Monday, September 30, 2013

Jasper Sitwell Is On The Job


Wow! Things didn't look so hot for Iron Man after Part 1 of his battle in the nation's capital with Ultimo. The gargantuan android had just finished applying so much pressure to IM's armor that the Avenger was left non-functional and slumped on the White House lawn, as his foe continued on to its target. And worse, Tony Stark was apparently suffering from heart trouble again. Things looked hopeless as far as saving Washington from Ultimo's rampage.

Still, looking at the issue's cover, you'd think Iron Man was all ready for Round Two:



Unfortunately, he's not there yet. But thank goodness he has friends in high places--in this case, an approaching SHIELD jet which opens fire on Ultimo, and then circles around to land and get Iron Man to safety. And for Iron Man, even through his haze, there can be no doubt of his benefactor's identity:



Yes, you read that correctly--Tony Stark recommending a nuclear strike on Ultimo. There's nothing like wiping out your enemy by wiping out the city he's attacking--and the center of government, at that. I think it's safe to say we wouldn't want Stark to become the director of SHIELD anytime soon. Unfortunately, that ship is due to sail in a few years. I'm amazed we're all still here to talk about it.

Anyway, while Sitwell's ship lures Ultimo away from the Capitol, the resourceful SHIELD agent has had Iron Man plugged in to the ship and charging up. And despite Sitwell's objections, Iron Man re-engages the deadly engine of destruction that almost crushed him like a sardine can:



But even though he hurls himself back into the fray, Iron Man knows that, realistically, his chances against Ultimo are slim, given the current shape he's in:



And so Iron Man executes a series of strikes that are meant to focus Ultimo's attention totally on him, while he in turn begins burrowing down beneath the ground in order to carry out a plan:



In case you haven't noticed, Iron Man's tactic is simply a variation of the one he used to defeat Ultimo during their first meeting--goading the behemoth to use its destructive eye beams to trigger a volcanic eruption. In this case, lo and behold, there just happens to be a "volcanic fault" below Washington, D.C. which Iron Man is making use of. Not exactly the best location for your country's government to be sitting on, and the news of which will probably raise a few eyebrows at the N.S.A.--but for Iron Man, whose jets carry him out of harm's way, it's a tailor-made trap for Ultimo:



Yet, Ultimo has proven able to withstand such blasts and then lapse into dormancy, so we can probably expect the giant to return to threaten Iron Man and the world anew. Only the next time we cross paths with Ultimo, we'll find not only a more formidable killing machine, but also new wrinkles in his origin that have him seeking the deaths of the entire population of the Earth--a rampage not even a quintet of Iron Men may be able to halt.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Before There Was Ultron, There Was--Ultimo!


I don't know why Joss Whedon made such a knee-jerk choice of Ultron as the principal villain in the next Avengers film. If he was so keen on snagging a villain that had a cool "Ult..." sound to their name, apparently he didn't have the presence of mind to go back far enough in Marvel history, since a classic Marvel villain--a tool of the evil Mandarin--was already lumbering around and causing trouble, wreaking havoc with unimaginable power. And since I know that Whedon follows this blog*, I know that he's going to slap his hand against his forehead after reading this post. Hard.

Because BEFORE THERE WAS ULTRON, THERE WAS:



Oh, sure, go ahead--I can hear your guffaws now. "HAR HAR HAR!" you're bellowing. "ULTIMO!? Come on, all you have to do to beat him is to drop him in a volcano!"

Okay, you may have a point there. The destructive force of a volcano has been used more often than not to deal with Ultimo's threat--and, man, there always seems to be a volcano around when a hero needs one. It all started when we were led to believe it was the Mandarin who secretly built and empowered this android, prepping it in a dormant volcano before finally siccing him on the Red Chinese when their army wanted to conscript the Mandarin's services:



And afterward, when the Mandarin captured Tony Stark from the States and bragged to him about next turning Ultimo loose on the world, Iron Man entered the fray and found himself outclassed:



But since Ultimo emerged from a dormant volcano, Iron Man cleverly used the android's deadly eye beams to reactivate the volcano and catch the gargantuan android in the blast:



So despite the incredible destructive power of Ultimo, apparently he's no match for Mother Nature. In fact, Thor also made use of the strategy when the Avengers fought the Mandarin's forces in South America:




So we can assume that the destructive power of an erupting volcano can incapacitate Ultimo, yet ultimately (heh, get it?) only encrypt him until a bad guy salvages him. No, I don't know how Ultimo emerged from a volcano in South America when he had been buried in one located in east Asia. But since the Mandarin often uses a teleportation ray, he probably teleported Ultimo to the new location--just as he moved him back when he needed the android to battle the Yellow Claw, who had usurped control of his castle fortress:




Iron Man was present then, too, and had Sunfire's help in beating Ultimo:




Okay, so you're probably thinking that Ultimo isn't all that hard for Iron Man to put away, so why would Whedon want this loser in the next Avengers film except as a warm-up? Well, hold that thought--because when writer Bill Mantlo steps aboard Invincible Iron Man as the book's regular writer, he gives Iron Man his first knock-down drag-out with this behemoth. And with Ultimo threatening the nation's capital, as the Titanium Man had once done, the stakes for defeating this creature are high, indeed.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

To Snare The X-Men!


Shortly after the X-Men's first battle with the mutant-hunting Sentinels, the team was in a pretty poor state--particularly the Beast and Iceman, who had to be checked out at the hospital. Iceman, unfortunately, was soon listed in critical condition, with his icy form making it nearly impossible to administer treatment to him or even to assess vital signs.

Of course, if you think the X-Men are going to catch a break just because they're laid up in the hospital, I have some condominium properties in the Everglades I'd like to sell you. It doesn't take long for a new crisis to arise--though in the form of the Angel's parents, who are on the way to Prof. Xavier's school for an unscheduled visit. And so the Prof sends Warren flying back to the school, but for an unexpected reason--to investigate a feeling of danger he's been sensing from there recently. I guess it wouldn't do for Warren's parents to drive into a trap.

So, instead, let's watch as the Angel flies into one:



Annnnnd... one down.


Having lost contact with the Angel, Xavier takes Cyclops and heads back to the school, where the Prof encounters a mental barrier that prevents him from probing further--which means that these two have to take the old-fashioned approach. And there's nothing a hidden villain likes better than for their targets to walk right in through the front door:




Cyclops finds that the shield has been specially treated to repel his optic blasts, so the Prof is out for the count. I'm also embarrassed to add that one need only deal with Cyclops by flipping the light switch:



Three down.


It seems clear that our hidden foe has planned well, turning the X-Men's school into a deadly trap. And what should one do when you don't hear from three of your team members and you suspect a trap awaiting you? Why, you charge right in, that's what:



And when the Beast hurtles into a waiting cell, Marvel Girl doesn't have long to wait before their attacker turns his attention to her:



Five down. And with Iceman out of commission, our villain prepares to send his current captives to their doom inside a steel gondola:



This villain doesn't read many comic books, does he? Because by sending his victims off in an elaborate death trap, he all but guarantees their eventual return, the ninny. I'm sure you and I are asking the same question here: since the goal is their deaths, why doesn't he just off them right there? I guess you and I are a little more bloodthirsty than your typical villain; I choose to look at it as being more efficient. Anyway, let's get to the question we really want the answer to:


Thursday, September 26, 2013

When Orderlies Attack!


We've come to Stan Lee's final issue, as writer of his flagship title of the Marvel line, Fantastic Four. In a two-part story beginning with "The Return of the Monster!", Lee brings back the "monster from the lost lagoon" he and artist Jack Kirby introduced in issue #97, a super-strong but misunderstood being from another world who was only attempting to repair his crashed ship and secure supplies so that he and his mate could get back into space. Yet now, he's returned and mysteriously kidnapped Sue Richards--and at the end of Part 1, Lee didn't exactly leave our heroes in much of a position to meet this menace.

In a way, this issue of Fantastic Four is an example of how the comic would lose its innocence with Lee's departure. Obvously it wouldn't "read" the same, with Roy Thomas and subsequent writers giving their own take on the foursome; but Thomas, Gerry Conway, et al. seemed so eager to bring Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Sue into contemporary times that in the process they compromised the strong foundation that Lee had given these characters. For instance, Thomas almost immediately had Sue and Reed experiencing marital troubles, which would only get worse and drag the book down like a lead weight; and while you'll get no argument from me that Sue needed much more dimension than Lee gave her, there are other, more intriguing ways of doing that rather than taking the easy road of sowing discord with a husband and wife, particularly given the relationship that's been built between these two for over 120 issues.

Lee, on the other hand, wrote comics, not novellas--and these characters were able to thrive within that world. The FF didn't have to struggle to conform to the "real" world that the rest of us lived in--they had their own world that we enjoyed escaping to. Lee had his dry spells, like any other writer--but he wrote some compelling scenes for the FF, a team that even in the worst of times pulled it together when they needed to. And he was a master of balancing the light-hearted with the drama, the human with the hero:




And so, where did Lee leave us, and these heroes--in this, his last story as regular writer of the book? Well, Reed was certainly in no shape to play hero:



And Ben and Johnny were only just beginning to fit the pieces of the puzzle together, finally making some headway in identifying their foe:




As for Sue, given the state she was left in, she'd be a natural for "The Perils of Pauline":



So Stan had better get busy, because he already has one foot out the door, remember?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Return of the Monster!


In mid-1972, Stan Lee was to write his final story for Fantastic Four as well as wrap up his stint on Amazing Spider-Man. (He had already departed Mighty Thor a year earlier.) It was a changing of the guard at Marvel, and Lee was opening the door for the next generation of Marvel writers who would bring their own vision to Marvel characters during the 1970s. Of course, since Lee had ushered in the "Marvel Age of Comics" with Fantastic Four, it was only natural to be a little curious as to how he'd handle his departure from the book which played such a part in establishing such a visible role for him in the medium.

Yet, as I recall, it was all rather understated. Lee prepared a special Bulletins column in the subsequent issue, announcing promotions for Roy Thomas and Frank Giacoia, new titles coming down the pipe, and his own pivoting to development of new product; and there was a special note in the letters page that noted Lee's contribution which also served to pass the torch to new FF scripter Thomas. But readers seemed to take it all in stride--a "seamless transition" in business terms, which any publishing company would be delighted with.

Lee's final stories were certainly as seamless as they come--and in Fantastic Four, his departure tale was neither too much nor too little in terms of good, solid creative product. It even brought back a character who was somewhat unremarkable in his one-shot appearance two years prior:



At that time, the so-called "monster" was a being from another world, who operated near an ocenarium in order to secure supplies of water for his return trip. But now, Lee brings him back for a two-part story--with a provocative cover that gives new life to what had been essentially a dead-end character, combined with all the salesmanship you'd expect from a Stan Lee story:



Come on, look at all those questions--you know you've just gotta get the answers!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

You, Too, Can Ooze Sexual Arm Power


To my credit, I never fell for this ad that appeared in a late 1971 comic book I'd bought:



It sure wasn't for the ad's lack of trying, because this puppy pulled out all the stops.

"Slip on these Strong Arm Bracelets--and instantly, in a second, your arms start oozing 100% more power! Your body takes on the appearance of ferocious strength--striking fear and terror into anyone who even thinks of attacking you!"

And that's only one second after putting these wrist bands on! Though the wearer is probably going to be interested in a hell of a lot more than "oozing" power. Still, it seems obvious that you're going to look like this guy, right? I wasn't really on board with striking fear and terror into people, though--on the other hand, I guess I should be prepared since apparently people are walking around thinking of attacking me.

"Your manhood and virility 'comes alive' and across swiftly to women--they instantly sense your sexual power and want to be in your arms!"

Jeez, maybe this comic should have been rated PG! I think at the time I was more interested in the story inside this comic book, rather than finding ways to get sexual power. I guess my priorities were mixed up. But it's never too early to start thinking about sexual power, is it? Why did they put "comes alive" in quotation marks? I think the ship has sailed with indications of dubious meaning by this point, hasn't it?

"These genuine leather and gold-toned lead weights are the latest in 'MOD' fashions. They go well with all your clothes, turning them into vigorous-looking styles! You 'come alive' with muscle and sex appeal!"

Wow, more sex appeal. Sure, I'll take all I can get, why not. Remember when "mod" was slang for "contemporary" and "progressive"? But I think wearing lead wrist bands to school is probably pushing it. On the other hand, it's one sure way to test my new arm power when all the kids get together to beat me up for thinking I have arm power.

"NO EXERCISE--NO SWEAT TO CREATE ARM POWER!" That's all in caps--it must be on the level! Wait a second--what's this? "Wear them anywhere--anytime--and they turn every arm movement into an instant arm builder! They build ferocious rugged power for any sport--yes, including KARATE!"

What's this "build" stuff? I thought my arm power was going to happen "instantly, in a second"? I mean, look at what they did for the guy in the pic.

"If you don't turn on the power fast return them for a full refund. Fair? START NOW TO BECOME MORE OF A MAN IN SECONDS!"

That's better--they said "seconds" again, and in caps. There's even a full refund if they don't work. It's legit, alright.

But I didn't read any of this copy. Instead, I couldn't help but notice--why was this guy's upper body tanned and sweaty, while his lower body wasn't? And neither was his neck or face! Foul! Foul! Reel me in with clever wording, but never try to run a Photoshop job by me--even if "photoshopping" wasn't even a verb yet.

Monday, September 23, 2013

All Rise


Characters who, for no good reason, became






Janet Van Dyne:



Meteor Man:


(I'm guessing throwing Giant-Man into the mix had something to do with that one.)





Yellowjacket:


Jeez, Hank--Yellowjacket or Goliath. You have to pick one.


Power Man:



Adam Warlock:


An explanation didn't make this one easier to swallow:



Maelstrom:



Doctor Doom:


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Through A Mirror Darkly!


The cover of Tomb of Dracula #4 gets a bit ahead of itself, with its image of the "bride of Dracula" joining the Count on his nightly hunting rounds. The woman in question actually doesn't appear until the next issue--and even so, the graphic takes a bit of dramatic license. The female vampire, Lenore, is hardly Dracula's bride--in fact, until now, she had been kept preserved in a bottle of blood in Dracula's castle until he might have need of her. We never find out what prompted Dracula to imprison her thus--but I doubt it was in celebration of nuptials. Also, the attacks pictured take place while the two are hunting separately, nor is Lenore the female vampire involved. Instead, it was an old woman--and though a former model, I don't suppose Marvel thought that she would pass as Dracula's bride at her present age.

Still, it's a Neal Adams cover--I'm not going to complain, are you?

It was probably just miscommunication--which is understandable, since the series was still floating writers at this point, until Marv Wolfman would finally take the reins for good three issues later. There's also the possibility that the hook of meeting "The Bride Of Dracula!"--particularly for a new comic trying to find its audience--was too valuable a selling tool to quibble about the cover's accuracy.

But while this story is shared by a supernatural element--a dark mirror which transports one to a different time or, otherwise, to their doom--the horror aspect can be found in Ilsa Strangway's story, an aging beauty who risks her life to strike a bargain with the master of the undead.


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