Wednesday, February 28, 2018

This Hero Forsaken!

Whether we're talking about Leonard Tippit, Jason Beere, Yandroth, or some other poor devil, the idea of a single individual being responsible for the destruction of the Earth has proven to be very marketable for Marvel--thanks in part to the appropriately sensational covers which accompany such stories. So it's no surprise that the Avengers story that detailed the sad fate of the Eternity Man was followed by another such tale, exactly one year later--this time featuring a budding "super-hero" named Jeff Colt, who with no small amount of immodesty has named himself the "Anything" Man.

Unfortunately, being the catalyst for the destruction of the world falls under that pronoun's meaning.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

...If The Avengers Should Fail!

There was no shortage of Marvel inventory stories in the '70s and '80s, though I've always been curious as to how and why such stories turn out to be set aside in the first place. You could almost hear a collective groan from your fellow readers as you flipped open what you thought was the next issue of a story arc, only to find that a deadline problem had forced the substitution of a different story that had nothing to do with the previous issue. In many cases, it wasn't hard to see why the "placeholder" story never made it to the comics rack at the time it was worked on (though many of us could probably bring to mind some regular stories which would qualify for that dubious honor)--yet it seems unclear how you build a stock of "rainy day" stories in the first place. Presumably an inventory story is used because there wasn't time to complete the regular issue--but doesn't it take time to put together the stories that are shelved? And later, even if it's only the art that's ready to dust off and finally use, that still means snagging a writer and letterer (and perhaps a colorist and/or inker, depending on how much has been done) to complete the work.

It's an interesting process that no doubt has other factors involved, since we're talking about roughly twenty pages of work that would possibly never see the light of day. Perhaps the goal was to have something substantive to publish instead of offering yet another reprint of a classic tale--or worse, a reprint of a reprint. (The subject could probably even spawn a post of its own: "Does anyone actually have a favorite inventory story?" There are even a few such stories scattered in the PPC for the eagle-eyed among you.) Yet from a reader's perspective, it almost always seems as if you're getting a hand-me-down story, one which didn't make the grade for whatever reason but would do in a pinch.

The Avengers title must have had its own inventory shelf in the Marvel offices, as often as the book has had to shuffle in such tales. And given the turnover of membership in the group, it probably isn't possible to just pull any story off the shelf; for instance, if Hawkeye has stormed out and left the team, it would be absurd to see him present and accounted for in the substitute story and trading quips with everyone as if things were rosy. Somehow, it usually seems to work out in terms of which Avengers would need to be available when the need for an inventory story arises, so there's that.

In terms of the story featured here, things were just getting cranked up with both the Michael plot and the return of Ultron when the pause button is hit, and we suddenly shift to a core trio of Captain America, Iron Man, and the Black Panther, who come under attack from a threat that appears to have more than their deaths in mind.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Only The Strong Survive!

Following the Paris trial of the mutant known throughout the world as Magneto, the villain set aside his villainy for a time and became Headmaster of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters while Charles Xavier was off-world recovering from wounds he received during a brutal street mugging. It was a period of time when stories explored the character of Magneto as a less driven, less ruthless man whose tunnel vision had only allowed him to pursue an agenda that would force the human race to either recognize and submit to the race of homo superior, or suffer the consequences. With his new responsibilities as Headmaster, Magneto was forced to temper his hostility toward humans and instead work with both the X-Men and the school's young charges, the New Mutants, redirecting his energies towards their welfare while attempting to prove to heroes like the Avengers that he was a changed man.

Yet once Magneto had settled into his new role, there were no doubt a few of us who were surprised to see how quickly "changed" eventually came to mean "tamed," a word that was once considered unthinkable in association with the Master of Magnetism.

Ms. Hunter refers to a storyline where the New Mutants were missing and presumed dead by some; yet you've never seem a calmer Headmaster, nor a calmer former archcriminal whose reprisals had at one time been both immediate and terrifying.

Eventually, however, the honeymoon was over--thanks in part to the actions of the brutal Marauders, whose killing spree prompted Magneto to take a more proactive posture in safeguarding mutants, even to the point of forging an alliance with the Hellfire Club (on Storm's advice) and being elected as its new White King. Yet both Magneto and the Club's Black King, Sebastian Shaw, are ambitious, willful men who are accustomed to asserting their authority--and when the Marauders destroy Xavier's school, and the New Mutants refuse to have anything more to do with either Magneto or the Hellfire Club, Shaw seizes the opportunity to rid himself of Magneto, whom he feels has nothing left to bring to the Club's table.

But the rise of the Magneto of old is what truly begins to unfold here.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Tomb of Diablo!

The ambitious alchemist known as Diablo, introduced in late 1964, went on to have a successful run in Marvel's line of comics well into the next few decades--not bad for a villain whose primary ability was to whip up a potion that would alter the composition of any substance. If memory serves, my initial exposure to the character was in an issue of Marvel Collectors' Item Classics, a reprint mag that was recycling Fantastic Four tales. Luckily, it happened to be the issue that featured Diablo's first appearance, with a suitably striking introductory cover that appeared in both titles.

The MCIC cover has a little more to sell than its counterpart (not the least of which appears to be its massive logo), so Diablo's bold caption is reduced to half its size, while artist Jack Kirby's architectural touches are either adjusted in scope or omitted entirely (necessitating a slight change in the Torch's flight path). News of the Thing's transformation is also relocated in a less visible location in the bottom right corner, no longer sharing the fanfare that Diablo receives.

It's arguably the Thing's strange new circumstances which served as the issue's draw for FF readers; yet they were also treated to an equally compelling story involving a brand new villain who, as it turns out, was "stirring up" trouble for centuries before setting his sights on the Fantastic Four. Of course, that meant removing the FF from the big city and relocating them to a most unusual choice for a vacation spot.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

"Draw!" Cries The Stranger!

One of the "strangest" battles in comics (and it has some competition), 1976's "Shoot-Out at the O.K. Space Station!" is a bit of harmless fun on the part of writer Steve Englehart and artist Al Milgrom, while still figuring into the ongoing plot of the Supreme Intelligence which involves both Captain Marvel and his human companion, Rick Jones. And as both the title and the issue's cover make clear, the general theme of the story is taken from elements of Earth's old west: you'd best saddle up, pardners, 'cause there's a speck of trouble ahead.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Yuck! It's The Return Of The Glob!

It didn't seem likely that the incredible Hulk and the muck-monster known as the Glob would ever have a rematch, considering the burning swamp waters that appeared to seal the Glob's fate in their last encounter. It's also not too often that we would find the Hulk showing up in the Florida Everglades, though it's amazing just how much super-powered traffic that area is prone to. But it looks like the Glob has not only managed to rise again, but he's also decided to migrate to Los Angeles--and even for a city that has seen it all, this sight would likely have Angelinos heading for the hills.

Yet our story begins with Bruce Banner, wandering the countryside after the Hulk's battle with the Avengers and about to hitch a ride with one of his deadliest enemies. Though it may not appear that way, particularly when the driver seems to be clueless as to his own identity.

If this fellow's predicament seems a little familiar to you--and if his name rings a bell--then you're a lot closer than Banner is to solving the mystery of his amnesia. But the unveiling of this man's true self isn't long in coming--because although he isn't aware of it, his goal was to secure certain information from Banner as to whom the scientist felt friendship toward. And with that information now divulged, "Mr. Sterns" is no longer needed.

More often than not, the Leader has been as fixated on revenge against the Hulk as he is on conquest--so at times he goes to extraordinary lengths to strike back at the brute. As for what Banner could have told Sterns that would facilitate that revenge, it's a little surprising to find out just who--what--Banner feels he has a bond with.

Yet it's more accurate to say that it's the Hulk, not Banner, who feels a bond with the Glob, on the basis that he considers the two of them to be so alike in certain respects. That will prove to be both tragic and unfortunate, since, unlike the Hulk, the Glob will feel no compunction to go easy on his foe--in whatever form he finds him in.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Vipers of Venomm!

In Part 1 of writer Don McGregor's story in Jungle Action which, collectively, came to be known as "Panther's Rage," we saw the Black Panther face the formidable threat of Killmonger, only to be hurled over the precipice of Warrior Falls after barely surviving the attack of his foe's leopard. But the Panther's imminent death aside, we'll find that another is girding himself to bring the Panther's rule of Wakanda to an abrupt end--and T'Challa along with it.

This second installment of McGregor's tale introduces the man known as Venomm, whose skill and abilities appear to be self-explanatory. Granted, it's difficult to become all that excited about another villain who can control snakes, when Princess Python arguably set the bar so low; and if the Panther perishes from his plummet, Venomm perhaps wouldn't be tapped by Killmonger until the time came to move against central Wakanda in force. Still, those readers who are familiar with "Panther's Rage" in its entirety know that Venomm will become integral to its plot, if not in the way that we might expect.

As for the Panther, it seems we probably shouldn't count him out, either, thanks to (a) the fact that he is the Black Panther, (b) a bit of luck, and (c) a strong current that takes him right to his girlfriend.

Friday, February 16, 2018

When Awakens Wonder Man!

Notwithstanding the glimpse we saw of him as part of a plot involving the Grim Reaper which bargained to restore him to life, it took twelve years to the month for Marvel to truly resurrect the powerhouse known as Wonder Man, who originally helped to lure the Avengers into a trap set by the Masters of Evil only to betray those he served at the last minute and, consequently, pay the ultimate price for turning against them. Yet when he finally does reappear, showing up on the Avengers' doorstep in an eerie daze and accusing the Vision of stealing his mind, it's difficult to apply the word "living" to Wonder Man, since a voodoo priest called Black Talon has made him into a virtual zuvembie. Once the Avengers investigate and deal with Black Talon, they're left with a barely animated Wonder Man, who has escaped from Avengers Mansion and remains a mystery in both how he can be among the living, and who or what is responsible for his reappearance.

We know that Wonder Man went on to regain his faculties and even to become an Avenger, though he would be forced to admit the fact that even he was unsure of what form of life he had risen as. But thanks to the 1976 Avengers Annual, we can see the first steps he takes toward regaining his sense of self, and the life he forfeited a decade past. And as you might guess, it's one Avenger in particular who takes it upon himself to make sure he gets the chance.

Yet though the Beast and Wonder Man will some day strike up a close friendship, at this point it's unclear just what to expect from Wonder Man now that he's apparently free of Black Talon's influence. What is clear is that his incredible power remains--and that he's now acting under orders to destroy the Avengers.

It takes awhile for us to learn that it was the Grim Reaper who paid the Talon to raise Wonder Man from the dead (though it would eventually be revealed that the Reaper's plans vis-à-vis Black Talon were far more involved). Of course right now the Beast has other worries, such as how to stop this rampaging bruiser from putting him six feet under. Thanks to his agility, the Beast simply uses Wonder Man's own momentum against him.

Naturally, the Beast makes sure to secure medical attention for Wonder Man. But when the Annual cranks up later to include the Living Laser under the influence of the Serpent Crown, lo and behold it seems that Wonder Man has not only thrown off his funk (and his previous orders) and joined the Beast in a mission, but he's also making strides toward helping the team that he only recently targeted.

With everything happening off-panel, we're left to speculate* as to how Wonder Man could make this kind of leap so abruptly, as well as how he can shake off the orders of his "master" when earlier he was so adamant about carrying them out.

*Or, more likely, simply overlook.

With the mission over, an effort is at least made to make it clear that Wonder Man hasn't just "switched to" being one of the team, to say nothing of becoming a living human being with no questions asked. He has a ways to go--with himself, and with the Avengers.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Sub-Mariner Strikes!

It's interesting to read Fantastic Four #147 in hindsight, since we already know what Namor, the Sub-Mariner, is up to when he makes a blatantly aggressive move against the FF. And if you aren't aware of what he's up to, I'll withhold those details for now. (But hold that thought.) We'll just proceed as if you're laying eyes on it for the first time.

To bring everyone up to speed, however, here's how things break down:

  • As far as the FF know, Reed's estranged wife, Sue, has taken her son, Franklin, and retreated to a ranch owned by her friends, Bob and Carol Linders.
  • Johnny, Ben, and Medusa have just returned from a (heh heh) chilling encounter with Ternak.
  • In their absence, Reed has been served with divorce papers from said estranged wife.

It's a heck of a time for the Sub-Mariner to stir up trouble, but it looks like that's clearly what the issue's splash page is trying to convey.

I'd pay good money to actually hear Medusa try to whistle "I Wish I Was In Dixie," but something tells me traditional southern folk music never made its way to the Himalayas.

At any rate, the news serves as the catalyst for the hostilities that will break out later between Namor and the FF--because though all three of the new arrivals react to the depressing development which has Reed slumped in a chair, only one of them moves to do something about it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"Vengeance!" Cries The Ghost Rider!

It may be difficult to imagine the Ghost Rider, of all characters, giving the "big three" of the the Avengers a run for their money. That's not to disparage the Ghost Rider, having a respectful run of over eighty issues in his 1973-83 series as well as being a prolific guest-star in other titles (in addition to being tapped for charter membership in the Champions); but as far as going up against the likes of Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, the prospect seems (you'll excuse the expression) dead on arrival. Yet the first meeting between the Ghost Rider and the Avengers produces an issue that's a fairly good read, with even the Avengers finding their foe to be a formidable--and at times terrifying--challenge.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Panther's Rage!

I haven't yet seen Marvel's Black Panther film, but in reading a number of its glowing reviews I couldn't help but be reminded of another highly-acclaimed Black Panther story, from which it's apparently adapted some of its concepts and characters--writer Don McGregor's 13-issue story arc, "Panther's Rage," which appeared in the Jungle Action title from 1973-75. One of the earliest stories to portray T'Challa's native land of Wakanda in depth (along with those of Roy Thomas and, of course, Stan Lee), we come to find that the Panther's jungle kingdom is in turmoil when the man known as Killmonger launches a series of aggressive attacks and incursions in a blatant move to become its ruler.

It was likely Killmonger's persistent struggle against T'Challa, playing out over the entire arc, that helped readers (including myself) to maintain their interest in the series, since the book remained a bi-monthly publication from beginning to end--otherwise, having to spend nearly two years to read story installments in sixty-day intervals might have forced any number of readers to jump ship. Yet there is also the draw of the Panther, an established character who made the rounds in two of Marvel's biggest guns (Fantastic Four and The Avengers) and who is handled here by McGregor with genuine interest as well as a sense of exploration, a description which would also apply to Wakanda itself.

We get a sense of the kind of turmoil and instability that has come to Wakanda when the Panther rescues a caged elder tribesman who is being interrogated by two of Killmonger's men. Unfortunately, the Panther has arrived too late to save his life--but as much as the elder's imminent death affects T'Challa, the man's dying words strike just as deeply.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Torches, Redux!

As we saw in the finale to the Avengers/Invaders series, Thomas Raymond--a/k/a Toro, the former partner of the original Human Torch--was returned to life through the use of the Cosmic Cube, now a man picking up the pieces of his life in the 21st century. While that saga was taking place, in Captain America we were also witness to a plot by a former Chinese scientist to use the Torch's remains as a weapon which would destroy nearly half the population of the world in a depraved effort to salvage and preserve the Earth's ecosystem. Both stories would serve to pave the way for The Torch, the 2009-10 series where the two flaming heroes would reunite only to find themselves again at the mercy of a man who had used each of them in prior schemes that led to their respective deaths.

And long-time Marvel readers can probably guess that villain's identity right off.

It's arguably the Mad Thinker who is the driving force of this eight-issue series, though Raymond would also have a central role. Commissioned by A.I.M. to produce a weapon of destruction, the Thinker is sitting pretty as the one responsible for the weapon's conception and design, with the resources of A.I.M. at his beck and call. The character is given virtual carte blanche by scripter Mike Carey to set the tone for the plans that will take shape for both A.I.M. and himself, and he proves to be a very deadly foe to be reckoned with, chewing the scenery from the moment he's introduced.

The insertion of Toussaint as an informal assistant to the Thinker makes for a splendid thorn in the side of the latter, with Toussaint also instructed to keep an eye on the Thinker's progress and informing A.I.M. of any deviations in the agreed-upon project. It's Toussaint who keeps the Thinker engaged with the reader, since otherwise the Thinker would simply be hunched over his equipment scribbling notes and making adjustments without much to say. And the fact that Toussaint also attempts to converse with the Thinker on equal ground, provoking the expected reaction from one who considers him an annoyance, is icing on the cake.

Meanwhile, Raymond is finding it difficult to acclimate to his new life, especially after seeing how his former wife has moved on with her life following his death. He's basically a blank slate in terms of his new existence, with no family, no direction, and no documents or papers to offer a potential employer, while the thought of hooking up with the heroes of this era seems a poor fit for him. The Vision, who became Raymond's impromptu guide following his rebirth, makes for a fascinating shadow to Tom, given their contrast in temperament--the intermittent presence who gently attempts to bring Tom out of his depression and encourage him to choose a direction for himself.

Finally, despondent and frustrated, Raymond indeed makes a decision as to what he should do next. Whether it's one that meets with the Vision's approval or disapproval is unclear, since the Vision gives no indication either way--but then, that's generally the way the Vision operates here, and it has the effect of making the character more intriguing. In any case, our focus should be on Raymond, given his state of mind and what he now disturbingly considers a priority in this new lease on life.