Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Colors Of Doomsday!


The cover to Fantastic Four #77 remains one of the more colorful examples of artist Jack Kirby's work on the title, with its striking use of red to highlight not only the lab machinery of the story's villain, Psycho-Man, but also the villain himself. Without a production copy of the cover to possibly offer more information, it's unclear whether those choices were made by Kirby or the issue's colorist; but as a footnote to the PPoC's recent review of the story, it might be interesting to take another look at the cover alongside its sister cover from its reprint in Marvel's Greatest Comics, published seven years later in 1975, which makes some noticeable changes that are apparent at first glance.



With the change in Psycho-Man's coloring being the most obvious, it's compelling to speculate on why he might have been originally cast in red. With his lab and equipment similarly cast, the uniformity no doubt adds to the framing of the entire cover as it sections off the different aspects of the story within. We could also assume that whatever intense energies Psycho-Man is unleashing so determinedly with his equipment are being reflected on his form and in the immediate vicinity of the room in a blazing shade of red. (Maybe the cover caption should instead read, "...Shall This Lab Endure?")

With the substitution of the MGC masthead and the change in its background color--as well as the loss of Kirby's detailing of Psycho-Man's equipment--only sparse elements of that detailing remain, too few to perhaps justify giving Psycho-Man the same coloring, though you could also assume that the decision might have been made to make this 7-year-old story's villain more distinctive for newer readers. (His hue has also been adjusted in his clash with the Torch.) And while on rare occasion the raiment of Galactus has been rendered in a darker color, the MGC cover has updated it to be more consistent with the character in later appearances (while his eyes have received a little touching up, as well).

The backgrounds and coloring in the various segments have been altered, as well. The ceiling detailing in the Torch area is touched up a bit, while the background coloring in all the segments is substantially adjusted for no discernible reason (with the exception of the Surfer's background, which gives more of a sense of the character being in space). The three FF members in the upper left segment lose almost all of the area's "Kirby krackle" effect, perhaps because of the intrusion of the MGC masthead, while the new coloring of Psycho-Man's machine tendrils are shifted to a black hue in that portion so as not to clash with the coloring of the FF's uniforms, presumably.

Changes have also been made with the addition of two extra captions--the Surfer's taking advantage of the character's selling power, now a figure well established with readers since his appearance in the original story. "When Strikes Psycho-Man...", however, appears to be a pointless insertion--its styling making it seem as if even the caption is unsure of its own impact. On an unrelated note, I still have a quibble about one portion of Kirby's original work--the fact that the two segments featuring the male members of the FF seem almost redundant. Do we really need to see the Thing gasping twice? With the bold caption "...Shall Earth Endure?" being the only wording present on the cover to entice the reader, why not substitute the lower left segment with a scene that features, for example, the people of Earth fearful of their approaching fate?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Rise Of The Red Hulk!


We've already seen the life and career of Gen. Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross dragged down by his relentless pursuit of the incredible Hulk, a situation he had virtually made his peace with by the end of the run of the book by offering words to that effect to his deceased daughter, Betty, who had been killed by the Abomination. By that time, Ross's fruitless encounters with the Hulk had taken their toll on the old soldier. After he had been merged with the electrical creature known as Zzzax, and once again failed to destroy the Hulk, he lost his own life attempting to save Betty from a mind-usurping mutant; but he was subsequently retrieved by the Leader and made to serve him as the Redeemer. Once more defeated by the Hulk, Ross was later made whole again--but the wheels had been set in motion to bring Ross much closer to being able to deal with his green-hued enemy once and for all.

And when it came to Ross gaining the power he needed to destroy the Hulk, "hue" is indeed the operative word here.



There's no doubt that, with the appearance of the so-called "Red Hulk," the 2008 Hulk series breathed new life into the character, one who appeared to have changed so radically. The Hulk had last appeared in the epic World War Hulk crossover event, in which he returned from his exile from Earth to claim his vengeance against those he held responsible for the tragedy he'd suffered. Created by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, the new Hulk's origin was shrouded in mystery for nearly two years (with no small thanks to one or two red herrings thrown our way), the better to milk his appearances in his own title as well as in others for all they were worth.

During that time, the Red Hulk trampled his opposition with ease, no matter how powerful his foes. It's part of the reason I'd stopped buying the book, since Loeb's approach was to basically have the Red Hulk arrogantly pound his opponents into the ground just to take advantage of the shock value, only to up the ante and make the threat against him next time seem more certain to put him down. The Red Hulk carved a swath of destruction through the heavy hitters of the Marvel lineup--and if you're decking the Watcher, it appeared that no stone was going to be left unturned.



Unlike the "Hulk will smash!" creature we're more familiar with, the Red Hulk proved to be canny and calculating, with power to spare as well as the ability to absorb energy from others. His prime opponent, the Hulk, was dealt with fairly early in the title--and from that point, facing further opposition was no sweat.




And then came... perhaps to no one's surprise... the Red She-Hulk, given life by the same procedure that created her predecessor. The twist to this character was that she was revealed to be none other than Betty Ross--and when she defeats the Red Hulk, we at last learn his identity, a revelation which lends new meaning to the phrase "all in the family."



And so Ross relives the events that brought him to this point. From his time as the Redeemer:




...to when he is restored to his original form--though now with his path set to put an end to what had become the bane of his existence, despite his comforting words to his daughter.



Through flashbacks, we discover that by the time the Hulk had returned to Earth from his forced exile, Ross's life had unraveled in his eyes. His daughter dead... himself having committed treason... Captain America, a hero and patriot he greatly admired, assassinated... Ross felt he no longer had a purpose. While drowning his sorrows at a bar, he's paid a call by the Leader and M.O.D.O.K., part of a cabal known as the Intellgencia--and they make him an offer that he finds hard to refuse, planning for the day when the Hulk returns to Earth to plague the human race once more.



And so the alliance comes to pass--and the Intelligencia is prepared when Tony Stark, at the culmination of the Sentry's battle with the Hulk, triggers a satellite to down the monster, though unknown to Stark the Hulk's energies are siphoned and put to use elsewhere.




In time, however, the original Hulk engaged the Red Hulk in a rematch--and the Intelligencia's plan for Ross fails because of their hired muscle's one weakness, which Betty kindly recaps for her beleaguered father...



...a weakness which the original Hulk exploited to achieve victory.



Following his defeat, the Intelligencia promptly washes its collective hands of the Red Hulk. (I know the feeling. By this time, I couldn't have cared less about the Red Hulk, the Green Hulk, or even Ross, who made his bed and was welcome to sleep in it.) But with the help of Bruce Banner, the Red Hulk goes on to defeat their immediate plans--and then seizes the White House in yet another act of treason, with the original Hulk putting an end to his bid for power. From there, hoping for redemption, the Red Hulk turns to Captain America, who taps him for the Avengers after once again dealing with the Intelligencia.

The Red Hulk kept his hold on the Hulk title until the end of its run in late 2012. The last time I touched base with the character, he was experiencing a bit of karma when the tables were turned and he found himself hounded by his own military nemesis--specifically, General Fortean, who vowed to take him down. "It's classic Hulk big action that breaks new ground [emphasis added]--breaks it to pieces, really," said writer Jeff Parker--but, haven't we been to this party before?

BONUS!
A checklist of the many, many mags that gave the Red Hulk a truckload of exposure--
and Marvel's coffers a considerable infusion.



Monday, July 24, 2017

"...To The Ends Of The Earth!"


There's no denying that General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross spent a great deal of his later career pursuing and attacking the man-monster known as the Hulk--but on occasion, he found himself in the awkward position of needing to use a carrot instead of a stick with the green goliath in order to attempt to make peace with him (or at the very least, settle for d├ętente). It would take the entire run of the second volume of Incredible Hulk before Ross and Bruce Banner were able to bury the hatchet to any extent, made possible in part by how much each of these men had lost along the way. Until then, Ross's moments of civility with the Hulk were few and far between, mostly due to the fact that the General was forced by both the Hulk's aggressive nature--as well as what he viewed as his daughter's misguided feelings for Banner--to come after the Hulk with cannons blazing. But the moments of reconsideration, albeit brief ones, were there. And their circumstances, like the Hulk himself, were tragic in nature.

Interestingly, when Ross chose to take a direct hand in smoothing things over with the Hulk, it was a third party that intervened and spoiled his good intentions, a staple of any continuing drama that seeks to prolong its conflict. For instance, when the Hulk's good friend, Jim Wilson, was seriously wounded in an encounter with the hordes of Hydra, we saw Ross locate him along with his rescuer--the Hulk, who knew that Jim needed help but of course had no clue as to what to do. At that point, the Hulk was willing to grasp at any straw to help his friend--but to his mind, good Samaritans weren't usually accompanied by military planes swarming overhead.




Thanks to Jim's timely intervention, Ross not only gets to live but he also has the opportunity to make headway with the Hulk in a more direct way than he's ever attempted before. It's a curious sight to take in, since there's no apparent reason for Ross to make the effort. The Hulk, after all, will eventually revert to Banner, the person who's the real key for Ross in making progress in dealing with the ongoing Hulk situation--and in the interim, as long as Banner remains himself, there is no rampaging Hulk for Ross to corral. It would be understandable if Ross attempted to strike up a trusting dialog with the Hulk if lives were in immediate danger--but with Jim safely on his way to a hospital, that isn't the case here. The only other reason to do so would be in the hope of getting the Hulk to revert to Banner; instead, however, it's solely the Hulk that Ross wants to deal with.

Unfortunately, "trigger-happy" is an all-too-familiar phrase in delicate military operations--and Ross's good intentions are derailed in less than a minute.




Ross gets another crack at putting aside his differences with the Hulk after the brute saves the Hulkbuster Base from the siege of the Rhino and the Abomination--and yet again, the decision is taken out of Ross's hands.




For better or worse, we see Ross definitely acting a little more G.I. towards the Hulk in other encounters--making sure civilians aren't put in harm's way, while taking every opportunity to capture and detain the Hulk. One such opportunity arrives when a decision is made by the Attorney General to prosecute Banner for the reckless actions of the Hulk--a decision which Ross is conflicted about, but he does his job in securing Banner for a flight to Las Vegas. For his defense, Banner chooses defense attorney Matt Murdock, who insists during the flight that Banner's sedation be ceased so that he's able to understand the charges against him. That indeed proves as disastrous as it sounds, when Banner's nerves cause him to change into the Hulk at 40,000 feet, and all hell--er, Hulk breaks loose. But, feeling responsible for the situation, Murdock acts to gain the Hulk's trust.





This time, though, the shoe is on the other foot--and Ross, acting out of concern for Murdock's safety, fails to let the moment play out and moves instead to get Murdock out of harm's way, harm that a betrayed and now enraged Hulk seems almost certain to deliver.



Given the government's desire to have Banner be held accountable for the Hulk's actions, clemency seems unlikely from the Justice Department, much less the White House--but a full pardon offer has been extended to the Hulk on two separate occasions. In neither instance was Ross in favor of the decision, though he carried out the decision of his Commander In Chief; but with the first pardon he was given a great deal of discretion in the matter. Saving the city of New York from a deadly missile and subsequently defeating a humanoid creation of the Leader named the "Hulk-Killer," the Hulk awakens to find himself the man of the hour in the public's eyes (and in those of the President, who's come to realize that the Hulk isn't dangerous so much as misunderstood), but becomes agitated by all the attention from the growing crowd--and the villain known as Boomerang, seeking his revenge, takes advantage of the situation to once more make the Hulk an outcast.




Regrettably, the courier brings news of the President's pardon, which is now a moot point.  With Ross empowered to make the call, the Hulk's recognition as a hero is quickly over and done with.



Later, the time would come when the Hulk was controlled by the mind of Banner, who, with Reed Richards' help, petitioned the government for a full pardon. Ross is again given a say on the subject, but is dead-set against it--yet this time the decision is not his to make.  And with a stroke of a pen, the deed is done.




(Nice symmetry for Mr. Murdock, eh?)

Regrettably, we know how badly things turned out for the Hulk, thanks to the entity known as Nightmare.  The Hulk becomes savage and uncontrollable once more--and sympathy from either the general public or the government seems unlikely to ever be offered again.

With two strikes against the Hulk, it goes without saying that each of the presidential orders of amnesty had been premature; and matters certainly didn't improve with the events of World War Hulk, when Ross received a communique from the White House voicing much different sentiments this time.  And in response, Ross brings himself full circle.








The "apocalypse Ross" scene is a far cry from eight years prior, where we came to the end of the regular book's run in 1999 and a scene that occurred following Banner and Ross finally coming to terms--as Ross returns to the person whose orbit he, the Hulk, and Banner all circled. It's a scene where Ross puts his enmity aside--at least for now.



War has indeed been hell for this soldier. But is Ross's war with the Hulk truly over?

NEXT:
 If you can't beat 'im, join 'im!

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Second Coming of... Galactus!



Issue #77 of Fantastic Four concludes a story that was likely highly anticipated by FF readers in mid-1968--the first reappearance of Galactus in the book since the character's debut two years earlier. In that original tale, at "gunpoint" from the Ultimate Nullifier, Galactus agreed to spare the Earth from his ravaging and withdraw; and since his herald, the Silver Surfer, had renounced service to him, Galactus stranded the Surfer on our world with no means of returning to roam the galaxies ever again. Galactus had both praise and words of warning for the human race in the moments leading up to his departure, seemingly leaving our fate in our own hands--yet, now aware of our planet's existence, would he ever have cause to return and once again present a danger to all life on Earth?

Exactly what type of scenario storytellers Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would come up with in terms of the circumstances of Galactus' return to our planet--as well as what role the Surfer would play in the unfolding events--remained to be seen. For Kirby, who would essentially lay out the entire story for Lee to script, how Galactus evolved as a character from this point would depend on what details Lee supplied him for the plot, and how much Kirby could or would expand on them. If we flip through the pages of the entire arc, it's apparent that Galactus has returned for the Surfer, having become desperate in his search for a consumable world that would assuage his hunger and ultimately pressuring the Fantastic Four to surrender his former herald. Because of where the Surfer decides to take refuge, the FF also become involved again with Psycho-Man, the menace from Sub-Atomica; and there is also the continuing subplot of Sue Richards' pregnancy that's given minor attention here and there. In total, that comes to eighty pages of story for Kirby to hand over to Lee--and with expectations high for the second appearance of Galactus in Fantastic Four--particularly with the story serving to promote the debut of the new Silver Surfer title--that gives Lee eighty pages to hopefully turn into another FF classic on par with the original.

Whether or not Lee and Kirby succeeded in fulfilling those expectations is debatable, and perhaps barely at that. Galactus remaining at a considerable distance from Earth for the duration of the story and instead manifesting his character and threat in the form of bold and dramatic word balloons from "on high" doesn't inspire awe in either the FF or the populace so much as it does terror and dread, robbing Galactus of the one aspect that makes him a fascinating threat: the sheer sight of this alien casually preparing to destroy our world simply because he must, with all humanity helpless to do anything but gaze up at his preparations. Also, there is the lack of the unknown element to the story that changes everything--the equally new character of the Silver Surfer, whose interference was given not just in power, but in the words he used to attempt to sway his master from his course of action, arguments that were rebutted just as compellingly by Galactus. It was a drama that played out on many levels, tangents that Kirby and Lee attempt to duplicate in the newer tale but which appear to take considerably more effort to interweave and make relevant.

It also seems here as if Lee is having difficulty adapting to the story that Kirby has visually produced, difficulty that would continue to become more evident as this once-exceptional creative team steadily approached its dissolution. For instance, there's the announced return of Galactus and his need once again for the Surfer--yet things proceed confusingly from there, and many questions linger. Will the Surfer petition for his freedom? Will he rejoin his master? Why is the Surfer so skittish and reticent? Why involve the FF, instead of meeting directly with Galactus? According to the Torch, there's no real problem, for either the Surfer or Earth--but in the following scene, complications seem to arise out of thin air, and it's hard to determine just what crisis is going to drive this story.



"Starving"? The fact that Galactus has a voracious hunger should come as a surprise to no one, since this entity needs to consume entire planets on a regular basis--so we can conclude that, no matter what state of hunger Galactus arrived at Earth in, he would be a severe and present danger. In other words, the stakes aren't raised here any higher than they would be otherwise; the fact that Galactus has returned to Earth is cause for apprehension and alarm in itself. In any event, what difference would Galactus' hunger make to the Surfer? As the Torch points out in so many words, the Surfer can simply resume his task as herald and solve two problems at once--his desire to return to space, and sating the hunger of Galactus.

It's at this point the story takes a right turn when Galactus' servant, the Punisher, arrives to seize the Surfer, only to be attacked by the Surfer who then blends into the background while the Thing and the Torch take over. For all intents and purposes, the Surfer then just... disappears, courtesy of Kirby and Lee, with no explanation in either script or narrative. How and why he does so depends on which member of the FF you're asking, since they don't seem to be keeping each other in the loop on the subject--nor is it clear just when the members of the FF decided to keep the Surfer under wraps. Was it ever settled just what the Surfer was going to do? We still don't know at this point, and we won't be getting any help from the FF. The Thing, who decided to take on the Punisher to give the Surfer time to recover from his failed attack on Galactus' alien Rottweiler, seems to suddenly think the Surfer is missing rather than resting...



...the Torch suddenly upgrades the Surfer's status from M.I.A. to "hidden":



...while Mr. Fantastic, who's joined this fight after spotting it from another location and has no idea that the Surfer has returned, has that brain of his working overtime, since out of the blue he realizes the Surfer is not only involved but "hidden" as well, even though he hasn't been briefed at all on the situation by his two partners:



From here, it comes down to a waiting game, as the FF observe Galactus' efforts to search for the Surfer from his vantage point in space while they move to an isolated location off of Manhattan in case Galactus decides to pursue his grievance with them. We're left to assume that they're totally complicit with the Surfer's efforts to conceal himself, though they have no idea as yet as to where he might have gone. (At least you seem to know why he's disappeared, gentlemen--that's more than we can say.) Unfortunately, their loyalty to the Surfer and resolve to help him don't amount to much when they're sufficiently threatened--and presto, they fold like a tent.




Returning to Reed's lab, they discover that the Surfer has perused notes on an experiment Reed was working on to travel to the Microverse, and decided to take refuge in a universe that would escape the notice of even Galactus.



Reed obviously remembers a lot more from that earlier battle with Psycho-Man than he should, considering that he never took part in it. Instead, he was a little preoccupied with another matter at the time:



Be that as it may, the next installment of the story involves the FF's attempt to corral the Surfer and hopefully convince him to return--though it would be nice to know why the heck he went into hiding. Is it a simple matter of the Surfer not wanting to return to Galactus' service? Does he believe that Galactus wants to harm him? We don't yet know the Surfer's origin story, so we're working in the dark; it seems unlikely that the Surfer fears Galactus, though all indications point to that for some reason. Yet we do know that the crisis boils down to this: If the Surfer doesn't return, Galactus will be forced to consume the Earth. And after witnessing the FF's desperate attempts to apparently capture him (wasn't the Surfer the least bit curious as to why these men he considered his allies had done an about-face and were now coming after him and trying to subdue him?), he decides to return and meet with Galactus.



Again, the implication that the Surfer is facing an unknown fate with Galactus, that he's taking a chance in returning, when it's clear that Galactus' primary concern lies only in satisfying his hunger. And exactly what "sacrifice" does the Torch feel the Surfer is making? Contrary to Reed's response, the Surfer doesn't have any "sky-born freedom" to give up--he never did.

Regardless, off he goes, and this story finally comes to a head. But with the fate of the Earth in the balance, and the FF's loved ones perhaps facing their last moments, Reed Richards nevertheless decides that the Fantastic Four should stay and battle a super-villain--one who, up to this point, was minding his own business in Sub-Atomica and posed no immediate threat to Earth.


"There's nothing more we can do--up there!" Hold that thought for a minute, won't you?

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