Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Defenders 1... Avengers 0!

Looking back on the Avengers/Defenders crossover battles from 1973--a conflict that collectively (and likely for TPB purposes) became better known as the Avengers Defenders War--it almost seems more accurate to label the fights we witnessed in those comics as skirmishes rather than knock-down drag-outs. With the exception of the event's climax, each issue was either devoted to a double-header of meetings between opponents which portioned off their page count, or there were other matters needing issue space to move the overall story along. As an example, the penultimate battle between the Hulk and Thor, as action-packed as it was, only took up seven pages in an issue of nineteen.

And yet, even the first of these skirmishes would have us believe that both teams are out for blood.  That...

But since each of these teams has gone up against the deadliest of enemies without resorting to the use of lethal force--and with each battle only allocated a few pages--how serious are these matches likely to get? Well, you and I may get the impression that all of them boil down to relatively harmless hit-and-run encounters--but on the other hand, would we want to slug it out with someone in the middle of a live volcano?

Monday, July 30, 2018

Where You Lead, I Will Overrule

Despite her longevity in the Avengers, it's difficult to picture the Scarlet Witch in a team leader role, given that she's seldom been shown in the forefront of battle during the Avengers' missions--perhaps due to the fact that the nature of her power forces her into a more reserved stance rather than wading into her foes. When the Avengers West Coast were forced to disband, she'd only held the Chairmanship of the team for barely five issues before the title was cancelled; but a little over two years later, when Tony Stark gathered the remnants of the AWC to form Force Works, he makes an offer to Wanda to reclaim the gavel she'd only briefly held.

Unfortunately, Stark wouldn't be able to leave it at that. As a charter member of the Avengers' west coast franchise, Stark, as Iron Man, appeared to be very comfortable with deferring to the decisions of that group's Chairman, Hawkeye; but perhaps because he'd founded Force Works and was very much its architect as an organization that would take the Avengers concept a step further, he often found it difficult to dial back his assertiveness and allow Wanda to do her job.

Nor did it take very long for him to cross the line, in only the team's second mission.

To Wanda's credit, though, she wasn't about to let this behavior become the norm. And a few issues later, she found she had to put her foot down.

But while team morale was upbeat during Wanda's tenure, Stark continued to have his own concerns. Even an objective third party from the east coast team--and an old friend, at that--couldn't make headway with him on the issue.

From here, it's difficult to connect the dots to when Stark was still his own man, so to speak, and when he began being influenced by Kang the Conqueror in the pages of The Avengers during "the Crossing" storyline and started to become unhinged (not to mention homicidal). Whatever the point he began to break down, it was probably a given that his situation with Wanda wasn't about to see less friction between them.

Finally, though, Stark's behavior begins to take its toll on Force Works, as he begins to assert what he still believes to be his "executive" authority by invoking unilateral decisions designed to shape the team more to his liking.

Iron Man goes on to present startling evidence that incriminates Hawkeye in the murders of Marilla and the Wasp--an outrageous charge in Wanda's assessment, considering how long both she and Iron Man have known him. Fortunately, she's able to rein in Stark and regain some control over the situation--but for how long?

By this time, however, Stark has gone completely over the edge. Acting on his own accord, he enlists his hand-picked new Force Works member, Cybermancer, to subdue and bring in Hawkeye--putting a halt to USAgent's mission under Wanda's authority to more peacefully confer with the archer on the murders. It's the final straw for the Scarlet Witch, and the catalyst for serving Iron Man his walking papers.

In the middle of the dispute, a crisis rears its head in Cambodia, spurring Force Works to scramble--but the damage to their internal situation is done, and it's a mission that Iron Man won't be joining them on.

Things don't end well for Iron Man, who perishes toward the end of the run of The Avengers. For the members of Force Works, he'd prepared a recording in the event of his death, one made only an hour after its charter members agreed to be part of the new team--mostly thanking them for following through with the project, and wishing them well for the future. But following one more mission, the team decides to take a sabbatical--which, coinciding with poor sales of the mag, proves to be permanent. As for the Scarlet Witch, her term as Chairwoman comes to an end as a success, even though she's going down with the ship.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Long Live The King!

In Part 2 of the PPC's look at the 2006 six-issue series Books Of Doom, we reach the point where Victor von Doom has been contacted by a member of a sect of monks from a temple in Tibet, who, with his dying wish, implores him to seek them out and learn their secrets of science and magic and realize his destiny. The offer comes at a crucial time for Victor, following his expulsion from Empire State University due to an unauthorized experiment that critically injured another student and left his own face scarred and bandaged. Wandering Europe, he'd been found and comforted by the woman he loves, Valeria, who was attempting to convince him to return with her to Latveria; instead, he decides to attempt to find the temple in the vastness of the Himalayas, which long-time readers of Doom's history will recognize as the place where the character will eventually emerge as Doctor Doom.

The story by writer Ed Brubaker and artist Pablo Raimondi, having dispensed with the preliminaries of the events which set Victor on the path that would lead to the adoption of his armored identity, will now have an opportunity to expand on Stan Lee's brief scenes of Doom's stay at the mysterious sanctuary where a group of monks nursed Victor back to health after his pilgrimage, a journey that in Brubaker's telling would prove more dangerous to Victor than simply the weakened condition he was left in following his grueling exposure to the elements. There's also the obvious dissimilarity of the character's motivation for making such a trek in the first place, which in Lee's tale was the result of Doom's anguished desire to hide his ravaged face "from the sight of mankind." It's interesting to see how each version makes use of elements from other characters' origin stories from the '60s; for instance, the Mole Man retreated to his subterranean world in order to shun those above who mocked his appearance--while Stephen Strange was another who sought a temple in the Himalayas, in the hopes of repairing his damaged hands. With K'un-Lun also located in Tibet, the Chinese would be wise to start thinking of tapping into the tourist trade by mapping all the hidden temples in the region. (While giving the resident monks a cut of the profits, naturally.)

For now, however, our focus is Victor von Doom, who strides forward to meet his destiny.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Doom, Ascendant!

For a more contemporary take on the 1964 origin of Dr. Doom, you may be interested in checking out a six-issue series from 2006 written by Ed Brubaker, and narrated by the Master of Menace himself. The series covers the period from Doom's childhood to his seizure of the throne of Latveria from King Vladmir (the former Baron whom he blamed for the persecution of his gypsy tribe and the loss of his parents); as a result, Books Of Doom has no real draw beyond the name recognition of its deadly and complicated subject, which is virtually a non-issue since Doom has always proven to be a bankable character for Marvel (at least until he crossed over into cinematic ventures).

The reader may also be reluctant to invest time in this story because of the series' perplexing title, which suggests that they're in for a mundane exploration of the character's motivations and thoughts while giving the impression of a diary or journal approach to its narrative. To be honest, well after finishing the series, I found myself wondering, "Wait--what 'books'? What's the title referring to?" His studies abroad? Some sort of allusion to the doomed path he set himself on? The spell books of Doom's witch-mother, the preoccupation of which would not only open the door to an affinity with science but would lead to a lifelong obsession to free her from her damnation? The title's true meaning always felt as if it were right in front of me, yet remains elusive to me to this day.

Nevertheless, this story is a compelling one, with a solid script by Brubaker and breathtaking interior art by Pablo Raimondi that's belied by the impressionist style of the series' cover artist, Paolo Rivera. There are many things that will be familiar to anyone who knows of either the '64 origin tale in its entirety or any of its details passed down through subsequent stories in one form or another; yet there are also a number of variations that go beyond items that other writers have from time to time used to supplement the original story in order to fill in gaps without altering the authentic version. One minor example in this case would be from the Lee/Kirby tale, when the young Victor von Doom is visited in his tribal camp by the Dean of Science from New York's Empire State University, who offers Doom a scholarship; whereas in Brubaker's telling, the visitor is a U.S. general who offers Doom a position at a lab facility near the university to develop technology for the military, though he'll also be enrolled in classes at ESU--the same deal that's cut with Reed Richards. It seems counterproductive to the expectations the military brass have for both of these men, since anyone who's ever attended a university could tell you that a college course load is bound to sap a considerable amount of the time Doom and Richards are meant to devote to their lab work; unfortunately, Brubaker doesn't really justify splitting their time thus, except to conform to Lee's story.

Yet try not to jump to conclusions based on an alteration like this that occurs almost right out of the gate; instead, for now, regard the variations you'll encounter as a writer's prerogative to offer a different interpretation of prior events, and be assured that the overall structure of Brubaker's story will become clear in due time.

Until then, allow this series' host to beckon you onward.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Interview With A Daredevil

Marvel 100th Anniversary Issues


Daredevil #100

Thanks to its promising cover by Rich Buckler, there was every reason to believe that the 100th issue of Daredevil published in mid-1973 (that is, his first 100th issue--there would be another in 2007) would be just as much of a landmark issue as those of other titles reaching that point.  Yet you may come away from its story feeling that you haven't experienced anything that really marked the occasion, or that Marvel even gave that aspect of it much thought beyond acknowledging it. Its main segment--Daredevil giving an interview to Rolling Stone Editor Jann Wenner, where he reflects on his beginnings and why he wants to lead the life he does--is presented in the context of the city's population being subjected to a mental onslaught which leaves them debilitated for minutes afterward before the memory of the experience fades. It's an attack which includes both DD and Wenner, during which Daredevil hallucinates that all of his old foes are rushing toward him--an all-too-brief scene which fulfills the cover's symbolic representation of the story's content, but little more.

For those readers who aren't quite up on Daredevil's origin, writer Steve Gerber and artist Gene Colan present a bare-bones retelling of the pertinent scenes as DD sifts through them during his interview--before DD turns his energy to pinning down the cause of the mental attacks. The one responsible for the chaos, Angar the Screamer, would show up on the issue's last page, with DD's interview mostly forgotten by this point (at least it feels that way)--nor is there even a reckoning between Angar and DD, since this 100th issue ends on a "to be continued" note.

As to how and why Daredevil is the subject of a RS interview in the first place, Gerber gets him there by having him foil a group of robbers who have stolen files from the RS building, with Wenner coaxing DD back into the building and springing the interview idea on him--quite a pretense for a segue from robbery to interview, since it's difficult to imagine what armed thugs would want with any documents from the Rolling Stone offices. (Was the mag's subscription price that exorbitant?) DD notes how it simply doesn't make sense--but once he's in Wenner's office, neither man feels like pursuing it further, an absurd lack of interest on both their parts given that each has a vested interest in putting the culprit(s) behind bars.

So much for that pesky robbery. The thugs could return with more men and guns to retrieve those files--yet neither of these two give the matter a second thought.

The interview touches on certain points in Daredevil's life, but not many; the flashbacks provided mostly deal with the basics of his origin--as well as "Mike Murdock," a character which probably no reader wants to revisit. Even Wenner admits that there's not much story material here, an observation that can't help but feel applicable to this very issue as a whole.

It's here that DD hears alarming sounds from outside before experiencing another hallucinatory waking nightmare, with Wenner pulled into his illusion and seeing what DD perceives. On that note, we know that DD shouldn't be seeing anything, since illusions carry no heartbeats or other distinctive indications that his radar sense can translate; but Gerber's narrative makes due with "Daredevil's super senses survey a checkered, convoluted landscape that can only be... his soul." Fair enough, since a mental attack could presumably have him seeing anything or anyone from his memories. But once the experience has run its course, Daredevil uses it as a way to more clearly define himself for Wenner--as well as for readers of his 100th issue who were expecting more of an affirmation of his career going forward.

From here, DD turns his attention to the ongoing crisis in the city, as Angar makes his debut. As for this "epoch-making 100th issue," as its cover boldly proclaims, to be honest I found DD's 1967 annual a more memorable read, and a more fun experience--one that probably would have perked up this interview for Mr. Wenner.

Jann Wenner, 1973
Photograph by Annie Leibovitz

Monday, July 23, 2018

You Say "Lincoln," I Say "Atomic Pile"

In terms of human evolution, the term "missing link" applies to a fossil (either not yet found or newly discovered) that can be added to an evolutionary chain of the human species, though reportedly the term is no longer in use by biologists. But back in mid-1968, it was still going strong when writers Bill Everett and Roy Thomas adapted it for a brand new character who would go up against none other than the incredible Hulk. Only this creature didn't stay related to its human ancestors for long, at least outwardly.

You'd think the words "accursed allies" used in conjunction would be something of an oxymoron, but I doubt our sinister Russian friend reciting this narrative is in the mood to be corrected.

Nor did it seem that either Everett or Thomas were particularly interested in formalizing this creature's name as "the Missing Link," since two or three other names for it are floated throughout the story. My personal favorite was "the Nightmare Monster," uttered on the spur of the moment by Betty Ross--but the name that seemed to prevail overall was "the Beast-Man," which didn't exactly give the impression of requiring much thought. I think I preferred "the Missing Link" as a runner-up to the Nightmare Monster, though honestly I liked it much more than "the Beast-Man."

But what can you do? Anyone who sees this bruiser is going to be too shocked to actually name it the Missing Link. The creature would have no reason to give itself the name, unless it overheard it being used (either that, or he turned out to be a subscriber to Scientific American)--while the Hulk, against all odds, came up with the same name that was voiced half a world away.

At any rate, we have the Russians, seen here at a meeting with their "accursed eastern allies," to thank for the creature showing up on our shores--and whatever he ends up being called, battling him is going to be uphill for the Hulk, a product himself of radiation exposure and apparently vulnerable to that being radiated by others.

When the Link's two-part story continues, additional writer Archie Goodwin seems to be leaning in the direction of dumping "the Beast-Man," but even Betty's harrowing collision isn't enough to ram the name out of these pages--thanks to Rick Jones, who always seems to be around causing trouble, doesn't he.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

To The Death!

Capping the year 1973 was an event closer that, while formally beginning in September of that year, can be traced all the way back to January, and this climactic scene from a battle of gods:

The following month, Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, was having his own encounter with an Asgardian--one which had its upside, yet most definitely a downside.

As for Loki, he's recovered in mid-plummet by the dread Dormammu, who proposes an alliance between them in order to recover and reassemble a device which would mean the end for the Earth as we know it.

Yet when Loki realizes that Asgard, as well, would be destroyed with that of Earth's dimension*, he does what he can to foil Dormammu's plans for the Defenders--by involving the Avengers to counter them.

*Still not too clear on that. Isn't Asgard in its own dimension? Sometimes it's hard to tell.

And so the Avengers move against the Defenders' efforts to recover the Evil Eye, though the latter group is successful for the most part. Finally, reason prevails between two war veterans from the opposing sides--and the Sub-Mariner leads Captain America and the rest of the Avengers back to the sanctum of Dr. Strange, where all parties (save two) finally compare notes.

After recovering Thor and the Hulk on the battlefield, the pieces of the Evil Eye are collected and made ready to be rejoined--but Dormammu makes his move first, sending one of his servants to swiftly swoop in and recover them before any of the stunned super-beings can prevent it. And almost immediately, Dormammu begins using the power of the now-complete Eye** to merge Earth's dimension with his own. Chaos reigns, unchecked--but not unopposed.

**Since Dormammu's alliance with Loki was predicated on his need of the Asgardian's power to help reassemble the Eye, by rights Dormammu's plan should have ended in failure, given that Loki had already earlier decided to work against him.

And now, pieces put in place throughout a year's worth of stories culminate with an assemblage of heroes who are committed to bringing the fight to Dormammu at last. Of course, given that the Avengers' book has won the coin toss as far as carrying the ball for this conflict's climax...

...some of the heroes being used to promote this issue will end up being sidelined.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Ally Or The Enemy?

As they close in on the final hours of their two-week honeymoon, the Black Panther and his new Queen, Storm, find themselves returning to a matter they'd tabled before departing: a message delivered to them on their wedding day by Victor Von Doom, which suggested, in so many words, that they meet to discuss a possible alliance. Normally such a proposal would be out of the question for the nation of Wakanda, and perhaps it remains so with T'Challa; yet he does counter that he and Ororo handle the situation by including Latveria as part of a "goodwill tour" of nations--visiting some of the larger centers of global power, to assuage possible fears of those who see the new couple as the embodiment of "too much power, too much wealth, too well connected." A combination of factors that, in the minds of some, might indicate a desire to take over the world.

An almost laughable leap to make for the sane, but we live on the planet Earth, after all. In any case, the undertones of Doom's message make him the logical first stop for the pair, if a cautious one--because you never know how the man known as Dr. Doom will take rejection.

But we can make a good guess.

Monday, July 16, 2018

There's A New Power Couple In Town

The royal marriage between the Sub-Mariner and the lady Dorma might have been tragically brief, but two other weddings of note were carried out with happier prospects--one taking place thirteen years later (our time) between Black Bolt and Medusa, and another a staggering 22 years later between the Black Panther and Storm, which unfortunately endured only six years before Marvel pulled the plug on it.  The break-up happened  some time after I'd stopped collecting new comics--but from what I understand, the formal end for the pair took place in a scene during the Avengers vs. X-Men "event" in 2012, a story that saw Storm deciding to throw in with the X-Men for the duration.  The scene in question occurs after Namor, with the power of the Phoenix force (because, sure), lays waste to Wakanda.

But in 2006, the joining between Storm and the Panther was the wedding of the decade in comics terms--and as celebrated as it was within the pages of Black Panther, writer Reginald Hudlin and artist Scot Eaton also seemed to have the "blessing" of Marvel itself, the event full of pomp and carefully crafted to be fitted into the retconned history and foundation of Wakanda. This would be a joining not only in terms of causing ripples through the Marvel universe of the day, but one with political ramifications, as well--and as such, it would raise the profile of Black Panther, as well as T'Challa himself, considerably.