Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Infra-World of Captain Omen!

We've already seen the first of several encounters the incredible Hulk would have with ship captains who didn't exactly have his best interests at heart. It seems an odd combination, indeed... a raging man-monster, thrust into an environment where a human issues orders and metes out punishment if necessary--neither of which the Hulk would tolerate from any human, regardless of whatever puny rank they hold. (One has only to look at the Hulk's disregard for Gen. "Thunderbolt" Ross's status as a time-tested example.) Captain Cybor, however, became part man/part machine because of the creature he hunted; and while we could categorize the Hulk's next antagonist as fully human (at least in appearance), the Hulk would discover that both captain and crew were *ahem* out of his depth, as he finds himself trapped in the strange and far-reaching infra-world of Captain Omen.

Regrettably, it looks like we need to add "hostile" to that world's description.

Monday, October 29, 2018

A Behemoth Stalks The Stars!

The incredible Hulk hasn't had the best of luck in his encounters with ship captains--that is to say, those men who fall outside of don't answer to the jurisdiction of international maritime organizations and instead pursue their own goals using their own methods. Pirates like Commander Kraken certainly fit the bill--but there are others who command vessels in pursuit of treasure and/or power, while some even seek vengeance. It's the latter which first crosses the Hulk's path, in a 1971 story which takes the concept of Captain Ahab and adapts it to outer space, and a hunt for an energy creature which has become the obsession of one who has sailed the stars to end its existence.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Arrrr... I Be The True Sub-Mariner!

When it comes to formal occasions or matters of court, we can probably picture the Sub-Mariner not only wearing his crown but also decked out in royal raiment, while also including perhaps a pendant or two along with his trident; otherwise, he can almost always be seen au naturel amongst his subjects or even when traveling to the surface world. But in early 1973, his fellow Defenders didn't even bat an eye at a new accessory he began sporting on his left earlobe:

Aye, matey, a single earring, which materialized out of the blue in the middle of an adventure without explanation--or, rather, an explanation that the other Defenders would be privy to.

And so our ear is turned to another piercing

Marvel Trivia Question

What was behind Namor's decision to don an earring--and what became of it?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Escape From Hades!

Aside from the fact that one of their members is an Olympian demigod, the mighty Avengers' dealings with the denizens of Olympus have been few and far between. But when Hercules had the misfortune of being critically injured by the Masters of Evil, the Avengers were forced to confront the mystery of his abduction from his hospital bed--and as Thor soon discovered, all signs pointed to the Olympians. Of course, there's little reason for Thor to become alarmed, if that was the case; the assumption could easily be made that the Olympians became aware of Hercules' state and retrieved him in order to better treat his injuries. However, writer Roger Stern instead puts the notion into Thor to investigate, at which point the Thunder God subsequently leaves his teammates behind to transport himself to Olympus in search of Hermes, the Olympian he has spotted fleeing the scene. And while we readers are probably wanting to ask Thor, "Where's the fire?", Stern uses the incident as a jumping-off point to a major story that would bring down on the Avengers the retribution of Zeus for their perceived wrongdoings against his son.

Following Thor's disappearance, the remaining Avengers are attacked on the streets of New York by a strike team of other Olympians who have been dispatched by Zeus to collar those Avengers whom he believes bear responsibility for the fate of Hercules--a directive which also includes inactive members the Wasp and the Sub-Mariner, who will be targeted immediately after the active members are retrieved. The team proves no match for the resilience of their foes--and soon enough, the Avengers awaken and find themselves the subjects of a deafening judgment.

Hercules had suffered significant brain trauma as a result of the Masters' attack, so we can assume that Zeus's fury likely stems from the incoherent mumbling of recent events uttered in his son's delirium. The Avengers try to get a word in edgewise and provide the facts--but Zeus is fit to be tied, and judging by his demeanor he's already made his decision as to their guilt, and their fate.

As to where the Avengers have been banished, we find the answer when we join Namor, who has successfully been captured as well but has managed to escape--with the mysterious help of another Olympian, Prometheus, who points the way to where the Avengers are incarcerated. Though one could make the argument that Hades itself is prison enough.

(Granted, "Fortress Tartarus" looks a bit dilapidated and ready to crumble under its own weight--possibly because artist John Buscema has only provided breakdowns on all installments of this story (leaving the finished art to Tom Palmer), and panels fall a little short on detail.)

Following his infiltration of the edifice, Namor soon comes across the sorry state of his comrades, imprisoned in ways that neutralize their abilities and verbally abused by their captors. Namor wastes no time in freeing them--and through clever means, taking full advantage of the elements of surprise and confusion.

And so the Avengers learn of the fate for them decided by Zeus: consignment to Hades, the deadly netherworld under the rule of its lord and master, Pluto. And though the team has dealt with the contingent of armed soldiers guarding them, upon exiting Tartarus they encounter the first wave of the savage hordes that Pluto commands.

The Avengers thus begin the fight for their lives, and their freedom--
while, above, the battle for their very survival awaits.

Monday, October 22, 2018

You Always Battle The One You Love

(with a nostalgic nod to Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher)

As a companion piece to an earlier post which took a look at pairings of Marvel characters that didn't quite work out romantically, it seems appropriate to flip the coin and look in on couples whose romantic ties were more stable (or in flux) but who, from time to time, were perfectly willing to take off the gloves and resort to duking it out to resolve their differences, just like any other couple. Except that when we're talking about super-powered characters, there's every chance that a fight will turn into a full-fledged battle, possibly to the death! Ain't love grand?

Yikes! You real-life husbands out there had better watch your backs!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Free At Last!

If memory serves, there were six instances* where the Silver Surfer managed to escape the barrier of Galactus while trapped on the planet Earth: (1), when Loki maneuvered him into traveling to Asgard and attacking the mighty Thor; (2) when he streaked into the future, to a time when the barrier no longer existed; (3) when Mephisto dissolved the barrier in a scheme to demoralize him; (4) through his own power, after meditating for an entire year to focus on piercing the barrier; (5) relying on the Hulk's gamma radiation to increase his strength; and (6) when Reed Richards provided him with a one-time-only opportunity to pass through the barrier in accordance with a unique planetary alignment. In one way or another, all attempts met with eventual failure, the last being made in 1982.

*Add two more to the list, if you're counting his "escape" to the Microverse or the misdirection he encountered in the dimension of the Nameless One.

But nearly five years later to the month, writer Steve Englehart, together with artists Marshall Rogers and Joe Rubinstein, launched a brand new Silver Surfer series. And in its first landmark issue, the question of whether the Surfer would still be shackled to our world or, instead, would be soaring among the stars once more is immediately settled in a bold, two-page spread which indicated an entirely new direction for the character--thanks to a single word, which spoke volumes and let the reader know that the Surfer was, finally:

Up until this time, the Surfer was in another type of void, as far as his readership was concerned--consigned to the status of guest star, with the prospect of another series for him on hold due to an informal arrangement with the Surfer's original writer, Stan Lee, to allow him to maintain creative control of the character. By 1982, however, Lee had gradually made a number of exceptions to that request vis-à-vis the growing number of writers who succeeded him**--and with Lee segueing to oversee Marvel's Hollywood projects, he formally released the Surfer to their management after his collaboration with John Byrne in the '82 Silver Surfer one-shot, ending years in virtual limbo for the character's direction.

**Circa 1971, when he was made Publisher--around the time when the "Stan Lee Presents" caption began appearing on each title's splash page.

More appearances in other titles followed, until the new series by Englehart in '87 breaks new ground for the Surfer in his own book. It's a promising first issue, where once again the Surfer received aid from the Fantastic Four to break free from his prison--this time with no cloud hanging over him that practically broadcast to readers that the attempt wouldn't succeed. Instead, we see the Silver Surfer racing toward the infinite, and, at long last, to new storylines that didn't confine him to a single world.

And yet the Surfer himself realizes that there is one loose end which he'll need to confront before moving on with his life--one being who will ultimately decide whether or not he can fully embrace his newfound freedom.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Final Fate of The Bride of Doom!

We've taken a look at the brief story of Helena, a woman living in Latveria who was summoned by Victor Von Doom to become his bride, only to play a much larger role in a scheme that would entrap the Silver Surfer and compel him to destroy the Fantastic Four. It was Helena's uncanny resemblance to the Surfer's lost love, Shalla Bal, that allowed Doom to manipulate the Surfer, a plan facilitated by Doom suppressing her memories so that her true identity remained a mystery to her. Fortunately, her interaction with the Surfer restored those memories and allowed her to confirm that she was not the woman the Surfer believed she was, in time for the Surfer to join the FF in bringing an end to Doom's plot.

Unknown to anyone, however, was that "Helena" was part of another scheme--set in motion by Mephisto, the underworld demon who coveted the Surfer's soul. In a plan of revenge involving S.H.I.E.L.D., Mephisto had abducted Shalla Bal from her world of Zenn-La and brought her to Earth with the goal of manipulating the Surfer into killing her; but when that plan failed, he caused Shalla Bal to vanish before the Surfer could free her. Presumably, she was returned to Zenn-La--but we discovered instead that Mephisto had sent her to Latveria and given her false memories of being a local peasant girl. Still trapped on Earth, the Surfer continued to believe that Shalla Bal was lost to him forever, when in fact she was closer than he knew--and when Doom launched his own plot, it further advanced Mephisto's plan to strike another blow against the Surfer and increase his agony by dashing his hopes that Helena was more than she seemed.

Yet she was more, all along--and, with the exception of Mephisto, only you and I are aware of it.

Which paves the way for an agonizing

Marvel Trivia Question

Whatever became of "Helena"?

Monday, October 15, 2018

In Victory, Defeat!

Previously, we've seen the Fantastic Four as well as the Silver Surfer drawn into a scheme set in motion by Doctor Doom in order to bind the Surfer to his service--a plan that depended on Doom's marriage to none other than Shalla Bal, the Surfer's long-lost love from his homeworld of Zenn-La, in order to force the Surfer to destroy the FF in exchange for Shalla Bal being released from her vows. Initially, the Surfer was prepared to comply--but instead of slaying them, he delivered them to Doom at his castle in Latveria as his prisoners (with the FF's covert cooperation).

During that time, we also learned that Doom's true purpose in involving the Surfer was to gradually draw off and adapt the sky-rider's cosmic power to reside in an artificial being of his own creation--a plan now revealed as the FF escape their imprisonment and search the castle for Doom in order to finally strike back at their foe.  Meanwhile, the Surfer continues to brood at his helplessness in being so near to the woman he loves and yet so far, due to an apparent loss of her memory presumably inflicted by Doom. And to raise the stakes in this three-pronged conflict, the deadly Doomsman is summoned to life!

We've reached the climax to this three-part tale from early 1975--
and from the looks of its cover, there's plenty of "doom" to go around.

Friday, October 12, 2018

When Ambushes The Silver Surfer!

While marked by some measure of controversy, artist Rich Buckler's nearly two-year stint on Fantastic Four in the mid-1970s is generally regarded as one of the more successful and noteworthy runs by an artist in the book's long history. Taking the reins from another of the title's most acclaimed pencilers, John Buscema, whose stay on the book is often described by such words as "classic" and "definitive," Buckler began his assignment by arriving at a pivotal moment, with the team disbanding following the decision of Reed Richards to shut down the mind of his son, Franklin. The grim circumstances notwithstanding, it was an opportune time to arrive for any artist fresh to the book--a chance to chart a new course for the FF without having to necessarily conform to what came before.

On that note, while there's a good deal of Buckler's style to be seen in his FF work, there was also an effort made to conform to the prior work of Jack Kirby, the book's original artist (and an archtype, to be sure)--with Buckler being one of several pencilers to mimic his style, as well as, unfortunately, to virtually duplicate Kirby's panels and/or forms therein. That's partially why it seems apt to spotlight a story from early 1975 which is (for the most part) free from such distraction, while allowing the reader to not only focus on Buckler's standout style which carried the book through twenty-one issues, but also on two of the Fantastic Four's most prominent guest-stars: the deadly nemesis known as Doctor Doom, who was also featured when Buckler was getting his feet wet with the book in '74, and the reappearance of the Silver Surfer, whose previous Fantastic Four appearance was in mid-1972 when Stan Lee was scripting his last few issues for the title.

And to add a twist, it looks like Buckler, along with writers Roy Thomas and Len Wein, have the two of them teaming up--against the FF!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Fathers, Sons, Huns... and Doc Ock!

If there's a listing somewhere of Marvel's Most Unlikely Adversaries to See Print, it's fair to speculate that Captain America vs. Doctor Octopus might be on it somewhere--maybe not in the top 10, or even the top 50, but if you skimmed down the entire list I think it would jump out at some point. It's hard to imagine why their paths would even cross--New York City is large enough to keep a lot of individuals' paths from crossing, nor does Ock really have any reason to try taking on the Avengers to somehow end up going head to head with Cap. Is it a matchup anyone would even be curious about? Ock is a headliner, yes, but I'd think a more interesting fight might be between Ock and Iron Man, as long as we're throwing names out there. (Of course, if Iron Man was shown to have a problem ripping Ock's metal appendages to mangled junk, it's not really an issue I'd plunk down 50¢ for.)

However, in mid-1981, it at least looked like EIC Jim Shooter was curious about how such a fight might play out--because even though he wasn't scripting the Captain America book at the time, he's credited with coming up with the plot for a story by David Michelinie that throws these two very different fighters together in conflict.

And if you're one of those who are still on the fence about whether or not this meeting should have taken place, the caption on the cover has already settled the matter.

But go ahead and shell out those four bits, because this Captain America story is a keeper.

Monday, October 8, 2018

A World For The Winning!

You would think that Doctor Doom and the master of magnetism, Magneto, would be like oil and water as far as finding any common ground in joining forces to rule the world, at least as far as their status circa the late 1970s. Magneto's agenda had always circled back to mutant ascendancy, where "homo superior" would be the planet's dominant species and ordinary humans would either submit to their authority or perish--whereas Doom seeks supremacy over all, an absolute ruler in every sense and brooking no challenge to his authority. Yet in the time he was the de facto standard bearer of Super-Villain Team-Up and still dabbling with forming alliances with like-minded men who could further his goals, there were still opportunities to explore situations where Doom might consider a partnership with another in order to consolidate their forces for mutual gain, if only for the short term--and it was probably inevitable that Magneto would find his way into those pages, sooner or later, if the right circumstances could be worked out and produce a credible plot.

At this point in time, Magneto has regained his full power after being restored to adulthood following his encounter with the mutant named Alpha and already had an initial confrontation with the X-Men on Muir Isle. Later (a little over a year, our time), he would have a more pivotal reckoning with the team; but in the interim, he's decided to get back in circulation by taking the shortest path to victory and having his first-ever meeting with Doom, in order to propose an alliance between them and bring the world to heel under their joint rule. The result is a two-part story written by Bill Mantlo which crosses over between two separate titles, beginning in SVTU and concluding in The Champions--a life-or-death struggle that would also draw in the Avengers and the incredible Hulk!

But what Magneto isn't aware of is that Doom has already captured the world--
and there isn't another soul on Earth who realizes it.

Friday, October 5, 2018

In The Clutches of... The Collector!

Of all the Marvel characters who have fallen victim to their will being usurped by a nefarious foe, you'd think that Thor, the God of Thunder, would be an exception to such a ploy. Instead, we've seen over the years that Thor has proven especially susceptible to mind control--and in light of the main focus of today's post, it seems appropriate to first take a brief look at the circumstances wherein the Thunder God has fallen under the power of another and been compelled to do their bidding.

The method which appears to be the most popular among villains who wish to subvert the will of Thor is hypnosis. For a god of Asgard who thrives on conflict, and whose natural instinct would be to keep his guard up when confronting his foe(s), it's frankly surprising what an easy target Thor makes for such a subtle means of seizure.  Naturally, our go-to villain when it comes to hypnosis is the Ringmaster, who succeeds more often than not with a number of high-profile characters, thanks to that rigged top hat of his:

Then there's Thor's half-brother, Loki, who doesn't need primitive accessories to employ his hypnotic technique:

And you'd think the last person to bother with hypnosis would be the Radioactive Man, but darned if he wasn't adept at it even when he was just starting out.

There are those who took a more direct approach with Thor, however. For instance, Nebula, who used small devices attached to the back of the head to seize control of the Avengers, including, lastly, Thor.

While an erstwhile Avenger, Moondragon, used her own formidable mental powers to align the Thunder God's will to her own, while *ahem* enjoying the fruits of her labours.

Obviously, Thor makes for a powerful tool for a villain bent on keeping the Avengers in check--or anyone else they feel like trouncing. Take the Puppet Master, who, with the help of Radion, the "Atomic Man," adds a little punch to his radioactive clay so that even Thor falls under his control. And you can probably guess who the Puppet Master would want to send Thor after.

In the ensuing fight (if you could call it that), Thor clobbers the FF (minus the absent Thing)--but when the shock of what he's done has him reverting to Donald Blake to see to their injuries, the Puppet Master loses control of him, just before the Thing arrives and is told of what occurred.  (At least as much as Blake knows, though still unaware of the identity of whoever took control of Thor.)

Once Blake departs, however, he makes the mistake of giving his unknown foe another crack at him--and even as prepared as Thor believes he is to withstand another attempt to control his mind, it's the Thing this time who will bear the brunt of his attack.

The Enchantress is also no slouch at bringing others under her control, particularly the male of the species. In Thor's case, she resorts to a potion to subvert his will, in order to use him against the Avengers.

Yet it's the Collector we finally turn to--an antagonist who also has an agenda where the Avengers are concerned, the same one he had when he first appeared in mid-1966. At that time, he began to expand his collection of objects spanning the ages by adding super-beings to his prizes--beginning with a villain (the Beetle), and then capturing the Wasp, the first move in adding the Avengers to his holdings. Failing then, he returns two years later with the same goal--only this time, he starts by capturing the most powerful Avenger, in order to use him to gather the others. To pull that off, it looks like he's decided to take a leaf from the Enchantress' book.

And so begins a tale that takes The Avengers past the 50-issue mark but also finds the group on the cusp of changes to their lineup. But with their most powerful member once more in the grip of an enemy, will the team be in any shape to celebrate?

Judging by this issue's cover, it looks like the celebration's already underway, eh?