Thursday, August 27, 2015

I'm Still Your Father

Fathers don't just have surprise reunions with their offspring on talk shows--they also occasionally happen in the pages of comics. Whether one venue is more dramatic than the other depends on your point of view; but generally you can count on fathers of super-heroes to have more of a twist on their story than just anger issues that explode on a television stage.

Take Franklin Storm, for instance--father to Sue and Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four, it seems that he's on the lam when the Mole Man attacks the city.

It seems that neither Sue nor Johnny have ever wanted to talk about their family with Reed or Ben--which is a little odd, considering the history that Reed and Sue have with each other and how they were even next door neighbors when they were kids. If Franklin Storm had been sent to prison, why wouldn't Sue have confided in Reed about it?

The answer comes when Sue is critically wounded in the FF's battle with the Mole Man--and Storm has no choice but to reappear in order to save her life, which opens the door to the secret that Sue has been keeping for many years.

We still don't know what Dr. Storm did to get himself put away in the big house--but he'd soon have bigger problems to worry about, when the Skrulls use him (after a fashion) to attack the FF as the Invincible Man.

Leonard McKenzie, the father of the Sub-Mariner, would also be a pawn in a trap laid by evildoers in order to conscript Namor into their service--and unfortunately he would suffer a similar fate. McKenzie is quite elderly at the time, but, captured in a befuddled state, the dimness of the years begins to clear when he's brought before Namor and he finally remembers his connection to his son.

The situation on board Llyra's sub escalates when Stingray tracks its location and engages in a no-holds-barred battle with Tiger Shark. In the confusion, Namor is able to escape imprisonment with his father--but this all too short reunion would have a tragic ending.

Both Tiger Shark and Llyra escape, though clearly they have much to answer for.

So does Nathaniel Richards, father to Reed, who has been located on a parallel Earth which had been devastated by war and the destruction of its moon. In the guise of "the Warlord," Nathaniel has been ruthlessly "lord"ing it over the planet's inhabitants--which didn't seem at all like the father Reed remembered.

Yet all was not as it seemed. When the FF arrived and attempted to confront Nathaniel in his citadel, they eventually discovered that the Warlord was in fact Nathaniel's scheming wife, Cassandra, who, lusting for power, had assumed his guise and gone on to ravage the planet, carefully keeping Nathaniel ignorant of what was going on. Once the FF uncovered her ruse and dealt with her, Nathaniel was eager to begin making amends.

Scott Summers wasn't quite as understanding when he finally discovered his father was alive as the rogue space adventurer, Corsair. It would take a little time for both of them to smooth out the rough spots.

Eventually, though, Scott and Corsair reconciled, and it was time for Scott's brother, Alex, to receive the good news, as well.

Corsair, of course, was far too late to reclaim the years he'd lost with his two sons, as they were fully grown men now--and he returned to his life with the Starjammers.

On occasion, though, it would be the parent who would find that their child was almost a total stranger to them. In the beginning, that wasn't the case at all with Professor John Grey, who had found a promising educational environment for his daughter, Jean:

But when Jean and her father would meet again in the pages of X-Men, Jean had... er, changed. And father and daughter had heated words for each other.

When all was finally said and done, things wouldn't end well for Jean--and thanks to the Shi'ar, who eventually decided this family tree needed serious pruning, her entire family line (with the exception of Rachel, her daughter from an unrealized future) was wiped out.  It's safe to say that the Shi'ar would never have been booked on a reunion show like "Ricki Lake." (Though we probably wouldn't have been able to rule out "Jerry Springer.")

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Re-Enter: Rogue!

OR: "Begging Your Pardon, But--Aren't You My Nemesis?"

A lot of water has come and gone under the bridge for Carol Danvers since she began taking the first steps to reclaim her life after having her memories and powers usurped by the mutant Rogue following a vicious ambush. Having achieved closure with the Avengers and severing her ties with the team, she began her recovery while residing with the X-Men--and in the process she found that, although no longer possessing the strength or powers of Ms. Marvel, her physical state still appears to be above that of a normal human. Just ask the alien Starjammers, who are also currently in the company of the X-Men and who have offered to help Dr. Peter Corbeau assess her status.

As we can see, while Carol is well on the road to becoming a vital person in her own right, there are still some demons for her to overcome--as well as scores to settle, particularly with Rogue, who remains at large along with Mystique. But a risky mission the X-Men must shortly undertake will bring her closer to a reckoning in that regard. The question is: Is she ready to face it?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Daughter Of The Sea

Like Roy Thomas, writer Len Wein offered something more in the pages of Incredible Hulk besides the Hulk smashing for smashing's sake. Wein at times provided the Hulk with character encounters that often made the book a genuine reading experience rather than a panel-by-panel display of the Hulk's might. There are many examples of such stories to choose from, but one that especially comes to mind is a tale which would reintroduce a circus theme into the Hulk's life, though the story's title gives an indication that it has considerably more depth than what we might expect.

Falling to Earth after an encounter with the Bi-Beast, the Hulk is washed ashore and revives to make his way into the forest. The smell of cooked food leads him to a carnival wagon; but before he can investigate further, he's attacked by figures from the shadows--figures who, despite their initial actions, he can't help but be curious about.

It would appear that each side is wary of the other, which, in a misunderstanding, is only natural. But the Hulk's relationship with these people will turn out to be far more meaningful for him--and that would especially hold true for another member of their party he has yet to lay eyes on.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Stranger In A Strange Issue

An Avengers membership turnover issue is something of a special occasion for readers, providing a nice break between crises that allows us to "sit in" on an Avengers meeting as they uphold tradition and choose with care their next line-up. To say that the selection of a new Avengers line-up is a media event is an understatement, as not only the media but also the milling crowds are abuzz with anticipation at just who will step out and be announced as the new regular team of Avengers. But in the membership issue that was published in mid-1975, the now media-savvy Avengers deal in the media and take their search for new members to, of all places, the airwaves.

You can only wonder at what the rest of Thor's pitch statement sounded like. It seems an inevitable progression from the methods used by the original Avengers, who first attempted to handle the matter internally but went on to call a press conference--confirming Hawkeye's status as a new member and announcing that more applicants were being considered. Written by Steve Englehart, this issue follows the major event of two weddings overseen by the team--that of Mantis and an alien "Cotati" in the image of the dead Swordsman, as well as the joining of the Scarlet Witch and the Vision in matrimony, a double ceremony officiated by Immortus--finally bringing to a close the saga of the Celestial Madonna, whose revelation was heralded by a mysterious star appearing above Avengers Mansion. With the two happy couples now withdrawn from the book, at least for the time being, the rest of team returns to their headquarters to turn to the matter of refreshing their ranks with new members--and it turns out to be one of the more unorthodox membership drives in the group's history.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Limited Editions

In late 1998, Amazing Spider-Man ended its amazing 35-year run, only to relaunch in January of 1999 as--well, Amazing Spider-Man. It wasn't the only Marvel title to be inexplicably reset before the turn of the century; for instance, the web-spinner's sister mag, Spectacular Spider-Man, was given similar treatment at the same time and was replaced with Peter Parker, Spider-Man. (In both cases, the issue numbers would shift back to the original numbering after about three years or so--and, just to make sure readers were driven completely insane by the process, both sets of issue numbers would appear simultaneously for a few issues in order to ease the reader back into the original sequence.)

Writer Howard Mackie would initially script both new titles; while John Byrne, who had been writing Spectacular, took over as artist on Amazing. At least for a while. Byrne's limited appearances on various titles became almost a running joke, signing on to jump-start a title only to abandon ship after ten or fifteen issues--though to be fair, other writers and artists have made similar arrangements occasionally.

Byrne turned in truly exquisite work on the new Amazing (along with inker Scott Hanna and others) while he was aboard, and Mackie (who probably should be given credit for persevering through the dreaded "clone saga") took both Spider-Man and Peter Parker in some interesting directions. Featured here are a few of Byrne's double-page spreads from the book.

The same year, Byrne also took over as regular scripter on the relaunched Hulk title, with artist Ron Garney pencilling--again, beginning with issue #1, but this time shifting back to the previous title's numbering after just two years. Byrne would stay with the new title just seven issues, despite this optimistic wording in the welcome message on the new letters page:

" might be asking yourself... why start over? Well, perception is everything, and with a new team on the book and a new direction in store for Banner, we thought a clear demarcation was in order. After all, it's not every day that you get two of the biggest names in comics to join together with the express purpose of working on a character close to their hearts!"

And by all appearances, Byrne appeared vested in this title, even adding a clever insert of the Hulk's background while injecting himself and Garney into a briefing with Nick Fury. You'd certainly think they planned on more than seven issues worth of plans for the Hulk:

On the Hulk title, double-page spreads were again the order of the day--which might have been a good thing, as only the additional page space could have accommodated Garney's bold attempts to have the Hulk and his actions make as much of an impact as possible.

As for Byrne, he would pivot from these two titles to writing and pencilling X-Men: The Hidden Years until the series folded in 2001, at which time he would leave Marvel for DC.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

For Better Or For Much Worse

While Dracula may write in his journal to muse about lessons learned or setbacks he may have endured, at times he'll write about his sadistic manipulations of and triumphs over we humans whom he holds in such contempt. Reading over such entries, you can't help but get a sense of Dracula's amusement at our predictability, and how easy we are to entrap. We could almost admire his canniness, if it didn't present such a deadly danger to us.

Take Vinnie, out hunting bats in the English countryside. It's not often you hear of hunters who hunt bats, particularly for trophies--how often do you see bats mounted on a hunter's wall? But the question will soon be moot in Vinnie's case, when, in choosing his latest target, he unknowingly becomes the hunted.

You can almost hear Dracula chuckling at Vinnie's ignorance of just what he's hoisted over his shoulder. But it seems Dracula's threshold for amusement with this diversion has been reached--and, rifle or no rifle, Vinnie is going to suffer this night for his presumption at his treatment of the Lord of Vampires.

Attaboy, Vinnie! Armed, you're a match for any crazed lunatic who tries to jump you at night.

Unless your target keeps advancing on you.

There's no way Vinnie could immediately comprehend Dracula's parting words, so for an instant he may be under the impression that he's home free. But like a cat with a mouse, Dracula is toying with him--and Vinnie would be wise to heed Dracula's instructions, and run like the wind.

In Dracula's encounters with humans whose petty concerns mean little to nothing to him, his journal notations at times reveal him to be a fair judge of character--having grudging admiration for some, while regarding others as a waste of space. Richard and his wife, Kitty, taking a drive in the night, appear to fall into the latter category, as Dracula reflects on the loss of sanctity in present-day marriages. Tonight, we'll see that sanctity is the last thing on Richard's mind.

But while Kitty likely feels a tightness in her chest as Richard's meaning and intent become crystal clear, Dracula, watching this scene play out, feels a sadistic opportunity taking shape.

If it's difficult for you to see how Kitty's death could gain her revenge for her, well, you're not thinking like a vampire, are you? As for Richard, well, with Kitty out of the way, he and his mistress, Cindy, have some hot and heavy celebrating to do. And given that Cindy would rather not know how Richard dealt with Kitty, these two seem like a match made in heaven; but as Dracula's plan reaches fruition, they can look forward to spending eternity in a more southern locale.

Where Dracula is concerned, it's not likely the man is ever going to have writer's block, is it.

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