Monday, January 21, 2019

The Coming Of... Her!


While there unfortunately aren't a lot of the team-up stories from the '70s and '80s that I could point to and say that they were well worth the dimes and quarters you and I shelled out for them, there is one story from early 1980 in the Thing's team-up mag that may surprise you as being both compelling and entertaining, with a well-conceived plot and an engaging cast of characters moving it along. It also serves as an intriguing and informal sequel to a two-part story from three years earlier, when Marvel Two-In-One again came into play to provide a now-classic moment in Marvel history.




Given what we now understand to be the potential of what eventually came to be known as the Infinity Gems, it probably seems a little careless for these heroes to abandon the soul gem and simply leave it out in the open for anyone to come along and claim for their own. But at the time, Thanos had only thought to use the gem and other "soul gems" (not yet upgraded to Infinity Gems) as a power source for a weapon--and since Thanos had been slain by a manifestation of Warlock, perhaps Mar-vell and the others felt the danger of someone else using the gem in the same manner had passed. Admittedly very short-sighted of them, just to leave a symbol of tribute at Warlock's grave site--but no doubt helpful to other writers who might want to someday take advantage of the fact that the scene leaves the door open for Warlock's return.

And that time indeed arrives, when a powerful being interrupts a pleasant evening between Ben Grimm and his lady love, Alicia Masters--one who, like her golden-skinned predecessor, has emerged from a cocoon and is intent on following a trail that has over a decade of dust covering it. And in some way, Alicia is the key to her plans.



The Thing doesn't make any headway against this powerful woman who the story has no choice but to refer to as a pronoun lettered with emphasis. Unlike Him, Her hasn't yet begun announcing herself as such; but thanks to a helpful origin page laid out by artist Jerry Bingham, writer Mark Gruenwald makes it clear that she once had another identity (and gender), courtesy of the Enclave--the same scientists who created Him.



So we've learned both what this woman's purpose is and why she's altered her form, though her reason for abducting Alicia--as a lead to the whereabouts of Him, given that Alicia was the last to encounter Him on Earth--seems futile, since she has no knowledge of what's happened to him since that time.

Meanwhile, frantic with worry, the Thing returns to the Baxter Building and begins to use the equipment there to search for Alicia, though he receives some unexpected help in that regard.



Nor is Ben alone in receiving assistance, as Alicia and Her discover while continuing their conversation--in a scene that serves to introduce the final cast member who will join the others in seeing this story through.




It's a startling claim that Her makes, to be sure--and while in hindsight it's possible to predict the outcome, given that this sort of thing has been attempted before, we know so little about Her's ability at this point that it's still shaping up to be a tantalizing quest these people are undertaking.

As for the Thing coming along for the ride, Her is adamant that "such an imperfect being" can't be permitted to do so--and when the Thing and Starhawk locate the group just in time to see them boarding Moondragon's ship, hostilities erupt and render the subject of additional passengers moot.



But there's little doubt that the Thing is going to do whatever it takes to ensure Alicia's safety, while Starhawk clearly wishes to investigate Her further--and so we're all set to embark on this cosmic quest, with the goal being no less than to restore a life. But despite the assurances of Her, how will it all really end??


Friday, January 18, 2019

Over A Decade In The Making: The "Ultimate" Avengers


Having only recently seen Avengers: Infinity War,* it seems clear that Marvel's efforts to have their big-screen Avengers reflect the attributes and characteristics (and, in certain respects, the look) of the alternate universe Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch Avengers team, the Ultimates, has finally become a reality--though I really mean that in the broader sense that Marvel Entertainment has preferred to use the Ultimate universe as an informal template for the portrayal of its film characters, while for the most part avoiding the formality and PG methods of conduct that its heroes on Earth-616 made the standard in the 20th century. There are important differences, to be sure; the film version of Captain America, for instance, is more likely to tactfully deal with those he opposes or doesn't agree with than his gung-ho Ultimates counterpart, while the Wasp and Ant-Man on film don't carry the baggage that we've seen to shocking extent in The Ultimates. In addition, Iron Man on film doesn't need a support team to launch himself into action; and the film Hulk is less twisted than the freakish, homicidal maniac in the comic who gives new meaning to the word "rampage."

*Please, don't judge! Having a decent home theater setup, it's really not a difficult decision for me to put a new film release on the back burner and catch it when it becomes available for either streaming or disc viewing. Who's with me?

Of all the Ultimates, only Thor really resembles to a T the film character who has now shaken off the last vestiges of royal bearing and become the laid back, guy's-guy, imposing figure who can be both awe-inspiring in battle and someone who can kick back with everyone else in casual conversation.

And, of course, the crowning touch to his gradual Ultimates-based makeover has finally been added:



The new axe, though with a small tree limb for a handle. Honestly, I was certain that the improvised handle from Groot was a stopgap solution that would be replaced with something more sturdy at the earliest opportunity. How many tree limbs are going to stand up to the kind of battles that Thor engages in?

Thor is also one of the last people I expected to join in with the wisecracks and the barbs and the witty back-and-forth repartee that even Dr. Strange has begun to partake in. Thanos is on his way--but wait, let's forget about the impending seriousness of the situation for a moment and instead debate which ice cream flavors we prefer. Or how about: This Asgardian appears to be alive, but how did he survive the destruction here? By the way, Peter, you're putting on a little weight, maybe you should start working out. The more subtle humor of the Wakandans is far less distracting; when it comes to screenplays, a little really does go a long way.

There was about a six- to ten-year gap between the first appearance of the Ultimates and the first Avenger-based films (i.e., Iron Man → Thor → Captain America → The Avengers, with Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2 mixed in)--but a number of similarities which carried over from The Ultimates to cinema nevertheless link both mediums together, though Marvel has made no secret of (and has had notable success in) cherry-picking those comics elements that would be a good fit for its film ventures, both in cinema and on the small screen. For instance, the Triskelion was probably a no-brainer to adapt to the screen, at least for as long as it lasted:




When it came to SHIELD's top spy, Nick Fury, it was clear that Marvel felt the Ultimates version of the character was the way to go. And even though The Ultimates had folded by the time the movies began being produced, the series apparently still made for good reference material when it came time to give some thought to actors:




Marvel also gradually moved away from boxing its film characters into a corner in terms of their backgrounds or even cast members. With the Asgardians annihilated**, it should be interesting to see what direction the Thor films will go in; and while the revolving door of Aunt Mays makes one wonder if Marvel is still undecided as to how old they think an aunt should be, they've at least found screen magic in keeping the character of Spider-Man in an age bracket that younger audiences can get behind, apparently having taken a leaf from the long-running Ultimate Spider-Man book.

**Though the door has obviously been left open for Loki's return--and frankly, I can't see the producers making the conscious choice to cut either the character or Tom Hiddleston, considering their popularity (assuming Hiddleston wants to continue in the role).

Scenes from The Ultimates also played a part in giving both Steve Rogers and Captain America memorable sound bites in the character's first two motion pictures:





Yet the Ultimates version of the domestic abuse situation between Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne is hopefully a line Marvel won't cross--because frankly I can't see this exchange getting past the focus groups, much less arriving in move theaters to play out in front of families:

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A Hero Among Us!


The story of Calvin Rankin, the Mimic (whose super-power is probably self-explanatory), took just under a year to play out in the pages of X-Men, and was arguably one of the more interesting developments of the series. The character was first introduced in 1966--a victim of an accident in his father's lab, which gave him the means to duplicate the powers and/or abilities of those he was in proximity to. Yet rather than using his power responsibly, he flaunted it among his fellow students and those he socialized with, becoming a conceited and arrogant young man who indulged in the advantages and the laurels that the use of his abilities gained for him. Rankin didn't seem to have much use for the traits of humility or even kindness, never having to work to excel at something while able to instantly match the feats that made others stand out.

Attempting to use the X-Men (or, rather, their powers) to access a machine of his father's design that would make his powers permanent, Rankin was unaware that the machine was instead intended to undo the effects of that fateful accident--and so with the machine's use, the menace of "the Mimic" appeared to be over before it really began, though not for long. When his power unexpectedly returned, he reappeared at the X-Men's door and wormed his way onto the team by threatening to expose their identities, though unfortunately around the same time that the Puppet Master was attempting to take control of Charles Xavier. Instead, it was the Mimic who fell under his influence and attempted to kill them all, before the Angel arrived to thwart that plan; but Rankin remained on the team of his own volition at the request of Xavier, who saw in him a valuable asset that would help bolster their defense against the approaching threat of Factor Three.

The Mimic carries the distinction of being the first new member of the X-Men to make the team outside of the original lineup--though as an opportunist, with his abrasive manner and off-putting attitude, Rankin was never considered by the others as anything but an outsider whom they tolerated because of Xavier's wishes. And the Puppet Master notwithstanding, he also arrived at just the right time. With Cyclops feeling responsible for the Angel's recent injury and asking to step down as Deputy Leader, Xavier made the call to appoint the Mimic in his place--a decision which understandably had the other X-Men reacting in astonishment. Yet there was no denying that the Mimic added considerable power to their ranks--all the abilities and powers of the X-Men, plus those of Xavier, in one package. Granted, that's a far cry from having the ability to lead a seasoned team into battle without having spent five minutes in the Danger Room--but, as Rankin noted, Xavier was likely well aware that Rankin wasn't about to take orders from any of the others. If he could be tempered, the team could meet practically any challenge in the field this side of the Sentinels.

But while the Mimic would never get the opportunity to be Deputy Leader in more than name only, he would have a chance to prove to himself what kind of man he was when the chips were down, as he faced his baptism of fire by clashing with another type of mimic--one whose own composite powers made him just as formidable a threat.


Monday, January 14, 2019

"Beyond The Border Lurks Death!"


As opposed to other Marvel characters--even those who fly solo--it probably wasn't too difficult to lay out a story in the 1970s which featured the incredible Hulk. Aside from fending off the military and having to factor in the character of Bruce Banner now and then, the Hulk was the type of character who generally had no concerns to keep track of.  No people he needed to see... no appointments to keep... no financial worries or obligations... and of course no one he felt he needed to answer to. And when it came to conflict, he wasn't hampered with doubt as to who would always prevail. To get a Hulk story off the ground, you really only needed to have him show up--and typically, he did so in spectacular fashion.




We'll leave our beleaguered Mounties to discover how greatly they've erred in misjudging their prospects for success here.

From here, the writer and artist had only to deal in a principal cast, and decide how and why their paths would cross with the Hulk's. For instance, how about a former X-Man, whose help has been solicited to help avert a crisis of life and death?



After taking a moment to use pressure on the neck nerves of his companion, Vera, to render her painlessly unconscious, Hank McCoy does indeed find a way to circumvent the closed border. And while border officers have no doubt encountered all types of ways that people have resorted to in order to make their way across, this one will probably be a first.




(Considering that the Beast was only carrying Vera in his arms, there was really only one place where McCoy could have been stashing his civilian clothes, shoes, and rubber mask. But let's not go there.)

Finally, we only need to be introduced to the focal point of the story, which could be an object, or a force, or another member of the cast--in this case, Cal Rankin, a/k/a the Mimic, whose power is apparently the crisis that will involve McCoy and, in some way, presumably, the Hulk.



And *presto*, we have a story--and wow, is there going to be a crisis!


Friday, January 11, 2019

There's Something About Brother Joshua...


You generally know what you're going to get when it comes to the Miracle Man, a villain through and through whose powers can make any of his wishes or desires into reality. He and Graviton are much alike, in that both men feel a sense of entitlement as to what the world owes them and the deference that should be given them--and both have demonstrated that their mania can lead to overreach, and subsequent defeat. But while Graviton restricts his focus to real-world concerns in his quest to rule, the Miracle Man often strays into fantasy scenarios that lend themselves to the stuff that dreams are made of. When he returned to battle the Fantastic Four, he created a dazzling city in the middle of the Oklahoma desert, complete with a population and, of course, a bride (another inclination he shares with Graviton); and later, when the Ghost Rider and the Thing encountered him at the Konohoti Indian reservation, he'd recreated the tale of the Three Wise Men, fashioning himself as no less than "the Creator" and overseeing the birth of the Messiah in order to be validated as having achieved godhood.

Yet when the Miracle Man returns in a mid-1983 Defenders story, we discover that he's taken a more subtle path to godhood, though, as we'll discover, no less ambitious. Also, at the Massachusetts monastery where this tale begins, we encounter a more conspicuous character who surely represents the opposite end of that spectrum, who's come seeking the peace and forgiveness that this edifice offers--Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan, who has sought the counsel of an old friend from his seminary, Father Gosset, in the hope of bringing some sense of balance and order to his dual (and, he fears, damned) nature. But there is another he'll meet who could either turn out to be a kindred spirit--or someone equally at a loss to suppress who he really is.


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

In The Clutches Of Doom!


Having previously seen two of Jack Kirby's recreations of his own classic Fantastic Four covers (specifically, FF #36 and, to a lesser extent, #27), let's bring into the spotlight the remaining few covers he was asked to restyle in order to help sell reprint issues of their respective stories, while placing them alongside their revamped counterparts. It's regrettable we didn't see more of these "reimagined" covers from the artist; but with Kirby's departure from the company in 1970, it would have to fall to other artists to render new cover art for reprinted stories, whether it was for the long-running Marvel's Greatest Comics or the FF annuals, though in many cases Kirby's original work would prove to be sufficient for selling the same stories over the counter again. (Just look at how effective the "True Believers" series has been, even after all this time.) There are any number of FF covers that I'd like to have seen Kirby reinterpret--but though he turned in work on a number of contemporary covers for their monthly mag (along with other titles) during his second stint at Marvel in the mid-1970s (including the 1976 FF Annual), he would never return to bringing new life to his old FF covers.



Fantastic Four Annual #2
"The Final Victory of Doctor Doom!"



There was once a time--before I got a clue, that is--when I was convinced that fresh artwork on an annual cover indicated fresh content... that a comics publisher wouldn't be so duplicitous as to pad the entire annual with previously used content and then market it in such a way that would disguise the fact. But even if we take deception out of the equation, what reader would think it likely that a yearly "special," with at least ten months to be plotted, written, and drawn, would be filled from cover to cover with old material? In what way did that add up to "Twice as many thrills!"?

Nevertheless, it's admittedly easy to appreciate Kirby's changes to the cover of this story five years later--moving from a symbolic representation of the conflict within and instead making it appear as if the reader were glimpsing an actual panel from the story. And thanks to his cameo, you could also almost imagine that the Mole Man was teaming up with Doom to take on the FF--which really would have made for an interesting story for an annual, had a few people rolled up their sleeves in February and taken the time to produce it.



Fantastic Four #17
"Defeated by Doctor Doom!"



While both covers insist that the FF are in Doom's clutches, they certainly seemed to already be in his clutches on the cover of the 1964 annual. Suffice to say, the FF fall into Doom's clutches a lot, figuratively speaking, which is just how we like it. As we can see, however, Kirby's 1967 revamped version of this tale's original cover actually mimics the layout of the '64 annual, while having Doom facing the FF from a different angle (and demonstrating how Doom's mandible can open wide even on an armored mask--the man thinks of everything). As for the FF, the inserts of the Hulk, Dr. Strange, and Iron Man story promos don't leave them much room to maneuver--which may be another reason why Doom is so filled with glee.



Fantastic Four #35
"Calamity On The Campus!"



We have the villain Diablo to thank for Dragon Man suddenly taking an interest in higher education, and in crushing the Fantastic Four. From the MGC cover, it's easy to discern that Kirby has made Dragon Man more sophisticated and expressive, with the backgrounds of both covers giving way to Dragon Man's bulk and the reactions of the FF members. And on that note, can someone explain what the Torch is up to, putting up a flaming wall in front of all of them? From the way he's glaring at Diablo, my guess is that he's trying to keep their foe from fleeing--but from the look of things, he also ends up keeping his partners from getting out of the way of Dragon Man's attack! Nice going, Torch!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Where Strikes Humus Sapien, There Follows... Death!


We've seen one example of how sometimes it could be a shot in the dark getting your foot in the door and becoming part of the creative team at Marvel Comics, with patience being a large part of the equation--even when a contest or some other initiative by the company virtually put out the welcome mat for you. But a twenty-eight-year wait is pushing it, don't you think? Let's take a look back to the spring of 1973, and the first issue of Marvel's new fan-based magazine, F.O.O.M., short for "Friends of Ol' Marvel" (egad)--an in-house effort at bringing together the rank and file of Marvel fandom, which this time didn't outsource the company's fan interest to a mail-order setup such as Marvelmania but, like the original M.M.M.S., returned its operation to the hands of Marvel staff and made the extra effort to reach out to and interact more with its very vocal readership.

And in its fervor to ignite the interest of those fans in this new endeavor by establishing a spirit of fan participation, this little ITEM! was nestled in with the magazine's introduction pages which would certainly give an indication of the level of fan response that Marvel was hoping to tap into:



As we'll see later, the response to the contest was quite a turnout, with some notables among those who made submissions: Chris Padovano, Fred Hembeck, Steve Rude, Andy Olsen (with a nod to Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool--quite a fascinating piece on Mr. Olsen, Rich!), Mary Jo Duffy, Marc Silvestri, Carl Potts, and Jerry Ordway. (And those were just the names that I was able to recognize.)

The contest remained open until the end of August of that year, when a winner was finally selected and presented in that quarter's issue of FOOM: Michael A. Barreiro, whose character, Humus Sapiens, a super-villain, also received a personal acknowledgement from Stan Lee, who went on to say that the character would be used in an upcoming "Marvel super-spectacular," with Barreiro receiving a page of original artwork where his character appeared--rewards which pretty much stayed within the parameters of the original contest notice.

In order to include some info on Barreiro, a follow-up on the contest appeared in the next quarterly issue (Winter, 1974, though its cover misprinted the date as '73). But quite a bit of discussion had apparently taken place in the Bullpen in the meantime, with Roy Thomas deciding to not only change Barreiro's character from villain to hero, but also nailing down where Humus Sapiens would appear: as part of the proposed new X-Men team, with Barreiro receiving a credit on the splash page. That would imply that Thomas was also designating the character to be a mutant.



As we know, however, Barreiro's character didn't show up in the new X-Men lineup, either in the team which premiered in 1975 or among any subsequent member additions thereafter--nor was there any mention or sighting of the character at all in the decades that followed.  By all indications, Humus Sapiens had turned out to be a nonstarter.

And that brings us within sight of another


Marvel Trivia Question



Whatever became of "Humus Sapiens"?

Friday, January 4, 2019

"Where There Be Gods!"


Having seen the fate of the Futurist, a godlike being who didn't seem to have much of a future as a captive of the Stranger, we can at least travel back to early 1980 and find out how things went wrong for scientist Randolph James--a former classmate of Reed Richards who got in touch for consultation on a project, only to face a considerable setback when a computer feedback causes an explosion in his lab that destroys years of work. Fortunately, the Fantastic Four were on hand to contain the situation and prevent serious injury--in the lab, that is. Once the FF depart, however, we see things turn from bad to worse for Professor James.



As for the FF, they have their own problems, when they return to their headquarters and find that Blastaar has broken out of the Negative Zone!



Blastaar's attack proves to be overwhelming, and he manages to escape into New York City. But though the FF plan to pursue him, they're soon going to have another problem--a portent of which is a phone call from James, who was worked over pretty thoroughly by the thugs who robbed him and who turns to his untested evolutionary accelerator to heal his injuries.



All of which coalesces in a two-part story--and it's not clear which threat is going to finish off the FF first!


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

I Stand With The Thunderbolts!


While there have been a number of times when comic book "gods" have been bested or otherwise humbled by mortals, it's hard to imagine a scenario more brutal than the one we witnessed in late 1986, when Hercules of Olympus was set upon by the Masters of Evil--a rebranding of the classic super-villain group from the earliest issues of The Avengers, this time led by the son of Baron Zemo and with more members added to their ranks.



Unlike the Sinister Six, Zemo's group has obviously embraced the tactic of attacking their foe(s) en masse--and despite their mob mentality, they've also demonstrated that they're adept at intelligence gathering and willing to follow Zemo's carefully laid-out plan. In this case, one of their members, the Wrecker, has bought a few rounds for Hercules at a local bar and goaded him into anger by exposing his growing rift with the Avengers' chairwoman, the Wasp--which results in a brief altercation and, afterward, Hercules returning to drown his dour mood with more carousing and liquor.

All of which leads to Hercules disobeying orders and tackling the Masters on his own following their invasion of Avengers Mansion. Even (by this time) thoroughly inebriated, Hercules gives a good accounting of himself--but the tide is turned against him when the powerhouse known as Goliath (Erik Josten, the former Power Man) steps in and delivers a thrashing that sets up Hercules for one of the most savage beatings of his immortal life.




The road to recovery was likely a difficult one for Hercules (it wasn't so easy for the Avengers, either!). But when he's back in circulation and learns from a news report that the heroes known as the Thunderbolts have been revealed to be former members of the Masters of Evil, he comes looking for Josten (now the Thunderbolt called Atlas) in the Colorado rockies--and his intentions are clear from the moment of his explosive arrival!




Noting the date of this story, it took just over twelve years (our time) for Hercules to at last be on the cusp of some measure of retribution for the trauma he suffered at the hands of the Masters. But since the Wrecking Crew and Mister Hyde never transitioned to the Thunderbolts, it looks like Hercules has settled on the one member he can still hold accountable for the beatings he took--the mocking and insolent villain who struck from behind and then watched, grinning and laughing, as his compatriots beat Hercules to within an inch of his life (if that). But as for Atlas, the jury may be out as to whether he'll be the one who goes down in this fight!


Friday, December 21, 2018

Have Yourself A Hydra Little Christmas








Today the PPC takes the rest of the year off to enjoy the holidays--
we'll see you back here in 2019!


Wishing You the Joys of the Holiday Season
from

The Peerless Power of Comics!


(And try to stay clear of SHIELD agents who are packing!)

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