Thursday, October 30, 2014

It's All In The Presentation

Back in the early '60s, when Marvel was trying to get its mags off the ground and trying to tempt children from the sales rack, 12¢ was probably a lot of change in a kid's pocket. In fact, if you were to look at other items from the time, it was easy to understand why Marvel turned the sales pitch into an art form. A comic book cost two cents more than a soft drink, or a call from a pay phone (remember those?), or a newspaper--while popcorn at the movie or a hamburger (20¢ each), a movie ticket (50¢), or a pack of gum or a candy bar (5¢ each) were all in competition for those few coins a kid was carrying around in his or her pocket. And if you wanted a comic book when Mom needed a loaf of bread (20¢), you were probably out of luck.

So imagine if Marvel had thought of pushing a sales gimmick like comics with variant covers on those poor kids. If the notion had been brought up, it would likely have been rejected, given how Marvel was constantly touting its image of identifying with the average Joe. It would have looked too self-serving at the time for Marvel to entice its customers to buy a virtually brand-new concept multiple times while only giving them a different front cover to show for it--especially people whose pennies could be buying essentials. The hard-core collectors who would dig deep into their pockets were still a market yet to emerge; also, by then, the FF were a known quantity.

In the Silver Age books, there were a number of instances where original covers were rejected or significantly altered for sales purposes--and with variant covers still a ways off from being introduced, those covers were simply put aside in-house. In the case of Fantastic Four #3, though, we get a very early look at what might have reached the sales rack alongside the now-famous "bathtub" cover:

For me, the official cover wins the comparison hands-down, accomplishing most of the things the rejected cover is going for but using a far better method of presentation. Despite the FF's action poses in the "battle" cover, the official cover makes the team much more appealing, particularly since they're still new characters to the reader--and there's a "high-tech" flyer involved, which is going to have practically any kid wanting to take a closer look. The official cover also has the benefit of not having Sue in a terrified, helpless pose as she's pictured on the rejected cover (where you can't help but notice that her three partners are hardly recoiling in fright).

In addition, the official cover's captions do a better job of selling the book by the clean and distinctive way in which they're formatted. Both the art and the captions are so scattered on the other cover--whereas the bathtub cover brings much more information to the page while still looking uncluttered.  The second cover only tells us of the Miracle Man, with room for nothing else--while on the official cover? The Fantasti-Car!  New, official costumes!  Info inside about the FF's headquarters!  It's a win-win-win--and it's still a good guess that there's going to be a bad guy in there for them to battle.

Which of these covers do you think would have sold more books? And which would have the higher value today? I'd bet my bathtub that the answer to both questions is the same.

A Far Cry From "Thwipp!"

As kids, we can probably remember shelling out our hard-earned allowance for just about anything that caught our eye. But I can at least report that I never followed through on this item:

Yes, this stuff is "just like spidey's!" Believe me, if that were the case, this puppy would have been flying off the shelves--followed by kids flying off rooftops, looking to web helpless other kids in the neighborhood. But no, this product seems to be a glorified tube of adhesive that, even at three bucks, probably didn't last all that long--and, disappointingly, didn't fire, but required you to mimic a real spider in making your web lines by moving the material from surface to surface.

At least you got the little Spidey play figures, to re-use as Christmas tree ornaments when the tube gave out.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Guardian To Astonish: The Coming of Groot!

It's hard to imagine this creature will become a future Guardian of the Galaxy and sought-after action figure, but late 1960 saw the first appearance of the one and only:

Groot had far more hostile intentions toward the human race in the '60s, and clearly a more extensive vocabulary. But, what's with this bold human who's standing in his way defying him? Meet Leslie Evans, who's driving home with his judgmental wife, Alice, who has a wandering eye and not much sensitivity toward her biologist husband:

You and I know we've just seen the arrival of Groot, of course, though Alice really isn't interested in mysteries this evening. It takes a few days before the odd things happening around town pique her curiosity enough to report them to Leslie:

We're all probably hoping right now that Groot will want to stomp all over Alice at some point in this story. But let's focus on Leslie, who arrives at the forest site and discovers a monster to stagger the senses: Groot! And the mystery of the missing wooden items from town is horrifyingly, clatteringly answered:

Once the sheriff gets an earful from other witnesses, the town is quick to mobilize against the approaching monster. But when Groot faces down the townspeople, they discover that they're doomed. Doomed, I tell you:

The story of whether Groot, the monarch of Planet X, ever faced off with Kurrgo, the master of Planet X, is a thriller surely waiting to be told by an eager Marvel writer someday. Let's hope we're all still around to read it, because Groot has terrifying plans for us all:

Good grief! It's not enough that the people of this town will be abducted to another world and mercilessly experimented on by the tree people of Planet X--no, Groot plans to menace these humans for the duration of the entire trip! Assuming they survive the vacuum of space for more than a few seconds out of Earth's atmosphere, that is. On the bright side, no one will shed any tears at seeing Alice suffocate in mid-sentence.

But, look--Leslie steps forward with a plan of action!

Jeez, Leslie's plan of action apparently comes down to bailing, just when everyone is making a last stand against Groot! Leslie could have at least told them that their bullets aren't likely to hit any "vital organs" in a tree. But whatever is tried against Groot fails--and Groot begins to put his terrible plan into motion, literally:

And when things are at their most desperate--doomed, I tell you, doomed!--who do you think chimes in with her usual words of encouragement and support? Yes, Alice, who makes Emily Gilmore seem like June Cleaver by comparison:

It's to Leslie's credit that he perseveres, and soon he's ready with a shocking plan--the defeat of Groot!

We probably don't even want to know how Leslie bred an army of termites in only 24 hours--that's a lot of termite viagra. As for this story's moral, it appears to be two-fold. First, if you choose being a sheriff as your occupation, you're such a loser... and secondly, if you outsmart a menace from outer space, you'll become catnip to your girl, who will suddenly forget about your shortcomings because you're now a status symbol for her to show off:

By that grin on Leslie's face, it looks like Alice may find her new life as a lab assistant and gopher not all it was cracked up to be.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

When Artists Changed Hats

While it's always nice to have a reliable penciller/inker combo when reading your favorite comic, sometimes it's nice when management slips in a guest artist to fill one or both of those slots, just to have a little something new and to see what a different style brings to the character(s). In fact, in those early Silver Age stories, when artist staff was tight and finishers were making the rounds among different titles practically every month, there would occasionally be artist team-ups that were a real treat to find together, even if just to satisfy your curiosity as to how the final product would look.

For instance, in Jack Kirby's last few issues of Mighty Thor, Bill Everett steps in briefly for long-time Thor inker Vince Colletta and turns in some outstanding work that enhanced a lot of nice detail which Colletta generally suppressed:

By the way, did you know Hogun the Grim's mace was enchanted? Wait, it's not? Are you sure??

While Hogun prepares to mercilessly brain another enemy of Asgard, let's look at some other cool combos that gave us some interesting results.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

With This Ring, I Thee Rule

With only three more issues to go in our look at Jack Kirby's last seven issues of Mighty Thor, we're now whisked from the smokestacks of Earth to the halls of Asgard, where there seems to be trouble brewing. And when we speak of trouble in Asgard, there's one evil god who can always be counted on to be in the thick of it:

But before we get to the main event, let's go back a bit and peek in on the "realm eternal" and find out what's got everyone so skittish recently:

So apparently, news of the Odin-Sleep is enough to make Asgardians drop everything and rush to defend their borders, not to mention posting a roomful of armored guards around Odin's bed while the poor guy tries to nod off. Since he's usually out like a light, we have to assume that Odin doesn't have a problem with others being in the same room while trying to sleep, like other people of high rank have been known to experience. In addition, while I'm sure no one wants to get in the Asgardians' business about their security procedures on this matter, maybe someone should clue in the All-Father that if he didn't announce to the nine worlds when he was lying down for his Odin-Sleep, maybe his enemies wouldn't pick that time to mass against him.

And speaking of his enemies, again, it's not too difficult to guess who's organizing them:

Thor, as we know from issue #4 in our countdown, remains on Earth, content with leading his double life as Donald Blake while occasionally pitching in with law-and-order matters as Thor. But with the situation in Asgard so dire--ODIN IS SNOOZING, after all--the lady Sif travels to Earth to make out with Thor inform Thor and return with him so that he can help stem the tide against Loki's forces while she helps to stand guard in Odin's chamber:

But Loki is no piker at sneaking up on his target, taking advantage of a secret passageway he'd prepared for just such an occasion. (No, I don't know why Odin, of all people, wouldn't be tuned in to the fact that a passageway leading to his bedchamber was being constructed under his nose. Loki must know one or two good stealth spells.)

We get a bit of a look here at palace intrigue, as well as Loki's resourcefulness. There are enough swords in the room to make sure that Loki is carried out as a shish kebob if he tries to approach Odin's side; but watch as he basically gets off on a technicality, as well as asserting his authority as an heir to the throne. While we're talking to the Asgardians about their security procedures, let's also get them to put something in writing concerning a little thing called chain in command. But for now, there's no stopping Loki and the plan he has in mind:

Thus, Loki seizes the throne of Asgard. And when Thor finally makes his way to Odin's chamber after battling Loki's forces, he discovers what else Loki has seized that has made his little power play possible:

Naturally, Thor isn't about to fold because of some clever maneuvering on Loki's part. But if he does act, he finds that it will have to be alone, as none of his friends and comrades are willing to throw in with him.

Which paves the way for the final three issues of Jack Kirby's run on Thor, where we'll discover that a ring doesn't necessarily make a ruler--and that Loki's ascension isn't likely to give pause to those who yet wait to destroy Asgard, whoever its ruler may be.


Friday, October 24, 2014

The City So Nice They Flooded It Thrice

As alert reader Colin Jones recently noted, New York City is a pretty dangerous place to live if you happen to be part of the Marvel universe. At the very least, you should have a life preserver as part of your emergency kit--and keeping a scuba tank and fins close at hand wouldn't hurt, either. It's not often that writers have played the "flooding Manhattan" card, but you learn not to tempt fate when you're a New Yorker in a world of super-beings.

The Sub-Mariner seemed the natural choice in 1941 to flood the city out of spite--but let's take a look at the other few times when New York was poised to become another Atlantis.

First, it's never a good idea to make the mistake of insulting Gabriel, the "Air-Walker," as Reed Richards found out the hard way:

Unfortunately, you don't always have a herald of Galactus around to wave away massive flood damage. For instance, in the "Ultimate" universe, when Magneto damaged the Earth's magnetic poles, it was pretty much the apocalypse for New York (as well as other parts of the world). And thanks to the crossover "Ultimatum" event, we get to see two double-page renderings of the disaster:

Sort of makes one neighborhood in Stamford, Connecticut seem a little inconsequential by comparison, doesn't it?

Nor do our heroes have a whole lot of available time to plan a civil war on each other:

(I must say, Reed makes a good point.)

"Ultimatum" effectively ended the first wave of "Ultimate" titles--and while the concept was rebooted, it never really picked up steam again.  New York, however, will be picking itself up and dusting itself off--not to mention wringing itself out--as long as the Atlantic Ocean sits there, just asking to be sent surging into the city streets.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Within The Swamp, There Stirs... The Glob!

Two years before the Man-Thing began shambling around in south Florida, there was another monster of muck that laid claim to the Florida Everglades, if briefly:

The Glob didn't have an origin as steeped in espionage as that of Ted Sallis; rather, he was a convict who had learned of his beloved's impending death, and escaped imprisonment to race to her side--only to find that the swamp was its own kind of prison, and far more deadly.

But, to backtrack a little, it's the Hulk whom the Glob has to thank for his current state, if this heap of walking swamp were so inclined. But we'll soon see that the Glob has a one-track mind that's instead focused on something else--a dim memory which will end up forcing the Hulk's hand against him.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Start Spreadin' The News... Here Comes A Big Wave..."

Well, there's no getting around it: the Sub-Mariner destroyed New York City in 1941.

Not a dream! Not a hoax! Not an imaginary tale! Although you could argue that a great deal of those Golden Age comics stories were so far-fetched that they could qualify as imaginary tales, assuming the thought of an "imaginary tale" ever occurred to any comics writer in the '40s. But no, Namor created a tidal wive that engulfed New York--and he did it because he wanted to be the next Napoleon.

The classic tale takes place in The Human Torch #5, the Fall 1941 issue. (There was another #5 issue published earlier that summer.) The catalyst for the story is when the Sub-Mariner surveys the vast damage caused to his undersea kingdom by the battles of the war with the Nazis--and, spurred on by Rathia, a "refugee princess" who's been displaced by the destruction, he forms a war council which plans to attack basically every surface country involved in the war until hostilities cease--the "war to end all wars." Rathia, however, has ambitions of her own, and fills Namor's head with delusions of grandeur, convincing him that he could come out of this as the ruler of everyone. And Namor swallows it hook, line, and sinker.

Helping Namor in his cause are two things: the advanced weaponry that all the undersea factions are bringing to the council, as well as the Human Torch, who's eaten drugged food served to him by Namor that has sapped his will. (No, I don't know why an android would be craving a seafood platter--this was well before even my time.) Aside from the Torch, one of Namor's main weapons is a giant turbine that can cause massive sea disturbances, such as whirlpools that can down fleets of ships:

He also constructs a massive fleet of whale and shark ships that manage to systematically surprise and disable every fleet they target. We've read so often of Namor and Atlantis declaring war, only to mainly target New York until a truce is called, that it's admittedly easy to dismiss this kind of thing. The first Fantastic Four annual perhaps comes as close to Namor launching a widespread campaign against the surface world as we've seen.  Yet, back in 1941, his undersea forces were actually on the verge of declaring victory. Something else to also consider is that he was attacking surface forces already armed and prepared for war, and still he managed to prevail in every engagement.

But Napoleon had his wake-up call, and Namor's good fortune doesn't last, either. Eventually, the Torch throws off his enslavement when the sight of an American flag makes him come to his senses and regain control of his actions. Unfortunately, Namor is already poised to attack America, beginning with their Atlantic fleet:

But Namor maliciously decides to go a step further, by using several turbines to send a tidal wave against New York City, without a thought to casualties:

Meanwhile, the Torch, flying above the devastation, takes action to create, well, "drain holes" to dispose of the flood waters, while using the resulting steam to disable Namor's fleet and drive the sea prince out into the open:

It's only then that Namor comes to his senses, claiming he was seduced by Rathia and went a little overboard. Afterward, the two join forces in a massive mop-up operation:

Please, don't ask me why Namor wasn't found as culpable as Rathia, if not more so. I have no idea why he gets a pass. Rathia was merely Namor's Delilah, except that she didn't even betray him; all she did, it seems, was appeal to his baser instincts. It was Namor who thundered ahead and planned these attacks--Namor who captured or destroyed whole fleets--Namor who destroyed a major U.S. city. Yet Rathia is taken prisoner; Namor's forces are taken prisoner; but Namor gets to walk because he's learned the error of his ways. The man is like Teflon.

This story was reprinted in a 1999 one-shot, "Timely Comics Presents The Human Torch," with a new cover painting by Ray Lago which mimics the original by Alex Schomburg:

It's a sixty-page giant that contains much more Golden Age goodness than what you're seeing here, and you can pick it up for a song from Amazon if you're interested in reading the entire story. Roy Thomas also contributes an informative three-page afterword.

Alex Ross presents a double-page spread of the famous tidal wave scene.