Monday, April 30, 2018

The Ultimate Reed vs. Namor Battle!


The matchup of Mr. Fantastic vs. the Sub-Mariner has always been one of the more unusual recurring clashes that Marvel has presented over the years; it's also, frankly, one that's difficult to look forward to with any feeling of anticipation, since it's almost always the result of tension between the two characters over their feelings for Sue Storm (Richards) rather than genuine enmity between two classic Marvel characters who each feel the other is a threat. Otherwise, their conflict is the result of Namor moving against the human race, with the rest of the Fantastic Four taking a hand in fighting him.

But as far as Reed and Namor being the headliners in a battle issue--chances are a reader is picking up the issue not because of the potential for a surefire, cover-to-cover blockbuster, but because they're wondering if the writer and artist are going to succeed this time in pitting a stretching man against the power of the Sub-Mariner, in a story that would hopefully go down as a classic. By 1996, you would have thought there had certainly been enough time for Marvel to figure out what worked and what didn't as far as pulling off a no-holds-barred Reed vs. Namor clash--and so, just a few issues before the events of Onslaught would effectively end the first run of Fantastic Four, the title took another crack at it, and we were presented with what was billed as "The Ultimate Reed vs. Namor Battle!"



(Though after so many misfires, such a claim may have been pushing their readers' status as "true believers" to the limit!)

Friday, April 27, 2018

Home Wrecked Home


Whether you're a new homeowner, or one who still has a ways to go in paying off the mortgage, or simply someone who's thinking about home ownership, you'll have to give some thought to things like plumbing repairs, or fixer-uppers, or location and property taxes, or at some point getting a new roof. But your worst nightmare by far will be opening your door one morning and discovering a drifter in your neighborhood, which normally wouldn't be a cause for panic--unless this drifter were a product of gamma ray exposure and could potentially level your most important structural investment with one blow of his trip hammer fists.




Since the Hulk's reputation for destructive behavior and being out of control generally precedes him, rather than those rare occasions where his interactions with humans have been benign, George's alarmed state is understandable; but while the other parents have kept their distance, George assumes the worst when the Hulk approaches his daughter and relates to her in a way that George is unfortunately unaware of out of earshot. Yet George and the Hulk share one thing: they act accordingly when responding to a perceived threat. Which one of them is justified in doing so in this instance is a matter of perspective.



Of course, by virtue of his incredible power, the Hulk has a way of settling a domestic dispute to his own satisfaction without doing much soul-searching regarding his methods.



Nevertheless, both parties suffer as a result. As a homeowner yourself, you may think it's obvious which of the parties here has suffered more--though again, perhaps that, too, is a matter of perspective.



That's not to say that homeowners don't have a case against the Hulk; on the contrary, the Hulk has uprooted enough lives in suburbia as well as whole towns and cities to merit his own dartboard in HOA meetings as well as insurer offices across the country. For those who have found their homes in the Hulk's path, the Hulk can represent not simply terror and destruction, but devastation. Imagine, for instance, feeling a little more secure in your homestead when the Hulk received a presidential pardon during the time when Bruce Banner's mind was in control of the monster--only to have that security, like your home, ripped apart when the Hulk reverted to an even more savage state and passed through your zip code.




Even when it seemed Banner had licked his problem for good, many who lost their homes and livelihood to the Hulk's rampages weren't willing to forgive and forget. Yet as he arrives at Kennedy Airport, could even Banner have ever expected the outrage still felt by some of those whose lives were shattered would lead to attempted murder??


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Death From On High!


As we come to Part 10 of "Panther's Rage," the 1973-75 story which introduced the character of Erik Killmonger and his attempt to overthrow T'Challa's rule of Wakanda, the Panther remains in Serpent Valley where he tracked and dealt with Sombre, Killmonger's inhuman custodian of Resurrection Altar in the northern region where live the white gorillas of legend, and also learned of Killmonger's plans for harnessing the prehistoric beasts which roam the land. How much success he's having in tracking Killmonger is unclear; but a trio of Killmonger's men, led by the murderous Salamander K'Ruel (himself a product of the transformative rays of the Altar), have been left on their own to guard Killmonger's trail back to his home village of N'Jadaka.

The dangers that T'Challa will face in this particular story are two-fold, and are best represented by the issue's cover as well as its opening page: another prehistoric threat which this time descends on him from the sky, and one that approaches in stealth from the jungle in the hope of ending his life with one clean shot.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ball of Doom!


When we last took a look at the scene of carnage near a demolished building under construction in New York City, the dynamic Defenders were in a pitched battle with the ones responsible for the destruction--none other than the Wrecking Crew, in their Marvel debut. The Crew's ultimate goal, however, was to locate a certain device believed to be at the site; and during a lull in the fighting, Thunderball recovers the object's empty casing, only to react in stark terror at the realization that, due to the nature of this particular device, someone else now holds the power to kill them all!



On the bright side, at least no one has to worry about characters like the Wrecking Crew having a gamma bomb at their disposal. You might as well toss one to the Masters of Evil while you're at it. But now we have to ask ourselves: Who, or what, has a weapon of mass destruction in their grasp??

Monday, April 23, 2018

Rampage of the Wrecking Crew!


Yike! From a glance at this power-packed cover, it looks like the Defenders have decided to start this issue without us!



So let's get right to it, shall we?

  • The Wrecking Crew has been extorting New York City to the tune of millions of dollars, levelling one building after another with each refusal of the city to comply.
  • Richmond Enterprises' C.F.O., Mr. Pennysworth, has alerted his boss, Kyle Richmond (a/k/a Nighthawk), that all of the destroyed buildings were owned by his company. (You'd think Pennysworth would have done that before the first one bit the dust! Jeez!)
  • The Crew's latest demand raises both the price tag and the penalty for refusal: $25 million, or see the destruction of the entire city! (Adjusting for inflation, that works out to roughly $127 million today.)
  • Nighthawk and his fellow Defender, Dr. Strange, stand vigil at Richmond's remaining building (still under construction), one that Pennysworth has already taken steps to protect.
  • Strange and Nighthawk unfortunately come face-to-face with that protection: Luke Cage, Power Man, who jumps to the wrong conclusion and thinks the two costumed strangers are there to destroy the building. Not on his watch, sugar.
  • You can guess what happens next.
  • Eventually, our heroes convince Cage they're not part of the Crew--but as they begin to talk and compare notes, the real Wrecking Crew strike! Scratch one multi-million-dollar building.

Unfortunately, the Wrecking Crew is just getting warmed up!


Yes, believe it or not--there was indeed a time when Dr. Strange was prepared to
THROW DOWN WITH THE WRECKING CREW.
(You can almost picture the Ancient One planting head to palm, can't you?)

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Beasts of Serpent Valley!


As the PPC continues its look at "Panther's Rage," the 1973-75 story arc which first brought the Black Panther into conflict with Erik Killmonger, we join the Panther as he's made his way out of the harsh northern region where he confronted the horrors of Killmonger's Resurrection Altar and the white gorillas of legend, only to reach the humid jungle environment of Serpent Valley in his pursuit of the murderous Sombre, himself a product of the transformative rays emanating from the pit beneath the Altar.

The Panther has every intention of making Sombre answer for his allegiance to Killmonger as well as the part he played in sending one of the white gorillas to its eventual death; but T'Challa's trials in the so-called "land of the chilling mist" have taken their toll on him, while Sombre still craves his foe's death. A death which might have been within his reach, here in the valley... if not for a distracting question, which startles aggressor and victim alike.





No one is likely to shed a tear at Sombre's passing, to be sure--but what of the source of the query that allowed the Panther to prevail? It rests on the tree limbs above, a delightful addition to this story that will accompany T'Challa in his quest for answers. Yet the Panther will discover that, when it comes to his impromptu companion who tags along on his journey through Serpent Valley, it will be questions instead that will dominate their discourse.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

When Charles Met Magnus


There are few stories which document the life of Charles Xavier in his younger days when he still had the use of his legs, but one of them stands out in terms of helping to define one of the most important relationships of his life--the first meeting between himself and the man the world would come to know as Magneto. It's a story which comes to print after writer Chris Claremont had begun to establish Magneto with more depth as a survivor of Auschwitz, an experience which had a profound impact on the direction his life would take. Now that the "prequel" films have given their own account of that initial meeting between these two men as well as their early relationship to some degree, this story from 1982 may now seem as if it's lost some of its luster--but at the time, it was one more piece of the puzzle that was slowly being assembled for a revamped character whose personal history had been thus far ignored.

One thing both versions of their story have in common:
trouble tends to find them more often than not.



The cover of the issue obviously takes some liberties with Magneto, since he has no fearsome costume nor helmet to his name as of yet. Nor is he even "Magneto," having adopted the name Magnus in order to hide his identity from the Nazis after leaving Auschwitz. The war of course has been over for twenty years by the time his path crosses with Xavier in Israel in the spring of 1962, where he's taken a position as a volunteer at a hospital which administers mental care for survivors of the Holocaust. Magnus is an assistant to Dr. Shomron, a psychiatrist who has brought in his friend Xavier for consultation on a case involving a catatonic young woman--Gabrielle Haller, who some of you may recall from Magneto's trial in Paris--and already, Xavier is finding during their otherwise pleasant introduction that there's more to this man than meets the eye.



Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Fallout


After the classic 1968 Fantastic Four story which averted near-tragedy following complications involving Sue Richards' pregnancy with her first child, it was interesting to see how the book--and its writer/artist, John Byrne--would treat her second pregnancy over fifteen years later (our time), which involved similar circumstances. Once more, readers would be gripping their seats up until the last minute as to the outcome--and once more, a successful birth depended on a race against time to locate and return with a necessary element, without which there was a chance that mother and/or child could die.

Sue's husband, Reed, had already called in the best of the best in radiation research--but there was one more expert whose help could be sought, assuming he would be willing to give it. Given the man's psychotic nature, convincing him would be touch and go.



Fortunately, Reed is successful at getting Octavius to trust him, and the two proceed to the hospital. But their altercation has taken too long--and by the time they arrive, there is no longer anything to be done.



Monday, April 16, 2018

Re-Enter: The Hulk!


A year and a half after the original six-issue run of Incredible Hulk ended with a whimper, the title character was brought back in the pages of Tales To Astonish in the fall of 1964 to share the book in its split format--bringing down the curtain on its long-running sci-fi/monster tales once and for all and replacing them with a man-monster that would hopefully find new life after a long hiatus.

But it doesn't look like the Hulk is too keen on sharing his new book with anybody--much less an overgrown Avenger who was probably looking forward to finally having the book all to himself.



Come on, Thor, show us your moves on those still rings! (Who knew the original Avengers just chilled together?)

It's the broadcast* of the Hulk's battle with Spider-Man that's brought the green goliath to Giant-Man's attention. But unlike his fellow Avengers, who depart once their meeting concludes, Giant-Man becomes preoccupied with the Hulk--and Henry Pym's partner, the Wasp, finds that he's suddenly made other dinner plans for them.



*How there can be news footage of a fight that took place in a hidden cave is anyone's guess.

We also see that Giant-Man's old, persistent foe, the Human Top, is out on parole and holding a grudge for his past defeat at this pair's hands. And so when Hank and Jan take off for New Mexico, where the Hulk was last reported sighted, the Top tags along in his civilian guise and waits for an opportunity to strike.

As for the Hulk, no one yet knows of his connection with physicist Bruce Banner, who continues to work at the missile base commanded by General "Thunderbolt" Ross. Banner isn't pleased at Giant-Man's arrival, having apparently ceased using his gamma ray machine to trigger his transformations and now only wishes to be left in peace and keep his pulse rate down. Bruce Banner is thus a complication that will doom Giant-Man's mission before it starts, since Banner has no wish to transform to the Hulk just to accommodate the Avengers; but as we'll see, the Hulk misinterprets Giant-Man's reason for seeking him out.




And if you think the Human Top is going to pass up an opportunity like this, brother, think again.


Friday, April 13, 2018

The Panther vs. The Cl... er, Klan!


One curious by-product of thumbing through all the issues involved in the "Panther's Rage" series of stories in Jungle Action was the sense of nagging familiarity I felt when I reached the storyline that came afterward--the Black Panther's altercation with the Klan, albeit without the "Ku Klux" prefix associated with the group. That's no great omission, since the "Klan" is often used to refer to that organization while leaving no doubt as to who and what we're talking about; but while the story itself follows suit with abbreviating the name, the captions on the issues' covers become conspicuous insofar as alterations which were made on the word in question.



Without an explanation forthcoming from either writer Don McGregor or additional information supplied to the issues' letters pages, the reasoning behind the spelling adjustment of "the Clan" is up for speculation. If I were to shoot from the hip on the matter, I'd probably punt to Marvel's legal department and presume that the company might have been concerned about use of the organization's name as a sales tool, or perhaps accusations from those who felt the company was giving the Klan free advertising.  Or maybe this was opening the door to controversy that was too inflammatory even for Marvel.  With over forty years of dust on this story, it would be difficult to do anything but speculate as to the true reason behind the decision; perhaps it's as simple as Marvel settling for pushing the envelope within and confront the Klan's agenda directly, controversy be damned--choosing not to trot out the Sons of the Serpent this time as its Klan stand-ins.

At any rate, the reason why this story was tugging at my memory will become apparent in a bit.  For now, the debut issue's splash page has us wondering if the Klan has significantly altered not only its appearance, but, more importantly, its recruiting standards.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The God Killer!


Things didn't look hopeful for the Black Panther following his rematch with Erik Killmonger, which saw him regain consciousness in the harsh sub-frozen mountain region where he'd tracked his ruthless foe only to be set upon by a pack of wolves, an encounter which he barely escaped with his life. With his uniform ripped and leaving parts of his flesh exposed to the elements, and far from any safe haven, that life seemed in danger of not surviving the night--so it's surprising indeed to open the issue and find that the Panther not only lives, but has stalked his way back to Resurrection Altar, the cavern where another of Killmonger's subordinates, the mysterious Sombre, exposes others to rays which transform them into something more (or, in some cases, less) than human.

As "Panther's Rage" continues in Part 8, the Panther is ready for Round Two with Killmonger--but in his foe's absence, he'll have to settle for those who aided Killmonger in abandoning him to the wolves, men who will learn that even this wounded and weather-beaten king can still strike back.




Unlike Tayete and Kazibe, the fretful lackeys of Killmonger who reluctantly accompanied T'Challa to this harsh clime, these men are armed and dangerous. For himself, the Panther can only lay claim to the latter, but those he struggles with find it's enough; and as that struggle plays out, we have a few questions answered which lingered over the events of Part 7, points that address not only how the Panther managed to survive (by taking a leaf from Han Solo's book, no less), but also why Resurrection Altar hasn't proven to be more of a boon for Killmonger's plans.





Obviously the tracks which T'Challa follows weren't left by Killmonger--but he follows them impulsively nonetheless, towards a destination that will bring him face-to-face with certain myths of his people, "gods" which will unfortunately take deadly, living form.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Invasions To Astonish!


Before Ant-Man returned in the fall of 1962 to monopolize the covers of Tales To Astonish, the title was ruled completely by stories both bizarre and eerily shocking, and all sharing a twist to their ending that hopefully took the reader by complete surprise--or at least left them in complete astonishment. The last issue still free of any super-hero influence played that concept to the hilt, with talent such as Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Paul Reinman, and Stan Lee all contributing to provide the reader with food for thought, and food for fright.



Following is a brief rundown of tales from this issue, a look at a genre that still had two years of life left to it but would eventually disappear and give way to costumes and super-powers, making way for different kinds of threats for a different kind of audience which traded terror for action/adventure.

Monday, April 9, 2018

"...If The Thunder Be Gone!"


By the time the mighty Thor moved from the pages of Journey Into Mystery and into his own series, his regal father, Odin, had already begun disciplining him by striking from on high and either depriving his son of his power in one way or another, or banishing him from Asgard. But in the fall of 1967, Odin carries his anger to the extreme and combines those punishments--and Thor finds himself shorn of all of his power, and cast aside on the planet Earth.



With variations, it's a scene which longtime Thor readers have become familiar with, as prone to tantrums as Odin has proven to be when it comes to bringing Thor into line with what he believes Thor's role should be as an Asgardian, and as a son. Thor would be in the doghouse for six months (our time) before Odin relented and restored his might; but it's really the issues which debut this storyline, at the time still a fresh concept for those following the exploits of Thor, which are perhaps the most appealing, since it's Thor who's been brought down to our level and must make his way as a mortal, rather than his persona of Donald Blake who was already acclimated to a mortal existence.

In a way it's too bad that the dramatic cover by artist Jack Kirby has practically spilled the beans as far as the upcoming fate of Thor, since it's a development you really don't see coming as you flip open the issue and begin reading. Asgard has finished a two-prong battle against the evil Enchanters who attempted a hostile power play against the realm, with Thor and his comrades on Earth proving victorious over their three attackers while the fourth Enchanter has been brutally taken down by Odin. And while Thor, Sif, and Balder wait for some word of the outcome of that fight, they take steps to secure their own captives.




As we've learned here, Thor is already powerless (along with Sif, Balder, and the Enchanters), due to the conditions that Odin established for his match with his own foe. Yet there is still no reason to believe that condition will be permanent, much less used against Thor as punishment--after all, he's done Asgard proud here, acquitting himself well against these foes on behalf of his realm and his king. As for the condition which Thor speaks of that mandates that the Enchanters be taken into custody by Earth forces, given that Earth is where their battle took place--since when? Did that ever hold true for other Earth-based battles involving the likes of the Enchantress, or the Executioner, or Pluto--or for that matter, Loki?

It definitely doesn't seem to be Odin's policy.



It's obvious that Odin isn't in the best of moods, often reacting with anger and fury to affronts to his authority and certainly to attempts at conquest, as if to make an example of the perpetrator(s) for the benefit of others who might be harboring similar ambitions. (Though it bears mentioning that his anger and retribution have never prevented Loki from coming back swinging.) The failed coup d'├ętat of the Enchanters has especially riled Odin for whatever reason, giving him a mad-on that extends well beyond the aftermath of his battle and ripples through his own warriors like thunder. And when Odin's attention turns to the Asgardians on Earth, even the Thunder God is unprepared to face his father's wrath.


Friday, April 6, 2018

"Death!" Cries the Phoenix!


Depending on how much stock you put in the new Phoenix who came on the scene in late 1985--embodied this time by Rachel Summers, the daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey from a different timeline, sent to our own from the future--then this clash that took place the following year either had you sitting a little more upright in your chair, or shrugging your shoulders in indifference.



And I doubt we're even talking about a matter of power levels, are we. To put it bluntly, even if Rachel wielded the Phoenix power to its fullest--or at fifty, a hundred, a thousand times that level--the might of the Phoenix is as nothing to the likes of the Beyonder. Show me the last time the Phoenix obliterated an entire galaxy, in a matter of seconds.* Go ahead, rifle through those back issues. Your doctor will be treating you for carpal tunnel before you can say "I am fire, and life incarnate."

*Writer Mary Jo Duffy obviously thinks that the Phoenix power can do a lot more damage than destroying a mere galaxy.

The real draw of such a clash would be if it were Jean Grey (as Phoenix) battling the Beyonder, since she brings more to the table than the bull-in-a-china-shop approach that Rachel would take here to no avail. As inevitable as Jean's defeat would be, I'd much rather see her in the driver's seat of the Phoenix power when fighting this kind of battle than her cocky, angry daughter who really doesn't care about the collateral damage her attack will cause. (And that's putting it mildly--more on that in a moment.)

But that's what we've got, and that's what the X-Men have got--with Rachel not only doing this over their objections (with the exception of Shadowcat and Wolverine), but making two separate attempts on the Beyonder's life in two back-to-back issues. Needless to say, Rachel really, really wants the Beyonder dead.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Land Of The Chilling Mist!


OR: "Isn't That Erik Whatshisname?"


With Wakanda's detention cells practically overflowing with the captives taken from a raid on N'Jadaka, the village named after the ruthless invader known as Erik Killmonger, the Black Panther has stepped up his response to Killmonger's incursions and knows he must now pursue the man himself. And thanks to a week spent gathering intelligence from two of Killmonger's men, Kazibe and Tayete--whose combination of awe and fear toward the Panther has surely worked in his favor--T'Challa prepares to follow his foe into the vast chilling mountain region to the northwest, where temperatures plunge to well below zero and predators other than Killmonger await.




The balance that writer Don McGregor seeks to strike with the Panther--the man he is, as opposed to the leader he must be--still seems to be in effect, judging by the words he shares with both his captives and with his lover, Monica Lynne. He remains resolved to aggressively taking down Killmonger's forces, while keeping the eye-for-an-eye instinct at bay if at all possible. It's a mindset that's been difficult to pass on to those in his court, even though, as Monica says, T'Challa has their full respect and loyalty. Arguably, it's that balance within him that has helped to sustain the cult of the Black Panther as more than a figurehead of Wakanda's intimidating and steadfast monarchy. But during this time of sudden and bloody war, which goes well beyond the poachers and foreigners that Wakanda has repelled in the past, that's bound to be put to the test for not only his subjects, but perhaps for T'Challa himself.

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