Thursday, November 20, 2014

Onward, To Val Halla!


Of all the parts of a comic book for one last set of eyes in the Marvel offices to scrutinize before it heads to the printer, you'd think it would be the first thing a buyer in the store is going to see--the cover itself. And given that so many hands are involved in creating, revising, and touching up that cover, it's even more astonishing when an "oops" slips through the cracks. Here's a brief and hopefully fun look at a few of those face-palm moments for editors who couldn't bolt to the phone and yell "Stop the presses!" in time.

The first thing you generally notice in a look at cover trip-ups is that, the more captions that are splattered on a cover, the greater the chance that something is going to be too hastily jotted down. Let's take a look at a couple of Defenders covers, for example:



For the cover of issue #56, aside from the minor slip-up of Hellcat having a hyphen added to her name (maybe she idolizes Ann-Margret?), there's a chance that people would be taking a second look at their radios and wondering if "radio activity," like storm activity or solar flare activity, was now a cause for concern. If you noticed a decrease in the number of kids dancing to tunes from their pocket radios, you can probably point the finger of blame at the Defenders.

As for issue #67, no wonder the Defenders seem to be racing toward outer space--it's as good a place as any to start looking for "Val Halla."

This cover to Captain America had me a little perplexed:



For some reason, I kept wanting to continue Cap's thought: "Falcon! Stop! You'll kill him! And if you do--! The crime wave breaks!" And I'd think: "But--isn't that a good thing? What's Cap so flustered about?"

(I guess it was a moot point, since the Falcon doesn't seem to be in the mood to pay attention to Cap, one way or the other.)

On this Fantastic Four cover, Omega (not that Omega) is perhaps too busy tackling everyone in the Great Refuge to realize that he's leaving words out of his sentences:



While I bet you didn't know that there was a time when Iron Man powered his armor with a single transistor:



Meanwhile, the Champions may have had a short run, but they had a few noteworthy moments. Yet two things they lacked were (1) chemistry and (2) a proofreader. For instance, how many sons of Zeus do you count on this cover?



On the bright side, "Hercules" appears to be much easier to spell than "Crimson Dynamo":



And after being grappled by Quasar, you can bet that Iron Man will never "interferr" with Dr. Kurarkill again:


(Though he's probably not about to make his attacker angrier by correcting him.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My Way Or The Highway


Dissension In The Ranks


When resentments and disagreements boil over,
even allies can turn against each other in fierce battle that can bring the house down.

(And often does!)


FEATURING:


The Illuminati


It's often been touch-and-go for the Illuminati, the clandestine group formed by Tony Stark (as Iron Man) consisting of key players in the Marvel universe: Stark himself, Reed Richards, Dr. Strange, Charles Xavier, Black Bolt, and the Sub-Mariner. At times, their meetings would involve controversy and/or sharp exchanges (and in some instances, coming to blows), and their decisions would have been questionable in forums other than their own. It was certainly a sandbox for Tony Stark and his proactive mindset--and never more so than when he called the group together to propose consensus on upcoming legislation that was being dusted off and revived:




Sixteen years prior, Congressional hearings were held to explore the registration of super-beings with the government; but given Iron Man's demeanor here, we can assume that this new bill has teeth, and that whatever misgivings lawmakers had before have been wiped away.

Iron Man has clearly called this meeting to ramrod support for this legislation through the group, having already formed a "you need to go along to get along" opinion on the matter--though you could argue that Stark also seems to be exhibiting a bit of paranoia on the subject. As if to underscore the point, Stark provides a worst case scenario to convince his comrades of the gravity of the situation:




Stark is being something of an alarmist here with these men, no doubt--yet, looking at Stark's pitch on paper, what comes across as alarming is the fact that he's phrasing his last sentence as "That is what will happen," rather than a far less alarming "That is what could happen." It's the difference between expressing a cause for concern and possibly having an agenda.

With Xavier missing from the group as a result of the events of House Of M, Strange, Richards and the other two men are deprived of his valuable input on Stark's initiative--not only in terms of his perspective on the Mutant Control Act which is directly relevant here, but also his experience in dealing with humanity's fears with a calm and objective eye. Xavier would have been one of two people who could have defused Stark's push for support here; the other we'll get to in a moment.

When it comes time for everyone to be counted, Namor's reaction comes as little surprise to anyone:



Namor is still feeling the sting of the group's decision, over his strong objections, to banish the Hulk off-world--and he can't help but see Iron Man's move here as further evidence of Stark's disturbing shift toward taking matters into his own hands. Strange also is against giving his support to Stark--though the real surprise comes with Reed's about-face on the issue, given his strong feelings he expressed in his testimony during the prior hearings:



I can't help but wonder how Stan Lee would write Reed Richards as part of this group, as well as how Lee would have him react to Stark's proposal. Reed Richards, under Lee, is one of the most forthright characters in Marvel's stable--assertive, decisive, and not one to withhold his opinion, while advocating taking the higher ground when making a difficult choice. Yet, in the Illuminati, Reed often blends into the background--raising no objection whatsoever to the Illuminati's method of operation, nor in this particular decision which demands deliberative discussion. Reed Richards, meekly waiting his turn to speak here? Stan Lee's Reed Richards would be practically hijacking this debate, with thoughtful and considered counters to Stark's bottom-line calls to fall in line. Richards would normally insist on drawing a new line--and the Illuminati, I think, would be a much different entity if he were free to be himself.

As it is, the Illuminati is effectively disbanded with the dissension on this issue, which Black Bolt, giving his own position on the matter, punctuates as only he can:



I'm glad Iron Man is up on his gestural language. I'm no Medusa in interpreting Black Bolt's wishes, but he seems to be implying something along the lines of Strange's parting words, only with an additional "Or else." tacked on. Reed, however, has cheerfully signed on Stark's dotted line, without so much as an arm twist. Which strikes me as anything but fantastic.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Shape Of Things To Come


The incident in Stamford, Connecticut, as many Marvel readers know, led to the Superhuman Registration Act and the subsequent "civil war" which pitted those heroes who supported the Act against those who opposed being registered. But, 16 years (our time) prior to Civil War, after mutant registration hearings had died down, the U.S. government was exploring the registration of all super-beings in a series of hearings--and with the whereabouts of the Avengers unknown (despite already being a government-sanctioned group), the Fantastic Four's testimony was of particular interest.

The two-part story was constructed around a plot by Dr. Doom to use an "aggression enhancer" to stimulate a number of super-villains to attack the FF, which failed miserably and only served to become a backdrop to the testimony from various witnesses. But in hindsight, the extensive Congressional hearings, which revisited the legislative approach which Senator Robert Kelly first broached when proposing the Mutant Control Act, offer a look at the issue without the provocation of a tragedy driving it forward.

Before the FF appear, a number of other witnesses testify. Initially, the subcommittee was interested in registration in order to take advantage of the abilities of super-beings from a military aspect, and thus explored the issue along the same lines as a draft. Though in discussion, the conclusion proved to be somewhat distasteful:




Next up, a representative of the NRA, who provides a focal point for the subcommittee to explore the registration of super-powers in the same light as gun control. The witness proves to be an advocate for nonregistration, though in testimony that comes across as slightly self-serving:



Of course, no government hearings on super-beings would be complete without the presence of Henry Peter Gyrich, formerly of the National Security Council and at this point a member of the Commission on Superhuman Activities. Gyrich is in favor of revisiting the possibility of equating registration with the draft--and both Gyrich and members of the subcommittee offer disturbing overtones of what would one day in the future become law:





Finally, after being sidetracked by a number of super-villain encroachments on the hearings, the Fantastic Four are called for their testimony:




Thanks to Doom's device, there are more interruptions, leading one of the Congressmen, James Pertierra, to accuse Reed of arranging the attacks in order to sway the committee members into shelving the proposed legislation--a knee-jerk but not entirely unreasonable assumption, given the number of attacks being made along with the curious timing. Reed successfully dismantles Pertierra's inflammatory statements, leaving both himself and Sue to continue their testimony while the rest of the FF deal with further attacks from a safe distance:





It's of course high time that someone made the point with the government that an entity such as the Avengers only needed the government's cooperation, not its supervision--and that members of both the Avengers and the FF are often forced to make split-second decisions that no one in the government is equipped to second-guess. (I might argue that S.H.I.E.L.D. is perhaps qualified to do so--though in a battle, no one is going to be free to run a decision by whoever's on duty on the helicarrier.)

But once Doom's attacks are completely foiled, Reed is free to make more direct points regarding the Registration Act, and with a most surprising demonstration:





Aside from the swinging of a gavel, those jaws dropping in the room signal that the hearings on the Registration Act are over for the foreseeable future. As we would see at that later time, public outrage would negate any re-election shivers members of Congress might worry about.

Next time, we'll hear Iron Man make the case for a new Superhuman Registration Act.  And wait 'til you see who casts his vote in favor of it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

And So, To Battle!


While Odin, Thor, Loki, and Surtur took center stage in the Asgardians' battle with the fire demon, writer Walt Simonson took care to provide us with other entertaining scenes with various characters who injected some of the more (dare I say it) human moments of the conflict. And while what follows isn't a comprehensive run-down of those scenes, it should give you a good idea of what Simonson was going for.

Let's first drop in on the all-out state of war on Earth between the Asgardians and Surtur's "Sons of Muspell" (i.e., his demon army) at the initial stage of the battle. The Asgardians could definitely use some back-up, and they get it from a most unexpected source:

The timely arrival of Major Sauleda and the 82nd Airborne!


These brave men may not have swords, but they can lay down fire and drop demons just the same.


Back in Asgard, Odin's wife, Frigga, is handling the evacuation of Asgard's children. But even Lord Odin can find himself stymied by a child's stubbornness:



Fortunately, Odin is no stranger to a child's wish to assert their bravery, and an "All-Father" knows a thing or two about psychology:



Let's go back a bit, to when Odin was assembling his forces to descend to Midgard--and where the lady Sif engages with Beta Ray Bill, Thor, and Odin in camaraderie which warriors going off to face a daunting campaign find comfort and fortitude in:



In a nice touch, Sif is clothed in an outfit similar to what she debuted in (as a grown-up, that is):



Finally, there's Karnilla, Queen of the Norns, who has yet to choose a side in this conflict. In her love of Balder the Brave, Karnilla in past encounters has preferred to use her leverage as a powerful ally to take a quid pro quo approach with Balder when she knows his back is against the wall--while Balder, in his allegiance to Asgard, has often resisted:




But this time, in petitioning her for aid against the forces of Surtur, Balder provides a surprise reaction to the queen, while completely turning the tables on her:



Let's just say it didn't take her long to saddle up.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Father, The Sons, and The Demon!


It's time for the blockbusting conclusion to the all-out attempt of the fire demon, Surtur, to destroy not only Asgard but all the nine worlds in a massive conflagration that will erupt when he brings his sword of doom, "Twilight," into contact with the brazier of eternal flame. In Part One of this story, we learned of the sacrifice of Odin's brothers, Vili and Ve, that sealed Surtur in Muspelheim after succeeding in destroying his sword, while Odin made off with the eternal flame and kept it secure in Asgard. But Surtur eventually reforged Twilight, and was able to escape his realm thanks to an alliance with Malekith and the release of the fierce cold from the Casket of Ancient Winters.

From there, Surtur attacked openly, sending his demon forces to Midgard (a/k/a Earth) in a strategem to draw the forces of Asgard to the planet's defense so that he could then isolate the golden realm and have a clear path to the flame he needed to ignite his sword. Thor, racing to the city's defense, was badly beaten, and the battle opened the door to Part Two--the confrontation of Surtur by Odin.

On Earth, the warriors of Asgard, commanded by Beta Ray Bill, Thor's brother-in-arms, wage an incredible battle against the near-overwhelming forces of Surtur--while a mortal, Roger Willis, who concludes that the battle may turn in their favor if the broken Casket of Ancient Winters is repaired, travels to its location with the Human Torch. Meanwhile, Odin fights a holding action against the powerful Surtur, though managing to sever the demon's link to the flame, a key source of his strength. To counter, Surtur summons the cold released by the Casket, and seals Odin in an icy prison, which will delay even a god of his might long enough for Surtur to reach the brazier of flame and thus bring his plan to fruition.

How's that for a condensed version of a story that, so far, has threaded together events from fifteen issues? Surtur certainly seems to understand the value of long-term planning--though even the fire demon must defer to writer/artist Walt Simonson, who set all of this in motion and nurtured it to the climax we now arrive at. And Surtur, indeed, seems poised to bring this affair to a close in his favor:



With Asgardian warriors waging a desperate battle against Surtur's forces on Earth, and with both Thor and Odin out of action, it appears there's nothing to prevent this demon from gaining the power to lay waste to everything!

But, haven't we forgotten someone?

Friday, November 14, 2014

It Was The Best Of Times, It Was The Worst Of Times


The mid-1970s super-group, the Champions, might have had "Most Likely To Disband" underneath their yearbook picture--but amidst their constant efforts to pull themselves together into a credible fighting team, they did have some camera-ready moments that would have made for a nice retrospective had they managed to go the distance. So, in the spirit of a glass half-full, here are some of the more memorable moments of a team that perhaps more than a few readers prefer to forget.

Think of it as a dusty photo album that has a few snapshots of a Los Angeles super-team that once tried to make its mark--something to casually flip through and then set aside as a curiosity.

Of course, these memories should start on an optimistic note:



You may have noticed that stage looks a little bare. Despite the glitz that the Angel is trying to paint the event with, the Champions are currently in disarray, with the Black Widow captured by enemies, another enemy blowing himself up in their headquarters, the Ghost Rider carting said bomber to the hospital, and Iceman consoling Ivan about the Widow. Not the best time to introduce yourselves to your prospective fans. And to make matters worse, the villains who are after them crash their media event:



In fact, when the Champions test-drive their new sky-car which turns out to be a clunker, you might say the scene is symbolic of where they're headed as a team, especially when you take into account the words of the Widow and Bill Foster:



This next scene would make a pretty good Champions poster, though ganging up on a loser like the Stilt-Man would probably make any green team seem like a well-oiled fighting machine:


(I guess this is the wrong time to mention that the Stilt-Man kicked their butts. And escaped.)


Speaking of which, can someone, anyone, make sense of what the Angel is yelling as he dives for the Stilt-Man?



"...power-dives a call"?? Good thing no one elected the Angel as the leader of the group--otherwise, they'd all be bumping into each other like the Marx Brothers.


I did like this light-hearted attempt to formulate a battle cry:



And there were occasionally some nice "one for all and all for one" moments:



And you just knew that, with two mutants on the team, the Sentinels were bound to show up:




But, disband the group did, and our photo album is left a little bare of Champions memories.  Besides, I think I see you reaching for the FF album...

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