Thursday, February 28, 2013

Stupid Villain Tricks


It all started with an innocent phone call:



So that, before you know it, television watchers are tuning in to the most unexpected promo ever:



Unfortunately, a certain arch-nemesis of the Avengers also happens to be at his set:



YES, IT'S THE RETURN OF:
FABIAN STANKOWICZ

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Victim And The Victims


If you were to line up the full-page art from the 1982 Silver Surfer one-shot--six such pages in all, if you count the opening splash page--you'd have a reasonably good idea of how the story plays out:

  • The Surfer is brooding in an Earth setting, slumped in a depressed state, so he's more than likely thinking about his continued imprisonment on the planet;
  • He flashes back to his origin at the hand of Galactus;
  • We see him flying over the devastated Zenn-La landscape, indicating some planetary disaster has occurred;
  • Mephisto gloats while holding the Surfer's lover, Shalla-Bal, captive;
  • The Surfer and Mephisto, locked in combat;
  • And finally, the Surfer soaring over Earth again.

So we can probably conclude that the Surfer escapes imprisonment, returns to his home planet to find it a dead world, discovers his old enemy Mephisto has taken the one he loves, the Surfer battles him, and whatever complications have come about during the story end up resolved or at least are dealt with satisfactorily. But that's a terribly distilled look at this issue, which is really a fun read back when the Silver Surfer was a very simple formula to write: a former herald to Galactus who is confined to Earth, a planet which holds no future for him and is populated by a human race which spurns him. And it's written by the person who refined that formula to the standard it remained for so long--Stan Lee, whose scripting of the Surfer here is like he'd never put him aside. And Lee is teaming up with the penciler/inker artist team of John Byrne and Tom Palmer, all three of whom craft a vintage Silver Surfer tale and pack it into a whopping 48 pages.

Yet in this story, the Surfer breaks from that formula and is granted his heart's desire when Reed Richards, leader of the Fantastic Four, informs him of a breakthrough.



And since we all know how smart Reed is and how he's no doubt double- and triple-checked everything down to the micro-detail, let's just cut to the chase and experience the Surfer's elation at his newfound freedom.



If I'm remembering this point in time correctly, this was the first story where the Surfer had actually been able to escape the barrier of Galactus for "real" (i.e., to mesh with continuity for the character), so that alone made this issue intriguing reading. He'd broken through or otherwise bypassed the barrier at other times, by methods which were often only temporary in nature and usually carried some hook which attached conditions or unexpected complications to his escape; but here we finally see the Surfer free and clear, at last. Of course Reed's warning is still ringing in our ears, so it's likely those complications are still waiting in the wings.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Arrgh!


What's your favorite pain-associated comic book exclamation?

A few probably ring a bell for you:

"UNNNHH!"

"YEOWWW!" (or "EEEYOW!", depending on the circumstances)

"MMMFF!"

"UNGHH!"

But come on--doesn't one come to mind almost immediately?




Of course--"Arrgh!" (Or its acceptable substitute, "Aargh!")  The one exclamation you can't imagine anyone having the presence of mind to exclaim when they're being struck painfully. I'm not sure if the victim would even have the time. Go on--say it. "Arrgh!" It doesn't even come out naturally, does it? Before you can even form the word, you'd probably already be slumped over. You'd need to be standing in place, in continuous pain, for the word to even register. Like the poor Hulk here:



The Hulk is using a variation of "Arrgh!"'s close cousin, "Arrhh!", which seems to get more airplay than the former. (And if he could, I'm sure he'd be mouthing a few profanities along with it.) "Arrhh!" may be the more realistic of the two, since getting that "g" into the exclamation seemes forced. Even pirates prefer the g-less version. But so do a lot of super-beings:




And boy, does Quicksilver wear it out:



But the original "Arrgh!" will always hold a special place in this fan-boy's heart. I mean, how many exclamations do you know of that merit their own comic book?



Saturday, February 23, 2013

Specimens Of The Stranger


Given his power level, you'd think a being like the Stranger would have received more exposure in Marvel's line of comics. But all things considered, he's been used relatively sparsely--perhaps because there aren't many in Marvel's lineup who can give him a run for his money. In his first appearance in X-Men, that wasn't really a problem since, as he states, he was just a "stranger"--from another world, yes, and someone with a purpose on Earth, but he didn't come to conquer. He was more enigmatic than menacing, though clearly someone who would have no trouble taking the X-Men, Magneto, and any other presumptuous threat and making a paper necklace out of them all.

The Stranger's aspect of menace would quickly evolve from this first appearance; I suppose it would have to, if Marvel wanted to keep on using him. I can't help but compare the Stranger to Thanos, also a being of great (if vague) power, as well as someone who also made considerable use of technology and machinery to assist him in his goals--and certainly both their reputations preceded them. Thanos wasn't nearly on the level of the Stranger in terms of sheer power--he was developed differently, coveting power and death while the Stranger's focus was limited to whatever world or being caught his probing eye. And while both had an imposing presence, the Stranger took on a more haughty air and tended to be more aggressive, while Thanos' rage would usually appear only when finding himself set upon in battle.

Yet in his first appearance, the Stranger was kept almost at arm's length by the events of the story, which mostly had Magneto fighting the X-Men while trying to conscript the Stranger into his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. It's only near the story's end when we learn the Stranger's true purpose, which Magneto has unwittingly aided:



(A footnote to this issue is that the Stranger's actions have also served to effectively dissolve the Brotherhood itself. Mastermind had earlier been turned into an inert block of matter by the Stranger; Magneto and the Toad are on their way to a microscope; and Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch had already decided that their debt to Magneto has long since been repaid, and they depart. It's something of a turning point for the X-Men title--though in retrospect, perhaps a moot one.)

When the Stranger reappears, his demeanor takes a sharp turn toward arrogance and hostility--with the human race itself his target, by way of the Hulk:



Friday, February 22, 2013

The Chaos Of Order


To have a full appreciation of Korvac--a somewhat minor character who became an embittered villain courtesy of the Brotherhood of the Badoon--it's helpful to realize how far he progressed from his status as a mere collaborator of that invading race. First, physically merged with a computer module as a form of punishment for, of all things, falling asleep at his console; then almost immediately conscripted as a pawn in one of the Grandmaster's games (against the Defenders); and then escaping to the 31st century and gathering his own forces to become a considerable threat. And one bordering on madness, at that.



But after coming into conflict with Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy, Korvac escapes again through time and lands in a location that brings about a startling transformation and sets him on a path to becoming one of the Avengers' most deadly foes.



Korvac's purpose then turned sharply from his maddening lust for power to one of universal order--"correcting the chaos, healing the injustice that civilization had heaped upon a battered universe." Which sounds pretty good when you put it that way, doesn't it? But it resulted in the mother of all battles between Korvac and the Avengers, where the team barely escaped its total destruction.

The ending of that story, thanks to the conclusions drawn by Moondragon, called into question the Avengers' actions in battling a being who had only our best interests at heart (at least from Korvac's perspective). Those ponderings were left unanswered with Korvac's death, with Moondragon making sure that only she carried the full memory of what had taken place. But thanks to a follow-up story in the What If? title, we can explore the what-might-have-been scenario of Korvac's plans to at last bring closure to what's been known as the "Korvac saga."


A somewhat misleading title, since the Avengers are dead.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Power of Iron Man


I'm sorry to say that not even a Gil Kane cover could help this issue be interesting:


Written by Gerry Conway, "Doomprayer" was the end of a two-part story that had Iron Man going up against Mikas--a lab mutation of Mister Kline, who was a behind-the-scenes villain who apparently wanted both Tony Stark and Daredevil neutralized. Kline used a number of pawns like Mikas to accomplish his agenda, which was played out over several titles and finally came to fruition in a later issue of Daredevil. It's probably best that we sidestep Kline entirely--he was really one of those characters whose name, when dropped, was meant to raise the hackles of the heroes (and readers) who learned of him, but who elicits no more than a shrug in retrospect. But here, have a peek at the man behind the curtain:



Mister Kline, ladies and gentlemen. He's not who he appears to be. Nor will you care, one way or the other.

Which brings us to Mikas, who's captured Tony Stark's girlfriend and uses her as a lure for Iron Man:



Mikas has the dubious distinction of heralding Iron Man's first large-format issue that Marvel experimented with in 1971. Since all titles in this format were released at the same time, Marvel presumably wanted to put its best foot forward with each mag--which is one reason why this issue is disappointing, because it arguably didn't meet that expectation. Given Marvel's press on this format, I think readers were really expecting these titles to take it up a notch--but this issue of Iron Man got the short end of the stick in that respect. For one thing, "Doomprayer" is a regular-sized 20-page story--the rest of the issue is filled with a reprint of an old Giant-Man story from 1964. You don't exactly come away from an issue like that ready to plunk down change for the next large-format issue.

And the story itself? The way that it's spinning its wheels, it's like there's a lot happening yet you feel that there's really nothing happening. It's a good example of Conway's "one step forward, two steps back" approach that he often takes in order to heighten a story's drama--where the hero makes some headway against the foe, only to face a slap-down in the following panels with the antagonist reaffirming his threat level. And while there may not be much actual story in this large issue, there's a good deal of slap-down going on:





Which brings us to another point: Iron Man may be having trouble with Mikas, but he could probably give the Energizer Bunny a run for his money. Because since this battle began, Iron Man's power has been drained and he's running on empty--yet he still manages to make power plays with his strength, his boot jets, and his repulsor rays, all while whining about how he doesn't have any power to wage a battle. This guy's unknowingly solved our energy independence problem, because he's obviously found a way to draw a lot of power from powerless circuits.

At any rate, Mikas plays his trump card (not that he needs a trump card, at this point) and introduces "Doomprayer":



Yes, a giant serpent. Don't laugh. As much trouble as Iron Man had with Princess Python, my money's on Doomprayer. And you might as well get used to grandiose names like "Doomprayer" when Gerry Conway is around. That's an odd name for a snake, I agree; personally I would have chosen something like "Slithertail" or "Venom." Mikas likes to call himself "Soulfather," for whatever reason.  (Probably to keep Mister Kline from snagging it for himself.) But these names will be moot in a moment, because before Doomprayer can lunge, Iron Man incinerates Mikas, Doomprayer, and the entire base:



If I ever find myself low on power, you'd better believe I'm running a cord to this guy.


Monday, February 18, 2013

To Maraud Once More


Near the end of the Marvel Two-In-One title, there was a story where the Thing was recuperating in a hospital from injuries sustained during two particularly brutal battles. But along with the visits Ben Grimm received from his many comrades-in-arms, there also came calling a number of villains who saw a golden opportunity to take down one of Marvel's charter heroes while he was vulnerable to attack.

The Thing, of course, had no shortage of defenders willing to fight to keep him from harm, which also included a crusty nurse who wasn't about to brook any breach of hospital rules by anyone:



Now, I ask you: given this opportunity for notoreity available to any small-time villain looking for a fast track into the big leagues, what loser do you think is going to try to seize the day here and regain face?

THAT'S RIGHT, IT'S THE RETURN OF:



Yes, once again, Fabian Stankowicz unleashes his identity as the deadly Mechano-Marauder--which, due to either a slip of the writer's pen or an attempt by Fabian to wipe away his association with past defeats, is rechristened the "Mecho-Marauder" for his third time at bat. Unfortunately for Fabian, one of the Thing's friends and visitors is the somewhat more notorious Spider-Man, who encounters the Marauder before he even sets one foot in the hospital:



Fabian is probably the perfect example of John Steinbeck's paraphrased line, "The best-laid plans... Often go awry," though his plans are mapped out in a more general sense than meticulously laid out; yet thorough or not, they certainly have a habit of going awry, since they often hinge on the hasty presumption of his foe's level of resistance. Which explains why Fabian sounds so panicked at having to fight Spider-Man rather than the bed-ridden Thing:



And so we're forced to say a quick adieu to the "Mecho-Marauder":



But even though Fabian is left contained and swinging in a thick coating of webbing, he's no doubt vowing to return with a more foolproof plan. Maybe someone should tell him at this point just who that fool is turning out to be.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

The God and the Getaways


Wow--looks like Thor's in a heated battle on Earth!



What could he be trying to stop?

The Wrecking Crew? A troll invasion? Evil mutants? Skrulls?

Actually, would you believe...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Nine-Tenths Of The Law


I don't think we need to preamble here. Why don't we just go to Condition Red, okay?


Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Repair Dispatcher's Dream


Good lord--what could have been so taxing to the mighty Avengers as to send Jarvis hustling to the medicine cabinet, so that he could have a tray of aspirin at the ready as soon as they got off their elevator?



It wasn't the return of Fabian Stankowicz, but perhaps a situation just as annoying and unexpected.  Not to mention potentially embarrassing.

Beware The Mechano-Marauder!


We so often see the Avengers in life-or-death situations that it's easy to forget about the times when they allow themselves to have a little fun with their roles. Which is where this guy comes in:



Meet Fabian Stankowicz, arch-nemesis of the mighty Avengers--though obviously that title eludes him today. We're not really seeing Fabian at his best here, considering that Iron Man has just finished making short work of him. But at the beginning of this (you'll pardon the exaggeration) "battle," he was perhaps a little more threatening, if only with words:



It's just as well Fabian was out of hearing range of the interior. Because having your deadly threat casually announced by the mansion's butler wouldn't exactly provide Fabian with an ego boost:



So the battle fight scuffle begins. Meanwhile, the other Avengers arrive for that day's main meeting, as if the "Mechano-Marauder" was simply a nuisance:




Leaving only Iron Man to adminster the coup de grĂ¢ce:



Which is where we came in. But as you might have guessed, Fabian doesn't seem like the type who's going to give up after one thrashing:



The next time the Avengers face his awesome might (assuming they ever did the first time), it's at a house party where the Wasp is entertaining some girlfriends she's approached for Avengers membership. And as the hors d'oeuvres and pastries make the rounds, the Mechano-Marauder STRIKES!



You'll notice that Jan isn't exactly screaming in terror:



In short, Fabian has no better luck with prospective Avengers than he did with card-carrying members. Still, at least these people are paying attention to him, if indifferently:



With almost everyone departed, She-Hulk decides to get serious with this clown. And Fabian, always one step ahead of his opponents, has outsmarted her brilliantly, or so it first appears:



Unfortunately, being rooted to the ground puts Fabian in the unfortunate position of having to deal with the hostess of this party. And Jan clearly doesn't care for party crashers:



She-Hulk, by the way, goes on to become accepted for Avengers membership in this very issue. But while the "Mechano-Marauder" may have been a bust, the Avengers may not have seen the last of the his dynamic alter-ego, Fabian Stankowicz.  We'll catch up with him again soon enough.


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