Monday, November 11, 2019

Give it up for... Rick Jones, Folk Legend!

Five bucks buys you a chance to solve this

Marvel Trivia Question

How and when did Rick Jones become an overnight singing sensation?

Friday, November 8, 2019

All The News That's Fit To Disclose

Thanks to my investment advisor, who's known for some time of my fixation on comics, I've indulged in some fascinating reading lately on Marvel's annual reports from the 1990s--a topic which normally wouldn't elicit much interest from the average comic book reader, considering that annual reports generally make for pretty dry reading. What makes the subject a little bit different in this instance is that, with the company's IPO in mid-1991 which made 40% of its stock available for public trading, its annual reports to its new shareholders were presented in (what else?) comic book format, with all the facts and figures cleverly folded into a fully-produced story.

Yet the true draw here is that these reports, begun when Marvel Entertainment Group had every reason to believe the company's outlook was rosy, chart decisions, acquisitions, divestments, and various other factors which would eventually lead to Marvel filing for bankruptcy at the end of 1996--though you'd never know that was on the horizon from the positive spin of the tale featured in its (to my knowledge) final report from 1995, where not even a hard news man like J. Jonah Jameson is interested in digging for the real story.

The plot of the story by Gary Fishman is easy reading: Essentially, the Impossible Man--all for the sake of fun, of course--has stolen the Bugle's pages on the Report, leaving it up to Spider-Man and a number of other heroes to recover them in time to meet Jameson's deadline.

For a more unvarnished look at Marvel's financial straits during the '90s, I'd recommend two sources: First, the Wikipedia entry* on the subject, which very briefly breaks things down by year--and then, for a more investigative approach, a well-written article** from 1998 in The New York Times which does an excellent job of bringing to light everything and everyone that was involved. What I found particularly interesting in the article was the importance placed on speculators, whose penchant for buying multiple copies of a single issue and hanging onto them on the assumption that they would be worth far more than their cover price over time gave Marvel a false sense of how many consumers were actually fueling the market. (Which makes me strictly bush league in that regard--on occasion I'd buy an extra copy, maybe two, of an issue I thought likely to increase in value substantially, but the article speaks of people who would buy twenty copies of issues across the board, many of whom would become retailers in their own right.)

*Marvel Entertainment: Public offering and acquisition; Bankruptcy and Marvel Studios
**Adam Bryant, "Pow! The Punches That Left Marvel Reeling" - May 24, 1998

I haven't delved into the pages of the '91-'94 reports, but I found some of the names that popped up in the company's Board of Directors to be surprising:

Wrapping up the story was a page which offered a look at plans for increasing its exposure in other venues--most notably its "Marvel Mania" themed restaurants which fared poorly, and a Marvel Universe section at Universal's Orlando theme park (which ended up recycling the Marvel Mania concept and toning down the Marvel "universe" to a simple theme store.

On a closing note, and in the interest of full disclosure, my advisor treated me to not just one but two copies of the '95 report--which leads me to believe he knows more about being a speculator than he's willing to let on.

Covers from the 1991-94 Annual Reports.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Wrath Of The World Breaker!

Having seen the events which led up to the 2007-08 series, World War Hulk, we know that Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Stephen Strange, and Blackagar Boltagon (that still sounds silly) are going to be made to answer for their actions toward the Hulk and, by extension, Bruce Banner--and though we'll discover that those actions don't amount to the level of transgressions that the Hulk intends to hold them accountable for, our four "heroes," in addition to a number of others as well as a sizable part of New York City, will suffer considerably by the time his rage and this series have run their course.

Which makes this more "NYC War Hulk" than what the title implies, since confining your attack to one city doesn't engulf an entire planet in a war. Still, when the Hulk emerges from an alien ship dangling his first victim, every costumed figure worth his salt knows that the Hulk's threat to extend his attack to the rest of the world must be taken seriously.  (Or so the Hulk would have them believe, should his demands not be met.)

The Hulk's announcement also serves to offer readers who passed on the "Planet Hulk" storyline (such as myself) a capsulized glance at the tragic events of that story while boiling down the Hulk's grievance against his four targets in a nutshell--which seems an effective way to handle a five-issue, 200+ page series in a single PPC post (hey, I'm not at war with the Hulk!) while offering a look at the work comprising this ambitious project.

As you might guess, the story's first order of business is to feebly tie the hands of the one person who could end this conflict with a single incantation.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Prelude To... War!

No doubt practically anyone who was a regular reader of Incredible Hulk a few years after the turn of the century can recite the underlying reasons which became the foundation for the hostilities encompassing the 2007-08 series known as World War Hulk. Following a plan executed by Reed Richards, Black Bolt, Dr. Strange, and Iron Man which traps the Hulk in a space shuttle and sends him to another world, thereby removing the threat of the Hulk forever, the shuttle's later explosion on the planet where the Hulk made a new life for himself incinerates all that he had accomplished for himself, including the casualties of his wife and newly-conceived child; and so, in a fit of revenge, he returns to Earth to take out his rage on those he holds responsible for his pain and his losses.

But while I was putting together this train of thought, it occurred to me that I was a little fuzzy on some of the details. For instance, by this point the Hulk had been rampaging on the Earth for (by our standards) over thirty years--surely Earth's heroes had seen more than enough incidents of endangerment and destruction on the Hulk's part to justify throwing up their hands and saying "enough is enough" well before now. But let's say for the sake of discussion that it took them awhile to finally reach their limit on the Hulk--hadn't Strange's gambit to exile the Hulk to a dimensional "crossroads" already effectively attempted this sort of solution, and failed?

And so I started to work my way back in order to have a more complete picture of what led up to taking this step, in the assumption that the whole thing wasn't simply fast-tracked to launch the WWH event and begin cashing in on not only the main title but all the crossovers. It turns out that I'm both right and wrong in that notion: not fast-tracked in the sense that A was put in place to lead to B and then to C in a very short amount of time, but rather those pieces being restricted to the stories leading up to the Hulk's exile itself. In the meantime, we can presume that production had already begun on the WWH books and the separate titles that conflict affected, thus allowing time for the Hulk's "Planet Hulk" storyline to play out for a 12-month period from April 2006-07. At the end of that storyline--well, as NASA would put it, we have liftoff.

As for just what those pieces were, we can break them down as follows.

Fantastic Four #s 533-535
January-April, 2006

If we're looking for a catalyst for World War Hulk, here it is--starting with the Fantastic Four getting word of a gamma bomb explosion in Nevada, which interrupts a situation involving their children and necessitates the Thing and the Human Torch heading to investigate the Hulk on their own.

But the status of the Hulk turns out to be worse than expected, not only with the Hulk's startling difference in appearance but also because of the fact that his mental state is fragile at best.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Man Of The Kree... Man Of The Sea

While it's not exactly surprising to see unlikely pairings of Marvel characters--we only have to take a look at such combinations as the Champions, or the Defenders, or the Secret Defenders, or the Titans Three, or, for that matter, practically any issue of Marvel Team-Up--writer Roy Thomas, for whatever reason, felt that something would click with the pairing of a sea-born prince and a space-born alien. And with Thomas's track record, who are we to say him nay?

Thomas's first pairing of Captain Marvel and the Sub-Mariner took place in the former's nascent title in August of 1968, when Mar-vell, a spy stationed on our world, was beginning to have doubts about his mission among us. In his civilian guise as Dr. Walter Lawson, he learns of a rocket launch designed to release into space test tubes filled with deadly bacteria, in order to record their reactions to cosmic rays. (Which seems like we were just asking for trouble, doesn't it?) But Mar-vell's superior in orbit, Col. Yon-Rogg, diverts the rocket so that it crashes just outside New York Harbor--though that development in itself is cause for alarm, since the rocket is automatically primed to jettison the vials which will now be released into Earth's atmosphere, rather than into space as planned.

Nearby, the Sub-Mariner has arrived on site and is alerted to the situation and warned to stay away--but he's keen to take advantage of the opportunity to establish a link with the human race, by averting this disaster. As for Mar-vell, given his doubts about bringing harm to humans, you'd think he and Namor would be on the same page in this, wouldn't you--but Yon-Rogg's orders to him effectively set both of these men against one another.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Kids, Don't Try This At Home

It's only a day before Halloween, but I'm guessing some of you are still thinking of ways to occupy your time for that all-hallows evening. And if that's the case, and you're looking for something a little on the gruesome side (and who isn't?), why not follow the example of a man who, hands down, wins the award for


Yes, I can guess what you're thinking: This is too creepy, even for Halloween. Crosses the line. Comicsfan has turned a dark corner somewhere and probably should be medevaced to Bellevue, yesterday.

So what is it with this guy? Well, as unsettling as it is to be on a first-name basis with someone who's getting comfy with a corpse, his name is Chernak--and not only is Chernak disturbingly happy about what he's doing, but very quickly it becomes apparent that he's got something else in mind than what we're assuming at first glance.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Partners In Peril!

OR: "Of Kicks and Kickbacks!"

The illusion of time spent in regard to the comics industry and one's enjoyment of all that comes from it is a curious thing from the reader's perspective, as entire months can go by almost unnoticed while you're enjoying the work of a creative team--one that may have only produced only a few issues of, say, three or four stories in that time before pulling up stakes and moving on. There are several examples that may come to mind for you, as they did for myself--the teaming of Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner on Doctor Strange... Roy Thomas and John Buscema on Fantastic Four... Roy Thomas and Neal Adams on X-Men... David Kraft and Keith Giffen on The Defenders... creative pairs whose work shone noticeably and then disappeared for good, just when it seemed critical acclaim of their work was spreading. One other such teaming which must be mentioned in this grouping took place during 1980-81, a period which brought us nine months of the work of writer Roger Stern and artist/co-plotter John Byrne on the Captain America title--nine months that translated to a mere nine issues and just seven stories from this team, yet nonetheless became remembered as a high point for the book.

You'll find several of those stories already covered in the PPC--but around midpoint into the Stern/Byrne run came a two-part story featuring two classic villains who some might consider also-rans, but whose scheme came close to threatening the lives of ten million people. Fortunately, both of these men were willing to deal with a special envoy of the district attorney, who at their request would deliver the ransom they'd demanded--though their interpretation of "deal with" carried more deadly implications for the man in question.

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Artistry of John Severin

"I was kind of thrilled when John Severin inked me, because I liked his work for EC comics and he was one of my idols." - Herb Trimpe

A distinguished artist whose career spanned nearly sixty years, John Severin's work also spanned genres: whether it was horror, or comics, or satire, or westerns, or sword and sorcery, or war, his style added eye-catching detail and a sense of realism to the images he would depict. Most of the work I've seen from Severin came from his assignments as a finisher, rather than pencilling; I'd even go so far as to state that it wouldn't be surprising to discover how many of us are able to identify his inking at a glance. That said, he proved to be capable of handling the dual roles of penciller and inker in a good number of publications and stories, while all the while carving out a fruitful and varied career for himself--well-regarded by his peers and by the industry as a whole.

Severin passed away at 90 in early 2012 (followed 6½ years later by his sister, Marie, also a giant in the industry). As much for those of you who haven't had a great deal of exposure to his work as for those who have had that privilege and might wish to simply reminisce, following is a brief collection of panels which hopefully offer a fair sampling of his talent. (Though you'll find it fairly obvious just which body of work stands out for me the most!)

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

"In The Jaws Of The Serpent!"

In what would be their third foray into inciting racial violence in the United States, the Sons of the Serpent, as we've already seen in the first two parts of a four-part story, have reorganized and begun launching attacks in New York City designed to stoke fear in their foreign-born and non-white victims and hopefully gain the attention of those like-minded white Americans supportive of their cause. Yet they've also drawn the attention of the dynamic Defenders (and their guest, the Avenger known as Yellowjacket), thanks to both the Valkyrie and Nighthawk having become involved with two individuals who have had exposure to the Sons' activities: Elena, a young woman forced to vacate a building in Manhattan's lower east side due to deplorable conditions ignored by her landlord, Harold Holliman... and Holliman himself, a real estate tycoon of little to no conscience who wishes to build a high-rise on the site and has courted fellow tycoon Kyle Richmond (Nighthawk) as a potential investor. Richmond never warmed up to Holliman or his proposal, his instincts toward the man having apparently been justified when Holliman is blamed (albeit cleared) in the firebombing which later destroyed Elena's building and resulted in loss of life, but whose name is later floated as the possible power behind the Sons of the Serpent.

As for the Defenders, they have been identified by the Sons as traitors to their race and captured, to soon face public execution. And now, apparently helpless, they're forced to listen as the Sons proudly explain their role in the purging of their country of those they consider impure--an explanation that includes their justification for mass murder.

It's a scenario that carries apocalyptic overtones, if only domestically--a plan that would require widespread outreach and public support for the Sons' goals to reach fruition, which bespeaks a level of sophistication and resources that would indicate the Sons have already marshaled considerable support and swelled their ranks from all corners of the country. Can the Defenders hope to stop such an organized and committed group, even if they somehow succeed in shutting them down locally? For that matter, can they escape their fate at present?

Well, we did say that they were apparently helpless...

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Fangs Of The Racist

"As the first serpent drove Adam and Eve from Eden, so shall we drive from this land the unfit, the foreign-born, the inferior."

At first glance, the credo of the Sons of the Serpent might seem counter-productive to their goal of purging non-white, non-indigenous persons and ethnic groups from America; after all, even people of like mind might think twice about siding with an organization which appears to take pride in the means by which two white people were driven from paradise forever. But the group we're talking about has little to do with logic, or reason--or, it perhaps goes without saying, humanity.

Looking back at the appearances of the Sons of the Serpent and those who have opposed them, it might be difficult to see even a clearly racist organization such as themselves drawing the involvement of a super-team such as the Avengers, who have gone up against them twice; were it not for the fact that the Sons adopted flamboyant, menacing costumes and had a S.H.I.E.L.D. dossier, they might have been a group better suited to the F.B.I. to investigate and build a case against.  And if the involvement of costumed heroes somehow were warranted, individuals such as Daredevil and/or the Black Panther could be dealt in to make for an intriguing and perhaps even more gripping story than a cry of "Avengers Assemble!" might provide.

That said, it's been surprising how writers Stan Lee and Roy Thomas were able to craft Avengers tales which directly involved the Sons and spanned more than one issue. Both stories were a means to an end, in that each came down to a figurehead that could be unveiled and toppled and thus be quickly and neatly wrapped up--though frankly the Sons' cause wasn't helped by adopting a snake motif and having their organization fronted by their spokesperson, the "Serpent Supreme," thus conveying the impression that it was his agenda that he sought support for rather than pushing a message to reflect that the Sons as a whole were tapping into the pulse of all Americans.  Instead, the Sons crafted a deception within a deception, which could only make their organization appear even more insidious.

Yet would the Avengers have been as effective against an organization that wasn't so blatant in its operations? We've seen how the team became split right down the middle when it came to choosing between tracking down the movements of the criminal cartel, Zodiac, vs. helping a Native American seeking justice against a white, ruthless businessman trying to force his people to vacate their lands. Would the team have even turned their attention to the Sons if that group's activities didn't involve one of their own, as was the case in each of their dealings with that group as well as with Red Wolf? With the exception of giving assistance to the Panther... er, the Leopard following his disappearance in Rudyarda, a white supremacist stronghold, the Fantastic Four's adventures seldom pivoted to stories on race--preferring to make their statement on the subject by analogy (e.g., the Monster of the Lost Lagoon, the Mole Man, Omega, et al.)--the X-Men taking a similar tack with their focus on the persecution of and bigotry against mutants.

You would think, then, that the non-team known as the Defenders would have even less reason to cross paths with the Sons, since the amount of interaction and exposure involved would represent a sharp turn toward the very things they seek to avoid: television cameras... news coverage... large crowds... to say nothing of the paper trail of culpability leading back to one Defender in particular (though we'll get to that in due time). Yet writer Steve Gerber manages to craft a well-structured and at times riveting four-part story* which makes folding the Defenders into the Sons' race war believable--all the more so since it will lead to the involvement of not just one but two of their members on a personal level.

*It seemed negligent not to emphasize that; one can grow very fatigued with that much Sons of the Serpent exposure if the material isn't handled carefully.

The first of those we come to immediately--the Valkyrie, who responds to a terrified cry and is witness to a sight more horrific than any she has beheld in the company of her comrades.

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Gods Must Be Crazy

We've come to the end of our roundup of the last of Marvel's large-format books from November of 1971 to be reviewed at the PPC--and of all of Marvel's characters who would be suited to such a format, few would arguably be more visually impressive than this gentle, inoffensive green behemoth who evokes serenity and happiness wherever he sets foot.

And if you're buying that malarkey, I have a gamma bomb I'd like to sell you.
All right, it's made of legos, but still.

With a large page count to accommodate, artists Herb Trimpe and John Severin (the definitive penciller/inker team for the incredible Hulk, in my humble opinion) more than fulfill their obligation in this issue, covering enough bases to give a new Hulk reader a decent amount of background on the character while also demonstrating what makes the Hulk so unique in Marvel's stable. Yet Hulk #145 isn't all smooth sailing, inserting as it does a story within a story of the Hulk being conscripted into appearing in, of all things, a Hollywood film being shot in the Sahara Desert. There's nothing new about a Hulk tale being a little offbeat on occasion; try picturing the Hulk being fawned over and holding his temper while attending a party thrown by the cream of Manhattan society, for instance. Yet you may find that "Godspawn," this issue's central story, is virtually dealt into everything else that's taking place, rather than the other way around--which may be intentional on the part of first-time Hulk scripter Len Wein, given how it only offers a glimpse of itself before disappearing for nearly half the issue.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

For Daredevil Comes... Death!

Welcome to the middle of a week-long roundup of those remaining large-format books from late 1971 which the PPC has yet to cover in depth. Starting us off this week was a look at the 34-page Sub-Mariner story, scripted by Gerry Conway and pencilled by Gene Colan, that sees Namor continuing his search for both his human father who is reported to still be alive, and the woman who murdered his bride--in that order, which appears to be proof that even former monarchs can use some help in getting their priorities straight.

But now, we come to Daredevil #81, also by Conway and Colan, which finds our Man Without Fear in dire straits following a battle with his nemesis, the Owl, after being abandoned in a damaged helicopter high in the sky. What doesn't stay up, must come down, of course--and from the looks of the issue's cover as well as its splash page, Daredevil has plummeted way, way down, along with the 'copter wreckage. But it appears that help is on the way.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Apostle Of The Aged!

With both Daredevil and Sub-Mariner hitting the spinner racks in November of 1971--the month that Marvel briefly increased both the size and pricing of a number of their issues before shifting them all back to a regular-sized format the following month--you might think that artist Gene Colan, who pencilled both titles, would be a little frazzled at having to gear up and turn in nearly twice the page count of work for each of those issues that month. Fortunately, Colan caught a break, with the Daredevil story amounting to just nineteen pages while the rest of the issue was supplemented with a Thing/Human Torch reprint from a Strange Tales story from mid-1965--which left Colan free to focus on the additional fourteen pages for Sub-Mariner, his first story in Namor's solo series to begin what would be a seven-issue run.

Yet with the character of Namor floundering a bit following the departure of writer Roy Thomas from the book, it was hard to imagine a 34-page story would amount to much, even with Colan's return to a character he was by this time well familiar with. Thus far, the only direction for Namor was that which Thomas had set him on at the closing of his final scripted issue of Sub-Mariner--his search for his human father, though already sidetracked by tepid encounters with a mutant named Turalla (wrapping up a two-part crossover begun in Daredevil) followed by a rather bizarre mortal foe by the name of, I kid you not, "Aunt Serr," a threat which somehow rated a two-part tale. But while "Mindquake!" virtually spins its wheels and does fairly little except to tie up a loose end from the Turalla story, it nevertheless continues showing us a Sub-Mariner who no longer is buffered by his Atlantean subjects and saddled with a responsibility for his former kingdom's safety and future. Arguably, that may be its only selling point--aside from the issue's extra 14 pages, for which the reader has been assured by the announcement of this new format is quite a bargain.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Today's Pinch Hitter: The Monstroid!

How surprising that in all this time we've seen so little of the Monstroid, an alien robot so named by the Puppet Master when he had the good fortune of finding and taking control of it after its ship had crashed outside of his cabin. An experimental construct created by the Skrulls to use as a scout during the Kree-Skrull War, Ballox (his Skrull designation) appeared in a 1972 Marvel Team-Up story and was subsequently rendered inactive when its link to the Puppet Master was severed by the Vision; but its debut proved that it could be useful in any number of stories where a villain needed a bruiser to do their bidding. (Off the top of my head, seeing the Wizard draft it as part of a new Frightful Four lineup was a story waiting to happen.)

Yet the Monstroid's final active appearance in a Marvel comic (to my knowledge) occurred nearly three years after the Team-Up story--only this time it didn't face Spider-Man in battle, but the living weapon of K'un Lun. (Who, if he could, would probably be down with having Luke Cage as his wingman right about now.)

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Call Him... Genesis!

It's probably news to you (as it certainly was to myself) that, according to Doctor Strange writer Steve Englehart*, all mystic energy in the universe is finite, and must be shared among all who understand its use; ergo, the more magicians there are in a certain time period, the less mystical energy one could claim and wield. In reading stories featuring Strange, I had been of the notion that it was the more learned sorcerer who possessed more might, in practice if not on paper. Yet in a previous Englehart story, it always seemed odd to me that the Ancient One, upon his passing, could "bequeath" his mystic powers to his disciple, Dr. Strange, as if they were physical assets one could arrange to transfer upon death.  At the time, I regarded that as the Ancient One passing on his accumulated mystic knowledge to Strange (along the lines of the often-quoted passage attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, "knowledge is power"), which seemed to make the most sense considering that the Ancient One had little power to spare by the time he met his maker. Otherwise, we're left to assume that the Ancient One was keeping all of his power that he'd accumulated over the centuries tucked away in a vault back in his Himalayan temple, mystically triggered for release to Strange at the time of his death.

*Though if an earlier Doctor Strange writer actually established this, do chime in and bring it to my attention.

Nevertheless, Englehart's unofficial creed of mystic energy ties in with--or, rather, appears designed to accommodate--the two-part 1974 story that took place in Marvel Premiere which involves Sise-Neg, a sorcerer who has travelled into the past from the 31st century. In his scheme, Sise-Neg means to take control of all available mystic energy from selected eras as he goes further back in time, so that, when he at last reaches the dawn of creation, all mystic energy in existence will be in his exclusive possession, making him all-powerful and capable of reshaping to his liking all that is to come. But two other sorcerers are along for the ride: Baron Mordo, who hopes to win Sise-Neg's trust and thus assure himself of favorable status in the universe born of Sise-Neg's will... and Dr. Strange, who began this journey with the intent of stopping Mordo from taking such action himself but must now also take the unexpected danger from Sise-Neg into account.

Part 1 of this story is further evidence of Dr. Strange being well on track to returning as a viable character in the Marvel stable, as Englehart and artist Frank Brunner continue to inject new life into the mystic master with engaging stories featuring excellent characterization and (you'll excuse the term) spellbound artwork. And now, as we continue to Part 2, Sise-Neg proceeds on the final leg of his journey backward through time, with Strange and Mordo virtually perched on each shoulder as a kind of angel/devil pairing--one acting as Sise-Neg's conscience and imploring him to see the value of human life, the other self-serving and urging him to follow his instincts in treating humanity with contempt. With each stop on that journey, Sise-Neg materializes in order to take possession of whatever mystical energy at that point in time attracts his attention--and in so doing, provides both Mordo and Strange with an opportunity to win his trust, and affect his choices.

The particular time period which the story first deals with is presumably the late 5th century, specifically in what was then Britain, as elements of King Arthur's reign are encountered--with Merlin's power being the likely source of Sise-Neg's interest. Unfortunately, Mordo appears well-versed in the legends of Camelot--and he uses the tragedy of its principal residents as fodder for strengthening his position with Sise-Neg.

Strike One for Strange--and as he rightly notes, he can't afford to keep giving Mordo opportunities to sway a sorcerer who is on track to becoming a deity.

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