Thursday, October 31, 2013

No More The Monster!

In just the first thirty issues of his new solo title, not only would the incredible Hulk meet the likes of the Sandman, the Sub-Mariner, the Inhumans (some of them, anyway), the Mandarin, the Absorbing Man, and the Rhino in battle, but he would also tangle with some of the cream of Marvel's heroes, like Iron Man, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four. In later issues, the comic's writers would wisely put more space between the Hulk and the more familiar faces of the Marvel universe, perhaps to avoid the perception of this character having a shallow pool of story ideas from which to draw. As it was, the Hulk was treading on thin ice as far as fresh material. In just a few more issues, he would be given a story where he was already battling his greatest foes. What was he going to do for an encore?

Yet as it turned out, we got that encore and more, with a string of interesting stories featuring compelling new characters and situations. So you might consider the Hulk's battle with Iron Man to be a turning point for the title, as its creative team regrouped and got its second wind.

I, for one, was looking forward to reading the Hulk's encounter with the FF, since their previous meeting had its thunder stolen by the intervention of the Avengers as well as a much-hyped knock-down drag-out between the Hulk and the Thing. The writer/art team would certainly be cooking on all cylinders in this new battle, with Roy Thomas scripting and Herb Trimpe inking his own pencils. If I'm not mistaken, this would be Thomas's first time writing the Fantastic Four for an entire issue, and he handles the team very well, having a good feel for their interaction with each other as well as their style in battle (though he's limited in what he can do in that respect by a twenty-page story).

Thomas's first priority, of course, is the Hulk, and it's through that lens that we'll have to view the FF. And that's a simple enough matter, with Reed discovering a procedure that will help Bruce Banner rid himself of the Hulk, and advising the media in order to hopefully attract Banner's attention.

As for the Hulk, it's odd how unsympathetically Thomas treats him right from page one. Throughout the issue, it almost seems that Thomas's constant references to the Hulk not being able to think clearly are meant to excuse the Hulk's rampages. Is the Hulk truly in a constant state of confusion and bewilderment? I've always thought of him more as single-minded--i.e., as long as he's left alone, he's content to wander with no clear purpose. But just look at how often Thomas harps on the subject:

I suppose Thomas could simply have been using this to focus on his impending transformation back to Banner. At least I hope that's it. Because if it's meant to excuse his reckless and unpredictable behavior, there's simply no excuse for these acts of destruction:

Clearly, the Hulk has no problem with coherent thought and drawing conclusions. Unfortunately, it makes him extremely dangerous, since he tends to draw the wrong conclusions and respond with a hair-trigger temper. So I'm not feeling particularly charitable or sympathetic toward this character as written by Thomas. And Banner has every right to be horrified:

Well, hopefully Reed can help the guy. Let's find out.

Tonight, You Might Be On The Menu

Given the teaser footage beginning to be released from "X-Men: Days of Future Past," due out in May of next year, I thought this cool painting by Arthur Suydam from the "Marvel Zombies: Army of Darkness" series would be appropriate fare for this ghoulish of days.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Return of the Burglar!

The two-hundredth issue of Amazing Spider-Man gave us some closure to an event that it seemed really didn't need closure--Spider-Man's confrontation with the burglar who killed his Uncle Ben. Now, since this is almost a 50-page issue, you have to figure that something's up--but what's left to be rehashed here? Spider-Man already put this man away for the murder, and it was no contest:

One punch, and the man was out like a light. Peter discovers that this is the same man he allowed to escape from an earlier crime scene... off to prison the perp goes... Peter resolves to live up to a higher ideal in his identity as Spider-Man... Peter and his Aunt May move on with their lives... case closed. A return of the burglar doesn't seem like it would have anything new to offer.

But let's give writer Marv Wolfman the benefit of the doubt. He's already put a few things in play in leading up to this issue--most notably, the apparent death of Aunt May at the Restwell Nursing Home, where she had been recuperating. The home had been run by Ludwig Rinehart (the civilian identity of Mysterio), as a scam in order to conduct a life of crime under the radar of law enforcement. Rinehart had also acquired ownership of the old Parker home, while crossing paths with the burglar, who had returned and was apparently seeking something of value hidden somewhere in the house.

Peter, of course, is devastated at the news of his aunt's death--but eventually, as Spider-Man, he uncovers Mysterio's identity and meets him in pitched battle, which ends with Mysterio seemingly triumphant. Mysterio then decides the rest home scam has run its course, and departs to pursue new schemes--while Spider-Man escapes the death trap the villain had set for him. That opens the door to the burglar's involvement, who is now free to pursue his goal without Mysterio's involvement.

So all of this sets up Spider-Man's second meeting with this man who inadvertently set the course for his life as a costumed adventurer. But, as dramatic as that meeting might seem, how does it merit cover treatment, even at a 200-issue milestone? Judging by his expression, this two-bit burglar doesn't look like he's any more confident at escaping Spidey than he was before. What kind of confrontation can this be, other than a real short one? It would seem that Wolfman is going to have to level the playing field in some way. And since the cover is giving no indication of "super-Burglar," Wolfman takes the only other option he's got left, lowering the boom right on page one:

And doesn't that take the wind out of this story's sails, before it even starts.

But don't give up on it yet, because a lot can happen in 47 pages.



Name This Marvel Villain??

Monday, October 28, 2013

In The Hands of Hydra!

At the end of the issue of Incredible Hulk which introduced the character of Jim Wilson, poor Jim had to be feeling pretty low. After establishing mutual trust and friendship between himself and the green goliath, Jim made the decision to assist Iron Man and the army in capturing the Hulk, in the honest belief that it would end up helping both the Hulk and Bruce Banner. Yet, Banner's predicament seems to be worse than before: not only has he been physically rejoined with the Hulk, but there's a good chance that he's trapped within the brute for good this time. As for the Hulk, he remains in military custody, chained and drugged.

And so Jim departs the base with a guilty conscience:

Jim, of course, has the edge on Talbot--knowing the neighborhood as he does, as well as having plenty of experience slipping out of tight spots. So slipping away from a tail is *ahem* child's play:

Others have said that artist Herb Trimpe proved to be the definitive artist on Incredible Hulk, but I'll go them one further by adding that John Severin's inks finishing his work made the art on this book truly stand out. There's a sense of realism to Severin's finishes that brings sharp focus to Trimpe's scenes, which applied not only to gritty neighborhoods and the monstrous appearance of the Hulk but also to the high-tech hardware at which Trimpe excelled. And speaking of which, let's have a look at what's got Jim so startled after he scaled that fence:

Thanks to Jim's resourceful benefactor, he's able to leave Talbot scratching his head at his sudden disappearance. But talk about going out of the frying pan and into the incinerator, as Jim arrives at his destination:

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see how Jim slips out of this tight spot.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Moondragon Knows Best

I know we just got through with an Avengers membership change, but issue #211 is just too much fun to miss. Though taking place just thirty issues after the last roster shakeup, it seems a little soon to play the "old order changeth" card. In fact, the opening scene on the first page feels like we're replaying the words of Henry Gyrich:

So it's understandably hard to get excited about another one of these. But there's more to this story than first meets the eye. And a good thing, too--because, judging by their body language in this pic, it's a good guess that the old guard of Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America have the impression that all they have to do is to give the nod that they're willing to continue on the team, and that's that.  R.H.I.P.

In fact, we can get the lowdown on Cap right away, since he currently leads the team:

I don't know why Cap is so pensive on the issue. After all, if there are presently nine people, then we're only talking about cutting two of them from the team. That's not such a headache. So why not take an informal head count, and first find out who's willing to stay on? Well, since Cap isn't likely to seek out my opinion on the matter, we'll have to just wade through the issue and find out the old-fashioned way. Wonder Man already sounds like he's having misgivings--and later, when the time comes for the meeting, Thor is having doubts, as well:

But I did say this issue was going to have some fun in it, didn't I? And when we're talking about fun in the Avengers, two buddies come to mind right away:

So we know that Wonder Man is out--and maybe he's planted a seed in the Beast's thinking, as well. But let's get back to the meeting. You'd think this would be mostly an administrative matter for the Avengers, with Jarvis supplying tea and cakes to alleviate the tedium. However, with the mansion's alarms mysteriously deactivated, Jarvis instead announces some unexpected guests. As it turns out, though, even the guests don't know why they've made the trip:

And before an effort can be made to sort out the confusion, the newcomers start feeling compelled to not only demonstrate their abilities, but to explain them:

So maybe it's time we found out who's behind all this. And the discovery is bound to sap every bit of fun out of these proceedings.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

You've Got A Friend

The cover of Incredible Hulk #131 might lead you to believe that the story to look forward to is the battle between the Hulk and Iron Man, who haven't yet faced off with each other in the Hulk's own mag (which isn't surprising, since the title had barely 30 issues under its belt at this point). And normally, you would look forward to such a fight, because it's always been an interesting dynamic between these two. Iron Man and the Hulk didn't really get along during their short alliance in the Avengers, where, in order to deal with the Hulk's brusque manner, it seemed to be important to Iron Man to establish that his armor put him on equal footing with the Hulk. Naturally, that only served to antagonize the Hulk even more; and after the group's battle with the Space Phantom, the Hulk kicked the Avengers to the curb and never looked back.

Iron Man later came to understand that the Hulk's circumstances were tragic and misguided more than malicious, as it became common knowledge that an innocent man, Bruce Banner, was trapped in a dual existence with the brute. But occasionally, we'll see a little bit of the frustration that Iron Man still harbors toward the Hulk--partly because the Hulk rampages at will and seems uncontrollable and beyond the efforts of anyone to rein in, and perhaps partly because the Hulk's power, like that of the Sub-Mariner, can so easily challenge his own armored might, which he takes great pride in. Iron Man is a realist, and knows that there's more making up the nature of both the Hulk and Namor than simple belligerence--but in battle, Iron Man will still at times feel the need to prove himself against them. Sometimes you have to wonder what's going through Iron Man's mind at such times--stopping the threat, or making sure his reputation is not only untarnished at battle's end, but also unassailable in the mind of his foe.

The story in this issue has a lot of things happening in its twenty pages. The Hulk, recently physically separated from Bruce Banner, is now on the hunt for him, consumed with hatred for the person he sees as being the bane of his existence. For General Ross, though, it's not now simply a matter of destroying the Hulk. For one thing, with the Hulk now in the midst of Los Angeles, too many civilians would be placed in danger by such an attack; but Ross also has the same problem he essentially had when Banner and the Hulk were still joined, for Banner has mentioned the possibility that, should the Hulk be killed, then he might die as well. When Iron Man arrives, Banner agrees to the use of the same device that caused the separation, the Gammatron, in joining the two again, only this time with a 50/50 chance of trapping the Hulk inside Banner for good.

Yet this story is where we also first meet Jim Wilson, who would go on to become one of the Hulk's few friends. Writer Roy Thomas spends some quality time on Jim's introduction and characterization, and Jim's story instantly becomes the more compelling one in this issue:

It doesn't look like things could get any worse for Jim than they are now. Which leads to one of the most fateful meetings in comics:

And, depending on what happens next, Jim Wilson may have indeed gone from bad to worse.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Back To The Drawing Board, YJ

As introductions go, it's hard to top that of the Vision, who became one of Marvel's most sensational characters a whopping forty-five years ago. And along with the heat beams that emitted from his eyes, we were given a nice round-up of his other impressive abilities:

But when an already established character gets a makeover, it can also be impressive--or, as in some cases we'll see, fall a little short.  It's not always easy to breathe new life into a character to shake up the status quo a little. Let's see how Marvel did with a few examples that come to mind.

First, how about the new Black Widow's debut, taking place when she was interested in acquiring Spider-Man's powers to supplement her own abilities? First, though, she had to walk away from her past--and so she adopted a new look, starting with designing a new costume for herself in order to acclimate her more to, as she put it, the "swingy seventies." But then we also got a look at her enhanced weaponry, along with a demo of her athletic prowess:

Unfortunately, none of that did her much good against Spider-Man, though it wasn't for lack of trying.

Then there's Yellowjacket, who walked away from his identity of Goliath and stuck to being a more mobile version of Ant-Man:

Given Yellowjacket's somewhat ho-hum re-intro here, I think Hawkeye's last question may simply be the writer's attempt to get that point out in the open and quickly move on, since it probably occurred to more than a few readers that there's been no real improvement here. That came later, when he ditched his disruptor gun that he'd been packing and instead incorporated its function into his suit:

Wow--tenfold! That's gotta make a difference, right? Well, if you count the fact that it made Power Man angrier:

Nor did Count Nefaria find the new Yellowjacket much of a threat:

(At least it seems the New York Times thought a lot of Yellowjacket's improvements. Then again, they also did a piece on Katherine Heigl being a rising star, so they don't always bat 1000.)

Captain Marvel's abilities finally seemed to stabilize, thanks to his new nega-bands he received along with his modified duds:

The bands now seem to be key to most if not all of Mar-vell's abilities, as he discovers that they transform his mental energy into physical. As for Nighthawk, he still retains his power to double his strength at night, but now adds flight to his new costume, courtesy of a hidden jet pack:

I think his wings also have gun barrels on the tips for opening fire on his foes. All amounting to probably the most unimaginative upgrade for a character I can think of.

Speaking of flight, here's a curious little upgrade to the Falcon, who was seeking something to put him on par with Captain America's new super-strength:

(Okay, Falc, your wings are "super-strong"--we get it, already!)

I'm not really sure how the power of flight accomplishes the Falcon's goal, since he still must physically engage his enemies with the same strength he's always had--while, in effect, becoming a nice target in the sky. But apparently this little field demo convinces him that he's made the right decision:

So what does Moonstone think of the new Falcon? Not much, as it turns out.  In fact, even the Falcon  is starting to realize his enhancements have really just made him a costumed bird:

For what it's worth, Cap (as the Nomad) tripping over his own cape should at least give Falc the satisfaction that he's the less humiliated of the two.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Meet The Fists of--Captain Spider!

It's never a good sign when a comic book cover has to use way too many words to sell you on its content:

What a mess! Now how can we put that more concisely? How about something like:

And despite the flakiness of the premise, the stories of the three Spider-Man stand-ins are pretty entertaining. Come on, haven't you ever wanted to see Betty Brant shooting webs and nabbing bad guys? YOU KNOW YOU HAVE.

But let's take Flash first, since he'd probably elbow his way to the front of the pack anyway. There's really not much guesswork involved in figuring out how swell-headed high school jock Flash Thompson would deal with getting super powers--i.e., letting them go to his head and thereby getting in over his head. After discovering what he can do with his new abilities, Flash ends up making the same misstep Peter made by getting in the wrestling ring as a quick road to fame, though Flash's reasons were driven by ego as much as money. As a result, he ends up breaking the wrestler's neck and killing him, and finds himself a fugitive for manslaughter. So he decides to go undercover, and become a super-hero in an attempt to redeem himself:

As Captain Spider, Flash makes a decent start with his super-hero career, putting away lower-rung villains like the Chameleon and the Tinkerer, though of course relying mostly on his enhanced strength since he lacks the inventiveness to develop web-shooters. Unfortunately, that will cost him dearly when he moves up to the big leagues in a fatal encounter with the Vulture:

Flash plunges to his death--where he's found and unmasked by Peter, closing the circle on the what-might-have-been aspect of this story. And that brings us to our next recipient of that radioactive bite:

Spider-Girl is an interesting case--because, despite her moonlighting as a crime-fighter, she stays very much in character as Betty Brant, even refusing to use her super-strength for fear of harming someone. Fortunately, her dual identity is known to Peter, who helps her compensate by supplying her with web-shooters (and who also snaps pictures of her in action to sell to the Daily Bugle). I don't know how far Betty expects to get as a super-hero, since refraining from using her strength against her foes quickly becomes common knowledge; I suppose she'll have to find creative ways to use it indirectly, though some clever villain is bound to eventually take advantage of her scruples.

And it doesn't take long before one unknowingly does: the same burglar that will end up killing Peter's Uncle Ben, only this time Betty initially fails to stop him not because she can't be bothered, but because she's out of web fluid (and of course she's reluctant to simply restrain him physically). And the eventual confrontation happens, as it did with Peter:

(Cool how the artist has the eyes showing through the mask, just as it was done in the original story, eh?)

But, rather than playing out as it first did by spurring Peter into a greater sense of purpose and responsibility, the scene only enhances Betty's timidity and self-doubt.

As you can see, the story provides some nice parallels with scenes from other Spider-Man stories. And just as in Flash's case, it's also clearly using events from early in Peter's career as Spider-Man to serve as turning points for these three other people. That will also happen in John Jameson's case, in a scene which is surely appropriate for former astronaut "Spider-Jameson," who, in another twist, has the full backing of his father in his role as a costumed hero:

Just as in an original Spider-Man story, Spider-Jameson acts to save a descending space capsule from crashing (where, in the original tale, Jameson himself was the astronaut inside the capsule). But, as with Captain Spider, this hero's lack of web-shooters results in another tragic plunge:

To wrap up the issue, we're shown that in all three divergences, Peter Parker experiments further with the dead spider that was irradiated, and manages to extract enough venom to prepare a serum which gives him the same powers--after which, the Watcher makes the point that Spider-Man is made up of more than powers or gimmicks, and that it was "destiny's plan" that Peter assumed this role.  Though it's certainly evident that destiny isn't above rolling the dice a few times, hmm?