Monday, July 31, 2017

The Deadly Grip of The Crusher(s)!

If you're a super-villain, chances are that, if you name yourself the Crusher, you're probably going to find yourself being the Crushee more often than the other way around. But fortunately that hasn't stopped a number of Marvel characters from taking up the name, as well as the challenge of living up to such an intimidating moniker. Regrettably, however, many of them have fallen short--but it sure wasn't for lack of trying. And trying. And trying. So who are the notable figures in this roster?

There was, of course, the most recognizable Crusher, though for his villain name he preferred something more in line with his super-power:  the Absorbing Man!

Though he definitely makes a strong start out of the gate whenever he explodes into a fight, the Absorbing Man almost always gets his shiny head handed to him in his ill-fated battles--but, despite his many setbacks and sooner or later being on the receiving end of a thrashing, he takes a licking but keeps on kicking. What a trouper.

Thor has run into his share of Crushers in his time. One of the briefest of those meetings was when he journeyed to Hades on behalf of his new friend, Hercules, and ran into this upstart:

Pivoting to the Egyptian pantheon and their own underlings, you'd expect a foe calling himself "the God-Crusher" to live up to his name--and during a fierce battle with the forces of Seth, Thor gets his wish and indeed finds his mettle tested, and then some.

Thor eventually had his reckoning with Grog, who would have to unfortunately uncheck Thor from his "crushed" list. (Cheer up, Grog! There are plenty of other gods for you to try your hand at crushing.)

In a prior story, when the Destroyer came calling during an Asgardian tournament, there was another Crusher who mainly used the name as a description for how tough he was--that is, until he was schooled by a certain Asgardian.

Perhaps the earliest Marvel character who, like Creel, was a prison inmate nicknamed Crusher, was one who hailed from Marvel's Golden Age and happened to take issue with being singed by the original Human Torch. (On an unrelated note, he also would have made a prime candidate for speech therapy.)

At times the word "Crusher" wasn't always attached to villains, though it just wasn't the same seeing the term applied to hardware.

But one non-villain who did the name proud was Crusher Hogan, who can always count as a feather in his cap the day when he ushered the amazing Spider-Man into the annals of comics history.

There's a little more to Crusher's story down the road--but let's just say he's the one member of this group who gets the happy ending he deserves.

That's only half true for this next perp, who things end badly for twice but who likely won't receive an ounce of sympathy from anyone as far as being undeserving of his fate.

Friday, July 28, 2017

"In Battle Joined!"

Writer Roy Thomas often indulged in crossovers back in the day, even before they were formally referred to as such--and a stand-out from mid-1968 was the face-off between the Avengers and the X-Men, bringing the two teams together again 2½ years after their initial clash but this time with the X-Men of course facing a different Avengers lineup. And that lineup had gone through yet another change only recently, which served as the link between the two stories--the departure of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, after Wanda had suffered a gunshot wound to her head and her brother Pietro had blamed human antipathy toward mutants for the act (though it was all due to manipulation by Magneto, who had been lobbying for the two to rejoin him).

With Wanda recovering on Magneto's island base, the X-Men have gone in search of Magneto after hearing reports of his return, and are captured. The Angel, however, escapes and flies off to seek help from the Avengers--while Cyclops manages to escape captivity and searches Magneto's stronghold for his teammates. Unfortunately, he runs into someone else, whose loyalties are in question but who means to prevent Cyclops from freeing his friends--and this action-packed two-parter kicks into high gear!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Colors Of Doomsday!

The cover to Fantastic Four #77 remains one of the more colorful examples of artist Jack Kirby's work on the title, with its striking use of red to highlight not only the lab machinery of the story's villain, Psycho-Man, but also the villain himself. Without a production copy of the cover to possibly offer more information, it's unclear whether those choices were made by Kirby or the issue's colorist; but as a footnote to the PPC's recent review of the story, it might be interesting to take another look at the cover alongside its sister cover from its reprint in Marvel's Greatest Comics, published seven years later in 1975, which makes some noticeable changes that are apparent at first glance.

With the change in Psycho-Man's coloring being the most obvious, it's compelling to speculate on why he might have been originally cast in red. With his lab and equipment similarly cast, the uniformity no doubt adds to the framing of the entire cover as it sections off the different aspects of the story within. We could also assume that whatever intense energies Psycho-Man is unleashing so determinedly with his equipment are being reflected on his form and in the immediate vicinity of the room in a blazing shade of red. (Maybe the cover caption should instead read, "...Shall This Lab Endure?")

With the substitution of the MGC masthead and the change in its background color--as well as the loss of Kirby's detailing of Psycho-Man's equipment--only sparse elements of that detailing remain, too few to perhaps justify giving Psycho-Man the same coloring, though you could also assume that the decision might have been made to make this 7-year-old story's villain more distinctive for newer readers. (His hue has also been adjusted in his clash with the Torch.) And while on rare occasion the raiment of Galactus has been rendered in a darker color, the MGC cover has updated it to be more consistent with the character in later appearances (while his eyes have received a little touching up, as well).

The backgrounds and coloring in the various segments have also been altered. The ceiling detailing in the Torch area is touched up a bit, while the background coloring in all the segments is substantially adjusted for no discernible reason (with the exception of the Surfer's background, which gives more of a sense of the character being in space). The three FF members in the upper left segment lose almost all of the area's "Kirby krackle" effect, perhaps because of the intrusion of the MGC masthead, while the new coloring of Psycho-Man's machine tendrils are shifted to a black hue in that portion so as not to clash with the coloring of the FF's uniforms, presumably.

Changes have also been made with the addition of two extra captions--the Surfer's taking advantage of the character's selling power, now a figure well established with readers since his appearance in the original story. "When Strikes Psycho-Man...", however, though likely intended to link up with the caption beneath, appears to be a pointless insertion--its styling making it seem as if even the caption is unsure of its own impact. On an unrelated note, I still have a quibble about one portion of Kirby's original work--the fact that the two segments featuring the male members of the FF seem almost redundant. Do we really need to see the Thing gasping twice? With the bold caption "...Shall Earth Endure?" being the only wording present on the cover to entice the reader, why not substitute the lower left segment with a scene that features, for example, the people of Earth fearful of their approaching fate?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Rise Of The Red Hulk!

We've already seen the life and career of Gen. Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross dragged down by his relentless pursuit of the incredible Hulk, a situation he had virtually made his peace with by the end of the run of the book by offering words to that effect to his deceased daughter, Betty, who had been killed by the Abomination. By that time, Ross's fruitless encounters with the Hulk had taken their toll on the old soldier. After he had been merged with the electrical creature known as Zzzax, and once again failed to destroy the Hulk, he lost his own life attempting to save Betty from a mind-usurping mutant; but he was subsequently retrieved by the Leader and made to serve him as the Redeemer. Once more defeated by the Hulk, Ross was later made whole again--but the wheels had been set in motion to bring Ross much closer to being able to deal with his green-hued enemy once and for all.

And when it came to Ross gaining the power he needed to destroy the Hulk, "hue" is indeed the operative word here.

There's no doubt that, with the appearance of the so-called "Red Hulk," the 2008 Hulk series breathed new life into the character, one who appeared to have changed so radically. The Hulk had last appeared in the epic World War Hulk crossover event, in which he returned from his exile from Earth to claim his vengeance against those he held responsible for the tragedy he'd suffered. Created by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, the new Hulk's origin was shrouded in mystery for nearly two years (with no small thanks to one or two red herrings thrown our way), the better to milk his appearances in his own title as well as in others for all they were worth.

During that time, the Red Hulk trampled his opposition with ease, no matter how powerful his foes. It's part of the reason I'd stopped buying the book, since Loeb's approach was to basically have the Red Hulk arrogantly pound his opponents into the ground just to take advantage of the shock value, only to up the ante and make the threat against him next time seem more certain to put him down. The Red Hulk carved a swath of destruction through the heavy hitters of the Marvel lineup--and if you're decking the Watcher, it appeared that no stone was going to be left unturned.

Unlike the "Hulk will smash!" creature we're more familiar with, the Red Hulk proved to be canny and calculating, with power to spare as well as the ability to absorb energy from others. His prime opponent, the Hulk, was dealt with fairly early in the title--and from that point, facing further opposition was no sweat.

And then came... perhaps to no one's surprise... the Red She-Hulk, given life by the same procedure that created her predecessor. The twist to this character was that she was revealed to be none other than Betty Ross--and when she defeats the Red Hulk, we at last learn his identity, a revelation which lends new meaning to the phrase "all in the family."

And so Ross relives the events that brought him to this point. From his time as the Redeemer: when he is restored to his original form--though now with his path set to put an end to what had become the bane of his existence, despite his comforting words to his daughter.

Through flashbacks, we discover that by the time the Hulk had returned to Earth from his forced exile, Ross's life had unraveled in his eyes. His daughter dead... himself having committed treason... Captain America, a hero and patriot he greatly admired, assassinated... Ross felt he no longer had a purpose. While drowning his sorrows at a bar, he's paid a call by the Leader and M.O.D.O.K., part of a cabal known as the Intellgencia--and they make him an offer that he finds hard to refuse, planning for the day when the Hulk returns to Earth to plague the human race once more.

And so the alliance comes to pass--and the Intelligencia is prepared when Tony Stark, at the culmination of the Sentry's battle with the Hulk, triggers a satellite to down the monster, though unknown to Stark the Hulk's energies are siphoned and put to use elsewhere.

In time, however, the original Hulk engaged the Red Hulk in a rematch--and the Intelligencia's plan for Ross fails because of their hired muscle's one weakness, which Betty kindly recaps for her beleaguered father...

...a weakness which the original Hulk exploited to achieve victory.

Following his defeat, the Intelligencia promptly washes its collective hands of the Red Hulk. (I know the feeling. By this time, I couldn't have cared less about the Red Hulk, the Green Hulk, or even Ross, who made his bed and was welcome to sleep in it.) But with the help of Bruce Banner, the Red Hulk goes on to defeat their immediate plans--and then seizes the White House in yet another act of treason, with the original Hulk putting an end to his bid for power. From there, hoping for redemption, the Red Hulk turns to Captain America, who taps him for the Avengers after once again dealing with the Intelligencia.

The Red Hulk kept his hold on the Hulk title until the end of its run in late 2012. The last time I touched base with the character, he was experiencing a bit of karma when the tables were turned and he found himself hounded by his own military nemesis--specifically, General Fortean, who vowed to take him down. "It's classic Hulk big action that breaks new ground [emphasis added]--breaks it to pieces, really," said writer Jeff Parker--but, haven't we been to this party before?

A checklist of the many, many mags that gave the Red Hulk a truckload of exposure--
and Marvel's coffers a considerable infusion.

Monday, July 24, 2017

"...To The Ends Of The Earth!"

There's no denying that General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross spent a great deal of his later career pursuing and attacking the man-monster known as the Hulk--but on occasion, he found himself in the awkward position of needing to use a carrot instead of a stick with the green goliath in order to attempt to make peace with him (or at the very least, settle for d├ętente). It would take the entire run of the second volume of Incredible Hulk before Ross and Bruce Banner were able to bury the hatchet to any extent, made possible in part by how much each of these men had lost along the way. Until then, Ross's moments of civility with the Hulk were few and far between, mostly due to the fact that the General was forced by both the Hulk's aggressive nature--as well as what he viewed as his daughter's misguided feelings for Banner--to come after the Hulk with cannons blazing. But the moments of reconsideration, albeit brief ones, were there. And their circumstances, like the Hulk himself, were tragic in nature.

Interestingly, when Ross chose to take a direct hand in smoothing things over with the Hulk, it was a third party that intervened and spoiled his good intentions, a staple of any continuing drama that seeks to prolong its conflict. For instance, when the Hulk's good friend, Jim Wilson, was seriously wounded in an encounter with the hordes of Hydra, we saw Ross locate him along with his rescuer--the Hulk, who knew that Jim needed help but of course had no clue as to what to do. At that point, the Hulk was willing to grasp at any straw to help his friend--but to his mind, good Samaritans weren't usually accompanied by military planes swarming overhead.

Thanks to Jim's timely intervention, Ross not only gets to live but he also has the opportunity to make headway with the Hulk in a more direct way than he's ever attempted before. It's a curious sight to take in, since there's no apparent reason for Ross to make the effort. The Hulk, after all, will eventually revert to Banner, the person who's the real key for Ross in making progress in dealing with the ongoing Hulk situation--and in the interim, as long as Banner remains himself, there is no rampaging Hulk for Ross to corral. It would be understandable if Ross attempted to strike up a trusting dialog with the Hulk if lives were in immediate danger--but with Jim safely on his way to a hospital, that isn't the case here. The only other reason to do so would be in the hope of getting the Hulk to revert to Banner; instead, however, it's solely the Hulk that Ross wants to deal with.

Unfortunately, "trigger-happy" is an all-too-familiar phrase in delicate military operations--and Ross's good intentions are derailed in less than a minute.

Ross gets another crack at putting aside his differences with the Hulk after the brute saves the Hulkbuster Base from the siege of the Rhino and the Abomination--and yet again, the decision is taken out of Ross's hands.

For better or worse, we see Ross definitely acting a little more G.I. towards the Hulk in other encounters--making sure civilians aren't put in harm's way, while taking every opportunity to capture and detain the Hulk. One such opportunity arrives when a decision is made by the Attorney General to prosecute Banner for the reckless actions of the Hulk--a decision which Ross is conflicted about, but he does his job in securing Banner for a flight to Las Vegas. For his defense, Banner chooses defense attorney Matt Murdock, who insists during the flight that Banner's sedation be ceased so that he's able to understand the charges against him. That indeed proves as disastrous as it sounds, when Banner's nerves cause him to change into the Hulk at 40,000 feet, and all hell--er, Hulk breaks loose. But, feeling responsible for the situation, Murdock acts to gain the Hulk's trust.

This time, though, the shoe is on the other foot--and Ross, acting out of concern for Murdock's safety, fails to let the moment play out and moves instead to get Murdock out of harm's way, harm that a betrayed and now enraged Hulk seems almost certain to deliver.

Given the government's desire to have Banner be held accountable for the Hulk's actions, clemency seems unlikely from the Justice Department, much less the White House--but a full pardon offer has been extended to the Hulk on two separate occasions. In neither instance was Ross in favor of the decision, though he carried out the decision of his Commander In Chief; but with the first pardon he was given a great deal of discretion in the matter. Saving the city of New York from a deadly missile and subsequently defeating a humanoid creation of the Leader named the "Hulk-Killer," the Hulk awakens to find himself the man of the hour in the public's eyes (and in those of the President, who's come to realize that the Hulk isn't dangerous so much as misunderstood), but becomes agitated by all the attention from the growing crowd--and the villain known as Boomerang, seeking his revenge, takes advantage of the situation to once more make the Hulk an outcast.

Regrettably, the courier brings news of the President's pardon, which is now a moot point.  With Ross empowered to make the call, the Hulk's recognition as a hero is quickly over and done with.

Later, the time would come when the Hulk was controlled by the mind of Banner, who, with Reed Richards' help, petitioned the government for a full pardon. Ross is again given a say on the subject, but is dead-set against it--yet this time the decision is not his to make.  And with a stroke of a pen, the deed is done.

(Nice symmetry for Mr. Murdock, eh?)

Regrettably, we know how badly things turned out for the Hulk, thanks to the entity known as Nightmare.  The Hulk becomes savage and uncontrollable once more--and sympathy from either the general public or the government seems unlikely to ever be offered again.

With two strikes against the Hulk, it goes without saying that each of the presidential orders of amnesty had been premature; and matters certainly didn't improve with the events of World War Hulk, when Ross received a communique from the White House voicing much different sentiments this time.  And in response, Ross brings himself full circle.

The "apocalypse Ross" scene is a far cry from eight years prior, where we came to the end of the regular book's run in 1999 and a scene that occurred following Banner and Ross finally coming to terms--as Ross returns to the person whose orbit he, the Hulk, and Banner all circled. It's a scene where Ross puts his enmity aside--at least for now.

War has indeed been hell for this soldier. But is Ross's war with the Hulk truly over?

 If you can't beat 'im, join 'im!