Friday, October 20, 2017

The Better Man

From the Tribunal to the Council of Time to the Council of Cross-Time Kangs, no doubt by now you've seen your fair share of such assemblies of judgment in Marvel's wide range of stories, featuring gatherings of characters or entities that decided matters so wide in scope that our own concerns on Earth seemed trivial to inconsequential by comparison--a description that carries a bit of irony, since often the actions of such beings had an impact on or otherwise directly involved our world. Yet such councils have also originated on Earth, headed by those who are native to it and working behind the scenes with everyone's best interests at heart (the Illuminati being a distant example)--while in other mediums, gatherings such as the one in 1983's The Star Chamber more flagrantly abused their power to effect change.

Few if any of these councils considered themselves accountable for either their formation or their actions, needless to say. Even altruism can be in the eye of the beholder, a well-meaning individual or group that believes they've taken into consideration any possible objection to their goal(s). With that in mind, it's difficult to apply any of these labels to a body of men simply known as The Council, the 2009 brainchild of Fantastic Four writer Jonathan Hickman which pooled the talents of one man whose mind had recently become fixated on a single ambitious idea:

And who better to pick up that kind of gauntlet than Reed Richards? Perhaps Tony Stark, yes... but while both men were members of the Illuminati, and both made decisions they regretted during the events of Civil War, Reed might be the more likely person to emerge on the other side with his soul intact. And that's indeed the premise at the core of this three-part story.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

To The Brotherhood We Return

At the end of 1967, Avengers writer Roy Thomas took a series of steps which would pare down the Avengers and would effectively wipe the slate clean as far as their lineup--leaving a core group of Goliath, the Wasp, and Hawkeye, its smallest contingent ever, but quickly adding the Black Panther to their ranks and building from there. Seemingly crucial to Thomas's plans was the removal of not only Captain America, the group's most steadfast member and arguably the "glue" that held the team together, but also the departure of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who cut their teeth in the Avengers under Cap's leadership along with Hawkeye but were now for whatever reason seen as hangers-on.

There were probably a number of ways for Thomas to have considered for Wanda and Pietro to justify their departure, since the pair are family and have always been joined at the hip as far as making decisions on what to do with their lives and who to form alliances with. But it's probably Thomas we have to thank for stoking the fires of anti-mutant feelings that Stan Lee had only touched on in X-Men and using them to suddenly turn Pietro from Avenger to outcast. Yet there was still Wanda to deal with. Further down the road, Wanda would eventually embrace her own bitter feelings toward humans (and then some); but at this point in time, Wanda didn't share her brother's growing disdain for humans, and was still the loyal Avenger.

But a three-part story--which featured the return of Magneto, a former benefactor of Pietro and Wanda, and a man who had no equal when it came to despising humans--would solve both problems.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

And In Exchange... Armageddon!

OR: "Then There Was That Time When the Top Brass Chewed Out the Sorcerer Supreme..."

While the military enjoys a cooperative arrangement with the super-beings who often stand between humanity and those foes who prove to be too much for conventional forces to subdue, doubtless there are some within military circles who will (appropriately enough) bite the bullet when it comes to being assigned to approach the Avengers or lesser-known individuals in order to solicit their assistance with a threat to national security. Count Gen. Hoyt Emerson among them. Today, he enters the sanctum sanctorum of Dr. Strange--and he is not at all happy about it.

Frankly, Emerson has a point. We know that Strange has many artifacts from across who knows how many dimensions--but what compels him to have every inch of his decor match his teachings? Does every room have to reflect the otherworldly? Pick up the phone and ask Jarvis to fix up a reception area for your guests, Doc--the man has impeccable taste!

As for Emerson, he can join the club in regard to the level of frustration he feels, since his visit has soured Strange's mood, as well--interrupting his preparations for entering the Dark Dimension and nearly costing him his life in the process. To paraphrase Strange, whatever his visitor has to say had better be good!

Strange, of course, assumes an air of civility by the time he greets the General and his aide--and given Emerson's bluntness and lack of, eh, tact, kudos to Strange for keeping his composure.

Don't you miss the old Stephen Strange in such moments? The arrogant, tactless s.o.b. who used to treat his patients like meal tickets? Emerson would have been fileted like a fish.

As it is, the current Stephen Strange stays reasonably calm and persuades the General to get to the point--which Emerson proceeds to do, with obvious reservations.

But what kind of threat has the military knocking on the door of the Master of the Mystic Arts? And will its representative, the salty Emerson, have the patience to trust in whatever Strange has to say on the matter?

Monday, October 16, 2017

Army Of The Undead!

At the end of the previous Tomb Of Dracula story that saw our brave band of vampire-hunters under attack from a group of children that Dracula had enslaved into his service, you would think its follow-up in the next issue would have Quincy Harker and his group taking center stage. Instead, we would find that Dracula has already moved on, leaving Harker and his annoying pack in his rear-view mirror (if he could actually look in a mirror, that is) and engaging in a new scheme that would raise from the ground armies of vampires that would finally make it possible for him to bring the Earth under his rule.

In these early stories, Dracula is obviously still thinking big in terms of conquest, instead of finding more subtle ways to rule the masses (such as his satanic church). Initially, he limited his activities to subverting the wills of key personnel stationed in various government positions throughout Europe, but only as precautionary measures to be used on an as-needed basis; yet it's never occurred to him to establish such control in greater numbers, and in more advantageous seats of power that would allow him to advance his agenda with impunity. At this point in time, his ambition and ruthlessness still override his innate sense of planning; and, just as with the Chimera, he prefers to seize any device or artifact that would provide him with a fast track toward world conquest.

In this story we'll be witness to another such grab for power. But, on the heels of the previous tale, Dracula must first eradicate a deadly poison delivered by a projectile courtesy of Harker before he and his group became trapped. As we touch base with both Dracula and Harker, we'll see that both the story and Dracula himself do a fair job of multitasking.

(Insufferable fools notwithstanding.)

Friday, October 13, 2017

...And The Children Shall Slay Them!

In the seventh issue of Tomb Of Dracula from March of 1973, writer Marv Wolfman joins artists Gene Colan and Tom Palmer to form a near-perfect team of creativity that would take the book through the next 6½ years (though Palmer would be absent for four issues after Wolfman's debut). Issue 7 begins a two-part story that would also see the introduction of Quincy Harker, the son of the man responsible for facilitating Dracula's arrival in London; and, through Quincy, the story is also the first to feature the formation of the dedicated if arguably ineffectual vampire-hunting group of Quincy, Rachel Van Helsing, her mute servant, Taj, and Frank Drake, whose long pursuit of Dracula culminated in Quincy's final confrontation with and subsequent slaying of the vampire lord.

As for Dracula, he already doesn't seem too impressed by this new band of vampire hunters, if the average age of the humans he's enthralled from a nearby playground to battle the group is any indication.

Thanks to the cover rendered by Larry Lieber, it almost seems like actor Christopher Lee will be playing our Count in this story--but inside, Wolfman and Colan (with Palmer) are already pooling their talents nicely for the issue's splash page that tempts the reader further--and with Dracula's aborted attack on Quincy's daughter, Edith, it becomes clear that this enemy of both Quincy and his father once again stalks London.

Good lord--call for a cab, man! You really want your daughter dragged all the way home?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"...And To The Vanquished--Death!"

The introduction of Tiger Shark to the Marvel Universe may have proven little more than an annoyance to the incredible Hulk, but it proved to be fatal to the human father of the Sub-Mariner--and, back in the day, the character proved to be a considerable threat to the Atlanteans as well as to Namor himself. Obviously Tiger Shark is a force to be reckoned with, though the evidence of that assertion can seem a little unclear. If Namor, who derives his great strength through contact with water, can humble the Hulk if their battle takes place beneath the waves, what sort of advantage could Tiger Shark hold that would not only let him defeat Namor twice, but also made it possible for him to usurp the throne of Atlantis?

Is Tiger Shark truly the Sub-Mariner's superior?

For the purposes of his introductory story, the short answer is: yes and no.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Where Stumbles The Simple Surfer!

Given the Silver Surfer's grandiose gestures that bordered on posing, and his legendary tendency to theatrically brood and bemoan his sorry state while trapped on the planet Earth (with respective thanks to artist John Buscema and writer Stan Lee), the character's origin story in his first solo series was ripe for artist Marie Severin's caricature treatment in the pages of Not Brand Echh, the short-lived bi-monthly series from 1967-69 that often took humorous swipes at Marvel's portrayal of its own characters as well as those of its Distinguished Competition, in addition to real-life personalities and celebrities of the time. With its final issue in May of '69, the book introduces its own unique take on Silver Surfer #1 (also a bi-monthly title in its first year of publication). And rather than soaring over the breathtaking landscapes of Earth while he sorts out his thoughts, in this warped version of the story the Surfer will have to be content with the equally breathtaking squalor of the Bronx.

Scripter Roy Thomas expertly channels Stan Lee's yak-it-up style that he adapted so well to these humor mags, with every panel filled to the brim with wit and, as was typically the case in such stories, sarcasm and insults, which were all in good fun; while Severin's work speaks for itself, mimicking Buscema's style so well yet practically reinventing this story while, needless to say with an eight-page limit, condensing it greatly from its original length (helped in part by Severin's much smaller panels).

In addition, there's a wealth of clever minutiae to scrutinize in Severin's depictions. For instance, in the dramatic moment where "Galacticus" (who appears to be Jack Kirby under that helmet) reveals himself to "Borin' Kadd," who would have thought to make him into a traveling salesman, with even the individual aspects of his outfit tagged and priced to sell?

Severin covers the few bases there are to be covered from the original tale--the choice the Surfer makes to leave the woman he loves, as well as his involvement with the Fantastic Four when his master had targeted Earth for consumption. (Though we can probably agree that his departure from the side of "Shallo-Gal" was more cause for celebration than grief.) Yet unlike Lee's story, Severin and Thomas see to it that the Surfer is provided with a much happier ending.

(Check out the homage to Gidget/The Flying Nun!)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Council Is Again In Session!

As we've previously seen, a three-member council made up of alternate-reality versions of Kang the Conqueror had convened to, in essence, clean up after themselves--that is, to exterminate the thousands of Kangs who had been brought into existence as a result of their extensive travels through time and the divergent versions of themselves that were created. But this is Kang we're talking about, after all--so when their task was completed, it wasn't long before two of the council members were eliminated due to the treachery of the third, as part of a scheme to place a robotic double of each of the slain Kangs in their respective realities, allowing the sole surviving Kang to take control and rule all of their empires.

What Kang was unaware of was that he himself had been manipulated by Immortus, another manifestation of himself, who then dealt with Kang by having him absorb the combined memories of all the Kangs who were killed, thus driving him near-mad and trapping him in Immortus's realm of Limbo. It seemed that Kang the Conqueror had finally seen his last attempt at conquest.

Yet whatever his failings, it's generally a good idea never to underestimate Kang--even in the case of Immortus, who isn't as much on top of things as he'd like to think.

As for Kang, he's possibly thinking that he can pick up where he left off, since, Immortus notwithstanding, his prior scheme left him as the only surviving Kang.

He's wrong on both counts.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The End Of The Fantastic Four!

In a 1971 Avengers story, we saw a plan put into motion by Captain Marvel that resulted in the successful retrieval of Rick Jones from the Negative Zone, thus putting an end to their merged status that had forced the two of them to switch atoms with each other whenever the trapped Mar-vell needed to appear in our world (and consequently sending Rick to the Zone for the duration). Yet the execution of that plan also saw another attempt at freedom, when the despotic ruler of the Zone, Annihilus, monitored Rick's escape and achieved what he had long sought--the path to Earth, which Reed Richards had tried to keep hidden from him at all costs. (Thanks bunches, Rick! It's easy to see why the Avengers found you to be an asset to the team!)

So you might have been thinking at the time: Now that Annihilus knows how to enter our world, what's keeping him? This fiend probably has "Today Is A Good Day To Invade" embroidered and framed in his gun-ship. In his third Fantastic Four appearance, it seems that Annihilus has used his time to craft a plan that will not only make it possible for him to invade Earth in force, but also see him attain unlimited power--and it will be the FF who inadvertently make it all possible, while facing the crippling loss of an innocent life that will shatter their ranks.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Mission: Replace Captain America!

Like a few of his fellow heroes, there have been times when even the straight-up, cool-headed Captain America has "gone wild," in the popular vernacular of the late '60s (and even extending into the '80s); in fact, you and I can probably bring to mind a half-dozen such instances when Cap has done so, without even giving much thought to it. There was the time when Cap tore into the Avengers when he thought one among them had betrayed him by aiding Immortus in capturing Rick Jones; or when the loss of his shield made him a crazed loonie; or whenever Sharon Carter's life was threatened. As popular as the word "wild" was with young people, a comics character going wild made for good cover copy, since it usually meant you were going to see them lose it in some way in the story and that the stakes would be raised.

Of course, Cap tended to go a little wild when his foe would debase our country's pride in freedom and/or liberty. But what was it about a late-1968 story, in particular, that sent Cap over the edge? Whatever it was, it was enough for the defunct Marvel fan club, Marvelmania, to single it out and make a poster from its cover.

It looks like the word "wild" was so popular, in fact, that apparently Marvelmania didn't want the words "Cap Goes" to take away from its selling power in the ad. As for the story, you'll have to judge for yourself whether or not Cap went wild, or if it was again his usual sense of patriotism rising to the fore and giving him the drive to overcome his foe. At times it's admittedly hard to tell the difference.

It's one of the last few issues of Captain America which we'd see from artist Jack Kirby, who at this point in time was closing in on the date he would depart from Marvel--and with finishing by Frank Giacoia, one of my favorite inkers for Kirby (with apologies to Mike Royer), it's quite a feast for the eyes. Writer Stan Lee also steps up and provides words to keep pace with Kirby's work, one of many stories where he plays to Cap's strengths regarding his unwavering faith in his principles and the cause he fights for.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Prestige And The Power!

The stories that led to Bruce Banner finally being revealed as the Hulk consisted of a slow build-up by writer Stan Lee, and seemed suited to the 10-11 pages those stories were allocated in the split format of the Tales To Astonish title which the character shared with the Sub-Mariner. In fact, on the whole, the world that Banner and the Hulk were now navigating through was becoming much more interesting reading than the one first presented in the Hulk's first solo title, as its supporting cast--"Thunderbolt" Ross, his daughter, Betty, Rick Jones, and newcomer Maj. Glenn Talbot--received more prominent scenes and saw themselves put to better use, so much so that the Hulk section of the mag stood in stark contrast to the drab pages given the Sub-Mariner, whose murky world of Atlantis wasn't yet bringing to life its own characters or even Namor himself.

And so we look in on the Hulk fifteen issues since he premiered in the TOA title, his character finally shaping up and finding his audience, even if the Hulk came across as a green-skinned version of the Thing in both speech and, in some ways, his attitude--the only differences being his occasional state of confusion as he struggled to think clearly, and his mindless rage when pushed too far. It was the version of the Hulk that accepted membership in the Avengers, and who abandoned it just as quickly; and it was clear that the character still needed some polishing, in order to mesh better with the stories being written for him. Also needing work were the villains, ranging from mad scientists to robots to aliens to even the two-dimensional Leader and his humanoids. Granted, there were slim pickings in the desert environment that the Hulk was restricted to, given Banner's ties to the area; yet slowly, the Hulk was being brought into the mainstream of Marvel's super-hero books, and the key seemed to be in giving Banner a decent amount of panel time, as well. Eventually, someone had to be able to put two and two together and make the connection between Banner and the Hulk--and it made sense for Talbot, Ross's new security officer, to be leading the charge.

Though as we'll see, there was someone else, besides Rick, who already had been made aware of Banner's secret--someone higher in rank than either Ross or Talbot.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Earth That Was!

As many 20th century Marvel readers are aware of (it seemed appropriate to actually cite the century, given our subject matter), Kang the Conqueror's road to conquest began in the year 3000 A.D., in an era of peace on Earth that he found intolerable. Discovering access to a time machine designed by his ancestor, he traveled back to ancient Egypt and took on the identity of Pharaoh Rama-Tut, where he planned to establish a base of operations for himself and then begin raids of conquest throughout time. Yet as we've seen evidence of recently, Kang actually hails from an alternate reality--a parallel Earth that endured a shocking history of destruction and decimation well before even our first world war. The Earth on which Kang was born rose from its ashes--and ironically, it was Kang's own ancestor who was responsible for the peace that he found he couldn't bear.

Since we're talking about a time machine, and the fact that Kang's ancestor conceived its design, the original story by Stan Lee from Fantastic Four Annual #2 that followed up on the Rama-Tut tale implied that the ancestor in question was either related to Dr. Doom or was Doom himself; but when that connection was invalidated by writer Roger Stern's Avengers story from 1986, the same story underscored a revelation from a Fantastic Four story from '84--namely, that this ancestor was in fact Nathaniel Richards of our own Earth, the father of Reed Richards. Some family tree, eh? Imagine Thanksgiving at the Richards table. "Pass me that turkey leg or I'll conquer your puny century!"

So to complete the circle on this subject, it might be interesting to review scenes from John Byrne's 1984 story and have a look at the fate of Earth, a virtually destroyed world that would in time produce a ruthless conqueror--a story that begins with Reed's search for his missing father, a search which led to that same parallel world where Reed gained historical information from the queen who led a rebellion against none other than his own father, a man who on this world is known as the Warlord. In the tale that Reed hears, it seems Earth's course for disaster was set with an event which, on our Earth, symbolized national pride and achievement.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Once And Future Kang!

There was a time when I mentioned with a reasonable amount of presumption that the history of Kang the Conqueror was so convoluted that there weren't likely that many people who would want to take a crack at charting it, or words to that effect. But in a mid-1986 Avengers story, writer Roger Stern makes a respectable attempt to do so, at least up to a point. For the purposes of this three-part tale, his retrospect on Kang suffices--and for those readers who aren't up on Kang's early history, they'll find Stern's information to be concise and easy to follow, if incomplete. As part of an explanation that takes us into the climax of the story, he really only needs to take us up to a certain crucial development that helps to explain the motivation of the narrator (Kang) and his reasons for setting his plans in motion; yet in addition, Stern adds a twist to the original events that aligns the character's beginnings with revisions to Marvel's handling of time travel which have taken place in later stories down the road.

But Stern also brings a joker into this deck--and, clearly, Kang is not amused.

We've previously learned that Immortus, the so-called Master of Limbo, is another manifestation of Kang himself, so he obviously has a stake in all this--but what don't we know about him that we haven't already learned? As we'll discover, we could easily ask the same of Kang.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Mysteriously Yours... The Melter!

It's no surprise that a villain who calls himself the Melter would mainly spend his time going up against Iron Man--which, unless he was being groomed to be a villain on the scale of the Mandarin, could only take him so far as a viable character. There were only so many times when Iron Man could believably exclaim, "It's the mysterious Melter! The one foe I'm helpless against!" before that sort of thing grew tiresome; after all, Tony Stark is a brilliant engineer who you'd think would eventually upgrade his armor to be able to ward off the Melter's powerful melting beam, rather than be "helpless" every time the Melter showed up at Stark's factory. There was also the fact that, initially, the Melter's source of power, his chest beam, was also his main weakness, a bullseye which an engineer of Stark's caliber (or anyone with 20/20 vision) would be able to pick up on--one repulsor blast to that chest hardware and the Melter's threat is over.

What the Melter (a/k/a Bruno Horgan) did have going for him was his ruthlessness, which played out well on the comic book page and made it apparent that he had no problem with causing serious injury or even death to achieve his goals. In the beginning, his main goal was ruining Tony Stark, his business competitor who was siphoning away lucrative army contracts from Horgan's factory because of Stark's assessment that Horgan was using substandard materials. In designing his melting apparatus, Horgan, like many villains of the time, developed delusions of grandeur that his new abilities... er, ability could not only help him strike back at his enemies but make him all-powerful. It's a preposterous notion, of course, since Horgan has no defense against, say, a sniper, or explosives, or gas fumes, or any number of methods the authorities could use to bring him down. (Though more on that in a minute.)

One feather in the Melter's cap (or whatever that is on his head) is that he was a charter member of the Masters of Evil, along with the Black Knight, the Radioactive Man, and their leader, Baron Zemo, who upgraded the Melter's beam so that it wouldn't be limited to melting just iron (another factor that would no doubt have impacted on Horgan's ambitious plans for himself). Aside from his activities in Tales Of Suspense in battling Iron Man, his status in the Masters served to give him continued exposure in The Avengers, as well, not only in Zemo's group but also in other Masters lineups. Even so, the Melter would probably be appalled to discover that, in the long run, he would never amount to the kind of threat that he'd hoped to become. For what it's worth, he had a decent run, no argument there; but three costume changes and still no reputation to show for it made it apparent that this villain had perhaps run his course.

All of that said, it's interesting to note that the Melter's history encompasses over twenty years of Marvel stories. His final fate was a virtual slap in the face that befell a number of Marvel characters who were deemed to be, as Trek lore would put it, "dunsels"--but you can of course judge that for yourself.

The Melter's first appearance in full costume--November, 1963

Monday, September 25, 2017

My Father--My Enemy!

Following the Avengers' battle with and subsequent capture of the Zodiac crime cartel--thanks in part to one of their members, Libra, switching sides and saving them from perishing in their prison in space--the team is faced with a mystery, when Libra makes a shocking declaration that makes jaws drop from heroes and villains alike--to say nothing of the enigmatic Mantis, who unexpectedly finds herself to be the topic of Libra's claim.

Mantis, who accompanied the Swordsman when he returned to the Avengers and petitioned to rejoin them, has been with the group long enough to gain their trust and their confidence--yet at this point we still know so very little about her, other than the circumstances of how she and the Swordsman met. Now we discover she's supposedly linked to a wanted criminal, one who purports to be someone she doesn't even remember; nevertheless, it's the latter aspect that leaves the door open for an explanation from Libra, despite Mantis's vehement objections that clearly indicate she feels Libra should not be given the benefit of the doubt.

With all deference to writer Steve Englehart, I've never been able to make head or tails out of the order of emphasis that Mantis uses in that first panel. Obviously it makes perfect sense to Mr. Englehart--but I might have switched the emphasis to instead read like the following:

Though if someone can explain Englehart's choice, please do. (Either way, given the mood she's in, none of us are likely going to bring it to the attention of Mantis.)

This issue finally puts us on the path to learning more about this woman who has made such an impact on the Avengers in so short a time, and who played no small part in rehabilitating the Swordsman, now having made amends with those he'd once betrayed and having become a proud member of their ranks. But as we begin to put the pieces of this puzzle in place, there's this incredibly misleading cover that we'll have to make sense of, as well:

And along the way, maybe we'll finally settle another mystery about this woman: Just what are those two slender strands extending out from her head? Are they really antennae, à la her namesake? Or just carefully arranged hair follicles styled with a lot of product?

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Monster And The Predator!

Despite the fact that his abilities stem from both his predatory namesake and the Sub-Mariner, the villain known as Tiger Shark made more of an impression as a ruthless S.O.B. than he did as a viable threat--a small fish who never really stood out in a big pond of super-villains, though it wasn't for lack of trying. A former Olympic swimmer, Todd Arliss accepted treatments offered by Dr. Dorcas to restore his prowess following an injury which sidelined him, only to have Dorcas expand the process by changing him into an amphibian in order to have a partner who would join him in criminal ventures--but Arliss had other ideas. Challenging Namor, he was even able to usurp the throne of Atlantis briefly, before he was sent packing. Later, Tiger Shark would turn up here and there, his fierceness and eye-catching costume securing him gigs in Sub-Mariner as well as other titles, but otherwise nothing to write home about.

But his notoreity was assured when, in a Sub-Mariner story from early 1972 where he'd joined forces with Llyra, he killed Namor's father, but escaped before Namor could exact his vengeance. Tiger Shark has never been afraid to engage in battle with Namor--but even he was smart enough to know that he should lay low for awhile until Namor had given up the hunt for him. And so he's secluded himself in a cave underneath Niagara Falls, until the heat is off.

But aside from murderous criminals and honeymooners, guess who else has a hankering to take in the Falls?

No, the incredible Hulk isn't gunning for Tiger Shark, though heaven help the newlyweds who have picked this moment in time to enjoy the scenery. The happy couple featured here is Glenn Talbot and his bride, Betty Ross, who have finally married since the Hulk had been presumed dead and Talbot, who had long pined for Betty, struck while the iron was hot. As for how the heck the Hulk could possibly know the two were honeymooning at Niagara Falls, he has the Abomination to thank for spilling the beans.

The Hulk's childlike reasoning is of course flawed--and, for Talbot, potentially dangerous. Fortunately, the Hulk has no idea that the Falls are near Buffalo, nor would he likely know where Buffalo is. The only way Talbot's luck could change would be if the Hulk reverted back to Bruce Banner, and Banner retained the lingering notion that the Hulk had been worried about Betty and that the brute was urgently trying to reach Niagara Falls, and that he happened to have some travelers cheques pinned inside his pocket for those occasions when he'd need money. But come on, that's not going to...

Yikes! Start packing, Mr. and Mrs. Talbot--your worst nightmare is on the way!
(Let's hope they have enough sense not to burst out in laughter at Banner's choice in fashion.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

One Life To Change The World

The 2007 series Bullet Points, while squarely falling into the category of a What If tale, has the advantage of being presented as a five-issue limited series, allowing it to take its time as it makes its way through four decades of Marvel history--a method of presentation which avoids cramming a dizzying number of alternate events into one issue and, in the process, reducing their impact on the reader. The story is definitely a notch or two above the typical What If tales that were released in the late '70s and '80s; yet while there is no Watcher who narrates the story and guides us through this book's startling developments, you'll find that it eventually takes on the same characteristics of its predecessors by the time it reaches its conclusion, as it suddenly turns to make its climax a spectacle of elements that had, up to that point, been so carefully and sensibly presented. That said, the bulk of its story is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read that is so well-handled in both story and art that it's a pleasure to simply take your time with it and allow it to do what most stories strive to accomplish: to hold your attention and make you feel for its characters.

Written by J. Michael Straczynski with art by Tommy Lee Edwards, Bullet Points follows the lives of four individuals--Steve Rogers, Reed Richards, and Peter Parker, and, to a certain extent, Bruce Banner--whose histories are radically different from what seasoned readers may be familiar with, all due to a single incident from the past. As for the series' unusual title, it's understandable if your first thought is of the bullet points commonly used in documents to list key points of a subject or discussion, followed by finding yourself perplexed as to how that relates to a comic book story. Instead, Straczynski uses the deadly efficiency of a bullet striking its target as a lead-in to illustrate how bullets--in some cases a single bullet--have been used throughout human history to cause death as well as change, with many of those deaths leading to unexpected historical consequences.

For instance, there likely aren't too many people familiar with Captain America who are unaware of Project: Rebirth and Abraham Erskine's assassination by a Nazi agent, thereby causing Steve Rogers to be the only person to receive Erskine's super-soldier serum. That agent fired a number of bullets in that hidden chamber that day--but Straczynski needs only one to make his, er, point.

It's Erskine's death--or, rather, the date of Erskine's death--that becomes this story's point of divergence from actual events in our reality and thus sets the tone for what's to come. As for how the plot ties into the series title's origin, the association with the bullet points of a document seems intentional, perhaps as a hook of some sort that takes advantage of the phrase's familiarity--though Edwards' graphic of a slumped body in someone's crosshairs on the first issue's cover, as well as what appears to be a gunshot impact in the masthead, completes the picture well enough.

Soon enough, it becomes clear that Erskine meets his death just as he did in the original story. But this time, he'll have company.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Will Cast Spells For Change

It's an unexpected pleasure to profile another of the Stan Lee Meets... series from 2006-07, where Lee meets and chats with a handful of Marvel characters, an issue at a time, with one or two supplemental stories of the same flavor included. I honestly hadn't expected to return to the series, putting as much stock as it does in the novelty of Lee meeting with his creations, which on its face doesn't seem like much of a draw. An interesting question to ponder might be whether this series would be so entertaining if the reader didn't get the "inside joke" and had no idea who the actual Stan Lee was or how he relates to Marvel Comics, but of course that wouldn't likely be the case. Lee developed each of these characters from the ground up--and while each story is told from a humorous angle rather than a nostalgic one, it still boils down to a bit of harmless fun and, needless to say, very light reading.

Previously we took a look at Lee meeting up with the Silver Surfer; this time, though, Lee takes a turn toward the occult, even if it's not quite what even he expects to find.

Friday, September 15, 2017

This Evil Recycled

Other than the frightful visage of Ultron, you probably don't see any similarities between these two Avengers covers:

Ah, but on the inside, their stories may ring familiar, at least at first.

Since his last appearance in the mag, Ultron has not only returned from the "dead" but also made the rounds in a few other Marvel titles before finally ending up in a 1999 tale by Kurt Busiek and George Perez--the latter who, of course, has rendered Ultron's battles in several Avengers stories and knows his way around the metal monster's history. In fact, his memory may be a little too sharp when it comes to an Ultron tale. For instance, in the prior tale, the Avengers know that danger is afoot when an exhausted Wasp crashes through one of the windows at Avengers Mansion:

A method of entry which, nearly twenty years later, Perez obviously figures "if it ain't broke... er, break it again."

As is evident, both stories have disaster striking at Hank Pym's lab, though there is a change in venue. At first, Hank prefers to do his lab work at home, where a robot has broken in:

While in 1999, he's moved to Nugent Technologies--still in New Jersey, but definitely not in a district zoned as residential.  Fortunately, robots don't care either way.

We know that Jan had a distinguished stint as Avengers Chairwoman--but sometimes she can't make a decision to save her life. In this case, she's flying roughly the same distance (from New Jersey) to the mansion--and we have to figure that, due to the emergency, she was flying as fast as she could. Above, though, she's too frantic to use the mansion's door... but, previously, she chalks her haste up to exhaustion (though not too exhausted to generate a bio-electric blast powerful enough to smash open a large window).

Regardless, the fact remains that, even after over nineteen years have passed, Perez still draws one heck of an Avengers story--and certainly one heck of an Ultron story, with he and Busiek having perfect chemistry when it comes to this team of heroes. From the double-page spread of the splash page... the beautiful panels of the Avengers' battle with the second bride of Ultron, the deliciously evil Alkhema.

(For the confused among you who are wondering just what Captain America is using as both a defensive and offensive weapon, that would be his energy shield.)

Last time, the Scarlet Witch was cheated out of the opportunity to battle Ultron once more, and, unfortunately, no luck here, as well. But the cocky Alkhema will find that Wanda is eager to make up for lost time, regardless of what adamantium-constructed foe is challenging her.

And just for future reference, Alkhema--nobody likes a smart mouth.

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