Wednesday, July 18, 2018

To The Death!

Capping the year 1973 was an event closer that, while formally beginning in September of that year, can be traced all the way back to January, and this climactic scene from a battle of gods:

The following month, Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, was having his own encounter with an Asgardian--one which had its upside, yet most definitely a downside.

As for Loki, he's recovered in mid-plummet by the dread Dormammu, who proposes an alliance between them in order to recover and reassemble a device which would mean the end for the Earth as we know it.

Yet when Loki realizes that Asgard, as well, would be destroyed with that of Earth's dimension*, he does what he can to foil Dormammu's plans for the Defenders--by involving the Avengers to counter them.

*Still not too clear on that. Isn't Asgard in its own dimension? Sometimes it's hard to tell.

And so the Avengers move against the Defenders' efforts to recover the Evil Eye, though the latter group is successful for the most part. Finally, reason prevails between two war veterans from the opposing sides--and the Sub-Mariner leads Captain America and the rest of the Avengers back to the sanctum of Dr. Strange, where all parties (save two) finally compare notes.

After recovering Thor and the Hulk on the battlefield, the pieces of the Evil Eye are collected and made ready to be rejoined--but Dormammu makes his move first, sending one of his servants to swiftly swoop in and recover them before any of the stunned super-beings can prevent it. And almost immediately, Dormammu begins using the power of the now-complete Eye** to merge Earth's dimension with his own. Chaos reigns, unchecked--but not unopposed.

**Since Dormammu's alliance with Loki was predicated on his need of the Asgardian's power to help reassemble the Eye, by rights Dormammu's plan should have ended in failure, given that Loki had already earlier decided to work against him.

And now, pieces put in place throughout a year's worth of stories culminate with an assemblage of heroes who are committed to bringing the fight to Dormammu at last. Of course, given that the Avengers' book has won the coin toss as far as carrying the ball for this conflict's climax...

...some of the heroes being used to promote this issue will end up being sidelined.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Ally Or The Enemy?

As they close in on the final hours of their two-week honeymoon, the Black Panther and his new Queen, Storm, find themselves returning to a matter they'd tabled before departing: a message delivered to them on their wedding day by Victor Von Doom, which suggested, in so many words, that they meet to discuss a possible alliance. Normally such a proposal would be out of the question for the nation of Wakanda, and perhaps it remains so with T'Challa; yet he does counter that he and Ororo handle the situation by including Latveria as part of a "goodwill tour" of nations--visiting some of the larger centers of global power, to assuage possible fears of those who see the new couple as the embodiment of "too much power, too much wealth, too well connected." A combination of factors that, in the minds of some, might indicate a desire to take over the world.

An almost laughable leap to make for the sane, but we live on the planet Earth, after all. In any case, the undertones of Doom's message make him the logical first stop for the pair, if a cautious one--because you never know how the man known as Dr. Doom will take rejection.

But we can make a good guess.

Monday, July 16, 2018

There's A New Power Couple In Town

The royal marriage between the Sub-Mariner and the lady Dorma might have been tragically brief, but two other weddings of note were carried out with happier prospects--one taking place thirteen years later (our time) between Black Bolt and Medusa, and another a staggering 22 years later between the Black Panther and Storm, which unfortunately endured only six years before Marvel pulled the plug on it.  The break-up happened  some time after I'd stopped collecting new comics--but from what I understand, the formal end for the pair took place in a scene during the Avengers vs. X-Men "event" in 2012, a story that saw Storm deciding to throw in with the X-Men for the duration.  The scene in question occurs after Namor, with the power of the Phoenix force (because, sure), lays waste to Wakanda.

But in 2006, the joining between Storm and the Panther was the wedding of the decade in comics terms--and as celebrated as it was within the pages of Black Panther, writer Reginald Hudlin and artist Scot Eaton also seemed to have the "blessing" of Marvel itself, the event full of pomp and carefully crafted to be fitted into the retconned history and foundation of Wakanda. This would be a joining not only in terms of causing ripples through the Marvel universe of the day, but one with political ramifications, as well--and as such, it would raise the profile of Black Panther, as well as T'Challa himself, considerably.

Friday, July 13, 2018

HURry, HURry, Step Right Up! SEE A Marvel Masterwork!

(With a tip of the hat to Blue Magic)

While I can't say I'm a fan of cover art being peppered with promotional captions and/or word balloons, I must say that, back in the day, part of the fun of picking up new comics was in letting my eyes be inundated by all of the "must-see" promotional material that would be so creatively crafted to catch and hold the attention of the person ever so slowly spinning swiveling the spinner rack.

And since the cover was arguably the issue's method of selling itself, all you really had to do was to tune out the Marvel "mania"--i.e., train yourself to pick out only what was necessary to understand the gist of what was happening in the issue. Most of the time, though, all the sales blurbs were pretty successful at catching and holding our attention, so urgent did they seem at getting their message across; and in addition, Marvel was so adept at tucking away little nuggets of valid story information in their pitches that it was hard to see what harm it would do to read through it all. Truth to tell, it was fun.

And there were the hooks: "This Is It!" "This Is The Big One!" "At Last!" "If You Buy Only One Mag This Month, It Must Be This One!" "You Must Not Reveal This Issue's Shock Ending!" And in the finest tradition of carnival sideshows, there was also:


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

It's A Long Way Down

During a recap of Daredevil's clashes with the classic Spider-Man villain, Electro, there was one little item that was mentioned in passing which we should really explore in detail:

How did Daredevil find his way back to Earth from outer space?

It's a feat that would tax the credulity of even we comic book readers.

Let's take a look at how Daredevil got into this mess in the first place. Battling Electro in the famous headquarters of the Fantastic Four, the Baxter Building, DD was caught off guard while he was attempting to lift a dumbbell in order to hurl it at his foe, not realizing that it was actually one of the weights the Thing used in his workouts. Now if you or I were in DD's place and feeling around in the dark for a weapon, we'd probably give up on using that dumbbell almost instantly when our own ordinary sense of touch revealed that the darn thing was larger than we were. The fact that DD kept at it already makes him seem like the kind of chap who's going to be clueless to save himself in a ship bound for the stars.

Rendered unconscious by Electro, who probably can't help chuckling all the way to the FF's hangar at DD practically handing his victory to him, our villain is pretty confident that he's never going to have to worry about this hero again.

Ohhh, Electro. You're not too swift on the uptake yourself. When "the bewildered Fantastic Four" return, they're going to stay bewildered as to who was responsible for their missing rocket, unless you leave them a note and tell them. (If you actually end up doing that, you dope, then just remember to sign Daredevil's name and not your own.)

Meanwhile, heading into outer space (though he doesn't know it yet), Daredevil awakens, immediately reaching out with his hyper senses to assess his situation. Luckily the FF don't keep any dumbbells in their ships that would confound anyone with hyper senses.

In reaching out for familiar sounds, we can only hope DD doesn't begin to hear TAC TAC TAC sounds which signal the ship is being bombarded with cosmic rays, because that's a whole other story entirely.

Even after he realizes the situation, DD refuses to even consider the situation hopeless, because... well, I don't know why, since by all rights this situation IS hopeless. Unless Reed Richards keeps an owners manual handy, DD is pretty much stuck on this ship as it streaks away from Earth, since this man is no pilot. (Unless law school was offering internships with NASA for some reason. "You may be defending someone in the space program someday, students!") But just look at how giddy he is as he bolts for the control room. (How would you even know where that is, pal?)

If you can work them in ti...? You're not cracking a safe here, bub--how are you going to operate controls that you're totally unfamiliar with? Do they have heartbeats? Odor? Does the control panel somehow give off indications that allow you to pick up on their operation? Clue you in on which controls do what?

Never fear--because we discover that Daredevil can sense the direction of a flight while in the void of space. As long as we're pulling abilities out of the hat for this brand new hero in only his second issue, we might as well tack that one on, eh? Before you know it, he's on approach to Central Park--and check out that smile! Quite a joyride for the Man Without Any Piloting Credentials Fear.

And surviving a crash landing when your ship is heading into the ground nose first with no deceleration? Child's play!

Those officers are right, DD, you did endanger people--because it probably came as a surprise to you that you'd be unable to hear the heartbeats of anyone below through the noise of a rocket blasting its way toward a crash landing. At any rate, you're certainly getting the hero thing down right off the bat--running out on law enforcement authorities is the best way to start building your new rep. How do you feel about the word "fugitive"?

Man, that horse must have been exposed to gamma rays at some point.

Heedless of the A.P.B. that's likely now out on him, things just start falling into place for DD in terms of returning to the Baxter Building to settle Electro's hash. And with his chosen method of transportation, one of those falling things might be himself if he's not careful; but this is Daredevil, a man who's memorized the timetable and flight path of a sightseeing helicopter service (specifications which we have to believe crossed Matt Murdock's desk at some point, since we know the guy isn't likely to go on a sightseeing tour).

And before Electro can say "Egad!", his vanquished foe literally drops in on him again.

Heh--how cool would it be if Electro's first thought had been that DD had bailed out of his rocket and plummeted all the way down, to say nothing of surviving re-entry. Now that's persistence.

At any rate, DD goes on to defeat his foe--and the FF no doubt conclude how dumb it was to have a skylight on the roof of their headquarters.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

It's Electro vs. The Acme Company--And One Must Fall!

I became a reader of Amazing Spider-Man well before making my way back through issues of Daredevil, so by that time I'd had plenty of exposure to classic Spidey villains such as the Sandman, Doc Ock, the Kingpin, the Vulture, the Rhino, et al.--and of course the hard case named Max Dillon, a/k/a Electro, who provided the wall-crawler with some of his most hard-fought battles. So just as Daredevil's own title was getting out of the gate in mid-1964, it probably made sense that the first villain ever to be billed as the one who defeated Spider-Man should be the one to provide Daredevil's fledgling title with the bump it needed to gain some momentum with its new readers.

Yet Electro's appearances with this fearless crimefighter didn't quite strike the same spark that they did with the web-slinger, for whatever reason. Perhaps a brief look at a few of those early DD/Electro bouts might shed some light on the matter. And if there's one villain who can shed a good deal of light on a situation:

Not to mention a little high-voltage.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Exit: Jack Kirby!

In the nearly fifty years since artist Jack Kirby's exit from Marvel Comics sometime in 1970, the company has seen so many changes in both its creative staff and its financial status that such a high-profile departure has perhaps become almost like a footnote to those of us who look back on it. And to those who now man the helm of the juggernaut that Marvel has become, that point in time in the company's history may well seem like little more than an afterthought, since Marvel itself had become a subsidiary several times over before its current status as a Disney holding. Even here at the PPC, the subject of Kirby's circumstances at the company has certainly been explored often enough that it seems fitting after all this time to finally put the issue to bed, as it were.

With that in mind, I found myself looking at some of the final issues of those books which Kirby was the banner artist on regularly--Mighty Thor (the character he also drew in a number of issues of Journey Into Mystery)... Fantastic Four, which he'd been with since the title's beginning... and finally, his brief stint on Captain America, which continued from Kirby's mostly unbroken run on Cap's stories in Tales Of Suspense. Kirby reportedly began laying the groundwork for his departure in 1969--and so I began lingering over those last issues from each title, not from the perspective of a reader but from that of an aggrieved artist who was bringing his career at Marvel to a close. Seen through those eyes, Kirby's work takes on an interesting aspect--particularly those full-page renderings he indulged in during 1969, which could have been tailored to smaller panels but for whatever reason merited a more dramatic presentation in order to fit the story playing out in his mind.

Curiously, Kirby's work for Captain America ended quite early in '69, well before his work in both Thor and Fantastic Four came to a close (around August of 1970), for reasons which aren't clear. His exit from the book coincided with litigation against Marvel initiated by Joe Simon over the ownership of the Captain America character, with Kirby agreeing to take Marvel's side in the dispute while also signing over to Marvel any rights he had in regard to Cap--yet we can only speculate as to whether there was any connection between that matter and Kirby's abrupt withdrawal from the book. Regardless, Kirby turns in some impressive full-page work during his brief stay on the title (only nine issues, as well as the album issue which gave fill-in artist Jim Steranko a breather).

And in the other titles, there was more to come.

Friday, July 6, 2018

When Gods Go Mad!

Things looked grim yet hopeful for Thor, the God of Thun... well, that is, Loki, the God of Misch... uh, actually... no, waitaminnit! We're definitely talking about Thor, the God of Thunder, trapped in Loki's form after the God of Mischief launched a mystic mask at his half-brother which switched their forms so that Loki occupied Thor's body and Thor was now trapped in Loki's. No wonder things are confusing--especially for Thor's close friends, Balder and the lady Sif, who at first assumed the worst and attacked Loki... that is, Thor, on sight.

But as the conflict reached its final page, Thor's battle to reclaim his identity was at least partially looking up, as his friends were at last willing to listen as Thor explained his predicament. And just in time, too--because in Thor's form, the God of Evil is now loose in New York City--and with the other Asgardians ignorant of what has occurred, he means to flaunt his new power with impunity by bringing death and destruction to the mortals his hated half-brother was sworn to protect!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Pencil and Brush of "Fearless" Frank Giacoia

A fixture at Marvel Comics during its Silver Age period and into its Bronze was artist Frank Giacoia, whose inking credit (along with those of Syd Shores, Dick Ayers, and Dan Adkins) graced many a splash page across Marvel's entire line of books. I was always surprised to see his embellishment work on a story, as it seemed he "floated" between assignments; in those instances, he was generally filling in until the book's regular inker either returned or could be lined up. Much of his work could be found on issue covers, as well, but it was always his story work that I was pleased to see, as his style was always reliable and complimented the pencils rather than suppressed them to any degree. There were surely those pencillers who appreciated what a strong inker brought to their table; but I have no doubt that many were happy to have old pros like Giacoia and Shores assigned to their books, knowing that the work would be handled on time and consistently professional.

Giacoia's work in comics dates back to 1940, when he and Carmine Infantino were assigned what would become their first published work--an insert for the new Timely Comics title, U.S.A. Comics. It was Infantino who inked Giacoia's pencils on a story featuring the Golden Age character, Jack Frost (no relation of course to the Iron Man villain who would go on to become Blizzard):

In his first appearance, Jack becomes quite the crimebuster, in a virtual sea of crimebusting mags that apparently flew off the shelf during this period. Though at his story's end, it looks like he may not stay on the side of the law for long!

When Timely morphed into Marvel Comics, it was a rare day when you would see pencilling work from Giacoia. One job that comes to mind is a Sons of the Serpent arc in The Avengers, with Giacoia handling pencils on Part 1 of a two-part story. Along with inker Sam Grainger, he turns in quite a nice collection of pages.

An "unsung" but no less distinguished inker for most of his time at Marvel (a category which I'd also apply to Shores), Giacoia would receive a thoughtful dedication in the 1989 graphic novel, The Amazing Spider-Man: Parallel Lives, one year after his death at the young age of 63.

I made every effort to find a mention of Giacoia's passing in the (very abridged) Bullpen Bulletins page of Marvel's books around the time of his death, which was then using most of its limited space to promote profiles of various Marvel editors, but I came up empty. If anyone can track it down (assuming such a mention exists), I'd appreciate any info on it because I'd certainly like to include it. In its absence, hopefully our tip of the hat to the man here at the PPC will serve to give a well-deserved acknowlegement of Giacoia's contribution to the medium.

Frank Giacoia, circa 1970 (inking FF #97)
(with thanks to Alan Kupperberg via Sean Kleefeld)

Giacoia, along with Josef Rubinstein, was added to the Inkwell Award's 2016 class of the Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame.

Have a look at a few selected PPC posts which feature Mr. Giacoia's work.

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