Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fools Rush In

If you haven't yet read the story of the Avengers' first battle with Graviton, which took place in Avengers #s 158-159, you may be expecting a lot more than what you'll actually find. Obviously, this is just one guy vs. the assembled Avengers, so your first impression might be that there has to be a lot more to him than just a flashy costume. And being called "Graviton," it's a fair bet that he controls gravity in some way. Ergo, his gravity power is impressive enough to merit a full complement of Avengers taking him on. Lots of solo villains have taken on the Avengers before, after all--so there's no reason to think that Graviton wouldn't be able to hold his own, at least for a little while.

On the other hand, this is Graviton's first time out of the gate. He's experimented with his power up to this point, but he's never used it tactically, and he's certainly had no practice in battling an elite, trained group of super-beings all at once. Few novices in their right mind would want to cut their teeth taking on the Avengers. So how much of a threat can this guy really be?

That's probably a question the Avengers were asking themselves as they gathered to confront him on his newly-risen sky island, in response to an emergency call for help. The team had only recently pulled its ranks together, following a vicious fight between the Vision and Wonder Man. And they've only had the most minimal briefing on Frank Hall, whose work on a teleport beam coincided with the energized atoms of a radioactive anti-gravity element to infuse him with the power to control gravity. "Graviton" might be what a refit of the Wizard would look like, had that villain's power over gravity been put to more aggressive use in his schemes.

But with their internal conflicts put on hold, the Avengers certainly look like they're ready to take this guy down, whatever his threat level. And, really, what can a fresh-out-of-the-box villain do if a team of Avengers, at peak strength, descends on him?

Well, new reader, get ready to have your jaw hit the floor like the rest of us who read this story the first time around, because Graviton apparently did pretty well his first time out:

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Two Against One (Or: Knuckles Over Detroit)

When last we left the Masked Marauder, he had Iron Man at his mercy. And the Marauder must be the most merciful villain I've ever seen, because he decides to spare Iron Man's life and bring him with him as he executes his plan to ransom the stolen Stark Industries space shuttle. Yes, the Marauder likes to roll the dice--because putting Iron Man, of all foes, in an improvised metal restraint is just asking for your scheme to be foiled:

Now does that contraption look like it's going to hold Iron Man? The Marauder sure thinks so, because he's even going to tell the Avenger all about his revised scheme:

Translation: "Go ahead--stop me. Get free and stop me.  I DARE YOU, you cretin."  And Iron Man is nothing if not accommodating.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Bringing Frightful Back to the Frightful Four

I've done a fair amount of hunting for a "rogues' gallery" version of the original Frightful Four as pencilled by Jack Kirby, but I don't recall ever seeing one in print (though a later FF annual included a portrait by another artist). The closest I've come to a pic that might make for a decent portrait was this group shot from Fantastic Four #94:

Unfortunately, the images are blocked by the other FF, and the Sandman is turned away (and he's also not wearing his original duds). So I ended up putting together some Kirby poses of the individual members, and making my own group portrait.

How did I do?

And isn't it time these four got back into harness?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Cry Marauder!

You have to appreciate a villain who lives up to his name, which is something the Masked Marauder excels at. When this guy marauds, he marauds. Mainly a nemesis to Daredevil, his schemes have been pretty ambitious; and he was even clever enough to set up a fight between DD and Spider-Man, just to keep both of them out of his way while he pulled off a heist. Now he's moved up to stealing space shuttles:

And he's not even worried about Iron Man. It certainly appears that the Marauder has climbed up a few rungs on the villain ladder. As for Iron Man, he's more worried about nurses while he's visiting a sick friend at a Detroit hospital:

Nor does his alter-ego, Tony Stark, get cut any slack by the rest of the nursing staff:

Finally, though, Stark is tracked down at a restaurant and given the bad news:

Given that the Marauder is apparently prepared for Iron Man's interference, Stark might want to consider swinging by that hospital and bringing a few of those RNs with him as backup.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Marvel Super-Heroes, Old And New

When Marvel Super-Heroes morphed into a dedicated reprint mag with issue #21, I suppose the idea was to mix up the content as much as possible with characters who weren't necessarily catching on with the same vigor as Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man, and offer a kind of "grab-bag" of colorful characters that promised variety as well as action. And you only had to take one look at that first cover to see which characters were in need of resuscitation:

Today, of course, it's hard to imagine that the Avengers were ever in such a state where they needed a sales push--or, even more incredibly, that the original Avengers weren't able to catch on as a team. The original Avengers lineup had long since given way to a newer team which at the time were doing pretty well. X-Men, however, was less than a year from cancellation; Sub-Mariner wasn't exactly setting the comics world on fire; and Roy Thomas would soon pick up the scripting reins on Incredible Hulk and breathe new life into the character (as he was doing with Avengers). Eventually, Marvel Super-Heroes would devote itself exclusively to reprinting the Tales To Astonish stories featuring the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner, before finally segueing to reprints of the Hulk's early solo stories.

But before it switched wholly to a reprint title, MSH was quite the showcase for new stories featuring established characters as well as new ones. Perhaps the one character who got the lion's share of the spotlight would be the one who made his debut in back-to-back issues:

It would take a few months before Mar-vell would get his own title--the wait seemed odd, given how much a push Marvel was clearly giving the character. Perhaps even Marvel had an idea of how lacking in fire this concept was, all to lay claim to a trademark.

As for the other new material featured in MSH, I found the stories to be hit-and-miss:

Your mileage may vary. There are probably some genuine Ka-Zar fans out there, but I had absolutely no interest in the character--even with the twist that he was born an English lord, or the fact that his brother happened to be a super-villain. The Medusa story had an interesting premise: the Frightful Four seek to re-enlist her in order to pull off a difficult heist, and the Wizard makes a bargain with her that he'll cure Black Bolt's voice if she agrees to rejoin the Frightful Four permanently. The Guardians of the Galaxy, a totally new "super"-team at the time, group together four men with ties to Earth to fight against their Badoon conquerors.  The tale starring Doctor Doom gives us our first meeting (I believe) with Valeria, the woman he loves, as he struggles with Diablo who holds her hostage. And the Black Knight story explores more of Dane Whitman's motivations, and has him meeting his ghostly ancestor, Sir Percy, for the first time.

The "showcase" format for MSH was short-lived, perhaps because Marvel saw the value of having another all-reprint title on the racks along with Marvel's Greatest Comics, Marvel Tales, et al. And by shifting back to reprints, the comic would come full circle, since its original incarnation as Fantasy Masterpieces reprinted Golden Age stories.  Still, the covers featuring new material had their appeal--either giving a fresh take on established characters, or throwing a spotlight on a new idea that hopefully would catch on.  And with reprinted material supplementing these stories, Marvel Super-Heroes was a pretty good bargain.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Big Debut of Big John

We know that when artist John Buscema came to Marvel in the mid-1960s, he would eventually cut his teeth as the regular penciller on The Avengers--and the rest of his amazing career at Marvel, of course, is history. But it was only a few months before that assignment when we saw some of his initial super-hero work for the company in a story from Tales To Astonish featuring the incredible Hulk:

While you can see telltale signs of Buscema's style in these panels, there also seem to be indications of Marie Severin's influence in his work, particularly in the faces of characters like Rick Jones and Betty Ross. Also, I hesitate to say, the issue's menace wasn't exactly inspired:

Yet by the next issue, Buscema has begun to find his rhythm, and there are more of his distinctive touches to see:

Even the story's menace was a little less cartoonish:

So given the foundation of Buscema's early work, it was interesting to see him segue to the Avengers just a few months later, where his style had become more defined even in that short time:

(Yeah, I know what you're thinking--who knew Wanda was a gymnast? We never see her do gymnast moves in battle, do we?)

Buscema is even developing a flair for more sophisticated technology and abstract scenes:

We even get a peek of things to come with a certain foursome:

The story's villain is Diablo, which is probably the one quibble I have with Buscema's work in this issue:

I don't know precisely how Hank Pym's goggles work, because whatever image he's seeing of Diablo couldn't possibly match any description Reed Richards gave him of this foe. Buscema ditches Diablo's previous look entirely, so that he now resembles any villain du jour. And wasn't Diablo an alchemist? Why is he now using hand-held weapons that discharge rays?

At any rate, Buscema gives the fight scenes plenty of room to breathe:

It's a respectable debut from an artist who, like his equally famous brother, becomes one of Marvel's most distinguished talents.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

It's Doomsday Any Way You Look At It

Since we've taken a look at the covers of the third and second issues of the Galactus trilogy from Fantastic Four alongside the covers of their respective reprints in Marvel's Greatest Comics, it's high time we lined up the covers from the first issue of that classic story which brought both Galactus and the Silver Surfer to the eyes of Marvel readers everywhere. So far, we've seen two of Marvel's top artists of the early 1970s--Gil Kane and Sal Buscema--reinterpret artist Jack Kirby's original covers from this story. Now, a third big gun in Marvel's art stable, John Buscema, gives his own interpretation of the coming of Galactus--

...or is it the Silver Surfer?

As you can see, the two artists have about the same amount of room to work with. In Kirby's efforts on this and other issues, you can generally see a tendency to use an issue's cover to heighten the sense of drama of the story you'll find within, and save all the action for the reading experience. In the issue, there's quite a lot going on, including the FF's escape from the tragic imprisonment of the Inhumans in the Great Refuge as well as the introduction of a new character which the Watcher expends great effort to stymie. After the events of the prior issue's final page, readers are expecting to see what happens to both the Inhumans and the FF after a fatal switch is thrown, and they do--but Kirby's cover has already left that story far behind. That either had a confusing effect on readers at the rack, or gave them the sense of being swept up in the amazing world of adventure that the Fantastic Four shares with them. Kirby was obviously banking on the latter--and let's face it, his method had been time-tested and proven to work wonderfully.

Buscema, in stark contrast, cuts to the chase. Though he, too, considers the situation with the Inhumans old news, he bluntly makes the point that it's the Surfer's appearance and potential danger which this issue revolves around. His interpretation doesn't spill any more beans than Kirby's, when you think about it. With Kirby's cover, we don't know who or what danger is approaching that has both the Watcher and the FF startled and feeling a sense of dread; but the presence of the Surfer on Buscema's cover doesn't tell us any more than we knew before. The difference is that in the latter cover, there's more on the comics rack to pique our curiosity. Comics need to appeal to new readers as well as current ones, and perhaps Kirby's cover takes reader interest for granted.

That said, there's a lot to like about that earlier cover. With the crowds intermingled with the FF, as well as pictured more prominently than just specks in building windows, you get more of a sense of the approaching danger threatening the entire human race--a danger that could mean their end, with the FF standing with them rather than apart from them. And rather than the Watcher impassively--well, watching things play out on Buscema's cover, the stance of the Watcher on Kirby's gives the impression that he regards this threat as something that, this time, holds no hope of being prevented. It's like an eerie moment of silence before the final judgment of humanity.

(But, man, Jack--what's with those sandals on the Watcher? This is the End of the World, not a jaunt outside to pick up his morning paper!)

In hindsight, especially for readers in 1972 who had already covered this ground in Fantastic Four, you can't help but give Buscema's cover less attention than you otherwise might, given that we were already familiar with what the story was behind the Surfer and Galactus, as well as how everything was resolved. On the other hand, like many other readers in the '70s, I was learning about the FF mostly through these reprints, and this was a pretty nifty cover to see as I was watching their story unfold. The timing certainly couldn't have been better--this story was being reprinted around the same time as the regular Fantastic Four issue was giving us a brand-new story of Galactus threatening Earth.  And it was kind of cool to see the FF's regular artist showing up where it all began.

Monday, July 22, 2013

And Don't Forget To Spray Your Room

When the first Fantastic Four annual came out in 1963, we'd already seen a few trivia pages on individual members of the team in the regular comic. Pages on the Invisible Girl and the Thing, though, had yet to be produced--so in that first annual, I suppose Marvel just decided to consolidate the trivia tidbits on the entire team in a handy two-page insert, and dispense with any plans to do full pages on the two remaining members. Looking at the double-page annual insert, it might seem at first glance that Sue and Ben got short-changed; but to me it looks like they're getting the same amount of attention that the Torch and Mr. Fantastic got.

The Torch, in issue #8, was the first to get his "feature page," which would be followed up with another in the next issue:

You can't help but stifle a chuckle or two at some of these bits of trivia. For one thing, if Johnny is like any other teenager, he's not going to be too keen on cleaning his room--so imagine how thrilled he is at having to spray down his room with a fire-retardant chemical every day. Nor can I see him taking the time and trouble to study weather patterns before taking flight, given how spontaneous the Torch has always been written.

It's the page on Mr. Fantastic that really surprised me, though:

Look how conspicuously it drops the word "pain" in reference to Reed's stretching limits, as well as how stopping projectiles weakens him for hours--before making the point that it's mainly his scientific ability which makes him an asset to the FF. I'd rather not limit my impression of "Mr. Fantastic" to the fact that he can change his shape into a tire.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Marvel Goes Wild!

It's probably fair to say that most comics companies at one time or another have indulged in the use of the adjective (and often adverb) "wild" to ramp up a storyline or character--and certainly to add pizazz to a comics cover, to imply that this behavior from a character is something you've never seen before. Marvel has hardly been the exception, spreading "wildness" over their line of comics while at the same time being careful not to overdo its use. That's easier to do if the word is attached to a name. For instance, Silver Sable had her Wild Pack (as did Wolverine, when he teamed up with Power Pack); the Human Fly was "the wildest super-hero ever"; there's the mutant named Wild Child; and there were of course "Wild West" comics in one form or another. There were also no less than two Marvel titles in the '90s where the character was named "Wild Thing":

(Which may or may not have sought to piggy-back on the classic Troggs cover of the '60s song.  I'm obviously going with "may.")

But by far, it's Marvel's characters who have "gone wild" over the years, though thankfully Marvel hasn't been as over the top with the move as they could have. There's little chance, for instance, of Dr. Strange or the Invisible Woman going wild (unless you count Sue's turn as Malice), nor would we care (i.e., sales wouldn't increase) if minor characters like Alicia Masters or Wyatt Wingfoot went wild. But there have been some surprises in this respect, as well--along with more wildness than you can fling a shield at.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Watch Out for The Wizard

When you think of formidable foes for the Fantastic Four, you may think that his association with the now-pretty-much-a-joke Frightful Four disqualifies the Wizard from that list. Indeed, the Wizard hasn't really distinguished himself in battle since he adopted those goofy anti-grav discs as his weapon of choice, nor has Reed Richards had to lose much sleep over the thought of the Wizard ever rivalling him in the brilliant inventions department.

People tend to forget about those times when the Wizard lorded it over the Frightful Four with an iron glove, coming within a hairs breadth of defeating the FF on more than one occasion.  In fact, his "Id Machine," had it not been sabotaged, could have had both the Thing and the Torch in his thrall, giving his evil team 6-2 odds in subduing the remaining half of the FF without much credible resistance.  So the time was when the Wizard was no slouch at plotting to destroy his enemies, and devising the means to do so.  I haven't adapted and armed a Q-bomb lately, have you?

Nor did he limit himself to one weapon, with his battle suit hosting a variety of devices as well as an impressive internal power source. He really didn't need discs to harness the power of anti-gravity--they were simply remote devices that could dispatch his enemies without diverting his own power to the task. And after the Frightful Four was finally defeated and Medusa had left the team, we would see that the Wizard didn't really need his teammates to be a deadly threat to the Fantastic Four in his own right. He still had his inventive genius, as well as a thirst for revenge that wasn't quenched with his release from prison. So when he returned to his lab in Fantastic Four #78, he decided to add to his suit's arsenal:

As luck would have it, the Wizard would be catching the FF at a vulnerable time. The Invisible Girl was in the hospital, soon to give birth; and Reed had finally succeeded in his promise to Ben Grimm, to rid him of his existence as the Thing for good:

But before the remaining members of the FF can properly celebrate with their now-human teammate, their congratulations are interrupted by a sudden attack:

Well, you and I have some inside info that Johnny doesn't, so we know who's come calling, don't we.