Tuesday, January 16, 2018

It's Official: Thor Is A Mercenary Teddy Bear

Homage covers are always eye-catching and often an unexpected surprise, since they can trickle down from any comic book and are completely unpredictable as to what title (or company) they'll show up in--but it's fair to assume that even artist Walt Simonson was pleasantly surprised at the mileage his cover for Mighty Thor #337 has received through the years.

The issue was Simonson's debut as the title's regular writer, while returning as artist from a previous 1977-78 run in the book. Since that time, a number of artists have paid tribute to Simonson's cover--and while many other characters have cracked, crumbled, ripped, or smashed through their own masthead in one way or another, there's no denying Simonson's distinctive pose for the Thunder God--or rather, for Beta Ray Bill, the alien who surprised even the Asgardians with not only his victory over Thor, but also his ability to lift Thor's fabled hammer.

Here, then, is a brief collection of issues which paid tribute to that cover, along with a note or two about the cover artist for each.

Monday, January 15, 2018

If The Suit Fits...

When a new Chief Financial Officer for Fantastic Four, Inc. was needed, and Sue Richards made her decision as to who should be hired, let's just say that her husband, Reed, was a tad skeptical of her choice, given his reaction.

The person whom Sue selected to fill the position would be controversial--and a risk, considering the FF's financial affairs would be placed in his untried hands. Would it be Fabian Stankowicz? Happy Hogan? Cyrus Black? Or perhaps someone only vaguely familiar with the company, for whom the position would be untested waters?

You're getting warm. Real warm.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Game Penalty

Following a three-part story buildup where we saw the fate of three worlds hanging in the balance, we've now arrived at that story's conclusion, where the Fantastic Four have pieced together the truth and are ready to take action against the barbarian known as Arkon--a warlord hailing from a world in another dimension, who used an agent to acquire technology freely negotiated and sold by the Reed Richards of our Earth and his counterpart existing in a parallel continuum, as well as Phineas, an ally of the FF who dwells in the Fifth Dimension. Arkon's goal was to then use the technology and weaponry now at his disposal to manipulate events in all three worlds so that they would declare war on and attack each other, and thereby funnel the resulting release of atomic energy to his own dying world. But the FF, with the help of the other Reed, have gotten to the bottom of the scheme and revealed Arkon's hand--and at last, it's time to turn the tables on the schemer!

But whatever we were expecting from such an intricate and involved plot, does it all now come down to:

... a life-or-death battle with a glorified goalie!?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Threat To Three Worlds!

OR: "Invaders From The Fifth Dimension!"

With both the X-Men and the Avengers having their share of encounters with Arkon, the Magnificent (whose ego is apparently the equal of his battle prowess), it was a pleasure to rediscover a four-part 1975 story that gave the Fantastic Four their own shot at the other-dimensional barbarian. Arkon's motivation for his aggressive incursion into our own dimension remains pretty much the same as it's always been: securing new energy sources that will supply his planet with the power it needs to survive, by force if necessary. Unfortunately, Arkon often uses force as a first resort, not the last--and this time, his plan will prove so potentially devastating that the fate of three worlds hangs in the balance.

Scripter Roy Thomas will no doubt have a lot of plates to keep spinning in this story--and things are started off with a bang when its two principal characters (aside from the FF, whose own involvement will be extensive) clash in the streets of New York City. But even though the Thing's girlfriend, Alicia Masters, arrives on the scene, is it really the Thing we see fleeing in panic from Arkon's attack--or is Thomas's intricate plot already underway?

Whatever's going on, it seems clear that this isn't the Ben Grimm we know. Nevertheless, the Thing is in dire straits, and in no condition to resist the approaching Arkon. His defeat above is a panel you'll want to scrutinize carefully, since a certain aspect of it figures prominently into the story that will unfold; but it's the next few moments that concern the blind Alicia, who must depend on her hearing alone to make sense of the final moments of her beloved's last stand.

Already, things don't look so good for the FF.  But then, "things" aren't what--who--they seem.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Can YOU Name The Real Lunatic Legion?

In 1975, as writer Steve Englehart's gig on Captain Marvel was just getting cranked up, a new villainous group was introduced whose chosen name falls in line with other malicious groups that didn't put enough thought into how they were describing themselves to those they opposed (I'm looking at you, Brotherhood of Evil Mutants). For instance, a truly evil person wouldn't likely admit that of himself or their goals or methods--they'd instead accuse their accuser of being narrow-minded or woefully ignorant. But that person actually labeling himself as evil takes away any justification they might feel they have for their actions, however mad, giving them no high ground to hold over whoever they attack. Imagine, say, Dr. Doom making such an admission--it's unthinkable.

Which brings us to the Lunatic Legion, a group name that either says (a) "anyone in our group is a lunatic," or (b) "our name should tell you something about how far we're willing to go to carry out our plans." Somehow I don't think that option (b) ever entered the minds of our band of lunatics, which leaves us with (a). That being the case, the structure of their story leaves some wiggle room for the masterminds of the Legion to still maintain their dignity--because it doesn't seem to be crystal clear just which characters comprise the Lunatic Legion.

Which lets us wiggle our way into yet another

Marvel Trivia Question

Just what is

Monday, January 8, 2018

Once More, Valhalla!

In reviewing the story of Harokin the Barbarian, we were obliged to also begin taking a closer look at Valhalla, the glistening realm where those Asgardians who perished in battle were taken by Odin's "choosers of the slain," the Valkyries, to spend eternity in the joyous pursuit of armed conflict. It was a plane of existence where Hela, the Goddess of Death, was forbidden to enter; but over a period of time, Hela began annexing Valhalla to her own domain, the dread Dimension of Death. As a result, the Einherjar, those chosen legions who populate Valhalla, found themselves forming an allegiance to Hela--with Harokin, their leader, eventually acknowledging Hela as their queen.

We've seen how Harokin finally reached the point where he stepped up and redeemed himself in the eyes of himself and the Asgardians--but during the time Hela's domain and that of Valhalla were as one, Harokin's blind loyalty was to Hela and Hela alone, and that Harokin resembled more the ruthless warrior who led hordes of barbarians against Asgardian territories in search of plunder and power. Consequently, Harokin was solidly in Hela's camp by the time Odin was resolved to restore Valhalla to its former glory and deal with the one who usurped it.

Odin's wake-up call on the situation comes when Balder the Brave returns from an unfortunate encounter with the Queen of the Norns, Karnilla--one which resulted in the death of his beloved, Nanna, who now must spend eternity in a bleak and foreboding land that no longer embraces and fulfills the spirit of all Asgardians.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Domain Of The Dead!

As lauded as the barbarian known as Harokin was in his prior appearances in Mighty Thor, it comes as little surprise that he was chosen as leader of the Einherjar--those who have passed on to death and selected by the Valkyries to live on in eternal battle and glory in Valhalla (though in legend, they prepare for the day when they're called to participate in the carnage of Ragnarok). Readers of those stories that featured him would have to wait a decade to follow up on the character, though it would seem there's really little that would change for Harokin--the "afterlife" in Valhalla is the ultimate wish for every warrior who lived for battle, as Harokin did, and so that's where he'll always be and that's what he'll always be doing. However, thanks to Hela, the Goddess of Death, Valhalla is slowly being made over into her image--indeed, it's now being referred to as part of the Dimension of Death, where once it was intended to exist as something far different.

And it's to that domain that Thor must go, following an investigation into the disappearance of Odin and the discovery that after an exhaustive search, the All-Father cannot be found--that is, among the living. That leaves one very disturbing possibility that must be faced.

There is no turning Thor from his task--and so he makes the journey that no one living is meant to undertake. Naturally, once there, he hopes that the first sight he sees would be that of Odin--but it's the Einherjar who first greet him, though they mistake his sudden presence as proof that he joins their ranks as one of the fallen.

Unfortunately, for warriors who are enjoying an eternity of camaraderie and fulfillment...

...they're still a surly lot when you get right down to it.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Last Conquest of Harokin The Barbarian!

The character known as Harokin has received a fairly decent amount of exposure in the pages of Mighty Thor--for a dead man, that is. A barbarian who presumably operated outside of Odin's dictates and who led hordes of armed and armored men (the "Hordes of Harokin," in the tradition of Marvel's use of alliteration) and a warrior who had designs on conquering even Asgard, it makes sense that Harokin was presented as a formidable foe for Asgard's finest (in this case, Thor and the Warriors Three). Yet it's curious that, despite his ruthless attacks, his ambition, and his single-minded goal of conquest for the sake of conquest, Harokin exited as a noble and respected character whose passing was treated by Thor and the others as a rite of honor and who is given a hero's send-off. The "bigger picture," however, is that Harokin's story is folded into our first glimpse of the glorious afterlife of the Norse gods, in the land known as Valhalla--a haven for fallen Asgardians that holds the promise of an eternity of pageantry and battle, and which now opens its doors and welcomes a plunderer whose life of conquest was spent any way but honorably.

We first learn of Harokin indirectly, when Odin sends Thor and the others on a mission to confiscate an enchanted device from a temple in Muspelheim in order to keep it falling into the wrong hands. Yet the "Warlock's Eye" has already been seized--and its new owner doesn't hesitate to put it to use on the defenders of an Asgardian outpost near the city.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

When Wakes The Ultimate Mutant!

In the fall of 1974, The Defenders was just settling in to the change in course that came with the departure of all but one of its original members, leaving Dr. Strange as the only non-member of the non-team left to promote the "Defenders" concept--something the sorcerer all but took pride in, judging by his behavior in their company. Both departing writer Steve Englehart and his replacement, Len Wein, seemed to be of one mind in having the formerly reclusive Strange adopt a much different profile that saw him embrace the attitude of a "team player," a stance that the Defenders' newest addition, Nighthawk, no doubt was happy to support in his own new role as a super-hero. Yet the revised lineup is already on shaky ground, with the Valkyrie announcing her intent to depart in order to explore the life of the host body her persona inhabits--Barbara Norris, who was mystically joined to the Valkyrie by the Enchantress soon after Barbara was liberated from the realm of the Nameless One.

A bad time for this new "team" to begin to fragment, considering the seasoned group of villains that they'll soon be forced to test themselves against in battle.

Still, whoever said "change is good" probably knew what they were talking about, since the characters of this fresh hit title had to evolve and begin forming their own tight-knit formation that would hopefully catch on, even without two of its very recognizable big guns. And things look hopeful. Despite his grumbling to the contrary, there's still the participation of the Hulk, who can be summoned by Strange whenever the need arises (as if the brute's life isn't complicated enough); Nighthawk, in addition to having doubled strength at night, offsets the abilities of the others by adding agility to the mix; there's even talk being suggested in the letters page about Professor X replacing Strange as the group's leader whenever Strange is unavailable, as well as inviting input on what other characters should guest as a Defender. The future is wide open for the group--though with Strange virtually cheerleading their status as a team, there's a concern that the very things that set both himself and the Defenders apart from the pack are in danger of being lost. (For instance, the first issue of this two-part story has Strange giving Nighthawk a tour of his sanctum, which for all intents and purposes has become Defenders HQ--a development which is probably as absurd as it sounds, but which Strange hasn't given a second thought to.)

From that point, though, the story wastes no time in getting to the action--thanks to the unexpected entreaty of Professor X, who seeks the group's assistance in New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns.

(It's really too bad Xavier isn't one for practical jokes--for instance, how awesome would it be to discover he only summoned the Defenders for assistance with his wheelchair in order to take the tour of the caverns?)

Saturday, December 23, 2017

We Interrupt This Blog...

The PPoC will be taking a break this week as well as January 1 to celebrate the holidays. Thanks to everyone who's stopped by and made 2017 such a fun year to dig through Marvel's classic comics and dust them off for new readers as well as those who still remember them so well. It's a pleasure sharing the memories with you!

See you in 2018!

(And a happy belated birthday to Franklin Richards--still young at heart at *gulp* 49!)

Happy Holidays
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