Monday, October 25, 2021

Marvel's Classic Corner Boxes: Fantastic Four Vol. I


Nine years ago, the PPC briefly took a look at those eye-catching corner boxes which once graced the left corner of issue covers and featured the character(s) which starred in the comic you took home to read. At the time, we explored the subject within the context of where the art for the characters might have originated from; but during this week, we'll expand our look to showcase an near-entire run of a title's first volume of corner boxes in all their mini-glory, from beginning to end. And why not begin where Marvel began, in the comic which set the standard for its new line of super-hero books?

It took a year and a half for the first corner box to appear in the Fantastic Four comic since its launch--but with variations, that box would endure for the next four years and appear in nearly fifty issues.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

My Dreams Will Be The Death Of Me

OR: "The Vision, P.I."

Recently we've taken a look at the story of the Lipton family, whose paths first crossed with the Avenger known as the Vision in 1991 when, in the emotionless, pale form he occupied for a four-year period, he approached researcher Miles Lipton in an effort to seek out some purpose to his existence. Sometime afterward, his ties to the Liptons appeared to come to an end in a touching story by writer Bob Harras which saw Miles pass away after a battle with cancer as the Vision continued to struggle with his lack of emotion.

While in the company of Miles, however, the Vision, destabilizing due to a lack of third-party brain patterns following his reprogramming, received the recorded engrams of Miles' deceased son, Alex.

(Harras is incorrect here in stating his son's occupation as a police officer; Alex Lipton was killed while employed at Roxxon in their R&D division, with no indication that he was working in an undercover capacity. Unfortunately, Alex's "background as a cop" will be a key factor in how Harras resolves the Vision's predicament in this story.)

Nearly a year later, as the Avengers battled the threat of the Gatherers, the Vision would be captured and subsequently find his android mind physically switched with that of a more ruthless Vision from an alternate reality; but later, the Avengers discovered that Vision's duplicity and confronted the Gatherers in a fierce battle where the true Vision was freed, while his evil doppelganger presumably met his end. Which finally brings us to late 1994, as Harras features the Vision in a four-issue series which sees the return of the Gatherers, the return of Ultron, and, perhaps, a new beginning as far as the Vision's emotional awareness finally being reaped.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Familial Ties


Back in 2015, the PPC had posed a question regarding whether or not the character of the Vision had lost some or all of his appeal for those of you who may have felt strongly on the subject. For myself, the tipping point may have been when an international coalition agreed to take steps to capture the Avenger and ensure that he would never again be able to seize the computers of the world to enact his own *ahem* vision for world order. To that end, he was disassembled while in custody in 1989 (our time) and likely analyzed down to the micro-circuit--while a computer tapeworm was released which would expunge from target computers any programs associated with him.

As a result, his form was left in a bleached state, and he took on a more spectral appearance for his fellow Avengers as well as the world. Yet even reprogrammed by Henry Pym with full knowledge of the Avengers and their history, he was also rendered emotionless--civil and dutiful, and still every bit the Avenger, but with his reasoning process reduced to logic and cold facts. The Vision would continue in his new physical form for nearly four years until 1993, and the Avengers' encounter with the Gatherers--where a Vision of an alternate timeline exchanged bodies with him in order to infiltrate the team. Once that conflict had played out, our own Vision was left to exist in his crimson "Gatherer" body (along with a costume that more or less had him resembling his former state), which effectively put any issues readers might have had with his pale form to rest. But I wondered if, for myself, the damage to the character had been done.

Yet as alert reader Dave S pointed out, there were some noteworthy stories in the 1990s involving our pale Avenger, one of which would stand out for me as a favorite--a story which begins in January of 1991 and continues in mid-1992, and explores the Vision's emotionless state quite well. It remains to be seen whether the Vision can ever return to his Roy Thomas days--but the covers to these respective stories appear to indicate that something is afoot.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Saga Of Annihilation!


Forty-three years ago almost to the month, I and several other college students in a media-related course were invited to our professor's home for an informal gathering with his family to watch the premiere of the new "Battlestar Galactica" television series on ABC. With the amount of press the show was receiving, coasting as it did on the reception of the wildly successful "Star Wars" film a year and a half earlier, there was a good deal of curiosity as to the show's concept as well as the quality of its production values considering its multi-million-dollar price tag--and our professor, who enjoyed cataloguing such media events and related trivia, had his VCR all set up to record the three-hour special. (There's no telling what he eventually did with all those videocassette tapes he must have amassed by the time VCRs finally bit the dust, but he no doubt enjoyed the run while it lasted.)

Things didn't end well for Galactica as a weekly series (at least where ABC was concerned)--yet Marvel was still able to reap some benefits from the show, the first being an adaptation of part of its premiere, "Saga of a Star World," for magazine publication in its Marvel Super Special publication, which hit the stands a month later.

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Sound Of... GalactiTrek!


Judging by some of the comments made in a PPC post from a few weeks ago, there are a few Star Trek fans lurking in our rafters who enjoy a Marvel comic as well as the next Melkotian--and I found myself remembering an old file which was the result of a train of thought I was exploring a few years ago concerning two original shows that went on to greater things: Star Trek, which aired from 1966-69, and Battlestar Galactica, running from 1978-79, each of which had noteworthy composers on its payroll.

Here, we throw the spotlight on one such virtuoso--Stu Phillips, who came aboard Galactica in '78, and, following the pilot episode for the show, composed the fanfare which would accompany the prelude to each episode of the series (the segment which presents the episode title, additional cast members, and any guest stars). It's such a grand, sweeping piece that it was intriguing to consider: Could this introductory music be mixed to open a classic Trek episode, at the point where its opening credits are presented? And would this music be suitable with the visuals?

With the music already selected, it came down to the matter of which Trek opening to choose. I knew I wanted a decent amount of footage of the Enterprise, which meant an orbital sequence or something that indicated approach--hopefully a scene that would segue to the ship's bridge, all of which would convey a sense of the ship, its crew, and its bold, ongoing mission. What I ended up choosing would catch Capt. Kirk at the tail end of his log entry--but given the roughly forty seconds I had to work with, it all came together fairly well, with the score turning out to be an impressive episode opener for these explorers.

Unlike Galactica, I wouldn't see this sort of intro being suitable or even possible for every Trek episode, as Galactica's episode opener sticks with the same format and visuals and isn't required to blend with whatever circumstances are leading into the story; but every now and then, Galactica's score, combined with some stunning Trek visuals, would have been a treat--an impossibility, to be sure, since Star Trek's final episode was well before Galactica's time. For this particular clip, I would have preferred to have a vibrant planet featured, rather than the dead world where the consciousness of its three survivors wait to be discovered; on the other hand, the music as revised plays into the decision Kirk would later make to help Sargon and the others.

(Come on, you saw this coming a mile away!)

Battlestar Galactica makes its way to Marvel Comics!

Thursday, October 7, 2021

The Earth's Final Hour!


Now what does this 1963 cover from artist Vic Prezio remind you of?

Reportedly, it provided the inspiration for a cover from Fantastic Four published three years later and rendered by artist Jack Kirby. The renditions of both artists were a bit before my time as a regular FF reader; having been a fairly new reader of the book in the early 1970s with only a little over twenty issues under my belt, I was still catching up on prior stories courtesy of Marvel's Greatest Comics, the successor to Marvel Collectors' Item Classics which had begun reprinting Silver Age FF stories in 1965 as part of its "grab bag" format but shifted in late 1969 to MGC which focused exclusively on FF reprints. Consequently, it wasn't until six years after the fact when I first read the story of Galactus, whose battle with the FF, for me, took place in MGC and was heralded in this case by artist Sal Buscema.

Obviously Mr. Buscema has a different take than Kirby on this story's cover presentation, preferring to show the FF in battle with Galactus rather than fleeing for their lives--but there are other interesting distinctions that bear mentioning. "If This Be Doomsday!", the title from which the original's caption takes its wording, is perhaps more at home above an image that has the FF appearing helpless against the threat, since the word "doomsday" implies a final hour that no one can avert or escape--whereas on the MGC cover, doomsday seems less likely with Galactus, in full view, being less of a lofty figure from on high and laser-focused on dealing with the FF. Kirby's image is also helped by a more apocalyptic background rather than a more serene setting of a clear day that suggests this battle is an isolated one and not a danger to the city, or the world.)

In addition, Buscema's cover is forcing us to assume that the Torch has lapsed on the ledge of a building other than the FF's headquarters, since Galactus's conversion device was constructed on the Baxter Building. We're also left to assume that the Invisible Girl, whom Buscema doesn't appear to have room for, is either looking distraught from below, or is rushing from off-panel to help the Torch--that is, after she's:

  • Taken the FF's elevator to the lobby;
  • Hurried across the street while dodging traffic (where none of the drivers seem to know an FF uniform from a bike messenger);
  • Darted inside the other building, nearly tripping over a manhole cover;
  • Frantically pushed the elevator's Up button until one finally arrives;
  • Gritted her teeth at all the stops the car must make for the other people riding up with her; and
  • Nearly gone mad at not only the catty comments remarking on her disheveled appearance but also the incessant Muzak selections on repeat before reaching the roof.

The expressions on the faces of the rest of the FF seem to indicate their impatience as to what the heck has kept their distaff member--as opposed to Galactus, who for an instant can't help but wonder if all Earth females look so disheveled. In all seriousness, though, Sue is not present during this part of the fight (until the Punisher shows up, that is) due to being ordered to stay behind with Johnny, as a secondary force in the event Reed and the Thing fail in their attack. (You'd think a team's strength lies in fighting as a team, but what do I know.)

As it happens, the Torch isn't even part of this fight from this point on. By the time the Thing is wrecking crucial parts of the converter, the Watcher has sent the Torch to the world-ship of Galactus in order to obtain a device which would dissuade him from his plans for consuming Earth--which can be made to fall within the symbolic nature of Kirby's cover. (The Surfer is also occupied elsewhere, with Alicia Masters, as Buscema takes into account.)

A peculiarity in Kirby's cover, however, is that to the eye it seems as if the characters have all been nudged to the left, making things look a bit off-center--perhaps to make room for the doomsday caption, but also apparently to keep the masthead from being occluded by the helmet of Galactus (something that is evidently not a concern on the MGC cover). As with our friend the Frankenstein monster, Kirby's Galactus would evoke a more looming and menacing image if he had been placed center stage, as the overseer of the disaster to come. (Artist José Ladrönn does an excellent job of providing a workable solution with his variant cover to Vol. 2 of the Fantastic Four Omnibus, while also managing to bring the FF to the fore.)


A few of the covers featuring artists paying homage to this issue.
(In order, l-r: Jim Valentino, Paul Ryan, José Ladrönn, and Arthur Suydam)

Monday, October 4, 2021

The Making Of A Team


OR: "From Riches To Rags!"

When Marvel opened the creative floodgates in the late 1970s and began deluging the market with new titles in an apparent effort to see which one(s) would catch on, it was often a wincing experience for the reader, as writers would throw subtlety to the wind and cram the first issue or two of a new book with everything and everyone it would need to hit the ground running--including a handful of supporting characters that would orbit the life of the lead character in one respect or another and, hopefully, convey the impression that the book was well thought out and reflected a solid commitment by the creative team. (Off the top of my head, The Human Fly was a textbook example of such a packed and prepared first issue.)

Such thoughts came to mind when I found myself thumbing through the first ten or so issues of Fantastic Four, which collectively turned out to be a study in more gradual development of characters as well as the book's direction--an approach which probably seemed natural at the time, since Marvel's shift to super-heroes was new ground for the company and the only way to proceed beyond a basic outline was to do so step by step. We learned the origin of the four principal characters in their first issue, even as these individuals gathered to investigate the activities of the Mole Man--yet from that point, their personalities and foibles were doled out in a way that allowed the reader to get to know them, just as we might come to know any new person in our lives. Within that mix, of course, were the complications inherent with people who found themselves forging a path forward as high-profile individuals with super-powers--while one member of this group walked a more lonely, bitter road, as he struggled to come to grips with the anguish of being forced to live the rest of his life as a freak, while the others bore the brunt of his harsh side-comments and even his fits of rage.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Giant-Man In The 25th Century!


Where YOU Weigh In on the Pros and Cons of a Character's New Attire



There are few Avengers--or few costumed characters in general, for that matter--who have been overhauled and refitted more than Henry Pym, whose attire as Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, etc., etc., etc. has changed so often over the years, depending on what breakthrough or what handicap he was dealing with at any given time. And that pattern was beginning even in late 1963, when he decided to spend most of his time in costume as Giant-Man rather than Ant-Man, and almost immediately changed his costume's design accordingly.

In March of 1965, however, when he felt the need to add to his abilities in order to have a (pardon the pun) higher profile as an Avenger, a more extensive costume (and equipment) adjustment was required.

This new power was to cybernetically change the size of other organic forms--something he'd already accomplished with the Wasp, using the circuitry in his old cybernetic hood-mask. As it turned out, readers would rarely if ever see this helmet's power employed during Pym's remaining time with the Avengers.

Nevertheless, the Wasp decided to take this development one step further.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

But let's not "buck" tradition--what's your decision on the look of the new Giant-Man?

OR: ?

Monday, September 27, 2021

Exit: The Masters Of Evil! Exit: The Avengers!


If you were an Avengers reader in April of 1965, you might not have thought that anything was amiss with the team, judging by the optimism and normalcy exuded in their fifteenth issue. The Wasp had recovered following a near-fatal injury; Thor, during the time when the team was rotating its Avengers chairmanship on a monthly basis, was wrapping up an Avengers meeting that from all appearances had proceeded routinely and smoothly with nothing pressing; and afterward, everyone went back to resuming their normal lives, their only reason for getting together in those days being those times when they had such business to conduct or cause to assemble.

(Well, Jan, that coat would be coming off once you two were seated at your restaurant--but who am I to spoil your mood?)

Yet we wouldn't know until the cryptic final panel of this issue that what we were seeing were the last hours of the (remaining) original Avengers on active duty, the preparations for their exit already in the works by the time the issue went to press--with their "high note" being a final all-out battle with the Masters of Evil, the group of super-villains gathered by a wartime enemy of Captain America's, Baron Zemo. From the beginning, Zemo's super-powered associates knew that they were only a means to an end for their leader, who craved revenge against Cap--the same motivation which preoccupied Zemo's son, the erstwhile Phoenix, who would form his own band of Masters against the Avengers. But in what would be the final appearance as well for the group that had added the Executioner and the Enchantress to its ranks, the original Zemo would at last meet his fate at the hands of his mortal enemy--in the shadow of a banner which appeared to be watered down slightly* to perhaps appease the Comics Code Authority.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

This Way Toward... Doom!


Perhaps eyeing the success of the DC horror/fantasy anthology titles House Of Secrets and House Of Mystery, Marvel launched two similarly themed books in late 1969: Tower Of Shadows and, one month later, Chamber Of Darkness. Like their DC counterparts which were published on a bimonthly basis (off and on), both Tower and Chamber hit the stands every other month--but it seems the similarity ends there in terms of sales, as Marvel's offerings sold poorly and were discontinued after ten and eight issues, respectively. Tower, premiering first, seemed somewhat better received by readers, judging by letters page response, though the ratio of raves to more critical assessments appeared to be about 30/70. There was also the question of sustainability, as both series began pulling in reprinted material from their earlier anthology titles from the '50s-'60s (Strange Tales and Tales Of Suspense) with their sixth issue.

Suffice to say that DC's House titles were in no danger of readers jumping ship for Marvel's offerings--though it wasn't for lack of trying on Marvel's part, at least initially, as some of the company's most notable talent were tapped to contribute stories. Roy Thomas, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, John Buscema, Gene Colan, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Jim Steranko, et al. (including John Romita Sr., who mostly did cover work) were seemingly able to accommodate seven-page assignments (or less) within a two-month window (though I believe Steranko withdrew after only one story, reportedly due to a disagreement with Lee)--with some artists even pulling double duty and contributing scripts as well as art, in addition to inkers providing readers with examples of their own pencils.

After their all-too-brief runs, each title shifted to formats made up of almost entirely reprinted material, in addition to adopting new mastheads. Tower became Creatures On The Loose, which mixed its reprints with sword and sorcery tales as well as a regular feature on Man-Wolf, while Chamber morphed to Monsters On The Prowl--each book having a run of 30 to 37 bimonthly issues (the creatures pulling ahead of the monsters--make of that what you will). But since there's a little more ground to cover with both Tower and Chamber, and having already examined Jack Kirby's stories in the latter, let's turn to a few samples from some of the other names we've mentioned who made their mark in the macabre during the brief time when these two titles were being published.