Friday, August 31, 2018

Spymaster Triumphant! (Wanna bet?)

Of all the foes who have taken on the invincible Iron Man and proven themself a force to be reckoned with, it's a little hard to believe that the Spymaster could pose that great a challenge in a face-to-face confrontation with the golden Avenger. Given this villain's occupation, his strength lies in working behind the scenes and avoiding discovery, not duking it out with an armored powerhouse. To survive such a match, or even hold his own, he'd have to have the element of surprise on his side as far as his offensive capabilities--but how can we expect a spy, even a costumed spy, to be prepared for the likes of Iron Man?

Well, looking over his career, that often depended on (a) the circumstances of his mission, (b) how much he was packing, and (c) how much he was getting paid. We can start with item (c) first, and say that Spymaster has been in the game long enough to be in demand by clients who are able to pay top dollar for his services; suffice to say that taking on the types of jobs such clients require of him translates to enough dollar signs to make sure he's very motivated to succeed. And to ensure that success, item (b) is something he takes seriously, to offset any unforeseen opposition that he's forced to deal with; it's also something his employer will insist on providing, depending on how likely it may be for him to encounter opposition in the course of his work.

As for item (a), his mission today is to steal the file records of Stark International's stockholders--so you can probably guess exactly the opposition he's likely to encounter. That is, if the opposition lives long enough--because Spymaster is picking up a tidy $20,000 bonus for first taking out Tony Stark!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Now Strikes--The Panther!

As we've previously seen in a Fantastic Four tale from 1972, writer Roy Thomas, scripting his first story for the title, altered the name of the Black Panther--for reasons which had their basis not in a purely creative choice but, rather, in the real-world minefield of politics.

But, come to think of it, not a single other story comes to mind where we've seen the Black Leopard leaping into action. What gives??

That's our cue to leap into yet another

Marvel Trivia Question

Whatever happened to "the Black Leopard"?

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Black Leopard--M.I.A.!

While Roy Thomas's initial run on Fantastic Four lasted only seven issues--followed by a two-issue encore with a story which paid homage to the 1950s--he submitted a sampler of sorts of what he would bring to the FF's table with a fine effort from 1972 that demonstrated what an excellent fit he would be for the book. For the tale's plot, he tackled nothing less than the issue of apartheid, a state of racial segregation that existed in South Africa from the late 1940s until the early 1990s (with no small amount of political violence). The catalyst for the involvement of the FF is the Black Panther, having gone missing after pursuing a criminal investigation that led him to the (fictional) nation of Rudyarda, which we're told is situated near Wakanda.

T'Challa's chief advisor, Taku, explains the situation to the FF in a briefing, detailing how two men slipped into Wakanda under false pretenses and made off with a device they plan to sell to their contact in Rudyarda:

Two observations of note here: One, that Taku chooses to contact the FF rather than the Avengers, T'Challa's more recent associates and certainly a group that has the resources and clout to make inquiries with the Rudyardan government, either through official channels or personally. That said, there's really no reason why Taku would need to weigh a choice between the two groups as to which one would be more suited to the mission at hand; and as he reminds us, Wakanda and the FF have a history, and it's a nice touch by Thomas (who also might have reason to go with the Avengers) to maintain their quid pro quo status of mutual respect and cooperation.

Secondly, on a lesser note--assuming this is the same Taku featured in "Panther's Rage," he either apparently enjoyed a greater standing with T'Challa in this story than in his later post as T'Challa's communications specialist, or by then T'Challa had dispensed with having a "chief advisor" in favor of relying on several advisors as part of his palace inner circle.

But while Taku and the FF don't yet know the circumstances of T'Challa's disappearance, we can see by this issue's cover that he won't be in danger for long if the Thing and the Human Torch have anything to say about it.

Yet as this story unfolds, we'll find there's more to this situation than meets the eye.

Friday, August 24, 2018

A Life For A Life!

Yikes! What would make Captain Marvel and the rampaging Thing come to blows??

We apparently have no further to look than the two figures in shadow, above; but technically, we have to point the finger to Skragg and the Super-Skrull--two of the Skrull race who follow the orders of the mad Thanos, who needs crucial information from Mar-vell in order to obtain the Cosmic Cube. It's Skragg's belief that if the Kree Captain can be tricked into slaying the Thing, he'll come to realize he's murdered an innocent--which will push him towards insanity and thus make him more susceptible to providing the information Thanos needs.

Now that we've heard from the brains of the outfit, it's time for the brawn--i.e., the Super-Skrull--to lure the Thing into a trap which Mar-vell and his human host, Rick Jones, have also been manipulated into investigating. And having had dealings before with the Super-Skrull along with the rest of the Fantastic Four, it's almost a given that the Thing won't be obliged to ignore even so obvious a lure as that which the Super-Skrull dangles before him.

But as the Thing arrives at the building where the Skrulls will spring their trap, there is another component to Skragg's plan that will complete his preparations for Mar-vell, who, as Rick, has already entered the premises. And as the Thing boldly makes his own entrance, Phase 2 of this plan is quickly utilized.

Still unaware that the Super-Skrull isn't acting alone, the Thing continues to search the building; but he has been spotted by one who has already had first-hand exposure to Skragg's attempts at deception and who suspects that he's being targeted again with the same tactics. And following Rick having made the deductions, it's Captain Marvel who attacks the Thing on sight.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Unfrozen

In Part 1 of the Defenders tale which introduces the character of Nebulon, the Celestial Man, and returns to comics the Squadron Sinister (a team of criminals which includes, notably, the future Defender, Nighthawk), we learned of a bargain made by the Squadron with Nebulon that would "sell" him the planet Earth, on the condition that its entire surface be underwater before he would take possession of it. To that end, Nebulon supplied the Squadron with a laser device which would facilitate melting the polar ice caps, resulting in a sudden and massive rise in global sea levels which would inundate the world's land masses and cause widescale death and destruction. Upon hearing the insane proposal by his partners, Nighthawk rejected any involvement with their plan and eventually made his way to the Defenders to enlist their help in stopping it, only to be retrieved and imprisoned by Nebulon.

The Defenders mobilized and responded, taking their fight to the Arctic where the Squadron had already begun constructing the laser device. But though they did well at meeting the threat of the Squadron, it was Nebulon who again acted to curtail their interference, capturing them in the same type of energy globe that also held Nighthawk. And now, with the Squadron poised to fulfill their part of this mad bargain, Nebulon is prepared to destroy the Defenders--the first casualties in a wave of death soon to cover the entire world!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Re-Enter: The Squadron Sinister!

With his departure from The Defenders, writer Steve Englehart also decided to arrange for the departure of most of the core members of the non-team--the Silver Surfer, the Sub-Mariner, and the Hulk--and have them go their separate ways, leaving only Dr. Strange and the Valkyrie to carry on. Since the Defenders were a loose-knit gathering, technically there was no group to disband, and so no historic marking of the occasion was really needed; yet the book itself had become a popular title, mostly on the strength of the characters that had made steady appearances in the comic for nearly a year. It stood to reason that with a growing readership plunking down 25¢ an issue, every effort should be made to accommodate them.

But what to do? New scripter Len Wein was tasked with picking up where Englehart left off, but he was basically handed a blank slate since there were no Defenders to speak of. And you couldn't just reinsert the Hulk and the others into the book as if their dramatic exits never happened.

Oh, really?

The Squadron Sinister sure make for one heck of a homecoming.

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Bride Of M.O.D.O.K.!

It's 1983, and we're hip-deep in the middle of a Bill Mantlo story featuring the Incredible Hulk! And with Mr. Mantlo at the helm, you can imagine the piecemeal plot that you've stumbled into. But the PPC is on the job, with a handy synopsis that tries to make sense of events which took four issues to play out. Fasten your seatbelt:

  • Gen. "Thunderbolt" Ross, now in charge of a military installation known as Project: Earthfall, responds to the alert of an intruder--M.O.D.O.K., the deadly creation of Advanced Idea Mechanics whose mental powers are both coveted and feared by his A.I.M. masters!
  • MODOK has come to exploit the creature that Project: Earthfall was built to contain:  the Abomination, who remains on ice since being discovered in a frozen state in space following his thrashing by the Hulk. Yet Ross, unknown to anyone stationed at the facility, also plans to use the Abomination--against the Hulk, in the belief that the monster, now under the control of Bruce Banner's mind, would eventually revert to his former savage state. By acting against a presidential pardon of the Hulk, Ross is willing to commit treason by going through with his plan.
  • The Abomination, due to being beaten so badly by the Hulk in their prior encounter, is now a whimpering coward--terrified at the thought of meeting him in battle again.  How the mighty have fallen.
  • MODOK, confronted by Ross, strikes a bargain with him for the use of the Abomination, while delighted that a man of Ross's military career would stoop to committing treason to gain his ends. The pact: the Abomination will first destroy the Hulk, then be sent to subjugate the forces of AIM and bring them once more under the control of their creation.
  • To overcome the Abomination's paralyzing fear, MODOK removes him from Project: Earthfall and begins torturing conditioning him to dread his treatment by MODOK even more than another match with the Hulk. The Abomination is also assured that, with Banner's mind in control, the Hulk isn't likely to attain the savagery that's necessary to increase his strength to a level which surpasses his own.
  • While the Abomination moves to attack and destroy the Hulk at Banner's observatory, MODOK barely survives a two-pronged attack by AIM agents who are well on their way to creating a second MODOK, one which this time will be totally subservient to them.
  • Things don't exactly go as planned, for anyone. Failing against the Hulk/Banner, the Abomination makes off with Banner's assistant, scientist/S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Katherine Waynesboro, with the intention of luring the Hulk to MODOK. (How he thinks that will fulfill his obligation to MODOK is anyone's guess. But with MODOK already dealing with hordes of AIM agents trying to gun him down, we can make a fair guess as to what our Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing will do to the idiot who's responsible for adding the Hulk to his list of problems.)
  • Bringing his daughter, Betty, to the observatory and expecting the Hulk to be dead, Ross is enraged to find Banner alive and "outs" himself to both of them vis-à-vis his collusion with MODOK. As a result, Ross is exposed as a traitor--while the Hulk races to track Dr. Waynesboro, whose life he'll find is in danger in more ways than one!

It's beginning to look like no one is getting out of this Mantlo plot in one piece. Ross, disgraced... the Abomination, a quivering mental wreck... and to top it off, thanks to the machinations of A.I.M., it's MODOK vs. MODOK--and guess who's caught in the middle?

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Betrayal Of The Avengers!

Dissension In The Ranks

When resentments and disagreements boil over,
even allies can turn against each other in fierce battle that can bring the house down.

(And often does!)


The Avengers

When the Masters of Evil were without the services of the Melter and the Black Knight, and its core group numbered only three--Zemo, the Executioner, and the Enchantress--the time was right for Immortus, in his first appearance, to insinuate himself into their group as its newest member, an offer Zemo took him up on after seeing a demonstration of the mysterious applicant's abilities. Still, Zemo was savvy enough to insist on a test: that Immortus destroy one of the Avengers. To Zemo's astonishment, Immortus offered to destroy all of them.

To that end, he lures Captain America to his lair by kidnapping Rick Jones, in a scheme to ensnare all of the other Avengers with Cap's unwitting assistance. As you'd imagine, Cap's mood is dark when he arrives to confront Immortus.

In these early days back in circulation, Cap suffered from PTSD in terms of his guilt over the death of his young former partner, Bucky Barnes, while also morose at feeling like a man out of time. So the thought of Rick's life being put in danger due to his association with him would have a profound effect on Cap's usually collected demeanor that would normally have him sizing up this foe and deciding on the best way to handle his threat.

Instead, Cap basically loses it--storming into Avengers H.Q. and, of all things, demanding to face the Avenger who delivered Rick to Immortus, an assumption springing in part from a bogus ad found in Rick's room that promised super-powers to those who responded, in tandem with an earlier motion by Iron Man to grant Rick formal Avengers membership as well as a uniform (both of which Cap rejected). In Cap's crazed state of mind, however, his reasoning is completely twisted around, as he appears to fall for the bill of goods Immortus has sold him regarding the other Avengers.

To see the Avengers respond to Cap's all-out attack against them almost gives the impression that, even pared down to three, the Masters might have no trouble in a well-planned assault against them. To be charitable, we could chalk up the Avengers' disarray to their concern not to harm this one man scattering them like amateurs. (Yes, that's it.) Though since Immortus is no doubt monitoring the brawl, it might seem to him that the other Avengers would probably be easy pickings if he'd only captured Cap instead of Rick.

As it is, it's certainly not a stretch to think that Cap is capable of taking the Avengers all by his lonesome--a skilled tactician who can exploit his teammates' weaknesses and keep them from ganging up on him by using a hit-and-run approach with each of them.

With everyone on the same page vis-à-vis Immortus, Cap returns to him with the Avengers in tow. But Immortus finds that the other Avengers are more formidable than he realized, and so settles for capturing Cap and traveling with him to the past where Rick is being held. Cap, of course, fights his way to Rick's side, despite the hordes of fighters that Immortus sends against him; meanwhile, the Masters have decided to launch an all-out attack against the other Avengers now that Immortus has left them vulnerable. Indeed, the Avengers, demoralized by Cap's uncertain fate, appear overwhelmed by their foes and on the verge of defeat.

But with Cap prevailing against his opposition in the past and freeing Rick, Immortus holds to his pledge to return Cap to the present--and it's a whole new ball game.

As we can see, the Enchantress, like Immortus, can also make use of time to serve her ends--in this case, to save herself and the others by effectively making sure that this entire debacle never begins in the first place. Thus, the Avengers now have no memory of events that occurred after their meeting adjourned, to the detriment of a certain teenage sidekick whose hopes must be dashed once more.

Too bad, Rick--you were THIS close.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

You Can Take The Avenger Out Of The Carnival...

Where YOU Weigh In on the Pros and Cons of a Character's New Attire


Hawkeye, the Marksman   

Following the Avengers' involvement in the Kree-Skrull War, Clint Barton, who at the time was operating in the field as Goliath, was listed as missing in action. But unknown to the rest of his team, his ship had crash-landed on Earth and was discovered by a traveling carnival troupe who offered him transportation in exchange for performances of his impressive archery skills. Eventually, and with Hercules in tow, he makes his way back to New York and becomes involved in a mystery which would result in an invasion of Olympus; but along with his surprise reappearance was of course the surprise of a new costume, replacing one that dated back five years.

In a way, it seems appropriate for Hawkeye's new look (as rendered by artist Barry Smith) to keep in line with his "carny" roots--which indeed it does, thanks to the story's explanation that the costumed belonged to the troupe's former archer who made off with their payroll. The new threads also seem to have inspired Barton to put the moves on the Scarlet Witch...

...though Wanda finally shoots him down. (Ironic how Hawkeye has such lousy aim with Cupid's arrow.)

Funny how the Stalker the Vision winds up in the vicinity of both conversations, eh?

In terms of practicality, these new duds don't seem to be suited to battle situations; for one thing, they're the definition of "wear and tear." One slash from the Swordsman or the Man-Ape and, whoops!, we have an Avenger ducking for cover for all the wrong reasons. (We could say the same for our unfortunate friend Hercules above.) Also, his back- and hip-quivers don't seem designed to accommodate his specialized arrows--while the normal ones tend to fall out in the types of activities that Avengers tend to engage in.

Readers also chimed in with some observations:

If there were indeed "droves" of readers who responded to the entreaty to submit opinions on Hawkeye's new costume, they unfortunately never materialized in the letters column. But with Roy Thomas leaving the book with issue #104 and Steve Englehart coming aboard, the days of Hawkeye's new costume appear to be numbered. Not only does the costume get 86ed after just twelve issues, but the character himself leaves the Avengers following appearances which spanned nearly one-hundred issues over a period of eight years.

So let's have a verdict on Hawkeye's all too brief (in more ways than one) costume!

OR: ?

The floor is open!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Titans Eight!

As often as various Marvel titans have clashed, to great fanfare, it may seem that we've seen the bold splash page title "When Titans Clash!" (along with its sister, "A Clash Of Titans!") any number of times over the years, whether that headliner has been deserved or not. By that I mean I'd be reluctant to categorize a battle between the Mimic and the Super-Adaptoid as anything other than "When Mimics Clash!", which seems so obvious given the nature of the combatants. Marvel, to my shocking surprise, begged to differ:

So out of curiosity, I did a little spot research on the subject, and came up with just 8 instances of an issue's splash page bearing those audacious words. (Actually 7½, but more on that in a moment.) Is that really all? It feels like the number should be higher, since the ground being covered adds up to a little over four decades of stories. Perhaps that speaks well of Marvel's restraint, since those particular words really shouldn't be bandied about excessively, instead reserved only for the most noteworthy of clashes that merit them.

Nevertheless, it makes a tidy feature for today's post--and of course one heck of a banner.

Monday, August 13, 2018

When Titans Tussle!

Aside from his rumbles with Thor, and, on rare occasion, the Hulk, you don't see many one-on-one battles with Hercules that go the distance. What might have been a compelling exception to that assertion would have been to pit the Prince of Power against another unyielding powerhouse who, under other circumstances, would have become a fine recurring foe whose threat potential could have made their bouts as memorable as the issue covers which did their best to sell that concept.

Today, we remember the pairing of Hercules and the Sub-Mariner as one beginning in antagonism but going on to a healthy rivalry built on mutual respect. Yet it was their first meeting in the pages of The Avengers in 1967 which held the promise of much more.

Their battle, however, was to be relatively brief, overshadowed as it was by the title characters as well as the presence of the Cosmic Cube--compounded by the head-scratching complication by writer Roy Thomas of having Hercules grow substantially and inexplicably weaker while battling Namor under water, something even the two combatants couldn't understand.

Nearly three years later, when Namor was well into his own series, a guest-appearance by Hercules seemed the perfect opportunity for them to settle their old score--yet Namor's attack was due to being conscripted by the Olympian known as the Huntsman, well-named since his function as dictated by Zeus was to seek out and return his errant son to Olympus. To that end, the Huntsman mesmerizes the Sub-Mariner to act as a suitable distraction so that Hercules can be taken unawares.

The fact that Namor is going after Hercules not of his own free will saps this conflict of half of its marquee value, since it leaves the door wide open for the story to become a forerunner of what would become a typical Marvel Team-Up plot where both characters meet in battle only to come to their senses and join forces against their common enemy. Indeed, what would otherwise be the opening panels of a page-turning rematch between Hercules and the Sub-Mariner leads to just that.

In all likelihood, Thomas is intent on Namor taking the high road in this affair now that the character has his own title as the Prince of Atlantis, while an attempt may also be at work here in trying to reignite interest in Hercules, missing in action since Thomas pulled him from The Avengers in '68. Regrettably, that means this will strictly be a guest-star story, and nothing achieving the level of the cover-to-cover battle issue we were treated to in that year between Namor and the Hulk.

As for the Huntsman, he has his own ideas on how to deal with this situation, using his staff to create gargantuan mythical figures to do his work for him. From then on, it seems that Namor and Hercules are committed to fighting side-by-side from this point on.

Zeus indeed intervenes, though the story ends with Hercules reconsidering and deciding to return to Olympus after all, to his father's satisfaction. For whatever reason, the Sub-Mariner's memory of the entire matter is erased--though if it's to allow these two to meet in battle again someday, it seems wasted effort considering that Hercules retains his own memory of their alliance. (Then again, whoever accused Hercules of being anything but rash?)

Fifteen years later, when Hercules has rejoined the Avengers, it looks like our pair might engage in no-holds-barred hostilities, when the Avengers visit Hydrobase in the hopes of using it as a hangar for their aircraft and discover a foe from their past haunting the facility. But, what's got Hercules' dander up?