Monday, January 16, 2017

The Ms. Marvel You May Not Remember

Before writer Steve Englehart's run on Fantastic Four went south and he found himself in disagreement over editorial decisions, he was taking the team in an interesting direction: forming a brand new lineup, replacing Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman with two other characters while moving up the Thing as team leader. One of the replacements had found herself in such a role before--Crystal, one of the Inhumans and former girlfriend of the Human Torch, who had filled in for Sue Richards during her pregnancy. But who would be the fourth new member? Rather than bring back another former team member, such as Luke Cage or the She-Hulk, Englehart made a surprising choice by drafting a virtual unknown, one who had been dormant since her brief appearance in 1986.

Around the time that Carol Danvers was off in space as Binary, a new Ms. Marvel was being introduced in the penultimate issue of The Thing. Created by writer Mike Carlin and artists Paul Neary and Sam de la Rosa, we see her come to life when Sharon Ventura--a friend of Ben Grimm, who's spending time away from the Fantastic Four and active on the Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation circuit--avails herself of the services of Curtiss Jackson (remember him?), the so-called "Power Broker," whose treatments have been augmenting the strength of the UCWF's wrestlers. Unknown to Sharon, the scientist behind these treatments is none other than Karl Malus, who, like Jonas Harrow, specializes in enhancements of super-humans (for a fee) and whose questionable methods lean more toward experimentation than proven technique.

Unlike the Broker's other subjects, Sharon undergoes the treatment but escapes before a drug is administered that would addict her chemically and bind her to Jackson. On the verge of being recaptured, Sharon is rescued by both the Thing and an army officer, Lt. Lynch, who had previously stepped in when she was being mugged. (He seems to be underfoot, doesn't he?) While Ben cleans up the opposition, Lynch and Sharon head to the UCWF hotel, where one of the UCWF's recruiters, Ann Fraley (known as "Auntie Freeze" in her wrestling days) has a costume waiting for when Sharon would return from her treatment. Presumably it's a new wrestling costume for Sharon--but given this issue's cover, it's clear that it would have more significance for the character. And when Sharon suits up, the pieces are put in place to give her an identity that will take her far beyond the wrestling ring.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Cold Grip of The Vision!

As most of us know, the Vision--an android with powers of intangibility as well as control over his mass and density--also possesses a rather devastating ability that gives him quite an advantage in a fight against even the most determined (or, in some cases, overconfident) foe:  the power to drop a man where he stands.

(Hyperion isn't conscious to answer the Vision's question, but dropping to the ground like a sack of potatoes speaks volumes.)

Yet it took some time for this ability to develop into the technique we're familiar with today; in fact, at times there seemed to be doubt as to whether we would continue to see it used at all. The Vision was already a powerful asset to the Avengers; this would make him practically invincible, depending on how vulnerable his opponent is to the use of his power in this manner. If he's successfully dealing with powerhouses like Hyperion, his writers would have to be very creative about how often the character would deploy this power, and under what circumstances.

Which brings us to a very disrupting

Marvel Trivia Question

What was the evolution of the Vision's power of "disruption"?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Mystery That Wouldn't Die!

OR: "Because You Never Really Demanded It!"

After the conclusion of the winding, four-year saga that teased the mysterious identity of the Hobgoblin in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, we learned at last that the Hobgoblin was in fact "Daily Bugle" reporter Ned Leeds--a shocking revelation which put an end to years of speculation by the book's readers, as well as years of internal strife in the Marvel Bullpen that resulted in a virtual revolving door of writers and editors on the book. When the dust settled, it seemed we'd seen the last of the Hobgoblin--that is, until almost ten years later, when the character's original writer, Roger Stern, decided to revisit the story and turn the saga's finale on its ear.

The result is the 1997 three-issue series, Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives, where Stern makes an honest effort to bring about the revelation he'd intended for the character, though in the process he must dismantle or otherwise take into account all the pieces put in place by the different writers and editors who assumed responsibility for the mystery in his wake. Since this new story hit the racks twenty years ago, I don't happen to recall if there was any outcry by readers for the Hobgoblin's return or if anyone wanted to revisit the tangled mess of his identity; the Hobgoblin, after all, didn't have the complexity of Norman Osborn, nor Osborn's connection to Peter Parker's own secret identity--and that would hold true for the identity established for the character in either 1987 or in Stern's revised tale. Aside from his modus operandi and bag of tricks being similar to the Green Goblin's, the Hobgoblin was more of a substitute character for his predecessor who seemed to conduct his affairs from the hip, a reflection of having a number of writers handle him and his true identity remaining unknown for so long.  There's also the nagging observation that when his identity is revealed, in either version of his story, it really makes no difference one way or the other as far as moving this character to the A-list.

But Stern's reputation as a writer carries a lot of weight with me, and perhaps for those readers in '97 who remembered his work at Marvel and were seldom disappointed by his efforts. For what it's worth, that holds true here, as well--though whether the Hobgoblin is a character you want to see Stern spending his time on is perhaps debatable.

In blog form, we have the luxury of picking up this story on the heels of its ending ten years prior--and if the theme of this new story holds any initial interest, it mostly lies in the how all the pieces of the prior saga will be sorted out, reshuffled, and pieced back together in a way that's both intriguing and satisfying, while hopefully elevating the Hobgoblin as a character in the process. The Hobgoblin would get a new lease on life a year and a half later, in the "Goblins At The Gate" storyline in Spectacular Spider-Man--where Stern and co-plotter Glenn Greenberg reintroduce Osborn and tie in the Hobgoblin, thereby providing the latter with excellent exposure that could raise his profile with readers and establish him as a force in his own right. For that to work, Stern in this story will need to establish a formidable identity for the Hobgoblin, one who can not only go up against the likes of Norman Osborn but also establish an impression on readers that, in their eyes, makes this character one worth bringing back.

And so we seem to be back to square one:

Or, put another way: Arrgh!

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Prolonged, Tortuous Saga of... The Hobgoblin!

"The Hobgoblin storyline is one of the bigger messes in Marvel's history. It's not as bad, perhaps, as the Clone Saga. But it shows the worst of what can happen when a mystery is passed from one creative team to another with each deciding to change things to suit there own whims. You can't do that with a mystery that's been running for four years. The clues and ideas that each team left end up having no relevance and so your revelations turn out to be out of the blue. And four years is just too long to sustain interest." - Excerpt from's entry on Amazing Spider-Man #289

Whatever your feelings about how the mystery of the Hobgoblin's true identity was handled, the consensus appears to be that the mystery simply went on too long, mostly for the reasons that SMM mentions. The character's creator, Roger Stern, has stated that he wanted to handle the Hobgoblin's identity in much the same way as the mystery of the Green Goblin's identity unfolded. To say that the situation veered wildly off that course is an understatement.

When all was said and done, the story of the Hobgoblin's identity would play out over a fourteen-year period and involve no less than six ASM editors (Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Jim Owsley, Jim Salicrup, Glenn Greenberg, and Tom Brevoort), two Editors-in-Chief (Jim Shooter and Bob Harras), and five writers (Stern, Tom DeFalco, Jim Owsley, Peter David, and Jo Duffy), and take place in the midst of considerable upheaval behind the scenes and more than a few bruised feelings in the Marvel offices that coincided with all the shuffling of talent.

Reading the storyline when these issues were originally published, I was probably as curious as anyone about the answer to the mystery--though if we're to believe the letters pages that presented feedback from what appeared to be countless readers who were eager to offer their own guesses as to who the Hobgoblin really was, my interest was only a fraction of those who were seemingly waiting with bated breath for the big reveal.

Yet the departure of Stern from the title, after writing only three stories featuring the character, would derail that train for all of us, as well as shatter whatever consistency and intentions he might have had for how the plot would be resolved. Personally, I found the Hobgoblin an interesting character in his own right, with his anonymity perhaps playing a part in that appeal; but the issue of his identity became the character's major focus, and eventually it all spiraled out of control and resulted in a denouement that felt both rushed and anti-climactic.

Rather than go into lengthy detail on the subject, consider this post to be the CliffsNotes version of this zig-zag subplot, as the PPoC takes a stab at covering this period of Amazing Spider-Man that hopefully breaks it down for you in a way that makes it both fun and informative. The information will be confined to events occurring in ASM rather than including any Hobgoblin appearances in either Spectacular Spider-Man or Web of Spider-Man, otherwise we'd be here all day; but we'll cover all the bases, though at the end we'll find that we've got a double header on our hands.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Presenting: Doctor Doom!

If you're not counting his origin story in the 1964 Fantastic Four Annual, the first book to feature the character of Doctor Doom in his own story would have been an issue of Marvel Super-Heroes 4½ years later--a very generous 24 pages of material that in hindsight would have made a splendid issue of Super-Villain Team-Up, though that mag was still six years away. (What's Doom doing in a book called "Marvel Super-Heroes," anyway?) The story was a dual effort by both its writing and artist team; Larry Lieber (brother of Stan Lee) reportedly scripted and pencilled roughly the first half of the story, handing off the remaining pages to Roy Thomas while Frank Giacoia finished the pencilling work. Yet you might be surprised at how seamlessly it all reads.

And it was a rather surprising story to find on the shelves, given Doom's history as a guest-star in Fantastic Four and other titles--a story that, for the first time, would test Doom's star power with readers outside of the context of his being a menace to overcome. Yet "This Man... This Demon!" doesn't really come across as a tale meant to gauge reader interest in seeing the character branch out on his own--though all the stops appear to be pulled out for his appearance here, with both Lieber and Thomas sparing no effort in crafting an interesting and entertaining story that takes into account Doom's manner and complexities. By now Doom has made enough of an impact with readers that it would be a misstep to simply "phone in" a feature story for him that only sought to coast on his popularity; fortunately, the story in MS-H meets the high standards we've come to expect with a character of Doom's caliber. And with a tale that's actually starring a villain, there's arguably no better character that deserves a shot at a cover of his own.

As something of a bonus, the story also features Diablo, a villain whose history as a deadly menace dates back to well before Doom's own. Their conflict arises when Diablo attempts to forge an alliance between the two--and when Doom declines, Diablo provides incentive that has roots in Doom's very beginnings. What leverage could Diablo possibly possess that would force a man such as Doom to capitulate?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

There's A New Witch In Town

The last time we looked in on the Scarlet Witch, she had accepted Agatha Harkness's offer to tutor her in the art of witchcraft, in the hope of becoming more capable in the use of her unpredictable hex power which drains her stamina and limits her effectiveness as an Avenger. Miss Harkness has already helped Wanda draw on her deeper reserves of strength, a lesson learned most vividly as Wanda succeeded in repelling an attack on the two women by the demon-servant known as Necrodamus. And when the Avengers were once again drawn into the schemes of Kang the Conqueror, Wanda demonstrated her dramatic new potential in the field, helping to put an end to Kang at least for the, er, time being.

But private tutoring or not, life goes on, and so must the Avengers. And while Miss Harkness and her pupil have sequestered themselves in a room in Avengers Mansion in order to continue Wanda's training, the other Avengers have travelled to Viet Nam to further investigate the origin of their guest, Mantis--only to fall victim to the revenge of Kang, who this time resurrects a number of dead beings to face the Avengers as the Legion of the Unliving. Yet the Avengers survive the assault--and while in Limbo, the enigmatic Immortus offers to provide them with information on the origins of both Mantis and their fellow Avenger, the Vision, by sending them on time-travelling journeys that provide greater context to the information they seek.

But Wanda and Miss Harkness have not been idle--and soon enough, Wanda is ready for her first "trial run," a practical test that will see her exercise her power in a more disciplined manner and, for the first time, allow her the chance to do so with a measure of control.

*gulp!* She's not pointing at us, is she??

Monday, January 2, 2017

And You Think Your Relationship Is Complicated

With all the A.I. devices in comics that have run amok in one way or another, you'd think that Marvel characters would take a few precautions in their blueprints, especially when they're designing breakthrough technology. Take Bruce Banner, for example. Many scientists who want to keep a record of their studies or research progress keep a journal, or make recordings, or have an assistant taking notes--but while the solitary Banner prefers his research to be documented by a recording device, he also feels it should have a mind of its own.

There would probably be any number of assistants lining up with notebooks in hand who would jump at the chance to work alongside Bruce Banner if only to document his research--but clearly Banner prefers to dictate to a hovering, interactive recording assistant that conforms to his specifications. And if loneliness was his primary motivation for giving it artificial intelligence, I don't think I want to know what other specifications he's programmed into this thing, if you catch my drift.

And so the "recordasphere" remains content in its interaction with and service to Banner--that is, until the arrival of Katherine Waynesboro, a research assistant recommended by S.H.I.E.L.D. If you hear the acronym "S.H.I.E.L.D." mentioned in any context, it often doesn't bode well; indeed, where the recordasphere is concerned, Dr. Waynesboro's addition to the team isn't exactly a welcome one. Especially considering that we now discover the recordasphere has had a certain pronoun attached to it.

Further tremors of discontent are to come, and soon, as Dr. Waynesboro becomes a sympathetic figure in the book who certainly isn't the first woman to become attracted to a man like Banner, a tragic scientist who practically cries out for sympathy and support at the circumstances of his life. Unfortunately, Dr. Waynesboro isn't the only figure at the observatory that wishes to provide those services to Banner.

We see that the recordasphere has not only dropped the formalities with her--eh, its--creator, but also is obviously now obsessed with perceiving their relationship association as exclusive. Racing off undetected and breaking in to Waynesboro's quarters in search of anything suspicious, the recordasphere uncovers a holographic log that appears to implicate her in being planted at the observatory by SHIELD as a spy. Yet the recordasphere decides to withhold what it's uncovered, believing that Banner distrusts Waynesboro (because of how negatively she feels about the Hulk) and that Banner might come to the point of dismissing her on his own.

But when Waynesboro displays obvious intentions of growing closer to Banner--perhaps, to the recordasphere's way of thinking, in an effort to fulfill her "mission"--all bets are off for the recordasphere as far as its decision to remain a passive observer and bide its time. And Waynesboro becomes upgraded from merely a "rival" to a fatality.

Luckily, Waynesboro has only been badly shaken up by the experience but otherwise unharmed--with the end result being that Banner has come to realize how strongly he feels about her, and now returns her feelings for him more demonstrably.

From there, we can make a reasonable guess as to how things are going to go from here. In any soap opera, there is the inevitable confrontation between two rivals for a man's affections, with usually both women knowing it's time to put their cards on the table. The difference here is that, for one thing, only one of these rivals is a woman (not to mention a human)--but also, there's one of them who doesn't realize that she even has a rival.

Unfortunately, Waynesboro has just confirmed exactly what the recordasphere had accused her of, even though the phrasing of her reply was intended as a denial. She's definitely "spying" on Banner for SHIELD--and it's due to SHIELD's concern that Banner might revert to the monster he was before he gained control of the Hulk. Only the recordasphere appears to realize her slip-up--but chances are that this conversation would have escalated regardless, given the admission that the recordasphere now blurts out.

Fortunately for Waynesboro, the recordasphere's moments are numbered--thanks to M.O.D.O.K. (another acronym that usually implies trouble), who has unleashed the Abomination on the Hulk. Banner would normally make for an easy target for this creature who would prefer not to get another pounding from the Hulk--but the recordasphere defends its creator (Banner even armed this thing?) and pays the price.

Uh, Dr. Banner? Why the forlorn look over a device you can easily rebuild?

For what it's worth to the recordasphere, Waynesboro would soon be out of the picture when SHIELD's fears over Banner would turn out to be well-founded, and Bruce Banner would be lost to her--seemingly forever. Perhaps it's best that the recordasphere is no longer with us, since a grieving, sobbing recording device is something I'm sure we can all do without. In the meantime, perhaps we can take a lesson from the recordasphere and refrain from investing our tools with artificial intelligence, given the inherent problems that could result if...

Well, some kazillionaires are just going to blunder ahead anyway, aren't they.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Power of The Scarlet Witch!

OR: "Three Strikes, You're Out"

With The Avengers in late 1974 getting cranked up for the Celestial Madonna storyline, writer Steve Englehart has cut the assemblers no slack, keeping them busy with not just their own affairs but two crossover stories with both Fantastic Four and Captain Marvel. In just the previous four issues we've seen a planetary menace in the form of the Star-Stalker; a confrontation in space with the forces of Thanos; a deadly hostage situation involving the master of sound, Klaw, and his accomplice, Solarr; and a wedding in the land of the Inhumans that was crashed by none other than Ultron.

But before Kang the Conqueror comes knocking pounding on the Avengers' door seeking the Madonna, a candidate for that honor faces a crisis of her own, with her very soul at stake!

Though given how Wanda must always take care to conserve her power in battle, some of us would have gone a step further with this cover and called it like we see it where her effectiveness as an Avenger is concerned:

Without the Avengers to back her up, can the Scarlet Witch survive the night?

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Day Of The Hero!

Many elements of the 1983 Incredible Hulk story, "Hero," written by Bill Mantlo, are adapted from the 1957 short story by Harlan Ellison, "Soldier From Tomorrow"--something you wouldn't have known unless you were a reader of Fantastic Universe in 1957, or had seen the story play out on the screen when Ellison wrote a teleplay for it that was featured in a 1964 episode of "The Outer Limits." If so, you would have noticed the striking similarities in Mantlo's story and, more importantly, how odd it was that the Hulk story failed to acknowledge Ellison's work at the time it was published. Given Ellison's penchant for decrying even a hint of plagiarism of his works, the adaptation by Mantlo clearly would have justified Ellison pursuing the matter further, had he wished, since it leaves no doubt as to where Mantlo derived his inspiration from.

Three issues later, Marvel made a statement in the book's letters page that sought to explain the oversight and smooth any ruffled feathers.

A lot of readers thought that "Hero" in HULK #286 bore a strong--a very strong--resemblance to Harlan Ellison's short story and teleplay "Soldier." They were right. Writer Bill Mantlo did, indeed, adapt Harlan's philosophical thriller to Hulk-use. But because of a last-minute mix-up, Harlan's credit was accidentally omitted from where it should have been, at the top of page one. We're sincerely sorry for the confusion and we're taking this opportunity to apologize to Harlan and his many fans. - The Editors

The notice is followed in small minuscule print by a virtual paper trail of details concerning the original story's bona fides--its evolution, the media it appeared in, copyright dates, production companies, production dates, and just for good measure, the name of Ellison's agent, all of which now appears very prominently on the first page of Marvel's digital copy of the issue.

A "mix-up" covers quite a bit of ground, of course, since in a production sense it could mean practically anything--and a "last minute" mix-up implies that the omission didn't take place until after all eyes had signed off on it and the book was past the point of being corrected. With the apologia so lacking in details, it's impossible to do anything but speculate on the particulars; but considering that there were at least three sets of eyes on this work as it went through its development stages, including two editors as well as the writer's, it's fair to wonder at just what point Ellison's credit fell off of everyone's radar and failed to be placed on page one. Page one, mind you--the first page everyone would normally see as they review the work in its final form.

All of that said, it's interesting to see what Mantlo is able to do with Ellison's concept, and how he manages to deal in the Hulk as well as another Marvel character who seems made to order for an appearance here. He also chooses an unusual title as this story's foundation, one that seems meant to have the story stand on its own--but how does it apply to a soldier who lives only to wage war?

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