Friday, May 31, 2019

Ace Is Wild


Ben Grimm is a man who goes where the action is--the poker action, that is. And when it leads to Soho in Manhattan, where several of the X-Men are gathered for some serious downtime and some equally serious gambling, the Thing is right there with his stogie and his chips--and hopefully a winning streak from Lady Luck.

And you know it's going to be a good game when even Storm gets into the spirit of things:

Bobby Drake: " 'ro, got a sec?"
Ororo: "I cannot lend you another five."

Yet it's Sam Guthrie--a/k/a Cannonball--who is hogging most of the limelight at


And not in a good way.




But leave it to an old hand to make a bad situation good for Mr. Guthrie.



Well, Rome wasn't built in a day.


But how fortunes can change in less time than that, as Sam Guthrie--lanky farm boy from Cumberland County, Kentucky--proceeds to clean the clocks of nearly every single player seated at the table. One would almost think that Ben knew just when to leave the game, eh?

But luck is fleeting--and when one card shark looks another in the eye, whose expression is as determined as his own, one must eventually either call, or fold.




So just how good is our boy Sam? Well, the man he faces across the table is none other than Remy LeBeau (a/k/a Gambit), former member of the New Orleans Thieves' Guild and no slouch at deception, misdirection, or, more to the point, bluffing--and who chose playing cards charged with kinetic energy as his trademark weapon. That's either coincidence, or symbolic of his love of the game. That said, Remy is either in deep trouble here--or he's playing a game of his own with his young challenger.




Finally, though, it's time to fish or cut bait--win, or lose. And we won't know who had the better hand until the last card is laid down--or, in this case, thrown. And maybe not even then.




A good question. Why do you think Remy literally threw the game?


BONUS!

Since Ben had little more than a cameo in this game, have a look at this exquisite tribute to the splash page of Fantastic Four #51, as rendered by Mike Deodato, Jr. (with original work by Jack Kirby):



But if I had to take a guess, I'd say that Mr. Deodato was inspired by both Kirby's splash page and the issue's cover, no?


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Your Lives For Ours!


After parting amicably following his first encounter with the Fantastic Four, the last thing we would have expected of Gregory Gideon is for him to return over eight years later and go after the team once more, his villainous nature still intact and his vast fortune still being used for nefarious purposes. Only this time, his reason for targeting them has changed. Previously, he sought to defeat them in order to gain a business advantage; but when his plan failed, and he departed New York seemingly a changed man, the plane carrying himself and his family was caught in the radius of a U.N.-authorized atom bomb test* which took the life of his wife. For Gideon and his son, however, the prognosis was equally grim--unless he found some way, any way, to survive.



*It's news to me that the United Nations would sanction atomic bomb testing, but who am I to dispute Gerry Conway.

We've of course jumped ahead in Gideon's story, but the scene we've witnessed has demonstrated one character trait that has stayed with this man (or in this case, resurfaced with a vengeance):  his hunger for power, which can't help but raise the question whether it, rather than the welfare of his son, is truly the most important thing in his life. Whatever the answer, it's fair to at least make the judgment that Gideon remains his own worst enemy.

And so we pick things up just as Gideon launches his assault to capture the FF, currently on their way back from investigating a mystery at Whisper Hill. But when their transportation is crippled by Gideon's technology, it's fair to wonder if this man made any provision for their subsequent miles-high plummet to the ground below, which could have ended fatally.



Monday, May 27, 2019

Hawkeye, The Defender!


Despite starting his career as a solo act (and briefly partnering with the Black Widow), Hawkeye, the Marksman is perhaps better known by many readers as a long-standing member of the Avengers--though we can go even further and add to his résumé of super-teams with distinguished tours in both the West Coast Avengers and the Thunderbolts. But there is one team where his contribution tends to be overlooked, given that, at the time, the general public was unaware of its existence; and yet Hawkeye made his "mark" on that group of individuals, just as the adventures of their core membership were drawing to a close.

But words like "members" and "team" are inapplicable to the band of fighters named


Friday, May 24, 2019

Elegy In Space


Having seen the debut of what eventually became a fixture of the super-hero set, and no doubt one of the most sought-after invitations in New York City, let's head back to Avengers Mansion once more where our group of regulars shifts up a bit but are still ready to make a grab for the pot, at




It looks like Jarvis has taken over hosting duties for this evening's game, though Ben's late arrival has nonetheless been given all due consideration. But there is another late arrival who is unfamiliar to some of those at the table, even though she had joined them previously--but much has happened to her since then, and she's quite a different person than the woman who sat in on their first game.



And as we can see, this would be what appears to be the Thing's first meeting* with one of the X-Men's most irascible, and most valued, members.




*Ben and Logan have another "first meeting" in another story, which takes place before the Thing made his appearance (and, needless to say, well after this early 1986 tale).

But the tone of the evening shifts slightly with the night's latest arrival--one whose introduction leads to news that comes as a shock to Carol Danvers, who is now the woman called Binary.






The circumstances of Carol's sudden exit no doubt throw a damper on the evening for everyone present; though whether the game continues is unclear, since the story then follows Carol to Mar-vell's grave where she makes her peace with his death. When she returns later, she informs Logan that she's accepting the Starjammers' offer to join them in space, believing that she has no future on Earth since the attack on her by Rogue had the effect of depriving her of any emotions she might have had for those she knew. Yet Carol would someday indeed return to the planet of her birth--and perhaps another invite to take a seat at the table would find its way to her, letting her know she still had a few cards left to play.

And that her winnings would go toward paying for that hole in the roof.

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?

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