Friday, January 29, 2016

A God Berserk!


While we've previously posed a trivia question on the identity of the golden-hued being that the mighty Thor is engaged in battle with here:


... it's likely you felt a little short-changed, since the question's answer failed to include the bludgeoning battle itself! And that would be regrettable, since what we're talking about here is:


Thursday, January 28, 2016

We're SHIELD... You YIELD


The second 8-issue series of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, which started hitting the racks at the tail end of 2006, begins at the point where the Vision has just been inducted as a new member of the Avengers, though the first issue reveals to us a startling development taking place behind the scenes of the events that originally took place in the book in late 1968--the arrest of the Vision by armed S.H.I.E.L.D. agents without warning or provocation.

At this point in time, the Avengers team consists of its new chairman, Goliath, along with Hawkeye, the Wasp, the Black Panther, and of course their most recent member, the Vision, an assembly which gives writer Joe Casey ample opportunity to see how this new lineup will handle its dealings with government oversight and its ties with SHIELD--with the latter, as we've seen, used to assuming an air of authority whenever it's deemed to be necessary. Now that it's evolved beyond a rotating post, Avengers chairmanship is an entirely new experience for Goliath--the first original Avenger to return to the team but who almost immediately declined to pull rank and instead deferred to Captain America to continue leadership of the group. Now Goliath finds himself in the position of confronting the abduction of one of his team by SHIELD, without having the more forceful and seasoned resources of Thor, Iron Man, or Cap to help lead the charge in recovering him.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Beauty vs. the Beast


After all the heartache and pain that has come to embody the relationship of Bruce Banner and Betty Ross--and how the incredible Hulk has been at the center of it all, in one way or another--it was only a matter of time before....


...before it drove both of them ABSOLUTELY BONKERS.

Or at least let them find a little long-overdue humor in their situation.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Will Banish Demons For Rent $$$


It's a rare day to see Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, take time out from his duties of guarding the Earth against dimensional incursions to indulge in everyday tasks that Wong probably performs for him--so it's little wonder he would receive a few double-takes from people who happen to pass him on the street as he does a little casual shopping. Though those looks are more likely due to the fact that the good doctor neglected to cast a spell which would have everyone seeing him wear ordinary street clothes, rather than his usual and eye-catching mystic attire.


(*Yes, this is apparently how the residents of Greenwich Village spoke in 1966, daddy-o.)


But let's hope that the man's credit is in good standing with the local vendors--because as astonishing as it is to believe, it seemed that Dr. Strange, disciple to the revered Ancient One and Master of the Mystic Arts, a man who could take on the likes of Nightmare, Baron Mordo, and the dread Dormammu... er, had a slight cash flow problem back in the day.



Strange's account with this good fellow may be in arrears, but at least he finally realized that he needed to cast that clothing spell. It's bad enough if the people you do business with think you're down on your luck--but it's downright embarrassing if people think you're an eccentric on top of that.

Nor can Strange punt to Wong on this one, since it turns out his master is flat broke--and, to make matters worse, in noncompliance with city code, as well. How is Wong going to live this down at this year's Faithful Manservant Convention?



(Wait... Strange rents his sanctum sanctorum??)

And so Wong decides to dish out a little of what we'd refer to today as "tough love." Or, put another way, nothing motivates your master to get off his cloaked butt and start taking care of his personal affairs like a little master-shaming.



We aren't in a position to assess the value of Strange's trinkets, but their sale appears to be a stopgap measure--because Strange finds that in addition to selling items he's gathered from who-knows-where, he now also has to sell his dignity.



Dr. Strange as a nightclub act. Even the Mindless Ones have to be doubling over in laughter at that.

Fortunately, Strange is saved the embarrassment of pulling a rabbit (or maybe a demon) out of a hat in front of the inebriated social set--because when we catch up with him in 1980, he's quite flush, and explaining to his neighbor, Sara Wolfe (who's taken it upon herself to tidy up his desk), why a bank balance of $0.00 only receives a shrug of the shoulders from him.



Something tells me Strange's druggist is now practically tripping over himself to stock his shelves with whatever Strange might need. Still, give Strange about fifteen years, when he's bound to fall under the spell of the behemoth known as Amazon.

As for Sara, she's also scored a pretty flush job thanks to Strange's aversion to deskwork.


Sara's happy... Strange is happy... Wong is doing cartwheels.
And I think it's a good bet that Mordo's vault is missing some gold.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Mission: Arrest The Vision!


Having enjoyed the eight-issue series, Earth's Mightiest Heroes, from 2005, I didn't exactly need my arm twisted to follow up with its eight-issue sequel in 2007, again written by Joe Casey but with art this time by Will Rosado and Tom Palmer. Casey again takes the approach of adding supplemental material to prior Avengers stories in order to create a more complete picture of what we've seen before--this time focusing on the issues dated between 1968-69, when the active Avengers membership brought into the fold both the Vision and the Black Panther.

Essentially, Casey's approach boils down to seeing what makes the Avengers tick behind the scenes, and then blending that information in with the adventures we're already familiar with, giving us new perspective on the Avengers that makes for compelling reading in hindsight. This new series, for instance, picks up with the moment directly after the Vision's tearful induction into the group, with the founding members going on to meet directly afterward in private to review the group's status with the team's current chairman, Goliath.

As he did before, Casey places particular emphasis on the Avengers' relationship with the National Security Council, and with its liaison, Special Agent Murch--perhaps a bit too much emphasis, since these scenes involving security protocols often seem to take precedence over the operations of and interaction between the Avengers themselves. Casey appears to acknowledge the fact as the founders' discussions return to the group's early days and, as Iron Man puts it, the importance of "push[ing] past the public's distrust and all the government red tape to fill [the need for the Avengers]... No matter the cost, we had a job to do...". A statement which, it might be noted, is made behind closed doors.

In the meantime, the Avengers have gained another liaison, this time with S.H.I.E.L.D.--Jasper Sitwell, who was active in the case of the Grim Reaper's attack on the team and also assuming the Panther's guilt in their apparent murder. Normally, SHIELD would not be breathing down the Avengers' necks to the extent that the NSC does; but Casey's storyline with the Vision will have them play a greater role than they might otherwise, as well as making Sitwell a more hard-edged character than longtime readers would ever have thought possible.

For now, though, Casey gives the Vision his due, as the Avengers welcome their newest member into their ranks--with Rosado adding a nice nod to the dramatic ending of that original story.




Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Dead In My Sights: The Coming of Deathlok!


The concept of Deathlok, the Demolisher had apparently been kicking around in the head of artist Rich Buckler for three years before finally premiering as a feature in Astonishing Tales in August of 1974. And while Deathlok might not have gone on to attain the status of super-stardom as a comics character, I was nevertheless impressed with the character that Buckler (and scripter Doug Moench) breathed life into. A cyborg from roughly a decade in the future, the mystery of Deathlok received a generous amount of billing on both the Bullpen Bulletins page as well as a senses-shattering (remember when things at Marvel were senses-shattering?) debut issue cover rendered by Buckler and Klaus Janson.


(Kudos to whoever thought to use a gun scope sighting for the logo's "O"--a nice touch.)


Along with selling Deathlok, the issue's cover also hypes "The Marvel Age of Comics, Phase Two," whatever that entails. It was around the time when the Giant-Size books were getting off the ground; there was a price increase across the board; and Stan Lee's The Origin of Marvel Comics was published. Beyond that, there was nothing else of significance coming down the Marvel pipe. Like many of Marvel's promotional blurbs, this one appears to be just a throw-away line, one that seems to have been retired after this single use of it.

As for the cover's other captions, it's perhaps a stretch at this early stage of the character's appearance to come right out and call Deathlok a superhero, offbeat or otherwise. Deathlok's origin is certainly tragic, and he seeks to break free from those who wish to manipulate him--but while we can sympathize with his circumstances, his actions must give us pause, since a man who becomes a hired and willing killer in order to raise the funds for a medical procedure for himself hardly fits the definition of "hero."

That leaves us with the descriptive epithet of "The Demolisher!" on the cover, which Deathlok probably owes more to creative alliteration and the character's overall attitude than an indication of his modus operandi, which focuses on the quick and efficient liquidation of his targets rather than demolishing them. But judging by his opening splash page, which has a little fun by sensationalizing the character that's being introduced to us, Deathlok will no doubt do a fair amount of demolishing in the course of his deadly work.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

George Perez Joins The Avengers!


My first exposure to the artwork of George Perez was when he helped to launch the Inhumans in their first solo title in October of 1975, a book which he only pencilled for about a third of its short (albeit bimonthly) run and which, by its end, could certainly have used his influence. But the Inhumans' loss turned out to be another team's gain--because in November of that year, Perez would begin his association with a long-standing title where his work would resonate with a larger reading audience.




His first Avengers issue offers a glimpse of Perez's work when it was just beginning to pick up steam, and the world of the Avengers offered more exciting and familiar adventures for him to delineate than could be found in the bizarre, isolated world of the Inhumans. At this point in time, two new Avengers (in the form of Moondragon and the Beast) have applied for membership, which would open the door to simultaneous conflicts with the Squadron Supreme and Kang the Conqueror that would give Perez plenty of room to stretch his legs.



Many of Perez's trademark style touches are present even in these early days. Up to eleven (!) panels per page, which give the reader the impression of a tightly-plotted story packed with action; the jagged, "circuit board" background in a character shot which helps to emphasize shock and/or anger; kaleidoscope panel layouts that nevertheless look well-balanced when placing two full pages side-by-side; and, speaking of backgrounds, those densely-threaded backdrops which make it seem as if the characters within the panel are trapped within a ball of yarn, an unusual choice which I have yet to figure out. Perez's layout style in this Avengers issue is much less conventionally structured than his Inhumans work, which seems like a conscious choice on his part rather than anything the tone of the story might dictate.

The story begins to take shape when Captain America rejoins the group in order to investigate a lead which ties Roxxon Oil with targeting the Beast--while the Avengers are about to conduct a search for Hawkeye, who's trapped in the past.



(Yep--after stalking the Beast at the mansion, Patsy Walker, the soon-to-be Hellcat, makes her first full appearance in the mag.)

Perez gives both Avengers missions their due--first, with Immortus conducting Thor and Moondragon to their destination in the past, though not without incident.



As for the other group, they head with the Beast to the Brand Corporation, his old stomping grounds as one of their researchers. But their raid is interrupted when met by a reception committee, on retainer from another dimension.




It's not the most dynamic display of the Avengers in action, though in all fairness the goal is to take the Avengers out of action as quickly as possible in order for things to get cranked up in the following issue. As a result, the battle is a disappointing one, though Perez does well with what he has to work with. Lady Lark quickly takes out both the Scarlet Witch and Captain America (as well as Patsy); Dr. Spectrum captures the Vision, while Hyperion handles the Beast; and the Whizzer?

No, I don't know how this lame maneuver takes out the likes of Iron Man. It just does.



Perez would go on to make very big strides with the Avengers--on an off, that is, with other artists stepping in for either short (Buscema, Tuska) or extended (Byrne) stints and even inventory stories being used to avoid missed deadlines during his time on the book, before his departure in 1981. Yet it speaks well of his work that, whenever he would choose to return, the welcome mat was always there to greet him.

BONUS:

From August, 1974, Perez's reportedly first published work for the company--a two-page satire in Astonishing Tales which featured scripter Doug Moench and artist Rich Buckler hitting a wall on their new creation, Deathlok.



Monday, January 18, 2016

The Atlanteans Are Coming! The Atlanteans Are Coming!


There's probably little argument that the concept of the Sub-Mariner invading the surface world has become a hackneyed plot that has long since had its day. Seen in a "next issue" caption, the words are likely to produce more of an eye-roll than anticipation. Granted that the land masses of most major cities are bordered by water, making them vulnerable to the incursions of the Atlanteans--but there's more to waging war than being able to emerge on the doorstep of your enemy, particularly when your soldiers are dependent on their water-filled helmets for survival. Atlantis might well be able to make precision strikes against key designated targets--but conquering territory and holding onto it? Namor's forces would be stretched to the limit, and that limit would likely be reached in fairly short order against retaliatory forces.

Perhaps that's one of the reasons why an Atlantean invasion has received so little cover attention over the decades: it's a story that must eventually circle back to Namor, and whether or not he's in it for the long haul or if he simply wants to make a show of force. More often than not, the invasion simply folds its collective tent and goes home.

Yet we still have those few dazzling covers that show Atlantis on the march to war, and most are impressive, indeed. "The Final Defeat of the Human Race!" one boldly proclaims--not true by half, but still an attention-grabber.



It's hard to go wrong with artist John Romita, who drew this cover for a reprint of the story originally appearing in Fantastic Four Annual #1. Namor's goal is at first to deny the surfacemen access to transit by the seas; but by the time his forces take New York City (and thereby hold its residents hostage against retaliation), he means to extend his dominion over the surface of the entire planet. Fortunately, Reed Richards develops a device to force the Atlantean forces back to the sea; and the invasion sputters entirely when Namor intervenes to save Sue Storm's life.

Romita's image of the invasion is focused more on the occupation of New York; but in another cover image which offers a second take on this story, artist John Byrne shifts the focus to the invasion itself.



An equally effective invasion occurs in the pages of issues 103-104. Within those stories, the Atlanteans again secure a strong foothold on the city; but the issues' covers, also by Romita, instead spotlight the FF's struggles with both Namor and Magneto.



It's one of the stranger Atlantean invasion stories, with Magneto usurping command of the Atlantean forces when Namor's back is turned, and then Namor regaining the loyalties of his men simply by proclaiming that they follow his lead again. Apparently the Atlanteans don't really care who issues their orders to fight in a war, which is simply preposterous.

The cover that, for me, hits it out of the park as far as conveying the power we want to see in an Atlantean invasion of the surface world is this one from early 1970 by long-time Sub-Mariner artist Marie Severin.



In this invasion, the lady Dorma has mobilized the Atlantean armies to invade New York in order to rescue Namor, who can no longer breathe underwater and who is being hounded by the authorities; so while it appears that Namor is leading this invasion, he's instead doing all he can to avert a war. Severin strikes the perfect balance.

Artist Rich Buckler gives his own take on an Atlantean invasion when the United Nations takes custody of Namor's alien guest, Tamara, and Namor is rebuffed in attempting to extricate her. The Atlanteans lend Namor their support, and the invasion is on--though their mission is to simply make a show of force in order to rescue Tamara and make it clear that the actions of the surfacemen in such treatment of an Atlantean citizen will not be tolerated. The invasion, however, escalates due to one of Namor's more outspoken warlords having his own agenda.



Finally, Namor and practically everyone in Atlantis are prodded to war with the surface world by a woman who appears to be Dorma, brought back to life (though in reality it's Nebulon, the Celestial Man, in disguise). The invasion takes place in London (for, it seems, no particular reason--maybe because Atlantis hasn't had the best of luck in New York). It only takes Namor an hour to conquer the city, which is probably why the issue's cover by Ron Wilson and Al Milgrom doesn't present much in the way of Atlantean military might.



It does, however, present the Hellcat battling with the Defenders, even though it's the Son of Satan who instead stands with the team this time around. We can assume that Wilson either got the two mixed up--or Patsy, after hearing reports of another Atlantean invasion, responded with an eye-roll.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Where's Amadeus Cho When We Need Him??


It's no wonder that many kids find comic books so appealing and interesting, since comics offer an outlook for young people that acknowledges their abilities and factors them into the adult world that they often strive to be included in. If that's truly the case, then many of these young comics readers would probably fork over a good portion of their allowance to be included in the Future Foundation, the "think tank" project developed by Reed Richards to nurture and develop the young minds of several different Earth species in order to address the world's problems. (Hopefully Reed also understands the importance of a little concept called "recess," which even the most diligent of young minds can benefit from to clear their head.)

I don't recall anything specific that preoccupied my thinking in my pre-teens, but I guarantee you that coming up with a plan to seal off my home dimension from being overrun by an "annihilation wave" of over a billion hostiles while the clock was ticking wasn't a priority. Your mileage may vary.



To break this down: Annihilus and his army of... of... well, bug-eyed monsters, as they used to say in the '70s--are on the verge of breaking into our world from the Negative Zone, using the portal that Reed Richards has established in the Baxter Building. The controls in Reed's lab that would activate the solid shielding to seal that entrance have been destroyed by the initial incursion--and the only way to do so now is to use the locked-down console that Reed has established on the other side, within the Zone. We can discuss later the sheer stupidity of having a ready-and-waiting console just sitting in the Zone for Annihilus or any other creature to take their time studying and hacking into in order to gain entrance to Earth, in spite of however many redundant blocks Reed has installed in it to foil the attempt. Reed is brilliant, yes--but more brilliant than any other being of any other species in another universe? That's, ahem, stretching it a bit, to say nothing of being a tad presumptuous on his part. Necessity being the mother of invention isn't a concept exclusive to our universe.

But be that as it may--while Ben Grimm, Johnny Storm, and Franklin Richards keep the invading forces at bay, the Future Foundation's "task force" of Valeria Richards, Artie Maddicks, Alex Power, one of the Moloid children, and Bentley-23 confer on their options. And time is running out.





Now you're talking, Bentley--let's nuke the site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure! Frankly, it's a little chilling to see a member of this think tank skip right to the nuclear option. Who does he think he is, an adult?? Consider also that this kid has just miscalculated when factoring in Annihilus' use of his cosmic control rod, which would make Annihilus more dangerous, more likely to penetrate the barrier, not less--yet Bentley has used that information to take their chances of stopping Annihilus from .008% to .05%, which, if I have the math right, reflects an increase in their chances of preventing his entry. That should give Annihilus a good laugh as he's slaughtering everyone in the Baxter Building.

Still, let's see what everyone else thinks of the Ripley/Cpl. Hicks option:



Well, at least Bentley's calculations are back on track. And aren't we all glad to trust our future well-being to a generation that becomes all giddy at the thought of building bombs?? The more things change, eh?

But let's be realistic: This task force has done a bang-up job of exploring the options, but has still come up with squat. Unfortunately, their options are now reduced to one:





This of course leads to Johnny being the one who chooses to remain behind, sacrificing himself by pitting his power against the hordes of Annihilus and having his death mark the penultimate issue of the Fantastic Four title (though there will be a 50th anniversary issue following the "final" issue). The thing that always bothered me about that sacrifice was: Once Johnny used the console to seal the portal permanently, his job was done, right? So what was the point of taking on Annihilus and his army? Why not use his power to fly away at blazing speed and escape? There's no point in making a last stand if there's nothing and no one to defend, is there?

As for the Future Foundation, Reed, Ben, and Sue (and Spider-Man) become the core group to more formally represent the concept:


(And hopefully keep their young charges from getting into the nuclear cookie jar.)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Here's To Surviving The Experience


I had stopped collecting Uncanny X-Men long before December of 2011 was crossed off on my calendar, so I'm afraid I don't have a point of view on what the quality of the book was at the time. Suffice to say that, like other titles whose issue numbering was reaching into the stratosphere, the axe finally came down on UXM and drew the curtain on a nearly fifty-year span of Marvel history.



As its cover implies, the last issue comes full circle, at least symbolically. The tone of the story, however, is not of celebration or nostalgia, but a sign of changing times, and how the X-Men--as a concept and as a team--will face the future.

The story basically provides us with a general sense of where things stand, enough to bring us up to date without including the details of prior issues. It would seem part of the team is abandoning their "Utopia" base off the coast of San Francisco (a remnant of Magneto's orbiting asteroid base which fell to Earth and was recovered and adapted for the team's use), with Wolverine taking a group of its inhabitants and relocating to Westchester County in New York to reboot the Xavier school and likely rename it--while Cyclops, Emma Frost, Storm, Magneto, Colossus, et al. will remain on Utopia. It's a curious step to take.  Since the whole point of the naming of Utopia was to regard it as a safe haven for the mutants who remained and were in need of sanctuary after the events of M Day, there doesn't seem to be much point to retaining that name if a large segment of its population is abandoning it--but what do I know.

As to how much has changed in those changing times that were previously referred to, the story addresses the point succinctly in a very clever side-by-side look featuring the introduction from issue #1, adapted for its counterpart here at the team's crossroads.



The frank comparison would seem to paint a grim picture of the X-Men's evolution as well as the team's state of affairs as it prepares to take its next step. On the other hand, the fact that there is a next step to take, even in the face of all that's happened to the X-Men as well as to the mutant race, offers a peculiar feeling of optimism as everyone prepares to depart. The perfect contrast between these two points of view can be seen in the interaction between the dour Cyclops and the more light-hearted Iceman, who as charter members of the X-Men go as far back as two men--two friends--can.




Filling in the gaps where needed and acting to provide perspective of a sort is Mr. Sinister, who injects a more formal reflection of the X-Men's activities which led them to this point, as well as looking down the road toward their future (though in a decidedly different manner than Cyclops). Sinister has arguably been a conspicuous presence in this book for quite awhile, at times moving key personnel of the X-Men around like chess pieces in his manipulation of their lives. In his musings, that's made quite clear, as is his almost intimate familiarity with the characters he speaks of.





As for Scott Summers, whatever events have led to this decision to split the team's ranks have left their mark. On Scott... certainly on Wolverine... as well as one other for whom this occasion should mean as much as it does to Iceman. But we'll find no quick wit in Hank McCoy this day, except in the form of innuendo.



Though leave it to Bobby Drake to attempt to lighten the mood:




Sinister's mood is also light, seemingly untouched by whatever setbacks he may have experienced in the past and taking an almost personal interest in a team of mutants which has retained his focus for so long. I would hate for this ending to write finis to the career of Mr. Sinister; fortunately, by all appearances, he has every intention of continuing on.




And Scott? As he packs away mementos of days (and years) gone by, he'll continue on, as well--but this time, in his own way, and at his own direction. It's a moment that first page of the story has prepared us for--and by the time it arrives, we're ready to acknowledge it with him. It's a poignant close to the story, since mementos, after all, need not necessarily be reminders.




BONUS:
Artist Greg Land's double-page spread of this issue's variant cover image!


This puppy is pretty crammed with X-Men memories--
but is there anything missing that you feel should have been included?
(No Shi'ar? No "fastball special"?)

Uncanny X-Men #544

Script: Kieron Gillen
Pencils: Greg Land
Inks: Jay Leisten
Letterer: Joe Caramagna

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