Monday, June 18, 2018

The Wrath of... Dorma!?

Based on the last time we saw a Defenders cover sporting a Hulk/Sub-Mariner clash, expectations for a rematch were high when, over forty issues later, these two powerhouses again meet in battle, as all hell breaks loose around them.

But you know what they say about appearances and deception, a combination often indulged in by comic book covers. In this 1981 story, there isn't even grappling between the pair, much less a punch thrown. But the Sub-Mariner is nevertheless waging war--against the surface world, and against the Defenders. It's an invasion story unlike any other we've seen featuring the forces of Atlantis and their raging prince--and its catalyst is both unexpected and... alive.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Enemies On Every Side!

In a two-part comics story where its first part ends in a confrontation and skirmish between opposing sides, it's not unusual to see its second part erupt in an all-out battle issue--yet by that point, the battle lines have been drawn clearly, and all that's left is to see which side will prevail. In the case of the incredible Hulk's conflict with the evil Inhumans, who have appeared in the Central America city of Costa Salvador and are led by the mad Maximus, he's now faced with enemies on two fronts: the forces of Maximus, and the Army task force which has arrived to take on the invaders. But in the Hulk's eyes, the Army represents a threat to himself--enemies which have always hunted him and attacked him on sight and now, having discovered his location, move in to either capture or kill him.

And so the Hulk faces a near-impossible choice for his limited cognitive abilities to make: Continue to battle the evil Maximus and the other Inhumans, or turn and face the Army. Either way, he realizes that he loses, since choosing one leaves him vulnerable to the other. But as the splash page to Part Two indicates, Maximus, seizing an opportunity to use the Hulk against the arriving Army troops, offers his opponent a third option.

As we see, the story's title has already spilled the beans as to which way the Hulk will go here; nevertheless, Maximus' offer does make his decision easier, since it means that the "evil Inhumans" will become his allies against a common enemy. And so the brave men of the U.S. Army learn the hard way the decision that the Hulk has worked out for himself.

The Inhumans, for their part, make no contribution to battling the new threat, though that's not necessarily their conscious choice. At first, Maximus seeks to direct the Hulk's actions against the forces of Gen. Ross; but once the Hulk makes it clear that he doesn't need any kibitzing from Maximus to battle enemies whose tactics and weaponry he well knows, the Inhumans remain absent from the hostilities from that point on. Which is fine with the Army, since their new objective is now clear!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

At the Mercy Of Maximus!

A splendid two-part tale from September of 1969 features not only a classic tale starring the incredible Hulk--not only scripting from Stan Lee, 46 years old and at the peak of his talent--not only artist Herb Trimpe inking his own pencils--but also a reunion between the Hulk and a group of Inhumans he came into conflict with in the previous year's Hulk Annual, as he again becomes involved in the ruthless plans of Black Bolt's crazed brother, the mad Maximus. This would also be Lee's final issue as writer of the character, as he passes the reins of the book to its new regular writer, Roy Thomas.

Lee's parting story picks up with Bruce Banner, who washes up on the shore of the Central America city of Costa Salvador following the Hulk's battle with the Sub-Mariner. What he finds in the first town he comes to is a population that makes the people of Stepford look positively animated--and an imposing statue which casts its "gaze" in all directions.

To answer Banner's question, we can make a fair assumption and say that, for him, these strange sights won't add up to much at all. But for the man-monster he shares his tragic existence with, all the signs in Costa Salvador point to--trouble!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

When Editors Step Out

During his run on Fantastic Four, artist John Byrne gave the book's readers a healthy assortment of noteworthy issue covers that were representative of the adventures they'd come to expect from Marvel's premiere super-team. It's no exaggeration that during the early 1980s, Byrne was riding a wave of popularity for his work on the mag--and as a triple threat of being the book's writer, artist, and inker for much of his stay, it's fair to say that he certainly deserved the accolades. Yet since no artist bats 1,000 with every piece of work, and even Jack Kirby and other artists at times were asked to come up with a different concept for a cover rather than going with their original submission, there were some rather unusual cover choices by Byrne that nevertheless still made the cut and were given the green light by the book's revolving door of editors (who were presumably the ones who had to sign off on any cover art which would bear the responsibility for selling the issue).

Here are a few such covers that caught my eye--with the editor for each issue duly noted, since the issue in question couldn't have made it to your local retailer without their approval. To Byrne's credit, there aren't really that many covers to choose from, though perhaps you'll have your own suggestions on this topic.

To begin with--well, gosh, we might as well get this one out of the way:

Issue 238
Editor: Jim Salicrup

Monday, June 11, 2018

To The Hidden Land Comes... The Hulk!

Jim Steranko's eye-catching 1968 cover to the first Incredible Hulk Annual no doubt contributed a great deal to selling the issue to not only readers of the character's regular series but likely just about anyone browsing the comics racks. To this day, it remains a stunning work of art--though judging by its original mock-up, it received a few additional touches from artist Marie Severin, who went on to pencil the story.

Yet with Incredible Hulk having only seven issues under its belt at the time, Steranko's cover might well have had a lot more riding on it in terms of promoting the Hulk's nascent series so that it wouldn't follow in the footsteps of its 1962-63 bi-monthly predecessor, which collapsed after a run of only six issues. In that sense, the image of the Hulk, struggling to hold up his own crumbling masthead, is disturbingly symbolic, to say the least.

In addition, a decision has apparently been made behind the scenes to rely almost entirely on the Hulk's dramatic image to entice current and new readers, with the cover being a bit deceptive in dropping the name of the story's antagonists--the uncanny Inhumans, whom we would expect to be represented by Black Bolt, Karnak, Gorgon, Medusa, Crystal, and Triton. Instead, only two of that group would be featured, taking a back seat to a collection of seditionists who would later fall under the sway of Black Bolt's unstable brother, Maximus. Only when you turn the page does the issue drop a hint that the Inhumans featured in the tale might not be the characters you were expecting--something that would have been crystal clear had the choice been made to go with Severin's proposed cover.

In a way it's almost unfortunate that our "substitute" Inhumans weren't deemed marketable enough to score placement on this issue's cover, since the entire story revolves around them as much as it does the Hulk, and they receive a generous amount of exposure throughout. As villainous Inhumans, they'll remind you a bit of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, with Maximus eventually stepping in as their Magneto. When we meet them, they're being called on the carpet for inciting rebellion against Black Bolt's rule--and when one of their own, Stallior, attempts to save his own skin, the savage response by his fellow dissenters is immediate.

Soon enough, Black Bolt orders through his telepathic "oracle" that the conflict end so that he may pass judgment on the lot of them. With nothing to lose, another of the group, Leonus, appeals once more to the assembled crowd to reject Black Bolt's rule--and naturally, any such attempt to incite rebellion against Black Bolt will gain the attention of Maximus, who sees the opportunity to turn the group's misfortune to his own advantage.  It's a rare glimpse into Inhuman politics, such as they are in a monarchy, with the scene almost hinting that the discontent with Black Bolt's rule may not be limited to these six (seven, if you count Maximus, though his hunger for power puts him in his own category)--nor can the subtext of the story's title, "A Refuge Divided!", be ignored.

Unfortunately for Maximus, Black Bolt's presence carries more weight with the crowd, and Maximus' words end up largely ignored. As for the accused, Black Bolt's judgment is swift and, all things considered, merciful. Their lives spared, they're instead banished to the dreaded "Un-Place," a dimensional land of exile which won't win any awards for its unimaginative name but is fated to serve as the location which brings our Inhuman convicts together with the incredible Hulk--thanks to the Inhumans' teleporting hound, Lockjaw, who delivers his charges to their prison but returns to encounter the Hulk wandering the land a few miles from the Great Refuge. Following his training to prevent strangers from discovering the Refuge, Lockjaw attacks; but as you might imagine, the Hulk proves a formidable adversary, and the beast instead uses its power to teleport the Hulk to the one place of captivity where even his strength will be useless.

And three guesses what place... er, un-place Lockjaw has in mind.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Titania Strikes Back!

During the events of Secret Wars, the villain well known as Dr. Doom supplemented his forces by using the advanced machinery he'd discovered to endow two willing subjects with abilities and powers which made them forces to be reckoned with--a status which others before them have embraced, though none more so than Skeeter MacPherran.

And the woman called Titania does indeed get the chance to prove her might, when the heroes also trapped on the Beyonder's world attack their foes' fortress while coming to the aid of the embattled She-Hulk. Yet instead of overwhelming the equally well known hero who takes her on, Titania learns a harsh lesson in both overconfidence and underestimating her opponent that will remain with her well after her return to Earth.

But where other villains have bounced back from prior defeats (and stints in prison) to menace anew, Titania was among those who became gun shy about meeting other super-powered opponents in battle once more--particularly Spider-Man, who seemed to deal with her without effort. Considering how arrogant Titania was, out of the gate, we could rightly assess how the mighty have indeed fallen.

Yet in her rematch with the wall-crawler, one thing that may tip the odds in her favor is the fact that this time, her boyfriend's come to the party!

With Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man, by her side, is this the day when Titania gets her moxie back?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Two Hammers Too Many

No doubt the cover of this 1963 issue of Journey Into Mystery featuring a battle between two Thors is enough to get the attention of anyone browsing a comics rack:

But for longtime Thor readers, maybe the greater shocker awaits within the first few pages, where we find inventor Professor Zaxton conducting a demonstration at a scientists' convention of an amazing android, created by... wait for it... Donald Blake, M.D., M.S., and now, apparently, adding "Engineer" to his credentials.  In just his third issue, we learn that Blake builds androids in his spare time.

And not just any android, mind you, but one that can resist the full power of Thor's enchanted hammer (or Thor's "magic" hammer, as it was often called in those early stories). Let's see the Mad Thinker top that--he'd have to steal a couple of vats of adamantium resins to pull that off, which hadn't even been developed yet. And just to give Tony Stark a run for his money, we also discover that Blake's android has potential military applications.

But in a few moments, it'll be back to the drawing board for Blake, as Zaxton mishandles the android's control mechanism and causes its circuits to begin shorting out, setting in motion an imminent, deadly explosion! Fortunately, Blake's alter ego is better equipped to deal with such emergencies.

(How do you like that? Our android's plastic skin can shrug off a direct hit from Thor's hammer, but it can't survive an explosion of its own internal circuitry. I smell a design flaw!)

Hurling his hammer into the sky, and the android with it, Thor averts serious injury to those in attendance when, from a safe distance, they watch as the android explodes harmlessly above the city. Face it, Blake--it looks like you're stuck with a private practice and making house calls, sport. Oh, and being the God of Thunder. Try to buck up.

Back at his office, Blake is livid with Zaxton for botching the demonstration. But Zaxton has already moved on to an invention of his own--a duplication device, which he's brought to Blake to upgrade so that it will function on organic matter. Blake refuses to cooperate--but Zaxton has planned well, and has ensured that Blake will agree to his terms by invoking a tried-and-true tactic of villains everywhere.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Rude Awakening

Following up in the aftermath of a two-issue battle between Firelord and the amazing Spider-Man which swept through New York City and destroyed several city blocks, let's begin by again taking a look as the Avengers finally arrive to assess the situation--and find, to their surprise, that it's the former herald of Galactus who lies defeated this day!

The exhausted wall-crawler is more than ready to turn custody of his foe over to the Avengers, after which he departs; yet Earth's mightiest heroes, not having witnessed this conflict, have failed to take into account that Firelord wasn't in the best of moods when he fell, his rage building to fury as the fight progressed and Spider-Man's resistance persisted (to say nothing of his trademark mockery). Given Firelord's almost legendary temper, it's safe to say that he's not likely to just let the matter drop, and that, for him, this battle isn't over until Spider-Man lies dead at his feet.

So to say that things will likely be a little bumpy at Avengers Mansion once Firelord regains consciousness is putting it mildly. Or, put another way, somebody had better warn the Black Knight that bedside manner isn't going to cut any ice with the likes of Firelord.

Luckily for the Avengers, their current lineup includes one who has had prior dealings with Firelord and who, along with Thor, eventually gained Firelord's respect. And for this Avenger, tough love is the way to handle a recalcitrant alien.

Amazingly, though certainly coming as no surprise to Hercules, Firelord complies and stands down. And the National Security Council collectively breathes a little easier.

Now, there's the little matter of reparations:

As much as the clean-up crew known as Damage Control would no doubt like Firelord's phone number for future reference, the alien soon leaves Earth to join the Avengers as they travel to the Andromeda galaxy to reunite with their missing member, Captain Marvel--though Firelord will discover that there is another there who will reignite his thirst for vengeance.

Monday, June 4, 2018

...And One Will Fall!

After trying to contain the fury of the alien known as Firelord and failing, while leaving Firelord so enraged that he now hunts his wall-crawling foe with the intent of ending his life, the amazing Spider-Man was on the verge of abdicating his responsibilities and slipping into his Peter Parker identity to avoid being found. Spider-Man--packing it in?? The realization brought an attack of conscience for our harried hero, who knew that Firelord, in the state he was in, might go berserk and lash out at innocents if he was denied his vengeance because the web-spinner eluded him.

And so Spider-Man, overmatched and on his own, prepares to fight the battle of his life!

(But somebody had better tell him it's hopeless!)

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