Monday, June 30, 2014

Hideko, Mistress of Aikido!

Professor Hideko Takata is a world-renowned expert on geophysical conditions. But this day, she steps beyond the boundaries of science and comes face-to-face with one of science's worst nightmares. Today, she is also:

Hideko Takata, Hulkbuster!

A member of Bruce Banner's cobbled-together Hulkbusters team, Hideko has been present as the Hulk, now free of Bruce Banner's influence, has all but decimated the 'busters and now uses the limp and unconscious body of Doc Samson as a bludgeon to demolish a desert town. And now, before a member of the team can attempt to intervene with a salvaged weapon, Hideko acts with a method more time-tested--Aikido!

The likelihood of Hideko keeping the rampaging Hulk at bay with Aikido is understandably far-fetched. Frankly, given the Hulk's bulk, weight, and height, I don't know how her little maneuver succeeded the first time. Fortunately, Hideko is a realist--a brave realist, but one who knows when to face facts:

Heh, "in time." Quite an optimist, Hideko. But the arrival of the Avengers makes her slim chance of survival moot.

(I hope the Avengers had the good sense to approach her for membership.)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

My Therapist, My Enemy

During the incredible Hulk's final hours at the "crossroads"--the interdimensional nexus where he was sent when he'd become a creature of pure rage and his Bruce Banner persona was thought to be irretrievably lost--the monster was taken through an introspection by Banner's subconscious which seemed to conclusively establish that the Hulk was given form not simply by exposure to gamma rays, but also by Banner's buried perception of self. It's something Leonard Samson's analysis only briefly explored, and where Samson, despite all he'd seen within the Hulk's own thoughts, unfortunately drew the wrong conclusion:

Yet, here at the crossroads, Banner--now having faced his demons (or, rather, "demon," in the form of his abusive father)--would realize that the rage within the Hulk is his own, with science having unleashed its destructive potential. And now he finds himself back at square one. As a man, he would be like any of us who had issues to work through--exploring the cause(s) behind them, putting them into perspective and finding a way to live with them. For the most part, we've now seen Banner do just that; but he is still the Hulk, and he is still apparently doomed to spend his life transforming into a creature who will unpredictably act out on that rage.

And so, he attempts to end his life. But he finds himself foiled by the very nature of the crossroads, as well as another part of him that has no wish to die at all:

This would be writer Bill Mantlo's final story for the book--and it would serve not only to bring Banner full circle, but also to return the Hulk to his former state before Nightmare had tampered with him and suppressed Banner's unconscious influence.

The Hulk would find his escape from the crossroads through an encounter with Alpha Flight. But word of the Hulk's return to Earth would eventually reach not only John Byrne, who now takes over the book as both writer and artist, but also another--someone we've come to know as having developed a professional interest in both Bruce Banner and his gamma-spawned counterpart:

Friday, June 27, 2014

To Rise A Hero!

When Marvel plucked Doc Samson out of obscurity and gave him back his fighting togs, the good doctor couldn't have been more pleased at another chance to go up against the incredible Hulk, in the still-mistaken belief that he was the monster's match. But after a roundhouse left to the jaw ended their rematch and sent Samson crashing into a crater, that delusion, like Samson, took one heck of a beating. You can guess what kind of mood he was in upon his return to what would soon be rechristened "Gamma Base":

If you're thinking that Samson has perhaps done an about-face since that fight, in terms of his motivation to seek out the Hulk, you could be right. Maybe all it took was a second thrashing from the Hulk to get this guy to take a different direction in his life as "Doc Samson." His goal this time around was originally to bring the Hulk back to base in order to have Bruce Banner there to assist in a procedure that would lead to the recovery of Glenn Talbot; yet, just as in their first battle, Samson's ego took over, choosing instead to regard his encounter with the Hulk as another opportunity to prove himself. And the proof, as they say, was in the pudding--or, in this case, the crater.

And so, now, with Talbot still needing his help, Samson seems ready to focus on the greater good, and apply his abilities as less of a one-man show. Though there's one other factor in play for him--his feelings for Talbot's wife, the erstwhile Betty Ross:

So even if Samson still has some things to learn about keeping his eye on the ball, we'll see in this next fight with the Hulk that, while Samson's ego still remains intact, he's at least able to keep it in check. Nor does he really need to be a one-man army, when he's brought one with him:

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Eerie Artistry of Tom Sutton!

When alert reader Colin J. recently made a comment about being curious to see more of artist Tom Sutton's Marvel work, one title that springs to mind would have to be his brief run on Doctor Strange during 1978-79. Have a look at this sampling of the man's impressive artistry from that assignment:

(Check out the nice touch of the stars sprinkling out from Stygyro's cone-hat!)

Regrettably, Sutton's tenure on Doctor Strange lasted for only eight issues, even with an accommodating bi-monthly publication schedule. To say that the book was in writer/artist flux during this time is an understatement, with Sutton at times inking his own work (and, even in one instance, another penciller)--so perhaps Sutton merely stepped aboard to lend an able hand. (A letters page response in one issue showed Marvel being unusually coy about whether Sutton was the new "regular" artist for the book, when normally they'd be welcoming that artist aboard with all due fanfare.) At any rate, the man unquestionably made his mark on this comic.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Home Of The 50¢ Espresso

How about some (mostly) double-page art today? Let's go back to the late 1967 Amazing Spider-Man Annual, where we find its back pages crammed with all sorts of Spidey trivia.

For instance, while it may seem that people started hanging out at coffee houses a lot more with the popularity of the mid-'90s show Friends, Peter Parker and his friends already knew a good thing when they saw it:

(Looks like customers in the '60s preferred a dance area to plush chairs and sofas.)

Next we get a brief tour of the apartment Peter shared with Harry Osborn. The next time I need to organize my closet space, I'm definitely calling Peter Parker:

But enough socializing--let's get to a rundown on Spidey's powers. First, his costume and associated gear:

And while we're on the subject of webbing, we find out just how useful it can be:

We never see that web parachute much anymore, do we? Not even in situations when we're all crying out, "Hey, use your web parachute, dope!"

And of course there's Spidey's wall-crawling talent:

The annual didn't have a rogues' gallery section, but it did have one of the earliest Spider-Man villain pin-ups we'd see:

(Obviously, this pin-up had a higher opinion of the new Vulture's staying power.)

Finally, we see that what Spidey may lack in strength, he makes up for in presentation:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The King Is Dead! Long Live The King!

The fortunes of Victor Von Doom had certainly changed, once his scheme to install his "son" on the throne of Latveria had backfired in Fantastic Four #199. Soon after, in the FF's landmark 200th issue, his bid to take control of the delegates of the United Nations would also meet with failure--and his nemesis from the Fantastic Four, Reed Richards (a/k/a Mister Fantastic), would triumph over him in pitched battle, rendering Doom catatonic in the process. Effectively deposed, Doom was eventually succeeded on the throne by Zorba, the heir to former King Rudolfo--and Latveria took her place at last as a free nation.

It's hard to imagine Doom ever suffering a more devastating defeat. How would he possibly recover from this--even if his mind were still functional?

Yet Doom would rise to power again--and the first seed to that end had already taken root with the election of Zorba, former leader of Latveria's underground but a man with no real experience as an administrator, let alone as a ruler. And so the economics of ruling a nation would prove daunting to Zorba, whose democratic and perhaps idealistic style of governing was far different from the methods of his ruthless and iron-fisted predecessor:

As for the second seed, that took the form of Doom himself. For Zorba had made the unbelievable blunder of appointing Hauptmann, Doom's former cowering head scientist, to oversee Doom's care. And when Zorba's affairs of state began to foment rebellion, the day came when his paranoia would reveal another potential threat to his rule:

Ironically, Zorba had been a victim of Latveria's new underground movement--this one committed to reinstalling Doom as ruler. And so Hauptmann, working with Doom's faithful retainer, Boris, brought Doom's near-mindless body to a remote laboratory--eventually fitting it with his armor, stolen during a raid on the castle. Zorba, understandably frantic at this point, had a spy locate the hidden lab--but it was too late:

(You'd be hard pressed to find a more fitting artist to portray a secret laboratory procedure that uses bolts of electricity to bring an armored fiend back to life than Tom Sutton.)

It's then that Zorba's troops arrive--but they find that their opposition needs no army to brutally deal with them. Doom lives--and there was little doubt from anyone, perhaps even Zorba, that the day would come when he would rule Latveria again.

So it would seem Zorba's days in power are numbered. Which brings us to our current story, where, in another ironic twist, Doom would use the Fantastic Four--those whose involvement made Zorba's movement to oust Doom possible--to turn the tables on Doom's usurper and bring his rule to an end. And it would begin with a bold, unmistakable declaration:

Monday, June 23, 2014

Last But Not Least, The Colorist

Forty-two years ago to the month, two now-famous names at Marvel Comics were just getting their start with the company. And thanks to a couple of name-dropping responses on a letters page from the Incredible Hulk comic published that month, we get a little bit of first-hand history about them.

(Claremont had reportedly dipped his toes into assisting with plots two or three years earlier, by other accounts.)

Also, I seem to recall a letter response a few years later where another writer had also suggested colorists receive credit along with other story contributors, with the response indicating what a great idea it was--and a few months later, colorists indeed began being so credited. I'm glad the "complications" mentioned were eventually resolved--the contribution of a colorist to a comic book is certainly worthy of recognition.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Birth and Rebirth of--Doc Samson!

From a reader's perspective, it's difficult to see the creation of the "Doc Samson" character as little more than a flashy novelty in terms of a new character to go up against the Hulk. Yet it's to writer Roy Thomas's credit that Samson's origin at least seeks to add some level of depth to what could easily have been a one-shot appearance; in fact, his origin may arguably be the one thing about Leonard Samson that justifies the effort to improve on him. For there's really no reason why Leonard Samson would merit a place in the Hulk's "rogues' gallery," were it not for the fact that Samson had an unconscious yet driving desire to be more than he was.

I haven't kept up with Samson, but the last I knew he had struck a balance between his professional occupation and his super-strong alter ego--a psychiatrist who maintains his contacts with the military and changes into his "fighting togs," as he puts it, when the need arises. Given his almost obsessive need to prove himself in the beginning of his super-hero career, it was only natural that he would eventually establish a more stable direction for his life; but, while I've always had apathy for Samson to some degree, it was those appearances in his earlier dealings with the Hulk (and with Bruce Banner) that I found more interesting. Because while Samson may have reached out to establish contact with General Ross with the best of intentions, there was an ulterior motive at work that even he wasn't prepared to admit. In a way, he was a psychiatrist who didn't know his own mind--at least, not yet.

So, it's not really Doc Samson who made an impression on me then, grappling with the Hulk--but Leonard Samson, his flaws colliding with Banner's to produce battles which neither of their stronger counterparts truthfully understood. That's probably not nearly enough to elevate Samson in your eyes--nor mine, honestly. I'm not aware of anyone who's of the opinion that Doc Samson was one of Marvel's better creations. But let's take a look and try to make sense of the potential that Thomas may have seen in him. Certainly Samson himself feels he deserves another shot in comics history:

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Damsel In Distress!

"Your record? Come now, Susan. Anyone who studies the history of the Fantastic Four would quickly realize your primary function has been to be captured and terrorized by your foes." -- "Woman To Woman" host Barbara Walker, interviewing Susan Richards

It's a running joke in any discussion of the Fantastic Four, to be sure: The Invisible Girl, captured by whoever was out to get the FF, and held hostage for leverage over the three men of the group. The "joke," of course, was that it seemed to happen a lot, and always to the female member--taken out of action all too easily despite her powers. Did the bad guys target Sue just because she was female? Or because they figured she was the least likely of the four to put up a fight? Or because they thought she wouldn't really be able to defend herself? Take your pick. Perhaps it's all of the above.

But it's high time we took an actual count of the times that Sue's been whisked away by a foe. Fortunately, Barbara had already done the leg work and was delighted to provide us with the data. I hear she's putting together a scathing documentary on the subject.

Finally, the question we dared to ask! The ultimate

Marvel Trivia Question

Just how often was the Invisible Girl captured and held hostage?

(With a nod to artist Jovenal Mendoza for our damsel in distress!)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Strange, Unusual, Fighting Teens

I think one of the first stories where I became familiar with the art of Neal Adams (if not the first story) was X-Men #63, which had made its way to a back issue stack in an old bookstore. I picked it up on a whim, but when I got it home it turned out to be quite a find. The issue was of course part of Adams's celebrated run on the title, though I didn't realize at the time that the cancellation of X-Men was just around the corner from this story.

I hadn't been a reader of X-Men during its original run, and I can't say that "War In The World Below!" made me regret that to any degree. Writer Roy Thomas would find his niche on other titles, but the original X-Men team would prove daunting to not only Thomas but to many other creative talents at Marvel as far as having the team strike a chord with readers. With Adams's pencils, you always had the feeling you were looking at a splendid story--but try as the writing might, the X-Men themselves would fall short of hooking you and reeling you in. There were other books I recall (e.g., Ms. Marvel, Nova, even Sub-Mariner) where I would find that to be true--but with X-Men, it was always a head-scratcher why this team just didn't click.  It just seemed they should.

By this point, the title was well past the death of Charles Xavier, and the team for all intents and purposes was operating on its own. It wasn't a bad experiment to try--removing them from the direction and safety net of Xavier and making the the X-Men stand on their own, in a kind of "sink or swim" gambit. Now with just three issues to go before the title's cancellation, this story will give you an idea of how incoherent the team still comes across, even after twenty issues of its members operating on their own. All of the individual members of the X-Men are certainly characters within their own right--but there is no direction here, no thought as to where they might head as a team, or why they are a team.

So, where do we find the X-Men in this story? In the Savage Land, where the Angel has accidentally ended up and where the other X-Men have come in search of him. (An improbable set of circumstances which gives you a good idea how, with no real self-direction on the part of the X-Men, the burden must fall on the story to choose one for them.) With injuries sustained from an attack of pteranodons, the near-death Angel is found by a man known as "the Creator," and taken to his lab to receive treatment. There he learns that the Creator is something of a Savage Land Xavier--locating mutants in this environment and teaching them how to use their powers. But his operation has put him at odds with Ka-Zar, who ostensibly rules the Savage Land, and whom the Angel learns the other X-Men have allied themselves with.

In return for the Creator having saved his life, the Angel offers to stop Ka-Zar and the other X-Men and mediate the dispute. But when the Angel departs, we discover a tiny detail about the Creator's true identity:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Hosed Torch

Annihilus, Annihilus. Tsk tsk.  There's such a thing as too quick an attack.

If only you'd had something a little more ponderous and humiliating, like... a fire hose.

You could even have it built into your costume.  You'll find it very, eh, handy!

See? Even when the Torch knows what you're up to, you still have time to hose him.

If you don't want to go the fire hose route, you can get by with a simple extinguisher apparatus.

You can even say something villainous, like "Prepare to be extinguished, Torch!"

Not really keen on keeping a hose at hand, eh? Well, if all else fails, you can probably throw something together to do the same thing. Believe me, as slow as this guy flies, you'll have loads of time:

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