Tuesday, October 30, 2012

With Great Power Comes Great Ineptness

You don't have to be Borg to answer this

Marvel Trivia Question

Before it became famous in cinema, where did the idea for this thing come from?

Attack Of The Pronouns!

Looking back on some of the monster comics that Marvel used to publish under Tales of Suspense and Journey Into Mystery, it almost seemed like a story's writer would give maybe five seconds' worth of thought to the name of whatever creature was menacing humanity. Googam! Klagg! Oog! Monstrollo! Kraa! Bruttu! I dunno--if a giant monster were menacing us for real, I don't think we'd bother giving it a name. We'd probably just scream something like "The monster's on its way! Aaaaaaaaa!" But for a blazing caption on a comic book cover, you couldn't just use "The Monster" over and over again every month. You needed a big, bold, crazy-ass name that would make a reader reach for the issue on the rack.

Unfortunately, when Marvel shifted from monster tales to super-heroes, there were still times when they came up empty on a villain name. That's the only reason I can think of for choosing, of all things, a pronoun as a name for a story's antagonist. Going down the list, it looks like Marvel's used up the pronouns it can reasonably get away with without the name sounding absolutely ridiculous when said "out loud." That doesn't mean that some of the pronouns they used weren't ridiculous. Oh, quite the contrary.

The earliest instance I can think of when Marvel began this practice was for a character in an old Strange Tales story:

At least by name. There was actually a character introduced a month earlier which is better known as the holder of that particular pronoun, appearing in a couple of Tales of Suspense stories. Though technically, it would take several years before the character would formally get tagged with a pronoun. Originally, it was known as:

It would be another twelve years before this creature would be rechristened as:

"It" was really just a *ahem* "colossal" statue mentally possessed and controlled by a human who was safely tucked away somewhere. It would eventually meet its end when it decided to tackle the Hulk, who explains here in another battle what happens to statues when he's ticked off:

And he was pretty ticked off against It. Exit It.

To add insult to injury, the Hulk just called It "stupid statue" during their battle. Just as well. "It" probably didn't have much success sticking as the creature's formal name, and not long by itself as the cover masthead--and when shocked and/or fleeing people shouted the name, it always seemed silly with its emphasis in bold.

Our next pronoun relates to our old friends at Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.), originally a branch of a more covert organization:

Thank goodness everyone always paused with a dash before referring to "Them," or Them wouldn't sound very threatening or dangerous. But after Nick Fury's initial encounters with Them (with a later assist from Captain America), Them decided to ditch the pronoun title and stick with A.I.M. from that point on. They also stuck with their lab "uniforms," though that wasn't the original plan:

Not really feeling the fear and dread here, pal.

Not leaving well enough alone, Marvel tried a variation of "Them" with "They," a triumvirate of villains holed up in the Andes who had planned to use the Hulk to fire up their ultimate weapon:

Keep your eye on old Des there, because he'll be appearing as one of our mystery villains one of these days--when he's more himself, that is.

And speaking of an eye, that's another pronoun we unfortunately have to cover:

"I" wasn't much of a character, let alone a villain--it was more of a tool used to manage an alien city where the Silver Surfer was captive. Nor was "I" much use to the Surfer, as it was simply a deaf, blind, and mute mechanism of sorts. Though hearing the Surfer say something like "O great I! I come seeking an audience!" and having the thing be totally unresponsive was good for a chuckle.

The most famous pronoun name that probably comes to mind for you would be the guy who was forming in this cocoon:

When Him emerged from his cocoon, he would eventually evolve into Adam Warlock after an encounter with a very pissed-off Thor and, later, the High Evolutionary. Before that, Him had a very brief history:

Now, you may well ask: what's a Him without a Her?

Similarly created by the same men who created Him, Her originally emerged as Paragon, a male; but when Paragon returned to his cocoon, he became aware of Him and subsequently decided to change his sex so that the two could mate. Unfortunately, death had already claimed Warlock, and when Her located him she was unable to restore him to full life. Afterward, she departed for the stars.

That takes care of all the pronouns except for the following, which to my knowledge are still unused:

  • You
  • He
  • She
  • We
  • Us
  • Me

"Fool! It's pointless to try to escape the power of--You!"

Probably a good idea to continue to keep the rest of these under wraps.

Monday, October 29, 2012

It's Mr. Fantastic, Not Mr. Aggressive

For a complete change of subject, you get a little Reed Richards primer on how not to battle your foes.

Now, Reed is a guy who can literally overwhelm his opponent:

But he doesn't really like to fight aggressively:

Even when duplicate Reeds show him how to really use his powers:

So he sticks to defensive moves like this for most of the time:

Which, unfortunately, usually result in counter-moves like this:

Yet as part of a team, Reed fits right in. I mean, he's already the brains of the outfit--there's no need for his stretching power to eclipse the others. On the other hand, whenever Reed wraps himself around and constrains a foe, it would be nice just once if his prisoner was actually rendered helpless, instead of just flexing their muscles or tasing Reed in some way to break free.

I'm not providing graphics of that, because I doubt there's enough room on the page for them.

My Heart Will Go On

Your health will improve immeasurably after answering this

Marvel Trivia Question

Whatever happened to this guy's heart condition?

Grab the patient's chart and let's proceed...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

That's Not In My Job Description

The recent post I made on Galactus had me doing some thinking about the Silver Surfer's role as his herald. I suppose there are all sorts of things we can infer from Galactus' use of what he calls a "herald." We know the herald's practical meaning to Galactus, yes--seeking out worlds to assuage his hunger. But a herald is more accurately one who announces that someone or something else is on its way--or, in the Surfer's case, just the sighting of the herald as a sort of harbinger of the destruction to come. And really, if Galactus stands so apart and indifferent as he professes, why would he want to make use of a "herald" in the sense of announcing his coming? He's repeatedly made it clear that he has absolutely no regard for the lives that may perish in his wake--why would he care about having someone to trumpet his approach? The Surfer's landing on Earth seemed to be a matter of routine--find the planet, land, send a homing signal, and then wish the Master bon app├ętit.

So what's to be gained by the Surfer taking to the air and skywriting, "GALACTUS IS COMING"?

In the Surfer's origin story, Galactus expresses the need for a "herald," yet is very specific as to what the job entails:

This exchange between Norrin Radd and Galactus seemes to make clear that what Galactus is needing is a scout, rather than a herald. The two are very distinctive terms--though the former word lacks the formality and literary flourish of "herald," which is perhaps why the latter was used instead.

As a side-note, thank goodness a later issue of Silver Surfer explained how Galactus tampered with the Surfer's soul when he began searching for suitable worlds, in order to remove feelings of guilt that would compromise his mission. It finally reconciled the exchange pictured above with this later scene from the same origin story, where the Surfer decides to lead Galactus to Earth despite the understanding he reached with Galactus about avoiding inhabited worlds:

The Surfer seems to side-step his earlier concerns by telling himself that he's run out of time; though even that rationalization is at odds with the Surfer's total lack of feeling towards the humans' fate when he meets with Alicia Masters.

When you think about it, the Surfer assuming the role of "herald" in the announcing sense seems unnecessary. For those races who are unaware of Galactus' existence, the scenario is going to be much like we saw after the Surfer signaled from Earth. For those races who already know of Galactus, I think we can assume the effect is mostly going to be panic when they detect the Silver Surfer arriving in their space:

If we were to speculate, we might even assume that with the Surfer, Galactus is giving a heads-up to races that have the capability to evacuate their planets; and for those who don't, time to come to terms with their inevitable destruction. I guess only Galactus knows for sure.

In a later issue of Fantastic Four, writer Marv Wolfman seems to want to finally qualify the use of the word "herald" and have Galactus embrace its understood meaning:

It was a scene that took me by surprise, since it attaches to Galactus vanity where none presumably exists. Besides, giving announcing privileges to a bruiser like Terrax? I doubt he'd have the tact of the Surfer--he'd probably cruelly make clear to the doomed planet's population that its hours are numbered, as well as use that axe of his to drive the point home.

The only herald I can remember who really "heralded" the Earth's end was Gabriel, though he was just a tad misleading as to not only his identity but also that of the master he served:

The point being that Gabriel didn't give one whit about warning the populace about what specific threat was on its way--and was just marking time by sadistically toying with the populace until the Surfer appeared to deal with his threat. And why would Gabriel do otherwise? Any "herald" of Galactus would know--as would Galactus himself--that their warning would have made no difference in the outcome, one way or the other.

I think I remember reading that the Surfer is once again back in the service of Galactus, where I can only hope he's fulfilling his original mission as he envisioned it. Whether or not he's announcing his master's approach, I have no idea. Maybe Galactus will one day be content in simply knowing that his reputation precedes him.

Now Uatu Wants A "W"

In some of my prior posts, I've mentioned the beautiful full-page portraits which artist Jack Kirby drew during his time at Marvel. They were always a pleasure for the reader--you'd turn the page, and out of the blue there would be a virtual poster of an image bowling you over with an exquisite rendering of some character or action sequence, usually captured in a dramatic moment, which would invite you to linger on it a little longer than the other pages. They were such treats.

So I knew it would be equally fun to profile some of these portraits for you. And I couldn't think of a better subject to begin with than this larger-than-life character:

In the second Fantastic Four film, Rise of the Silver Surfer, you can't imagine how disappointed I was when the film threw away a hell of a climax (and a great cliff-hanger for a two-parter) by pulling the rug out from under the audience and not presenting the imposing figure of Galactus. (And frankly, that film could have used all the help it could get.) But, thankfully, Galactus has been very popular in comics--and Kirby, in particular, gave us several outstanding representations of the character to whet our (you'll excuse the word) appetite.

The portrait above comes at a time when the "big G," as he's fondly known in reader circles, has become a little desperate. It seems that exiling his herald, the Silver Surfer, to Earth wasn't such a bright idea after all. It's forced Galactus to find planets to sate his hunger on his own--and it turns out he's not that good at it. It's kind of nice to have an advance scout on the hunt a herald out there looking for your next meal while you're descending to a doomed world to start setting up machinery that will make it lifeless. Sending probes is all well and good, but it's not quite the same as having someone out there imbued with a cosmic sense and making up a grocery list of planets for you. So Galactus is on his way back to Earth to have the Surfer sniff out another meal for him--and having a tasty morsel like Earth within arm's reach is probably going to provide the incentive for the Surfer to get the lead out.

I'm still trying to figure out what's going on with his eyes in the portrait above. We've seen countless other pictures of characters whose eyes are purposefully not drawn showing through their eye slits, but the area here seems to match the skin tone of the entire face, so I can only assume Galactus has his eyes closed in--fatigue? Resignation? Desperation? Maybe it's just an "oops" moment where Kirby left out his eyes. No wonder Galactus is having trouble finding a meal.

Here's another powerful image of Galactus which better demonstrates what I'm talking about:

More enigmatic--more aloof. Still, there are many, many shots of Galactus with his eyes in full view, a good deal of them done by Kirby. And look what else is back in full view here:

Now and then, you'll see Kirby or other artists sneak in drawings with Galactus' bare legs, and I never could decide which look on him I like better. The purist in me is in favor of keeping his legs bare, which is how he started out. Then again, he started out with a "G" initial on his chest, which looked ridiculous (with apologies to Superman), so I'm not sorry to see that go. With his legs fully covered, on the other hand, I'm apt to take him more seriously, for some reason.

And speaking of the "big G" initial, here's Kirby's first-ever full-page portrait of him, conferring with the Watcher. (Well, more like brow-beating the Watcher.) And by golly, he's got bare arms here, too:

Man, the women onlookers on the street were probably giving him their phone numbers in droves. (Maybe sending them up by carrier pigeon?) Earth women, yes, but any port in a storm, eh, Big G? And come to think of it, from street level, they were probably able to get a good look up his--well, let's just say Sue got an eyeful.

Of course, it makes sense for Galactus to be drawn from an angle which emphasizes his height. After all, a mammoth threat is probably the way the populations he's terrorized on countless worlds remember him, those who do manage to escape:

And finally, here are two nice portraits which picture Galactus with his machinery and devices:

It's funny how many god-like characters Kirby creates who have a dependency on machinery:

Galactus, the Watcher, the Celestials--all of them make considerable use of mechanical devices. (Wouldn't Tony Stark like to have those contracts.) Even Odin uses devices, to a certain degree, though I wouldn't call it a dependency with him so much as using the occasional tool that channels his power. But it was a nice distraction for Kirby to add to each of these characters--a sort of frame of reference for we mere mortals who have to take in their overwhelming appearance.

Galactus was certainly suited to Kirby's full-page portraits, in that sense--but next time in this series, we'll take a look at a more home-grown menace who also knew his way around electronic devices, and who also rated no less than a full page to display his menace and stature.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Goodbye, Cruel World


Name This Marvel Villain??

Not All My Power Can Save Me

As long as we're talking about failed experiments in comics, this one was a doozy:

The late 1970s seemed to be Marvel's hit-and-miss years, as far as establishing new series and new characters. The reboot of Uncanny X-Men was inarguably the company's most high-profile "hit"; and of course Peter Parker The Spectacular Spider-Man, in part made possible by Spider-Man's successful anchoring of Marvel Team-Up, enjoyed a long run of over twenty years. But many of Marvel's concepts of that period didn't bear fruit. The Man Called Nova, despite having a pretty inspired costume, came across visually as merely a flying super-speedster. Its last issue, pulling out all the stops, proclaimed:

To which readers, those who were left, responded at this point with: "So?"

And despite her endurance to this day, Ms. Marvel didn't have an easy go of it either, her first comic series ending after 23 issues--the last few including redesigns of the book's masthead as well as her costume. The Champions, which grouped Iceman, Angel, Hercules, the Ghost Rider, and the Black Widow into a super-team based in Los Angeles, failed after just 17 issues.

Then there was Omega, the Unknown--featuring a character who, after over a year and a half of (bi-monthly) publication, still remained "unknown" to even his readers. That's a little long to tell an origin story and still be no closer to the title character's origin. The last two issues then tried to coax new readers with an almost shamelsss cover blurb on each:

Which was really the only lifeline available to it, unfortunately. Writer Steve Gerber, despite stints on scripting The Defenders and Daredevil, didn't approach the calibre of comics writers like Roy Thomas, Steve Englehart, et al., in part because he was sort of the Tim Burton of comics--delivering respectable product, but more imaginative in the short term sense. Howard The Duck fared better than most late '70s start-ups (with 31 issues), getting its boost from the uniqueness of its title character as well as from artist Gene Colan's contribution to it--so this sort of plug at this point in Omega's run couldn't do any harm, though it was probably more of a "hail Mary" pass as far as expectations for increased sales.

So what exactly was the deal with this character? As it turns out, the cover of the book's first issue gives you just about every piece of the puzzle concerning the character's makeup:

Yet from there, the story drags on, throwing its readers bones. We learn that there's a strange link between this mysterious costumed figure a newspaper has dubbed "Omega," and a boy, James-Michael Starling, who survived a car crash that killed his parents. Unfortunately, the book's final issue leaves us not only that unsolved mystery, but a new storyline involving a woman and a strange creature, which results in Omega's death by the police:

The story of Omega--the very dead Omega, by the way--then gets lobbed over to The Defenders for its resolution. And it only takes just a few pages in a two-issue story in that title to wrap things up and reveal everything.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Falling Stars

Your comics reading experience is about to change with this

Marvel Trivia Question

What major event in comics did this teasing ad herald?

Just A Quick Wax And Polish, Thanks

Or: "When Is A Shield Like Laundry Detergent?"

Tell me, what's wrong with this picture??



But don't try telling that to Tony "the tinkerer" Stark--who, soon after he and the rest of the Avengers release Captain America from his frozen sleep, decides to make a few improvements in Cap's shield. Yes, that Tony Stark--whose armor was still constantly vulnerable to being depleted of power, and thus leaving his chest device unable to keep his injured heart beating. You'd think that would be the man's top engineering priority, rather than adding transistors to a weapon that, like its wielder, had been time-proven on the battlefield before Stark ever got near a soldering iron.

But feeling the shield could still use a few enhancements, Stark gives it magnetic properties, and voila:

Controlled by special magnets in Cap's glove:

Which probably makes Cap the one person in Avengers Mansion who can't come into contact with sensitive Avengers equipment. Way to think ahead there, Tony. Better have him stay clear of the Wasp's blow-dryer, too. Speaking of the Wasp--well, try to keep in mind that this woman will one day lead the Avengers. That's admittedly hard to believe when seeing her come up with observations like this one, after Cap's demo of the modified shield in action:

(No, I don't know WTF she's talking about, either.)

Stark doesn't stop there, though. He sees all of that empty space on the underside of the shield and probably thinks, "What the hell is that good for?" So he adds communications equipment:

To which Cap, I'm sure, thanked him for the additional weight he now has to carry around. It should make it much easier for him to nimbly leap around in a fight, to say nothing of being able to throw the damned thing now. And let's assume that compartment shares the vibration-absorbing ability of the front side, because there's nothing communications equipment likes more than close contact with explosions and ray beams, or being jarred by heavy combat.

Still, at first, Cap makes a go of adapting it to his fighting style:

Okay, retrieval: that checks out. Though there are times when it slips Cap's mind that he no longer has to worry about losing his shield:

Offensively, there are only a few instances where Cap takes advantage of the shield's new properties. And no wonder. Let's just say the display is less than thrilling:

Though, defensively, there were exceptions:

However, as you can see, this new way of fighting forces Cap to almost stand in place, which cuts down on his fighting edge. You don't hold off a room-full of attackers by dazzling them with your defensive weapon. And we're used to seeing Captain America bowl through his attackers, not performing parlor tricks.

So it was inevitable that something like this would happen:

Which any idiot trying to text and drive can relate to. The last place you should be trying to fiddle with your equipment is in a situation where you need to keep your mind on your business.

So soon afterward, we see a story where Cap is captured in a prison breakout--where its instigator, the "Deacon," has concocted a plan to use Cap's magnetically-enhanced shield to open a massive iron gate barring the prisoners' way to freedom. Yet things aren't going according to plan:

When Cap breaks out of his cell and retrieves his shield, he reveals why the Deacon's elaborate scheme was doomed to failure:

Which returns to us the Captain America we're all familiar with. Hopefully Tony Stark learned the value of the adage, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Though as we've seen, it's a lesson that Marvel Comics itself still wrestles with from time to time.