Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Ka-Zar, 2.0!

As we've already seen examples of, Marvel wasn't exactly reluctant when it came to using the Fantastic Four mag, its hot property in the '60s, to promote its growing stable of characters as well as other titles which could benefit from the exposure. In an FF issue from 1965, we would see both of those factors being met by a promotional blurb tucked away in a "special announcements section" appearing in the FF's letters page, which not only gave a shout-out to the X-Men title but also pitched a new Marvel character, who really turned out to be not so new on the scene after all.

Yes, Ka-Zar, who dates back all the way to the 1930s--first appearing in 1936 in a brief series of pulp magazines by Bob Byrd, and then adapted for Marvel Comics #1 in 1939.

Basically, the plane of the Rand family crashes in the Congo, with Constance Rand eventually dying from a jungle-born illness--followed much later by the father, John, which left their son, David, to grow up in the company of the animals he befriends and vice versa. One of these animals, a lion named Zar, has become particularly close to him and has watched over David since John and David began fending for themselves following the crash.

The 1939 tale essentially presents that story in comic book format:

Twenty-five years later, Ka-Zar is given new life as a grown man, with Zar being replaced with Zabu (a sabre-toothed tiger) and Ka-Zar's habitat moving from the Congo to the South Pole, thus giving us our first look at the Antarctic prehistoric preserve which would be later known as the Savage Land--discovered by the X-Men when they investigate reports of the two being encountered by members of an Antarctic expedition.

Yet it's only when the X-Men fall prey to a primitive group of marauders do they meet both Ka-Zar and the loyal beast at his side.

With (who else?) Marvel Girl being taken captive by the marauders (whom Ka-Zar calls the swamp men), Ka-Zar and the X-Men have a common foe, and Ka-Zar agrees to help with her rescue--though he mainly stays true to his character as written, someone who normally shuns outsiders and acts in accordance with his instincts. In the meantime, however, the Angel is taken captive as well, and it becomes clear that both of them need to gain their freedom before the swamp men put them in even greater danger.

Fortunately for the X-Men, it seems that Ka-Zar, in true Tarzan fashion, has unique resources to literally call upon, should the need arise.

But while the X-Men's contact with Ka-Zar has been tolerant, he doesn't share their desire for an extended friendship, even taking further steps to seal off his jungle domain upon their departure.

We would see more of Ka-Zar and the X-Men joining in common cause when Magneto ends up in the Savage Land and begins creating mutants from the the indigenous population there--with the story again taking advantage of the limited but perceptible chemistry between Ka-Zar and the X-Men, individuals who share the status of existing apart from the human race, whether out of caution or choice.

Monday, April 6, 2020

God vs. Titan!

When last we left the mighty (and unfortunately insane) Thor, he had finally been subdued after having undertaken a violent and seemingly inexplicable rampage through the stars--all part of the 1993-94 "Blood and Thunder" crossover event that would end up involving Warlock, the Infinity Watch, the Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, and Thanos of Titan. (To say nothing of the Super Skrull, Ares, Pluto, and Beta Ray Bill--as well as crossing paths with another crossover event, The Infinity Crusade.) By the time of his capture, Thor has managed to acquire for himself from Drax the Destroyer the "power" Infinity Gem, which, added to his own considerable might, makes the Thunder God one of the most extreme threats ever to face the universe should he ever break free of the containment field which Thanos had managed to encase him in.

What has only recently come to light is that Thor's rage doesn't stem from the Asgardian "warrior madness" which he'd experienced in the past, but is instead rooted in the instances when his father Odin has in one way or another manipulated his spirit, whether it was by forcing him to coexist with a mortal form or by use of disciplinary measures, all of which have led to an imbalance in his soul. A further complication of this saga is that the Lady Sif, who remains unaware of this, continues to believe that Thor once again suffers from warrior madness, and has attempted to keep that news from Odin for fear that Thor will be exiled from Asgard. But her house of cards in that respect begins to crumble with the recent arrival of Thanos and his party on the rainbow bridge, as they seek an audience with Odin in the hope that he can cure his son.

Though Thanos has all but ensured that their reception will be anything but a cordial one.

Friday, April 3, 2020

The Return Of The 4-D Man!

Despite making a fairly strong showing in the Mighty Thor title in the early 1970s, it seemed the character of Mercurio didn't have much future potential in further appearances. Since his obsession at the time was to locate and seize a power source that would save his dying world in another dimension, and with the god-jewel known as Xorr providing that power, Mercurio's motivation for seeking out and taking that power from our dimension by any means necessary no longer existed. As far as we could assume, Mercurio was back in his own dimension and content on his once again thriving world; in addition, he'd parted with his foe, Thor, on good terms, so it seemed his villainy had become a thing of the past.

But if that's the case, what brings him back to Earth four years later--and why is he engaging in battle with Captain Marvel?

Well, for one thing, Mercurio has made an attempt to steal knowledge from Mar-vell of the Omni-Wave projector--a Kree device which enables its user to send instantaneous messages between galaxies, but in the wrong hands can also be a deadly weapon (you have to hand it to the Kree for wanting to make what amounts to an interstellar transmitter double as one of the deadliest weapons in existence):

...but as we'll learn, writer Scott Edelman has provided Mercurio with a new lease on life as a comics villain by giving him an evil streak, which means he doesn't really need a reason beyond wanting to do evil in order to show up and cause trouble in future appearances. Welcome back to the villain fold, Mercurio!

So why is he seemingly acting in desperation here?

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Bruce Zick Artistry

As a brief follow-up to the PPC's post of the Mighty Thor "Blood and Thunder" crossover event from 1993-94, have a look at some additional pages from artist Bruce Zick, whose résumé includes comics series and graphic novels for Dark Horse Comics as well as a 25-year background as a visual development artist for animation and live action television and film projects. While you'll likely find Vick's attention to detail in the samplings below to be remarkable, in terms of sheer scale his panels of Asgard and Olympus reminded me of Walt Simonson's run on the book, a look of magnitude and grandeur which has always suited the realms of the gods and their staunch, proud denizens.

To my knowledge, Mr. Vick's 1993 contribution to Mighty Thor comprised his only work for Marvel Comics.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Blood And Thunder!

From a period of eleven months during 1993-94, you may remember a crossover event which took its lead from the pages of Mighty Thor and essentially had the Thunder God decimating a number of high-profile opponents in a fit of madness and rage which, if unchecked, would have him seeking the destruction of the entire universe, including his homeland of Asgard. Aptly named "Blood and Thunder," the storyline would also serve the purpose of drawing readers' attention to five other titles to which it had a connection, specifically:

  • Silver Surfer #s 86-88
  • The Warlock Chronicles #s 6-8
  • Warlock and the Infinity Watch #s 23-25
  • The Infinity Crusade
    As well as, for the sake of accuracy,
  • Thunderstrike

The Infinity Crusade, of course, being a crossover event in itself, capitalizing on its 1991-92 predecessors The Infinity Gauntlet and The Infinity War, with this new series perhaps being the first (and only?) time two crossover events have *ahem* "crossed" paths at the same point in time. In this case, "Blood and Thunder" gave a plug to The Infinity Crusade by dealing in its protagonist, the Goddess, who merely conscripted Thor in the same way she did other characters in her story--temporarily derailing the influence of the female figure named Valkyrie (more on her in a moment) until The Infinity Crusade ran its course, after which Thor would again fall under Valkyrie's sway.

Yet "Blood and Thunder" informally has its beginnings in Mighty Thor #s 460-467, several issues before the "Blood and Thunder" banner begins appearing above the masthead--installments which take us back to where Odin is concerned about Thor starting unprovoked brawls and consequently sends him on vacation among the stars to sort himself out. Though if we cut to the chase of "Blood and Thunder," we find that the violent madness which afflicts Thor thereafter is rooted in actions Odin himself has taken over time:

Aside from Blake, Dr. Strange alludes to other instances which in one way or another affected Thor's spirit, including Thor having to surrender his identity to Eric Masterson, as well as the period during which Thor saw his power and hammer duplicated in the form of Beta Ray Bill. (The latter of which I'm not buying, since Thor was totally on board with Odin's decision regarding Bill and displayed no misgivings about it or signs of trauma in the slightest--in fact, quite the contrary, given the deep friendship and trust he and Bill established between themselves.) Still, during his madness, Thor often despairs that he's lost "bits and pieces" of himself, which would seem to validate the overall diagnosis.

But on his "vacation" in space, seeking solace instead causes a manifestation of Thor's anguished mental state to take shape as a woman known only as "Valkyrie," a hallucination that he nevertheless believes is real and which naturally sympathizes and encourages his most deep-seated doubts about his father's treatment of him.

And armed with the affirmation he has long sought, Thor embraces a path of anger which will have him lashing out at friend and foe alike.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Six Against The Skrulls!

Since the Kree-Skrull War has recently been a focus of the PPC, we'd be remiss if we failed to note a group of individuals who formed a coterie as a result of that event:

Yes, the Illuminati, who met at the request of Iron Man following the Avengers' confrontation of the Skrulls in space during that race's hostilities with the Kree (and vice versa). War was averted during that encounter, thanks in part to the machinations of the Kree Supreme Intelligence which unleashed the power of none other than Rick Jones--but soon after his return to Earth, Stark initiated a meeting in Wakanda and proposed to Reed Richards, Stephen Strange and the others that the six of them meet on a regular basis to keep each other apprised of anything and/or anyone that might pose a threat at some point to Earth--"warning signs," if you will, that would allow them to pool their resources and avert disaster.

And yet, the group resolved to keep their meetings and even their existence secret, perhaps so as not to alert those who aroused their suspicions--even failing to notify the National Security Council of their activities, the very agency which shares vital and classified information with the Avengers as part of a special arrangement with the team and which would likely take issue with the covert nature of this group in acting outside of its auspices.

And act they do--nor does it comes as much of a surprise, then, when we discover what threat (if dormant for the time being) they've decided to proactively deal with first.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

War, and Remembrance

"On occasion, my duties include examination of the histories of alternate universes.

"I have shown you a portion of the events which occurred in one such reality, in which the star-spanning Kree Empire emerged victorious from a galactic war. But that was only the first half of the answer to the question: What If... The Avengers Lost Operation: Galactic Storm?

"This is Part Two."

-- The Watcher, who insisted on offering the PPC's recap to Part One of this story. (Like I had a choice of refusing a being who can traverse entire universes at will.)

To expand on the Watcher's summary a bit: A year and a half following the Operation: Galactic Storm crossover event, writer Len Kaminski crafted a much different outcome of the Kree-Shi'ar War--and a more grim one for the human race, in which the Earth was destroyed by the Kree and the Avengers (at least those who survived the Kree's retribution) became fugitives mounting a resistance movement with the goal of bringing down the Kree Empire.

CAUTION: Assuming you're a Gladiator fan and are even now putting in an online order for this story on that basis, you should know that Gladiator's presence on the cover of issue #56 is a tad misleading (sarcasm implied), considering that the character does not make an appearance in this story in any capacity. You might rightly think that he would, given that the Kree also destroyed Chandilar (the Shi'ar throneworld) on the heels of destroying Earth--and if there's a member of the Imperial Guard who would charge in to exact vengeance against the Kree, it would be Gladiator. Alas, we're left to assume instead that Gladiator was present on Chandilar at the time of its destruction by the Kree Omni-Wave device.


What's that, Watcher?


Yes, good point. Moving on, the Watcher wishes to elaborate on his opening by offering a two-page digest describing the dire straits that have befallen countless other worlds in the years that have passed since the Avengers and the Guard (along with members of the Kree Underground Resistance) began working toward the defeat of the Kree. It seems they have a long way to go, against an intractable enemy that is obsessed with its own mission: to pursue an insane agenda of star-spanning genocide.

After which Kaminski takes the reins of the story, attaching an addendum to the Watcher's presentation which lets us know the dismal state of Kree society due to the diversion of resources to the military--and that, as a result, not all the Kree are aligned with the propaganda rallies of Ael-Dan, who has become even more of a dictator over the years.

Since Part 2 will wind up this story, Kaminski immediately moves to the execution of a plan by Cap's forces which will hopefully turn the situation around for them--though whether it will succeed is admittedly a gamble, depending as it does on not only penetrating one of the most secure installations of the Kree homeworld but also on the actions of the entity that is the target of their raid.

And that scheme is put in motion on a remote Kree moon, which is where the Kree maintain one of their intergalactic communications nodes, as well as an archive of sensitive data which will facilitate the Avengers' plan. But the offensive is not without cost. After the raiding party is discovered by a contingent of Kree soldiers, the ensuing battle mortally wounds the Black Knight and compels one of the Guard, Smasher, to remain behind to cover their ship's escape. And there is another complication which may render the entire mission moot.

Unfortunately, the news is grim upon the strike team's return to base. We come to learn that the mission has been a success--though given the sacrifices which were made to ensure it, few if any are willing to use that word to describe its outcome.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Legacy Of Loss!

At the end of the 1972 Kree-Skrull War, it's possible you may have found yourself thinking that you hadn't really seen much of a "war" by the time of the conflict's inexplicable cease-fire (a feeling perhaps shared by the Avengers, as well--along with the Kree and the Skrulls, for that matter). In that case, you may have been more satisfied by Operation: Galactic Storm, a multi-part story published twenty years later--substituting the Shi'ar Empire for the Skrulls and this time putting the Avengers in the thick of things, while having plenty of room to run its course as part of a 19-issue crossover spanning seven separate titles. This time, we would see in the eyes of Earth's mightiest heroes a more realistic involvement in and portrayal of intergalactic war, as opposed to the handful of Avengers who set out in '72 declaring they were "coming for" the Kree and the Skrulls--a contingent which arguably just wouldn't have been able to cut it in the face of such numbers and armed might. In addition, we would discover in the Kree-Shi'ar war that the Kree Supreme Intelligence wouldn't be given a pass in this new struggle in terms of his enigmatic manipulations of individuals and events; indeed, this conglomeration of Kree minds would demonstrate that the stagnant state of Kree evolution was still foremost on its mind (er, minds).

Yet while it's true that the Avengers suffer no casualties during Operation: Galactic Storm--despite the scope of the war and the stakes involved, as well as having their disagreements and facing difficult choices--the story nevertheless remains engaging, instead letting the horrors of war become evident by the near-genocide of the Kree due to the machinations of the Intelligence. But over a year and a half later, in a two-part What If tale, writer Len Kaminski evidently wasn't content with letting the Avengers off the hook so easily--and in a startling turnaround with serious consequences for all involved, his version of events sees the Kree prevail, with its military arm seizing the reins of power and demonstrating the Kree empire's utter ruthlessness in achieving supremacy.

While for the Avengers, the lesson is driven home on a more personal level, particularly for the one Avenger whom Ael-Dan decides must learn it above all others. The means by which Ael-Dan imparts that lesson might be considered rash, but the example he looks to make for others who might wish to challenge the Kree is priceless in terms of not only inspiring his people but in demonstrating how far the Kree will go to enforce their collective will. Simply put, with the Kree Empire's galactic opposition crushed, the Earth's value in a strategic sense is no longer of import--but Ael-Dan's other point is well-taken in that Earth's interference in its affairs must be brought to an end once and for all, in a definitive way that goes beyond mere conquest. And for Captain America, the sight he is about to witness would make the losses he has seen in war pale by comparison.

Game, set and match to the Kree.

But for the Avengers, the war, and its toll, would go on.

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