Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Ties That Kill

Since the incredible Hulk was an outcast who roamed the world, if only to find his place in it, his stories in the 1970s allowed readers to sample characters and antagonists whose lives and motivations could potentially offer greater latitude for a writer to build a good story around. Many Hulk stories fit that description--even, on occasion, introducing a character sympathetic to the Hulk's plight and who touches his heart in some way. On rare occasion, a story even managed to add to the Hulk's small circle of close friends--those whom he trusts and will struggle to recall if and when their paths again cross.

Usually, those individuals will also go on to become friends to Bruce Banner, as was the case with Jarella, Rick Jones, and Jim Wilson--yet a story involving the Hulk and friendship conveys more meaning for the character when the Hulk's choice of a friend is based on more than association with his alter ego. And just as the story with Jim began with Jim and the Hulk establishing a bond all on their own, one special tale involved the Hulk finding such a friend in the northern countryside after escaping military pursuit following his encounter with the Wolverine. And the strands of a harmonica have a sound far more inviting than the blades of an attack chopper.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Execution Made Easy

I'm no expert in the practice of execution:

...but exposing his human victim to space has likely done Pildorr's work for him, no?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

I Came... I Recreated... I Assimilated

By the time that Fantastic Four #241 hit the stands, writer/artist John Byrne had more than gotten his feet wet with the team, and the reception of his work seemed promising. With only nine issues under his belt, Byrne had taken readers through a series of tales that contained a mixture of both subtlety and action, and had shown that he was a good fit for the FF--not only as a writer and plotter, but also as a student of their history.

Byrne's Fantastic Four remained within Marvel continuity, as far as the events which shaped their collective lives and overall career--yet at the same time, in many ways it was a team that had evolved very little from the group of people who had gone through countless trials and crises that would normally have a tranformative effect. Reed, for instance, appeared more gaunt than the Mr. Fantastic who duked it out with Klaw or the Sandman, with his speech as formal as it had been in the book's first issue when calling his partners together with his custom flare gun--while Johnny seemed stuck at 16 in both appearance and manner. Sue, clearly more self-assured than Stan Lee's indecisive non-heroine, was still somewhat reliant on Reed for her cues. Ben, at least, hadn't regressed to a Thing who mostly expressed himself in terms of hostility and bitterness; instead, he is appropriately the "rock" of the team, the one everyone knows will have their back and who is practically one of the family.

By now, we were reasonably comfortable with the manner in which the members of the FF related to each other under Byrne's watch, as well as Byrne's general vision of their modus operandi. The FF didn't spring into action as the Avengers did; rather, under Reed's direction, they tended to investigate strange or bizarre goings-on, just as they did in the beginning, though even Byrne knew that at times there was no getting around the occasional crisis which swept them up and forced them to react first and ask questions later. It's hard to say which was the better read; but, again, Byrne offered a mixture of stories, most of which let us sample the FF as a group of adventurers that made them stand out from the rest.

This particular story, where the FF encounter an ancient Roman presence in Wakanda, is a fine example of the potential of the FF to investigate a disturbance while being equipped to deal with the worst should that occur--one of the reasons why Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., seeks out a meeting with Reed and his team:

Since those early cutaways of the Baxter Building by artist Jack Kirby that established the team's "giant map room," it's been a rare day that an FF story has made use of it--so Byrne dusting it off for the story's splash page provides a nice touch of nostalgia. But while Reed is intrigued at a new source of power that could possibly be harnessed for the benefit of mankind, what he and the rest of the Fantastic Four will discover in the jungles of the African continent will reach back into the past to reveal an energy source that's been corrupted to preserve an ancient race of conquerors.

Monday, April 27, 2015

This Old Mansion

While we all probably enjoyed being honored guests along with the various dignitaries invited to the gala presentation of the sparkling new Avengers Headquarters--the new base of operations for the team which replaced their floating island, Hydrobase--the Human Torch may have had it right when he joked, in so many words, that its days were probably already numbered. Indeed, aside from the cocktail party, the new HQ wasn't given much fanfare--unless you count the collective opinion of its support staff, which sang its praises even when it was coming under attack:

Yet Avengers HQ, an imposing fortress of a structure that looked like it was here to stay, perhaps doesn't ring a bell with many of you; in fact, if you remember the old "Hydrobase" more clearly than the state-of-the-art building the team had constructed in its place, maybe it's understandable why the wheels were set in motion at some point to return the Avengers to their roots. And in so doing, give their butler Jarvis a lot less real estate to Hoover.

And so we open the doors to yet another

Marvel Trivia Question

Whatever happened to "Avengers Headquarters"?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Choose Your Doom

In Part One of the Avengers tale where the team saw their gala at Avengers Headquarters crashed by none other than Doctor Doom, the master of menace had not only revealed his presence in several areas of the complex at the same time, but also defeated and taken over the new building's security measures. It's a "grand opening" the Avengers nor their guests will soon forget--but what is Doom after?

Before anyone has the chance to find out, the young, nascent Avenger called Rage has made the mistake of assuming the role of "bouncer":

From that point, Doom allows the dignitaries to depart, and reseals the building. And the outraged Avengers learn that Doom is willing to trade his knowledge of the vulnerabilities of Avengers HQ for--a favor.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

"Velvet Rope?? BAH!"

It's not every day that the Avengers throw a "housewarming" party for a new headquarters building. But when they left their Hydrobase digs (after the base's destruction during "Acts of Vengeance"), the team decided to step into the '90s not with another Avengers Mansion, but a state-of-the-art "Avengers Headquarters":

(Though, these days, obviously not everyone was convinced of the Avengers' neutrality.)

It's a "Who's Who" affair indoors, however, with Captain America's hand-picked security team overseeing the sophisticated monitoring and safeguarding measures put in place by Tony Stark himself. And they're probably busy tuning their screen to artist Paul Ryan's exquisite two-page spread of the Avengers and their guests. How many celebrities can you pick out?

Can we all agree that Quasar makes the "worst-dressed" list?

And what a security team. Former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Peggy Carter, Chief; overseeing former astronaut Col. John Jameson, former Guardsman Michael O'Brien, as well as the once-infamous Fabian Stankowicz, who's been known to challenge Avengers security more than once. Tonight, their brand-new building and equipment are going to be tested by one who is unmatched in entering where he wants, when he wants.

Fortunately, the best security Avengers Headquarters could have is in the diligence of the Avengers' long-standing butler, Jarvis, who knows an uninvited guest when he sees one:

And so Peggy's team quietly and discretely puts out the alert--starting with Captain America, who picks the Sandman and the Vision to assist with searching the building for signs of infiltration--and of Doom.

Meanwhile, another Avenger makes the scene. Nothing out of the ordinary, of course, for Iron Man to pay a visit, if unannounced. And he certainly is compliant enough with security measures:

As for Cap and his scouting party, they've each struck paydirt! Wait--each of them?

The final surprise of the evening comes when the entire security grid fails, though that depends on your perspective. Because Doom's security is in full operation--as is Doom himself!

All right, what's going on?? Why has Doom taken such elaborate steps to break into Avengers headquarters? The only clue you get right now is that it has something to do with "Plan D," an obscure Avengers tactical maneuver that has become of interest to Doom--and when we continue to Part Two of this story, we'll find out why!

Avengers #332

Script: Larry Hama
Pencils: Paul Ryan
Inks: Tom Palmer
Letterer: John Costanza

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Not All Their Power Can Save Them!

It's often enjoyable while reading comics to just sit back and take in a good free-for-all without giving too much serious thought to how you got there. Yet in the case of Iron Man's conflict with Justin Hammer, a ruthless and unscrupulous business rival of Tony Stark's, it's doubly pleasing when there is indeed a good story behind such a fracas. Hammer, who has proven to be as slippery as an eel for Iron Man to corral, has sought to discredit Iron Man and thus nullify the Avenger's interference in his affairs by pinning a murder rap on him, as Stark learns when he's taken captive by Hammer after an investigation leads him to Monaco. Stark also learns who has been responsible for taking control of his Iron Man armor at key moments:

But Stark is resourceful in his captivity, and soon makes his way to Hammer's lab and retrieves his armor. Hammer, who has no love lost for Stark, calls out the many super-powered operatives he has on his payroll to eliminate Stark's interference once and for all--only to find his defiant bodyguard ready to issue some payback for all the grief Hammer has caused to himself as well as the innocents he destroyed to further his goals.

Which brings us to one heck of a battle issue:

Anybody placing bets on Mr. Hammer? No? Smart move.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Man With The Power!

Looking at John Byrne's early Fantastic Four issues, you tend to notice how his presentation differs from other books that, like all comics, must deal in a crisis to sweep us into the action. As Byrne maps out his vision for the FF, he takes a very subtle approach to ease us into both his style of writing and his take on the team, which in some ways resembles the Lee/Kirby approach--but where the FF's creators would have spent only minimal time and development on the other characters featured in a story, Byrne has these characters interacting with the story and engaging the reader. For instance, in FF #232, I don't know if Lee would have spent time establishing Diablo's base of operations in a low-rent run-down apartment building with a nosy landlady, unless it had some tie-in with the story and Diablo's plans for the FF.

"Skip" Collins turns out to be another character that Byrne dotes on in such a way. And in his third FF story as writer, artist and inker, Byrne even gives "Skip" prominent cover exposure:

"Skip," as you might have assumed, is the character's nickname, which Byrne embellishes with quotation marks throughout the story. Once would have been sufficient, as such treatment is normally only given a nickname when it's presented with the person's full name; but Byrne's intention seems to be to use the technique to further highlight the character's ordinary and rather humdrum nature--something surely accomplished in the first five pages of the story, to say nothing of the exquisite splash page that Byrne renders:

It's perhaps my favorite page of the issue, given Byrne's attention to detail here as well as the fact that it can't help but make you wonder what this guy could possibly have to do with the Fantastic Four, aside from the ominous caption that he is somehow "the most powerful man who ever lived." Just look at all the nice touches in the room that are left for us to find, one by one. We see that "Skip" (see? now Mr. Byrne even has me doing it) and his wife don't really pick up after themselves, and we can assume that things are usually left in disarray. The bed appears comfortable, and likely queen-size, with buffers placed beneath the bed posts to preserve the carpet. Like many people prefer to do, the area under the bed is used for storage. "Skip" looks to have a bandage on one of his feet; and he'll have to look around for his other slipper. The lamp shade on his side of the bed is slightly loose and tilted. And the art bookending the main piece above the bed could depict one of their children when they were learning an instrument.

As for "Skip" himself, his expression and his slouch give us an idea of what kind of character is being introduced to us even before Byrne begins to describe him. No one special--no one out of the ordinary. Except that this man's life tends to be exactly how he wants it to be--a fact which "Skip" is blissfully ignorant of.

As for how "Skip" came to have this ability, we have to return to his stint in the Army in 1955 for the answer:

Now that we know much of what we need to know about "Skip," it's time for Byrne to bring the FF into this odd story--and since he's introduced "Skip" in a mundane way, he continues to let the story flow smoothly by doing the same with the members of the FF, by showing them enjoying their down time on a typical New York day. "Skip" has been asked by his boss to sub for him at a business meeting in the city--and before long (almost instantly, actually, since for "Skip" the wish need not wait for the passage of time), "Skip" is playing tourist and running into (whether accidentally or otherwise) some very famous celebrities:

Byrne's history for the Baxter Building is further demonstration of the style of storytelling that he brings to the book, building on what Lee had quickly put in place and giving the team more depth. In this case, it establishes the FF moving into the building and purchasing the tower space not long after its construction.

Despite appearances, "Skip" is the protagonist of this story but not its true focus. The FF are engulfed in a planet-wide catastrophe leading up to their encounter with Ego, the Living Planet. And "Skip" finds himself in the thick of more excitement than he had in mind:

We see each of the FF members in turn, as the destruction and death quickly spreads and the team strives to piece together and deal with the devastating events.

With the FF galvanized and spreading out to help, it would seem that "Skip" would now be in the background of this story, particularly since he's unaware of his abilities and has no real drive to devise any plan for himself beyond seeing to his family. So what happens with him from this point seems a flaw in Byrne's presentation of him, which so far has meshed smoothly with this story but now deviates from what we've seen of this character thus far. With death and ruin all around him, why aren't "Skip's" thoughts of his home, his family? If "Skip" is the type of character who prefers to keep a low profile, why become further involved in the FF's affairs, if only as an afterthought?

"Skip" then finds himself at the Brooklyn Bridge, where the Thing is involved in rescue efforts:

As we saw in the scene at Clancy's Pub when the shockwaves began hitting, Byrne seems to have an odd tendency to present shock and/or disaster by giving a panel's bordering spiked edges extending into the scene, when the disastrous situation might otherwise be presented and enhanced with a sound effect. With Byrne's method, it feels like we should be looking for word balloons to be attached to all those pointers.

It's here that "Skip" makes a timely appearance--and his casual thought leads to salvation for both the trapped freighter and the Thing, but perhaps not for "Skip" himself:

The Thing dives into the water, but his search for the man is unsuccessful. When he reaches the surface, he spots the FF flare signal, which assembles the team back at the Baxter Building where they hear shocking news of the source of the disaster:

As for "Skip," we find that he was able to make a split-second wish of escape from his fate. And the FF's departure serves as the impetus for him to set all to rights, without even realizing it.

From this point on, "Skip" will probably find his life to be a little more mundane than usual, given that he must now slog through time like the rest of us and will no longer find his inconveniences or annoyances taken care of while his mind was elsewhere. Of course, it's very possible that one or all of his four children are mutants--and given the surly and disrespectful tone of his youngest son, we might someday have a truly "Frightful Four" on our hands.

As for the FF, a curious part of the story with "Skip" is that Byrne provides no method for these final events to be reconciled with the FF upon their return from dealing with Ego. Thanks to "Skip," the deadly probe which reduced many of the Earth's cities to rubble and killed so many people never occurred, nor is anyone even aware that a disaster of such magnitude took place--but the FF, who do still recall the disaster, will return to find no damage, no ruins, no deaths, no evidence whatsoever of the events which ultimately forced them to pursue Ego in space. That's a development which Reed wouldn't just shrug his shoulders at--though clearly Byrne is content to do so, which perhaps implies that readers should do the same.

Fantastic Four #234

Script, Pencils and Inks: John Byrne
Letterer: Jean Simek