Friday, August 30, 2019

Revelation(s)!


Oh, Peter Parker. These little deceptions used to be so easy for you to pull off, didn't they.




Well, kiss those days goodbye, sport, because that was 1965--and these days, May Parker is going to want some answers from you, young man!



While it's true that Peter has had a number of narrow escapes from situations where his secret identity was at risk, he finally had to face the music in the 1990s (and even into the 2000s) when no less than three writers in five separate spider-titles decided to play a part in at last opening the eyes of Peter's Aunt May, the one person he strove to keep in the dark above all others about his double identity.

But, wait--three writers? Five different Spider-Man books? And this wasn't a crossover story? To that, we'd have to answer both yes and no--"yes," in that one of the stories was explained in more detail in another spider-title that crossed over to yet another, but "no" in regard to Aunt May discovering Peter's secret. Which means that, as odd as it sounds, May learned the truth about Peter, from Peter, on three separate occasions. That either adds up to a lot of confessing on Peter's part, or there's more to the situation than is evident.

To clear it all up, let's take each of these stories in sequence and try to bring some context to all of it. (A tall order when dealing with the chaotic nature of Marvel comics published in the decades bookending the turn of the century.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Men Who Would Be Captain America


We've previously seen how the A.I.M. creation known as the Adaptoid attempted to duplicate Captain America's form and skills in order to effectively replace him (and failed); yet there were also ordinary humans who tried to fill the void when Cap, who had become disillusioned with his own government, decided to abandon his star-spangled identity and return to a normal life as Steve Rogers. Unfortunately, those stand-ins would almost immediately learn that no ordinary individual could easily step into the boots of someone so extraordinary.

And brother, they learned it the hard way.

Bob Russo:



Russo believes that changing uniforms from an idolized ball player to an idolized American hero will be an easy transition for him. But this time the field he looks to play in has no rules, little to no margin for error... and one hell of a learning curve.



Scar Turpin:

Like Russo, Turpin makes his announcement with an audience present in order to benefit from the immediate gratification of those who look up to him--though it looks like he already has a rival for the position he seeks to claim.



But poor Scar may regret going out on patrol and not bringing along the rest of his little cycle club for backup--because it turns out his opponents weren't as short-sighted in that regard.




Roscoe Simmons:

As Steve Rogers' young gym partner, Roscoe has received his inspiration from watching Rogers go through his above-average workout regimen--so when he's ready to take the next step, it stands to reason that Rogers would be the man he'd ask for help in training him to be the next C.A. But he runs into the Falcon instead, who isn't supportive of the idea--a flippant reaction, coming from one who learned the ropes from Cap, himself.



Unlike our other would-be Caps, Roscoe wasn't lucky enough to walk away with a few bruises, as he's captured and brutally slain by the Red Skull.

As for the real Cap, things worked out pretty well for himself and his lover, Sharon Carter--at least in his brief time as a civilian, before he would later resume the life of a costumed adventurer as the Nomad.




Yet... does all of this give you a sense of déjà vu?

To find the answer, we have to turn the pages back by posing yet another


Marvel Trivia Question



What prior Captain America story were these events presumably recycled from?

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Junior G-Man


OR: "Don't Yield... Back SHIELD!"


In what might be a precursor to the surprising discovery by the Avengers of Henry Peter Gyrich showing up and making a mockery of their security, a story from 1967 opens with Tony Stark and his security staff preparing to deal with the presence of an intruder on the grounds of his factory, one who has evaded capture and waits inside. In fact, not only are Stark and his men surprised to see him doing just that--but they can probably safely say that their quarry isn't at all what they were expecting.




Yes--Jasper Sitwell, the youthful, energetic, and ever-confident S.H.I.E.L.D. agent assigned to Stark as an extra measure of security to safeguard weaponry manufactured for Nick Fury's spy agency. We can only imagine the wry grin on Fury's face, knowing how Sitwell's go-getter, plucky attitude would likely needle a nose-to-the-grindstone man like Stark, especially with Sitwell sticking to Stark's side like glue. But Stark doesn't seem to be laughing.



As we can see, the character of Sitwell is tailor-made for writer Stan Lee's scripting style, which nicely plays off of Stark's attempt to keep Sitwell's gift of gab in check but utterly failing. Sitwell is definitely the type to speak up--and Stark finds to his dismay that a lack of frankness doesn't appear to be one of his problems.



Saved by the bell--or in this case, the deadly attack of the Grey Gargoyle, who, thanks to a newspaper story announcing it, is after Stark's new cobalt weapon which he hopes will help to defeat Thor and allow him to take possession of his hammer in the belief that it will give him the immortality he craves.

But while Stark appreciates Sitwell's intervention as far as it giving him the opportunity to suit up as Iron Man, he isn't as fond of the idea of Sitwell remaining in harm's way.




Friday, August 23, 2019

Battle In... Burbank!?


RECIPE FOR A RUMBLE:

Take one (1) orange, envious Thing, who's planted himself in front of the television to take in an episode of the 1978 "Incredible Hulk" series and can't for the life of him understand why it isn't himself on that 25-inch screen:




Following a loud crash that signifies a large orange foot making unrestrained contact with said television, add in the Thing's famous three (3) partners, who suggest he take out his angst on the show's producer:



Mix in one-half (½) physicist and one-half (½) raging behemoth, who, blended together, would also like nothing better than a face-to-face with our hapless producer, and not to chat about an acting job:



Finally, fold in three (3) former studio stuntmen who are scheming to make off with more zeroes than they ever saw in their paychecks:



Allow for flight (and leaping) time, and then serve.
But careful, this dish might have quite a kick to it!


Monday, August 19, 2019

The Devourer... The Titan... The End!


Not long after he gained his freedom from his imprisonment on Earth, the Silver Surfer found himself in conflict with the Elders of the Universe, who were planning to not only destroy Galactus but all reality, as well. But the Elders' scheme ended in shambles, with three of their number (the Astronomer, the Trader, and the Possessor) being hurled into a black hole, while the others...

The others faced one heck of a reckoning.




Yet Galactus didn't have as long as he thought to adapt to the essence of the Elders he'd consumed (the Grandmaster, the Runner, Champion, the Gardener, and the Collector), who had later re-formed and began attacking him from within, debilitating him with convulsions. Meanwhile, having escaped from the realm of Chaos and Order (which, to the three Elders' astonishment, was an unexpected "drop-off point" they'd arrived at after being drawn into the black hole), the Silver Surfer has come to the aid of two of the Fantastic Four against none other than the In-Betweener, who has used the power of the Soul Gem to escape his masters and their realm via the black hole, where he prepares to honor his bargain with the three who were secretly his allies.



And so the group departs for our universe, leaving the Surfer and the FF trapped in the black hole. As for Galactus, sooner or later he would have had to face the In-Betweener, to whom Galactus is "the middle force between the extremes of his realm, as I was the middle force in mine! And even had I not promised [the Elders] his death, there can be but one of us here." But even with Galactus virtually helpless in the throes of the remaining Elders' attack, can destroying him be so easy for the In-Betweener?




To rid the universe of Galactus, then, the In-Betweener decides to hurl him into the black hole--a course of action the three Elders strongly object to, since their fellow Elders remain trapped within Galactus. But as they move to attack, the In-Betweener summons Death itself to claim them, after which he hurls Galactus' ship and all aboard into the black hole--which, as we've already seen happen, ends up in the realm of Chaos and Order, which the FF and the Surfer have returned to.

Got all that so far? Believe me, it's not easy condensing one of Steve Englehart's convoluted plots!

Back in our universe, what the In-Betweener doesn't yet realize is that the Surfer has informed Chaos and Order of how their rebellious creation has now escaped them and what he's been up to; needless to say, they're not happy with the In-Betweener. And so they act to save Galactus by drawing the other Elders out of his form--and once free of his, er, indigestion, Galactus becomes obsessed with a single goal:



I would have thought flattening the Elders like pancakes would have been first on his hit list, but what do I know?

Friday, August 16, 2019

When Strikes Everything... And Nothing!


If there's a Marvel character whose raison d'être has been and remains a head-scratcher, I'd probably be in agreement with you in putting the In-Betweener at or near the top of the short list. Springing unsurprisingly from the mind of Jim Starlin and sharing the fashion sense of the Zodiac member, Gemini, the In-Betweener is an abstract entity who was created by and often takes his marching orders from the entities known as Chaos and Order, but is just as liable to act on his own initiative when becoming aware of a situation which requires his intervention to restore "balance."

But how to describe him? Starlin would script him thus: "I am truly the In-Betweener, he who walks betwixt all concepts such as life and death... reality and illusion... good and evil... logic and emotion... god and man... all these things do I know and can effect, yet never do they touch me!" "He is the barrier between dichotomies. He is the separator of actualities." Steve Englehart, in Silver Surfer, pretty much stuck to Starlin's definition but added: "I am everything, for I am nothing! I am a concept... of concepts!" Good heavens. Boiled down, we can presume that the In-Betweener is a being that can essentially act with impunity, affecting but not being affected by--which would put him in the company of other abstracts like Love, Chaos, Hate, Death, Eternity, Infinity, Order, et al., but with the distinction of acting as a virtual operative and being immune to the effects of, say, an assault from the Infinity Gems. He's quite unique. (Of course he would respond with "...but yet common and unremarkable!")

We first learn of the In-Betweener when he acts on behalf of Chaos and Order (as well as the Magus) to seek out and transport Warlock to his realm* where Chaos and Order will prep him to become the Magus:



*Even the In-Betweener's domain is difficult to define: "...that space between fact and fantasy...the land between reality and illusion, time and space!" His writers must have a ball scripting him.

Once the affair with the Magus is concluded, the In-Betweener turns out to be a natural foe for Dr. Strange, a sorcerer whose studies and experiences have touched on many of the concepts the In-Betweener walks between. Strange's foe has decided to take part in the plans of a trio of sorcerers called the Creators, who devised a cosmic "wheel of change" to alter the cosmos to their will. But in battling the Creators, Strange damaged the wheel, thereby setting the stage for his confrontation with the power behind the Creators.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Staggering Saga Of... They!


The machinations of the mysterious group known as They (no relation to "Them," an organization later referred to as Advanced Idea Mechanics) reach back to 1973, as they began to insert themselves into the affairs of super-beings for reasons unknown--as unknown as their identities, always appearing in shadow when they deigned to appear at all. We first learned of them when the Orb made his play to wrest back control of the cycle show owned and operated by the Ghost Rider and his love, Roxanne Simpson; and for the next year, They continued to act behind the scenes in Marvel Team-Up stories to sow chaos and even widespread destruction that the book's guest-star would attempt to quash with the help of either Spider-Man or the Human Torch.

At the time, their motives were anyone's guess, their actions as diverse as they were unpredictable. From what would seem to be fairly low-key involvement in supplying the Orb with gear to win back the business he helped to found, They began to flex their influence more forcefully, both around and even beneath the globe. It all breaks down as follows:



March-April, 1974 (four months following the Orb's appearance)

Traveling to the Savage Land, Vincent Stegron, an assistant to Curt Connors, uses an extract for cell regeneration to become Stegron, the Dinosaur Man, while intending to transport the region's dinosaurs to civilization in an insane plan to see their return to planetary dominance. And guess who provides the "ark" that will bring them all to New York?



You wouldn't think dinosaurs would be at all simple to corral--but Spider-Man does it as easy as you please, thanks to a super-strong if unstable formula that the Black Panther gives him to modify his webbing. Neither of these heroes wonders how an under-the-radar lab assistant like Stegron got his hands on a mammoth sky ark that can transport dinosaurs, nor do they seem interested at all in reverse engineering it to find any clues as to who created it--a lucky break for They, who it seems might have another pawn in writer Len Wein.



October, 1974

The witch doctor of the Lava Men receives a vision that leads him to machinery abandoned by the Mole Man which can be adapted to activate every volcano on Earth, thereby drowning the surface world in molten magma.



Thor and the Human Torch show up to destroy the machine, with Wein finally giving us our first glimpse of They--who strike us as little more than mischievous malefactors with too much time on their hands.




December, 1974

Spider-Man and Hercules team up to stop a series of deadly earth tremors in Manhattan. But the culprit turns out to be a pawn of parties as yet unknown.




January, 1977

With neither Wein nor Gerry Conway (who scripted the Spidey/Hercules tale) showing any further interest in fleshing out They, the group lies dormant for two years until a link to them is established in The Man Called Nova--yet we won't truly learn of that link for some time, since writer Marv Wolfman appears either unaware of any plans involving They (assuming there are any concrete plans at this point) or uninterested in dropping their name. And it isn't like Nova doesn't have enough to worry about in stopping the mad plans of Tyrannus.



On an unrelated note, Wolfman inadvertently provides a scene that in hindsight could have served as a warning against rushing this flash in the pan into his own series--though for what it's worth, the book had a run of 25 issues before it folded.




March, 1977

Len Wein returns to have They resurface two months later and at last step out from the sidelines (if not the shadows), conscripting the Absorbing Man to attack the incredible Hulk.




Of course, what Creel plans to do and what actually happens are often two different things.




As we can see, Wein isn't ready to tip his hand on They, who still haven't shown that they're much more than slightly sadistic troublemakers getting their kicks from provoking conflict. Yet the honor of providing substance to They would fall to someone else, as, 2½ years later, Roger Stern decides on behalf of Marvel that it's time for all of us to finally learn:


Friday, August 9, 2019

"Revennnnnge!"


In comics tales which have focused on the theme of revenge, story titles have usually been pretty straightforward in their wording in order to quickly generate anticipation and interest on the part of the buyer. Not surprisingly, cover captions were plentiful in advertising what was waiting inside, with wording such as "So-and-so's Revenge!" or "Revenge of the So-and-so!"; but while many splash pages followed suit in fashioning a phrase for the story's title that included the word "revenge," Marvel only sparingly (aside from thriller mystery stories or westerns of the late 1950s) used the single word in its story titles, perhaps to avoid the appearance of its line of books indulging in revenge stories too often and thus desensitizing the word as a story hook.

In some of the examples you're about to see, you may find yourself asking if the word was wisely applied by the story's writer; in others, you'll see it applied from a villain's perspective, a curious distinction given the fact that villains are often shown engaging in revenge, which all but renders a banner story title which draws attention to a villain's revenge superfluous. At any rate, what follows is a somewhat interesting collection of instances, offering snapshots of tales that span several decades of Marvel reading.

If I had a preference here (and, by extension, a recommendation), it would be Marc Guggenheim's story arc that featured Wolverine's pursuit of Nitro, the perpetrator of the disaster at Stamford, CT which caused the deaths of hundreds of people and spurred passage of the Superhuman Registration Act--where the word "revenge" goes beyond Wolverine's motives for his hunt and follows a trail of accountability that leads to, of all people, the C.E.O. of Damage Control, Inc. By 2006, the first page of an issue no longer merged story credits and title with the art of a dramatic splash page, instead taking the form of a synopsis that brought the reader up to date with the current issue; and so the title "Revenge" is reduced to a simple, understated word that dispenses with the embellishment of a letterer and signifies an installment title, nothing more. Yet the word, leading from here to "Justice," "Vengeance," and "Payback" all under the arc's "Vendetta" umbrella, covers a great deal of ground for this entire story, its characters, and especially for Wolverine.


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Loop Of The Living Dead


During the early 2000s, you may have noticed the phrase "zombie apocalypse" practically bursting into our public consciousness, suddenly finding lucrative mainstream film and television reception after being so long confined to midnight horror shows and Halloween parties. My earliest recollection of the craze finding its spark was when the film "28 Days Later" began to get a good deal of play, and a great deal of talk--a zombie "outbreak" that didn't feature zombies in the conventional sense so much as crazed, salivating humans who sprang to the attack in spasms and bit their victims to spread the infection; but it's been so long since I've seen it that what I recall may not be an accurate impression. (Didn't they refrain from eating their victims? What were they, vegetarian zombies?) At any rate, not being a company that ignored popular trends, Marvel dipped its collective toe in those waters--and a franchise was born.




And they didn't call it "Marvel Zuvembies." Imagine that.


Looking back at the number of installments of Marvel Zombies as well as other titles that tied into the series, it's clear that Marvel did quite well with the concept--introducing in the pages of Ultimate Fantastic Four the other-dimensional Earth where a single infected super-being appeared and spread the virus through that world's super-human population, who in turn went on to devour the planet's ordinary humans. That story led to the first Marvel Zombies limited series, which then spawned others to stretch into 2010 and possibly beyond (I stopped poring through back-issues at that point). While the UFF stories were first-rate, however, I wasn't particularly fond of writer Robert Kirkman's (et al.) handling of Marvel Zombies and its characters--its atmosphere of disaster, death and gore alternating between the terrible fate of the world and the macabre banter among the single-minded "heroes" in their obsession to locate and secure other sources of food.

But if you sift through most of the story material, you can stitch together the parts of the concept that form its foundation while getting a sense of what Marvel might have envisioned for this kind of series--that, or the $$$ that an ongoing zombie series might generate in the first decade of Marvel's sales in the 21st century while the possibly brief window of popularity for the genre remained open. And so what follows is a poor man's "CliffsNotes" of this series, which essentially gives you the gist of how this ball started rolling--and what caused the circumstances by which it eventually devour itself (a turn of events which featured none other than the Watcher, for whom a world full of super-zombies must have been irresistible to look in on).

The place for us to start is of course the UFF story from 2005, where the infected and now malevolent Reed Richards, having duped the younger UFF Reed into activating a dimensional gateway device that allows the infected FF to cross over, briefly describes the beginning of the end of his world.



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