Friday, November 30, 2012

Bonded By Cordiality


Given the degree to which Crystal of the Inhumans was involved with the Fantastic Four--first as Johnny's girlfriend and then as Sue Richards' replacement--it seems odd that the only two women of the early FF didn't really form that close of a relationship. Johnny was Sue's brother, after all; and Sue could certainly have helped to acclimate Crystal to the FF's fighting style. Yet the interaction with Sue and Crystal was kept at arm's length, their cordiality with each other being presented almost as a given. A lot of good characterization could have come of that relationship being built upon--and it could have made it easier for fans of the book to accept Crystal, once she took a more active role in the team.

Yet writer Stan Lee's handling of the two, on the almost rare occasions when they spent time together, was somewhat awkward--even bordering on impersonal. Neither really made much of their shared role in the FF; perhaps with Crystal's bond with Johnny being so strong, Lee felt it wasn't necessary to have her make any effort with Sue, or vice versa. Whenever he did pair them up, they took the occasional shopping trip; also, with Reed away on missions while Sue was pregnant, Lee made Crystal her caretaker for the duration:



It was only when Steve Englehart took over the writing reins of the book, and decided to make Crystal an active member again after a long absence, did we see an actual conversation between Sue and Crystal. And there was quite a lot for the two to talk about, though mostly the chat was a way for Sue to gauge Crystal's motivations for rejoining the team. After all, Johnny was now married to Alicia Masters--and Crystal was estranged from her husband, Quicksilver. Add to the mix that Crystal had also cheated on Pietro, and you can guess how the conversation played out. It was regrettably brief, though perhaps revealing enough for Sue's purposes; but for those of us who had been waiting for some form of extensive interaction between the two, even its short length was appreciated:




As you can see, Sue is still at the stage where she's a pleasant character, but not a particularly assertive one--and so she leaves well enough alone. But there's undoubtedly so much more ground for these two to cover, ground that I would have expected a writer of Englehart's talents to relish covering. Yet, as Crystal points out, the two women are of different generations, as well as very different women with clearly different pasts.  Perhaps their lack of common ground is just too extensive for there to ever be more than a cordial respect between the two.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cringe Before My Wonder Gloves


While it's true that Jack Kirby produced a good deal of his full-page portraits featuring Marvel's principal characters, he also made some impressive pages where lesser characters rated their own dramatic presentations. Whether it was a villain preparing to strike, or a scene that drew you closer into a story, the placement of the page was timed well. And though there were rare instances where the dialog on the page wasn't able to live up to the image, Kirby more than met the story halfway.

One of my favorites comes from a story in Fantastic Four, where the Thing is kidnapped and taken to a planet in the Skrull empire where the inhabitants are imitating Earth's development in the 1930s--even though their science is well beyond that of the next century. Or, as Reed explains it:



Kirby's attention to detail in these scenes is extraordinary, clearly having an affinity for the styles of this time period. Take this full-page image where "Boss Barker" and his aide arrive at a meeting of top bosses. You can't help but wonder if it's paying homage to Star Trek's "A Piece of the Action," which aired just a year earlier:



The only thing I might call into question would be the colorist's choice of making the chandelier the same color as the walls, ceilings, and pillars--but perhaps that was just an oversight.

Then of course there are Kirby's imposing villains. Kronin Krask, of course, we've met before--a wealthy schemer who sought the secret to immortality. And pictured alongside him is the Wizard, who first menaced the Fantastic Four with his cohorts in the Frightful Four, and then impressively tackled the group solo:



The Wizard made not one attempt to take out the FF, but two--using nothing but his new pair of "wonder gloves." I have to give the Wizard props for threatening his opponents with "wonder gloves." The FF probably annoy Wonder Man about it whenever they see him--"hey, Simon, why aren't you wearing your wonder gloves?? HAR HAR..."

A more down-to-Earth villain was Jasper Whyte, whose creation, the Crypto-Man, threw down with no less than Thor and, later, the Hulk. The Crypto-Man was a walking siphon which could draw strength from his powerful opponents--but with Whyte such an integral character to the story in Thor, Kirby gives him equal relevance in the portrait:



But let's take a break from Earth for a moment to throw the spotlight on those characters who are more at home in the cosmos. On the left, we have one of Kirby's most impressive races--the Rigellian Colonizers, where the High Commissioner meets with their creation, the Recorder, who has arrived with Thor for an audience. A meeting which just happens to involve the events taking place in the second portrait--the confrontation between Galactus and the living planet, Ego:




Somebody should tell Galactus that if you call your ship a "visi-sphere," you're probably not going to be invisible to your enemy. Though I'd probably wait until the battle is over to point that out.

Finally, I can think of no better way to end this series than a portrait of two major Marvel characters meeting for the second time in a proposed alliance--the Sub-Mariner and Magneto. We've seen the escalation of this development elsewhere with another artist at the helm, so in a way this portrait would mark Kirby's farewell to both characters:


I still don't know how Namor gets away with attending to royal matters of state in just a pair of swim trunks.  Then again, if you're the one stamping the royal seal on the dress code, you probably have sufficient carte blanche in the matter.

Not all of Kirby's full-page portraits were so dazzling and impressive; in fact, there were arguably some scenes that got full-page treatment which didn't really merit the exposure of an entire page.  But for this series, I think I've selected those which exceptionally stood out, hopefully piquing your interest to read the stories that were so skillfully crafted around them.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The End


Marvel 100th Anniversary Issues

FEATURING:


Marvel Two-In-One #100


Marvel Two-In-One had featured Ben Grimm, the Thing, teaming up with a guest-star since its first issue, in much the same format as the successful Marvel Team-Up. And in this one-hundredth issue, Ben's words on the cover have a clever double meaning:



For as much as the wording refers to the scene of devastation surrounding the Thing and his human counterpart, it's also acknowledging a farewell of the magazine itself, as it ceases publication with this issue. Its sister book would continue publication for another fifty issues before it, too, folded; but as for the Thing, the character was simply shifting gears, continuing in The Thing the following month.

So "Aftermath," the story in this final issue, didn't have a great deal to prove in terms of the book going out on a high note. All it really had to do was to end on a good note, a satisfying note. And for the most part, it did, offering an interesting sequel to a story 50 issues prior, where the Thing travelled back in time to administer a cure which would revert an earlier version of himself back to the human Ben Grimm. His mission then was a success, in that sense; so if he was to reunite with that world's Ben, there would have to be a reason other than the one used in the first story. And it begins with a discussion Ben is having with Reed about the nature of their time machine:



Which, disappointingly, leads to Ben's reason to repeat the trip amounting to nothing more than mild curiosity about how events on the other Earth transpired without the presence of the Thing:



Thankfully, the story picks up significantly, as the scene of Ben's arrival hits us (and him) with an equal amount of surprise and shock:



To those familiar with the story of Galactus, the picture is worth a thousand words: Galactus' elemental converter, once again grafted atop the Baxter Building, but this time abandoned apparently long ago. And the ruin and destruction surrounding the landscape make it clear that Galactus, too, has left, but this time after successfully stripping the planet of its life energy. The Thing has arrived on a dead planet.

Soon after, Ben is thankful to find his other self still alive:



This world's Ben tells the Thing about the deadly arrival of Galactus--this time with no Silver Surfer to intervene so that the Fantastic Four could have the time to plan countermeasures. So instead, there could only be an all-out, desperate battle with Galactus. The first to die were the Fantastic Four, with the rest of the world's heroes not far behind in defeat:



Once his opposition was disposed of, Galactus proceeded to drain the planet of its life energy with his converter:



The Thing also learns how most of the planet's population has survived, since Galactus had not yet shifted his feeding needs from planetary elements to the life force of its indigenous species. And humanity's survival also meant the survival of those who would seek to rule even a dead world, as Ben would discover after being captured by:



Yet the Thing's human self gathered forces and stormed the Skull's compound. And after seeing the writing on the wall, the Skull fell back to using his deadly "dust of death." The Thing, familiar with the deadly effects of the substance, reacts quickly--and for the Skull, fatally:




Once the Skull has been dealt with, the Thing prepares to head back to his own world. But aside from the obligatory beat-the-bad-guy diversion here, the story has Ben preoccupied with something that's worried him since his arrival on this world--that the action he took earlier to remove this Earth's Thing has somehow changed history in a way that led to the Earth being destroyed. It's only when his human self assures him otherwise and points out the absence of the Silver Surfer's presence in the attack that the Thing feels some sense of relief; yet that does little to clear the melancholy he feels at leaving his other self to eke out an existence on a dead world.

It almost seems fitting that the end of the Marvel Two-In-One series consists of a fine, self-contained story that offers something entertaining yet different than the standard team-up fare that has come before. Equally fitting is that such a story appears in the series' one-hundredth issue; so in reality, what we have here is a notable one-hundredth issue that would suit any other title coming up on its own centennial landmark, an issue which also happens to end the run of the book. And "Aftermath," again, doesn't try to be more than that. It closes the door of Marvel Two-In-One not with a thud, but with a satisfying click and gentle lock. It doesn't carry the splashy fanfare that a usual "Issue #100" would attempt to convey, no--but in just seeking to convey interest and anticipation in the meaning behind two simple words, it succeeds in reaching both its pinnacle and the finish line.


Monday, November 26, 2012

The Measure Of A World


The Silver Surfer learns that he can't have his cake and eat it too, in Part 4 of

  

This issue is all about the consequences of the Surfer's bargain with Galactus--that the Surfer, once again acting as Galactus' herald, confine the worlds he targets for consuming by Galactus to only those which possess sentient life. Yet the Surfer is also desperately trying to restore Galactus' health by breaking this "addiction" and returning him to a more "balanced" feeding consisting of a world's oceans, crust, and core--a shift that will also make him more receptive to the kinds of worlds the Surfer wishes to steer him toward.

To that end, the Surfer takes interest in a lush world teeming with life, yet no intelligence factor. A world with a most unexpected caretaker:



Mantis, whom the Surfer had thought dead--a woman who had once meant a great deal to him. The Surfer informs her of his current status with Galactus, and his plan to wean Galactus of his exclusive need for planets with sentient life--and he thinks Verdant (the name that Mantis has called the planet) will be a good starting point. There's only one complication, which Mantis makes clear to him:



Mantis then suggests an alternate planet orbiting a sister star--a planet still rich in life, but with no intelligence present. The Surfer is elated, and rushes back to Galactus to give him the news; yet he also lies to his master, albeit a lie of omission, and tells Galactus that the planet is the "best" choice for him and that there is no other nearby option. It proves to be a fatal mistake, where Verdant is concerned--for Galactus senses the fullness of Verdant's life on his approach, and chooses instead to target that world instead of the alternate choice the Surfer had directed him to. And when the Surfer protests, Galactus reminds him of the conditions of his service:



Mantis then flees back to Verdant in a futile effort to protect it, with the Surfer quickly coming to her protection. And as the death cries of the planet's life forms reach him, he agonizes over the course he's laid out for himself:



Meanwhile, with the most rotten of timing, Alicia has followed the Surfer and arrives at Verdant to view two horrors--the effects of Galactus' destruction, and the embrace and kiss of the Surfer and Mantis. Unknown to any of them, it's to be Mantis' last act. As she turns to energy to depart, she's caught in the cosmic energy that Galactus has put into motion and is vaporized. Immediately afterward, the Surfer becomes aware of Alicia, and shouts at her to depart before she, too, is endangered, which she does. And at the issue's end, it becomes clear to the Surfer that he's in a no-win situation:




As I read this issue, I found the Surfer's frustration and despair coming across very believably.  Of course gamblers, too, "buy now and pay later," and never look down the road as they're shoving more of their savings onto the table--and the Surfer's course of action in his ploy to save the Earth was nothing short of a gamble, hoping not to face the repercussions of his decision until if and when they materialized.  But they arrived sooner than later, with the Surfer almost immediately paying a severe price.

What I found uncomfortable about this issue--indeed, the tone of the entire series thus far--is its attempt to categorize the worth of the life of a species based on its level of sentience and intelligence.  The world that Mantis and the Surfer had chosen for Galactus was full of all sorts of living beings--yet because their senses failed to register what qualifies for them as intelligence, it's perfectly okay with them for these living beings to be offered up for the slaughter.  Translation:  "Who's going to miss them?" An offensive conclusion to which I can only respond: Who is the Surfer or Mantis to decide the worth of a life? Who granted them the power to define what level of sentience or intelligence is sufficient for a life's continued existence?

It's a flaw in the Surfer's thinking (and that of Galactus) that goes back as far as their first arrival on Earth--when Galactus likened the human race to ants, and the Surfer argued that they deserved to live because "These are not ants, Master!  They think... they feel... they have created the primitive civilization which we see all about us!"  Apparently birds creating nests--or the existence of ant hills, for that matter--can't measure up to the scrutinous, judgmental gaze of either the Surfer or Mantis.

Once the Surfer is resigned to defeat, the issue ends with an implacable Galactus directing him to seek out the next world. And you can bet the Shi'ar will have something to say about that, when we take our next look at this series.


The Royal Treatment


Like the Silver Surfer, full-page Jack Kirby portraits of the Inhumans were rare to come by, since they as yet had no series of their own and had to rely on guest appearances in Fantastic Four. And with Kirby exiting the title at just over one-hundred issues, that didn't give the royal family many opportunities to appear in full-page shots.

But in the few that were produced, we were able to see some striking examples of this race of beings which in a way seem the precursor of the Eternals. In The Mighty Thor, Kirby had ample opportunity to pencil the many humanoid offshoots that came to his imagination; but the Inhumans may have been Kirby's first real attempt at creating such characters which evolved on Earth:



Looking at these portraits, it's interesting to me how Kirby takes care to make the group's leader, Black Bolt, a part of the portrait rather than the striking figurehead that he could easily be--which is somewhat in keeping with how often writer Stan Lee has written the Inhumans in a way that has every member of the royal family constantly making Black Bolt's safety a priority. Indeed, their "body language" in Kirby's depictions shows a family dynamic in play. Even in captivity, they face their fate as a group (minus Medusa, in this case, who's being held captive elsewhere):



And speaking of family, even a royal family isn't necessarily immune from having its black sheep. In the Inhumans' case, that would be Maximus, Black Bolt's often-mad brother, who has proclaimed more than once that he was born to rule--not only the Inhumans, but also mankind. Fortunately, the schemes of Maximus either implode or fail to come to fruition--yet Kirby nevertheless pays Maximus due deference in these two striking portraits:



Which artist Herb Trimpe pays homage to in a later Incredible Hulk story:



It's too bad Maximus had to be so at odds with his cousins and brother, because he missed out on being included in some amazing group shots. My hands-down favorite being this one, which I'm going to have to get on my wall at some point:



Kirby also made some nice pin-ups of the Inhumans which were featured in a Fantastic Four annual, which we'll take a look at sometime so that each member of the royal family can have their own page to shine.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Knight Of The Living Stone


It's hard to believe that this little scene from an early Defenders adventure would play a part in a scheme to end nearly all life on Earth:



No one ever accused the Enchantress of having scruples--just power to spare and a tendency to indulge in betrayal. This particular betrayal took place after she formed a loose alliance with the Defenders in order to take vengeance against a witch-queen of another dimension who had laid claim to her partner-in-crime, the Executioner. In fact, after succeeding in her quest, the Enchantress would have been only too happy to have been allowed to leave without further incident--if it weren't for the jealous Black Knight, who was still somewhat under the influence of a kiss from her which had effectively put him at her service, if you know what I mean.

So rather than Dane Whitman finding a happy ending with the Enchantress, he instead found himself to be one heck of a pigeon statue, primed and ready for a spot in the gardens at Avengers Mansion. If only his comrades in the Defenders had thought to include the Avengers in the loop of this little development. Instead, Dr. Strange thought Dane might instead make a good decoration for his study:



Now, we know a lot about the events that unfolded once Strange was able to make a little headway in alleviating Dane's condition. And we know that the Black Knight eventually became mobile again. But that only brings us to a brand new:


Marvel Trivia Question



Whatever became of the Black Knight's statue?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Promises, Promises


It's time for a few answers--as well as, believe it or not, Galactus!--in Part 3 of

  

So here's what this installment finally clears up about Galactus' health issues, as well as his decision to return to Earth to consume it. We already knew that Galactus, in his destruction of various worlds for sustenance, made little to no distinction between worlds barren of life or those teeming with populations of whatever species inhabited them. The Silver Surfer, during his time as Galactus' herald, made a conscious effort to divert his master from populated worlds--that is, before Galactus tampered with his memories and, by extension, his conscience. Yet, even with the Surfer's efforts now compromised, Galactus had no "preference" for the type of energy a world offered him, as long as it would sustain him. He maintained, you'll excuse the expression, a balanced diet.

That changed when Red Shift, the newest herald that Galactus conscripted, began directing Galactus to only those worlds that possessed the "life energy" of living beings. Which had a detrimental effect on Galactus, as Alicia Masters reiterates when Galactus arrives on Earth:



Of course this development as to what constitutes "life" energy or "life" force seeks to further define the terms for this series, since previously it seemed that Galactus always selected a world as though it were all just lumped together:



For instance, look what substitute the Surfer once found for Galactus to consume, just from an explosive reaction:



So this issue now elaborates on the evolution of this process:



Suffice to say that, as if having Galactus roaming around the universe with a knife and fork wasn't bad enough, now he's become a virtual drug addict thanks to Red Shift, desperate to do whatever it takes to shoot up again, with no respite between feedings--and this time targeting only populated worlds. I think we can safely assume that a twelve-step program isn't going to work on this guy.

And since Galactus already knows from past experience of a certain planet bursting with life--our very own Earth--he makes that his next stop, despite his promise never to attempt to consume it again. A promise which the Surfer reminds him of, but who probably wishes he'd kept his mouth shut with this response from Galactus:




Y'know, even as often as it's been cited in various stories, for the life of me I can't remember when this so-called promise to keep the Earth off his menu was extracted from Galactus. But I don't feel so bad, because even Stan Lee, the darned writer at the time, is clueless on the subject:



Anyway, as Galactus proceeds with his preparations, Reed Richards gathers everyone and tells them his plan for hopefully salvaging the situation:



Which I thought was a nice touch, considering this scene from Galactus' origin that shows us just what that crazy outfit does for him:



No idea how Reed knew about that, though. I doubt it's the sort of information Galactus would want to get around. Maybe the Watcher let it slip to Reed at some point. Man, the gossip Uatu must be able to dish.

So now the stage is set for this big battle issue, nicely drawn by John Buscema and inked by Bill Sienkiewicz. Good teamwork from all the players, which allows the Vision to deploy Reed's "drill." Yet as the device takes effect, Galactus neutralizes it and lashes out, scattering everyone and forcing them to regroup and consider another plan. While the FF and the Avengers focus on Galactus' energy siphons, the Surfer decides to try pleading with him again--and it finally becomes clear why Galactus has refrained from harming the Surfer during this conflict. He strikes a bargain with his former herald, one which he's attempted before:



And the Surfer accepts. Only this time, there's no fine print involving sending Galactus to the Negative Zone.

The issue ends with the Surfer saying his goodbyes to his friends, including Alicia. Yet as he and Galactus head off into space, he's hopeful he can still stay true to his conscience:


This guy isn't all that great with promises, is he?


We'll see how he does in Part 4, when an old flame rejoins him. Let's hope Alicia doesn't show up, too. I'm not sure how Galactus feels about love triangles, but in his current state I'm guessing he's not crazy about them taking up the Surfer's time.


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