Saturday, November 30, 2013

With A Little Help From The FF

I am not ashamed to tell you that, when the Beatles were taking America by storm, I had my very own Beatles wig just like everyone else. They definitely cleaned up on those Beatles wigs. I'm not aware of a single person who hung onto theirs. The wigs must all be in the Smithsonian by now, or in someone's private collection. Imagine looking out into your audience and seeing just about everyone with your hairstyle. Think of the horror of a whole audience full of Vanilla Ice hairstyles. No one would be able to see the stage.

But never let it be said that Marvel didn't have its symbolic finger on the pulse of America, because in early 1965 an issue of Strange Tales cashed in on the Beatles bandwagon:

The Beatles were already well back in the UK by this time, so Marvel was a little late to the party; still, by the time of publication, the singing group had reached the height of their popularity in the states, and the Thing and the Torch on a comic book cover wearing Beatles wigs could definitely still tap into a great deal of fan frenzy from comics readers.

The story itself was all in good fun, as many Strange Tales stories featuring Ben and Johnny as a team tended to be. The pair "meet" the Beatles courtesy of their girlfriends, who manage to coerce them to see their show:

The Beatles themselves, however, are really featured only in passing, since the Torch and the Thing have to go into action shortly after arriving:

From there, we find ourselves watching this half of the FF facing off against gunmen who give them far more trouble than they should be capable of:

And just watch how the Torch breaks the fourth wall, which may be a first for a Marvel story:

At the end of the story, the pair return to the auditorium to finally see their idols perform, and the scene perfectly caps the comedic flavor of the tale:

Of course, with Ben and Reed being around the same age, we might have to face the prospect of Reed trotting out his own Beatles wig someday. Let's hope he had the good sense to dispose of it. We'd all probably be delighted to discover he mailed it anonymously to a certain Latverian monarch.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The X-Man In Name Only

Since What If? #31 is split between two alternate reality stories, the one dealing with Wolverine killing the Hulk doesn't have a lot of breathing room to tell its tale, and so has to cram a great deal into just twenty pages in order for everything to be resolved by the end. As a result, you might come away from this story with the impression that there really wasn't much to it.  Taken at face value, there normally wouldn't be much follow-up material available to make into a story, would there?

Let's look at it another way. Wolverine was sent in to take out both the Wendigo and the Hulk--and Wolverine doesn't seem like the type of operative that his superiors would want to turn loose on such a mission with the idea of tying his hands in any way. And so, in pitched battle, rather than capturing the Hulk in accordance with his original directive, he's forced to use deadly force against him. That's probably no skin off the military's nose--and when the Hulk is dead, then what? Wolverine returns to base and waits for new orders, that's what. Is anyone really going to miss the Hulk's rampages? Are the Avengers even going to avenge him, given the circumstances and abruptness of his departure from the team? There will be those few who mourn the tragedy of the event, such as Betty Ross and anyone who knew Bruce Banner--but for the most part, Wolverine's Dept. H will clamp the lid on the whole thing in terms of Wolverine's involvement, and it'll be case closed.

So, at first, there's no real development to be found with Wolverine from that point, while the book is easily closed on the Hulk. To us, of course, the death of the Hulk is something more of a jaw-dropper:

The real pivotal event that this story now depends on can be found in a bar on the outskirts of Quebec, where Wolverine is celebrating his victory (even if no one else is privy to that information):

His murder of a civilian sends Wolverine hurrying back to base to get the help of his friend and immediate superior, James Hudson. You'll notice that Wolverine is still attempting to fight his killer instinct. We know that, later, he would come to terms with his nature and develop more of a moral code to live by:

That rationale would have effectively ended this story before it began. Instead, Wolverine considers himself a fugitive after he gets no help from Hudson:

So with Wolverine out of options, and with all the groundwork essentially laid, the story picks up speed and begins to throw developments at us at a breakneck pace.

Web-Swing Your Way To A College Degree

Wait--did Peter Parker actually graduate from college??

Well, yes and no. The cover of this late-1978 story takes a bit of license with the actual result. Peter was indeed scheduled to graduate, at least according to his own day planner as well as announcing the news to his friends. But maybe it's more accurate to say that he was expecting to graduate. (You'll notice that the cover doesn't show him actually grasping the diploma.) Peter showed up; managed to find a cap and gown when he discovered none had been reserved for him (ditto for his seat at the ceremony); and also found that they'd left his name off of the graduating class listing.

And then he got this little surprise:

Afterward, when Peter speaks to the dean, this science wiz discovers the value of double-checking:

As far as the issue is concerned--not to mention Peter--he did indeed graduate, for all intents and purposes. I don't recall a later anticlimactic announcement of that final gym credit being claimed, followed by receiving his diploma in the mail--but the last page of this story seems to definitively close the book on this chapter in Peter's life:

So a hearty congratulations to Peter--who proved that you can virtually phone in a college education, as long as you're a top-selling character of a comic book company.

A gym class. Fortunately, it won't necessitate forming any new habits, like studying.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Huddle Up!

It's Thanksgiving!! And you know what THAT means:

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Jane Foster, She-Devil

Jane Foster, circa 1963:

I don't know, Jane. Thirteen years later, it looks like you can give Thor a run for his money in the bravery department:

Wait a minute--"plots her next move"? Jane!?

Jane has accompanied Thor to the jungles of Costa Verde in search of Firelord, who has joined a group of rebels in an effort to overthrow the government. But a woman named Gypsy has put Firelord under a spell of obedience, and unfortunately does the same to Thor when he arrives--leaving Jane as a captive of the rebels. But she's not going to stay that way:

Yes, you've guessed the sad truth about Jane's "next move."

Or, to put it another way: Ewwwww.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Who Needs Your Crummy Job!

Vocational courses by mail were prolific during comics' silver and bronze ages, so they all tended to look alike and blur together after awhile. But look at how clever this company was in putting its ad in comic book form!

Man, Mr. Bemis sounds like a real hard-ass! How about only docking Bill's pay just for the seven minutes he was late, bub? Or maybe you're just trying to teach poor Bill a lesson. But we don't have to worry about Bill, because it looks like he's had enough!

Wow, Bill! Good going!

Er, but hold on. As much as we appreciate your initiative, Bill, you might have wanted to refrain from telling off your no-good boss for a week or two--because you still have to go out and find a job in electronics, assuming someone will hire you based on a correspondence course.

By the way, Bill--not to pile on here, but you also misspelled "good-bye" before you flipped off Mr. Bemis and stormed out. You're sure having a lousy day, aren't you?

On a lighter note, you just know these guys had a blast posing for these photos. I bet they even acted it out.

Rumbling With Roy!

A happy belated birthday to Roy Thomas (73 years young as of last Friday), from whose mind sprang this rather offbeat 1973 Fantastic Four tale where the FF become trapped in a 1950s dreamscape spawned by the Shaper of Worlds. Scripted by Gerry Conway, the story adds little to nothing to FF continuity--yet, as valueless as it appears in that sense, it has a great deal of fun with itself, and you'll find yourself having fun right along with it if you just roll with it and let it sweep you away.

In Part 1, "Rock Around the Cosmos!", we pick things up after the FF's battle with Gideon, with the FF triumphant but with both Gideon and Dragon Man dead. (At least Reed seems certain of Dragon Man's "death"--it's nice to know that even brilliant minds can screw up an analysis once in awhile.) The FF take temporary custody of Thomas, Gideon's grieving son, and depart--but, amidst the wreckage, one of Gideon's henchmen, Slugger Johnson, revives and prepares to escape. But Slugger is glowing from residual exposure to Gideon's "eternity machine," and it looks like it's enough to attract an alien who will make use of Slugger's preoccupation with the 1950s:

The Shaper's power transforms everything and everyone in the vicinity, including the Fantastic Four:

Yet, the Shaper's interpretation of Slugger's dreams takes a few liberties with Slugger's memories of the true 1950s. Because while there are clear distinctions of rebellious young people ("Wild Ones") and the adult establishment ("Patriots"), the available technology displayed is indeed like something out of a dream, offering a mixture of the nostalgic and the advanced:

The assault takes a different turn when the Wild Ones spot Reed and Ben, the older age of the two identifying them as new targets for these "youthies":

You may have noticed that Ben and Reed are doing just fine against their attackers--so why are Medusa and the Torch so frantic about their safety? Unfortunately, unknown to the Thing and Mr. Fantastic, their two partners have switched sides:

Good grief! What the heck has Roy Thomas gotten us into here? Let's find out!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Asgardian Artistry of Keith Pollard

A few pin-ups for you from artist Keith Pollard, who had about a 30-issue run on The Mighty Thor and also left his stamp on Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

My Client, The Hulk

The two-issue story of Incredible Hulk where the man-monster is put on trial was a development that didn't invite any reasonable scrutiny. After all, it was common knowledge that Bruce Banner and the Hulk were one and the same, and that Banner was effectively suppressed while the Hulk was on the rampage or otherwise wreaking havoc--so if you press charges against the Hulk, what of Banner's guilt or innocence? If you prosecute the Hulk for his acts, how do you effectively absolve Banner? And if the Hulk is found guilty, how do you spare Banner his sentencing?

In legal terms, I suppose you could conclude that the Hulk wasn't mentally competent to stand trial, and such proceedings would thus be rendered unrealistic. The Hulk, after all, would have no knowledge or interest in participating in any human judicial process, much less tolerating whatever judgment the humans would have for him; nor would he be likely to understand the reasons why he was in a court of law. So this process going forward reads rather rushed, stemming from an inexplicable and sudden initiative from Washington (specifically the White House) to have the Hulk captured and prosecuted for conspiracy to destroy public property and endanger human lives.

Which raises a question: After all this time of sanctioning the military to deal with the Hulk, why the sudden interest in bringing the Hulk to court? Why the about-face from seeking to cure Banner--the very purpose of Project: Greenskin, a facility for which so many tax dollars were spent?

We never do get any answers, as this story just bulldozes ahead. First there's the effort by General "Thunderbolt" Ross to capture and secure the Hulk, and have him transported to New York. Which begs more questions. Ross had been kept in the dark as to the intention to put the Hulk on trial--why? And why have Captain America present to view the Hulk's capture? Even Cap seems confused by it. At any rate, the capture of the Hulk has resulted in the switch back to Banner, and Banner is even allowed to lawyer up and prepare for his defense.

And guess which sight-impaired lawyer/hero gets the dubious honor of defending the Hulk?

Unfortunately, Banner is kept so sedated that he's of little help to his counsel. Though there's not much help you can give a man who already thinks he's lost:

Murdock makes the miscalculation of insisting that his client be taken off his sedation in order to confer with him, which inevitably results in the reappearance of the Hulk; but he's recaptured with the aid of a weapon designed by Reed Richards, who was on hand with the rest of the FF at the JFK airport. Only this time, the Hulk doesn't transform again to Banner--and so the story ends up with exactly the result it seemed to want, the prosecution of the Hulk.

From the beginning of the proceedings, there appears to be a bias against the Hulk--particularly from the judge, who, like the story itself, seems determined to move things along and deflect any efforts by Murdock to assert the rights of his client. Even during voir dire, it's clear that Murdock has an uphill battle ahead of him:

And so the trial itself begins, with defense counsel unable to confer with his client throughout (and who would likely get nowhere, even if he could):

Since he's stuck with the Hulk as his client, Murdock decides to take the approach of showing another side to the brute's bestial nature by calling on other super-powered witnesses to vouch for him. But the prosecution can easily deflect any help the Avengers may offer:

Obviously the prosecutor didn't hear the part about "just recently" (a reference to Avengers #100)--but, again, the story also pays it no heed and forges ahead, with Murdock and Iron Man taking another shot at it:

Finally, Murdock has only one witness to call, a witness with testimony the prosecution can have no reasonable objection to:

Following would normally be closing arguments. But Reed Richards appears with a device which may render the reaching of a verdict moot:

Once Reed has the judge's approval--which in itself is a minor miracle, given how things have been going for Murdock--he fires the device before the Hulk can react. Yet, instead of having the desired effect, it seems this trial is going to have one less defendant in a moment:

To my knowledge, the events of this story have never been followed up on, which leaves the impression that little thought was given to it beyond its premise. A federal trial, where its brutish defendant breaks free, and the matter is dropped? The White House gives a shrug and that's that? Even its title, "The World, My Jury!", is far off the mark and somewhat over-dramatic, given that the only sense of reaction we have outside the courtroom is in the form of newspaper coverage and a few protesters--and, curiously, we never even get a glimpse of the actual jurors.  For his part, I'm sure the Hulk doesn't give this "trial" a second thought--which, considering the merits of this thrown-together story, might be good advice for the rest of us.