Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Hero Who Wouldn't Die!


When "The Sensational NEW" Captain Marvel ended its five-issue run in late 1970 with issue #21, you can't say they didn't send him out with a bang:



Issue #17, which began the adventures of Mar-vell in his new costume, continued the title's publication schedule without missing a beat, which made it seem to the buyer that Captain Marvel was simply continuing the original series while taking the character in a new direction. But it would only take three more issues before it became apparent that the book was on life support. Its fourth issue, #20, was delayed for a whopping six months, with its cover doing its best to make lemonade out of a lemon:



Another two months would pass before the fifth and, as it turned out, final issue went on sale. Though to hear Marvel tell it, these five issues of Captain Marvel were never meant to be more than a limited run:


Oh, I'm guessing your readers had already rendered their verdict, gentlemen.


Yet, putting aside the spin, I must say that the creative team of writer Roy Thomas, artists Gil Kane and Dan Adkins spared no effort to close this series with a decent issue, featuring a fine matchup between Mar-vell and the Hulk and showcasing each of them nicely. I don't know what kind of an audience its story found at this point, but in hindsight you have to wonder what was fundamentally missing in this character that such talents as Thomas, Kane, and Adkins couldn't pull him out of his nose dive and make the book a top seller. If the character of Captain Marvel was ever going to find his legs, it should have been here, and with these people holding the creative reins.

The story actually begins in the prior issue, where Rick Jones has sought out Bruce Banner at his hidden lab in the desert, in the hope that his old friend can free him of his dual existence with Mar-vell:



Naturally, the closing pages of that issue use a raging Hulk on the verge of attacking Rick to prod readers into picking up the next issue. Which probably gives you an idea of what's wrong with this title: can't Mar-vell close his own issue? Isn't he enough of a draw to sell the next issue of his own mag?

In fact, the Hulk is handled so well in the follow-up scene, you're almost wondering who's supposed to be carrying this story:



With the situation defused, the Hulk changes back, and Banner gets to work on finding access to the Negative Zone. Here, as in a later Avengers story, Thomas finds a reason not to seek assistance directly from Reed Richards, who can basically say "sure, no problem, glad to help" and have Mar-vell out of the Negative Zone before you can say "Annihilus," so we have to swallow that Banner can throw together something from scratch to access the Zone. At least the story provides a further complication, when a colleague that Banner wishes to consult with at a nearby university ("Desert State University"--what else?) is being besieged by student protests, which puts additional strain on an already strained Bruce Banner:



The Hulk, in his rage, lashes out and destroys all the lab equipment that Banner had finished up to that point, dooming the project. And when Rick changes to Mar-vell, who attempts to calm the Hulk--well, Mar-vell isn't going to rack up any sales that way, is he?


Monday, December 30, 2013

Cuando Contraataca El Matador!


Remember the Masked Matador? Wh... you don't?? Why, he was one of Daredevil's most powerful foes!



But Daredevil himself probably holds the same opinion of the Matador as you and I:



The Matador got his start around the same time as Daredevil, and had a rather high opinion of himself as an adversary, though he mainly spent his time conducting thefts and burglaries. But since word was just beginning to get out about Daredevil and public opinion was starting to shape his reputation, it became important to DD to score a win against the Matador, who pretty much made a laughing stock of him in their first encounter:



Things didn't improve for Daredevil when they next met, as the Matador unknowingly took advantage of Daredevil's Achilles heel--fighting him in a roomful of panicking, angry partygoers, which overwhelmed his radar sense:



So finally, DD had the good sense to choose the site of their next meeting--and he's also done his research and discovered the Matador's identity and background. And things take a turn for the worse for our bullfighter:




No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you--the Matador, a skilled bullfighter whose job requires that he constantly get out of the way of a charging bull, doesn't have the presence of mind to simply side-step Daredevil's leap and let the guy ram head-first into that chimney. Caramba.

When the Matador later becomes a charter member of Electro's Emissaries of Evil, he's unfortunately still at a disadvantage relying on that cape of his, which doesn't hamper a blind man in the slightest:




I think at last report, the Matador was hoisting a few cold ones at the Bar With No Name, a watering hole frequented by super-villains. Let's hope that's as close as he gets to getting back into circulation.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Thing's Best Friend


One of the most delightful Marvel tales you'll read comes from the the 2005-2006 series, The Thing, which finds Ben Grimm dealing with his status as a billionaire. In issue #4, writer Dan Slott covers a lot of bases but finally narrows down the story's focus to two fronts: Ben getting some unexpected words of wisdom about materialism from his nephew, as well as a touching look at his bond with Lockjaw, the Inhumans' giant teleporting dog.

Yet, aside from Slott's obvious wish to dote on the title character, "Paws & Fast-Forward" turns out to be an excellent Fantastic Four story, with generous time given to Reed, Sue, their children, and Johnny, and giving us a look at the close-knit family they've become. Most of the story is of course seen from the perspective of the Thing, while dealing in the rest of the FF, the Inhumans, and its obligatory villain as needed. I'd say the story is roughly 3 parts characterization and 1 part battle, which is a balance I found I could easily live with. At the end of it, I was pleasantly amazed that all of it could fit so neatly into one issue, and still manage to be so satisfying and entertaining.

It's Lockjaw that actually starts our story, when an exercise involving Karnak results in a piece of lunar shrapnel being embedded in the dog's skin:



Lockjaw seeks out members of the royal family, one by one, for assistance in dislodging the piece of marble, but surprisingly gets no sympathy, with no one realizing he's been wounded and the assumption being made that he's just stirring up trouble. It's really the only part of the story I didn't care for, as Lockjaw has often been a more than valuable part of their group and is basically treated like dirt by everyone:



I must say, though, that being rebuffed by the Watcher had its element of humor:



And so, with a glance at the Earth, Lockjaw heads to the Fantastic Four for help--but, unfortunately, he finds everyone on the team so involved with their own concerns that they don't even notice him. Tell me this team doesn't need glasses, not to notice Lockjaw, for Pete's sake. On the other hand, in a way it's a tip of the hat to how much the Fantastic Four have experienced in their career and the sights they've simply grown used to. But at least there's one member of the team with a good heart, and who's "roamed" enough with Lockjaw to always offer him some attention:


"And they called it--puppy love." -- Donny Osmond

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The World's Fastest Man--Or Not


Gosh--ordinarily, this would make a great "Avengers charging into battle" scene, wouldn't it?



But actually, it's more like four against one, as the Avengers are out to get one of their own:



Remember the good old days when Avengers attacked each other for no good reason at all? Goliath, as Hawkeye, having worked with Quicksilver as members of the first group of replacement Avengers, is certainly familiar enough with Pietro's posturing and arrogance, to say nothing of possessing his own generous supply of cockiness, so you'd think he'd give Pietro the benefit of the doubt here--maybe even say, oh, I don't know, "What's up, Quickie?" Instead, his first instinct is to attack a former Avenger who's just arrived on the scene--one who, Goliath knows bloody well, has issued no threat whatsoever.

But what's done is done. While we're at it, let's bring in another unlikely source of aggression against Pietro: Captain America, who, instead of putting the brakes on Goliath's attack, figures the best way to stop the unnecessary fighting is to escalate the unnecessary fighting:




Serves him right. It's too bad the Panther's voice of reason is muffled by that mask he wears. Maybe he should go back to wearing the half-mask he wore when he first joined the team.

But, back to the skirmish--we can't have Quicksilver triumphant against the Avengers, can we? After all, the two words "Quicksilver" and "triumphant" are almost never used in a sentence together. He's been clobbered by Spider-Man; heck, he's been clobbered by just about anyone he goes up against. Super-speed is one lousy power for someone in the Marvel universe, where it only works well when the story needs it to work well. For instance, you probably didn't know that a super-speedster would have no defense against mere swiftness:



So I doubt we'll see the Avengers actually lose this scuffle with Pietro. In fact, with Pietro's track record (heh heh, "track" record), I wouldn't be surprised if he defeated himself:


Sigh.


Jeez, Pietro. Do we need to get an old super-speedster to show you how to take out the Vision?



Still, for a few fleeting panels, Quicksilver was doing pretty well against his fellow Avengers. So let's see how he does against another super-team, hmm?



Okay, who's putting money down on Pietro? Come on, be a sport!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Speak, Lockjaw! Speak, Boy!


In the third issue of The Thing, published in late 1983, you may remember writer John Byrne coming up with this interesting twist to the Inhumans' dimension-traveling dog, Lockjaw, where he becomes an Inhuman in more than just name only:



Lockjaw, it seemed, had undergone the same traditional exposure to the Terrigen mists, the substance which select Inhumans are exposed to in order to gain the enhanced appearance and abilities indicative of the Inhuman race. Lockjaw, according to Byrne, was now revealed to be not a mere dog (er, with a grip of iron and dimension-spanning abilities), but another member of this hidden race that had been exposed to the Terrigen mists.

But in a 1991 X-Factor story, writer Peter David dismantled Byrne's refit of Lockjaw with--what else?--a humorous take on the revelation, thanks to Quicksilver:



Except that there are details to the incident in question that don't mesh with David's interpretation.

In the original situation, Pietro plans to expose his daughter to the Terrigen mists because he considers her being wholly human a serious drawback. At the request of Luna's mother, Crystal, the Thing has come to prevent Pietro from going through with his plan. Pietro, however, is adamant; but he's either unaware of or choosing to ignore the fact that exposure to the mists produces haphazard results, and that there's no way to know how the subject will be affected. A fact that finally hits home with him when Lockjaw steps forward:



Ben, as well, is stunned by the news--which, at the time of the story's publication, explains much about the Inhumans not only to him but also to us. But he uses the opportunity to hammer in the message for Pietro that he might want to count his blessings with Luna as she is, instead of unilaterally deciding otherwise:



So it really doesn't make sense that Karnak and Gorgon (to whom it probably would never occur to play a practical joke on anyone, assuming they even knew what one was in the first place) would have so little regard for Crystal as to choose such a tense and obviously delicate situation to duck out of sight, break out their little transmitter and have some fun with the Thing. And I highly doubt that they'd have the presence of mind to take advantage of the same setup and think to use Lockjaw to defuse the situation with Pietro at the same time. That would be an incredible roll of the dice at the worst possible time.

Fortunately, in Byrne's version, we can assume that Gorgon and Karnak have the good sense to 86 their little prank until this crisis had passed; and I rather enjoyed Byrne's new take on Lockjaw, even thinking to make it clear that it would be a rare day when Lockjaw's voice would be used to any degree. But a moot point, since David effectively returned Lockjaw to being a dog through and through--and in another story, we'll see how well Lockjaw works as a concept when he's merely (Inhu)man's best friend.

Sword Under The Stones


Can YOU


Name This Marvel Villain??

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

'Twas The Night Before Christmas


We've come to the end of our special Christmas-themed posts, and perhaps there's no better way of concluding this series than to celebrate Christmas Eve with the birth of a very special son.

Though this probably isn't the son who first comes to mind.



Shortly after Dracula's battle with Dr. Strange, the lord of vampires took control of a satanic church cult in order to expand his sphere of influence in the states:



When he revealed himself to the satanists who would be his new followers, they were involved in a ritual which would offer up one of their own, a woman named Domini, as Satan's bride. Yet, due to Dracula's timely arrival during the ceremony, as well as his display of his own powers, the gathering mistakingly believed Dracula to be their "Dark Lord," Satan. And he decided to alter his plans accordingly, including taking Domini as his own.



Unexpectedly, Dracula's bond with Domini grew to the point where he came to care for her a great deal. And while the cult's high priest, Anton Lupeski, knew that Dracula was indeed not Satan, he realized that he could still make use of the vampire's relationship with Domini to enhance his own power base. And so another ritual was invoked--one that would implant a child within Domini, to be born on December 25.




And so we skip ahead nine months, to the eve before that very date. But forces are at work which might make this night anything but peaceful for the expectant father.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Home For The Holidays


Generation X had something of a subdued Christmas Eve in its twenty-fourth issue--where, instead of high-spirited snowball fights or grand gatherings of X-folk, the female members of the team take refuge in Monaco from the anti-mutant hysteria in the states and get to know each other a little better. Though, compared to her younger charges, Emma Frost opens the story with a far more profound interpretation of the holidays:



Together with Monet St. Croix, Paige Guthrie, and Jubilee, you'd almost expect Emma's opening thoughts to dictate a night of Christmas remembrances amongst the four. But we soon see that Jubilee's frankness derails that train of thought:



Instead, the theme of the issue takes a different tack, with Jubilee nudging everyone in the direction of bonding, if informally:



And so we go in another direction from Christmas altogether, pursuing what seems the perfect ice-breaker for "tell[ing] each other anything...even things we never told another person": in this case, how each of them experienced the first manifestation of their power.

For Jubilee, the time came when she and her BFF were a couple of skater mall rats using that particular locale as their own personal skater park, paying little heed to shoppers and recklessly evading security. Only one day, Jubilee took a wrong turn and boxed herself in, with the cops catching up to her and closing in:



Monet, on the other hand--probably to no one's surprise, as much of an enigma as she's been to her classmates--manufactures a story putting her discovery of her powers in the best possible light, with the only thing missing being a ticker tape parade in her honor. Unknown to the other three in the room, however, Monet receives a visit and reprimand from Marius, her brother who's imprisoned in another dimension:



Monet's history is convoluted, to say the least, and would take awhile to play out in Generation X. But the story is content to maintain the status quo where she's concerned, with only a wry comment from Jubilee once Marius's secret presence has been banished:



Next up at bat is Paige, whose power as Husk I've never found either appealing or much of an asset to an X-team. Paige's story of her beginnings is short and sweet--her brother, Sam (as Cannonball) has already discovered his power and travelled to enroll at Xavier's school, and Paige is eager to see what abilities she'll have. And on her thirteenth birthday, her prayers are answered:



Not really feeling the thrill with you here, Paige. By the way, have fun cleaning up your discarded skin from now on.

Finally, we come to Emma, whose beginnings are not unexpectedly darker than those of the others. And while frank with her story, she's nevertheless selective in the details she chooses to include:



It was often a struggle for me to read Generation X, finally stopping well short of completing its run and pulling the plug on it around issue #35. But this issue was a bit of order tucked within its chaotic direction and characters--nothing really too deep or compelling, but a nice read to pass the time. In fact, why not just let the ladies close it out here, since they seem to reflect that general feeling.


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