Wednesday, April 18, 2018

When Charles Met Magnus

There are few stories which document the life of Charles Xavier in his younger days when he still had the use of his legs, but one of them stands out in terms of helping to define one of the most important relationships of his life--the first meeting between himself and the man the world would come to know as Magneto. It's a story which comes to print after writer Chris Claremont had begun to establish Magneto with more depth as a survivor of Auschwitz, an experience which had a profound impact on the direction his life would take. Now that the "prequel" films have given their own account of that initial meeting between these two men as well as their early relationship to some degree, this story from 1982 may now seem as if it's lost some of its luster--but at the time, it was one more piece of the puzzle that was slowly being assembled for a revamped character whose personal history had been thus far ignored.

One thing both versions of their story have in common:
trouble tends to find them more often than not.

The cover of the issue obviously takes some liberties with Magneto, since he has no fearsome costume nor helmet to his name as of yet. Nor is he even "Magneto," having adopted the name Magnus in order to hide his identity from the Nazis after leaving Auschwitz. The war of course has been over for twenty years by the time his path crosses with Xavier in Israel in the spring of 1962, where he's taken a position as a volunteer at a hospital which administers mental care for survivors of the Holocaust. Magnus is an assistant to Dr. Shomron, a psychiatrist who has brought in his friend Xavier for consultation on a case involving a catatonic young woman--Gabrielle Haller, who some of you may recall from Magneto's trial in Paris--and already, Xavier is finding during their otherwise pleasant introduction that there's more to this man than meets the eye.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


After the classic 1968 Fantastic Four story which averted near-tragedy following complications involving Sue Richards' pregnancy with her first child, it was interesting to see how the book--and its writer/artist, John Byrne--would treat her second pregnancy over fifteen years later (our time), which involved similar circumstances. Once more, readers would be gripping their seats up until the last minute as to the outcome--and once more, a successful birth depended on a race against time to locate and return with a necessary element, without which there was a chance that mother and/or child could die.

Sue's husband, Reed, had already called in the best of the best in radiation research--but there was one more expert whose help could be sought, assuming he would be willing to give it. Given the man's psychotic nature, convincing him would be touch and go.

Fortunately, Reed is successful at getting Octavius to trust him, and the two proceed to the hospital. But their altercation has taken too long--and by the time they arrive, there is no longer anything to be done.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Re-Enter: The Hulk!

A year and a half after the original six-issue run of Incredible Hulk ended with a whimper, the title character was brought back in the pages of Tales To Astonish in the fall of 1964 to share the book in its split format--bringing down the curtain on its long-running sci-fi/monster tales once and for all and replacing them with a man-monster that would hopefully find new life after a long hiatus.

But it doesn't look like the Hulk is too keen on sharing his new book with anybody--much less an overgrown Avenger who was probably looking forward to finally having the book all to himself.

Come on, Thor, show us your moves on those still rings! (Who knew the original Avengers just chilled together?)

It's the broadcast* of the Hulk's battle with Spider-Man that's brought the green goliath to Giant-Man's attention. But unlike his fellow Avengers, who depart once their meeting concludes, Giant-Man becomes preoccupied with the Hulk--and Henry Pym's partner, the Wasp, finds that he's suddenly made other dinner plans for them.

*How there can be news footage of a fight that took place in a hidden cave is anyone's guess.

We also see that Giant-Man's old, persistent foe, the Human Top, is out on parole and holding a grudge for his past defeat at this pair's hands. And so when Hank and Jan take off for New Mexico, where the Hulk was last reported sighted, the Top tags along in his civilian guise and waits for an opportunity to strike.

As for the Hulk, no one yet knows of his connection with physicist Bruce Banner, who continues to work at the missile base commanded by General "Thunderbolt" Ross. Banner isn't pleased at Giant-Man's arrival, having apparently ceased using his gamma ray machine to trigger his transformations and now only wishes to be left in peace and keep his pulse rate down. Bruce Banner is thus a complication that will doom Giant-Man's mission before it starts, since Banner has no wish to transform to the Hulk just to accommodate the Avengers; but as we'll see, the Hulk misinterprets Giant-Man's reason for seeking him out.

And if you think the Human Top is going to pass up an opportunity like this, brother, think again.

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Panther vs. The Cl... er, Klan!

One curious by-product of thumbing through all the issues involved in the "Panther's Rage" series of stories in Jungle Action was the sense of nagging familiarity I felt when I reached the storyline that came afterward--the Black Panther's altercation with the Klan, albeit without the "Ku Klux" prefix associated with the group. That's no great omission, since the "Klan" is often used to refer to that organization while leaving no doubt as to who and what we're talking about; but while the story itself follows suit with abbreviating the name, the captions on the issues' covers become conspicuous insofar as alterations which were made on the word in question.

Without an explanation forthcoming from either writer Don McGregor or additional information supplied to the issues' letters pages, the reasoning behind the spelling adjustment of "the Clan" is up for speculation. If I were to shoot from the hip on the matter, I'd probably punt to Marvel's legal department and presume that the company might have been concerned about use of the organization's name as a sales tool, or perhaps accusations from those who felt the company was giving the Klan free advertising.  Or maybe this was opening the door to controversy that was too inflammatory even for Marvel.  With over forty years of dust on this story, it would be difficult to do anything but speculate as to the true reason behind the decision; perhaps it's as simple as Marvel settling for pushing the envelope within and confront the Klan's agenda directly, controversy be damned--choosing not to trot out the Sons of the Serpent this time as its Klan stand-ins.

At any rate, the reason why this story was tugging at my memory will become apparent in a bit.  For now, the debut issue's splash page has us wondering if the Klan has significantly altered not only its appearance, but, more importantly, its recruiting standards.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The God Killer!

Things didn't look hopeful for the Black Panther following his rematch with Erik Killmonger, which saw him regain consciousness in the harsh sub-frozen mountain region where he'd tracked his ruthless foe only to be set upon by a pack of wolves, an encounter which he barely escaped with his life. With his uniform ripped and leaving parts of his flesh exposed to the elements, and far from any safe haven, that life seemed in danger of not surviving the night--so it's surprising indeed to open the issue and find that the Panther not only lives, but has stalked his way back to Resurrection Altar, the cavern where another of Killmonger's subordinates, the mysterious Sombre, exposes others to rays which transform them into something more (or, in some cases, less) than human.

As "Panther's Rage" continues in Part 8, the Panther is ready for Round Two with Killmonger--but in his foe's absence, he'll have to settle for those who aided Killmonger in abandoning him to the wolves, men who will learn that even this wounded and weather-beaten king can still strike back.

Unlike Tayete and Kazibe, the fretful lackeys of Killmonger who reluctantly accompanied T'Challa to this harsh clime, these men are armed and dangerous. For himself, the Panther can only lay claim to the latter, but those he struggles with find it's enough; and as that struggle plays out, we have a few questions answered which lingered over the events of Part 7, points that address not only how the Panther managed to survive (by taking a leaf from Han Solo's book, no less), but also why Resurrection Altar hasn't proven to be more of a boon for Killmonger's plans.

Obviously the tracks which T'Challa follows weren't left by Killmonger--but he follows them impulsively nonetheless, towards a destination that will bring him face-to-face with certain myths of his people, "gods" which will unfortunately take deadly, living form.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Invasions To Astonish!

Before Ant-Man returned in the fall of 1962 to monopolize the covers of Tales To Astonish, the title was ruled completely by stories both bizarre and eerily shocking, and all sharing a twist to their ending that hopefully took the reader by complete surprise--or at least left them in complete astonishment. The last issue still free of any super-hero influence played that concept to the hilt, with talent such as Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Paul Reinman, and Stan Lee all contributing to provide the reader with food for thought, and food for fright.

Following is a brief rundown of tales from this issue, a look at a genre that still had two years of life left to it but would eventually disappear and give way to costumes and super-powers, making way for different kinds of threats for a different kind of audience which traded terror for action/adventure.

Monday, April 9, 2018

"...If The Thunder Be Gone!"

By the time the mighty Thor moved from the pages of Journey Into Mystery and into his own series, his regal father, Odin, had already begun disciplining him by striking from on high and either depriving his son of his power in one way or another, or banishing him from Asgard. But in the fall of 1967, Odin carries his anger to the extreme and combines those punishments--and Thor finds himself shorn of all of his power, and cast aside on the planet Earth.

With variations, it's a scene which longtime Thor readers have become familiar with, as prone to tantrums as Odin has proven to be when it comes to bringing Thor into line with what he believes Thor's role should be as an Asgardian, and as a son. Thor would be in the doghouse for six months (our time) before Odin relented and restored his might; but it's really the issues which debut this storyline, at the time still a fresh concept for those following the exploits of Thor, which are perhaps the most appealing, since it's Thor who's been brought down to our level and must make his way as a mortal, rather than his persona of Donald Blake who was already acclimated to a mortal existence.

In a way it's too bad that the dramatic cover by artist Jack Kirby has practically spilled the beans as far as the upcoming fate of Thor, since it's a development you really don't see coming as you flip open the issue and begin reading. Asgard has finished a two-prong battle against the evil Enchanters who attempted a hostile power play against the realm, with Thor and his comrades on Earth proving victorious over their three attackers while the fourth Enchanter has been brutally taken down by Odin. And while Thor, Sif, and Balder wait for some word of the outcome of that fight, they take steps to secure their own captives.

As we've learned here, Thor is already powerless (along with Sif, Balder, and the Enchanters), due to the conditions that Odin established for his match with his own foe. Yet there is still no reason to believe that condition will be permanent, much less used against Thor as punishment--after all, he's done Asgard proud here, acquitting himself well against these foes on behalf of his realm and his king. As for the condition which Thor speaks of that mandates that the Enchanters be taken into custody by Earth forces, given that Earth is where their battle took place--since when? Did that ever hold true for other Earth-based battles involving the likes of the Enchantress, or the Executioner, or Pluto--or for that matter, Loki?

It definitely doesn't seem to be Odin's policy.

It's obvious that Odin isn't in the best of moods, often reacting with anger and fury to affronts to his authority and certainly to attempts at conquest, as if to make an example of the perpetrator(s) for the benefit of others who might be harboring similar ambitions. (Though it bears mentioning that his anger and retribution have never prevented Loki from coming back swinging.) The failed coup d'état of the Enchanters has especially riled Odin for whatever reason, giving him a mad-on that extends well beyond the aftermath of his battle and ripples through his own warriors like thunder. And when Odin's attention turns to the Asgardians on Earth, even the Thunder God is unprepared to face his father's wrath.

Friday, April 6, 2018

"Death!" Cries the Phoenix!

Depending on how much stock you put in the new Phoenix who came on the scene in late 1985--embodied this time by Rachel Summers, the daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey from a different timeline, sent to our own from the future--then this clash that took place the following year either had you sitting a little more upright in your chair, or shrugging your shoulders in indifference.

And I doubt we're even talking about a matter of power levels, are we. To put it bluntly, even if Rachel wielded the Phoenix power to its fullest--or at fifty, a hundred, a thousand times that level--the might of the Phoenix is as nothing to the likes of the Beyonder. Show me the last time the Phoenix obliterated an entire galaxy, in a matter of seconds.* Go ahead, rifle through those back issues. Your doctor will be treating you for carpal tunnel before you can say "I am fire, and life incarnate."

*Writer Mary Jo Duffy obviously thinks that the Phoenix power can do a lot more damage than destroying a mere galaxy.

The real draw of such a clash would be if it were Jean Grey (as Phoenix) battling the Beyonder, since she brings more to the table than the bull-in-a-china-shop approach that Rachel would take here to no avail. As inevitable as Jean's defeat would be, I'd much rather see her in the driver's seat of the Phoenix power when fighting this kind of battle than her cocky, angry daughter who really doesn't care about the collateral damage her attack will cause. (And that's putting it mildly--more on that in a moment.)

But that's what we've got, and that's what the X-Men have got--with Rachel not only doing this over their objections (with the exception of Shadowcat and Wolverine), but making two separate attempts on the Beyonder's life in two back-to-back issues. Needless to say, Rachel really, really wants the Beyonder dead.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Land Of The Chilling Mist!

OR: "Isn't That Erik Whatshisname?"

With Wakanda's detention cells practically overflowing with the captives taken from a raid on N'Jadaka, the village named after the ruthless invader known as Erik Killmonger, the Black Panther has stepped up his response to Killmonger's incursions and knows he must now pursue the man himself. And thanks to a week spent gathering intelligence from two of Killmonger's men, Kazibe and Tayete--whose combination of awe and fear toward the Panther has surely worked in his favor--T'Challa prepares to follow his foe into the vast chilling mountain region to the northwest, where temperatures plunge to well below zero and predators other than Killmonger await.

The balance that writer Don McGregor seeks to strike with the Panther--the man he is, as opposed to the leader he must be--still seems to be in effect, judging by the words he shares with both his captives and with his lover, Monica Lynne. He remains resolved to aggressively taking down Killmonger's forces, while keeping the eye-for-an-eye instinct at bay if at all possible. It's a mindset that's been difficult to pass on to those in his court, even though, as Monica says, T'Challa has their full respect and loyalty. Arguably, it's that balance within him that has helped to sustain the cult of the Black Panther as more than a figurehead of Wakanda's intimidating and steadfast monarchy. But during this time of sudden and bloody war, which goes well beyond the poachers and foreigners that Wakanda has repelled in the past, that's bound to be put to the test for not only his subjects, but perhaps for T'Challa himself.

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