Monday, September 26, 2016

Iron Man: Marked for Murder!

While the cover of Invincible Iron Man #125 is shrewd enough to provide its money-maker title character exposure in some capacity, the character who steps forward to take the lion's share of this issue's story is none other than... Anthony Stark, man of action!

That shift in focus is due to the machinations of Justin Hammer, whom we have to thank for taking Iron Man out of action by framing him for murder. This story lands us in the middle of a crisis for both Stark and Iron Man, following a U.N. reception for the Carnelian ambassador where the press and an assembled crowd watched in horror as Iron Man put a repulsor ray through the ambassador's chest. It was one in a string of unexplained malfunctions of Iron Man's armor, and surely by far the deadliest one--and this time, there would be consequences, as the police move in to arrest the Avenger.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Allies and The Avengers!

I wasn't collecting comics at the time, but I imagine readers of The Avengers from day one were curious to read its third issue, which followed up on the Hulk's unexpected exit from the team so soon after its formation. Granted, membership in the Avengers wasn't set in stone; unlike the Fantastic Four, the group wasn't required to stick to a set number of members, and characters could come and go at the writer's discretion.  Though in the Hulk's case, it would be like a job applicant who has assets that clearly benefit the company he wants to work for, passes muster in terms of being able to take on a challenging workload, is eager to start, and signs on the dotted line--only to realize his second day on the job that it's not for him and decides to leave, with zero notice, and slamming the door on his way out. In addition, there were only so many heroic characters in Marvel's stable in late 1963. Would writer Stan Lee leave the group pared to four? And if not, who would be approached for membership? Daredevil wouldn't make his debut for another three months. That leaves: Spider-Man? Dr. Strange?

It was an interesting development from a sales standpoint, as well. At the time, the book was the only exposure for the Hulk, his own title cancelled roughly eight months prior--and without the Avengers to wrap around the character, he would literally go nowhere. If Lee had wanted to reignite interest in a solo title for the Hulk, how would jettisoning him from the Avengers help? Apparently, that was a worry for another day--specifically, about 300 days down the road, when the Hulk would reappear as a feature in Tales To Astonish, sharing the book with Giant-Man (who was still part of The Avengers). For now, however, the Hulk would get a little more mileage out of his Avengers stint even without an Avengers I.D., as the team considered it imperative that they ascertain the status of their former member--a process that, given the book's bi-monthly publication, would take another six months, with the Hulk still remaining in the cover's corner box grouping for an extra issue after that, as if to squeeze the last drops of water from this stone.

It's his exit, of course, that begins a string of "guest star" appearances in the Avengers title for the Hulk, with the issue which follows up on his departure pulling double duty where he's concerned. In the story's first part, we find the Hulk has returned to the southwest, as the Avengers attempt to track him and... do what, exactly, if and when they find him? Try to convince him to return? Retrieve him by force if he resists? Determine whether he can be trusted to remain at large? Having a set goal would determine how they proceed with their former member, instead of playing it by ear depending on the reception they get from him. It's understandable that the Avengers should want to find him, given that they bear a certain amount of responsibility for him now that he's angrily left their ranks--but as we'll see, the team will work at cross-purposes when dealing with the Hulk, and having no real plan going in wasn't likely to accomplish much.

The story's second part is a little more straightforward, with the addition of a joker in this deck who has his own axe to grind with the human race and who, as it turns out, also wishes to find the Hulk.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Beating Of The Minds!

Issue #131 of Uncanny X-Men has so much going for it that it's hard to know where to begin. The team has finally found its legs by this point--not only creatively, with writer Chris Claremont and artists John Byrne and Terry Austin turning out a steady stream of quality product--but also as a result of the team itself now being stabilized, with their field leader, Cyclops, having adapted to the styles of the new people he's come to know on a personal and professional level as they've worked out their rough edges in various conflicts. This team is now the X-Men in name and deed, with even their mentor, Charles Xavier, loosening up on the reins and giving them more of a free hand in the field, if grudgingly. (He's not quite ready to relinquish those reins, as the following issue would make apparent.) They've also made contact with their first "new mutant," Kitty Pryde; Jean Grey, now known as Phoenix, has integrated with the team, with herself and Cyclops making for a nice team blend of old and new; and the X-Men have had their first encounter with the Hellfire Club, a group that would become one of its major nemeses and would certainly qualify for an entry in their rogues gallery.

It's during their meeting with Kitty and her parents that three of the X-Men--Wolverine, Colossus, and Storm--have come under attack by armed men in the employ of the Hellfire Club, with the Club's "White Queen"--a powerful telepath named Emma Frost--taking them all down with one strike and ordering them captured. (Along with Xavier, who's ambushed off-panel.) Kitty, who was with them at the time, manages to escape and track them to Frost's complex, using her newly-discovered "phasing" power to reach Storm and the others before escaping once more with instructions to contact the other X-Men. Meanwhile, Cyclops (a/k/a Scott Summers) and Jean have recently made contact with another mutant who calls herself Dazzler, and have come under a similar attack by the Club's armed men--and with Dazzler's help, and joined by Nightcrawler, this time it was the X-Men who downed and captured their opposition.

Off-panel, Kitty has made telephone contact with the other X-Men, but now tries to evade the men of the Club who have her fearfully running for her life. What these men don't know is that the X-Men have found them, and the tables have turned.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

When Stalks The Cyborg Sinister!

The career of the Adaptoid, a creation of Advanced Idea Mechanics that could copy the likeness and abilities of a super-being and imprint them onto itself, instead turned out to be just a brief string of appearances in major titles like The Avengers, X-Men, and Iron Man before the plug was pulled on the character--or, rather, the first attempt at an upgrade for him. It was a surprising turnaround in fortune for him, considering that all the stops were being pulled out for this character.

Premiering in the pages of Tales of Suspense and tasked with the mission of eliminating Captain America, the Adaptoid was successful in tracing and adapting Cap's pattern to itself--only to then unexpectedly clash with the villain known as the Tumbler and end up being soundly beaten, though afterward his foe would be met and defeated by the real Cap. Taken to Avengers H.Q. for further investigation, the presumably inert Adaptoid was able to imprint the abilities of the four Avengers who were present (including Cap), with the combination transforming him into an amalgam of all four--thereafter dubbing himself the Super-Adaptoid, and once again attacking Cap after the other Avengers had departed.

Cap barely survived the Super-Adaptoid's assault, though it would take some time before the villain would discover that his intended victim was still alive; and eventually, it returned to Avengers Mansion to lie in wait for Cap, only to be met by Iron Man, who was able to deal him a defeat. Unknown to either of these combatants, it would be the final battle of the Super-Adaptoid in his present form.

But when he re-emerged--good grief, talk about starting from scratch! What the heck is this thing?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Mission: Death to Captain America!

Of the many creations of Marvel that didn't exactly hit a high note for me, I'd have to count among their number the Adaptoid, a product of A.I.M. that was able to imprint on itself the likeness and abilities of a super-being and thus fulfill any number of covert operations on behalf of its masters. In its raw form, it resembled a featureless, walking blank slate which first infiltrated Avengers Mansion and took the form of Captain America after giving the real Cap a sedative in order to proceed with its "trace" of him. Its mission was to then eliminate Cap and go on to attack S.H.I.E.L.D.; but before it could proceed, the villain known as the Tumbler crashed in to attack Cap, not realizing the Adaptoid had taken the Avenger's place. Surprisingly, the Tumbler made mincemeat of the Cap-Adaptoid, and figured his rep would be made with this kind of victory--until the real Cap awoke and cleaned his clock.

The Adaptoid, now returned to its original state, was carted off to the lab, where Cap is joined by the rest of the Avengers in order to be briefed on it and investigate it further. Now, if you have in your custody a construct that calls itself "the Adaptoid," and you've seen first-hand what it's capable of--and you're not sure whether it's still operational--what's the worst thing you could do in its presence? That's right: expose it to four Avengers and practically hand it the means to adapt their powers and form itself into a new, more powerful enemy.

The most valuable addition to its power set would of course be Goliath. What are the Wasp or Hawkeye going to do for it? Goliath's trace would already have provided it with the power to shrink or grow; and it would need a quiver of custom-made, specialized arrows to augment the skill of Hawkeye's marksmanship. Nevertheless, once the other Avengers leave on (what else?) "Avengers business," Cap remains behind to guard their guest--and in short order, we're presented with a new Marvel foe that offers greater cover value than the less distinguishable Adaptoid.

Yes, the Super-Adaptoid, which has received one heck of a makeover and now resembles an amalgam of all four of the Avengers it's imprinted on itself--none of which were green, by the way. But given its startling new features we shouldn't quibble about nonessentials. So what do we have here? Well, let's start with what this thing must now hoist around and still have its hands free to engage in battle: facsimiles of Cap's shield, Hawkeye's bow and quiver, and what appear to be metal wings to give it flight. Its powers have also been increased accordingly--not only does it retain Cap's agility, but it now has Hawkeye's weaponry, Goliath's strength, and the Wasp's... the Wasp's... well, we'll have to just go with flight for now. Perhaps it also has a keen fashion sense and a compulsion to flirt.

Since the Adaptoid had to take Cap's shield for itself the last time, it comes as news that it's now able to duplicate its own accessories, such as Hawkeye's arrows and bow as well as a new shield. It's a mystery how it's going to fight with Cap's agility and acrobatic skill with all of its gear getting in the way--but thanks to Cap's response, at least it won't have to worry about that huge bow anymore.

Cap gives the Super-Adaptoid the answer to its ultimatum you'd expect; but even Cap can't match a version of himself combined with the power of Goliath. The Super-Adaptoid still has its stock of arrows to use as hand-held weapons, but we've seen all we're going to see of Hawkeye in its behavior. Besides, it appears it's doing fine at overwhelming Cap and keeping him on the run with its other abilities.

Cap would survive his fall to Earth by a series of aerial maneuvers that let him avoid hitting solid ground. And while he didn't accomplish his mission, it's technically a mark in the win column for the Super-Adaptoid, though Stan Lee's story would have us think that Cap has triumphed just by surviving.

As for the Super-Adaptoid, it now appears that he's cut his strings to A.I.M. and can now become a villain in his own right. For now, though, he treats his new freedom and autonomy cautiously, and decides to lay low until he's certain his old masters have truly abandoned him.

The Super-Adaptoid doesn't yet realize it, but his days are numbered--though you can't say that Marvel doesn't invest the time in trying to make this villain work.  The Avengers amalgam would go on to battle the X-Men, as well as taking on the entire Avengers team and then lying in wait for Iron Man (and doing pretty well against him, once more using his bow and arrows--weapons which somehow always manage to be effective against the Avenger). But soon after, the Super-Adaptoid would unwillingly find itself transformed into a completely different and horrifying form.  And its new masters have a new name for it...


Monday, September 19, 2016

The Mental Madness of... Mastermind!

Though we would come to know the suave and seductive Jason Wyngarde as the man who brought Jean Grey under his control and unknowingly unleashed Dark Phoenix as a result, it was in his identity as the malevolent villain known as Mastermind that this man began his criminal career--first as a charter member of Magneto's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and later striking out on his own, more or less. Mastermind has a villain name that, like his power, is somewhat deceptive, since he has no direct control of another's mind, as Mesmero and Sauron do--he merely deceives the person with illusions that he's cast. The closest he's come to mind "control" is to use a device that allows him to mesmerize his victim by casting his illusions directly into their own thoughts:

Wyngarde's appearance, as well, isn't the result of a makeover, but another illusion--a deceit he may have practiced often, since he's often had an eye for the ladies but seldom gets to first base because of his arrogance. His eye certainly fell on the Scarlet Witch often enough, during the time when she and her brother were reluctant members of Magneto's group, though it was definitely a one-sided attraction. That unfortunately didn't stop Mastermind from trying to gain her affection:

...and, not being the type to take no for an answer, trying again.

Being called "repugnant" often enough likely had Mastermind using the illusory appearance of Wyngarde (or others) as a substitute for simple courtesy and sincerity in seeking out women, if a poor one.

Mastermind would get another crack at the X-Men on his own when he later sought revenge against them for the treatment he suffered from the vengeance of Phoenix; but before we ever laid eyes on Wyngarde or even the Hellfire Club, it was Mastermind who took center stage in a 1972 story that took place while a new manifestation of the Beast was being introduced, a character who would be tailor-made for what Mastermind has in... mind.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Fact vs. Fiction

With Dracula himself being a product of fiction, it's interesting to see how issue #49 of Tomb of Dracula plays on that concept to produce a story that confronts the lord of vampires with the prospect that he's tethered in some way to the 1897 novel authored by Bram Stoker--an assertion made all the more provocative as Dracula finds himself facing what appear to be living, breathing characters from various other novels, summoned into their presence by a woman who believes Dracula to be as much a part of her library as they are.

Angie Turner's "friends" are real to her, and real enough to the story--which makes them real enough to Dracula, who will find himself in their company against his will. But is this some dalliance of this reader of fictional works? Has she brought Dracula into her presence to complete this circle of characters that she's gathered--or does Dracula fill some deeper void within her? From D'artagnan's words, it seems that Angie has had Dracula in her thoughts for some time--but unlike the others who attend her, always out of reach. Presumably the reason lies in Dracula having a true existence in the world, a true history, whose presence is not limited to the printed page of Stoker's novel--none of which occurs to Angie (nor to many others in the world, no doubt). It's that novel on her shelf which once again brings him to mind--a preoccupation fanned by her companions gathered around her, whose devotion to and love for her move them to suggest that she pursue her heart's desire.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Abominable Attack of the Yeti!

Good heavens! We barely make it out of the Canadian woods alive after encountering the flesh-eating Wendigo--and now look what's waiting for us in the mountains!

We don't exactly know in which mountainous region the Black Panther has stumbled onto a Yeti, a legendary ape-like being reputed to inhabit the Himalayas and often referred to as the "abominable snowman." The only reason the Panther is in such an area is because he's been forced to aid the notorious collector, Princess Zanda, by locating a hidden Samurai city and obtaining water believed to grant immortality to those who drink it. The Panther is accompanied by Abner Little, a fellow collector who has involved the Panther in other such quests and usually blunders into more than he bargained for.

In this case, their quest to find the city is abruptly halted when their craft is fired on by a sniper and they're forced to abandon ship and take their chances on foot in the cold region. But their attacker has other ideas on their fate.

Little, a collector who has a great deal of research to fall back on, has heard the horn and realized that those he and the Panther are searching for may be in the area. Of course, you never think of something monstrous blowing a horn, so they're unprepared for what soon looms over them.

The Panther is probably wishing right about now that he had a set of Wolverine's claws, rather than the practically useless claws on his fingertips; instead, he'll have to make do with speed and strength, which may not be enough against this raging foe.

(On a side-note, how does the Panther close his hand into a fist if he has claw points on his fingers?)

Fortunately, Little is a resourceful fellow--and in his circle of ruthless collectors, he's also found it necessary to be a cautious one. Pulling a weapon, he opens fire; but as often as gunfire proves useless against large, monstrous beings in fictional encounters, the Yeti turns out to be not only resilient, but easily angered.

Finally, the Panther forms a plan of attack that will hopefully save their lives. It's one that probably wouldn't have worked on the Wendigo, since that creature could withstand hits from the Hulk--but the Yeti's origin presumably isn't tied to the supernatural, so more conventional means of attack may prevail. Luckily for the Panther, his strategem, like his makeshift aim, is on target.

Yetis have made a few occasional appearances in Marvel comics--even the Silver Surfer found himself overrun by a pack of them.

I don't know how much I buy that part about the Yetis being " hounded... so ruthlessly hunted for time without measure" if they're mostly legend and word of them has trickled down through hearsay. How can you hound an unsubstantiated rumor?

The Yeti goes on to be featured again when one is encountered by the Human Torch, on his way to the Great Refuge to see his girlfriend, Crystal, whom he thinks has been taken by her family without cause. Stopping in a cave to wait out a storm while in transit, he's awakened by a Yeti who actually speaks, but turns out to be a species he's already familiar with.

It would make sense for the story of the Yeti to be attributed to the Inhumans, as their refuge was similarly located in the Himalayas. But writer Stan Lee, who wrote this story as well as the Surfer's encounter two years earlier, makes no link between the two appearances, nor did the Surfer's Yetis seem like the conversational type.

If you wanted to stretch the concept, you could also lump in one of the operatives of Weapon P.R.I.M.E. as well as Ternak's frost men as honorary Yetis (Ternak certainly seems convinced that the term applies). It's odd that neither Zanda nor Little decided to add a Yeti to their collections, given the prestige that such an acquisition would bring them. We can at least be reasonably sure that Little won't go hunting for one anytime soon.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Rage of the Wendigo!

In a story titled "Rage!", you can't help but hit the mark with these two.

Yet this story may surprise you in that respect, since it does more than feature Wolverine taking on the savage Wendigo with his fierce, berserker instincts; we see a very different focus on Wolverine in this tale, a man who takes the lead in mapping out the hunt for the snow beast yet has clearly learned the value of teamwork at the side of the X-Men. And there are more sources of rage in "Rage!" than Wolverine's, or even the Wendigo's--rage that Wolverine will meet head-on, though not in the way you might think.

The wrap-up of a two-part story, this issue has Wolverine (accompanied by Nightcrawler) travelling to Canada in an attempt to mend fences with Alpha Flight--specifically, with its leader, James Hudson, who in the past has not only attempted to take custody of Wolverine on his own but also with the rest of Alpha Flight backing him up, under orders from the Canadian government branch known as Department H.

As for how things stand so far in their efforts to find the Wendigo, let's let Nightcrawler bring us up to speed with a recap, since he appears to be having his own problems with this deadly beast--a creature that kills those unfortunate enough to cross its path by consuming their flesh.

"Perhaps I'll have better luck in the treetops. He looks too bulky to climb after me." This after seeing the Wendigo effortlessly split a tree in half pursuing him. Not to mention our observant demon having the nerve to be astonished when the Wendigo brings down the tree he's climbed with a single punch. If Nightcrawler is getting his tailed butt handed to him here, he has only his writer to blame for having him disregard the fact that trees offer no sanctuary whatsoever if your foe can topple them.

If cannibalism isn't your cup of tea in a comic book, there are a few other interesting sequences to divert our attention before things heat up--bits of characterization that are always welcome in these early stages of Uncanny X-Men, as the team members continue to get to know one another and continue to acclimate to their new lives under Xavier's guidance. For instance, Wolverine, given his inclination to deal ruthlessly and fatally with his foes, is an inevitable topic of discussion between Xavier and the Angel, one of the Professor's former students who has recently rejoined the team and found the methods of this claw-wielding X-Man to be a cause for concern.

We'll have to assume that Xavier has had his conversations with Wolverine off-panel about holding his behavior in the field to a higher standard, since I don't recall such words ever being exchanged between them. That doesn't exactly come as a surprise, since the book can't afford to water down a character such as Wolverine who's become a rising star in the book and whose attributes--so very different from the other X-Men--distinguish him and make him popular with readers. Instead, writer Chris Claremont has often left it to the other X-Men members to call Wolverine on his impulsive behavior. If word has ever gotten back to Xavier, it's curious that we haven't seen the effects, since even Angel must be wondering why Xavier hasn't addressed the matter with Wolverine more directly.

We also check in with Storm, who has become leader of the X-Men with the departure of Cyclops and who we see here in a rare moment of interaction with the locals. And while it may not be an encounter to her liking, it gives us a rare glimpse into her sense of humor.

In this encounter, Storm obviously isn't inclined to take her own advice to Kitty Pryde, whom she picks up after her dance lesson and chastises when the teenager phases into their car rather than opening the door. "What do you think you're doing, flaunting your power like that?! Suppose someone sees you?!" I'm sure that little thunderstorm that was whipped up in full view of passers-by on a public sidewalk fell into the same category.  Who chastises the chastiser?

And then there's Wolverine himself, whose civilian name we've finally learned in the prior issue and whose history we've been picking up in bits and pieces. During his reunion with Hudson, we're given a glimpse into his background--not much to work with, but a good beginning that can only fan further interest in the character.

With the preliminaries of the story concluded, our focus is turned to the situation with the Wendigo--his grisly activities in the Canadian woods of Hudson Bay having resulted in an investigation by a contingent of Alpha Flight, a group that Wolverine and Nightcrawler have offered their assistance to on their arrival. Given his prior experience with the Wendigo, it's Wolverine who's been able to identify the creature responsible for the tragedy of the missing Parnalls--a family of four who were attacked by the Wendigo, with the husband slaughtered and Mrs. Parnall and her infant daughter abducted. It will soon become evident to Wolverine and his party that the steps they're taking to find the creature won't be necessary--because the sound of one of their own, landing on their doorstep with a thud, makes it clear that the Wendigo has come to them.

Wolverine did pretty well against the Wendigo in their first meeting--and this time, he's backed up by members of Alpha Flight. On the other hand--does the Wendigo look worried?

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