Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Final Fate of The Bride of Doom!

We've taken a look at the brief story of Helena, a woman living in Latveria who was summoned by Victor Von Doom to become his bride, only to play a much larger role in a scheme that would entrap the Silver Surfer and compel him to destroy the Fantastic Four. It was Helena's uncanny resemblance to the Surfer's lost love, Shalla Bal, that allowed Doom to manipulate the Surfer, a plan facilitated by Doom suppressing her memories so that her true identity remained a mystery to her. Fortunately, her interaction with the Surfer restored those memories and allowed her to confirm that she was not the woman the Surfer believed she was, in time for the Surfer to join the FF in bringing an end to Doom's plot.

Unknown to anyone, however, was that "Helena" was part of another scheme--set in motion by Mephisto, the underworld demon who coveted the Surfer's soul. In a plan of revenge involving S.H.I.E.L.D., Mephisto had abducted Shalla Bal from her world of Zenn-La and brought her to Earth with the goal of manipulating the Surfer into killing her; but when that plan failed, he caused Shalla Bal to vanish before the Surfer could free her. Presumably, she was returned to Zenn-La--but we discovered instead that Mephisto had sent her to Latveria and given her false memories of being a local peasant girl. Still trapped on Earth, the Surfer continued to believe that Shalla Bal was lost to him forever, when in fact she was closer than he knew--and when Doom launched his own plot, it further advanced Mephisto's plan to strike another blow against the Surfer and increase his agony by dashing his hopes that Helena was more than she seemed.

Yet she was more, all along--and, with the exception of Mephisto, only you and I are aware of it.

Which paves the way for an agonizing

Marvel Trivia Question

Whatever became of "Helena"?

Monday, October 15, 2018

In Victory, Defeat!

Previously, we've seen the Fantastic Four as well as the Silver Surfer drawn into a scheme set in motion by Doctor Doom in order to bind the Surfer to his service--a plan that depended on Doom's marriage to none other than Shalla Bal, the Surfer's long-lost love from his homeworld of Zenn-La, in order to force the Surfer to destroy the FF in exchange for Shalla Bal being released from her vows. Initially, the Surfer was prepared to comply--but instead of slaying them, he delivered them to Doom at his castle in Latveria as his prisoners (with the FF's covert cooperation).

During that time, we also learned that Doom's true purpose in involving the Surfer was to gradually draw off and adapt the sky-rider's cosmic power to reside in an artificial being of his own creation--a plan now revealed as the FF escape their imprisonment and search the castle for Doom in order to finally strike back at their foe.  Meanwhile, the Surfer continues to brood at his helplessness in being so near to the woman he loves and yet so far, due to an apparent loss of her memory presumably inflicted by Doom. And to raise the stakes in this three-pronged conflict, the deadly Doomsman is summoned to life!

We've reached the climax to this three-part tale from early 1975--
and from the looks of its cover, there's plenty of "doom" to go around.

Friday, October 12, 2018

When Ambushes The Silver Surfer!

While marked by some measure of controversy, artist Rich Buckler's nearly two-year stint on Fantastic Four in the mid-1970s is generally regarded as one of the more successful and noteworthy runs by an artist in the book's long history. Taking the reins from another of the title's most acclaimed pencilers, John Buscema, whose stay on the book is often described by such words as "classic" and "definitive," Buckler began his assignment by arriving at a pivotal moment, with the team disbanding following the decision of Reed Richards to shut down the mind of his son, Franklin. The grim circumstances notwithstanding, it was an opportune time to arrive for any artist fresh to the book--a chance to chart a new course for the FF without having to necessarily conform to what came before.

On that note, while there's a good deal of Buckler's style to be seen in his FF work, there was also an effort made to conform to the prior work of Jack Kirby, the book's original artist (and an archtype, to be sure)--with Buckler being one of several pencilers to mimic his style, as well as, unfortunately, to virtually duplicate Kirby's panels and/or forms therein. That's partially why it seems apt to spotlight a story from early 1975 which is (for the most part) free from such distraction, while allowing the reader to not only focus on Buckler's standout style which carried the book through twenty-one issues, but also on two of the Fantastic Four's most prominent guest-stars: the deadly nemesis known as Doctor Doom, who was also featured when Buckler was getting his feet wet with the book in '74, and the reappearance of the Silver Surfer, whose previous Fantastic Four appearance was in mid-1972 when Stan Lee was scripting his last few issues for the title.

And to add a twist, it looks like Buckler, along with writers Roy Thomas and Len Wein, have the two of them teaming up--against the FF!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Fathers, Sons, Huns... and Doc Ock!

If there's a listing somewhere of Marvel's Most Unlikely Adversaries to See Print, it's fair to speculate that Captain America vs. Doctor Octopus might be on it somewhere--maybe not in the top 10, or even the top 50, but if you skimmed down the entire list I think it would jump out at some point. It's hard to imagine why their paths would even cross--New York City is large enough to keep a lot of individuals' paths from crossing, nor does Ock really have any reason to try taking on the Avengers to somehow end up going head to head with Cap. Is it a matchup anyone would even be curious about? Ock is a headliner, yes, but I'd think a more interesting fight might be between Ock and Iron Man, as long as we're throwing names out there. (Of course, if Iron Man was shown to have a problem ripping Ock's metal appendages to mangled junk, it's not really an issue I'd plunk down 50¢ for.)

However, in mid-1981, it at least looked like EIC Jim Shooter was curious about how such a fight might play out--because even though he wasn't scripting the Captain America book at the time, he's credited with coming up with the plot for a story by David Michelinie that throws these two very different fighters together in conflict.

And if you're one of those who are still on the fence about whether or not this meeting should have taken place, the caption on the cover has already settled the matter.

But go ahead and shell out those four bits, because this Captain America story is a keeper.

Monday, October 8, 2018

A World For The Winning!

You would think that Doctor Doom and the master of magnetism, Magneto, would be like oil and water as far as finding any common ground in joining forces to rule the world, at least as far as their status circa the late 1970s. Magneto's agenda had always circled back to mutant ascendancy, where "homo superior" would be the planet's dominant species and ordinary humans would either submit to their authority or perish--whereas Doom seeks supremacy over all, an absolute ruler in every sense and brooking no challenge to his authority. Yet in the time he was the de facto standard bearer of Super-Villain Team-Up and still dabbling with forming alliances with like-minded men who could further his goals, there were still opportunities to explore situations where Doom might consider a partnership with another in order to consolidate their forces for mutual gain, if only for the short term--and it was probably inevitable that Magneto would find his way into those pages, sooner or later, if the right circumstances could be worked out and produce a credible plot.

At this point in time, Magneto has regained his full power after being restored to adulthood following his encounter with the mutant named Alpha and already had an initial confrontation with the X-Men on Muir Isle. Later (a little over a year, our time), he would have a more pivotal reckoning with the team; but in the interim, he's decided to get back in circulation by taking the shortest path to victory and having his first-ever meeting with Doom, in order to propose an alliance between them and bring the world to heel under their joint rule. The result is a two-part story written by Bill Mantlo which crosses over between two separate titles, beginning in SVTU and concluding in The Champions--a life-or-death struggle that would also draw in the Avengers and the incredible Hulk!

But what Magneto isn't aware of is that Doom has already captured the world--
and there isn't another soul on Earth who realizes it.

Friday, October 5, 2018

In The Clutches of... The Collector!

Of all the Marvel characters who have fallen victim to their will being usurped by a nefarious foe, you'd think that Thor, the God of Thunder, would be an exception to such a ploy. Instead, we've seen over the years that Thor has proven especially susceptible to mind control--and in light of the main focus of today's post, it seems appropriate to first take a brief look at the circumstances wherein the Thunder God has fallen under the power of another and been compelled to do their bidding.

The method which appears to be the most popular among villains who wish to subvert the will of Thor is hypnosis. For a god of Asgard who thrives on conflict, and whose natural instinct would be to keep his guard up when confronting his foe(s), it's frankly surprising what an easy target Thor makes for such a subtle means of seizure.  Naturally, our go-to villain when it comes to hypnosis is the Ringmaster, who succeeds more often than not with a number of high-profile characters, thanks to that rigged top hat of his:

Then there's Thor's half-brother, Loki, who doesn't need primitive accessories to employ his hypnotic technique:

And you'd think the last person to bother with hypnosis would be the Radioactive Man, but darned if he wasn't adept at it even when he was just starting out.

There are those who took a more direct approach with Thor, however. For instance, Nebula, who used small devices attached to the back of the head to seize control of the Avengers, including, lastly, Thor.

While an erstwhile Avenger, Moondragon, used her own formidable mental powers to align the Thunder God's will to her own, while *ahem* enjoying the fruits of her labours.

Obviously, Thor makes for a powerful tool for a villain bent on keeping the Avengers in check--or anyone else they feel like trouncing. Take the Puppet Master, who, with the help of Radion, the "Atomic Man," adds a little punch to his radioactive clay so that even Thor falls under his control. And you can probably guess who the Puppet Master would want to send Thor after.

In the ensuing fight (if you could call it that), Thor clobbers the FF (minus the absent Thing)--but when the shock of what he's done has him reverting to Donald Blake to see to their injuries, the Puppet Master loses control of him, just before the Thing arrives and is told of what occurred.  (At least as much as Blake knows, though still unaware of the identity of whoever took control of Thor.)

Once Blake departs, however, he makes the mistake of giving his unknown foe another crack at him--and even as prepared as Thor believes he is to withstand another attempt to control his mind, it's the Thing this time who will bear the brunt of his attack.

The Enchantress is also no slouch at bringing others under her control, particularly the male of the species. In Thor's case, she resorts to a potion to subvert his will, in order to use him against the Avengers.

Yet it's the Collector we finally turn to--an antagonist who also has an agenda where the Avengers are concerned, the same one he had when he first appeared in mid-1966. At that time, he began to expand his collection of objects spanning the ages by adding super-beings to his prizes--beginning with a villain (the Beetle), and then capturing the Wasp, the first move in adding the Avengers to his holdings. Failing then, he returns two years later with the same goal--only this time, he starts by capturing the most powerful Avenger, in order to use him to gather the others. To pull that off, it looks like he's decided to take a leaf from the Enchantress' book.

And so begins a tale that takes The Avengers past the 50-issue mark but also finds the group on the cusp of changes to their lineup. But with their most powerful member once more in the grip of an enemy, will the team be in any shape to celebrate?

Judging by this issue's cover, it looks like the celebration's already underway, eh?

Monday, October 1, 2018

Clash Of The Titans!

As often as Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, has chafed at being summoned by Dr. Strange to accompany the Defenders on a mission, it's ironic that he finds himself in the driver's seat when, ten months before the fact, he finds cause to assemble an alliance of the very characters who would become the nucleus of that non-team.

But before these powerful beings can accomplish their goal, they'll be tested in battle against not only the army of an island fortress, but also the mighty Avengers!

And so are born...

(Which is a little like announcing "the Four Fantastic," isn't it?)

Friday, September 28, 2018

My Partner--My Friend!

As much as Rick Jones and Betty Ross, two characters who were sympathetic to the tragic circumstances of the incredible Hulk (albeit for very different reasons), Jim Wilson earned his place as one of the book's most memorable classic characters, and a stalwart who contributed to the book's recurring cast. Jim began his friendship with the Hulk in the fall of 1970, in what turned out to be an association with the character that lasted nearly 300 issues--with his loyalty to his big green buddy soon extending to a friendship with Bruce Banner, as well. Unlike Rick, Jim didn't stick with the Hulk out of a sense of obligation, but a sense of trust which the two struck up at their first meeting in a Los Angeles tenement. Both on the run... both looked at as being different... and both with seemingly no prospect for a better future, they were two sides of the same coin. Nor did it take long for Jim to earn the respect and admiration of Gen. "Thunderbolt" Ross, for his bravery as well as his strength of character. Virtually everyone who came into contact with Jim seemed like they were pulling for him--a feeling that likely extended to readers, as well.

In 1994, rather than letting the character fade into obscurity, writer Peter David decided to make Jim the focus of an issue dealing with the subject of AIDS. We don't know how Jim contracted the HIV virus; we first learned that he had developed full-blown AIDS nearly three years earlier, but Banner (who now shared his intellect with the Hulk) dismissed the cause as unimportant after saving Jim's life from an assassin who had targeted the partner of another AIDS patient: "Who cares? If he had measles, it wouldn't matter where he got it. He's a friend who needed help." It was probably the appropriate way for David to settle the matter in that particular issue--though it would make for a curious line of dialog in this later issue from David that obviously seeks to raise AIDS awareness, where an effort is made to list the various ways in which the virus can be transmitted. That seems sufficient to fulfill the responsibility inherent in the story; as for Jim, it's his passing, as well as the exit of a long-standing character of the book, which seems meant to resonate more with the reader.

Whether David pulls off that aspect of the story is debatable; but to my own surprise, I found that the more riveting part of this tale was the interspersed segment where Betty Ross-Banner, who works a Help Line in Reno, struggles to keep a caller who's developed AIDS from committing suicide. The depth of the call takes Betty a little by surprise, and well out of her comfort zone--and it becomes an examination of her strength of character as well as her ability to adjust to the situation and stick with the call for as long as it takes to help the caller; whereas David doesn't devote all that much to Jim's scenes aside from a disconcerting propensity to have the character grasp at straws for treatment options and throw guilt in the direction of Banner/the Hulk at any sign of reticence. It's not exactly having Jim go out on a high note; yet the moment he does pass still sends a ripple through the book, and through the years.

As for how Jim winds up in "the Mount," the headquarters of Banner's benefactors and partners, the Pantheon, we know from a prior story that Jim runs an AIDS clinic in L.A. for those whose families have cut ties with them and who need a haven where they can spend their last days. By extension, he's also active in demonstrations concerning AIDS-related issues, and becomes involved in a rally that centers on Joey Harris, an AIDS-infected student being forced to leave his school due to the concerns raised by other parents. While both sides meet with school officials, violence breaks out between the protesters and those who are in favor of Joey being kept out of the school--and Jim becomes caught in the crossfire.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Mental Might of... Magneto??

There was a time when Magneto, the Master of Magnetism, was content to seek out and conscript other mutants into doing his bidding and following his lead while he engaged in this scheme or that, all in the cause of bringing "homo superior" into ascendancy and ruling the world. But while his goal remained the same, his methods began to change once he became less focused on maintaining his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and began thinking along the lines of using technology to create mutants, either from existing humanoid forms or, depending on the machinery he employed, from scratch. His rationale for doing so, as was typical of his madness in those days, was less dependent on reflective thought and more on crazed action: "Home sapiens shape their world--homo superior must needs shape themselves!"

Magneto's tilt in this direction appeared to take place following his near-escape from death after battling the X-Men and the Avengers and emerging in the Savage Land, where, as "the Creator," he began mutating the savages he found there. Later, in the aftermath of his failed plan, discovered in the wreckage by the Sub-Mariner, he detoured to pursue a power play designed to use the forces of Atlantis against humanity; but after that, too, failed and he escaped capture, he got back on track when he attempted to use Black Bolt of the Inhumans to steal a government compound that would allow him to complete a device (the "Universe Machine") which would augment the process of mutant creation. The rest of the Inhuman royal family joined with Black Bolt to foil that scheme--but in his attempt to escape, Magneto detonated the government cylinder, which resulted in severe injuries that took him months to recover from.

We've seen this plan taken to the extreme when Magneto discovered presumably alien technology that led to his creation of Alpha, a godlike mutant that almost allowed him to seize power at the general assembly of the United Nations; but just over a year earlier, he had again sought atomic secrets from government scientists as part of an insane plan which would release a torrent of radiation on the entire country, killing most of the population but leaving roughly 8% alive as mutants who would fall under his command. It all takes place in a two-part Avengers story from 1973--but this time, will the Avengers and the X-Men stop him, or join him?

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Conscience Of Galactus!

While its purpose is to presumably lay the groundwork for the "trial" of Reed Richards, which the Shi'ar Empress, Lilandra, would hold to judge his guilt for his actions in saving the life of Galactus, the August 1983 issue of Fantastic Four takes an interesting approach in that its main focus is on the world devourer himself, to the point of eclipsing the book's title characters for much of its 22 pages. Galactus, like Dr. Doom, appears to be a character that writer and artist John Byrne has a preference to bring to the foreground--no small endeavour to pull off, given how both characters present a risk of overstaying their welcome if used in excess. For Galactus, that risk can be offset by exploring different tangents to this being who has such a singular purpose--and the character is probed a great deal in this story. For while we've seen familiar instances where Galactus has resignedly accepted his apparent destiny, or where his hunger has reached a critical level, here we find him at death's door--preoccupied with meeting his final fate.

But as he'll discover, Death isn't having it.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Father Be Damned--The Vengeance Of Dracula's Daughter!

To say that the relationship between Dracula, Lord of the Undead, and his equally undead daughter, Lilith, is a contentious one may be a (heh) grave understatement. "Contentious" describes the behavior of individuals you'd find squaring off at protests (or at practically any Thanksgiving table). What these two share is more along the lines of a blood feud, going back five generations to virtually the moment of Lilith's birth--which makes it fair to say that Dracula himself instigated their mutual enmity, through no fault of Lilith's. Dracula, however, has a different persepective on the circumstances of their relationship, which he doesn't hesitate to recount to her during one of their rare meetings, taking place this time at a sports arena in London.

In essence, Dracula's intention at the time was to wash his hands of both wife and daughter, the latter entirely due to the fact that Lilith served to be a perpetual reminder of the woman he so hated.

But at this meeting where Lilith seeks to re-establish ties, she appears to be seeking not to bury the hatchet but to set it aside. Yet while the history between herself and her father has been sparse, it's never been even close to amiable, or even cooperative--nor is there any possibility that it ever will be. And of the two of them, only Dracula is prepared to bluntly admit it.

Consequently, there's been little to no contact to speak of between the pair in the Tomb Of Dracula title--which is probably just as well, since Dracula's brief reminiscences of Lilith are reflective of an unchanging status quo between them that Dracula has never demonstrated any signs of wishing to alter. And frankly, given Lilith's bitterness toward her father, it's clear why Dracula doesn't even entertain any thoughts of meeting her halfway.

But in late 1978, with the TOD title counting down to its final issues, writer Marv Wolfman gives Lilith her final shot at satisfying her hatred toward her father when, in a twist to their respective positions toward each other, Dracula finds himself in need of Lilith's help. The question is: Will she give it?

At first glance, it doesn't look like it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Rise Of The Dark Phoenix!

In mid-1980, the already-successful Uncanny X-Men title reached what was arguably the pinnacle of its popularity when its co-plotters, writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne, introduced the character of Dark Phoenix--capping the already well-received makeover of Jean Grey, one of the original members of the X-Men, whose identity as the telekinetic/telepath Marvel Girl had literally been given new life as "Phoenix," the ultimate expression of her potential as a psi.

It's not unusual these days to encounter an eye-roll or two when raising the subject of Phoenix, with Marvel having taken that "life incarnate" part a bit too far and recycling/remarketing the character and concept ad nauseam in the nearly forty years since her inception.  Yet in the beginning, when Phoenix was still being presented as tied to Jean Grey, her steady evolution to something beyond her control was riveting, providing a different take on a classic character who up until that point had been eclipsed by even the Wasp.

As for her transformation to "Dark" Phoenix, it seemed to be well-timed to the fact that her friends and teammates had grown worried about her ability to contain her vastly increased power; while an additional factor complicated the situation when an old enemy of the X-Men, Mastermind, began to seduce and corrupt her thoughts, until she became susceptible to casting aside her self-restraint and letting slip away her morals and conscience, a steady shift in behavior that Mastermind encouraged in her.

The result: a twisted version of her former self, wielding limitless power and abandoning her moral compass as easily as you or I might discard a piece of lint. And now, as an entity intent on embracing and following a darker path to the stars, Phoenix severs ties to those who she once considered friends--and viciously, at that.

We would later learn the behind-the-scenes story of Phoenix, detailing Claremont and Byrne's original plans for Jean and why they shifted course at the eleventh hour--and we'd also witness Jean's contrived return and the status quo restored. But in this early tale which begins to explore the dark turn of the character, we're all still under the impression that these shocking developments are the natural progression of Jean's evolution as plotted by Claremont and Byrne--taking her in a direction that raises her profile considerably, at least for as long as the ride lasts.

We'll have to trust Cyclops' later assertion that Jean has made an effort here, conscious or otherwise, to avoid slaying the X-Men outright; otherwise, even though the jury would be out on Wolverine, Colossus would now be dead after a multi-ton solid gold tree was toppled onto him while he was in human form--a death which would have occurred if only a single ton of weight had fallen on him, even if it turned out he was only pinned. Whatever Jean's intentions, come on--Peter is pulp, like any of us would be in his place. When is the funeral?

From here, the story takes a fascinating turn, with Jean--or, rather, the malefic entity she's become--departing Earth forever with no reservations, while other characters react to the emergence of Dark Phoenix in various ways, depending on the circumstances. As for the X-Men at the scene, they're deprived of hearing Jean's "goodbye" sentiments, such as they are.

For those left in Jean's wake, they can only speculate as to what's happening (though the Silver Surfer comes close):

While those in her path are unfortunately reduced to a state of dread that would precede their deaths--a sudden, incredible turn of events that in an instant makes Jean Grey a mass murderer, on a horrifying scale.

It's a sobering scene that carries a wealth of complications for the character, and for the X-Men--though the reader is perhaps wondering for the first time if Jean has reached the point of no return here... if there is any coming back from this. Later, we'd see that Wolverine is convinced that Jean and Phoenix are two separate entities, ergo, Jean can't be held responsible for the actions of Phoenix. Nightcrawler wonders if he can forgive Jean for what he views as an atrocity many levels above those of the Holocaust. And Jean herself all but admits that her feelings and those of Phoenix may likely be one and the same. You can't help but wonder how Claremont will sweep it all under the rug, as he must if Jean Grey survives the repercussions of her actions.

I remember at the time being so impressed with the amount of material Claremont and Byrne were able to pack into this story's 17 (!) pages.  The battle with the X-Men... the aftermath of the team's dealings with the Hellfire Club... the scenes with Xavier and Moira MacTaggert, conferring about Jean's fate... and then, an amazing panorama of scenes by Byrne and inker Terry Austin (the latter departing Marvel for DC following his X-Men and Dr. Strange work--Marvel's loss, to be sure) of Dark Phoenix, a thoroughly corrupted young woman who has already begun effecting massive change and turmoil in another galaxy. When this saga concluded, it would mark a turning point for the X-Men, for Cyclops in particular, and for the book itself as the team dynamic shifted; but this issue was such a page-turner that it was all a reader could do to keep up with the events unfolding here in front of their eyes without even thinking of looking down the road that far.

Since we know in hindsight the Shi'ar would step in shortly to bring Jean to heel and to neutralize Phoenix, this issue also presents the catalyst for their involvement: a Shi'ar battle cruiser, investigating the extinction of the D'Bari star system and finding a single entity responsible. The cruiser's Captain immediately retaliates, and pays the price; yet before the end, he manages to reach the Shi'ar homeworld with evidence of the being responsible.

Lilandra and her Chamberlain, having encountered the Phoenix previously during a Shi'ar crisis involving Lilandra's mad brother, D'ken, are able to grasp the full extent of Phoenix's threat, and move to act accordingly.

As for the X-Men, they're also grimly assessing their own situation--one that seems hopeless, even before a startling new development that closes the issue.

As cliffhangers go, it's an odd one, given Dark Phoenix's parting words to the team. It's been shown previously in this story that Phoenix is now exactly where she wishes to be; and while the X-Men, unconscious at the time, have no reason to suspect Phoenix is gone for good, Claremont's dialog for her made her intentions to depart forever crystal clear to the reader. So why the about-face? And why the gasping shock-statement from Scott that she's ravenous? The following issue shows her returning to Earth not hungry, but "homesick" for want of a better word. It's a strange turn of events that only serves to set up a final confrontation with the X-Men, and, from there, with the Shi'ar.

As the issue which begins the trilogy featuring the fate of Phoenix, this story earns its status as a true X-Men classic--and at something of a bargain, too. With the book scheduled for a price increase to 50¢ a copy after another three issues, this seventeen-page story was only costing you a little over 2¢ a page. However you define "getting your money's worth," 1980 was the year X-Men delivered.

Uncanny X-Men #135

Script: Chris Claremont
Pencils: John Byrne
Inks: Terry Austin
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski

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