Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Crypt And The Chaos!

Welcome to Part Two of our look at a few stories presented within the pages of Incredible Hulk where writer Bill Mantlo throws the spotlight on super-heroes which originated in countries to the east of the Atlantic. While Glenn Talbot was pursuing his one-man vendetta against the Hulk and tracking the brute across international borders, the Hulk would find himself in Israel and have an altercation with that country's heroine, Sabra, before leaping away and heading in the direction of Egypt.

And yet, it's not the Hulk whom we find languishing in that country's great eastern desert, but rather his human alter-ego, Bruce Banner, who possesses neither the Hulk's endurance nor his ability to transcend great distances by leaps and bounds:

These stories are something of a treat for any reader who's fond of seeing an artist ink their own pencils--in this case, Sal Buscema, whose work at Marvel speaks for itself. Buscema inking his own work can be a mixed blessing--for while his ability to pack a great deal of imagery into his scenes is one of the hallmarks of his style, his work could still benefit from a strong finisher who would "smooth out the rough edges," so to speak. Take that splash page above, for instance. Buscema adds such nice touches, like keeping the approaching riders in shadow--not only as a way to keep us guessing for the time being as to what their intentions are, but also depicted thus because the blazing sun is behind them; and as for that sun, you can almost feel the strength of it radiating right off the page. But, does that look like sand to you--or does it remind you more of bed linen? There are aspects to Buscema's pencilling that would never occur to Buscema the inker to improve on.

Banner has been found by a man named Abdul, who takes him to recuperate at his family's tent:

(Another example of Buscema's casual skill--Abdul's wife might seem as though she's dozing, but Buscema draws the panel in such a way that it's clear she's busy tending to Banner's nourishment, even with her bulky garment hiding her movements.)

Abdul looks to be part of an archaeological expedition put together by noted scientist Hassan Kareem, who believes he has discovered the tomb of two demons of Egyptian myth--Gog and Magog, who sought to take revenge against the Israelites for the deeds of Moses against the pursuing cavalry of Pharaoh. But before they could act, they were captured and entombed by the new Pharaoh, who wanted nothing more to do with Moses and his god:

As the story progresses, we start to hear in Kareem's words an apparent bias against Israel, for reasons unknown. He's spent nearly a lifetime to uncover both the legend and the location of these two demons--and when he at last reveals the tomb for all to see, it becomes clear that his motives go beyond mere scientific curiosity:

Mantlo seems to place a great deal of stock in the buildup for Gog and Magog, with the scene above mimicking a similar scene earlier in the story where Abdul and Banner are shown the rockface entrance to the tomb. And yet, these demons were handily captured by the Pharaoh's men, armed with little more than spears--how formidable can they be?

Kareem's revelation of the tomb seems to trigger an earthquake, which traps Kareem with the sarcophaguses of the demons (which he appears to be just fine with) and separates Abdul and Banner. Though Abdul, you may have guessed, has a greater destiny to discover within the tomb:

Abdul's mysterious discovery comes just in time, because Gog and Magog have been freed by the quake and now move to attack the workers outside. As for Banner, an earthquake and cave-in have a way of making a person fear for their life--and as we've seen before, fear and panic have quite an effect on Robert Bruce Banner:

But the demons' attack on the Hulk is halted by a startling sight above them--that of Abdul, who has assumed the legacy of the man now revealed to be his ancestor:

It's understandable if this story reads like something which should be taking place in Marvel Team-Up, a book which Buscema had also worked on. Gog and Magog are threatening enough, but they seem to exist in this story mostly to provide the Knight's abilities with a little exposure. It certainly doesn't appear they present a challenge to the Hulk (as the Knight would later note himself):

And as for any suggestion that the Hulk might think of the Knight as a comrade-in-arms:

Nevertheless, the Knight knows a valuable ally when he sees one, and the Hulk's relentless attack against these demons paves the way for resealing them in their tomb. But that goal is complicated by the fact that the Hulk prefers to crush his enemies in his own manner:

With the Knight's raison d'ĂȘtre no longer present, you'd think the powers of the scimitar and rug would vanish as well--but it looks like the Arabian Knight is here to stay. The Hulk, on the other hand, isn't sticking around in Egypt--he's off to Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, though he'll drop in soon enough on the U.S.S.R. where he'll meet the Soviet Super-Soldiers. Sheesh--maybe this book is Marvel Team-Up, after all!

Incredible Hulk #257

Script: Bill Mantlo
Pencils and Inks: Sal Buscema
Letterer: Jim Novak

Friday, January 30, 2015

No Peace In The Promised Land

In 1981, writer Bill Mantlo decided to yank the incredible Hulk out of the States and send him on a tour of "Eurasia" and the Middle East, while taking the opportunity to introduce new super-heroes indigenous to the region. To get the Hulk to his first stop was simple enough: Bruce Banner falls asleep in a freighter bound for Tel Aviv. But when the ship arrives and the cargo hold is being unloaded, Banner fears discovery--and with an elevated pulse rate, the dock workers are greeted by another stowaway altogether.

The military is quick to respond, and the soldiers immediately fire on the Hulk. That works about as well as you'd expect--because while the Hulk doesn't understand the language these men are speaking, he understands all too well the language of weaponry being deployed against him for no apparent reason, and he decimates the Israeli platoon and equipment. But policewoman Ruth Ben-Sera is also on the scene, and shifts to an identity that might better deal with the Hulk.

Other than her dramatic appearance, Mantlo and artist Sal Buscema provide this Israeli super-agent with little that distinguishes her. We could quibble about where she could possibly pack all of that gear beneath the minimal buttoned shirt and skirt she wears on the job; regardless, aside from the power of flight, and the paralyzing energy quills she fires, Sabra doesn't appear to have any super-abilities to speak of.  (Indeed, the platoon that attacked the Hulk appeared more capable to engage in a battle.) Does Sabra have enhanced strength? How does she deal with bullets from armed foes? And why dress so heavily in an arid climate? Her energy quills are supplied by the Israeli super-agent program--but what specifically does Sabra herself bring to the table to make her an asset to that program?

The story, however, does a great deal to make up for what Sabra seems to lack as a person of interest. After the Hulk shifts to Banner again and thus evades Sabra's pursuit, Banner happens to run into a young Arab boy named Sahad, a street thief who befriends him. But when terrorists bomb a nearby cafe, Sahad is tragically killed--and the attackers who remain to slay any survivors suddenly find their own survival in doubt.

Sabra then arrives and assesses the situation, but jumps to the wrong conclusion regarding the Hulk's involvement and attacks him as well as the terrorists. It's clear that Mantlo has given Sabra a shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later mindset where she offers only minimal judgment of the situation and seeks to first secure the area so that proper authorities can arrive and sort everything out--perhaps in part to set up the story's ending and her closing panels (which we'll get to in a minute), and perhaps partly to bring attention to the often-tense security situation in Israel. Consequently, she bases her conclusions of the Hulk on simple association--a monster among other monsters.

Yet despite the disorientation and weakness Sabra's quills are causing him, the Hulk cares little for dealing with her in light of what has happened to his young friend--and seeing Sahad's broken body in the rubble drives the quills' effects from his system and reignites his anger. Sabra is fortunate that the Hulk has other priorities than to focus that anger on her.

In all fairness to Sabra, the story had established early on that Israelis had heard of the Hulk but were doubtful that such a creature actually existed--and Sabra (in her policewoman status) simply received a brief intelligence update from the arriving military forces that only made note of the Hulk's savagery. That violent behavior is all that Sabra has seen in the Hulk--and as the fierce nationalist that Mantlo has depicted her to be, Sabra is perhaps understandably single-minded in her intention to respond to the Hulk with force.

So when she tracks the Hulk to the desert, Sabra takes a by-the-book approach in confronting him. And to make matters worse, she compiles the Hulk's rap sheet on the spot, listing the "charges" against him put together by a mixture of observation and speculation.

You've probably heard it said before, about one's sense of duty clouding their judgment. It's a description that fits Sabra to the core. Standing before her is a creature who has demonstrated beyond any doubt that Sabra is no match for him--yet she insists on strong-arming him into submission, rather than even attempting other methods to resolve the situation. It's only Sabra's outrageous reference to Sahad that jolts the Hulk from his sadness, to deliver his own accusations. Unlike Sabra, the Hulk's angry but simple words seek to bluntly illuminate, rather than escalate.

Mantlo uses the Hulk's anguish to cut through the issues of this incident and bring a sense of tragedy to Sabra, despite her stern resolve to take the Hulk into custody. It's a bit of a reach to imply that a few emotional words from what she sees as a rampaging monster are enough to make Sabra put aside all of her training and bring her sinking to the ground in reflection. But the spirit of Mantlo's story is clear--and if Sabra's realization occurring because she's "a woman" feels somewhat forced and fast-tracked, it's likely that spirit resonated much more with the story's reader.

From Israel we leap with the Hulk to Egypt, where we'll find--the Arabian Knight!

Incredible Hulk #256

Script: Bill Mantlo
Pencils and Inks: Sal Buscema
Letterer: Jim Novak

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Beware The Mighty Thorr!

We know that Thor, the God of Thunder, first cut his teeth in comics battle by challenging the Stone Men of Saturn--but awhile back, we saw that the inspiration for Thor might have come from another stone-creature that appeared a year and a half earlier:

Not exactly an uncanny resemblance between the two, granted. And the current-day Thor doesn't have a menacing bone in his body:

Hmm, maybe we should examine this connection more closely!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

All Targets: Eliminated!

Wow! Who's this bruiser?

For the Fantastic Four's sake, let's hope he doesn't live up to his name!

Monday, January 26, 2015

When Comes The Snowpocalypse!

There's not much I can do to help those of you in the northeast battening down the hatches right now in preparation for a massive winter storm headed your way.

But since you're already in a shivery frame of mind:

How'd you like to see how the X-Men did against Alpha Flight in similar conditions?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

An Outcast Among Outcasts

It's often very handy having your comic book collection on shelving, where you can find anything you want very quickly. But on those days when you're feeling indecisive, it can also make it easy to make your choice on a whim. So I thought it might be fun to let fate take a hand and, this time, make my choice for me as to what to throw the spotlight on for a post; and so, standing in front of a random spot, I reached out and let my index finger fall on whatever bagged book it touched, and then pulled it out to have a look. I'm not sure what meaning to take away from the fact that my first four tries retrieved issues that I've already featured in the PPC--I've either not collected as many comics as I'd thought I had, or I'm too prolific a writer for my own good.

Nevertheless, here's what the fickle finger of fate had finally settled on:

You're probably thinking that either Jim Steranko drew the Hulk for this cover, or this was the period when Rick Jones was transforming into another Hulk--the latter indeed being the case, with Al Milgrom doing the art for the entire issue, as well as writing the story.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Lost Son of the Molecule Man!

Many readers know of Owen Reece, the Molecule Man, through his exposure in the Secret Wars series--but it's interesting to follow the trail of this character from his first appearance in 1963, since, in one or two respects, Reece isn't the same Molecule Man as the one who first challenged the Fantastic Four. Or, is he? Let's just say that even Reece didn't have the power to prevent Marvel from tangling up the molecules of his own identity.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Gallery Of Spider-Man's Most Famous Foes!

It was a little sad to see the "Rogues' Gallery" feature steadily disappear from Marvel annuals and specials, to be replaced by collages and special commissions--just as the annuals themselves were phased out over time, redundant in the light of oversized comics published more frequently and making a once-a-year special less anticipated and, yes, special.

If memory serves, Spider-Man had the most extensive gallery of foes presented, with the Fantastic Four coming in a close second. It wasn't until I started putting together Spidey's gallery that I realized how popular the feature had become in his annuals. Have a look at the collection of one-page portraits published over a span of fifteen Spider-Man annuals:

(Missing from this group is "Jonah's Robot," which would go on to become the Spider-Slayer.)

No doubt just about any of us could quibble over which of these foes should occupy an honored place in such a gallery; for instance, I'd probably boot out the Living Brain, the Man-Wolf, and the Kangaroo--and the Crime-Master didn't really measure up to the build-up he got. Jonah's Robot was also hardly one of Spidey's more memorable foes.  But of course it all depends on your memories of these stories.

If I can ever find the wall space, the full set is going to be matted and framed to brighten up the room it hangs in. Until then, it will proudly serve as a desktop wallpaper slide-show.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Stoned Love

In the first Secret Wars series, the mighty Thor slipped away with the Enchantress (just to talk, really!), only to return with the rumblings of disaster. He also found a little reception committee there to greet him:

Even though it's mortals he's facing, it's a formidable array of super-foes that Thor is going up against--pretty much the cream of the crop. Doom, the FF's arch-enemy; Doc Ock, who's pummelled Spider-Man on many occasions; the Absorbing Man, an original enemy of Thor who's gone up against him several times and still picking fights with him, which should tell you something; Kang, an Avengers enemy who's also taken on Thor; the Wrecking Crew, invested with the power of Asgard and headed by the Wrecker, a bruiser who's battled Thor and nearly caused his death; and Ultron, composed of a metal even Thor can't damage. There's also the Molecule Man, who could probably end Thor's resistance with a wave of his wand hand.

Adding the super-strong Titania, I'm only counting eleven adversaries (twelve if Doom is including the Enchantress), so I don't know where Doom is getting 13 from. I think I see Volcana in the background in one of these panels, though she never joins the fight.

Even with such odds against Thor, it's a confrontation that's still too close to call. Thor, after all, has fought hordes of gods and laid waste to them; on the other hand, the Masters of Evil piled on Hercules to deadly effect, and they didn't even have Ultron or the Molecule Man. But the bottom line here is: we want to see how Thor does. And the villains don't take long to get down to business:

Wait, that's it!? There wasn't much cutting loose here on Thor's part, to speak of. Though in all fairness, lightning bolts are nothing to sneeze at--and you're going to fight a mostly defensive battle with that many people wanting a piece of you.

Fortunately, three years later, an issue of Thor looks back on this fight and goes into more depth with it:

Yet, while the issue's cover leaves no doubt as to the story's main action, this issue by Tom DeFalco and artist Ron Frenz may surprise you. We know that the Enchantress sits out the battle between Thor and Doom's group in the Secret Wars story--so DeFalco takes the opportunity to tell this story from her perspective, as she attempts to give advice to her self-centered sister, Lorelei, on making wise choices in matters of love.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Hidden Avenger

Nowadays, we've become so desensitized to Iron Man suiting up in customized armor that he might as well be inducted as an honorary Transformer. But during the John Romita/Bob Layton run on Invincible Iron Man, seeing Iron Man in armor that was specially designed to tackle a specific task was a fun new concept for readers:

Tsk. A billionaire and his toys.

The "EVA" suit was a bit of a head-scratcher, since we'd already seen Iron Man operating in outer space in his normal armor; but among its other functions, the new suit's main design seemed to be geared toward getting him into space, which at the time was perhaps beyond the standard suit's capability:

Fortunately, the introductory story gave this development a touch of realism. For instance, despite having the design and engineering skills to conceive and build a suit of Iron Man armor that could function exceptionally well in outer space, Tony Stark never received astronaut training--and there were bound to be mishaps this first time out:

Then there was that interesting-looking stealth armor, with a very logical method of operation that guaranteed that this design wouldn't necessarily be incorporated into Iron Man's regular suit of armor. Specifically designed to take its wearer literally under the radar and cross international borders without detection, or to infiltrate an installation or stronghold with state-of-the-art security, the suit sacrificed its offensive capabilities to make room for (what else?) stealth technology:

And the fact that Stark would be almost defenseless in this armor should anything go wrong was almost asking for something to go wrong:

The stealth armor was damaged by a grid of deadly laser beams, so its introduction was short but sweet. Stark indeed went on to adapt the basic principle of this armor into his red/silver suit, in the form of its "chameleon" mode:

Phooey. It's Space Ghost no matter how you slice it.