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.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

This Evil Undying!

For those readers who enjoyed the appearance of Ultron during Jim Shooter's run on The Avengers, where the metal monster seemed to finally meet his end in a staggered four-issue story that culminated in a pitched battle at (of all places) a nunnery, his reappearance in the mag thirty issues later was likely met with anticipation of a similar saga taking place--especially with artist George Perez once more handling the art, while writer David Michelinie would be basing his script on a short story by Shooter. Yet high expectations may be one of the reasons why this story may have been met with disappointment by some, playing as it does on the return of one of the Avengers' deadliest and most persistent enemies but limiting the character's threat to barely over one issue.

Ultron, as most are aware, owes his indestructibility to... well, he certainly owes it in part to his ability to rise again from the ashes, or the shards, or the fragments, or from whatever explosive and devastating fate he suffered in battle with the Avengers. Ironically, though, he has a human scientist to thank for the true reason why he's so formidable a foe. At the early stages of his development, this self-evolved robot's sole weakness could be found in the twin electrodes at each side of his skull; but after seeking out the metal known as adamantium and using it to form a new body for himself, Ultron made himself impervious to any physical force used against him. That and his designs on the human race make him a near-perfect and perpetual enemy for the Avengers, since he can challenge and overcome even their strongest members.

In the past, Ultron's plans have required the Avengers to bring their A-game--not only in their inevitable confrontation with him, but in trying to piece together what he's after and what his ultimate goal is. What will be the key to beating him, they end up asking themselves, yet being forced for the most part to play it by ear--bravely battling him in the face of almost certain death. In their last encounter with Ultron, the Avengers found that one of their own, the Scarlet Witch, held the key to his defeat: her mysterious hex power, known for disrupting probability, caused a malfunction in the device within him that allows him to rearrange the molecular cohesion of his adamantium body, thus making him vulnerable to attack. That precedent virtually ties the hands of any scripter who features Ultron in an Avengers story where Wanda is part of the team lineup, assuming that Ultron hasn't compensated for it in some way (which indeed occurred in a later story, for all the good it did his second bride, Alkhema). Here, however, the fact that Wanda has the ability to stop Ultron practically forms the core of this tale; so the challenge for Michelinie will be how to craft an interesting story, knowing that going in.

Whether he succeeds or not is debatable. But he does have one thing in his favor: Ultron himself, a character whose reputation as one of the Avengers' most daunting foes precedes him.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Enemy Of The State

During the early issues of the Black Panther title which launched in late 1998, the Panther once more finds himself in the United States, in what becomes mostly a focus by writer Christopher Priest on Wakanda's sovereignty and the political conflicts that have been ongoing with the U.S.--disagreements which have been coming to a head due to Wakanda's policy of not sharing its technology with other nations as well as remaining mum on its strategic and tactical capabilities, while keeping a tight rein on sales of its highly-sought vibranium ore. But the Panther has also had to deal with internal struggles. While T'Challa has been occupied stateside, a man named Achebe stages a coup that allows him to usurp the throne of Wakanda--though eventually a compromise is reached where Achebe is allowed the role of Prime Minister while sharing power with the Panther's stepmother, under the condition that the Panther remains in the U.S.

There's little doubt that Achebe, whose hold on sanity is tenous (he once sold his soul to Mephisto, which should tell you something), will eventually move to be crowned King--and as he prepares to do just that, he makes an assassination attempt on the Panther during a night of civil unrest and rioting in New York, which the Avengers help to quell. But while the Panther exchanges words with Achebe, who contributed to the carnage by also placing bombs among the crowds, an open comm link with his teammates results in secret information being disclosed regarding the Panther's original motives for joining the Avengers--information that will put his relationship with his friends and allies on shaky ground.

Monday, September 11, 2017

This Fatal Fury!

It's been a demolishing few issues for Thor, the God of Thunder, who strives alone to overcome his despot half-brother, Loki, after he usurped the rule of Odin by taking possession of a single piece of jewelry--the Odin-Ring, which, by law, makes its wearer the lord of Asgard while also bestowing a portion of Odin's might. Forced to retire to his chamber and undergo the Odin-sleep, Odin is removed from the ensuing chaos for the duration, while Thor was compelled to deal with a deadly, destructive creation of Loki and his ally, Karnilla, the Queen of the Norns--Durok the Demolisher, whose mandate by Loki is to annihilate all mankind on the planet Earth and, in so doing, bring about the death of Thor, who would naturally act in their defense.

On Earth, Thor found Durok to be a formidable foe, whose strength exceeded his own and who could even resist the impact of his mystic hammer. But as Loki transported Durok to different locales as he continued to toy with Thor, he added to Thor's frustrations when he announced that he would wed Thor's beloved, the lady Sif, while Thor was left with no choice but to remain on Earth and continue to attempt to stop Durok's onslaught. Meanwhile, Thor's friend, Balder the Brave, prevented from helping Thor directly, entreated the Silver Surfer to battle Durok at Thor's side; but the Surfer went a step further and vowed to stop Durok, discharging Thor from his duty and leaving the Thunder God free to return to Asgard to battle Loki anew.

But Thor, battle-weary after fighting to reach his half-brother, was overwhelmed by the power of the ring and rendered helpless, as a trio of storm giants closed in to seal his fate--a death that seemed doubly certain to occur with Thor's contact with his hammer severed and his transformation to his mortal self, Donald Blake, imminent.*

*We'll have to cut new Thor scripter Gerry Conway some slack for the oversight that Thor has no such handicap while in Asgard; though it's also possible that artist John Buscema mistakenly drew the scene thus without any direction from Conway.

The odds surely seem to be against Thor escaping certain death, and even more against Blake should he appear in Thor's place. Has Loki won at last?

Not if Thor has anything to say about it, according to this issue's furious cover.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Day Of The Demolisher!

A monster walks among us! Truer words were never spoken of Durok, the Demolisher, sent to Earth to destroy anything and everything, as part of a plan by the evil Loki to draw the mighty Thor to a certain death. But let's let the splash page to Part 2 of this story bring us up to date:

(No, I don't know why Balder the Brave is looking in our direction. Hey, bub, it's not up to us to pull your friend's fat out of the fire!)

As much as we have to sympathize with the people of Earth right now, things are looking dire for the Asgardians, as well, since a madman now sits the throne and Odin's law demands that Loki, the wearer of the Odin-ring, be obeyed. But unlike Balder, who has pledged his loyalty to Karnilla, Queen of the Norns and ally of Loki, there are those who refuse to just stand by while Loki leads them all to dishonor and most likely destruction. For instance, Thor's beloved, the Invisible Girl the lady Sif, doesn't stand by at all--she slouches in despair and helplessness, because crumbling in tears is how even female goddesses behave to writer Stan Lee's way of thinking. But others, such as Thor's comrades, the Warriors Three, have no intention of turning away to sob when they can still act.

Brava, Sif! Glad you remembered that Asgardians live to dare.

But the danger to Earth--and to Thor--remains, as this issue's cover heralds the battle to come.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A Time Of Evil!

Almost immediately following the dramatic turn of events where Odin, the All-Father had stepped in to save his son Thor from the deadly clutches of Hela, the Goddess of Death, both father and son found a new challenge awaiting them within the halls of Asgard: Odin's adopted son, the evil Loki, had seized the throne by donning the Odin-Ring, which not only compels all Asgardians to give their loyalty and service to the wearer but which also apparently channels a measure of Odin's own power through it. And with Loki now the ring's master, the implications for Asgard are dire indeed, as even Odin must concede--for it's his own law that forces even the once-Lord of Asgard to heed the commands of he who wears the ring imperial.

Undoubtedly, investing such power in a piece of jewelry that could be stolen by anyone who wants to usurp the rule of Asgard without raising an army or brandishing a single blade wasn't one of Odin's wiser moments.

This 1971 story marks long-time Thor writer Stan Lee's final tale for the book (though Lee scripts the title's 200th issue, in what looks to be an inventory story inserted in the midst of new series writer Gerry Conway's Pluto story). For comics readers who were reading other titles of Marvel's books during this time, the style of the story takes some getting used to, since it comes at a time when Marvel is experimenting with toning down its frequent use of exclamation points, while (initially) substituting no other punctuation at all. The result is that some dialog falls flat where it shouldn't.

As an example, take the scene where Odin raises a rash hand at Thor's insistence that they strike back at Loki's power play. Lee's script would be otherwise sufficient for the moment, yet there is nothing to *ahem* punctuate the emotions in play.

But with some adjustments, the scene is given more spark that helps to strike the balance that Marvel is looking for.

Of course, punctuation is the last thing on the minds of the Asgardians at this tense moment--and the issue's striking cover gives us an idea of what stakes are involved, and just how far Loki is willing to go in not only solidifying his grab for power, but in fatally dealing with the brother that he has long despised.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Power vs. Power!

Following issue #16 of Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, the title character was crumpling his copy of "The Daily Bugle" and venting his frustrations while wondering how he could latch onto his share of the press that all of the other comic book titles heroes in New York City were benefiting from. Welllll, just a thought, Mr. Cage, but could your fellow heroes be enjoying public acclaim because they don't list their services in the Yellow Pages? Incredibly, that thought doesn't even cross your mind, as you go down the list of ways you could change your image.

Finally, it's during a battle with a foe who had manipulated you into battling Iron Man when inspiration strikes:

Ordinarily, the name that Cage has stumbled on might do the trick. "Power Man" is certainly news-ready, and is bound to elicit more favorable attention than someone who fights the good fight as a hero for hire. Unfortunately, there's already someone who was given the name (by a goddess, no less) that Cage wants to claim for his own--someone whose criminal career has hit the skids and isn't about to let his name be usurped by a johnny-come-lately who wants to use it to build his rep.

In other words, get ready to rumble, Cage!

(By the way, have fun explaining to the press why you chose a villain's name as your new handle!)

Monday, September 4, 2017

One Linguine Team-Up and a side of Fantastic Fries, please!

In 1998, Universal Studios in Hollywood opened a new theme restaurant/bar with no small amount of fanfare--but then, what other kind of opening would you expect of something involving Marvel Comics?

And gee, did Marvel Mania (not to be confused with Marvelmania) sound like a great place to stop in for a burger while you were spending the afternoon seeing the sights of Universal, judging by its press release:

A "Marvel-ous" Place to Eat: Southern California restaurant goers can now tell their waiter to "Make mine Marvel" when they go out and eat at Marvel Mania at Universal Studios in Universal City. Owned by Marvel Comics*, the theme restaurant is patterned after other successful eateries like The Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood, and offers fans a wide variety of comic-related activities and delicious food.

*A slight exaggeration; Marvel Mania was reportedly co-owned and operated with Universal Studios Hollywood and Planet Hollywood.

Highlights include a mini-museum, gift shop, game room and bar. Fans can purchase everything from videos and T-shirts to comic book art and mouse pads, all featuring classic Marvel comic heroes.

Favorites on the Marvel Mania menu include various "Stanwiches" (named after Marvel Founder and comic book legend Stan Lee), Captain America burgers and Fantastic Four Cheese Pizza. The servings are generous and will satisfy even the heartiest of super-hero appetites. Kids of all ages also will enjoy watching television series and films based on Marvel characters on big-screen TVs while they eat.

The younger set will enjoy seeing their favorite Marvel super heroes in person as costumed characters make the rounds posing for pictures. Thankfully, no super villains have yet been sighted!

And of course Stan Lee, in his dusted-off Stan's Soapbox column, couldn't help but give it a rave:

But, hold on a minute--did that release mention Planet Hollywood? The same Planet Hollywood that declared bankruptcy twice, and whose nearly 100 former locations (emphasis on the word "former," with many falling under the category of "planned" or "proposed" and never opening) have since been scaled back to around 9? It turns out the timing of Marvel Mania opening its doors was unfortunate, since Planet Hollywood was taking a beating in the late '90s financially. The company had gone public in mid-1996; but starting in '97, it entered into some some failed start-ups based on its brand, and suffered more losses by expanding too quickly, both domestically and internationally. By 1999, its share price had sunk to less than $1.00. You can probably guess the fate of Marvel Mania, celebrating its opening in February of '98 only to be shuttered in September of '99 after less than two years in operation.

The facade that once showcased Marvel Mania went through several different makeovers over the years, as one attraction after another occupied the 25,000-square-foot facility where you used to be able to stop in for a "Cap's Battle Burger." Thanks to "The History of Universal's House of Horrors," we have an idea of what occurred following Marvel Mania's unceremonious end.

The building in which House of Horrors is located can be traced back to the beginning of the Entertainment Visitor’s Center (otherwise known today as the Upper Lot). With such famous restaurants as Victoria’s Station and Marvel Mania, this location was primarily built for one purpose--to be a restaurant. Marvel Mania (which was far before its time) was a heavily themed restaurant operated by the Planet Hollywood franchise company. With financial difficulties plaguing the company, the Marvel Mania Restaurant was closed without notice to its employees after the summer of 1999--operating less than a year. [sic]

With small traces of the Marvel Mania building being removed, the venue remained dormant for the off-season of 1999 and reopened as a behind-the-scenes attraction known as the Chicken Run Maze in June of 2000--utilizing only one level. Even the Marvel Mania carpet and restrooms remained themed to Marvel Mania, though the area was not accessible to the public.

Of all the facilities that rose in Marvel Mania's place, Universal's House of Horrors appeared to be the most successful, its entrance ringing slightly familiar to those who remember dining at Marvel Mania towards the end of the 20th century.

And speaking of dining, let's crack open one of those menus!

(They even had a special menu for kids.)

Artist Chris Bachalo also rendered a poster for the opening.

From what I understand, the "Marvel Mania" concept was later adapted by Universal to welcome visitors to a simple theme store (though the Universal park in Orlando would allocate a more generous amount of space to Marvel's characters).

(Chances are Disney puts them both to shame.)

No doubt there would be Marvelites in '98 with their cameras rolling at this place, eh?

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