Friday, December 15, 2017

Your Monster May Vary

During Jack Kirby's last work at Marvel Comics in the late 1970s, it seemed the protagonists in the line of comics he was working on were having their fair share of run-ins with monsters, perhaps more so than more readers were used to seeing crop up. Monsters were generally par for the course in the comics being cranked out in the late '50s and early '60s, when the monster du jour would menace the entire planet until it came up against a clever and resourceful human who discovered a way to either destroy or banish it (with Kirby handling the art for many of the stories, along with their covers); in the late '70s and into the '80s, however, monsters were more the exception than the rule. Yet Kirby had been given creative control of his titles this time around--and while he created a number of interesting human characters, perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised to see monsters more often crawling out of the woodwork to menace life and limb.

There also seemed to be one type and hue of monster in particular that Kirby had a preference for, with variations:

Out of all of these examples, Devil Dinosaur of course fosters less of an impression of being recycled, since a Tyrannosaurus Rex hardly strikes anyone as a knockoff. Its hue, on the other hand, seemed a bit contrived:

I'd wager that most of us who have cooked meat have yet to see its outer skin turn crimson after being exposed to flames--charred and blackened in some cases, yes, but DD here qualifies as beyond "rare." Then again, it's possible Kirby was a wizard at the grill and knew a few more tricks to cooking than yours truly.

Karkas, whose outer appearance belies a thoughtful and sensitive soul, at first takes quite a beating from the Deviant originally known as Reject, but fortunately clings to survival and is taken in as a ward by the Eternal, Thena.

My first exposure to Karkas was in Thor when writer Roy Thomas was involving the Thunder God in the affairs of the Eternals, and the character instantly became a hit with me.

In Kirby's world, even Captain America couldn't escape battling monsters, two of which could be distant cousins. First, an alien that has found its way onto a farmer's land:

And then a "man-fish," which turns out to be a creation of Arnim Zola.

Finally, in Black Panther, there's Jakarra, T'Challa's ambitious step-brother, who wants to exploit Wakanda's sacred Vibranium mound rather than mine it conservatively. Like Karkas, his story becomes more interesting due to his potential as a character; but where Karkas thrives, Jakarra descends into aggression once he begins to suffer from over-exposure to the mound.

With Jakarra's final transformation, Kirby brings little further alteration to his form other than *sigh* making his palms into flame-throwers, which is when the Panther finally appears and deals with him with a device that will neutralize him. The climax occurs in Kirby's last issue of the book.

Out of curiosity, it would be interesting to know if Kirby migrated this general type and hue of monster to his later work at DC upon his return to the company--are there any DC enthusiasts who happen to recall? :)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

...And One Shall Fall!

OR: "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Sister Eucalypta?"

The build-up to the Avengers' reckoning with Ultron--who returned from apparent death in the land of the Inhumans to execute a plot to create a robot bride--couldn't help but convey anticipation, risk, and resolve, with back-to-back titles like "...Though Hell Should Bar The Way!" and "...Where Angels Fear To Tread" heading a two-part 1978 story that restored the runaway creation of Henry Pym to the upper tier of Avengers foes. Already, Ultron has reanimated the creation he would name Jocasta and summoned her back to his side--and now, writer Jim Shooter, who has led the Avengers down a long and winding path of spotty performance in the field and internal strife, puts the team's house in order and has them finally on the offensive, in a hunt that will test their resolve and resourcefulness to the limit.

Heck, it's already testing the patience of New Yorkers!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Walking... Dead!?

With the introduction and scrutiny of special agent Henry Peter Gyrich of the National Security Council, the subtle plans of the deadly Korvac taking shape, the growing tension between Captain America and Iron Man, the arrival of the Guardians of the Galaxy who warn of a threat from the future, the brutal but behind-the-scenes murder and subsequent recreation of the Guardian known as Starhawk, and, last but not least, Ultron at large, the Avengers find themselves in pressing need of regrouping and putting their house in order. But in a low-key issue with designs to do just that, is it too late? Or have the Avengers finally reached their breaking point?

We can sure see why Gyrich is miffed at the sorry state of security at Avengers Mansion. A fifth grader could scramble over that wall!

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Strongest One There Is

In 1967, the "Who's stronger?" debates that readers often engaged in which attempted to establish whether X character was stronger than Y were going, er, strong in the letters pages of Marvel titles, probably because there were so few super-powered heroes to choose from at the time. It was a subject that everyone seemed to have an opinion on, and the back-and-forths between readers were harmless and good-natured. For the most part, Marvel staff that responded in print remained coy and neutral as far as providing a definitive, set-in-stone answer to such a question; after all, the interest and enthusiasm being generated by these debates were all a publisher could ask for, helping to maintain "Marvel mania" as well as contribute to the promotion of titles that some readers may not have sampled yet. Keeping those embers burning probably seemed more sensible than dousing them prematurely.

At the time, the high bar in strength was set with Thor, even as a battle between himself and the Hulk in early '65 sought to make fans of both characters happy. Two years earlier, though, the big debate was between the Hulk and the Thing. You could have knocked me over with a feather when Marvel actually (kinda sorta) settled the matter in the Q & A segment of the '63 Fantastic Four Annual. But look how cleverly their response is worded--leaving room for dissent, while also describing how the Thing compensates for the Hulk's strength advantage:

So while the answer was satisfactory, no one could really point to it and say that Marvel had put the issue to rest. (I'd say FF #25 did that.)

In '67, it was interesting to see the new kid on the block take himself out of the running completely, though admittedly there couldn't really be much argument on the point given his competition at the time.

What a difference almost a decade makes, as Mark Gruenwald and artist Bob Layton supplement the 1981 Amazing Spider-Man Annual with a more extensive chart that ranks Spider-Man's strength with a more broad assembly of heroes that had since been introduced. And even though the "Who's stronger?" debate has long since wound down, I found myself shifting a few characters around in instances where I didn't totally agree with their placement.

For instance, if Iron Man is going to use the argument that he belongs in the top category because he can charge his armor to attain that strength level (if only for a few moments), you can make the same case for the Silver Surfer, who can also use his power to increase his physical strength. Regardless, perhaps Iron Man and Namor need to be in same category, since they've clearly demonstrated they're well-matched on land. And since Namor has gone toe-to-toe with the Hulk in both environments, he should probably be moved up to the top tier. (I'm still on the fence about it.)

I also have trouble believing that Spider-Man could survive the weight of a jetliner wing falling on him, as Colossus did, to say nothing of brushing off the impact and resuming the fight with his foe. I'd move Colossus up a notch--along with the Valkyrie, who should be able to more than hold her own against Doc Samson. She can be replaced with the Beast--he well outclasses Captain America and several others in the "mediumweights" in strength.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Ben Grimm ller s. rgo!

The cover to issue #92 of Fantastic Four was yet another that was duplicated for the FF reprint title, Marvel's Greatest Comics, as a near-copy of artist Jack Kirby's original effort, but with a number of alterations that are conspicuous considering that there's relatively little imagery on the original to worry about clashing with the MGC masthead or the lower UPC box. In fact, the only elements of note on the cover, but which stand out nonetheless, are (a) the promotional poster itself, with its bold announcement of the upcoming event and featuring (b) the Thing's likeness, with (c) the Thing's hand ripping it off the wall in a moment of irritation (or worse).

The most glaring two revisions have to do with perspective. For one, there's the fact that the images are flipped horizontally, which makes identifying the other changes a deceptive process. For instance, at first glance, the Thing's likeness in the original poster comes across as a more threatening expression because of the additional shadowing underneath his right eye (that is, on our left). Also, the revised image is slightly tilted--which initially seems more of an artistic choice, since the masthead would merge with the poster either way. (But more on that in a moment.)

So why don't we flip the image back to conform more with the original, in order to get a better look at what's been adjusted:

As we can see, the previous MGC revision, tilted to the right, results in a more pleasing balance for the cover, since the Thing's image ends up closer to the center of the page--whereas in the second revision, it falls slightly to the left, just as it does in Kirby's original. Another difference is that Kirby illustrates the Thing's hand in movement in the original, shredding the poster from the wall, while the revised copy is more of a "snapshot" representation of the hand's placement.

Also new is the change from monochrome to color for the Thing's "mug shot," perhaps to distinguish it more from the the altered hue of the poster, which is now blue. The photo's height has also been reduced--while flipping the image back has returned the Thing's threatening glare. In addition, there's a bit less "wall" to see on the MGC version, with its coloring also changed to coincide with the masthead background and its jagged detailing near the Thing's hand significantly altered.

Perhaps the main reason the entire image was flipped has to do with the UPC symbol, which apparently must remain in the left corner of the cover. It presents no problem for the original cover, of course; but had the image not been flipped on the MGC version, the symbol would have blocked some of the wording that probably contributed a great deal to selling the issue:

Finally, with the poster lowered on the MGC cover, some of the Thing's arm also had to be sacrificed, in order to avoid having his hand end up partially covering his face in the photo. The poor guy's visibility really took a hit, thanks to the MGC masthead--maybe that's what he should really be shredding.

If you're curious, you can check out Kirby's dramatic cover image of the actual match between the Thing and Torgo, from the comparison cover review appearing in an earlier post.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Alone... Against The Defenders!

THE HULK IS ON THE RAMPAGE! After losing his love, Jarella, as a result of his battle with the Crypto-Man, the Hulk has lashed out in grief and anger while searching for the Master of the Mystic Arts, Dr. Strange, desperately hoping that the magician will be able to restore Jarella to life. And now, after fierce clashes with the forces of both Gamma Base and the N.Y.P.D., the Hulk suddenly finds that Dr. Strange has at last come to him--but after observing the Hulk's path of destruction, both Strange and the rest of the dynamic Defenders make it clear that they mean to bring a halt to the Hulk's actions, however they must.

Fortunately, Strange and the others have fought beside the Hulk often enough to avoid the face-off that appears to be taking place here, and instead attempt as comrades and friends to discern the cause of the Hulk's violent outburst. But due to his grief which still gnaws at him, combined with all of the recent unprovoked attacks against him aimed at stopping his potential threat, the Defenders have their work cut out for them.

In effect, the Hulk has sabotaged his own objective of soliciting Strange's help--his unabated rage making it impossible for him to focus on or even voice his immediate problem concerning Jarella, while the Defenders see only their friend's threat endangering lives while having no idea of the true root of his anger.

And so, at least for the time being, battle it must be--and while Strange initially takes a different approach, the Hulk is mentally equipped to take Strange's actions only one way.

With this issue's cover*, we can reasonably surmise how things will go once the Defenders locate the Hulk again. But once the story fulfills the task that sold the comic book, the greater drama awaits.

*More nice work by Dave Cockrum. (Did you recognize the license number on that car's front plate?)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A Man-Brute Berserk!

The shelf life of the woman known as Jarella--the woman who ruled a sub-atomic world and encountered the incredible Hulk as first an ally and then, with Bruce Banner's mind in control, as a lover--was extended well beyond her debut in the title in mid-1971, lasting until her tragic death in late 1976 and even posthumously, with a two-issue follow-up that explored the reaction of a grief-stricken Hulk whose rage engulfed both himself and those unfortunates around him. As spotty as Jarella's appearances were in Incredible Hulk (she existed on a planet smaller than an atom, after all, necessitating that her stories appeared only on rare occasion), it's fairly easy to bring anyone unfamiliar with the character up to speed on the circumstances which led to her death.

Following the Hulk's abrupt departure from Jarella's world due to the machinations of Psyklop, we see the Hulk reappear there after an unstable reducing serum developed by Henry Pym causes the Hulk to plummet again through the microverse until he eventually arrives on her planet*, where a traitor, Visis, wages war against her. Eventually, his forces are suppressed--but Pym's serum wears off, causing the Hulk to grow again, with unfortunate results for Jarella's world.

*The odds are nothing short of incredible that, time and again, the Hulk manages to zero in on Jarella's world, despite having an entire universe of worlds, moons, asteroids, comets, and stars to end up on.

Much later, when Banner (as the Hulk) is reduced in size and surgically implanted in the brain of Maj. Glenn Talbot in order to save his life, the destruction of a controlling mechanism causes the Hulk to begin growing before the extraction process can begin, forcing those monitoring the "operation" to hurriedly shrink the Hulk further. That has him arriving you-know-where, where he finds Jarella's world rocked from earthquakes caused by the Hulk earlier kicking it from orbit. Psyklop, meanwhile, has used the quakes to convince Jarella's superstitious people that a false "god" he's manufactured wishes Jarella to be destroyed.

Meanwhile, Talbot's team is able to remove the atom containing the Hulk from his brain, and prepare to restore the brute to his normal height--the ramifications of which will become apparent shortly.

Once Psyklop is destroyed, Doc Samson's retrieval procedure is initiated--only this time, because of Jarella's close proximity to the Hulk, her people are witness to their queen being taken along with the Hulk. And due to the most incredible "oops" moment of all time, Jarella will find that she no longer has a world to return to.

So, for all intents and purposes, Jarella becomes a resident of planet Earth. And with both herself and Banner now free to enjoy their relationship without being separated again, Jarella certainly bounces back from the loss of both her people and her entire world in record time.

But an old menace, reactivated by a villain in the shadows, threatens to shatter the couple's joy, particularly when its gaze falls on Jarella:

Which receives the response you might expect from the easily-alarmed Banner.

The resulting battle takes its toll on the area, especially when you consider that the Crypto-Man once tangled with Thor--so it's no surprise to see innocent bystanders suffer in this clash. And because this battle occurs in a comic book, and in the midst of happiness, it's also no surprise to see tragedy strike, as Jarella pulls a Captain Stacy on us and finally makes her exit from the book.

Accordingly, the Crypto-Man is fatally dealt with--as is its mysterious master, when its destruction sends a deadly surge back to the villain's lair and overloads its control panel. The Hulk, of course, is left clueless as to why this has happened and why he's suffered the loss of the one who held his heart. But he won't stay in shock for long--and you can be sure the awe won't be far behind.

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