Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Here's To A Great 2015!

Best Wishes
The Peerless Power of Comics!

May The New Year Bring You
Happiness, Peace, and Good Fortune!

(Plus no small amount of mischief!)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The World Is Lost!

As often as Thor and his father, almighty Odin, have argued in the past, it's a wonder that they've never come to blows and engaged in all-out battle. We've seen Thor battle a doppelganger of Odin, but of course that's not nearly as exciting as seeing an actual battle between the genuine articles. Have these two ever thrown down for real?

The closest we've come is the Infinity story from 1971, when Odin is possessed by a force which is slowly bringing an end to the universe, and he moves to stop Thor from interfering in Infinity's deadly plan. Now, consider: if Odin is helping to snuff out whole planets one by one without breaking a sweat (assuming one could break a sweat in the void of space), then we have to believe that even the God of Thunder isn't going to be able to give him pause. This is also the same Odin who gave Thor his hammer, a weapon which makes up arguably about 60% of Thor's power--so once he snatches that, it's pretty much game over for Thor.

Yet Mighty Thor #187 plays out on a much grander stage than the clash of Thor vs. Odin. Nothing has stopped Infinity's advance thus far; even Odin, embarking on a solo mission to confront it, failed to stop this mysterious force whose origin remains a secret. And as Infinity rampages through the stars, the effects of its power are felt light-years away. In this most desperate hour, Thor now seeks to join his father to battle this foe, only to find a horrifying sight--Odin, his will sapped, now in thrall to Infinity. And in Odin's first strike against the Thunder God, Thor summarizes his predicament as he recoils in despair:

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The New and Improved Gamora

We've taken a brief detour in learning of the story of Gamora, looking in on her childhood as she celebrated (perhaps "observed" is a better way to put it) the terran holiday of Christmas at the side of her guardian, Thanos. Gamora, taken under the wing of Thanos after the rest of her people were wiped out, first appeared during the conflict between Warlock and his future self, the Magus--and with the resolution of that affair, Gamora finds herself craving new diversions. That happens to work out for Thanos, who must continue with work which he cannot afford to divulge to his operative--and so Gamora is sent to rejoin Warlock:

What Gamora finds, however, is a deadly diversion, indeed--one that will prove nearly fatal to her, since her association with Thanos now makes her a target of a being whose name describes his sole purpose:

This issue of Warlock would be the last of that series--and since the Destroyer's strikes usually mean business, Gamora's fate would seem to be sealed here. It would be a year later (our time), as Thanos prepares to initiate his plan to use Warlock's soul gem to extinguish our star, before we'd be able to follow up on Gamora, whom we (and Warlock) find dying amongst the wreckage of her craft, with the Destroyer presumably moving on after assuming she died from his collision. But in this prelude to Avengers Annual #7, it seems that Gamora now owes her death to Thanos:

From appearances, writer Jim Starlin has discarded his original ending which saw the Destroyer bringing an end to Gamora's life, in favor of arranging for her discovery of Thanos's plan of stellar genocide off-stage and thereby forcing Thanos to silence her. The end result works for the Avengers story, since it now moves Warlock in the direction of opposing Thanos and subsequently folding the Avengers into the mix; otherwise, Warlock would now be hunting the Destroyer, leaving only Captain Marvel to mobilize and join the Avengers against Thanos. We can only assume that Starlin felt that this slight alteration in the events occurring after Gamora's departure to find Warlock would fly, given that Gamora had been off the grid for a year. In any event, he manages to connect the dots during Warlock's conversation with the Avengers:

Leaving Gamora in death, though, leaves a great deal of her background unaccounted for. We've had a glimpse of Gamora's childhood--and what we saw wouldn't lead one to believe that this timid, directionless girl would eventually become someone known as "the most dangerous woman in the whole galaxy." It's time to look at one more incident from Gamora's days as a youth, which would change her perspective, toughen her spirit, and bind her more than ever to the man she calls "Master."

Saturday, December 27, 2014

When Came The Sentinels!

I only recently got around to seeing "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (and someday will have to get around to seeing it again, just to get a better understanding of it), but it made me curious to take a look at the three-part story featured in X-Men #s 14-16, which introduced Bolivar Trask and the Sentinels to the Marvel universe. I'd never read these issues; in fact, I only became aware of the Sentinels by way of a reprint of X-Men #17 which immediately follows what appeared to be a hard-fought battle with them, as well as later issues of both X-Men and The Avengers where they had returned.

It's hard to know who to thank for the basic Sentinel design which would go on to be modified in future appearances. Art on the X-Men book was in something of a state of flux at this point in time, with initial artist Jack Kirby all but having made his exit from the title, to be replaced by Werner Roth (a/k/a Jay Gavin, his pseudonym for these issues). For this three-parter, Kirby handled layouts, with Gavin pencilling--while Vince Colletta would ink Part 1, and Dick Ayers Parts 2 and 3. Pencils for the cover are unmistakably Kirby's, with what appears to be a solid Sentinel design (with the exception of its bare hands)--but we don't know at what point Kirby was given the cover assignment, or, for that matter, if Gavin was finalizing the design from notes provided by Kirby.

At any rate, this story offers as much enjoyment in hindsight as it might have when it first hit the racks, as it pivots the X-Men from being a mysterious group of costumed young people to bona fide "mutants" in the public eye, swept up in a debate which plays out to this day. Once the story concludes, writer Stan Lee clamps the lid on that aspect, and the X-Men return to battling menaces like Count Nefaria, El Tigre, the Locust, et al., with no perceptible change in the public's reaction to their presence--perhaps mitigated by the presence of the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver in the Avengers, or perhaps simply because Lee may not have felt like heating up this issue to the point where it might overly preoccupy the title and distract readers who were proving difficult enough to draw into the X-Men's world.

As for Trask, the man who sets all of this in motion, it makes sense to make him an anthropologist--both to illustrate how fixated he's become with mutants, and to establish his credentials on the subject with the public:

(It's easy to see why reporters are sometimes referred to as "newshounds.")

Thanks to the hounds, it doesn't take long for Charles Xavier to become alarmed at this turn of events:

Prof. Xavier's debate with Trask doesn't go particularly well.  Xavier needs to perhaps work on his presentation when attempting to educate homo sapiens on mutants, given his penchant for tut-tutting and bluntly pointing out humanity's ignorance when a more subtle approach and more tactful persuasion are called for (methods he would learn to adopt for later public hearings and discussions). But however Xavier had chosen to approach the discussion, it's unlikely he would have been able to make a dent in Trask's visual surprise:

As we can see, the Sentinels are initially about ten feet in height (the same height which Goliath was once trapped at). Artist Neal Adams would go on increase their height to about twenty feet (though his perspective shots would make them seem virtually gargantuan), which artists such as Rich Buckler and John Byrne would continue to depict as the standard:

As for the Sentinels' mandate, Trask quickly finds that being an anthropologist doesn't make you Tony Stark:

In fact, it would not only take one hell of an engineer to assemble and activate the Sentinels (to say nothing of their massive citadel), but also resources which Trask, who appears to be little more than a researcher, couldn't hope to have access to, much less afford. But in a 1966 story, that's definitely overthinking the plumbing. However it was accomplished, the Sentinels live--and they'll follow their programming, though they clearly have other ideas of how they'll go about it:

The X-Men, of course, become involved; and, in addition to this story formally broaching the "mutant menace" subject and letting it take root, we're introduced to some other firsts. We meet Warren's parents, who, astonishingly, know nothing about Warren's mutation, which Warren discovered while he was in military school and subsequently kept hidden (leaving the school before the time came to report for a physical exam). The Beast's origin is revealed when he's subjected to a Sentinel mind probe. There's of course nothing new about the developing attraction we see between Scott and Jean, with Scott still reluctant to make his feelings known. But we do see Scott get his first pair of custom "sunglasses":

These panels are a little confusing in terms of the visor. It's probably the first stab the book makes at explaining the visor's functionality--from those early days when Scott would lift the entire visor in order to release his beams, leading later to a switch on the visor to raise only the protective lens (alternately used with studs on his palms). Still, it makes little sense for the lens to raise when the visor is lifted with the rest of his mask, as Scott describes here. Another segment two issues later would try to clarify the process further, with the "visor" and the "lens" now being one and the same:

Meanwhile, there is another character this story introduces:  the Master Mold, a Sentinel many times the size of the other models, which Trask has enabled to manufacture as many Sentinels as he needs.  Though in Trask's current state of regret, that's the last thing he wants:

It's interesting to note that these Sentinels, unlike later models, have little to no regard for humans as far as their safety being paramount--one of the few aspects to the Sentinels that gave their stories an edge and made the Sentinels themselves compelling. Here, when Trask refuses to comply, the Master Mold threatens to use the weapons Trask has given him to decimate half the country--and so he acquiesces to its demands. But during the Beast's mind-probe session, Trask has realized that the X-Men are mutants who have fought to protect humanity--and with Trask now facing the fact that it's himself who's truly put humanity at risk with his fearful interpretation of his data on mutants, his conscience now has him seeking to undo what he's set in motion:

It's difficult to gauge the extent of Trask's change of heart. With his dying words, it seemed he mostly sought to rectify his error and thus save humanity from his own deadly invention, with perhaps some misjudgment of mutantkind playing a part in that. The story clearly regards Trask's final scene as sufficient closure on the incident, treating his fate as a tragedy of misjudgment. Though with a lesson to impart to the rest of us, it cuts the man no slack:

I also found interesting Trask's final, panicked thoughts on his creations, in relation to what would come later: "They'll eventually outnumber the human race! They'll enslave all of mankind! They'll be the masters of Earth!" Written well before Chris Claremont's 1981 story, they offer a chilling prediction-come-true perspective of the results seen with the reactivation of the Sentinels:

It occurs to me that it's no wonder so many Marvel films are possible, given the wealth of material available to screen writers that can be drawn on from even decades-old stories that provided such possibilities without even realizing where their concepts might lead. Granted, I wouldn't want the Locust or Mekano to find themselves in an X-Men film anytime soon--but it would seem the introduction of the Sentinels in cinema has successfully brought them full circle with their first appearance, where the lesson learned too late by their creator has a chance to resonate with all of humanity.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Death Rides The Rails!

In the '70s series Tomb Of Dracula, artist Gene Colan and several others contributed to those wonderful covers depicting Dracula as menacing, or enraged, or in some other threatening state which attempted to avoid mimicking previous covers--a tall order, considering that Dracula was obviously the main draw of the book and it was important for him to be prominently featured on the cover in some capacity, different yet still resembling the dangerous vampire readers were plunking down change to see.

Yet one Tomb cover artist who made no small contribution in this respect was Gil Kane, who depicts horror quite nicely and whose touch on a Dracula cover was certainly eye-catching:

Tomb of Dracula #17, featuring another Kane-pencilled cover, was one of the transition issues leading up to Dracula's confrontation with Doctor Sun, the disembodied brain who sought to make Dracula's powers his own and, from there, move on to conquering the world. As is implied by its cover, the main story takes place on a train, bound for Transylvania, with several other players who have business with Dracula in one way or another.

Dracula, for his part, wishes to pass the 500-mile journey uneventfully, avoiding pursuit from Quincy Harker and his associates. But two of those characters--Rachel Van Helsing and Frank Drake--have already guessed correctly as to what Dracula's next move was likely to be:

There is also a mysterious character from Germany, Ludwig Gruber, who, like Dracula, wishes to keep a low profile, and has apparently hired Jacque Granét, a French bodyguard, to ensure his safety from those whom he feels certain are after him:

One of Harker's group who won't be aboard this train is the rogue vampire hunter, Blade, who attempts to intercept Dracula in Paris--and it's with this confrontation that the story opens, immediately ramping up the tension level with a fight that Blade intends to be his last with the Lord of Vampires:

Unfortunately, Blade will get his wish.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What Child Is This

I never picked up any of the Marvel Holiday Specials, so I only have bits and pieces of this 1992 story to show you--but given our recent look at the introduction of Gamora, ward of Thanos, it seemed like an interesting tale to dust off for this time of year. For this is Gamora long before she became "the deadliest woman in the whole galaxy"--when she was just an orphan, growing up in the care of a being who would develop a perverse love of Death and who would seldom think twice about slaughtering billions. This day, Thanos remembers a child who, long ago, touched what some would laughingly call his heart--a "yule memory" awakened by a simple toy brought to his attention by a robotic servant:

Thanos, being a meticulous planner, already had mapped out Gamora's role in his life even while she was still stumbling her way through childhood--and so it comes as little surprise that she would come to refer to Thanos not as "Father," but as "Master," as if to acknowledge his expectations of her as well as the boundaries of their close yet sometimes awkward relationship with each other. For Thanos, however, we get the sense that he nevertheless thought of--hoped for?--their time together to be on more traditional footing:

For a young girl with no children her own age to interact with and no outlet for her childish whims to take flight, her elation at receiving such a gift--and from "the master," at that--speaks volumes. But Christmas in the Thanos "household" comes and goes all too quickly, leaving Gamora little time to build such moments into fond memories:

We don't know at this point in time what sort of schemes preoccupy Thanos or what sort of timetable he's on; presumably, he's still in the process of building his power base. Yet there is still something in the plaintive voice of Gamora that tugs at his coattails--and Gamora, who will spend another Christmas alone with no distractions save the humming of machinery, will take what she can get of her master's attention:

There are other distractions for those who are part of Thanos's world, of course--deadly distractions, which at times come at a moment's notice and without warning. On this day, when an assassin targets her master, Gamora finds that even the fleeting memory of a precious gift will be denied her, when it must be forfeited to serve another purpose:

It becomes easier to understand how Gamora will be molded as a young woman into a living weapon/operative deployed by her master, when there is so little foundation for her to draw on to become otherwise. And as we return to the present, we find that Gamora's lost innocence has left its mark on one who professes contempt for such concepts:

When we rejoin Gamora's story one last time, we'll learn how an incident in her fast-fading childhood led to her emergence as the living weapon that would better serve her master, and to her eventual reputation as one of the most feared women in the galaxy.  Even the Ghost of Christmas Future might have paused at giving those tidings.

Wishing You the Joys of the Holiday Season

The Peerless Power of Comics!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Probe First, Ask Questions Later

Since we recently wrapped up the conflict involving the Fantastic Four, the Sub-Mariner, and Magneto, let's have a look at the cover from the issue beginning that arc, alongside its counterpart in Marvel's FF reprint mag, Marvel's Greatest Comics, and see what changes took place between 1970 and 1979:

The first thing that probably jumps out at you (if you don't count the masthead differences) is that the viewscreen monitoring Namor in Atlantis is now in monochrome, which may or may not be an improvement. There's little question that the addition of color in the original brings the cover more to life and would make it more noticeable on the sales rack; but with the screen's overall size reduced in proportion, perhaps the need was felt to make it definitely appear to be a viewscreen, rather than Atlantean forces charging them from the next room (which, given the word balloons and the 3D aspect of the original, may not have been entirely clear to begin with).

The removal of the word balloons makes the cover much more dependent on its captions, particularly with the backs of the FF turned to us. The caption regarding Namor has been moved to accommodate the placement of the masthead; but in addition, its wording has been changed to instead reflect the Sub-Mariner's "savage" strength, rather than merely his "super" strength. It's anyone's guess whether the new word was chosen with Namor's solo title in mind, cancelled in late 1974 but which began sporting the word "savage" above its title for its last few issues; but for sales purposes, it's an improvement over "super," which may have simply pointed out the obvious since we're reading about comic book super-powered characters.

What these adjustments leave open to interpretation, however, is--what exactly is the Sub-Mariner doing? The posture of the FF indicates they're clearly taken aback--but why? They see Namor and the other Atlanteans up in arms--but the cover otherwise gives no indication of the reason, or how it involves the FF. On the other hand, that actually falls into place with the tone of the story. All the FF initially know is that strange magnetic disturbances are wreaking havoc with the city, and they're coming from a disturbing source:

Yes, you read that correctly--Reed is taking unilateral offensive action against a foreign nation, even though he doesn't yet have any facts beyond the disturbances' point of origin. Did he forget to pick up that hotline to Washington first? And what kind of useful information is a sonic probe supposed to give him as to what Atlantis is up to--unless it's to tell him how quickly Atlantean infrastructure will crumble when it's subjected to a high-intensity sonic wave?

And following that up with a concussion missile? Well, now we know why Namor looks furious.

So that takes care of the general impression the revised MGC cover leaves us with. As for the other changes, they're a little more subtle. Franklin's hair and clothing color have been changed, though his hair color would shift back and forth from brown to blond for at least the next 20 or so issues; and the coloring of the equipment panel and arc is now more consistent with that of machinery. The intensity of Johnny's flame seems somewhat diminished, maybe because the dunce realizes he's bursting into flame within a foot of his infant nephew. And the "This is the one you've been waiting for!" box has been removed, since the story has long since been revealed. (They probably could have gotten away with, "This is the one you've been waiting to re-read!")

All things considered, I'd have to give the nod to the original cover, as there looks to be much more happening in the scene to be interested in. I also like the wider range of color, as well as the color choices being made--the Fantastic Four title catches my eye more because of its white lettering, whereas the red coloring on the MGC cover yields little contrast with the gray machinery behind it. And are we more interested in watching a fighting-mad Sub-Mariner on "television," or a foe who looks like he's about to burst through that screen to clash with the FF? From his vantage point, I'm thinking that Franklin finds the original image greater cause for concern.