Friday, February 21, 2020

In Search Of The Perfect Head

Or: "It's My Body And I'll Rage If I Want To..."

Following the dynamic Defenders' defeat of the economic and political aspirations of the evil Headmen, it would be roughly thirteen years before we would see these bizarre villains resurface. And while they're clearly still up to their old tricks in ruthless experimentation, this time they seem to be working toward an entirely different goal than world domination.

Put simply, the Headmen are interested in helping their fellow member and friend, Chondu, regain some semblance of a normal body--his current one not of his choosing, but the result of surgery conducted by Dr. Nagan. To that end, they begin conducting research on and surveillance of the She-Hulk in order to eventually capture her, for reasons which for the time being remain a mystery (aside from the obvious, which you'd think would be out of the question even for Nagan); but having failed to secure her through their proxies, the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime, they've now turned to Mysterio, who has had better luck with the use of gas to subdue her.

Suffice to say, Mysterio insisted on certain terms being met following the successful completion of his assignment, in accordance with his expertise as a master of illusion.

Mysterio would later learn to his outrage that the Headmen have double-crossed him, and not only by stuffing his case with counterfeit bills covering newsprint and play money: Nagan has covered their bases by also including a device that would trigger Spider-Man's spider-sense and draw him into battling Mysterio, as a way to prevent him from seeking revenge against the Headmen.

It's only when the Headmen are alone with their subject that we learn the extent of the horror they've planned for her.

Mind you, this is occurring in the debut issues of writer/artist John Byrne's new series from 1989, The Sensational She-Hulk--which means that it's going to be a very limited series if the title character is going to be decapitated. Since Mysterio has already made an appearance, then, we have to assume that what we're seeing is either one whopper of an illusion on the part of the Headmen--or, barring that, it's Spider-Man to the rescue in the nick of time! Right?

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Coming Of... Apocalypse!

It's mid-1986, and Mike Nowlan is a mutant striving to keep himself under the radar--even more than the average mutant who fears discovery. A junkie by choice, Mike shoots up with heroin to keep in check his mutant ability to augment the power of other mutants, as a way to keep those mutants from getting hooked on him.

As difficult a time as Mike is having as is, his problems escalate when, on the run, he attempts to convince his ex-wife, Susan, a former drug dealer, to resupply him--a plea which leads to a veiled threat on his part. That leads to Susan getting in touch with the members of X-Factor, in their civilian guises as "mutant hunters"--and soon they locate Mike in a motor lodge in San Diego, where they try to convince him that they want to help (after getting first-hand exposure to his power). But there are others who have a vested interest in keeping Mike just as he is--specifically, the Alliance of Evil (mutants who are addicted to Mike's power jolts), and the one in shadows who commands them. Kidnapping Susan, the Alliance arrives and gives Mike an ultimatum--provide them another power "fix," or his ex-wife dies. But while X-Factor urges Mike not to submit, he knows he has no choice--and once their power is boosted, the Alliance overwhelms X-Factor and escapes with both Mike and Susan.

Yet who is the central figure Mike is fleeing? Someone whose agenda will benefit from Mike's power, and who makes his debut appearance in this tale.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Howl Of The Werewolf! Rage Of The Vampire!

During 1944-45, Universal Pictures sated demand for the Wolfman, Dracula, and the Frankenstein monster by giving us The House of Frankenstein and, just a week short of one year later, House of Dracula, the only two films up to that point where all three horror figures appear together--though, astonishingly, never on screen in the same scene at the same time. That honor was reserved for the 1948 film Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein--and while it was only a momentary glimpse, one of my favorite still shots at least gives us an idea of how things might look had our three horror figures actually joined forces (if only against two hapless comedians).

Interestingly enough, if you take Bud Abbott and Lou Costello out of the mix, that film would have made for compelling viewing--well directed by Charles Barton, and excellent acting by Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. (who both played it wonderfully straight despite the antics of Abbott and Costello).

In the comics world, these monsters of old would also meet on occasion, often with no love lost between them. We've seen such an example with a clash in 1973 between Dracula and the Frankenstein monster--and in the following year, a crossover story with double the fangs (and hopefully double the fun) would be presented featuring the very pairing of monsters which in the A&C film engaged in a battle that led to their mutual end. Neither of these fearsome characters is likely to perish here, with each having their own title--nevertheless, there will be enough bloodshed to go around.

Once again, artist Gene Colan delivers on a symbolic splash page, eh?

Friday, February 14, 2020

"Your Serve... er, Move, Daredevil!"

Having put together a special series on symbolic splash pages featured in Marvel's major team books as well as in Amazing Spider-Man, the PPC now moves briefly to highlighting some noteworthy efforts made in a random sampling of other titles from over the years which came to mind, some of which may ring a bell for you.

Leading us off are a number of pages from Daredevil, which I lingered on for some time considering their diversity in both style and artists and spanned a range of years from 1964 to 1971. (Perhaps even longer, but DD is monopolizing this subject as it is!) Bill Everett Jack Kirby is who we have to thank for paving the way for us (correction courtesy of Dave Plunkert--thanks, Dave!):

Joe Orlando, whose work began appearing in the industry in 1949, would follow up on the title with the next three issues (though you'll find much of his work for Marvel appearing in titles published in the mid- to late-'50s, in categories ranging from westerns, romance, war stories, sci-fi and mystery). His final work was published in 1997, a year before his death at 71.

Wally Wood, whose work Stan Lee made efforts to spotlight, makes his own SSP contribution (working off artist Bob Powell's layout) in a story from 1965 which he also scripted:

Ross Andru and Herb Trimpe unintentionally provide dueling SSPs featuring Ant-Man, with Andru providing more variety in terms of what awaits us within the story:

While John Romita and Gene Colan line up their versions of face-offs between DD and Spider-Man.  Writer Gerry Conway's "sports fan" caption turns out to be appropriate, since Mr. Colan seems to have Spidey trying to capture DD with a tennis court net.

(Maybe that second title should start off with "...And So Re-enters"?)

The mask and form of Daredevil lend themselves nicely to the SSP format, as Colan demonstrates in his other efforts with the character.

Over in Amazing Adventures, where the Black Widow is splitting the mag with the Inhumans, John Buscema appeals to the action lover with imagery suggesting that the Widow's new series is the one to watch--while Colan takes a more intriguing approach.

Later in that same title, Craig Russell is well-suited to the characters and concepts we'll find in stories adapted from H.G. Wells' War Of The Worlds.

While Colan, Gil Kane, and Jim Starlin show us what they bring to the table for Captain Marvel, old and new... well as for Warlock (with Steve Leialoha working off of Starlin's layout).

Dr. Strange is also well-represented, both solo and as part of the Defenders. Here we see work by Andru, Colan, Barry Smith, and Sal Buscema.

Howard Purcell, whose work for Marvel was limited to backup stories featuring the Watcher and two Nick Fury stories in Strange Tales, turns in this splendid SSP for the Black Knight's appearance in Marvel Super-Heroes.

Finally, Andru takes us out with the opening page to Marvel Team-Up #1, which features the rare display of Spider-Man in battle while poised on his own spider's web.

(Frankly these two don't seem very interested in fighting the Sandman.)

One more SSP for the road... to Transylvania, that is.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

With Colleagues Like These...!

Or: "Is There A Doctor In The Cult?"

It's probably safe to say that, since his ascendance to the mystic arts, Dr. Strange has no regrets in leaving behind his self-centered life as a surgeon, when he charged top dollar for his services while completely devoid of any bedside manner or other regard for his patients. We could also make the argument that he's made more of a contribution toward the well-being and preservation of mankind than he did in the operating theater. When Strange was first dealing with the repercussions of the car accident which deprived him of the use of his hands in performing delicate surgery, colleagues reached out to him with offers of remaining in the field as a consultant/assistant, though his ego wouldn't permit him to assume a position which he considered demeaning to someone of his stature.

Many of us know what happened from there--Strange quit the medical profession and spent his last cent exploring various medical options which might restore the steadiness and deftness of his hands. Finally, rumors of a healer in the east named "the Ancient One" led him to a temple in the Himalayas, where his host sought some proof that this man's motives were something other than selfish. That proof didn't come easily, with the skeptical Strange attributing the abilities he saw in the Ancient One to parlor tricks and/or hypnosis; but when he saw evidence of the Ancient One's resident pupil, Mordo, plotting to kill his master, Strange sought to defend the Ancient One by offering to become his disciple. From there, Strange fully immersed himself in his new calling--and the rest is history.

But from time to time, Strange's path still crosses with other physicians--and despite Strange's former attitude and reputation as a doctor who never displayed an ounce of humility, there are those who believe his knowledge of surgical techniques shouldn't be lost, and that his most productive role is still that of a surgical consultant.

Which brings us to one such man, and yet another

Marvel Trivia Question

What path did Dr. Charles Benton take which sealed his doom?

Monday, February 10, 2020

...At Death's Door!

In the last months of 1979, the Fantastic Four found themselves dealing with two major problems, both of them life-threatening--and to add to the list, they were traveling through space to seek out a being whose involvement could potentially make matters worse! We'll let the esteemed Reed Richards break it down for us:

Uh, that's aging ray, Elmer... er, Reed.

Reed speaks of the FF's efforts to save Xandar, a world under siege by the Skrulls, only to be captured and sentenced to death by use of a metabolic booster designed to accelerate their aging process. But with the Sphinx en route to destroy the Earth, they've had to push their personal concerns aside and take what could be seen as the biggest gamble of their career--that Galactus will agree to their plea for assistance. But Galactus' idea of quid pro quo could doom Earth, as well--particularly when Reed appears to hastily withdraw the one condition that has kept Galactus from once again attacking the world which until now has kept his ravenous hunger at bay.

Apparently the phrase "time is of the essence" has no meaning to Galactus other than when it applies to his need for finding a planet which will satisfy his hunger--not when he has a chance to use the Fantastic Four as errand boys. Speaking of which, this should be a cinch for the FF--after all, Norrin Radd was a mortal man before being transformed to the Silver Surfer, so Reed, Sue, and Ben, even in their current condition, should have no trouble dealing with their target, especially since the Torch hasn't been afflicted as they have.

But as they'll later find to be the case with Frankie Raye, the one they seek is no ordinary man--nor is he the type to surrender before those he considers to be inferiors.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

This Madman... This Power!

One of the more interesting crossover stories which occurred in early 1972 worked out either according to plan, or with a good deal of reshuffling behind the scenes--it's hard to say. My own guess is that it may have been the latter, though I'll gladly defer to the more learned among you who are better able to connect the dots.

The stories, each handled by writer Roy Thomas and artist Neal Adams, take place within these two titles:

...beginning in March, 1971, where Black Bolt of the Inhumans departs for San Francisco to investigate options for finding a place for his people among the human race. (Vague words taken from the beginning of the story--but rather than referring to an actual homestead of some sort, they're likely simply a metaphor for acceptance.) With his departure, we learn of the disposition of his mad brother, Maximus, presumably following his capture after an attempt to dethrone Black Bolt by instigating a war (the Jack Kirby story which launched the Amazing Adventures title)--yet the method of Maximus' incarceration raises concern with Karnak and Gorgon, who fear Black Bolt may have overstepped his bounds.

Granted, it's an odd shift in characterization for both men, since they've unquestioningly supported the will of Black Bolt in the past; there's also the fact that after all of Maximus' crimes, Black Bolt has never demonstrated undue harshness in how his brother was dealt with, much less thoughts of homicide.

Which makes their next decision all the more unexpected, and reckless.

To learn what this scene signifies, we must look in on Black Bolt, who arrives at his destination only to be drawn into a local conflict involving a boy named Joey, conscripted by his uncle into engaging in petty crime. But once Black Bolt handily deals with the situation, the power of Maximus strikes, effectively neutralizing whatever threat his brother might have posed to him; but while Maximus has cause to no longer fear the wrath of Black Bolt, he's still put the pieces in place to bring about the very war between human and Inhuman that had previously been averted.

And so while the power of Maximus has been unleashed in the past, this is the first instance that the royal family (including, possibly, Maximus himself) see it being harnessed--which now raises the threat of Maximus from that of being merely a dangerous, scheming madman. (Imagine such a man now having the power to affect the minds of others, an irony which Maximus himself will later note.) We can jokingly say that, due to their rash actions ("Surely, it cannot hurt to pry open this prison"--good grief, talk about telegraphing a scene), Gorgon and Karnak perhaps deserve what's coming to them--but can we say the same for the human race?