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'ĂȘtre 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.



Monday, August 5, 2019

Darkness Falls On The Dark Avengers


While it may (and arguably should) have been difficult to appreciate the super-team known as the Dark Avengers, particularly considering the backgrounds of some of its less reputable members, it's surprising how their series turned out to be a welcome arrival in the fallout of the drawn-out Secret Invasion storyline, as well as fairly interesting reading in its own right. Fabricated... that is, created by Norman Osborn, who stepped into the limelight as the government's point man for national security following his actions in the climax of the Skrull invasion, the Dark Avengers serve as the public face of Osborn's efforts to win the public's trust as its visible (if not accessible) heroes--while H.A.M.M.E.R. (did we ever find out what its letters stand for?), replacing S.H.I.E.L.D. as the government's "peacekeeping task force" and comprised of former S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra and A.I.M. agents (!), is essentially Osborn's personal army at his beck and call.

At first glance, the Dark Avengers lineup may have held some familiar faces for you:



But where the press had in the past enjoyed a fair measure of disclosure as to the names and backgrounds of the active duty Avengers, Osborn has ordered his team not to engage with the press in any way, at any time--a necessary step for him to take, considering the wool he's pulled over the public's eyes as far as the costumes and names we're presented with on stage which would normally inspire trust. Meet your new Avengers (their true identities revealed in parentheses):

  • Wolverine (Daken, Logan's disturbed son)
  • Hawkeye (Bullseye, the assassin)
  • Ms. Marvel (Dr. Karla Sofen, alias Moonstone)
  • Spider-Man (the sadistic Venom)
  • Captain Marvel (Noh-Varr, former Kree warrior, a/k/a Marvel Boy)
  • Ares (the Olympian God of War)
  • The Sentry (the "Golden Guardian of Good")
  • Iron Patriot (Norman Osborn)


Noh-Varr and the Sentry are the odd men out here, being the only members who are in the dark as to Osborn's duplicitous nature and goals--while Ares sees his association with the group as part of Osborn's vision to pursue an aggressive posture of enforcement, while being given a free hand to engage with their enemies without quarter.

Scripted by Brian Bendis, you could expect to see his typical style of characters' dialog being cut off in mid-sentence, as well as no small amount of asides; but as far as putting all the pieces in place for the series' first issue, Bendis does quite a good job of whetting the reader's appetite as far as the concept of these "dark Avengers" being a viable one. Appropriately, those pieces are arranged behind closed doors, where Osborn shows an unsurprising yet remarkable ability to assert his management style and see his wishes executed. For example, as far as selecting his right hand and second-in-command, his new position and influence assured him of his pick of any number of qualified, seasoned individuals--yet it's Victoria Hand, a former SHIELD accountant, who gets the nod.




And while Carol Danvers' skillset would have proven invaluable to Osborn's new team, Osborn's confrontation with her amounts to a minor bump in the road that can be remedied easily enough.







Venom--a/k/a Mac Gargan, formerly the villain known as the Scorpion--has had dealings before with Osborn, as both a member of the Thunderbolts as well as the leader of Osborn's Sinister Twelve. Gargan's persona appears to be dominated by the alien symbiote that has merged with him--but that just won't do for what Osborn has in mind for him as an Avenger. (Though even Osborn won't risk meeting with Venom until the creature has been... fed.)





By comparison, the recruitment of Daken seems almost tame, with Osborn only needing to appeal to the boy's baser instincts.




Yet Osborn takes a different approach with Noh-Varr, though no less manipulative.



It's of course taken no arm-twisting to bring Bullseye and Ares on board, while we've seen here and elsewhere that Sofen generally chooses her paths depending on which way the wind is blowing. As for the Sentry, readers of his past exploits can probably draw the conclusion that Osborn has thrown him a lifeline as far as dealing with his psychological problems and keeping "the Void" in check.

And so with great fanfare--and likely the only accommodation the press will be given concerning their bona fides--the new team of Avengers is unveiled, their acceptance depending largely on the "makeover" aspect of those on stage who remind the public of well-known heroes of the past.*



*I can't imagine that Wolverine is a known quantity to those in the crowd or watching the event on television, though I suppose that's one reason why I'd never make a good publicist.



As we know, things didn't end well for the Dark Avengers and especially for Osborn, their fortunes collapsing (along with their series) following the siege of Asgard where both Aries and the Sentry lost their lives and Osborn is arrested for committing treason (to say nothing of his duel nature of the Green Goblin rising to the fore--maybe the government and the public won't be so dismissive of it this time around). The only team members who manage to avoid being swept up in all the warrants flying around are Daken, who escapes a military dragnet, and Noh-Varr, who had become disillusioned with Osborn some time ago and fought off an attempt by the Sentry to reclaim him.



In the aftermath of the fall of the Dark Avengers, H.A.M.M.E.R., and Osborn, certain developments come about following Steve Rogers' new appointment:



While Victoria Hand, who followed Osborn's orders to the letter until the end and fully expected to go down with the ship, gets an unexpected reprieve from Rogers of all people, who instead of throwing the book at her throws her a curve.





As for Osborn, he discovers that even in solitary confinement, he rates a cellmate.






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