Friday, October 20, 2017

The Better Man

From the Tribunal to the Council of Time to the Council of Cross-Time Kangs, no doubt by now you've seen your fair share of such assemblies of judgment in Marvel's wide range of stories, featuring gatherings of characters or entities that decided matters so wide in scope that our own concerns on Earth seemed trivial to inconsequential by comparison--a description that carries a bit of irony, since often the actions of such beings had an impact on or otherwise directly involved our world. Yet such councils have also originated on Earth, headed by those who are native to it and working behind the scenes with everyone's best interests at heart (the Illuminati being a distant example)--while in other mediums, gatherings such as the one in 1983's The Star Chamber more flagrantly abused their power to effect change.

Few if any of these councils considered themselves accountable for either their formation or their actions, needless to say. Even altruism can be in the eye of the beholder, a well-meaning individual or group that believes they've taken into consideration any possible objection to their goal(s). With that in mind, it's difficult to apply any of these labels to a body of men simply known as The Council, the 2009 brainchild of Fantastic Four writer Jonathan Hickman which pooled the talents of one man whose mind had recently become fixated on a single ambitious idea:

And who better to pick up that kind of gauntlet than Reed Richards? Perhaps Tony Stark, yes... but while both men were members of the Illuminati, and both made decisions they regretted during the events of Civil War, Reed might be the more likely person to emerge on the other side with his soul intact. And that's indeed the premise at the core of this three-part story.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

To The Brotherhood We Return

At the end of 1967, Avengers writer Roy Thomas took a series of steps which would pare down the Avengers and would effectively wipe the slate clean as far as their lineup--leaving a core group of Goliath, the Wasp, and Hawkeye, its smallest contingent ever, but quickly adding the Black Panther to their ranks and building from there. Seemingly crucial to Thomas's plans was the removal of not only Captain America, the group's most steadfast member and arguably the "glue" that held the team together, but also the departure of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who cut their teeth in the Avengers under Cap's leadership along with Hawkeye but were now for whatever reason seen as hangers-on.

There were probably a number of ways for Thomas to have considered for Wanda and Pietro to justify their departure, since the pair are family and have always been joined at the hip as far as making decisions on what to do with their lives and who to form alliances with. But it's probably Thomas we have to thank for stoking the fires of anti-mutant feelings that Stan Lee had only touched on in X-Men and using them to suddenly turn Pietro from Avenger to outcast. Yet there was still Wanda to deal with. Further down the road, Wanda would eventually embrace her own bitter feelings toward humans (and then some); but at this point in time, Wanda didn't share her brother's growing disdain for humans, and was still the loyal Avenger.

But a three-part story--which featured the return of Magneto, a former benefactor of Pietro and Wanda, and a man who had no equal when it came to despising humans--would solve both problems.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

And In Exchange... Armageddon!

OR: "Then There Was That Time When the Top Brass Chewed Out the Sorcerer Supreme..."

While the military enjoys a cooperative arrangement with the super-beings who often stand between humanity and those foes who prove to be too much for conventional forces to subdue, doubtless there are some within military circles who will (appropriately enough) bite the bullet when it comes to being assigned to approach the Avengers or lesser-known individuals in order to solicit their assistance with a threat to national security. Count Gen. Hoyt Emerson among them. Today, he enters the sanctum sanctorum of Dr. Strange--and he is not at all happy about it.

Frankly, Emerson has a point. We know that Strange has many artifacts from across who knows how many dimensions--but what compels him to have every inch of his decor match his teachings? Does every room have to reflect the otherworldly? Pick up the phone and ask Jarvis to fix up a reception area for your guests, Doc--the man has impeccable taste!

As for Emerson, he can join the club in regard to the level of frustration he feels, since his visit has soured Strange's mood, as well--interrupting his preparations for entering the Dark Dimension and nearly costing him his life in the process. To paraphrase Strange, whatever his visitor has to say had better be good!

Strange, of course, assumes an air of civility by the time he greets the General and his aide--and given Emerson's bluntness and lack of, eh, tact, kudos to Strange for keeping his composure.

Don't you miss the old Stephen Strange in such moments? The arrogant, tactless s.o.b. who used to treat his patients like meal tickets? Emerson would have been fileted like a fish.

As it is, the current Stephen Strange stays reasonably calm and persuades the General to get to the point--which Emerson proceeds to do, with obvious reservations.

But what kind of threat has the military knocking on the door of the Master of the Mystic Arts? And will its representative, the salty Emerson, have the patience to trust in whatever Strange has to say on the matter?

Monday, October 16, 2017

Army Of The Undead!

At the end of the previous Tomb Of Dracula story that saw our brave band of vampire-hunters under attack from a group of children that Dracula had enslaved into his service, you would think its follow-up in the next issue would have Quincy Harker and his group taking center stage. Instead, we would find that Dracula has already moved on, leaving Harker and his annoying pack in his rear-view mirror (if he could actually look in a mirror, that is) and engaging in a new scheme that would raise from the ground armies of vampires that would finally make it possible for him to bring the Earth under his rule.

In these early stories, Dracula is obviously still thinking big in terms of conquest, instead of finding more subtle ways to rule the masses (such as his satanic church). Initially, he limited his activities to subverting the wills of key personnel stationed in various government positions throughout Europe, but only as precautionary measures to be used on an as-needed basis; yet it's never occurred to him to establish such control in greater numbers, and in more advantageous seats of power that would allow him to advance his agenda with impunity. At this point in time, his ambition and ruthlessness still override his innate sense of planning; and, just as with the Chimera, he prefers to seize any device or artifact that would provide him with a fast track toward world conquest.

In this story we'll be witness to another such grab for power. But, on the heels of the previous tale, Dracula must first eradicate a deadly poison delivered by a projectile courtesy of Harker before he and his group became trapped. As we touch base with both Dracula and Harker, we'll see that both the story and Dracula himself do a fair job of multitasking.

(Insufferable fools notwithstanding.)

Friday, October 13, 2017

...And The Children Shall Slay Them!

In the seventh issue of Tomb Of Dracula from March of 1973, writer Marv Wolfman joins artists Gene Colan and Tom Palmer to form a near-perfect team of creativity that would take the book through the next 6½ years (though Palmer would be absent for four issues after Wolfman's debut). Issue 7 begins a two-part story that would also see the introduction of Quincy Harker, the son of the man responsible for facilitating Dracula's arrival in London; and, through Quincy, the story is also the first to feature the formation of the dedicated if arguably ineffectual vampire-hunting group of Quincy, Rachel Van Helsing, her mute servant, Taj, and Frank Drake, whose long pursuit of Dracula culminated in Quincy's final confrontation with and subsequent slaying of the vampire lord.

As for Dracula, he already doesn't seem too impressed by this new band of vampire hunters, if the average age of the humans he's enthralled from a nearby playground to battle the group is any indication.

Thanks to the cover rendered by Larry Lieber, it almost seems like actor Christopher Lee will be playing our Count in this story--but inside, Wolfman and Colan (with Palmer) are already pooling their talents nicely for the issue's splash page that tempts the reader further--and with Dracula's aborted attack on Quincy's daughter, Edith, it becomes clear that this enemy of both Quincy and his father once again stalks London.

Good lord--call for a cab, man! You really want your daughter dragged all the way home?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"...And To The Vanquished--Death!"

The introduction of Tiger Shark to the Marvel Universe may have proven little more than an annoyance to the incredible Hulk, but it proved to be fatal to the human father of the Sub-Mariner--and, back in the day, the character proved to be a considerable threat to the Atlanteans as well as to Namor himself. Obviously Tiger Shark is a force to be reckoned with, though the evidence of that assertion can seem a little unclear. If Namor, who derives his great strength through contact with water, can humble the Hulk if their battle takes place beneath the waves, what sort of advantage could Tiger Shark hold that would not only let him defeat Namor twice, but also made it possible for him to usurp the throne of Atlantis?

Is Tiger Shark truly the Sub-Mariner's superior?

For the purposes of his introductory story, the short answer is: yes and no.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Where Stumbles The Simple Surfer!

Given the Silver Surfer's grandiose gestures that bordered on posing, and his legendary tendency to theatrically brood and bemoan his sorry state while trapped on the planet Earth (with respective thanks to artist John Buscema and writer Stan Lee), the character's origin story in his first solo series was ripe for artist Marie Severin's caricature treatment in the pages of Not Brand Echh, the short-lived bi-monthly series from 1967-69 that often took humorous swipes at Marvel's portrayal of its own characters as well as those of its Distinguished Competition, in addition to real-life personalities and celebrities of the time. With its final issue in May of '69, the book introduces its own unique take on Silver Surfer #1 (also a bi-monthly title in its first year of publication). And rather than soaring over the breathtaking landscapes of Earth while he sorts out his thoughts, in this warped version of the story the Surfer will have to be content with the equally breathtaking squalor of the Bronx.

Scripter Roy Thomas expertly channels Stan Lee's yak-it-up style that he adapted so well to these humor mags, with every panel filled to the brim with wit and, as was typically the case in such stories, sarcasm and insults, which were all in good fun; while Severin's work speaks for itself, mimicking Buscema's style so well yet practically reinventing this story while, needless to say with an eight-page limit, condensing it greatly from its original length (helped in part by Severin's much smaller panels).

In addition, there's a wealth of clever minutiae to scrutinize in Severin's depictions. For instance, in the dramatic moment where "Galacticus" (who appears to be Jack Kirby under that helmet) reveals himself to "Borin' Kadd," who would have thought to make him into a traveling salesman, with even the individual aspects of his outfit tagged and priced to sell?

Severin covers the few bases there are to be covered from the original tale--the choice the Surfer makes to leave the woman he loves, as well as his involvement with the Fantastic Four when his master had targeted Earth for consumption. (Though we can probably agree that his departure from the side of "Shallo-Gal" was more cause for celebration than grief.) Yet unlike Lee's story, Severin and Thomas see to it that the Surfer is provided with a much happier ending.

(Check out the homage to Gidget/The Flying Nun!)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Council Is Again In Session!

As we've previously seen, a three-member council made up of alternate-reality versions of Kang the Conqueror had convened to, in essence, clean up after themselves--that is, to exterminate the thousands of Kangs who had been brought into existence as a result of their extensive travels through time and the divergent versions of themselves that were created. But this is Kang we're talking about, after all--so when their task was completed, it wasn't long before two of the council members were eliminated due to the treachery of the third, as part of a scheme to place a robotic double of each of the slain Kangs in their respective realities, allowing the sole surviving Kang to take control and rule all of their empires.

What Kang was unaware of was that he himself had been manipulated by Immortus, another manifestation of himself, who then dealt with Kang by having him absorb the combined memories of all the Kangs who were killed, thus driving him near-mad and trapping him in Immortus's realm of Limbo. It seemed that Kang the Conqueror had finally seen his last attempt at conquest.

Yet whatever his failings, it's generally a good idea never to underestimate Kang--even in the case of Immortus, who isn't as much on top of things as he'd like to think.

As for Kang, he's possibly thinking that he can pick up where he left off, since, Immortus notwithstanding, his prior scheme left him as the only surviving Kang.

He's wrong on both counts.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The End Of The Fantastic Four!

In a 1971 Avengers story, we saw a plan put into motion by Captain Marvel that resulted in the successful retrieval of Rick Jones from the Negative Zone, thus putting an end to their merged status that had forced the two of them to switch atoms with each other whenever the trapped Mar-vell needed to appear in our world (and consequently sending Rick to the Zone for the duration). Yet the execution of that plan also saw another attempt at freedom, when the despotic ruler of the Zone, Annihilus, monitored Rick's escape and achieved what he had long sought--the path to Earth, which Reed Richards had tried to keep hidden from him at all costs. (Thanks bunches, Rick! It's easy to see why the Avengers found you to be an asset to the team!)

So you might have been thinking at the time: Now that Annihilus knows how to enter our world, what's keeping him? This fiend probably has "Today Is A Good Day To Invade" embroidered and framed in his gun-ship. In his third Fantastic Four appearance, it seems that Annihilus has used his time to craft a plan that will not only make it possible for him to invade Earth in force, but also see him attain unlimited power--and it will be the FF who inadvertently make it all possible, while facing the crippling loss of an innocent life that will shatter their ranks.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Mission: Replace Captain America!

Like a few of his fellow heroes, there have been times when even the straight-up, cool-headed Captain America has "gone wild," in the popular vernacular of the late '60s (and even extending into the '80s); in fact, you and I can probably bring to mind a half-dozen such instances when Cap has done so, without even giving much thought to it. There was the time when Cap tore into the Avengers when he thought one among them had betrayed him by aiding Immortus in capturing Rick Jones; or when the loss of his shield made him a crazed loonie; or whenever Sharon Carter's life was threatened. As popular as the word "wild" was with young people, a comics character going wild made for good cover copy, since it usually meant you were going to see them lose it in some way in the story and that the stakes would be raised.

Of course, Cap tended to go a little wild when his foe would debase our country's pride in freedom and/or liberty. But what was it about a late-1968 story, in particular, that sent Cap over the edge? Whatever it was, it was enough for the defunct Marvel fan club, Marvelmania, to single it out and make a poster from its cover.

It looks like the word "wild" was so popular, in fact, that apparently Marvelmania didn't want the words "Cap Goes" to take away from its selling power in the ad. As for the story, you'll have to judge for yourself whether or not Cap went wild, or if it was again his usual sense of patriotism rising to the fore and giving him the drive to overcome his foe. At times it's admittedly hard to tell the difference.

It's one of the last few issues of Captain America which we'd see from artist Jack Kirby, who at this point in time was closing in on the date he would depart from Marvel--and with finishing by Frank Giacoia, one of my favorite inkers for Kirby (with apologies to Mike Royer), it's quite a feast for the eyes. Writer Stan Lee also steps up and provides words to keep pace with Kirby's work, one of many stories where he plays to Cap's strengths regarding his unwavering faith in his principles and the cause he fights for.

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