Friday, December 7, 2018

The Hammer of Wonder Man!

When Zemo used his technology to transform inventor Simon Williams into the powerhouse he named Wonder Man, Williams donned his new costume* and provided an impressive demonstration of his abilities, both on his own and in combat against Zemo's ally, the Executioner:

*In the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" category, believe it or not Zemo's taste in clothing is leaps and bounds above that of the West Coast Avengers.

Though it's one of Wonder Man's abilities in particular which gives us pause here:

Yeahhh. About that. Unless Zemo has been hiding his godhood under a bushel, he doesn't have the means or the power to duplicate the sheer might of Thor's hammer in a human body (not even an ionic human body); so while Wonder Man's strength is off the charts and reputedly nearly the equal of Thor's, his fists likely wouldn't be able to deliver the incredible destructive power of Thor's hammer. Which means we won't be seeing those fists pull off feats the likes of which the God of Thunder has demonstrated in his own mag.

Or look at it this way: If Thor's personal might could equal the striking power of his hammer, he wouldn't have much use for a hammer, would he? After all, we've seen him invoke the power of the storm without the need of Mjolnir, either with his hands or by invoking spells. And while in Asgard, he typically gets around on horseback, rather than using his hammer for flight.

Nevertheless, this feature of Wonder Man's strength would persist when the character returned to The Avengers after thirteen years of death evolving into a new form of life. And wow, was he insistent on advertising it.

In fact, Williams seems to have some weird fixation on Thor's hammer--that, or he just doesn't have that much field experience yet.

There was also mention in the original tale about Wonder Man's extraordinary speed--for instance, striking Giant-Man with "almost incalculable speed"... dealing with the Enchantress by "moving with dazzling speed for one so strong..." Which means that we got an earful of that as well, from friends and enemies.

Obviously, Quicksilver was second-rate next to Wonder Man in Jan's eyes.

Of course, if Wonder Man is packing a Mjolnir punch, a few precautions would be in order, wouldn't you think?

You can almost hear Captain America now, can't you: "Wonder Man! Stop hammering at that force field, you fool--you'll kill us all!"

Fortunately, it only took a humiliating demonstration in the Avengers' gym to give Wonder Man a little perspective on Thor being in a class of his own...

...though for what it's worth, I'll bet Thor isn't nearly as fast.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Rogues All!

Judging by their continuing popularity in forums and elsewhere, it's regrettable that Marvel's rogues' galleries--which presented a rundown of a character's repertoire of villains in full-page profile format--never really caught on beyond the 1963-64 annuals of Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man, though they didn't stick around long regardless. As mostly a supplementary group of pages to those titles, it's possible that Stan Lee took another look at them and decided to instead offer more bang for the buck in annuals by padding the books with fresh and unexpected content that the reader didn't see coming. (Though padding them with reprints, as was often the case, was probably met with just the disappointment that Lee might have been trying to head off.)

Still, it would have been enjoyable to see other characters' annuals produce their own rogues' galleries, if only for the short term. One can only imagine how Jack Kirby's Thor galleries might have turned out, or John Buscema's take on Avengers villains--ditto for Herb Trimpe's Hulk roster, given how adept Trimpe was at stunning full-page renderings. Presumably, Iron Man's classic collection would have been taken on by Don Heck, whose portrait work I'd be curious (though admittedly not terribly excited) to take a look at; but other than George Tuska, I'm not sure who Marvel would tap for the job aside from Gene Colan. (Imagine the elation at turning the pages only to find, say, Neal Adams having rendered villain profiles of the Black Widow, the Mandarin, the Titanium Man, et al. Talk about the unexpected!) Daredevil, naturally, would be Colan all the way.

As for the galleries themselves, their main appeal eventually evolved into seeing them in their entirety--so, again, it's regrettable that we don't have more groupings to look at from either the Silver or Bronze Age. But having already put together Spider-Man's cast of nefarious nemeses, it's only right to give the FF their due, since their gallery paved the way for the concept, however briefly it lasted--yet time enough to be immortalized.

The FF's gallery in the Sept. 1963 annual preceded that of Spider-Man's by a year--though, like its counterpart in Amazing Spider-Man, it would follow up with a few more portraits in its second annual. But though the FF galleries would contribute additional profiles in its '79 annual, the FF's count of rogues would fall short of Spider-Man's gallery count by 8 portraits--a no doubt dubious honor for Spider-Man, seeing as he apparently had more criminals gunning for him than the Fantastic Four.

By the time of Daredevil's first annual in 1967, the rogues' gallery concept had been shelved indefinitely, so that only a few portraits graced DD's collection. Further weaning us from the concept was the retooling of it to a far less distinguished listing: "memory pages." Egad.

And I agree: they could have at least included Dr. Doom here.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Try Your Hand!

If you had aspirations toward working at Marvel Comics as a writer or artist, you probably took more than a second glance at The Official Marvel Comics Try-out Book published in 1983, which offered you a chance to submit your work samples directly to the source--and, best of all, since by all appearances Marvel was "hiring," you didn't have any concerns of how to get your foot in the door or having your work rejected outright. You were also on a level playing field with other applicants, since each person was applying their talent to the same pages of the sample story in the book which was in various stages of completion. Depending on what area you wanted to concentrate on, you could add your own touches and flair and submit work that would be distinct from anyone else who was hoping to be the next Chris Claremont or John Romita.

Taking a leaf from How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way, a much larger and more detailed instructional aid published in 1978, the Try-Out book clocks in at only 32 pages, but naturally has a format geared for work submission, its weighted pages oversized at 11" x 17" and designed for removal from the book's spine--though many would also have picked up the book just to hone their developing skills. Given its title, it has a only a minimum of introductory and explanatory segments and doesn't go into nearly the detail of its 1978 predecessor; its strength, rather, lies in the fact that it's a hands-on book in the truest sense, and no doubt appealed to those who wished to have a "starting point" in front of them.

Starting with the actual (but unfinished) comic story which gives you a few completed pages by Jim Shooter, John Romita Jr., Al Milgrom, Christine Scheele and Jim Novak, you'll then find sections that break down the work into try-out areas where you can add inking and/or coloring to pencilled and/or inked pages, add lettering to pages which have been scripted, pencil pages that have been plotted, write your own plot, or script pages that have been plotted and pencilled. No doubt there were those who rolled up their sleeves and tried their hand in more than one area, taking advantage of the enthusiasm which a publication that had "Official Marvel Try-Out Book" as its title was bound to generate.

The house ad for the book doesn't appear until April of the following year:

Nearly a year later, perhaps to get a little more mileage from the book's jaw-dropping $12.95 price tag, Shooter decided to capitalize on the book's title and grandfather the concept into a formal contest which in essence "put the word out" that Marvel was actively looking for new talent--and to sweeten the pitch, there was now a bona fide work assignment waiting for the winners, as a new full-page ad appearing in the company's January 1985 books details:

The revised ad was supplemented by a mention in the Bullpen Bulletins section (or what was left of it by 1985). Given its wording, there was apparently a production slip-up that delayed the Bulletins blurb until the following month instead of coinciding with the January ad; yet an explanation has now been added which clarifies that the contest was a way of satisfying rabid fans who were clamoring for the full comics story that remained incomplete in the Try-Out book. To cover his bases, Shooter adds that purchasing the book wasn't required to enter the contest.

Reportedly, over 19,000 submissions were received by Marvel--which, not even tabulating purchases of the book which were made before the contest was conceived and added to the mix, amounts to over a quarter of a million bucks in sales.

It wasn't until February of '86 before the winners were announced, one of whom you'll likely recognize immediately:

Only the Bulletins winners' annoucement includes the wording regarding the winners' "first regular professional assignment," while the ad is careful not to imply that additional work will be forthcoming.

To follow up on the annoucement, the ASM story which would have finished the "Personals" story begun in the Try-Out book never materialized, though Bagley of course went on to pencil a full run of Ultimate Spider-Man and other assignments. Hazlewood, the inking contestant, would mainly make his stamp at DC Comics--while Riggs, formerly a graphic artist, would shift to inking work in Marvel's UK line as well as finding later work at DC. Neither Pasda nor Duffie have been credited in published work (to my knowledge).

A less hyped try-out book was the 1996 X-Men-themed effort (with an intro by Bagley) that makes a point of mentioning the use of computer technology in comic book production, while being less accommodating as far as available pages to work off of directly.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the mid-'80s, of course, so Shooter's message in the final announcement welcoming further submissions post-contest has accumulated a lot of dust. And boy, has Marvel changed its tune and retracted the welcome mat:

"Marvel does not accept or consider any ideas, creative suggestions, artwork, designs, game proposals, scripts, manuscripts, or similar material unless we have specifically requested it from you. Marvel is continuously developing and creating its own ideas and materials, and we don’t have the resources to review or respond to unsolicited material. Unfortunately, any unsolicited material you send will not be read or shared. It will be destroyed, and it will not be returned.

"While we can’t accept your unsolicited submissions, please know that Marvel is always looking for new comic book artists and writers. We constantly read and review indie, self-published, creator-owned, and web-comics, review popular online art communities, ask other artists for opinions and recommendations, and host portfolio reviews at conventions from time to time. If you are an aspiring comic book artist or writer, we suggest you publish or publicly post your material, continue to create, and if you have the right stuff...we’ll find you."

Or, as Mark Alford bottom-lines it in his commentary on the subject: "Don't call us, we'll call you."

Mark Bagley talks about his try-out experience and subsequent career.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Your Death Before Mine!

We've come to the concluding issue of a three-part story where Adrian Toomes, the super-villain known as the Vulture--in an unusual move for such a man--has sought forgiveness from May Parker for the death of her fiancé, Nathan Lubensky, which Toomes admits responsibility for. When his request was bluntly refused, the Vulture shifted his attention to destroying Spider-Man, a foe that has dogged him for nearly his entire career and whose life he felt compelled to end before he succumbed to the cancer caused by the fields generated by the power pack which provided him with strength and the capability of winged flight.

Having earned his place in Spider-Man's rogues' gallery, the Vulture's prior battles with his web-headed foe have generally been fierce and no holds barred. This time, however, the Vulture has an edge, having pushed his flight technology past its limits and thereby making himself a more deadly opponent to overcome. As for Spider-Man, he's more motivated than ever to end the Vulture's threat once and for all, having become furious at finding Toomes invading May's home more than once as part of an effort to settle his accounts before he dies from his disease.

Yet with J.M. DeMatteis scripting this story, we can expect that there might be more to be found in this battle than flailing fists--as well as more to be found in its aftermath. So be sure to get a good grip on your seat:

...because in this battle to the end, the sky's the limit!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

When The Vulture Comes Calling...!

While it's not the first time we've seen the notorious Vulture at death's door, we're given additional insight into this villain's character in a three-part story from 1992 which once again has him facing the Grim Reaper (no, not that Grim Reaper)--not from the machinations of a fellow prison inmate, but from the ravages of cancer due to his own oversight. From what we've seen of the Vulture over the years, there isn't much to redeem Adrian Toomes, as vengeance and wealth have been the driving forces of his life ever since he turned to crime, and he's made no apologies for the lengths he's willing to go to achieve them--and in typical fashion, he prepares to meet death as gruesomely as he furthered his criminal career. So even the story's ending will have you wondering whether to dignify his impending death with a modicum of sympathy, or, at the very least, to take pity on him. But there is one who puts aside their personal animosity for this man and does so, to an extent--and thus their character, as well, is treated a little differently than you'd expect.

Naturally, the amazing Spider-Man figures prominently into this story, as he remains what the Vulture considers to be his greatest nemesis. As for whether we can expect the Vulture to exhibit any feelings of contrition as he approaches the end of his life...

...well, it doesn't appear that will be the case.

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Will Of Margali!

OR: "It's Raining Disciples!"

We've seen one example of how satisfying a Doctor Strange story can be when the mystic master confidently works his way through a situation before arriving at a solution that benefits all concerned. A little earlier in the series, we could also see that determination and skill set on hand when another unfortunate soul was in need, though the reader wouldn't have known that going in.

The door to the story was opened at least partway in the fourth X-Men Annual from 1980, when Kurt Wagner (a/k/a Nightcrawler) was targeted for vengeance by the mother of a gypsy family whose son, Stefan, died in a fight with his adopted brother, Kurt. The time finally came when the mother--a powerful sorceress known as Margali--caught up with Kurt during his time with the X-Men, and makes herself known just as Dr. Strange arrived to care for Kurt after the latter was downed by a mystic attack.

With that, Strange and the X-Men are swept up and subjected to the trials of a dimension fashioned to resemble the Hades-like "Inferno" environment depicted in the first part of writer Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. If nothing else, we can assume that Margali is a literary buff; but there is much more to her, and her situation regarding Kurt, as we discover during that story's conclusion.

Strange would get his chance to further investigate the Szardos family--and Margali in particular--when word gets out that his disciple, Clea, has departed, opening the floodgates for all manner of novices to seek to fill the position. Including one not so novice--the young daughter of Margali, Jimaine (a/k/a Amanda Sefton, Kurt's girlfriend).

Strange proceeds to book a hall in order to address the "applicants" en masse; but with Jimaine's arrival, he realizes that it's the power behind her which represents the true "testing" he spoke of earlier. Nor does he have long to wait, thanks to circumstances he elaborates on regarding taking on another disciple--that, and Jermaine's outrage at Strange's decision.

And so at last we prepare to see a more expanded battle between Margali and Strange than we were witness to when there was a more pressing drama involving Kurt which took precedence. Here, however, Margali seems to wish to establish her superiority over Strange and leave no doubt in his mind as to who is the "supreme" sorcerer. And while a perceived slight over Strange's refusal to take on her daughter as his disciple appears to be the catalyst, one must wonder why Margali pointed Jimaine in Strange's direction rather than to herself as the more qualified mentor for her daughter.

And there is an answer to be found; but first, there is a gripping struggle between Strange and Margali to be played out, well-handled by writer Roger Stern and guest-penciler Kevin Nowlan.

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Curse Of The Black Blade!

Often the best Dr. Strange stories are those where Strange's confidence in his abilities works in tandem with a methodical investigation to unravel a mystery that ends with his satisfaction as well as our own. One classic example would be "The House Of Shadows!" from 1964, but there are a number of others--including "Sword & Sorcery," a 1984 tale which featured Strange's reunion with Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, following the Knight's return to the 20th century at long last (capping a series of events set in motion when he crossed paths once more with the Enchantress).

But this is a very different Black Knight--and Strange may not live long enough to solve this mystery.

Written by Roger Stern, with artwork by Paul Smith and Terry Austin, Strange at last delves into the curse of the Black Knight's ebony blade--one that began with his ancestor, Sir Percy of Scandia, and which now haunts the very disturbed Dane Whitman.

Monday, November 19, 2018

"A Blind Man Shall Lead Them!"

From mid-1965 comes a classic Fantastic Four tale that has long been an all-time favorite of mine and is well overdue for a write-up at the PPC. The story finds our heroes at their lowest ebb--recently defeated by the Frightful Four, their unconscious bodies are fished out of the ocean by the crew of a U.S. Navy submarine. But their condition is far more serious than what their initial diagnosis indicates.

Returning to their lab in New York, the foursome undertake a project meant to protect them from any enemies bent on revenge, should word get out of how vulnerable they have become: a way to artificially duplicate their powers through technological means. For once, Sue Storm's usual misgivings of hopelessness and a course of action having little chance of success might indeed apply to their situation.

Meanwhile, their deadliest enemy prepares to strike anew, after a casual encounter with his court magician allows him to recover from a plan conceived by Reed Richards which led him to believe that he had been victorious in his last encounter with the Fantastic Four.*

*A misaccounting of the climactic scene to Fantastic Four Annual #2 by writer Stan Lee, altered here to indicate that Doom was placed under hypnosis by Reed--when in fact, Doom was defeated through scientific means, by ingesting the same drug he had covertly used on the FF to induce hallucination. The drug caused Doom to see the result he wanted to see following his "duel" with Reed--that he prevailed in their contest, which ended with Reed being exiled to a nameless limbo dimension. Of course, either way, it looks like our hapless magician is out of luck as far as receiving Doom's gratitude.

And so, with Doom on the way, the Fantastic Four will soon be facing the most dire battle of their lives--and a blind man shall lead them!

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