Monday, October 31, 2016

The Soul Of The Darkchild!

As a four-issue story that had as its featured headliners Storm, the leader of the X-Men, and the little sister of Colossus, Illyana Rasputin, the 1983 series Magik perhaps lasted two issues longer than its material could support. Building as it does on the conclusion of Uncanny X-Men #160, where the team was drawn into Limbo and faced the demon-lord sorcerer, Belasco, we were left to wonder at the end of that tale why Illyana, who was spirited away to Belasco's lair and later rescued, was returned to the X-Men seven years older than when she had been taken. The story's final pages were coy as to what happened to Illyana, nor was Illyana herself saying much of anything; instead, we saw her keeping a mysterious medallion close to her, filled with three "bloodstones" and with room for two more.

Just over a year later (our time), writer Chris Claremont takes readers behind the scenes of that adventure and explores Illyana's experience in Limbo--a domain where another group of X-Men never escaped from, and where Belasco continues his plans to appease those he serves, the "Dark Ones," by grooming the newly arrived Illyana to become first his apprentice, and then the eldritch gate through which the Dark Ones will enter Earth's dimension and seize it for their own.

If you're finding it difficult to perk up at the prospect of reading about a story that catapaults Illyana Rasputin into a starring role, readers over thirty years ago might have been shrugging their shoulders right along with you, particularly at seeing Illyana--a blip of a character who was only known through her relation to her brother, Peter, and who was still months away from making inroads in New Mutants--receive prominent billing on the cover of virtually her own series. "Magik," its title, was likely in part chosen because of its theme of sorcery, but it would also become Illyana's code name once the dust settled. At this point in time, though, can Illyana carry her own series, even with Storm added to the marquee? It's no small gamble on Claremont's part, though he depends a lot on the prior X-Men story's mysterious ending to jump-start interest in it.

Friday, October 28, 2016

When MODOK Commands!

There wasn't much subtlety to be found in the acronym given to the deadly creation of the subversive group of diabolical scientists called Advanced Idea Mechanics (better known by its own acronym, A.I.M.)--the weapon of destruction named MODOK, initials which stood for Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing. One of artist Jack Kirby's early masterpieces, MODOK was introduced in a two-part 1967 story featured in Tales Of Suspense as a new weapon in AIM's arsenal who would target his victims with extreme prejudice; but his dual purpose was as a powerful brain/computer that would exclusively serve the organization, perhaps to design even more sophisticated and powerful weaponry than AIM's in-house scientists could devise.

Much later, MODOK's origin would be revised to place more emphasis on that purpose, his acronym first assigned as MODOC (Mental Organism Designed Only for Computing). In that story, MODOC was created to facilitate the completion of the Cosmic Cube--whereas originally, MODOK came into being well after AIM had created the Cube (as well as the Adaptoid and who knows what else), though that's not to say that there weren't elements of MODOK already in use during the Cube's conception and development. (Writer Stan Lee muddies those waters further by later making it clear that it was MODOK who conceived the Cube.)

Over the years, and with his many appearances throughout a number of Marvel titles, MODOK's goals have branched off many times from what they were, though it's possible to select a number of interesting points of reference for the character and present them here as snapshots of his existence.

In both versions of his origin, MODOK was the result of an experiment conducted on a "volunteer"--one of AIM's agents picked at random whom the organization had no scruples in using as a guinea pig for what was apparently an unperfected procedure. The experiment worked too well; AIM had succeeded in evolving their subject into the weapon-computer they desired, but they failed to include sufficient safeguards that would bind their new creation to their will. Almost embarrassingly quickly, MODOK took over AIM completely and forced its agents and scientists into doing his bidding.

Not long afterward, S.H.I.E.L.D. (yeesh, it's raining acronyms--but you haven't seen anything yet) got wind of MODOK and sent one of their agents, Sharon Carter, to infiltrate and investigate--but Carter's status as a SHIELD agent was discovered by AIM, and Captain America was sent in to rescue her. When Cap arrives and begins taking action, we can see signs of how AIM's personnel are frustrated by and fearful of their newest creation.

Obviously MODOK's hold on AIM is both terrifying and intolerable to its personnel. But they catch a break when Cap and Carter raise enough of a ruckus to warrant MODOK's direct intervention--and this ghastly creation is finally unveiled.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Prisoners Of Failure

Following their prior encounter with the incredible Hulk, the super-villain foursome known as the uncanny U-Foes finally have the attention they coveted from the world--though it's definitely not to their liking. Overriding television broadcasts worldwide, they planned to establish their reputation overnight, in a most dramatic fashion--by executing the captive Bruce Banner on camera, and thereby cementing their status as a deadly force to be feared. But Banner (who at the time could control his transformations into the Hulk while retaining his own mind) foiled their plan, and it was instead the U-Foes who were beaten and captured. Since then, the Hulk has reverted to savagery, and banished from Earth by Dr. Strange to a dimensional "crossroads" where he would hopefully discover an environment in which to live out his life.

Back in our dimension, in a special prison facility in Nevada constructed to nullify their powers, the U-Foes have yet to face arraignment for their actions, as their private counsel continues to press for formal charges while the U.S. District Attorney veers the discussion in the direction of a plea bargain which will force the U-Foes to renounce their powers.  Under other circumstances, it would be a fascinating look at the tug-of-war often waged involving deals made between opposing counsel, though in this case each side has something to bargain with. The deal the Justice Department offers allows the U-Foes to avoid the costs and possible guilty verdict of a drawn-out trial (with Vector--that is, millionaire Simon Utrecht--unable to cover those costs due to his assets being frozen by the government), along with continued detention should the deal be rejected; while defense counsel knows that costs are also being sustained by the government's expensive incarceration of the U-Foes, a situation the government obviously doesn't wish to prolong.

Yet the maneuvering of these legal eagles is rendered moot when an oversight occurs that causes the unthinkable: the failure of the field keeping the U-Foes helpless. And in seconds, the villains have taken advantage of the government's left hand apparently failing to communicate with its right.

There's no explanation offered as to why these visitors weren't thoroughly cautioned about untreated material coming into contact with the null-field; it's also absurd to be asked to believe that the U.S. District Attorney assigned to this case isn't intimately aware by now of the specific powers of these individuals, and must be brought up to speed when a crisis arises. She knows their names, and their history, but not their powers? Seriously?

All of which is unimportant to the U-Foes, who are moments from freedom. But Vector's enthusiasm at this turn of events has caused him to be reckless with his power--and he and the rest of the U-Foes find themselves ripped from our reality.

And if the U-Foes are no longer in our dimension--guess where they happen to end up?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Tune In For: The Death Of The Hulk!

We certainly left the hapless Bruce Banner in dire straits following the return of the U-Foes--the sinister group that was once again out to take revenge on Banner for aborting the space flight they'd undertaken for the purpose of gaining greater might than the Fantastic Four and then using it to amass power and fame (or, in their case, infamy). At this point in time, Banner is able to control his transformations to the Hulk as well as retain his mind while in the body of the brute--but thanks to X-Ray, the member of the U-Foes who can control all forms of radiation, the Hulk was transformed back to Banner against his will, and quickly captured.

With Banner in tow, the U-Foes have decided to use him as a means to an end, but with a twist: to establish their reputations overnight as a power to be reckoned with, while at the same time gaining their revenge on Banner while making it seem to the public at large that they're out to "end the menace" of the Hulk. And so they've moved deeper into the abandoned military installation known as Gamma Base in order to imprison Banner with its equipment and broadcast his execution to the world.

Talk about ratings to die for...

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Return Of The U-Foes!

When we last saw them, it looked like curtains for the uncanny U-Foes, the four villains who sought fame and power by duplicating the space flight of the Fantastic Four with the goal of becoming even more powerful than their predecessors. Their flight prematurely aborted due to the (well-meaning) interference of Bruce Banner, the altered individuals sought revenge, and ended up battling the Hulk in their baptism of fire--an encounter which saw their powers spiral out of control and lead to their presumed end.

Fast-forward to another point in the Hulk's troubled life, where the brute is now controlled by the mind of Bruce Banner--a development that's met with mixed reaction from his friends, Rick Jones and Betty Ross, who are respectively happy and disappointed at the news. Currently meeting at the abandoned Gamma Base, where Rick was brought in order to save his life from a misguided attempt to expose himself to gamma rays and become another Hulk, Rick makes the case of how the world can benefit from the power of a Hulk who is guided by Banner's mind, while Betty (Banner's love) has always wanted the Hulk out of Banner's life and fears the worst.

In an added complication, the group is joined by an alien named Bereet, a "techno-artist" from another world who has distantly recorded some of the Hulk's life and adventures and has travelled to Earth to make a movie of him. (Yes, between Bereet and Mojo, a television mogul from another dimension, it seems alien worlds are hooked on TV and movies, which seems disturbing on many levels.) Bereet is thrilled at this new development, though obviously she arrives at a tense time; Banner is currently in Rick's corner as far as wanting to use the Hulk's might for beneficial purposes, while Betty has always wanted Banner to be completely cured of his condition so that the two of them could begin a normal life together.

It's while Banner is making his case to Betty that everyone is surprised by the arrival of four others, whose intentions toward the Hulk are more in line with Betty's opinion--with the exception that they're determined to take Banner out of the picture as well as the Hulk.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Earth's Mightiest Team

Since we've recently seen an example of precision teamwork with the Fantastic Four, we should give equal time to the Avengers, who are no slouches in that department either--at least when they're allowed to work as a team. With each of these groups, we depend on the books' writers to have all of the characters operate as a unit--yet in most cases, they prefer to have team members take on a threat one-on-one, perhaps to give the villain du jour their due. But with the team's name emblazoned on the book's masthead, it stands to reason that readers are plunking down change to see that team at its best, with all of its members working together. After all, why read a team book if it's only a rare day when you see teamwork in play?

Following the period of issues which saw Henry Pym expelled from their ranks in disgrace and then branded as a criminal by the machinations of Egghead and the Masters of Evil, the Avengers have finally put their house in order. The Wasp has nominated herself for and been voted in as Chairwoman; the She-Hulk has become a member, with Hawkeye returning to the team as well; and the new Captain Marvel is operating with the team as an Avenger-in-training. There is still the matter of Iron Man's continued absences from meetings and calls to assemble, with Tony Stark suspected of having relapsed to a state of insobriety--but in a 1983 story written by Roger Stern, we mostly see an Avengers team back on track, tackling a high-stakes mission by the numbers and showing how effective they can be as a well-balanced, diverse lineup where its members truly function as part of the whole.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Where Goes Galactus, The Prime Directive Is... Retreat!

Often when researching material for a comics post, I come across an item or three that might pique my interest but may not be quite enough to build a post around--yet, collectively, they turn out to be fun stops along the way, something that many of you who read comics and recall amusing tidbits from scenes or panels can probably relate to. Here are a few that randomly came to mind for me, here and there in the past two weeks or so; in fact, I was surprised at how much I wanted to keep digging through my memories for more!

Let's start off with the Scarlet Witch, who it turns out speaks French quite well--thanks to a little inspiration from Captain Marvel, who's dropped in at light speed from her flat in New Orleans for Jarvis's famous continental breakfast:

Since we're eavesdropping, their conversation translates to:

CM: Eh, well, yes, of course!
SW: You speak french, madame?
CM: Not so well, sadly. My accent is from New Orleans ...
SW: Do not be so modest! You speak very well.

(CF: Je me demande si Pietro parle aussi le fran├žais?)

Speaking of Captain Marvel, when she was being introduced in hero circles there seemed to be a running joke circulating in her stories in terms of people being taken aback at hearing her name, since it must have seemed unusual for someone to claim the name of the late Mar-vell. The person who was meeting her for the first time always reacted the same, pausing in the middle of repeating her name back:

Not much of a joke, admittedly, and one with a short shelf life since people had to stop introducing her eventually--but perhaps it was simply an in-house point of amusement that ran its course.

Then there are those familiar images that a few artists occasionally slipped into their work that no doubt delighted those of us who enjoyed the nod to classic fictional material. Take, for instance, the Leader's manta-style ship that was keeping tabs on Bruce Banner, a ship which made it clear that the Leader was likely a big fan of the "War Of The Worlds" film from 1953:

(Artist Jack Kirby also made use of the same ship design for the Fantastic Four story which introduced the alien known as the "Infant Terrible.")

And, from an X-Men story, we learn that while the hulls of Shi'ar space vessels resemble insects, their interior design--to say nothing of their terminology--hails back to 1966.

Maybe the Shi'ar passed close enough to Earth that year to intercept some of our broadcast transmissions? (They don't seem to have been as taken with other shows from that year, such as Lost In Space, The Time Tunnel, or My Favorite Martian.)

Another space vessel went a little further with its outer design--the ship that the Guardians of the Galaxy christened the "Captain America":

Going back through Marvel comics we can also find quite a few examples of heroes engaging in combat when one of them doesn't realize the other has taken them on under false pretenses. A good example would be Cyclops of the X-Men, battling nearly his entire team in order to shake them out of their funk when a villain has recently shaken their confidence. There's also the Thing doing the same for Mr. Fantastic, at the point in time when Dr. Doom is poised to take over the entire world:

Captain America is also pretty good at pulling the wool over his teammates when necessary, though he goes a little overboard when a new character applies for Avengers membership:

Hawkeye, as we can see, sits back and enjoys the show, as Cap manipulates both Iron Man and Thor into cutting loose on the Vision. Not exactly a welcome mat the guy lays out, is it? A simple "How about a demonstration of your powers?" would probably have sufficed. Who is this guy, the Cap of the 1950s?

Hercules has his own way of shaking someone out of their self-pity when he encounters the Sub-Mariner, living in virtual exile from his subjects after being asked to abdicate his throne. Hercules' methods aren't exactly those of a support group, but then again he's dealing with someone as volatile and stubborn as himself.

And even Hercules can be a sport when it's himself who needs the lesson:

Finally, it's Herc who ends our sampling of tidbits, while his dignity is still intact. (Barely.)

Hercules doesn't strike me as the modest type when it comes to boasting about his *ahem* assets, but this once I'm not complaining.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Two Against The World!

Part Two of a Fantastic Four story from 1976 begins with an incredible development--and if you've already read Part One, you can almost find yourself nodding in agreement with just about everything that's written on the splash page of this story's conclusion:

Picking up where we left off in the previous issue, we find the Thing has suddenly and inexplicably joined forces with the incredible Hulk--not only dropping his three partners in the FF in favor of this new alliance with the green goliath, but also turning on Reed, Sue, and Johnny, as well as threatening the human race. Just how inexplicably this turn of events has come about is evident from the shocked faces and pleas of the remaining FF members--but since this first page serves as a recap of what's already happened, let's go over a few of the things we're being told here, just to make sure we're covering all the bases:

  • "It had to happen--or DID it?" It's an odd question to begin with, one that hasn't a prayer of being answered at this point. Did all of this have to happen? A better question might be, how could a situation like this come about? We can at least identify the catalyst for the events of this story: Ben Grimm, whose strange behavior hopscotched from one peculiarity to the next.  First he began feeling useless to the FF after playing no part in a recent crisis... then he became disgruntled over the FF's pursuit of the Hulk, even though their goal was to cure Bruce Banner... then he took reluctant part in the Hulk's capture, though he'd never expressed such reservations about the many other times the Fantastic Four had been forced to engage the Hulk... followed by his ruination of Banner's cure after seeing the military restrain Banner as a precaution following his treatment... and then, finally, deciding to leave the FF and join forces with the Hulk, while forgetting the fact that this entire undertaking was to help Bruce Banner.
  • "Angered at the treatment meted out to the captive Hulk..." Well, no--Ben was angered by the treatment meted out to the captive Bruce Banner, when the military placed him under restraint following his procedure. And that being the case, why not simply unshackle Banner and join forces with him?
  • "In the name of heaven, Ben--you've got to be kidding!" Words likely (and loudly) echoed by readers being swept along by this story's entwined plot.
  • "We brought the Hulk here to cure him, not to harm him." More accurately, "We brought the Hulk here so that we could cure Bruce Banner." The same Bruce Banner who, earlier in the story, Ben was well aware of as having been the one who suffered from the accident that transformed him into the Hulk. If Ben sympathizes so much with Banner's plight, why take his eye off that ball?

Even now, it almost seems as if this story is trying to make sense of itself, which is turning out to be no small task. What happens when things become even more chaotic, as this situation escalates? There's one way to find out.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Monsters United!

There are a number of Hulk vs. Thing stories on the books, but one of the more interesting twists on the concept came down the pipe in a two-part tale from 1976, where even the cover to Part One makes sure to tell you that, despite appearances, you're in for something a little different this time around.

You're also in for two, count 'em, two SHOCK ENDINGS, one for each segment--so all in all, you're getting a pretty sweet deal for your 50¢.

The story is written by... well, you've already caught a glimpse of the credits on the splash page, but it's a fair bet that one look at the story's title brought his name to mind in an instant--Roy Thomas, of course, who drops pop culture references into his stories often enough to warrant changing his Marvel handle from "Rascally" to "Reliable." In this case, his inspiration likely comes from a 1969 film titled "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium," which boasts a large cast (and notable cameo appearances by a few others) that arrives in Europe for sightseeing tours and assorted hijinks. How that theme possibly relates to a battle between the Fantastic Four and the Hulk is anyone's guess, but for whatever reason it made perfect sense to Thomas, depending on whatever he was thinking about at the time and what unfathomable logic he used to connect those dots. It seems a head-scratcher even if it was meant as a play on words.

You might find more amusement in tracing the phrase back to its original context:  a 1957 cartoon by Leonard Dove that was meant to poke fun at the whirlwind nature of European tour schedules.

As for the FF, they're flying to Nebraska (Commercial passage? Something wrong with the Pogo Plane?) at the request of the military, due to reports of the Hulk rampaging in the area--but mostly in an effort to address the Hulk problem once and for all, by using technology we've seen before.

It's unclear why miniaturizing the psi-amplifier was the key to perfecting it, if that's what Thomas is implying. It was pretty apparent in its previous use that its size wasn't really the problem with its operation. Regardless, Sue's question is a likely cue for the Hulk's entrance--and, it goes without saying, for a near-disaster.

No, I don't know why the Hulk would make such an effort to save a train-load of people in the first issue of The Avengers, yet give the virtual finger to air-transit passengers. Thomas made quite a habit of giving the Hulk a casual disregard for humans' safety, which now has these unlucky passengers fearing for their lives.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Ire, a priestess of a tribe of supernatural beings dating back to the Stone Age, has taken it upon herself to challenge a pantheon of new gods named the Uprising Storm--current-day usurpers who, in her words, are "whelped by this new age... bred from depravity and poison... cast in the blast furnaces of the cities, conjured by incessant tides of data." Ire has pretty much blamed the coming of the Storm on anyone who can't stop looking at their smart phone for two minutes; but be that as it may, she's involved Gilgamesh, a friend of Hercules, in a gruesome blood rite that will sacrifice the hero (and former Avenger) in order to cleanse the world of the Storm.

To Gilgamesh's rescue comes Hercules, who, in the modern world, has become an example of irrelevant celebrity and has sought to turn his situation around and restore his standing and self-respect. Tracking Gilgamesh to a construction site in Queens, he engages Ire and her brood in battle--but his foes are strong, and he faces superior numbers. It seems his efforts to rescue Gilgamesh have proven to be in vain--until he and Ire are interrupted by the mocking arrival of one of the Storm, an unassuming threat who uses the language of the day (God help us) to stop everyone in their tracks and assert the position of his pantheon.

To show you how clueless I am when it comes to text message acronyms and the shorthand of social media interaction in general (in fact, ICIHICPCL), the banter of the Storm's apparent spokesman, Cryptomnesia, had me checking a comprehensive reference list of such jargon so that I could keep up with the subtleties of the banter. Fortunately, his bruiser-in-tow, Catastrophobia, is the strong, silent type, so it's only Cryptomnesia whose language we have to sift through. And as self-assured as this young man might appear to be, Hercules will discover that Cryptomnesia has every reason to feel like his victory is a done deal, with such a powerful enforcer at his side.

Clearly, Hercules, who has dealt with a variety of powerful threats in his immortal life, isn't the type to fold in the face of either naked power or arrogance. Still, he has a fight on his hands. Thankfully, with a smack that had me virtually breaking out in applause, Hercules removes Cryptomnesia from the fight, while Herc is joined by both Gilgamesh and Ire in taking on Catastrophobia. At the end of this no-holds-barred battle, their tall foe escapes--but Cryptomnesia, who has witnessed the battle along with another of his pantheon, Horrorscope, is more than ready to continue the fight on a different front.

Part of the 2015-16 six-issue series, Hercules, the story of the Uprising Storm continues and escalates in the subsequent series Gods Of War, part of the Civil War II event. That should come as no surprise to those of you who by now know the drill in today's Marvel: circle back to #1 issues, and by all means include a cross-over event if at all possible. Nevertheless, it's a fresh take on Hercules that shows a more mature side to this god who always made a beeline for the nearest tavern following a victory that inflated both his ego and his reputation, but who now takes stock of himself and struggles to reconcile his old ways with the new path forward he wants to build. (Though it's regrettable that the continuing story has to be diluted by the Civil War sales juggernaut, IYKWIMAITYD.)