Friday, June 29, 2018

Mr. Fantastic When It Counted

Father's Day has come and gone--but, from a comics perspective, we shouldn't forget to give a nod to Reed Richards, now blessed with two children and hopefully imparting to them a little wisdom from past mistakes. One of my favorite such moments comes from a story from 2002, where Reed has hired a PR firm to revitalize the FF's image--a decision which strikes his three partners as a bit out of character for someone who previously has shown little to no interest in the group's celebrity status.

By week's end, Mr. Shertzer has come up with a viable advertising campaign, including how to handle their comic book. But as he shares his thoughts with the book's creative people, he's unaware that there's an eavesdropper present--and it leads to one of my most memorable Reed moments ever.

Happy belated Father's Day, all.

Not to dampen the sentiment of this scene, but Reed's rationale doesn't really add up on a few points. Can you spot them?

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Rampaging TV Sensation

(With a tip of the hat to Steve Does Comics for this post's inspiration!)

Like a number of Marvel's line of B&W magazines from the '70s, I passed on the original run of The Rampaging Hulk magazine from 1977-78, though I remember taking a quick look at a couple of issues when browsing the magazine rack. The book's time period preceded that of the present-day Hulk, going back to the days just after his first series when he had a little more on the ball in the brain department, a facet of his personality which writer Doug Moench took further so that the Hulk's manner and speech resembled that of the character we saw during his brief stint in The Avengers. That alone wouldn't have been a problem for me; in fact, I liked the Hulk when he was almost always in a bad mood and had a hair-trigger temper, when you could never tell what was going to push him over the edge. But the mag also made an alien race called the Krylorians the Hulk's perpetual foes throughout the run of the initial series, and they just didn't appeal to me--mostly because Moench wrote them as if they'd modeled their speech and cognitive patterns after street-savvy Americans, something I couldn't reconcile with alien invaders. Boiled down, they seemed to be really snarky versions of the Toad Men, though frankly I enjoyed the Toad Men.

Also of note is that Marvel's magazines tended to be churned out depending on the trend of the year, whether it was martial arts or monsters or a popular film. In this case, when The Rampaging Hulk was retooled to a color magazine in 1978 with more contemporary stories, it hitched its wagon to the 1978 television series The Incredible Hulk, appealing to the show's fan base with interviews and behind-the-scenes segments. Naturally, the Incredible Hulk comic followed suit with prominent "Marvel's TV Sensation" captions appearing on its covers, though I can hardly fault them for striking while the iron is hot.  At the time, however, I wasn't a regular view of the show--so the large-format Hulk magazine just didn't reach me on any level.

But having recently taken a look at a good number of the magazine issues from each of its runs, I found that there were many things to appreciate about them, creatively speaking. I can't say I didn't have a few problems with Moench's at times meandering style (for instance, an interminable amount of time is spent having Rick Jones, in hot pursuit of the Hulk, trying to determine from the air which direction Queens would be)--but some of the stories were engaging (many of the action sequences more so), and, in all fairness to Moench, each was packed with a whopping 60+ pages of material. In addition, there is some truly spectacular artwork to be found in the series, which will be the primary focus of today's post.

It's only fair to start at the beginning--that is, the Hulk's beginning, following Bruce Banner's exposure to the radiation emitted from the explosion of his gamma bomb. Without the aid of a colorist, the scene is all the more chilling, thanks to artists Walt Simonson and Alfredo Alcala.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Look Not Homeward

By the time of the Fantastic Four's struggle against the cosmically-powered Dr. Doom, we'd already seen a good deal of Johnny Storm's steadfast new friend, Wyatt Wingfoot, who had met the youngest member of the FF when the two were enrolled at Metro College and would subsequently become involved in a few of the FF's Silver Age adventures. Before the team was forced to confront Doom's threat, Wyatt and Johnny were already involved in an adventure of their own--attempting to coax the Inhumans' dimension-travelling dog, Lockjaw, into bringing them within the impenetrable barrier surrounding the Great Refuge, where Johnny's new love, Crystal, remained trapped with the rest of her family.

In hindsight, how clever of writer Stan Lee to have Lockjaw roaming the Himalayan valleys on his own when Johnny and Wyatt encounter him, thus avoiding the question of why it never occurred to Black Bolt, Crystal, or the others to simply make use of Lockjaw themselves to escape. Consequently, it fell to Johnny and Wyatt to pursue that approach (though in reverse). Yet when the Inhumans' leader, Black Bolt, manages to destroy the barrier and win their freedom, and Lockjaw has rejoined the Royal Family following their departure from the Refuge, only now does it occur to Crystal that she can reach Johnny in an instant with Lockjaw's help.

But speaking of Johnny, let's backtrack a bit to where we left things with himself and Wyatt once the conflict with Doom had escalated. With Reed working feverishly in his lab to develop a counter to Doom's power, it turns out that Johnny had his own priorities--and Doom simply couldn't stay at the top of his list.

It isn't long before Doom's activities worldwide force Johnny's hand--leaving Wyatt behind to deliver the alarming news to the rest of the FF.

Yet though Johnny fails against the overwhelming power of Doom, the FF's final battle with Doom is epic, and the madman's threat is brought to an end.

As for Wyatt, he and Johnny return to college, where, at some point, the Torch gets news that the FF are under attack by the Sandman and blazes off to join them--thereby missing an entrance that the students of Metro will be talking about for weeks to come.

Take your last look at Wyatt Wingfoot, folks--he's about to be replaced!

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Silver Age Adventures of Wyatt Wingfoot!

With Johnny Storm spending a good deal of his time either lining up dates or battling super-villains as one-quarter of the Fantastic Four, we didn't see many instances where he could take the opportunity to develop any close friendships with other guys once he left behind his high school pals from his Strange Tales days. His time at college turned out to be brief; and other than his buddies down at the garage or his partner in the FF, Ben Grimm, Johnny didn't seem to gravitate toward any "pals" that he could just shoot hoops with or confide in about his problems or whatever else was on his mind--or even just to hang with to kill time on a Saturday afternoon.

But in the FF's 50th issue, his luck in that regard was looking up--and in this case, we do mean up.

Yes, Johnny meets what would become his friend for life (or at least for the duration of the book)--6′6″ Wyatt Wingfoot, an affable if mysterious fellow freshman at Metro College. Though the "mystery" aspect to him turned out to be a bit overblown, boiled down to an apparent reluctance to follow in the footsteps of his famous father, Olympian decathlon star Will Wingfoot--combined with an unspoken wish to keep a low profile. Perhaps it was all a way for writer Stan Lee to slowly unwrap a character who would become another classic fixture in the lives of the Fantastic Four, and make him stand out more (though artist Jack Kirby made sure of that from the start); yet it might have been nice for Johnny to make a new friend without the character needing an undercurrent of a furtive background.

Of course, a by-product of that approach was a priceless scene that featured conceited college jock Whitey Mullins dropping his jaw (along with everyone else) when Johnny's big buddy steps in to settle a dispute.

Sorry, Wyatt, you've got it wrong--there's a lot more to be said about you!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Johnny Storm: The Bane of Muggers

OR: "I'm Comin' For YOU, Doom!"

In the Better Late Than Never category, there came a time when Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, admitted to himself that without his flame power, he was fair game for practically anyone who wanted to use him as a hostage--or, for his more brutal foes who had some time to kill, as a punching bag.

Granted, there's not much that even the Rock could do against an armored menace like Dr. Doom--even a robot version of Doom, as was the case here. But, while normally it wouldn't be possible for someone battered to near-death by armored fists to still carry on a normal conversation with himself in his head, Johnny came to the conclusion that his uniform was the key to staying alive, and saving the day.

Come to think of it, it might even be Doom (the real Doom) we have to thank for giving Johnny a wake-up call as to his liability to the FF when his power is on the fritz. Doom probably isn't thrilled to sully his hands with any of the FF in hand-to-hand combat, but, were it not for his mask, we'd probably see no small amount of annoyance in his features when onrushing teenagers have the presumption of thinking they're capable of taking him on. You're dismissed, kid.

Finally, Doom would drive the message home to Johnny in a later encounter, where even the Torch wouldn't have stood a chance against Doom. So when Johnny's power is easily nullified, you can imagine how Doom regards the helpless specimen he's left with.

It's also possible that in the back of his mind, Johnny was also thinking about similar encounters--for instance, with beautiful women:

...or even college jocks, who only need a beverage to humiliate him.

So perhaps with the words of Doom and Whitey Mullins ringing in his ears, Johnny would eventually get serious about his gym time--and while he's no Wyatt Wingfoot, he's at least ready to handle an ambush in the Negative Zone. (Though maybe not the ambush he was hoping for, if you catch my drift.)

No problem falling short of Iron Fist, Johnny--just ask your sister for some pointers.

It looks like muggers in any dimension had better run for the hills from now on.  Though even three years earlier than Johnny's Negative Zone scuffle or his beat-down from Doom, artist John Byrne had him trying out--judo, I guess?--by taking on an obnoxious bar patron with designs on Dazzler.

So maybe the days of the Thing bailing Johnny out of a fight are behind him? Because maybe even back in the day...

...Johnny Storm coulda been a contendah.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Avengers! Kang! Spider-Man! Wowee!

While there was no shortage of guest stars in Fantastic Four and, to an extent, X-Men in their early years, guest appearances in The Avengers were few and far between--that is, unless you're counting characters such as the Sub-Mariner, the Black Widow, or their former member, the Hulk, all of whom were question marks in terms of their standing as heroes or villains. Other characters, such as the Black Knight and Hercules, along with the Widow and Namor, eventually became part of the team, an option that neither of the other teams could indulge in. Yet one prominent character made the rounds in all of them--the amazing Spider-Man, whose popularity of course only increased for the duration of the Silver Age and well into the Bronze, and probably gave more of a boost to those he appeared with than vice versa.

It's a fair assumption that the original Avengers, despite their star power, were struggling to gain a foothold with comics readers and could use the web-slinger's assistance. With only five issues to go until these particular Avengers would exit to make way for a new infusion of characters for the book, a guest appearance by Spider-Man couldn't have been more well-timed--particularly since Iron Man, though pictured on the issue's cover, is M.I.A.

Jeez, Rick, what an eager beaver! Take off, man--the Teen Brigade meeting is over in Queens!

Later Avengers stories would have the team considering Spider-Man for membership; but in this case, the only person considering a team-up with Spider-Man is Kang the Conqueror, who's still fuming from his first defeat at the hands of the Avengers and now turns his attention to a surrogate for engaging them again. To that end, he settles on the most suitable subject to model a robot likeness after, a costumed adventurer he's apparently been intrigued by for some time.

Kang's reasoning for choosing Spider-Man doesn't quite add up, since his plan depends on the Avengers trusting the wall-crawler; but that doesn't seem likely if, as Kang admits, no one, including the Avengers, really knows anything about him. It's a detail that apparently doesn't concern Kang, however, since he forges ahead with creating the robot that will be a precise duplicate of Spider-Man--and soon enough, Spider-Robot is born! (Not his actual name, since even Kang couldn't be that ridiculous.)

And with the flick of a switch, the robot is hurled into the past, where a fateful meeting in comics history will soon take place!

(And if you're feeling a little gypped that this isn't the real Spider-Man, hold that thought!)

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Wrath of... Dorma!?

Based on the last time we saw a Defenders cover sporting a Hulk/Sub-Mariner clash, expectations for a rematch were high when, over forty issues later, these two powerhouses again meet in battle, as all hell breaks loose around them.

But you know what they say about appearances and deception, a combination often indulged in by comic book covers. In this 1981 story, there isn't even grappling between the pair, much less a punch thrown. But the Sub-Mariner is nevertheless waging war--against the surface world, and against the Defenders. It's an invasion story unlike any other we've seen featuring the forces of Atlantis and their raging prince--and its catalyst is both unexpected and... alive.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Enemies On Every Side!

In a two-part comics story where its first part ends in a confrontation and skirmish between opposing sides, it's not unusual to see its second part erupt in an all-out battle issue--yet by that point, the battle lines have been drawn clearly, and all that's left is to see which side will prevail. In the case of the incredible Hulk's conflict with the evil Inhumans, who have appeared in the Central America city of Costa Salvador and are led by the mad Maximus, he's now faced with enemies on two fronts: the forces of Maximus, and the Army task force which has arrived to take on the invaders. But in the Hulk's eyes, the Army represents a threat to himself--enemies which have always hunted him and attacked him on sight and now, having discovered his location, move in to either capture or kill him.

And so the Hulk faces a near-impossible choice for his limited cognitive abilities to make: Continue to battle the evil Maximus and the other Inhumans, or turn and face the Army. Either way, he realizes that he loses, since choosing one leaves him vulnerable to the other. But as the splash page to Part Two indicates, Maximus, seizing an opportunity to use the Hulk against the arriving Army troops, offers his opponent a third option.

As we see, the story's title has already spilled the beans as to which way the Hulk will go here; nevertheless, Maximus' offer does make his decision easier, since it means that the "evil Inhumans" will become his allies against a common enemy. And so the brave men of the U.S. Army learn the hard way the decision that the Hulk has worked out for himself.

The Inhumans, for their part, make no contribution to battling the new threat, though that's not necessarily their conscious choice. At first, Maximus seeks to direct the Hulk's actions against the forces of Gen. Ross; but once the Hulk makes it clear that he doesn't need any kibitzing from Maximus to battle enemies whose tactics and weaponry he well knows, the Inhumans remain absent from the hostilities from that point on. Which is fine with the Army, since their new objective is now clear!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

At the Mercy Of Maximus!

A splendid two-part tale from September of 1969 features not only a classic tale starring the incredible Hulk--not only scripting from Stan Lee, 46 years old and at the peak of his talent--not only artist Herb Trimpe inking his own pencils--but also a reunion between the Hulk and a group of Inhumans he came into conflict with in the previous year's Hulk Annual, as he again becomes involved in the ruthless plans of Black Bolt's crazed brother, the mad Maximus. This would also be Lee's final issue as writer of the character, as he passes the reins of the book to its new regular writer, Roy Thomas.

Lee's parting story picks up with Bruce Banner, who washes up on the shore of the Central America city of Costa Salvador following the Hulk's battle with the Sub-Mariner. What he finds in the first town he comes to is a population that makes the people of Stepford look positively animated--and an imposing statue which casts its "gaze" in all directions.

To answer Banner's question, we can make a fair assumption and say that, for him, these strange sights won't add up to much at all. But for the man-monster he shares his tragic existence with, all the signs in Costa Salvador point to--trouble!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

When Editors Step Out

During his run on Fantastic Four, artist John Byrne gave the book's readers a healthy assortment of noteworthy issue covers that were representative of the adventures they'd come to expect from Marvel's premiere super-team. It's no exaggeration that during the early 1980s, Byrne was riding a wave of popularity for his work on the mag--and as a triple threat of being the book's writer, artist, and inker for much of his stay, it's fair to say that he certainly deserved the accolades. Yet since no artist bats 1,000 with every piece of work, and even Jack Kirby and other artists at times were asked to come up with a different concept for a cover rather than going with their original submission, there were some rather unusual cover choices by Byrne that nevertheless still made the cut and were given the green light by the book's revolving door of editors (who were presumably the ones who had to sign off on any cover art which would bear the responsibility for selling the issue).

Here are a few such covers that caught my eye--with the editor for each issue duly noted, since the issue in question couldn't have made it to your local retailer without their approval. To Byrne's credit, there aren't really that many covers to choose from, though perhaps you'll have your own suggestions on this topic.

To begin with--well, gosh, we might as well get this one out of the way:

Issue 238
Editor: Jim Salicrup

Monday, June 11, 2018

To The Hidden Land Comes... The Hulk!

Jim Steranko's eye-catching 1968 cover to the first Incredible Hulk Annual no doubt contributed a great deal to selling the issue to not only readers of the character's regular series but likely just about anyone browsing the comics racks. To this day, it remains a stunning work of art--though judging by its original mock-up, it received a few additional touches from artist Marie Severin, who went on to pencil the story.

Yet with Incredible Hulk having only seven issues under its belt at the time, Steranko's cover might well have had a lot more riding on it in terms of promoting the Hulk's nascent series so that it wouldn't follow in the footsteps of its 1962-63 bi-monthly predecessor, which collapsed after a run of only six issues. In that sense, the image of the Hulk, struggling to hold up his own crumbling masthead, is disturbingly symbolic, to say the least.

In addition, a decision has apparently been made behind the scenes to rely almost entirely on the Hulk's dramatic image to entice current and new readers, with the cover being a bit deceptive in dropping the name of the story's antagonists--the uncanny Inhumans, whom we would expect to be represented by Black Bolt, Karnak, Gorgon, Medusa, Crystal, and Triton. Instead, only two of that group would be featured, taking a back seat to a collection of seditionists who would later fall under the sway of Black Bolt's unstable brother, Maximus. Only when you turn the page does the issue drop a hint that the Inhumans featured in the tale might not be the characters you were expecting--something that would have been crystal clear had the choice been made to go with Severin's proposed cover.

In a way it's almost unfortunate that our "substitute" Inhumans weren't deemed marketable enough to score placement on this issue's cover, since the entire story revolves around them as much as it does the Hulk, and they receive a generous amount of exposure throughout. As villainous Inhumans, they'll remind you a bit of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, with Maximus eventually stepping in as their Magneto. When we meet them, they're being called on the carpet for inciting rebellion against Black Bolt's rule--and when one of their own, Stallior, attempts to save his own skin, the savage response by his fellow dissenters is immediate.

Soon enough, Black Bolt orders through his telepathic "oracle" that the conflict end so that he may pass judgment on the lot of them. With nothing to lose, another of the group, Leonus, appeals once more to the assembled crowd to reject Black Bolt's rule--and naturally, any such attempt to incite rebellion against Black Bolt will gain the attention of Maximus, who sees the opportunity to turn the group's misfortune to his own advantage.  It's a rare glimpse into Inhuman politics, such as they are in a monarchy, with the scene almost hinting that the discontent with Black Bolt's rule may not be limited to these six (seven, if you count Maximus, though his hunger for power puts him in his own category)--nor can the subtext of the story's title, "A Refuge Divided!", be ignored.

Unfortunately for Maximus, Black Bolt's presence carries more weight with the crowd, and Maximus' words end up largely ignored. As for the accused, Black Bolt's judgment is swift and, all things considered, merciful. Their lives spared, they're instead banished to the dreaded "Un-Place," a dimensional land of exile which won't win any awards for its unimaginative name but is fated to serve as the location which brings our Inhuman convicts together with the incredible Hulk--thanks to the Inhumans' teleporting hound, Lockjaw, who delivers his charges to their prison but returns to encounter the Hulk wandering the land a few miles from the Great Refuge. Following his training to prevent strangers from discovering the Refuge, Lockjaw attacks; but as you might imagine, the Hulk proves a formidable adversary, and the beast instead uses its power to teleport the Hulk to the one place of captivity where even his strength will be useless.

And three guesses what place... er, un-place Lockjaw has in mind.