Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Beware The Deadly Tendrils of... Alicia!?


Following a recent run-in with Deathlok the Demolisher, Ben Grimm (a/k/a the Thing, well-known member of the Fantastic Four) has brought him to London on the recommendation of Reed Richards, in order to seek the help of Dr. Louis Kort in removing a mind control device which the Fixer used to take control of the cyborg and use him in a presidential assassination attempt. That plot failed--but with the device now responsible for Deathlok being in a catatonic state, he could die unless Kort can find a way to help him.

While Kort tends to his patient, Ben has taken the opportunity to bring along his girlfriend, sculptress Alicia Masters, and spend some quality time with her while indulging in some sightseeing. But one of the sights that the Thing never expected to see in London, swooping down to attack, is Spider-Woman--and she is also not feeling like herself, thanks to a cell of Hydra agents that have captured her and hypnotized her into doing their bidding.




Yet before unleashing Spider-Woman on the Thing, Hydra had already forced Kort to isolate the genetic code which first created her and produce a serum which, when injected into others, could result in an army of spider-women under their control. But first, a test subject was needed--and gee, you'll never guess which lucky person they've settled on to take the first injection.




Now be honest--wasn't this a line you thought Marvel would never cross??


Monday, May 20, 2019

Death Comes For The Lord Of Asgard!


We've previously seen how Desak, the self-styled Destroyer of Gods, was empowered by a mysterious female apparition who freed him from the lies of those gods who used the blind faith of his people to demand tribute in the form of personal sacrifice. Since then, he's been on a mission of vengeance against those who regard themselves as gods, which, to Desak's mind, are simply self-serving beings who wield power and seek to control and dominate the lives of others, demeaning those who take advantage of their fealty and enslaving them to their whims--their subjects existing as toys for them to play with, use, and discard as they see fit. And thanks to the apparition, Desak has the power to accomplish his goal of deity genocide--a pendant given to him by his benefactor that will resist the might of any god who attacks him, while allowing him to soak up their power to make himself even stronger.

It was during his attack on two such gods that he came into conflict with the mighty Thor (along with Hercules and Beta Ray Bill), who sought to prevent Desak from committing cold-blooded murder and from likely becoming a far worse threat than those he hunts. Yet Thor failed to dissuade him, and Desak remains at large.

And now, judging by the grim scene that greets our eyes when we catch up with him, whatever words of reason that Thor had hoped to instill in Desak have apparently fallen on deaf ears, his deadly task unabated--as we come across another civilization "freed" from the yoke of their callous gods and now forced to embrace their own destiny near the ruins of those they once worshipped. Only this day, Desak discovers that one god he would have eventually targeted is dead, killed in final battle with the fire demon, Surtur--yet a death that has opened the door to the opportunity to slay another in his place.




Desak speaks of Tarene, a young girl known as the Designate--a being who will become the key to the ultimate unification of the universe, destined to achieve the power to help evolve sentient beings to the next level of existence. Until that time comes, she has taken form as an Asgardian goddess and become known as Thor Girl; yet Desak only sees her as one who will become like all the others whose selfish lives he's ended, and so he travels to Earth where Tarene has at present fallen to the stone touch of the Grey Gargoyle.

But standing between Desak and his mission of death is Thor, who is now ruler of Asgard and possesses the Odin-force formerly wielded by his deceased father. Or, put another way: a prime target.


Friday, May 17, 2019

No Ringers... No Cheaters... No (Proficient) Women


No doubt the Bar With No Name has gained a reputation in criminal circles for being a watering hole where super-villains can hang out with each other, swap war stories, and toss back a few without being hounded by the law, a fight breaking out, or being attacked. (Though there have been exceptions.) But a more exclusive gathering has built its own reputation over time for providing super-heroes with some down time, while offering them the opportunity to take their fellow guests to the cleaners--a night of business and relaxation hosted by one of the Fantastic Four, who is as serious about cards as he is about giving a villain a one-way ticket to the slammer.

So if you get the word that there's a game going down tonight, be ready to have a seat and ante up, because you've been invited to



By the time you and I are given the privilege to be bystanders at this game, it's evident that they've been held for awhile, though it's not really clear if Mr. Grimm was the chief organizer of these get-togethers. But given how much he looks forward to taking the pot being in attendance, it wouldn't be surprising if he had been their instigator--particularly since, if memory serves, the first one takes place in his own team-up mag, Marvel Two-In-One.

Of course, being stopped at the starting gate doesn't put him in the best of moods.



Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Last Person You'd Expect to Wave A White Flag


The climax to the 2006-07 Civil War seven-issue series perhaps left many of us feeling as if writer Mark Millar and his editors had pulled the rug out from under us and left us baffled and frustrated, given the time (and certainly the $$$) we'd invested in not only the series itself but also in many of its tie-in books. Yet while Millar's presentation was compelled to adhere to a structure that promised battles and bang for our buck, he's correct in pointing out (through Captain America's words of surrender) that Cap's side was winning the battle but failing to win the argument that they were making against the Superhuman Registration Act. In the real world, Cap would have lawyered up and challenged the Act's legality in court on behalf of those who signed his petition with him--a move which, depending on the judge, would likely have blocked the Act from going into effect until the appeals process had run its course.

And yet, here we are, in this series' seventh and final issue--a jailbreak in the government's prison facility in the Negative Zone, with both of the factions involved facing each other in final battle.



We know what would happen if Stark's side prevailed: Cap and his cohorts would have been arrested and imprisoned. And if Cap's side won... what then? Is the SHRA nullified? Does Cap believe he and his supporters would be granted a forum where they can present their case? The answer to either, or both, would almost certainly be a loud and clear "You've got to be kidding, people."

And so an event that Marvel fully invested a year of its time in must have its day--and, as we'll see, a very brief one, all things considered.


Monday, May 13, 2019

"For What Shall It Profit A Man..."


During the 2006-07 mega-crossover event known as Civil War, sides were taken by the super-beings of the U.S., depending on which of them came out in support of the Superhuman Registration Act and which of them refused to comply with it. Consequently, two principal factions were formed and went to "war"--those who sided with Tony Stark (Iron Man) to enforce the Act, with those who rebelled and joined Steve Rogers (Captain America) in defiance of it. In the case of the Fantastic Four, the team's leader, Reed Richards, was firmly in Stark's corner; but the Human Torch and Reed's wife, the Invisible Woman, were sympathetic to Cap's position, while the Thing decided to remain neutral and rode out the conflict in Paris.

As the war reached its boiling point, the Torch met his brother-in-law in a coffee shop and made an earnest effort to have a meeting of the minds on the subject. Reed remained adamant in his belief that the Act is necessary; but even more, he hints that his decision has been reached through a mathematical equation that made the implementation of the Act vital. Granted, that must be some equation, to make him turn on his friends and family for the sake of making sure a law is enforced. And yet... Johnny manages to reach Reed because he's family--and with the Torch in tow, Reed agrees that it would be prudent to have someone "check [his] work."

That brings us to a not-so-abandoned factory in Queens--and a request that one of the Fantastic Four's most persistent and tenacious foes wouldn't soon forget.





"I want you dead. Why should I help you?" If writer Dwayne McDuffie were standing next to me, I'd give him a hearty slap on the back for that line alone.

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Country That Captain America Built


"Never underestimate the power of advertising." -- Jordan Dixon, alias the Viper

Having recently taken a look at one possible future for the X-Men--and for the world--which occurred as a result of misguided individuals attempting to protect those they felt were threatened by outside forces, it seems appropriate to pivot to a story by Peter Gillis and Sal Buscema which focuses instead on Captain America, an individual one would seldom if ever describe as misguided, and certainly not threatening (well, if we're being honest about it...) -- that is, if we were talking about the Captain America who ended up in a block of ice and was tossed by the Sub-Mariner into the ocean, to be later found and revived by the Avengers. But this story puts an interesting twist on the story of another Captain America--the one who surfaced during the 1950s, whose developing psychotic nature eventually twisted his values and forced the government to capture him and place him in cryogenic hibernation (along with his own "Bucky") until a cure could be found for his instability. Revived in 1972 by a disgruntled worker dissatisfied with the state of the country, "Cap" and his partner once more proved to be out of control--finally coming into conflict with the original Cap (and his partner, the Falcon), who ended their threat.

In Gillis's story, however, Namor never arrives at the site of the frozen "idol" being worshipped by Eskimos, who instead end up transporting it with them on their long migrations--and so the Avengers never encounter the floating, famous figure from history. Eventually, lacking a central unifying spirit, the Avengers members decide to suspend their activities and take a hiatus in order to tend to their personal affairs.  But our disgruntled worker is still around, and still unhappy with Nixon's overtures toward China--and, again, he knows just who to turn to.





Of course there is no current-day Captain America in action for these two to target--but left to their own devices, do you have the impression things are going to turn out any better for them this time?

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Inevitable, Explosive Return of Nitro!


While the man known as Nitro may have gotten off to a slow start as a presumed agent of the Lunatic Legion, he's unquestionably attained a lot of mileage out of his super-power, along with no small amount of notoriety. A villain who can detonate himself and reform at will, Nitro holds two main claims to fame (or, rather, infamy): being the catalyst for the events of Marvel's mega-event, Civil War (and, by extension, the Superhuman Registration Act), when he exploded in a populated area and caused over 600 deaths (including 60 school children)... and secondly, for precipitating the accident which resulted in the escape of deadly nerve gas that would eventually lead to the death of Captain Marvel.

Yet well before Mar-vell would become aware of his fatal diagnosis, he would meet Nitro again in battle, though not before the nascent hero named Omega the Unknown dealt him a setback:




Nitro, like the Sandman, Hydro-Man, et al. who have had their forms dispersed at one time or another, is well suited to being re-used as a threat in perpetuity without any major complications--brought into a story, apparently dealt with for good, and then inserted into another story at some future date.  (I.e., detonate, rinse, repeat.)  In Nitro's second meeting with Mar-vell, we only have to wait awhile until he can reassemble himself and return from the stratosphere--this time explosively impacting in the sheep meadow in Central Park, which is Nitro's way of surviving the fall back to Earth.



Apparently, Omega has been put on the back burner as far as Nitro's concerned.

As for Mar-vell, we catch up with him following his resolution to make a life for himself on Earth--and is he off to a good start on our planet. Look how quickly he gets the hang of taking what doesn't belong to him without recompense:



But he's not in civilian garb for long, since Nitro is intent on smoking him out. And where there's smoke--and a deafening explosion--there's in this case Nitro, who's crazed to deliver some payback to our hero.




For what it's worth to Nitro, Omega has met his death by this time, so that's one less thing on his sadistic to-do list. The question is, can Mar-vell put a halt to Nitro's current rampage and truly bring his threat to an end?

Without knowing it, Mar-vell takes a leaf from Omega's book, though with a clever twist--a way to partially contain Nitro's essence and thus nullify his ability to re-form.




Regrettably, Mar-vell has reckoned without the resourcefulness of an attorney working on behalf of Nitro's daughter, who has him freed from his subsequent incarceration at Project Pegasus. And taking a glance at the covers of the two respective stories 3½ years apart--in particular their "coincidental" issue numbers--writer Roger Stern seems to have stumbled upon an old Captain Marvel issue at just the right time for his Spidey story, eh?



BONUS!

Thirty-five years after putting this story to bed, writer Scott Edelman makes the connection between artist Dave Cockrum's last-minute substitution for the final page to this story (the bulk of which was pencilled by George Tuska) and Captain Marvel's debut cover from 1967.


Monday, May 6, 2019

Days Of Future, Doomed


There seems to be no question that the two-issue "Days Of Future Past" story from 1981 was one of the high points of the Chris Claremont/John Byrne/Terry Austin run on Uncanny X-Men--taking place shortly after Storm had assumed leadership of the team following the departure of Cyclops, and the story playing a major part in helping to pivot the book toward a deeper focus on national anti-mutant sentiment. As something of a footnote, it would also mark the last days of Byrne's and Austin's work on the book, with this being their penultimate story for the title before closing out what would be regarded as a distinguished body of work.

The focal point of what comes to pass in this story is Robert Kelly, a U.S. senator (and presidential candidate) who is holding hearings in Washington on the growing number of super-powered mutants in the world. The general impression of Kelly is that he is a "decent man," with legitimate concerns, though whether that's an accurate assessment is arguable; but it becomes a moot point when the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants arrive to assassinate Kelly in order to send a strong message of intimidation to homo sapiens on behalf of homo superior.

In the events that would take shape as a result of Kelly's death at the hands of mutants, to say that the Brotherhood's act backfires is an understatement, with public opinion taking a sharp turn toward increasing fear and hatred of mutants. Four years later, voters elect into office a rabid anti-mutant President who ramrods through legislation designed to place harsh restrictions on those who identify as mutants; but when the so-called "Mutant Control Act" fails to survive a challenge at the U.S. Supreme Court level, the White House commissions a new line of Sentinels programmed to eliminate the mutant menace. That action leads to another backfire, this time one that would sweep up humans along with the intended victims of the purge. To accomplish their directive, the Sentinels decide to effectively take over the entire North American continent, while eliminating not only mutants but also any non-mutant super-powered individuals who impede their progress.

By 2013, humans on the continent are closely overseen by the Sentinels--the population in survival mode, their cities in a state of disrepair, while gangs roam the "uncontrolled" zones and resistance cells attempt to make some sort of headway against the metal overseers. We have only to look through the eyes of Kate Pryde--a mutant that X-Men readers would of course know as Kitty, aged thirty-three years--to see what human fear and paranoia have wrought.




(While the sight of rows of the dead admittedly make for a stunning visual, why would the Sentinels bother with interring their victims? To say nothing of erecting headstones? Some way of underscoring the point that resistance is futile? Wouldn't the fact that they accomplished their directive and are in complete control have sent that message already?)

Yet as bad as things are, the true crisis arises as the Sentinels prepare to move beyond North America and extend their directive to the rest of the world, prompting the other countries to threaten a full-scale nuclear reprisal in response. And so the crux of this story has Kate becoming part of a plan conceived by the few other surviving X-Men in internment to telepathically exchange her consciousness with that of her younger self in 1980 in order to warn the X-Men of the Brotherhood's plan and avert the assassination attempt, thereby preventing the sequence of events that will culminate in the world's destruction. Meanwhile, Kate's comrades in the future will attempt to cripple the Sentinel operation by targeting their continental nerve center, the Baxter Building, so that the metal titans are unable to initiate their expansion and trigger nuclear armageddon.

Both missions are longshots--and the cover of the climactic issue unfortunately offers foreboding overtones in terms of how it will all end.


Friday, May 3, 2019

By Crom, it's sword vs. shield--in 1984!?


And then there was the time when Captain America battled the leader of the Barbarians, a new street gang in New York.

You might know the fellow as Conan the Barbarian.
(Brought to you by Peter Gillis and Bob Hall.)







Wednesday, May 1, 2019

May The Best Team Win!


The scenario that greets your eyes when glancing at the cover and splash page of Fantastic Four #43 must seem shocking, indeed--the FF sprawled amidst the wreckage of an apparent battle, while, inside, Sue Storm and Reed Richards, with the Thing in tow, fleeing for their lives from the Wizard, who is issuing pursuit orders to... the Human Torch? What is going on here?


Fasten those seat belts, and we'll find out!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Victory Once More for the Frightful Four!


While I've never made a top ten list of my favorite comics stories, I feel confident in saying for the record that I can place in my top five list the 1965 three-issue story arc which features the Fantastic Four in their third and final battle with the original Frightful Four, a masterpiece of storytelling by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Vince Colletta that cooks on all cylinders and would finally settle accounts between the FF and their evil counterparts who had defeated them in the past--and, in this no-holds-barred struggle, very, very nearly manage to do so again.

Over time, the Frightful Four would become less noteworthy as their ever-shifting lineup became a revolving door of villains in attempts to establish new chemistry between their members, their criminal endeavors countered by either the FF or others who were less impressed by their threat. But in '65 they were a formidable threat that became a dogged menace to the FF--a group of unsavory characters who really didn't get along under the same roof but were kept in line by the Wizard, whose ruthlessness could match their own and who provided direction and tactics that balanced their abilities and made them dangerous adversaries. Banded together, they were villains to the core, sniping at each other and jockeying for position, but who put their bickering aside when it was time to unite and take down their foes.

This story saw them at the peak of their powers and villainy--and the Fantastic Four were frankly in no shape to face them. The Thing, barely able to walk following a one-on-one battle with Doctor Doom, bitterly leaves the FF for good--which not only leaves his former partners at their most vulnerable.  And as we'll discover, that assessment might hold true for himself, as well.



For their part, the rest of the FF, understandably downcast about the circumstances of Ben's departure, turn their attention to picking up the pieces in the wake of their conflict with Doom; but following a visit from the tearful Alicia Masters, they begin a search for the Thing in order to make certain he needs no medical care. Unfortunately, just to show you how small a world it really is, another group happens upon him first--and what treatment they intend for him remains to be seen.


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Land Of The Pharaohs!


It's always a treat to pick out a Roger Stern Doctor Strange story for a PPC review (and, honestly, that goes for just about any Roger Stern story), but this particular story brings double the pleasure since it cleverly intersects with a classic Fantastic Four tale from 1963 and breathes new life into a plot that has over twenty years of dust covering it. And considerably more dust than that, considering that Strange and the FF are showing up in the year 2940 B.C.!



We know from the original tale that the FF have used Dr. Doom's time machine to investigate ancient hieroglyphics that indicate the existence of a substance which restores sight to the blind, in the hope of using it to treat the Thing's girlfriend, Alicia Masters. But what interest does that hold for Dr. Strange?

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