Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Symbiote Makes The Man

The story involving Spider-Man's black costume from the mid-1980s involves a curious timeline--particularly since it plays a large part in the promotion of several existing comics as well as the launch of a brand-new title. We got our first look at the costume when Spider-Man returned with all of Earth's other missing heroes from the Beyonder's planet in May, 1984--yet we didn't see the costume's creation until the eighth issue of the Secret Wars series published the following December. However, Spider-Man decided to abandon wearing the costume in his own title, a month prior to the Secret Wars story where we first saw it, which made its appearance there somewhat anti-climactic.

In the meantime, the costume was given generous exposure in both Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, presumably to help build anticipation for the upcoming limited series. Once the costume's status as a symbiote was discovered, it would then play a key role in the launch of the new Web of Spider-Man title in April of 1985, where the symbiote would meet its end. From that point, Spider-Man would almost immediately readopt the look of the black costume, switching off between it and his original costume until mid-1988, when Venom would make the scene and snag the black look as his own.

Show me the story conference(s) where that kind of mess is mapped out in detail.

To give you a more sane look at the continuity of the costume/symbiote/whatever, connecting the dots a little more fluidly and a little less promotionally, let's try to get an idea of how a story like this might be approached if we streamline things and tighten everything up a bit. And it seems obvious where to begin:

Yep--this time, at the beginning.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


It's never a pleasant experience to watch an Avenger get called on the mat and endure the formality of a disciplinary hearing. We've seen it with Ms. Marvel, as well as Henry Pym and, to a lesser extent, Hawkeye--so it's been made clear that the Avengers' gavel will come down hard when it needs to. But there was unfortunately precedent for all three of these examples, when charges were levelled against one of the Avengers' most long-standing members.

Which means it's time to charge into another

Marvel Trivia Question

Who was the first Avenger to be disciplined for misconduct?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Gerry Conway's Brief Stop on The Avengers

Along with pitching in on many of Marvel's stories in a wide range of books, writer Gerry Conway would also distinguish his career at the company by devoting more extensive time to Marvel's flagship titles as their regular scripter. On Amazing Spider-Man, for instance, he had a three-year run spanning almost forty issues--while his stint on Mighty Thor lasted almost four years, with forty-five issues. His stay on Fantastic Four would last only a year and a half, with about twenty issues--though still allowing him time to leave his distinctive mark on the series and to take the team in interesting directions. Which leaves only The Avengers, which he picked up in late 1976 and stayed with for...

...only seven issues.

At the time, readers could only speculate as to why Conway left the book after such a brief time on it.  Conway was also in the Editor position at the time, having returned to Marvel after writing for DC, so writing The Avengers could have been too much to have on his plate; or he might simply have not found the group to be his cup of tea; or he might have just been filling in until the title's next writer, Jim Shooter, could get up to speed on it (at which time Archie Goodwin would also take over the Editor post). As it happened, though, Conway would decide to leave in order to return to writing for DC, regarding his brief return to Marvel as a poor fit with the company's new direction.

The book itself presented Conway with a hectic set of circumstances to sort out.  For the past six months, the stories in The Avengers had been either out-of-continuity fill-ins or reprints--and the ship was only righted when Conway and Shooter pitched in along with the title's outgoing writer, Steve Englehart, to finish off Englehart's new Avengers lineup story, and Conway and artist George Perez then plotted the next six issues where Conway would take over as scripter. The whole mess prompted an apology statement to readers in issue #151 which took up the bulk of that issue's letters page.

As for Conway's brief tenure on the book, we'll never know what the Avengers might have looked like, in lineup or character, had he extended his stay for two or three years (or even longer--I mean, how do you not want to hold the reins for awhile on a book like The Avengers?)--but consider this post at least a digest of his work there, as we take a look at the direction he was going in as well as some of the more memorable scenes which he and Perez (as well as, briefly, John and Sal Buscema) provided.

Conway only scripted a few of the pages of Englehart's last issue--but the tail end of that story is a good place to start, as it leaves us with a brand-new Avengers lineup, as well as a new chilling mystery:

Not a bad start for Conway--the return of Wonder Man! But--alive, or dead??

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Angry Birds

I was giving some thought to what kind of Thanksgiving Day post to create this year--and it occurred to me that, with all the villains out there who have a connection with birds, it might be fun to spotlight a villain who has some connection with a turkey.

And I found that doesn't sound any less ludicrous when I read it back to myself. What was I thinking? What idiot out there is going to start a life of crime as a super-villain and name himself "the Turkey," or "Tom Turkey," or "the Turkey Baster," or "Gobble Gobble."

So we're going to take the leftovers (ha ha!--get it?) of this idea, and instead have a look at villains who based their powers and/or villain name on a bird. And we'll cap it with a little fun.

First, you probably remember Brother Voodoo's old sparring partner, the Black Talon--who, let's face it, looks like a human chicken:

(Sadly, fighting the Avengers didn't make him any more reputable in villain circles.)

The Talon's main power was to raise the dead as zombies/zuvembies/you get the idea. Naturally, he would eventually hook up with Nekra, the Grim Reaper's lover, who also has a flair for raising the dead. Talk about the "deadly duo":

Then there's the Gamecock, who also tries to make the chicken outfit work for him, but as a gang leader. (If you decide to follow Gamecock's lead, you may not want to try getting anyone to join your gang when you're standing in front of them dressed like a chicken. It can only end badly.)

The Gamecock somehow got involved in a fight contest held by the Viper, and met his end thanks to the appetite of the Puma:

Then comes the name that every bird-based villain wants but was already taken: Bird Man, part of the "Unholy Three" (later the Ani-Men) who gave Daredevil trouble in his early days:

Here at the PPC you can find entries for many other bird-villains:

  • Black Crow, who went up against Captain America in one of the more perplexing battles of his career.
  • The Harpy--a/k/a Betty Ross, who really, really hates the Hulk.
  • The Vulture--two, count 'em, two Vultures. These wings aren't big enough for both of them.
  • Sauron--more like a pteranodon than a bird. Maybe a prehistoric bird.
  • Dark Phoenix, eventually facing off against her mentor and put under wraps.
  • Deathbird has caused trouble in some circles, mainly involving the X-Men and, in a more humiliating match-up, Hawkeye.
  • The Owl, another Daredevil foe, whose headquarters he likes to call his aerie. I don't know how his men take him seriously.
  • Wind Eagle, a Black Panther foe. If you don't remember Wind Eagle--well, I doubt the Panther does, either.
  • Warhawk--another X-Men foe, but who really has nothing to do with birds aside from his chosen name.

On another bird-related note, hopefully most of you were able to have fun with the Subservient Chicken, Burger King's interactive ad campaign to promote its new chicken sandwich. Unfortunately, the page has been retired...

...but you can learn more about it here.

Finally, from 1987, it's the Marvel Comics float at the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Now Let's See You Levitate

I'm not sure if anyone has sealed the deal yet to play Dr. Strange in a film, but there's no shortage of worthy stand-ins should the hold-outs end up asking for too much dinero. Nice work, all of you!

Wait a minute--no one stepping up as the Man of Mystery? That's just asking for a costume!

This Old Hammer

As a comics reader, some of the most thrilling stories I can remember involve the God of Thunder, Thor, charging into battle with his invincible hammer, mighty Mjolnir, raised in defiance. And no matter how insurmountable the odds--no matter how seemingly hopeless things seemed--the hammer of Thor would... would...

WAIT a minute! What gives here?
How's Thor supposed to beat back his foes with a stick?

Which leads us to a shattering new

Marvel Trivia Question

How many times has Thor's hammer bought the farm?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Best Laid Plans

When you pick up Part One of the Future Imperfect story from 1993 by Peter David and George Perez, its cover shows a fighting-mad Hulk leaping over what appears to be a split display of present and future versions of Earth civilization. But it's not until Part Two appears on the racks, with its almost identical cover featuring the Hulk's future antagonist (and future self), the Maestro, that you get an idea how the Hulk of each cover is tipping you off as to which version of the Hulk will receive the greater emphasis in that issue. For instance, in Part One, while we were indeed introduced to the Maestro, we really saw more of the lives of those who lived in Dystopia, the repressive city he'd built from the ruins of atomic war and where he ruled with an iron fist.

As for the Hulk, Part One of the story centered on Bruce Banner from our own time, who had been brought to this future world (as the Hulk) by Dystopia's "underground" rebels to depose the Maestro. We learn of those in the rebel group through Banner, who in turn learns of the people here from "Janis," who led the team who retrieved the Hulk and who brings him to the "proof" that convinces him to lend his total support: Rick Jones, who in this time period is old and infirm, but lucid enough to relay to Banner the circumstances of this future world and its fate following war that wiped out most of the human race.

As we see by the cover of Part Two, this segment of the story will likely (and does) shift its emphasis to the Maestro, the despotic Hulk who has become even more powerful--and insane--due to his absorption of the war's radiation which now permeates this world. At the end of the story's first part, the Maestro had succeeded in locating the rebels' base of operations deep below the city, a location where other refugees had also taken shelter. Fortunately, the rebels had prepared the location well for a possible invasion, and the Maestro's arriving troops are slaughtered. But when the Maestro arrives to personally deal with the lower domain's inhabitants, the area is evacuated--and the time comes for him to come face-to-face with the Hulk, in a confrontation which Rick and Janis hope will end the Maestro's threat.

Unfortunately, since the spotlight falls on the Maestro in this issue, we can assume that this battle isn't going to be a slam-dunk for the Hulk:

...though he seems to have become familiar with the "slammed" part.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Faces Of War

In the pages of Iron Man, we've seen how difficult it was for Tony Stark to shift his company from being a manufacturer of weaponry and munitions to a company instead focused on research and development and on the future of mankind. It was a tremendous undertaking, and often on a personal level; because while Stark had no second thoughts in eventually turning away from his company's association with death and destruction, he would often find himself haunted by his decisions in those earlier days to, in effect, make war more easy to wage while looking the other way.

"Long Time Gone," a story published in 1975 and written by Bill Mantlo, features a time of reflection for Stark concerning an incident in Viet Nam during the war, a period in history when it was sometimes difficult to pin down just what the United States was trying to accomplish, and where the winning of this interminable conflict seemed overshadowed by the heavy casualties on both sides and the seeming pointlessness of it all. Tony Stark, who of course would have been a key figure in the government's campaign due to his proficiency in advanced and innovative weaponry, is overseeing (as Iron Man) the use of a new weapon in the field that uses satellite tracking to pinpoint its target(s). On his arrival, Stark is in full business mode, eager to see his new device perform; but in his thoughts, he recalls more closely the men who greeted him on arrival, whose spirits were lifted just by seeing this hero from home. It's an uncomfortable reminder to him that the "face of war" can be found in the eyes of its soldiers, if one takes the time to look closely.

Major Stargrom and his unit have crossed into enemy territory "unofficially"--that is, the government will disavow any knowledge of his actions, should their mission there fail. It's a curious addition to the story by Mantlo, since at first glance it would seem to have no bearing on either Iron Man's presence or on the field test of Stark's weapon. But when Stargrom is suddenly taken out by sniper fire, the fact that he'll now be blamed for the repercussions of being discovered by the enemy takes on new meaning for Stark, whose weapon could be viewed as this incident's catalyst.

But there's still a job to do, and Stark's weapon is needed now more than ever:

The silence of the enemy guns, under normal circumstances, would indicate that the weapon's use has been successful. But in actuality, the gun has ceased fire in order to lock onto new targets, targets that have much higher heat emissions than ground troops.

The twin explosions cause Iron Man's boot jets to short out, and he plummets down to the jungle, where he remains unconscious for hours. To make a bad situation worse, his armor now has a more serious problem:

With Stark's weapon destroyed, all the men in Stargrom's unit were basically defenseless against the air strike, particularly with Iron Man out of action. But his chest pain leaves him no time to grieve, so he hurriedly arranges for a makeshift charge from the battery of an overturned vehicle. Rendered unconscious again, he doesn't awaken for a couple of hours--and only then does he give in to the guilt and frustration that finally put his role here in perspective. It's a state his sudden visitor will regret having the bad timing to encounter him in.

A punch that lays low an attacking foe would normally provide Iron Man, the super-hero, with a feeling of pride and satisfaction--but Mantlo doesn't let him off so easy. For one thing, Iron Man is still reeling from the tragedy of Stargrom and his men; but also, the circumstances of his attacker deprive him of any feeling of retribution, however minimal.

Iron Man comforts the boy as best he can, and travels with him further into enemy territory in order to try and locate his home. What he finds, however, solidifies for him his role in all of this, and likely plants a seed within him for changing his life's course at some point.

Iron Man then primes his repulsors for one last, grim task, in an absolutely stunning full-page display by artists George Tuska and Vince Colletta:

However Mantlo has made Iron Man face up to this day here, I can't help but feel that he's short-changed this story a little by giving the boy the face of peace, apparently to act as a bridge between Iron Man's actions and the story's ending. At the very least, the boy should feel like kicking answers out of Iron Man. He knows he's been brought home, but hasn't seen what's happened to it--only being cryptically told by this metal person that home is "no more."  So at the very least he's going to want to wander around and try to find his family or anyone else. The next thing he knows, this man he's with emits a terrifying force that makes it seem like he's decimating everyone and everything in the area, the same man who now wants to take him away. It would be more realistic for those tears Iron Man is crying to be due to the accumulated guilt of not only the loss of Stargrom and his men, but also the result of the boy he's trying to take to safety--a boy who, in a more frank telling of this story, would probably be struggling and wailing in his grip after been rendered homeless and bereft of his family. All things considered, there's no reason for Stark to have already come to terms with everything as he walks out of this jungle.

"Home's O.K. now!" Well, maybe for you, Stark.

"Long Time Gone" ends with a classic "stand tall" affirmation by Stark, who appropriately suits up as Iron Man to punctuate it.

Despite the problem I have with how the story is wrapped up, Mantlo, along with Tuska and Colletta, turns in an important and nicely-done tale that begins to chip away at Stark's feelings toward war vis-à-vis not only his later role as an Avenger, but also the course he would ultimately set for Stark Enterprises and his life's work. The story is one of several interim issues inserted into the middle of the Black Lama storyline (one being a reprint), and it's unclear whether it had been shelved as a fill-in story or whether Mantlo and his team threw it together with short notice.  It stands out well in either case.

Invincible Iron Man #78

Script: Bill Mantlo
Pencils: George Tuska
Inks: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza