Friday, July 3, 2015

When Asgard Ends!

We've already seen the prologue of the quest that would lead the mighty Thor to World's End to seek out the Twilight Well--part of a multi-pronged story by Gerry Conway that would take several issues to play out in full. In Part One, however, Thor has no knowledge that the realm of Asgard has been besieged by the malevolent Mangog, who even now attacks the city without mercy. Indeed, as Part Two opens, and Thor and his party encounter yet another sentry that intercepts them on their way to the well, it seems that malevolence is the last thing on anyone's mind. Or is it?

The instincts of Thor's trollish guide, Kyger (f/k/a Kygar), however, are paid little heed, thanks to the placations of the woman known as Satrina, who lures the Asgardians into her dwelling with promises of hospitality and rest. Yet, all too soon, she makes her move--and as Thor and the others fall, we learn that she serves the one the Asgardians have travelled to find--the keeper of the well, Kartag. Their quest nears its end--but will Satrina allow them to reach their goal?

When the warriors awaken, they find their thoughts dulled, but their surroundings inviting--with both women and ale in plentiful supply. Kyger, however, is unaffected by the deception, and attempts to warn Thor that everything around him is part of an elaborate deception. The warning forces Satrina's hand, and she murders Kyger on the spot--and the shock to Thor is such that he's able to shake off Satrina's ruse and see that his friends' accommodating companions are instead monsters, of the kind they've battled before in this realm. Unfortunately, Fandral and the others remain bewitched, and move against Thor when he attempts to deal with what they still believe are gentle, alluring women--and Thor is forced to keep them at bay with his hammer, so that he can confront Satrina. Yet she remains elusive:

And so Thor and the others (at last free from their illusions) now must regroup and make their way ever closer to where waits the one who guards the Twilight Well--a threat so great he even gets prominent cover space:

Wait a minute! We've been waiting all this time to see Thor go up against what amounts to a storm giant with a battle axe? We've seen Thor take down storm giants without even breathing hard!

Is there more to Kartag than meets the eye?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

My Jailer, My Enemy!

Even when Thor wasn't whirling his hammer and sending it hurtling toward a foe, you could still find a good read in a Thor comic by its story unfolding at a slower pace, and featuring the other Asgardians of the "eternal realm." An example of this kind of story would have been the old "Tales of Asgard" installments; but there were many others, such as the times when Loki gained power, or watching the Asgardians gird themselves for a new threat, or when they would interact with other players in various parts of the universe (such as the Rigellians).

And then of course there's Odin, whose gaze is cast at any number of points of interest, and whose ponderings could spell trouble at any moment. If Odin starts rustling the curtains, the tension level in the palace royal begins to rise, and warriors and advisors find themselves being shifted about and taking on tasks they're not quite clear on. Such would be the case in the issues following Loki's exile from Asgard after making a failed power play with a second attempt at using the stolen Odin ring; and in the midst of celebration, Odin discovers he's made a monumental blunder where Loki is concerned.

You'd think that such an alarming portent of disaster--one that sends even Odin into a tizzy--would have this title kicking into overdrive. Instead, writer Gerry Conway begins a series of issues that would build on this threat and use it to spawn several stories that would reach even past the book's 200th issue. (Heck, perhaps for Conway, a twisting and drawn-out story is overdrive!) The first of these issues lays a good deal of the groundwork, and is a bit low-key in comparison with the ones which follow--but thanks to the clever format of its cover, it looks like Thor is still going to play a part in selling his book.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Avengers: Dismissed

In mid-1984, creating a west coast branch of the Avengers seemed like a pretty good idea to the Vision, who had just been elected Chairman of the team. In fact, if you were a fly on the wall at that meeting, you'd almost get the feeling that, as with the Vision's other decisions during that time, it all felt a little rushed, lacking the deliberation that was generally a trademark of the Avengers' roundtable discussions:

It looks like even the government expedited the matter, and that can't be good.

So before you know it, the Avengers have become two teams, two titles--splitting their resources between two coasts roughly 3,000 miles apart, yet effectively putting each branch on its own and operating autonomously (which would need to be the case to accommodate the Avengers' 6-member roster limit).

However, nearly ten years later, the Vision holds another meeting on the subject, and this time he isn't smiling.

So maybe it's time to swing the gavel down on another

Marvel Trivia Question

What led to the Vision pulling the plug on the West Coast Avengers?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Seriously--'Nuff Said!

No doubt each of these two powerhouses had their own idea about who would come out on top in this match-up--but they probably never dreamed they'd each be crushed by the virtual billboard that's become their magazine masthead!

In this comparison between the classic cover of Fantastic Four #112 and that of its duplicate in the FF reprint mag, Marvel's Greatest Comics, it's clear our beleaguered behemoths are in danger of having to trade blows within the confines of a sardine can, with Ant-Man as their referee. In this case, even the MGC banner and FF logo are being forced further down by the $2500 teaser that advertises the hastily-named "Win-Yourself-Some-Big-Bucks" contest from 1980.

Perhaps the one good thing about the overcrowding is that it forces the "Hulk vs. Thing" lettering to be redesigned and placed in more of a "title bout" format. Nor do the figures of the Hulk and the Thing suffer overmuch from being reduced in size, since they were given a generous amount of cover space on the original. Even the stance of the Hulk conveniently accommodates the dreaded UPC barcode symbol that appears on the MGC cover.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Godhood's End!

Issue by issue, we've been building toward the resolution of the cosmic epic plotted by writer/artist Jim Starlin, where the evil Thanos seizes the power of the Cosmic Cube and uses it to transform himself into no less than a god--while Captain Marvel, himself changed from staunch warrior of the Kree to cosmically-aware protector of the universe, has joined with the survivors of Titan as well as the Avengers in the hopes of somehow defeating this mad worshipper of Death. A goal shared by the crazed Destroyer, who pursues Thanos even though his enemy has ascended to the heavens.

With his transformation to godhood, the threat potential of Thanos is obvious--but Mar-vell and his allies know only part of the story. They know, for instance, that Thanos has decimated Titan and its population in a fit of vengeance, and repopulated the moon with his own army of alien outcasts; they also know that Thanos intends to use that army to conquer the planet Earth, those plans set in motion even as he sought the Cosmic Cube. What they don't know is that Thanos has formed a perverse love for Death, which has taken physical form and joined him at his side--and that he intends the conquered Earth as a token of his affection for his dark, deadly companion. And now, having achieved unlimited power, and with the universe his for the taking (a moot point, since, after all, he now is the universe), there is conceivably no end to the number of lives he can offer to Death.

And yet, interestingly, still this book behaves as if Thanos has antagonists, in the form of Mar-vell and the others--making for a fine story, yes, but not realistically taking into account a foe who has no real need to engage his enemies and can erase his opposition at a stroke. Alert PPOC reader david_b observed that Thanos treated his foes as adversaries in order to satisfy his ego, which is a perfectly acceptable explanation for the sake of the story; after all, this issue begins by Thanos insisting on facing Mar-vell fist-to-fist in physical form, and what god would bother with that?

Writer Steve Englehart, who would go on to helm a second arc with Mar-vell after Starlin's imminent departure, takes the scripting reins of this story with this final installment, as Starlin (this time with inker Klaus Janson) brings this story to its conclusion. And once more, Starlin provides a panel-by-panel recap of the events which brought us to this point--a task which, at first glance, seems a huge undertaking in itself:

As we can see, Starlin for the first time provides us with Thanos' background while he was still thriving on Titan with his family (his father, Mentor, and brother, Eros), while Titan was still in its prime. That Thanos was able to keep his growing obsession with weaponry under wraps until adulthood--as well as from Mentor, who's nothing if not a sharp observer--is a slight glitch in Thanos' partial origin here, particularly if he's amassed enough of an arsenal behind the scenes to rain destruction on Titan immediately following his exile. Perhaps it just goes to show that, like Odin with Loki, even a Titan can have a "problem child" for whom nothing can be done.

Finally, to segue us to Mar-vell's impending confrontation with Thanos, Starlin provides this gorgeous abstract panel that brings us to where we are now:

Rick Jones vs. Thanos? Well, Thanos has no interest in beating Rick to a pulp--and we can assume that Rick, though a former partner to Captain America, has no interest in playing hero today. Instead, he knows that responsibility must fall to another.

Shall we?

Friday, June 26, 2015

An Enclave Among Us!

Whenever the Illuminati meet, it's interesting how you often come away with the impression that they're not likely to meet again, given that their activities raise doubts among them about their decisions and methods, and their cooperation with each other is at times reluctant. It's these very aspects that make you perk up at subsequent meetings, because you know the issues raised and the level of intrigue are going to make for a page-turner. There's also the fact that, until now, the Illuminati have been left to police themselves; even after the events of Secret Invasion and World War Hulk, their activities and meetings remained under the radar. And since they're the only ones holding each other accountable, let's just say their judgment calls could have used an ombudsman.

Thanks to the legislation which led to the "Civil War," the group has ceased meeting regularly in an administrative capacity where they would compare notes and subtly manipulate events behind the scenes; currently, they only meet on rare occasion, and only when the need requires it. But however infrequent their conferences, the Illuminati's comfortable cloak of secrecy is about to be yanked away--in a story that introduces Medusa to the group, attending in place of the deceased Black Bolt, and under circumstances that require their immediate attention.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

When Strikes The Scientific Adventurer!

When Henry Pym was expelled from the Avengers after facing charges of misconduct and subsequently attempting to deceive his accusers, he had admitted his wrongs and faced the music, becoming a better man in the process. As he put it: "I left my life as Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath and Yellowjacket in the rubble of my past--but I left with my debts paid, and my head held high!" And when he departed from Avengers Mansion, we had every reason to believe that his future held promise.

But then he hooked up with the West Coast Avengers group. And, well...

Hank initially took residence with the team to manage the compound and handle security of the grounds; but after being dumped by Tigra, and having a humiliating encounter with the villain Whirlwind which essentially dug up his old failures and shortcomings, Hank hit rock bottom again.

Fortunately, Hank had a guardian angel, in the form of Bonita Juarez, a/k/a the former Firebird but now calling herself La Espirita. And I know what you're thinking: Anyone who's already in the habit of changing from one identity to another is bound to have a rapport with Henry Pym.

It's a different approach for Pym--an almost therapeutic one, using his talents in invention and biology to "find his calling," as it were, a role for himself other than as a man with some sort of super-power. And so he takes to his lab to see where his strengths lie. There are a few issues of buildup, where we check in on Hank busily working on a project; but when he presents the fruits of his labors, it's safe to say that he hasn't left his insect motif behind.

"Rover" may not be the two-seater that Tigra would have in mind, but then again Hank hasn't built this all-purpose go-buggy for her--and that's the point. What Espirita is gratified to see is Hank striking out on his own, becoming the kind of person who isn't dependent on the Avengers for his self-worth.

After the Ultron debacle, you have to wonder at Hank's reasons for giving the power of speech to yet another machine. But, wince though we will, we have to give at least a chuckle at the simple nature of Rover's syntax:

Oh, Hank--it's "Kid Ultron" by any other name, buddy.

In addition, though, Hank harnesses his power to shrink and adapts it this time to objects, rather than himself. And, whether formally spoken or not, he settles for his own name for himself, no more, no less.

Though, whether he wants one or not, he gets a logo:

He also gets a costume... er, an outfit, as well as a descriptive handle to strike fear into the hearts of evildoers:

Chances are that Whirlwind is still going to exclaim "PYM!" rather than "...the Scientific Adventurer!" at seeing Hank, but you can't win them all. And since Hank didn't take a leaf from Hawkeye and Mockingbird's book and dress down for California, he'll likely be called "the Sweltering Adventurer" before long.

Anyway, we were given a few more issues of Rover's A.I., puppy-dog antennae, and windshield-glare eyes before we got really, really tired of it.

I think the last instance we were exposed to Rover's A.I. was an issue of Solo Avengers, before it quickly tapered off and eventually disappeared altogether. And after the events of Onslaught, we could say the same for
The Scientific Adventurer.

Whatever happened to the West Coast Avengers, anyway?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Soap Among The Stars!

With things heating up in the power play made by Thanos of Titan to not only conquer Earth but also make use of the Cosmic Cube to further his ambitions, you wouldn't expect the Avengers to be sitting on the sidelines. But when all is said and done, they would not be facing Thanos directly (with the exception of Iron Man), as Thanos would take steps to remove them from the playing field altogether. Part of that plan involves a massive invasion fleet Thanos has assembled to attack Earth at the proper moment.

But before that moment arrives, the Avengers have a few items to clear off their plate after their return from Vietnam to investigate the origin of Mantis. One pleasant task involves the return of Captain America, after he'd dealt with a discrediting ad campaign that finally led to foiling a plan by the Secret Empire to take over the U.S. Unfortunately, his reunion with the Avengers would be a brief one, since the resolution of that case would leave him on the verge of abandoning his career as the symbol of his country.

To take Cap's mind off his troubles, Iron Man also gives Cap a recap (get it? "re-Cap," heh heh) of their battle with the Star-Stalker, where Mantis saved the day by deducing the creature's weakness:

In fairness to Cap, he never really had a problem with Mantis, despite Iron Man's recollection; it was only the Swordsman he still suspected of being on the wrong side of the law. (Though Cap probably kept an eye on Mantis out of her association with him.)

It's at that point that Lou-Ann, Rick Jones' girlfriend, arrives at the mansion on the verge of collapse, having escaped from the Controller and warning of Thanos--and the Avengers become swept up in the growing conflict between Thanos and Captain Marvel. Soon enough, Mar-vell, Moondragon, and Iron Man are kidnapped to face Thanos on Titan; but when Thanos uses the Cube to ascend to godhood, the Earth invasion fleet makes its move, and the Avengers must act.

And so the Avengers launch into space as the planet's only line of defense, against incredible odds that must be defeated if Earth is to survive.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Will Of The People

For an issue of Fantastic Four, this one doesn't make for a bad Sub-Mariner story:

"Beware The Ravaging Retrievers!" comes at a time when the team has disbanded due to Reed's loss of his stretching powers, and its members have gone their separate ways in finding different occupations for themselves--which leaves a few issues to explore each of the FF members on their own. Johnny indulges in professional car racing; Ben does some test piloting for NASA; Sue is off to Hollywood to be featured in a film project; and Reed takes a position with a group of scientists working on a classified project, supposedly involving national security. We learn later that it turns out to be a ruse involving Dr. Doom--but even in these early stages, Reed is becoming suspicious of the work being done:

While Johnny and Ben have had their own brushes with trouble. Once their respective affairs are settled, Johnny joins Ben in a welcome chance to reconnect with his friend:

But the focus of this issue is Sue, who is brought in to meet the head of the movie studio and discovers that it turns out to be not only an old friend, but someone who at one time meant a good deal more to her.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Our Enemy: The Universe!

If you missed the last few PPOC reviews of Captain Marvel--wow, have you missed a lot! Because not only have we seen the good Captain become involved with the first grab for power by none other than Thanos--not only has Mar-vell cast off his life as a warrior and chosen a new role as a cosmically-aware protector of the universe--but we've also seen the devilish plans of Thanos come to a head, as the mad Titan has used the Cosmic Cube to transform himself into an all-powerful threat to life!

And as if to underscore things "coming to a head"...

We've arrived at the penultimate issue in this Captain Marvel story that's been developing through the efforts of writer/artist Jim Starlin, as Thanos at last gains ultimate power while those who oppose him fight an uphill struggle for their lives. Mar-vell looks ready for action on the issue's cover--but with his foe having achieved what he schemed for, can he hope to turn things around at this point, much less prevail?

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