Wednesday, May 30, 2018

When Rages The Elfqueen!

Following one of the strangest membership meetings ever, the Avengers (with the dubious assistance of Moondragon) settled on a new lineup--only to face not only a threat from a new, powerful foe, but also a potentially dangerous development involving one of their own!

1981's "Men Of Deadly Pride!" was the story that led to a time of upheaval for the team, setting in motion proceedings that would strike at the very core of the Avengers--an organization that has withstood countless assaults from its foes but would face the ultimate test of its internal foundation when its by-laws are invoked to deal with an infraction committed by a long-standing charter member. But while that dissension begins here and is on full display, the story by writer Jim Shooter and artist Alan Kupperberg deserves to stand apart and on its own as a worthwhile Avengers tale, with the team facing a unique challenge under difficult circumstances. In addition, the issue features the debut of a brand new Avenger, Tigra, whose stay on the team would be brief but who would leave on a high note when she becomes instrumental in dealing with the threat of the Molecule Man.

At first glance, things seem pretty routine, as we're treated to scenes of the non-resident Avengers preparing to attend the weekly meeting at their mansion, each reconciling their responsibilities to the team with the lives they lead as civilians.

But when we come to the Wasp and Yellowjacket, there is noticeable tension in the air, with Yellowjacket extremely uneasy at being a "kept man" in regard to living as a virtual dependent off of his wife's wealth. It's a scene mirrored by this story's other uneasy couple--Linnea, called the Elfqueen, and Gorn of Valusia, isolated in a Virginia glade for 10,000 years and preserved as they were in ancient times by Linnea's power. But for the warrior Gorn, whose life of glory and battle is now stagnant, this existence of ease has become unbearable.

Neither Linnea nor Gorn have the slightest conception of how the world has changed from what they knew, centuries ago--and because they face an unbreachable language barrier as well, they can only rely on their own instincts and impressions to navigate the sights and people they will come into contact with. Given their abilities, as well as Gorn's impatience, it seems a recipe for disaster.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A City In Chains!

OR: "Wheaties--The Breakfast Of Gods"

Whatever else you may have to say about Marvel Team-Up #28, there's something that we're all probably in agreement on when we glance at its cover:

Artist Gil Kane has an interesting perspective on the size of a toddler's head.

It's also likely the consensus that there aren't many readers who would hold up this copy of MTU as an example of inspired and compelling plotting. It's an assessment which even Marvel's letters page "armadillo" coughed up to when responding to letter contributor (and future Marvel staffer) Ralph Macchio's description of the story as, among other things, "far-fetched":

We'll be honest with you, Ralph: the mail response is in and "The City Stealers" seems to be one of the least popular* stories we've done in TEAM-UP, with your letter and Doug Stewart's being representative of the bulk of opinions received. And it wasn't Gerry [Conway]'s scripting or Jim [Mooney]'s artwork ... that garnered this response--rather, it was the concept of having Manhattan Island towed to sea, which was felt to be a mite too much for proper suspension of disbelief.

*Talk about putting the best possible face on unfavorable feedback; the story wasn't one of the "least liked," but one of the "least popular."

"The City Stealers!" is the last issue of 1974 for MTU--and while the Manhattan Island scene is indeed a bit hard to swallow, you may find there are other elements in the story which keep the book from ending the year on a high note.

Monday, May 28, 2018

His Name Is... Dracula!

In the early '70s, Marvel readers were being treated to a number of intriguing new titles coming down the pipe from the House of Ideas. During this cascade of fresh work, it was admittedly tempting to pick up a #1 issue, even if you weren't particularly interested in the concept or character being given a new series; for a 20¢ investment, it was still an opportunity to pick up something that at first simply caught your eye on the comics rack but might actually end up appealing to you. That's not to say you were going to plunk down change for every new title, of course, since Marvel at times could also be the House That Churned Out Product Like An Assembly Line; but if a new title made you do a double take, and you found yourself lingering over it, giving it a try was a harmless enough impulse for someone into comics. (After all, that's kind of how we got started reading comics in the first place.)

So in April of 1972, when Marvel floated an already familiar concept that had been adapted by so many, in a number of mediums, my curiosity got the better of me and I added it to my stack. And even though "monster mags" were generally way down on my list, it certainly turned out to be one of my better impulses.

It was at a point in time when I was just beginning to seriously explore comics collecting and still in the early stages of familiarizing myself with the names of different writers and artists, so I wasn't buying this issue of Tomb Of Dracula because its cover was by "Neal Adams" (uncredited) or because "Gerry Conway" wrote it or that its art was by "Gene Colan"; mostly, I was very curious as to how Marvel would treat the character of Dracula in a regularly published color comic. Other outlets had often gone straight for shock value, and cut right to the chase in Dracula menacing this victim or that--could the character of Dracula sustain a full series if he engaged in that sort of repetitive conflict?

Well, we all know how things turned out by now; but in this first issue, that question made picking up a #1 issue featuring Dracula--the Dracula--almost compelling.

As for the talent behind this new book, the team put together to launch it was well chosen. Adams, of course, does his part to get your attention; though in hindsight, with all the nice cover work that Colan would do over the length of the series (to say nothing of his other outstanding covers for Marvel), I would have liked to have seen how he might have handled a first-issue cover featuring such a prominent character. This story would also be one of the rare instances where I've seen Colan ink his own pencils, and the result is worth the look. Similarly, letterer John Costanza's work here, while not nearly as polished as it would later become on the title, is much like a work in progress and has some variations that he's since discarded. As for Conway, he establishes the mood of the story nicely, though you'll find this is mostly a Frank Drake story, with Dracula (for now) as a character sufficiently presented but not yet this series' driving force.

As for Drake, when we meet him he has his own cast of characters who will become as vital to this story as himself: his girlfriend, Jeanie, and his friend, Clifton Graves (a surname which can't be an offhand choice on Conway's part), whom Jeanie had broken up with months ago in order to be with Drake. Three vulnerable people who form an almost vicious circle which they bring to Transylvania to pursue a pipe dream, one that will instead lead to a nightmare.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Send In The Clowns

Just before Jim Starlin's revitalization of Warlock made the move back to the character's stalled title, his brief trial run in Strange Tales was wrapped up on a humorous note--though for Warlock himself, the treatment he finds himself subject to isn't amusing in the least.

Aside from fueling the fire for those of us who are for whatever reason terribly afraid of clowns, the issue uses that motif to undertake an exercise into the bizarre--its way paved by its dedication to artist Steve Ditko, the unquestioned pioneer for Marvel in that respect. And there is method to the madness that Starlin inflicts Warlock with, as he continues with Warlock's investigation into the crimes and widespread reach of the insidious Universal Church of Truth and his other, sinister self, the Magus.

In a prior issue, Warlock has confronted the Church's temporal leader, the Matriarch, in an effort to learn more of the Magus. But in using his soul gem against one of her subordinates (Kray-Tor, the "Grand Inquisitor")--his first time commanding the gem to steal a soul--Warlock was overwhelmed by the influx of the monstrosity's thoughts and feelings and sank into oblivion, now vulnerable to the Matriarch's brand of "indoctrination."

And now, he awakens to find himself in a realm where his very sanity might be at stake.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

One Wins... One Dies!

For those of you who would like to experience an interesting contemporary interpretation of Frank Miller's classic Daredevil stories from the early 1980s which featured the riveting character of Elektra, do treat yourselves to the second "season" of the Netflix production of "Daredevil," which introduces her on the small screen and brings her to stunning life (as played by French actress √Člodie Yung). From there, her story continues in a follow-up Netflix series, "The Defenders," where both she and Daredevil fight to the end (and we're not talking about simply concluding the season). In the television series, as was the case in the comic, Elektra is very much her own woman--but the character in each medium stands in contrast to the other, to enough of a degree that her television persona will feel like you're watching a familiar yet fresh new version of her, which indeed you are.

It's the embrace of Miller's darker take on the character, and on Daredevil, which allows their transition to television to meet with the success that eluded them in cinema--for while the film stays more true to Miller's story, the TV series instead incorporates elements of it to build an entirely new sequence of story installments for both characters, a model that has served Marvel (and by extension, Disney) well in its film ventures. Yet like my experience with "Jessica Jones" and the character's handling in her comic series, Alias, I was curious to return to the comics and read the powerful story where Elektra met her death at the hands of Bullseye--a development that, like Elektra herself, was handled very differently in the two Netflix series.

The double-sized issue from 1982 stands nicely apart from its big-budget counterpart, as well as being an excellent example of comics storytelling that any Daredevil reader likely drank in from cover to cover. It also has the distinction of being almost entirely told from the perspective of Bullseye, former chief assassin of the Kingpin--an approach which, to my total surprise, worked, and for a whopping thirty-eight pages. You'd think that this kind of story would at some point need to include Matt Murdock's feelings and thoughts on the matter, since buyers were presumably plunking down $1.00 and some change to touch base with the hero, whose reaction to this murder would likely be at least as dramatic as the killing stroke itself.

But this is all Bullseye's show, beginning with his current incarceration at Daredevil's hands. But the root of the grudge Bullseye carries for DD isn't at all what you might have expected.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Last Stand Of M.O.D.O.K.!

It's hard to imagine the relentless killing organism known as M.O.D.O.K. on the run for his life--but from who? Well, gee, let's see: Who would want to end MODOK's existence? Answer: the same organization that's wanted to since day one, when their Mental Organism Designed Only for Computing wrested away control of Advanced Idea Mechanics from his creators and subverted the organization to his will, while unleashing himself on the world as MODOK. (You can no doubt make a good guess as to what the new letter in his acronym stood for.)

By 1986 (our time), MODOK had gone M.I.A.--while around the same time, the newly formed guild of superhuman mercenaries collectively known as the Serpent Society was open for business and putting the word out to prospective clients who might be interested in their services. One of their stops was A.I.M., whose agents jumped at the opportunity to accomplish their vendetta against MODOK at no risk to themselves.

(Nice touch, that AIM agent with his weapon on the table in clear sight. "Safety First.")

The Serpent Society gets right to work on their assignment--and before you know it, two of their operatives hit paydirt, thanks to a solid lead from AIM. It looks like even the mental prowess of MODOK hasn't forewarned him that, after all this time, his number may finally be up!

But in this hunt, what's Captain America's stake??

Monday, May 21, 2018

"Vengeance!" Cries... Red Wolf!

Only recently having faced not only the threat of Arkon and, soon after, the brutish Man-Ape, which then led to a battle with the Lethal Legion, the mighty Avengers were overdue for some down time--though for our stalwart heroes, that could mean anything from catching up on internal Avengers business or conferring in their Fifth Avenue mansion on a new potential threat. Yet for the Avengers reader, it also means spending quality time observing the Avengers interacting with each other and supplementing their adventures with the character development which the swing of that famous gavel paves the way for.

Only this time, the Avengers are down a man, or, in this case, an android--and therein lies the heart of the situation. The Vision has abruptly departed their ranks, having become disillusioned by a reminder that he is not nor can he hope to be human. Meanwhile, a new character prepares to make his debut--but, as was the question when the Vision made his first appearance, is he friend... or foe? As we can see from the remarkably similar layouts of their respective splash pages, artist John Buscema may be hoping that lightning strikes twice with his 1970 creation, Red Wolf!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Betty Ross Presents: The Abomination!

In order to foil the scheme of the alien entity known as the Stranger, who sought to use the Hulk to wipe out human civilization across the Earth, Bruce Banner decides on a drastic course of action which would end the life of the Hulk, as well as his own:

Meanwhile, Gen. "Thunderbolt" Ross is on the hunt for a dirty rotten spy:

And that dirty rotten spy is none other than Emil Blonsky, who's out to snap pics of Banner's gamma ray machine that he's used on occasion to turn himself into the Hulk*, so that he can sell them to interested parties behind the bamboo curtain**.

*You'd think our tortured scientist would want just the opposite, but you know how fickle physicists are.

**We seldom know from these references which side of the bamboo curtain is interested in our secrets--the Communists to the east (e.g., China), or the non-Communist, capitalist states of southeast Asia. Laos, a southeastern country, was considered "behind" the bamboo curtain at one time, though the Chinese have often been featured in Marvel stories as parties aggressively subverting U.S. interests.

Blonsky is forced to duck out of sight, however, when Banner arrives to use the gamma ray machine one last time.  But Banner's plan goes awry when he's pounced on by Maj. Talbot and his M.P.s:

...which leads our dirty rotten spy to conclude that the gamma ray machine is even more powerful than anyone realized.

It never occurs to this dirty rotten spy to locate and pocket the blueprints to this device, rather than acting as a human guinea pig and actually using it on himself; adding the specs to the pics would no doubt fetch an even higher price for our D.R.S.  But thanks to his lack of foresight, you and I are about to witness two classic scenes of Marvel history from 1967: (1) the birth of the awesome Abomination...

...and (2) the brute's first battle with the incredible Hulk!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Surrogate Iron Man

In 1983, readers of Invincible Iron Man hunkered down for what would turn out to be a whopping 30-issue stretch of stories by writer Denny O'Neil and artist Luke McDonnell that featured someone other than Tony Stark in the role of the book's title character. The shift was heralded by two dramatic back-to-back covers which seemed to confirm what many of us probably assumed was the obvious choice to step in for Stark, at least for the immediate crisis:

Stark, having fallen off the wagon big time and a near-hopeless drunk by this point, was too inebriated to suit up and face the menace known as Magma who was wrecking the Stark International complex--which left James Rhodes with a decision to make. Yet his first moment as the new Iron Man perhaps sums up the problem of having Rhodey, a popular supporting character in the book, assume responsibility for the book's sales for a two-year period.

By now, the Iron Man armor was more than just a suit of remarkable technology and weaponry. It's an invention that's been refined over the years and defined by Stark--his character, his resourcefulness, his confidence and instincts, as well as the fact that it's simply a kick to see how he interacts with this suit to battle and overcome whatever threat he's facing. And when Stark improvises and makes use of the features of the armor which he knows like the back of his hand, it feels as if we're right there seeing this armor getting its best use. There's no doubting Rhodey's resourcefulness and skill, or his bravery--but his confidence in being Iron Man will in part depend on being able to use the armor to its fullest potential while knowing its specs down to the last circuit, and that skill set simply isn't among his talents.

A further complication would be the debilitating headaches he would suffer with further use of the armor, finally diagnosed by the mystic known as Shaman and boiled down to a truth that even Rhodey (and arguably O'Neil) had to acknowledge: that it was Tony Stark who was, and is, Iron Man.

At the time of his debut, however, it was easy to give Rhodey the benefit of the doubt, since he'd played no small part in revitalizing the book after he and others joined its cast of characters. In the end, no one is likely to label Rhodey's run as Iron Man as distinguished--but at the very least, his premiere issue of having fully embraced the role shows some promise and gives him every advantage in starting out on the right foot. There's Stark's continued downward spiral that doesn't neglect the character for those readers still interested in keeping tabs on him; we also see Rhodey's idea to enlist the help of S.I. scientist-technician Morley Erwin bearing fruit, helping him begin to familiarize himself with the armor's capabilities and figuring out its various functions; and in addition, Rhodey's first time up at bat in an official capacity has him battling a high-profile member of the Wrecking Crew. So all the ingredients are in place for Rhodey to make his mark as the new Iron Man. The question is: Will this issue ignite the character for readers?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

And To The Loser... Death!

Having already seen her challenge Cyclops for leadership of the X-Men, and at the time without the use of her powers, we know the capabilities and resourcefulness of Storm when a decision is called for and/or decisive action needs to be taken. But some months before that time, when she still commanded the elements of the weather, she fought another duel for leadership--only this time, the contest was to the death!

Storm's foe was Callisto, leader of the outcasts known as the Morlocks (with apologies to H.G. Wells)--mutants who sequestered themselves one-thousand feet beneath the streets of New York, in a bomb shelter built secretly during the Cold War but then abandoned. It was there the X-Men came in search of the missing Angel, whom Callisto captured with the intent of forcing him into matrimony. The team was taken prisoner during their attempt to rescue him; and when they gained the upper hand in a second skirmish, the mutant known as Plague forced a standoff by infecting Storm and threatening to kill her.

With Kitty Pryde discovered in the same condition, Nightcrawler makes a bold decision to win their freedom--but he's countermanded by an unexpected source, considering her condition.

And so the die is cast (with apologies to Suetonius). Thanks to the weakness inflicted on her by Plague, Storm is considerably handicapped in this contest; in addition, she agrees to abide by Callisto's terms and battle only with the weapons at hand, forbidden to use any of her powers at the cost of Kitty's life.

Still, Callisto may want to keep that one eye of hers sharp--because Storm doesn't exactly look worried, does she?

As for Nightcrawler, he'll need to update whatever mental profile he's been keeping on Storm--because as this duel swiftly reaches its climax, it's a good bet he's standing wide-eyed and staring in disbelief while she draws in Callisto for the kill.

Thanks to the Morlocks' mutant healer, Callisto barely survives Storm's fatal strike. In the meantime, Storm has obviously read up on the concept of taking a victory lap; but in the process, she ensures that the danger that the Morlocks pose to the humans above is ended.

And as for Callisto, Storm also makes certain that the Morlocks' former leader understands that her threat is ended, as well.

Frankly, the Morlocks don't seem like the type of people to tolerate a leader who assumes command of them and then bolts to live elsewhere--but it worked for the Black Panther, so what do I know.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Good With The Bad

Following the events of their 100th issue, the Defenders return home a demoralized lot, having lost their friend and comrade, Daimon Hellstrom, to the pits of Hades. And in spite of the fact that they saved Earth from the ravages of Satan, perhaps worse than having to leave Hellstrom behind is the knowledge that it was their actions, in part, which brought about his fate.

But try telling all that to the Hulk, whose words hang in the air as if to underscore their collective guilt.

Yet while all of the other Defenders feel a sense of loss, perhaps the one who feels it most profoundly is Patsy Walker, a/k/a the Hellcat--and so the Hulk's words impact on her harshly, causing her to snap and lose her temper while confusing the behemoth even further with her pain-filled response. And while she relents and apologizes, the Hulk rejects it and leaves in a huff.

Nor is he alone--though the Sub-Mariner's parting words are more reserved, if blunt.

Also departing is Nighthawk, who is now without the use of his legs during the day and has renounced his place in the Defenders. And Eric Simon Payne, the Devil-Slayer? Having faced the ultimate array of devils, where does he go from here? He stands in contrast to Dr. Strange, whose sense of failure is in its own way just as gnawing as Patsy's.

The rousing words of Isaac Christians, the Gargoyle, become the catalyst for the Defenders picking themselves up from this traumatic event and taking the first steps on the road to recovery--steps which writer J.M. DeMatteis dedicates this entire issue to pursuing, which will hopefully bring about what its cover proclaims.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Recap Of The Wrecker!

Having previously explored the villainy of the super-criminal known as the Wrecker in a number of PPC posts, his story only needs a few details of his origin to fill out his profile. So why not start with his awesome premiere cover from Mighty Thor, circa 1968?

We already know that it was the Norn queen, Karnilla, who was responsible for giving this lunatic the power of the gods; yet even before then, the Wrecker was setting the New York City police force on its collective ear, in a one-man crime wave that had victims and authorities alike at their wits' end.

But if we were to follow the paper trail, we'd really have Odin to thank for unleashing the Wrecker on the city, and ultimately on Thor--not a surprise, since Odin's plans have a way of causing more problems than they solve, and usually resulting in no small measure of collateral damage in the process. In the Wrecker's case, we have to revisit the story where Odin felt the need once more to punish his son, Thor, this time by stripping him of his Asgardian power. That ultimately led to Loki seizing the opportunity to attack Thor while his half-brother was at his weakest; only when Odin gets wind of it, he extends the same punishment to Loki. As a result, Loki is forced to call on Karnilla for an infusion of her own power to tide him over (and allow him to strike back at Thor and his comrades).

But before Karnilla arrives, Loki is mistaken for a fellow thief by the Wrecker, who attacks with the intent of hijacking his loot. And while Loki's natural strength would probably allow him to take the Wrecker, he doesn't get the chance.

And then, talk about a case of mistaken identity:

In the crime spree that follows, let's just say that the wave of destruction the Wrecker undertakes with his newfound might makes his previous petty thefts look downright nostalgic to the N.Y.P.D. trying their best to collar him. Thor, now shorn of his own power, doesn't fare much better.

We also learn the true aspects of the Wrecker's crowbar, which, when all is said and done, is no more than a typical crowbar you could pick up at any hardware store until the Wrecker takes it in hand, whereby it becomes an extension of his might.

And so we have to call "phooey" on later stories which were in the habit of making this bar the repository of the norn power the Wrecker was given.

In fact, the crowbar wasn't set out to have much of a history at all--thanks to the Destroyer, who put both the crowbar and its wielder out of commission.

Even so, when the Wrecker breaks out of police custody nearly two years later and once again wants to go rampaging with his trademark accessory, it never occurs to his creators (Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) to simply have him get his hands on another crowbar; rather, they discard their previous version of its fate and instead show it to have been confiscated and put in storage while the Wrecker has been on ice.

From there, the Wrecker and his Crew went on to make life miserable for any number of characters and super-teams--until Loki had the last laugh by reclaiming their stolen power as part of a scheme against Thor. Whether he hung onto the crowbar as a souvenir is a question we'll have to ask Loki sometime. But I doubt he gave it a second thought.