cockrum, the original artist to the "new" X-Men, returned and proved he'd lost none of his dynamic style with the team, nor his obvious flair for their character. Cockrum and Byrne were a little like apples and oranges where the X-Men were concerned--both highly skilled artists, but with very distinct styles that each brought something to the X-Men table.

There's no question that Byrne made his stamp on the book; but when Cockrum returned, I found myself a little more pumped to read the stories. It seemed even writer Chris Claremont was invigorated. Claremont has a very introspective style, which meshed quite well with Byrne's panels and their emphasis on faces and posture as well as his slow-paced action scenes; but with Cockrum, Claremont was obliged to step up his game and keep up with the more quickly changing scenes which Cockrum offered. After the tragedy of Phoenix, the shift was a welcome change.

To put it simply: I was liking the new X-Men all over again.

Cockrum and Claremont had already come on like gangbusters with Dr. Doom, Magneto, and the return of Cyclops--but with issue #154, they begin a four-part story featuring none other than the Shi'ar, the Starjammers, and the first appearance of the deadly race known as the Brood. It's the tail end of Winter, 1982--but it feels like Christmas has been extended for X-Men readers.

We're already seeing signs of the book pivoting in the direction of the anti-mutant sentiment which will take over the title like a cancer and throw the X-Men into divisions that the series will never truly recover from. In addition, this particular story will take the first step toward throwing the team into disarray, effectively severing their link to a location based deeply in X-Men tradition and thereby thrusting them into a more mobile method of operation. But, at least for now, we can enjoy the other elements this story has to offer--starting with an improvised game featuring Storm (the X-Men's current leader) and Cyclops, characters who both play to win.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Touch-Up for the '70s

At first glance, it's difficult to tell why the reprint of Fantastic Four #82, featured in Marvel's Greatest Comics #64, didn't simply stick with the original cover drawn by Jack Kirby and inked by Joe Sinnott. Sinnott pencilled and inked the replacement MGC cover--and, aside from the features of the Thing and Reed, there seems to be very little difference between the two that would warrant alterations:

But at second glance, it looks like there are a few more things going on.  Both Crystal and Medusa now appear to be younger--while the colorist on the MGC job has altered Crystal's costume to that of her Inhuman costume's hue, even though Crystal was still active in the FF at the time. But as for Ben and Reed, their features (as well as Johnny's flame) are more in line with artist Rich Buckler's work on the FF book, which wrapped up about four months before this issue of MGC--and if the cover was commissioned four months ahead of publication, perhaps the thinking was to keep the characters' features closer to what readers were currently accustomed to seeing on the sales rack. (That might also explain the attempt to avoid confusion with Crystal's costume, since Sue was back with the FF at the time.)  Ben, the Torch, and Black Bolt are also a little smaller to accommodate the MGC format as well as the MCG banner.

Art Adams would do a later take on the cover as a variant for Fantastic Four #600:

(Note the addition of Triton and Lockjaw.)

Sinnott's original mark-up, featured on the Joltin' one's website!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cliffhangers Of Suspense

It wasn't exactly a vote of confidence for either Iron Man or Captain America, as far as carrying their own book--but once Cap joined Iron Man in the pages of Tales Of Suspense in late 1964, splitting the title between them, the book went on to enjoy a four-year run before finally coming to an end after forty quality issues:

Issue #99 left each character poised to launch their own title, which would appear on the racks shortly afterward. Tales Of Suspense, of course, would always carry the distinction of having introduced the character of Iron Man; yet it would be Captain America which would continue the issue numbering of Tales Of Suspense and begin with #100, while Iron Man would start its new run with #1.

It's anyone's guess why these choices were made--it might have been because an opportunity to feature a 100th issue couldn't be wasted, and a choice had to be made between the two. But to wildly speculate further, let's say it may have had something to do with the way the characters were featured on the cover in the last few issues. For some time, the covers had ceased splitting the cover space between Iron Man and Cap, instead alternating between each of them while featuring them both in the masthead. In the last few issues, though, even the masthead had been dedicated to one or the other--and in the final issue, Iron Man happened to be the one featured prominently. That made for a nice transition for Iron Man into his own mag--so what could be done for Cap to give his own new mag a boost? Numbering his first issue #100, while flagrantly inaccurate, would no doubt draw attention to it.

That took care of the cover of the final issue, which, looking at it, you can't help but think it would make a great looking issue of Iron Man. But the final stories of each character in their shared comic would also have to do the job of selling the reader on the new mags to follow. Whether or not they accomplished that is something for sales figures to indicate; but as far as the story quality for the final issue of Tales Of Suspense, both the Cap and Iron Man stories were entertaining and true to their characters, thanks to writers Archie Goodwin (on Iron Man) and Stan Lee (on Cap), with art by, respectively, Gene Colan and Jack Kirby. If you were a regular reader of Tales Of Suspense, you would have very little to complain about with that kind of talent pool, even with each story being limited to eleven pages.

So how did this final issue stack up for each?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Beginning Of The End!

There was a time in Thor's comic when the Norse gods lived each day of their lives trapped by their fate--knowing their immortal lives would nevertheless come to an end on the day of Ragnarok, the final conflagration which would engulf the gods and their monstrous enemies in one last battle which would consume them all. Writer Stan Lee gave us a preview of that last day, as foretold by Volla, the Prophetess; but later, in 1978, Roy Thomas would portray the series of events which inexorably led to the coming of Ragnarok in more detail, and with an emphasis on the presages of disaster as told through myth. For instance, in Lee's tale, Balder is fighting alongside Thor on that final day; but, according to myth, Balder's death beforehand was a portent to the gods that Ragnarok is imminent:

As Thomas makes clear, Earth isn't necessarily off the hook as far as escaping the ramifications of Ragnarok. Appropriately, he adds a clever twist to the story by playing on the ambition of our old friend, reporter Harris Hobbs, who worms his way into Asgard in order to profile it for a story--which effectively makes Hobbs our eyes and ears in Asgard as this drama plays out. Hobbs makes the observations and raises the questions we want to voice--though Thomas isn't talking, and, as a result, Hobbs leaves the issue pending:

It's unclear why Hobbs bothers with a signoff here, since he's only recording for later editing and not doing a live report. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume he's inserting it in case he decides later to split his reports over several nightly news shows. You have to admit this segment would make one heck of a teaser to bring viewers back the following night.

Of course, by the time this report airs, you and I might not be around to see it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Spaaaace Torrrrrch

Whenever we see the Human Torch flying around in outer space:

Well, isn't this guy the Human Torch? How does Johnny Storm get away with surviving in airless, freezing space without a spacesuit? It's not like the Watcher is always around to, er, "watch" his back:

So let's try to win one of those Marvel no-prizes, and come up with an explanation. And it's going to be a tough nut to crack--because sometimes Johnny needs to be protected from space the old-fashioned way:

...and sometimes he doesn't.

We know that Johnny can operate as the Torch underwater, thanks to one of Reed's (hopefully) patented inventions that he somehow always keeps at the ready:

And even so, there was usually a time limit to these kinds of aids. And, for the Torch, limitations on how effectively he could use his flame while underwater:

Let's assume that, by the time the FF went after the Skrulls in order to retrieve the Thing, Reed had worked some of the bugs out of his spray, allowing the Torch a little more latitude in the use of his power in an airless environment:

Alright--so Johnny can both breathe and blaze in outer space, thanks to Reed. That just leaves the harsh temperature--which, if he's shaded from the sun, can plunge as low as -455° F. Given that he has to be careful not to exhaust Reed's protection for him, can the Torch blaze hot enough to survive in that kind of cold?

Gosh, it doesn't look like a no-prize is in our future. Marvel probably doesn't give them out for half-baked attempts at an explanation. So we might as well sink further into the quicksand, and fire up another segment of:

Let's go back to when the Torch's flame was blazing out of control due to the demonic event known as Inferno:

At least Johnny no longer has to worry about the lack of oxygen, especially if Reed isn't around to hose him down with oxo-spray. But when he's trapped in deep space within sight of Mercury, this probably isn't the time to remind him that his flame doesn't propel him at nearly the speed he needs to find his way back home:

But, about that oxygen thing. Sure, his flame can burn without it--but without Reed's help, how is Johnny supposed to breathe? See if you can make sense of his explanation:

If I'm understanding Johnny's reasoning correctly: his flame burns without oxygen, which means he won't suffocate. But, didn't he hopscotch over a key point in his dash to draw a conclusion? Where, exactly, is he then finding the oxygen that he needs to breathe? Kang certainly didn't drop a tank of O2 and a mask overboard. Maybe the lack of oxygen has already affected this guy's ability to think clearly?

Perhaps Johnny is concluding that, since his flame doesn't need oxygen, then he can somehow negate his human body's dependence on oxygen because he's, I don't know, one with his flame (as he seemed to appear when he first manifested his power as the Torch). So what's he worried about? That means he doesn't need to eat, and he won't age, so he can fly back to Earth (or anywhere else) no matter how long it takes, and survive.

Since I see you all rolling your eyes at my explanation, you're thinking Johnny should suffocate, after all.  I can't say I disagree with you--but given the effort I've made to give the guy a little breathing room, I think I've more than earned that no-prize here.  Though it would probably serve me right if it turns out to be a coupon for oxo-spray.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Kang, The Time Lord!

In a conflict with the mystic villain, Necrodamus, during the event known as Inferno, Kang the Conqueror levels a ray blast at his enemy. And while you and I as comic book readers have seen our share of wild, creative sound effects associated with punches or weapons fire, letterer Joe Rosen gives Kang's ray a sound that may seem rather familiar:

Perhaps it's just Kang's way of letting us know that he'd rather have a much cooler time travelling ship.

Have a look at some other fun and out of the ordinary comics sound effects featured in a separate post by contributor Kev Stewart.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Ally--My Enemy!

There was a time when writer Roy Thomas seemed insistent on pairing the most unlikely of allies together, even when those characters were practically screaming in his ear that a niche isn't necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps he was only thinking of how grand and startling such groupings would appear on the cover of an issue, rather than looking down the road to plot their actual stories--though harmless enough, if you're floating a concept to see how many potential customers would bite at the sales rack. He began with the so-called "Titans Three," featuring the Hulk, the Sub-Mariner, and the Silver Surfer, their common denominator being that they were all outcasts who stood apart from the rest of humanity--though it would be more accurate to say that, rather than outcasts, they were shunned by the very people they often fought for. From there, he drafted two of those characters to appear in another informal team, the Defenders, joining Dr. Strange--a character who would normally have kept any notion of being included in a team lineup at arm's length, if not further.

Thomas's ideas along these lines were arguably better suited for one-shots, which is where the Titans Three ultimately remained, at least until they underwent a refit to emerge as part of the Defenders (give or take the Silver Surfer). Once the combination ran its course and the former Titans departed those ranks, Thomas would try his hand again with the Sub-Mariner in another attempt to pair him with a character who himself scoffed at the notion of an alliance with the Atlantean--Dr. Doom. As Thomas put it in an afterword:

"...suddenly my eyes happened to fall on the fourth entry [of the FF rogues gallery] (Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner) directly opposite the fifth (Dr. Doom, no less). I recalled instantly, of course, that Namor had been re-introduced in F.F. #4, Doom in #5, and that they had temporarily joined forces in #6, though the alliance hadn't even lasted out the issue. And since then--hadn't the idea of a league been suggested virtually every time the two had met?"

And so Thomas would put together what turns out to be a believable (and readable) story in his next attempt to unite these two in alliance--in the pages of the debut of Super-Villain Team-Up (which almost sounds like an oxymoron), where Namor encounters Doom after a narrow escape from an exploding satellite. Though Thomas makes a bit of a reach in his statement above--"every time the two had met," in their case, amounting to only two meetings (which Thomas himself acknowledges, through Doom), both occurring in Sub-Mariner and one of them involving Namor having lost his memory. Be that as it may, that leaves only the circumstances of their next meeting taking place, which in this case involves some suspension of disbelief. Or, put another way: if there's anyone who would be waiting near just the right spot in the entire ocean on the off-chance that Dr. Doom would, at some point, plummet down into the waves and into his virtual lap, it's the Sub-Mariner.

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