Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Colonizers

I've been wanting to give a non-Marvel nod to a series that's one of the jewels of my comic collection--the adaptation of Lost In Space published by Innovation in the early '90s. You always had to keep an eye out for this book on the racks, since Innovation's funds were generally in a state of flux and its various titles were published when the money was available. (The company went out of business in 1994, which gives you some idea of the juggling involved.) But for the short time Lost In Space was in production, it was clear that the book was a labor of love and that its creative staff was putting in the time.

The series took on a somewhat darker tone than the television production, and dealt with several things that the show steered away from, particularly when its second season made clear that the show would take a sharp turn from the serious and become more frivolous in both its scripts and stories. And there was a wealth of subjects for the comic to "revisit" or otherwise expand on. For instance, Zachary Smith's association with the mysterious Aeolus 14 Umbra:

Or the circumstances of the Jupiter project and the destruction of its first ship:

There were also the lives of John and Maureen Robinson, and the events leading up to their decision to take their entire family and leave Earth:

Also, the Robinsons' primary mission of Point A to Point B colonization made it clear why the Jupiter 2 wasn't exactly suited for space travel with conscious passengers:

There was also Alpha Centauri itself, and the less-than-warm welcome the mission's destination planet gave the Robinsons when they finally arrived:

And there were the characters themselves to explore. Maureen's background in biochemistry; Judy's decision to give up a career in musical theatre in order to join her family; John Robinson's status as an ordained minister. And Will, growing into a young man, had some issues, as well:

There were stories of Lost In Space written by both Bill Mumy and Mark Goddard, with some early work by Mike Deodato and Peter David. Before Innovation folded, the series produced only 18 issues (along with two annuals and two or three special editions). The comic helped to show me the importance of treating a comic book adaptation as a separate entity from its television or film predecessor--in much the same way that we can't expect film adaptations of comic books to cling to every detail of their namesakes in print. For example, I found in the comic that there was less of a tendency to bring in an Alien Of The Week for each issue; and more flamboyant characters like Dr. Smith and the Robot tended to be played down in both characterization and limelight. Your mileage may vary as far as how the differences affect your reading experience.

I hope you're able to pick up and sample the series at some point.  Until then, here's something to get you in the mood:  a cool retrospective of the Jupiter 2, courtesy of the Sci-Fi Air Show.

Friday, March 29, 2013

"No! Not YOU!"

You've seen them before. The covers where Our Heroes are recoiling in shock because of some unexpected revelation involving a character who is positioned in such a way that we can't identify them. It's admittedly a little odd that our brave protectors, who have probably faced down threats that would have most of us scurrying for cover, are stunned nearly speechless by the sight before them. You'd think that Psycho-Man had his "Fear" dial cranked up to full. I wonder how they react to bill collectors?

Let's take a look at some of these cases, and see if their consternation is justified. One cover that quickly came to mind for me was this one from Amazing Spider-Man:

Looks like a New Yorker in boots. Gee, Spidey, I bet you don't see that every day. Then again, you tend to mostly swing over rooftops--and maybe your alter-ego just keeps his head down when he walks, counting on his spider-sense to keep him from running into pedestrians. Oh, who am I kidding--a woman in boots has stopped you dead in your tracks, you weenie. Let's find out who she is (as if we didn't know):

That's right, your dead girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, has apparently come back to life and is standing in your apartment. (Your really bare apartment, I might add. Do you sleep stuck to the ceiling or something?) You find out later that she's a clone of Gwen, which probably turns out to be a good thing--after all, dating a zombie is not an option.

Then we have the Avengers--Earth's mightiest heroes, who don't look so mighty in front of a guy with a hoodie:

The situation is even more disturbing than it looks, since this cover is slightly out of sync. The Avengers and Mantis actually found out the guy's identity about ten issues before this one:

Libra, one of the Zodiac cartel, and claiming to be the father of Mantis. Maybe he came back ten issues later and commandeered the issue's cover because Mantis forgot Father's Day?

Here's Captain America and the Falcon, who can't believe the identity of the masked rabble-rouser who's been stirring up unrest in Harlem:

At first glance, you'd think Cap and the Falcon were terrified by armpits.  But I have to admit, their adversary should always consider walking around with a hood, since it would be an improvement from what he usually wears:

Really? Cap sensed all along that the Red Skull was Harlem's own personal Hate Monger? Not exactly how you'd expect a villain who's wielded the Cosmic Cube to occupy his time. What's next for the Red Skull--stealing purses from little old ladies?

Maybe the Fantastic Four will be less aghast at their shadowy foe, since they outnumber him. But they seem ready to bolt back to that pogo plane of theirs:

Calm down, Ben. This isn't the Over-Mind, for Pete's sake. It's just a Kree watchdog you've faced before:

The Sentry, who actually faces the FF on an island, not the surface of the moon.  Hey, don't be so surprised.  These covers are already sucking us in with the "No! Not You!" approach--obviously no one behind the scenes is bothered by taking a few extra dramatic license pills.

And while drama is never in short supply where the Silver Surfer is concerned, you have to admit that this reaction is a little over the top even for him:

But this cover is all tongue-in-cheek, since even the bravest among us would probably dread facing:

And indeed, the Surfer's dread is justified, as Impy takes him through one of the most taxing "battles" of his life.  Admit it--how cool would it have been if Gwen had given Peter a pie in the face?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

One Life To Give

Considering how its predecessor tale in "real life" left the matter so unresolved, it's only natural to assume that the What If? story that served as an unofficial follow-up to Gwen Stacy's death would deal head-on with the circumstances of her plunge from the George Washington Bridge. After all, it would have to, if she actually takes that plunge as before:

But this recap only adds a small amount of revision to what's gone before. In the earlier story, the Goblin maintains that the shock of the fall itself is what killed Gwen, even before Spider-Man's webbing reached her. And as we see here, writer Tony Isabella sticks with that general assumption--but also seems to imply that Spidey's webbing played a part, given the panel's image and the timing of its narrative. As a result, once again the issue is left as up in the air as Gwen herself. You and I, with perfectly good eyes, can see that there is no "shock of the fall" in play here--Gwen is unconscious, unable to experience any shock whatsoever. The shock of the halt to that fall is another matter, but it's apparent that Isabella is reluctant to tread on the ground that Gerry Conway, writer of the original story, has established.

Yet if you can get past that minor frustration that remains niggling to this day, What If? #24 is a very good story by Isabella, who has a great feel for what's gone before and writes Peter Parker and his supporting characters as if he were the book's regular scripter during the time these events originally took place.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Buy This Comic! Build A Condensing Unit!

If you bought Fantastic Four #1--well, couldn't you just kick yourself for tossing it in the trash when you were through reading it, instead of sealing it in a dark, airtight place for about forty years.  But I digress. I just wanted to give you a peek at what was behind its first cover:

Comics back in "the day" usually had one or two bodybuilding ads, preying on the skinny kids who didn't realize they'd need to wait a few years to really start this kind of training in order to see any physical benefits. I think I shelled out my allowance hard-earned money on sea monkeys and x-ray vision glasses, so you can probably assume that ads from guys like Ben Rebhuhn (pictured here) and Joe Weider (recently deceased at 93 years young) were lost on me. I mean, who wants to send in money for something fun and have to then work for it?

There were also some trade ads to be found, where you'd be wooed with promises of obtaining expertise in a lucrative field if you sent away for a kit of some kind which, when built, would get your foot in the door of a company looking for repairmen:

All those diodes and gauges--who could resist?

And naturally, the mag had a few art school ads:

Albert Dorne really was a successful commercial artist. Who knew? (Though regrettably, he'd pass away about three years after this ad was published.)

Of course, the comic wouldn't be complete without a novelty ad or two:

Rubber snakes! Foaming sugar! Smoke bombs! Whoopee cushions! Tinted chewing gum! Now that's how you market to kids. No wonder we turned out the way we did. We were encouraged in our childhood to seek out ways to antagonize one another, and enjoy it. Just wait until we all got bodies like Ben Rebhuhn--then you'd see some antagonizing, bub.

Believe it or not, even with a comic book stuffed full of ads, you still got 25 pages of the FF comic you paid 10¢ for, which was a pretty good deal for the kid. And those ads would appear in one form or another throughout comic books in the '60s. Though I don't think Reed cared much for them this first time around:

I bet someone shook hands with him wearing a joy buzzer. Heh.

Mistaken Identity

Good grief! All this fuss about snatching Spider-Man's mask off. What gives?

Jeez, who's banging on the front door of Avengers Mansion trying to unmask Hawkeye? Nobody, that's who. I think Hawkeye would be offended at the lack of attention.

Anyway, if you're looking for someone to blame for winding up these rabid loonies, maybe we can just point the finger at Marvel itself for stoking this fire in the first place. Look at all of these issues making a big deal out of it:

It looks like Peter Parker has gotten away at least four times with being exposed as Spider-Man. I'd sure like to know how he pulled that off so many times without anyone connecting the dots. So let's examine the circumstances of each and see how this guy (forgive me) saved face.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Journal Of Darkness

I know I've mentioned before how much I admired the classic Tomb of Dracula series, while also making mention of the stories which featured the vampire's journal entries. But I can't leave it at that, without giving you a peek into those particular stories which served as reflective interludes from the normal storylines and gave us some measure of insight into the motivations of this--man? Villain? Dracula is difficult to categorize at times, though "egotist" would certainly come to mind. Perhaps "force of nature" would best describe him in a general sense.

There were two such "journal issues," numbers 15 and 30, both taking place before Marvel brought Dracula to America and involved him in more contemporary stories such as his further battles with Doctor Sun as well as the schemings of his Satanist cult. And I make note of it that way because Dracula's journal reflections are framed by his informal status as an aristocrat as well as his extensive dealings in the past, both of which are defined by the histories of Europe and its bordering lands.

Such past reflections would seem out of place if they were being jotted down in the United States. The closest we ever come is in "A Song for Marianne!", where a vampire over 100 years old approaches Dracula while he's in residence in his Satanic church and asks him to end her life, after recounting for him the lifelong cycle of death that he himself was responsible for when he killed both her father and, later, her husband:

However, when Dracula himself sits down to ponder his life, the words carry equal weight even though his often vicious actions are going to come out as justified from his point of view. Take, for instance, his chance encounter with a little girl, which would end in tragedy as well as horror:

If there were space in the issue, just exploring this one scene would be fascinating reading. But we cut to the chase when Dracula reacts to a gunshot in the girl's house, where her parents have been having a bitter argument:

You or I might attempt to deal with this situation without further violence, for the sake of the girl who only heard the loud shot and is unaware of its ramifications--confiscate the gun, contact the authorities, take steps to keep the girl from the house, etc. But I don't think I have to tell you that Dracula's disgust and anger here is only going to grow into rage, resulting in a gruesome end for this family:

Dracula, in his entry, calmly recites the facts as he sees them, from the perspective of a ruthless warrior who regards such events as the brutal lessons of life, with no thought of self-blame even entering his mind. If published, his writings would make for either a priceless examination of history, or a horrifying memoir.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Behold... The Blockbuster

Since the first Avengers film made kajillions of dollars, I realize that the creative team responsible for the movie hardly needs advice from a schlub like me on what development would hit the second film out of the park, and have its fan base screaming in approval.  And probably at a decibel level that would shatter the solar panels on the international space station.

That development, of course, being the addition of a new Avenger to the ranks.

And isn't the choice for that new member obvious?

Come on. It has to be:

The Vision

I wouldn't even ask for credit for the idea.

Maybe a small walk-on part.

The God of Pronouncement

Artist Neal Adams had brief runs on both Thor and The Avengers, but left his own unique take on each title, as he tends to do on every project he works on. I've always found his work to be a mixed blessing--dazzling in scope and layout, but also the occasional panels where I find myself wincing a little at his choices. For instance, when he was working on X-Men, he was in the habit of putting aside the Beast's talent for agility and use of his feet in favor of giving the character a more trim look and having him settle nearly all of his skirmishes with a sock to the jaw. On the other hand, he raised the Beast's profile in the book considerably. Like I said, a mixed blessing.

As for Thor, Adams' first rendering of the character in print didn't exactly thrill me with this scrawny depiction of the Thunder God:

Adams spent a couple of issues on Thor, and four issues on The Avengers. His work on the latter was, in a word, breathtaking. But there were also panels in Thor where he showed great promise:

By contrast, in The Avengers, Thor's action scenes were far less dynamic than you'd find drawn by, say, one of the Buscema brothers. Adams seemed to favor Thor in a more imposing style with limited mobility, showing plenty of chest and ready to make bold pronouncements:

Interestingly, there were characters whom Adams seemed to be more comfortable with--Iron Man, for one, and the Vision in particular. And it probably goes without saying that he was a natural with Skrulls. Regardless, Adams continues to be a favorite of mine, and likely fandom in general. When you open an issue by Adams, you know you're in for something special--something above the norm and a little outside the box.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Thing Smash!

With all the Hulk/Thing fights there have been over the years, it seems like one crazy excuse after another has been used to pull them off. But perhaps one of the craziest took place in the 1974 premiere issue of the Giant-Size line of books from Marvel. In that issue, Bruce Banner once again seeks out the Fantastic Four in order to help free him of the curse of the Hulk.

But Banner only finds the Thing in residence (red flag #1)--and while Ben Grimm offers Banner a badly needed rest stop and some coffee (gee, Ben, I'm not so sure you should be offering this guy a beverage loaded with caffeine), Banner learns of a device Reed is working on called a "psi-amplifier," which the physicist immediately realizes might help both himself and the Thing with their respective conditions (red flag #2).

Before you know it, Banner has constructed harnesses for both Ben and himself (red flag #3), which will transfer their energies (red flag #4) in such a way as to cancel each other out.

Mind you, this device has been constructed on the fly over a period of eight hours, by a guy who was already on the verge of exhaustion (red flag #... oh, heck, I've lost count... let's just say we're approaching Defcon 1). But it looks like we're finally ready:

And once Banner explains the basics of the procedure, he throws the switch.

Did I mention that Banner becomes really excited at this point about finally ridding himself of the Hulk?