Friday, November 30, 2018

Your Death Before Mine!

We've come to the concluding issue of a three-part story where Adrian Toomes, the super-villain known as the Vulture--in an unusual move for such a man--has sought forgiveness from May Parker for the death of her fiancé, Nathan Lubensky, which Toomes admits responsibility for. When his request was bluntly refused, the Vulture shifted his attention to destroying Spider-Man, a foe that has dogged him for nearly his entire career and whose life he felt compelled to end before he succumbed to the cancer caused by the fields generated by the power pack which provided him with strength and the capability of winged flight.

Having earned his place in Spider-Man's rogues' gallery, the Vulture's prior battles with his web-headed foe have generally been fierce and no holds barred. This time, however, the Vulture has an edge, having pushed his flight technology past its limits and thereby making himself a more deadly opponent to overcome. As for Spider-Man, he's more motivated than ever to end the Vulture's threat once and for all, having become furious at finding Toomes invading May's home more than once as part of an effort to settle his accounts before he dies from his disease.

Yet with J.M. DeMatteis scripting this story, we can expect that there might be more to be found in this battle than flailing fists--as well as more to be found in its aftermath. So be sure to get a good grip on your seat:

...because in this battle to the end, the sky's the limit!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

When The Vulture Comes Calling...!

While it's not the first time we've seen the notorious Vulture at death's door, we're given additional insight into this villain's character in a three-part story from 1992 which once again has him facing the Grim Reaper (no, not that Grim Reaper)--not from the machinations of a fellow prison inmate, but from the ravages of cancer due to his own oversight. From what we've seen of the Vulture over the years, there isn't much to redeem Adrian Toomes, as vengeance and wealth have been the driving forces of his life ever since he turned to crime, and he's made no apologies for the lengths he's willing to go to achieve them--and in typical fashion, he prepares to meet death as gruesomely as he furthered his criminal career. So even the story's ending will have you wondering whether to dignify his impending death with a modicum of sympathy, or, at the very least, to take pity on him. But there is one who puts aside their personal animosity for this man and does so, to an extent--and thus their character, as well, is treated a little differently than you'd expect.

Naturally, the amazing Spider-Man figures prominently into this story, as he remains what the Vulture considers to be his greatest nemesis. As for whether we can expect the Vulture to exhibit any feelings of contrition as he approaches the end of his life...

...well, it doesn't appear that will be the case.

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Will Of Margali!

OR: "It's Raining Disciples!"

We've seen one example of how satisfying a Doctor Strange story can be when the mystic master confidently works his way through a situation before arriving at a solution that benefits all concerned. A little earlier in the series, we could also see that determination and skill set on hand when another unfortunate soul was in need, though the reader wouldn't have known that going in.

The door to the story was opened at least partway in the fourth X-Men Annual from 1980, when Kurt Wagner (a/k/a Nightcrawler) was targeted for vengeance by the mother of a gypsy family whose son, Stefan, died in a fight with his adopted brother, Kurt. The time finally came when the mother--a powerful sorceress known as Margali--caught up with Kurt during his time with the X-Men, and makes herself known just as Dr. Strange arrived to care for Kurt after the latter was downed by a mystic attack.

With that, Strange and the X-Men are swept up and subjected to the trials of a dimension fashioned to resemble the Hades-like "Inferno" environment depicted in the first part of writer Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. If nothing else, we can assume that Margali is a literary buff; but there is much more to her, and her situation regarding Kurt, as we discover during that story's conclusion.

Strange would get his chance to further investigate the Szardos family--and Margali in particular--when word gets out that his disciple, Clea, has departed, opening the floodgates for all manner of novices to seek to fill the position. Including one not so novice--the young daughter of Margali, Jimaine (a/k/a Amanda Sefton, Kurt's girlfriend).

Strange proceeds to book a hall in order to address the "applicants" en masse; but with Jimaine's arrival, he realizes that it's the power behind her which represents the true "testing" he spoke of earlier. Nor does he have long to wait, thanks to circumstances he elaborates on regarding taking on another disciple--that, and Jermaine's outrage at Strange's decision.

And so at last we prepare to see a more expanded battle between Margali and Strange than we were witness to when there was a more pressing drama involving Kurt which took precedence. Here, however, Margali seems to wish to establish her superiority over Strange and leave no doubt in his mind as to who is the "supreme" sorcerer. And while a perceived slight over Strange's refusal to take on her daughter as his disciple appears to be the catalyst, one must wonder why Margali pointed Jimaine in Strange's direction rather than to herself as the more qualified mentor for her daughter.

And there is an answer to be found; but first, there is a gripping struggle between Strange and Margali to be played out, well-handled by writer Roger Stern and guest-penciler Kevin Nowlan.

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Curse Of The Black Blade!

Often the best Dr. Strange stories are those where Strange's confidence in his abilities works in tandem with a methodical investigation to unravel a mystery that ends with his satisfaction as well as our own. One classic example would be "The House Of Shadows!" from 1964, but there are a number of others--including "Sword & Sorcery," a 1984 tale which featured Strange's reunion with Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, following the Knight's return to the 20th century at long last (capping a series of events set in motion when he crossed paths once more with the Enchantress).

But this is a very different Black Knight--and Strange may not live long enough to solve this mystery.

Written by Roger Stern, with artwork by Paul Smith and Terry Austin, Strange at last delves into the curse of the Black Knight's ebony blade--one that began with his ancestor, Sir Percy of Scandia, and which now haunts the very disturbed Dane Whitman.

Monday, November 19, 2018

"A Blind Man Shall Lead Them!"

From mid-1965 comes a classic Fantastic Four tale that has long been an all-time favorite of mine and is well overdue for a write-up at the PPC. The story finds our heroes at their lowest ebb--recently defeated by the Frightful Four, their unconscious bodies are fished out of the ocean by the crew of a U.S. Navy submarine. But their condition is far more serious than what their initial diagnosis indicates.

Returning to their lab in New York, the foursome undertake a project meant to protect them from any enemies bent on revenge, should word get out of how vulnerable they have become: a way to artificially duplicate their powers through technological means. For once, Sue Storm's usual misgivings of hopelessness and a course of action having little chance of success might indeed apply to their situation.

Meanwhile, their deadliest enemy prepares to strike anew, after a casual encounter with his court magician allows him to recover from a plan conceived by Reed Richards which led him to believe that he had been victorious in his last encounter with the Fantastic Four.*

*A misaccounting of the climactic scene to Fantastic Four Annual #2 by writer Stan Lee, altered here to indicate that Doom was placed under hypnosis by Reed--when in fact, Doom was defeated through scientific means, by ingesting the same drug he had covertly used on the FF to induce hallucination. The drug caused Doom to see the result he wanted to see following his "duel" with Reed--that he prevailed in their contest, which ended with Reed being exiled to a nameless limbo dimension. Of course, either way, it looks like our hapless magician is out of luck as far as receiving Doom's gratitude.

And so, with Doom on the way, the Fantastic Four will soon be facing the most dire battle of their lives--and a blind man shall lead them!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Day Of The Rabble-Rousers!

In early 1973, when the ongoing Vietnam War was inflaming our national discourse and inciting protests and even, at times, riots, two close acquaintances of the Sub-Mariner--Betty Dean (Prentiss) and his young cousin, Namorita--exemplified the political tug-of-war taking place between teenage children and their parents on the subject. And while Betty is merely acting as Nita's guardian while she attends college, it looks like these two have become examples of another conflict, one that carried over from the 1960s--a little something we used to call the Generation Gap.

In this back-and-forth, we may think we're seeing a completely different side of Betty, though we should remember that she grew to maturity in the 1940s, when America was drawn into World War II and the entire country and its population were united in common cause. The '60s, with its social turmoil and unrest, must have unsettled her quite a bit--and so she clings to values she's cherished for most of her life, never once questioning the actions of those who young people have taken to calling "the establishment." To her, the way to handle Nita's dilemma is simple: Trust in the time-tested practice of democracy to set things right.

Yet it's Nita who, through her time at college, is being exposed firsthand to new ideas and viewpoints as well as the rights granted by the First Amendment to express them. So when you put these two ladies together, with so many years between them, you have a perfect storm that pits the tried-and-true values espoused by Betty against the winds of change that Nita's social passion represents.

Already Betty and Nita aren't seeing eye to eye, nor can we at first glance make the right call here. While it's true that there indeed may have been no need for the police to step in, much less show up, a police presence had become standard procedure at this point in time whenever demonstrators appeared--and there was obviously a difference of opinion on what kind of behavior on either side was the catalyst for violent confrontation. Betty's sympathies appear to be with the authorities; but as for Nita's defense, we frankly don't know which side was responsible for causing things to get out of hand.

At any rate, it's a little amusing to see both Nita and Betty entrench themselves in their respective viewpoints--though Betty seems to be the dogmatic one casting aspersions without having all the facts. Come on, Betty, bend a little! Cut the kid some slack!

And just in case you think a former policewoman wouldn't think anything of a college having women on its faculty, well...

You'll notice that Namor has steered clear of this little dispute. A wise ruler knows when to retreat.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Just A Boy Named Joey

In July of 1966, Stan Lee, working off a plot by artist Steve Ditko, scripted a story of a "regular Joe," as it were--specifically, Joe Smith, who perhaps became the mold for stories that put the problems and concerns of average characters in the spotlight while the issue's title character(s) orbited around them ("Skip" Collins being one example). Joe's story would be appropriately told in a comic where its title character's popularity relied in large part on the fact that he had to constantly deal with the burden of everyday problems, even though he was a hero of great power and, yes, carried great responsibility.

Joe's story begins in a neighborhood gym, where he pursues his dream of being a champion boxer and finally succeeds in pestering convincing one of the fight managers on the premises, Tommy Tomkins, to book a match for him. But, lacking the killer instinct of a ring boxer, Joe washes out as a fighter, and, subsequently, as a wrestler, before Tomkins switches gears for him and lands Joe a job as an extra in a television film. The part is basically for a costumed alien with no dialog who goes on a rampage, which Joe accepts mostly out of appreciation for Tomkins' efforts on his part--but he soon finds his hard luck extends to the stage, though the production's director is pleased under the circumstances.

Unfortunately, the accident has had an effect on Joe, on both a physical and psychological level--with all of the mocking he endured from other fighters at the gym fueling a rage that definitely wasn't part of his script.

And when that rage breaks out to the streets, Joe comes into conflict with Spider-Man, who soon realizes this is no ordinary unhinged fighter he faces. But he learns little else, thanks to Joe's anger reaching a point where he lets his actions speak for him.

Before Spider-Man can return to the scene, Tomkins locates Joe and gets him to safety, just as his head is beginning to throw off the effects of the chemical-electric shock that hit him. It's clear that Tomkins has become sympathetic to the loser status and bad breaks that seem to hang around Joe like an albatross; but his advice to rest is later ignored when Joe begins to re-exhibit the symptoms of the accident while again raving about being a failure. And he decides to take that rage and his returned strength back to the source of his anguish--the fighters at the gym who continually rode him about what a poor excuse for a boxer he made.

Needless to say, Joe's gym "buddies" have a true fight on their hands when Joe lays into them. To make matters worse, Spider-Man arrives, but with a price on his head (thanks to Norman Osborn) which has everyone in the gym joining Joe to put him down. Eventually, Spidey handles the opposition long enough to focus on Joe (you can see Ditko's panels of the brawl in a previous post), just as Joe's head clears once more--apparently for good this time.

It was quite a happy ending for Joe. Or so it seemed.

Which brings us to the streets of New York once more, years later, as a member of the city's Board of Education runs for his life, but cannot outdistance the one who pursues him--a murderous attacker who looks hauntingly familiar to us.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Where My Creator Goes, There Follows This One

Writer Steve Englehart made his stamp on a number of Marvel titles during his stay at the company--some only briefly, while others (among them, The Avengers, Captain America, Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, Silver Surfer, and West Coast Avengers) he took more of an interest in for extended periods. One idea for a post that's been kicking around in the back of my head would be to explore the reasoning behind those titles which he didn't appear to be interested in writing; some, like X-Men and Tomb of Dracula, already had firmly-established scripters in place and thus are fairly easy to cross off the list, though there were a number of others that were definitely in need of a writer such as Englehart who could revive them and offer a fresh take on their character(s) and direction. It's really a thought on my part that never went anywhere; frankly, I think an interview on the subject would be more informative, assuming one isn't already on the books (so to speak).

One thing I did find interesting while poking this train of thought was that, of those titles mentioned above, a commonality among three of them in particular is a character that Englehart created who conspicuously began appearing as a guest-star in each, and all within a span of just under two years:

The last that anyone had seen of Mantis was in the Giant-Size Avengers issue where she joined with one of the Cotati race to fulfill her destiny as the Celestial Madonna and conceive a child. Once Englehart left as writer of The Avengers, however, there was no further exposure for Mantis until over ten years later, showing up in a book whose space-soaring star offered a considerable change in direction for her.

Friday, November 9, 2018

This Destiny Awaits!

Previously, we've seen Namor, the Sub-Mariner, refer to a prophecy handed down to him personally from Neptune, which held great promise for both Namor and his kingdom. When Namor succeeds in restoring his people from the near-death state they succumbed to following their exposure to nerve gas which had escaped from a surface vessel, it's his belief that all that has happened has been in accordance with Neptune's prophecy, and he relies on that belief to revitalize the spirit of the masses and essentially declare a new era for his people.

But has this prophecy been fulfilled, as he declares? To gain some much-needed perspective on the subject, it's helpful to take a look at the "Tales Of Atlantis" segment of Sub-Mariner which illustrated the ancient history of the city, where the prophecy of Neptune had its roots in a vision experienced by the young leader who oversaw the reconstruction of a new Atlantis 5,000 years following the cataclysm which sent the original island continent into the sea. Only on this occasion, it wasn't Neptune, but the spirits of the King and Queen of the surface Atlantis, Kamuu and Zartra, who appeared to Kamuu's namesake and wove a tale of what was to come.

From what we see in the story, the legacy that King Kamuu speaks of wasn't as glorious as he and Zartra make it out to be. At the time of its destruction, Atlantis was on the losing side of a war with Lemuria, which a continent--an empire--of such reputed stature doesn't reach the point of without neglecting flaws in its societal makeup that had likely been building for some time. Indeed, Kamuu and Zartra were both haughty and dismissive leaders during our brief look at their reign--and while the Lemurians may not have been shining examples of civilized man themselves, they obviously were able to take advantage of weaknesses of the Atlantean monarchy to bring them so close to toppling it. Further, it was Kamuu's own gambit to stop a group of Lemurians from breaching the city's massive dome (by drawing up magma from beneath the surface and releasing it over the dome, disregarding the consequences) which was responsible for the destruction which followed*. It was the definition of recklessness and irresponsibility, fueled by only the desire to make a brutal example of any who presumed to attack Atlantis.

*Very much at odds with the city's destruction as depicted in the late-1988 Saga of the Sub-Mariner series.

Regardless, we can take away three key predictions from this vision: One, that the destiny of Atlantis is to rule the entirety of Earth's oceans; two, that Atlantis and its people will be witness to and survive the city's destruction a number of times throughout its existence; and three, that Namor could possibly bring Atlantis to the point where it would preside over the destiny of the entire human race. The first indicates that Atlantis will eventually unite other undersea kingdoms under its banner; the second hints that its rise to grandeur will be a rocky one fraught with conflict and/or disaster. And the third?

The prediction of its rise over all other nations of Earth is really the only part of Kamuu's prophecy which ties in with Neptune's, as Namor seeks the god's counsel after the disaster which befell the city following its (and his own) exposure to the nerve gas. Namor has a bold vision of his own--one that, as it happens, coincides with the words of Neptune:

The encounter stands as confirmation of the part of the prophecy which states that whether Atlantis fulfills its destiny to rise to the forefront--the vanguard--of all nations will depend on the actions and decisions of Namor, while Neptune has also echoed Namor's impassioned wish that he act to preserve the planet itself from man's reckless treatment of it. (Hear, hear.)

With the Sub-Mariner title left by the wayside, both of these prophecies have been given little to no attention in succeeding stories by other writers in other titles, though in the '80s Roger Stern picks it up once more with a brief reference when Namor is captured as part of Zeus's vendetta against the Avengers:

But it also bears noting that it's Namor himself who has often proven to be the weak link in fulfilling a prophecy that specifically names him as its linchpin. In the recent address he gives to his people following their resurrection, Namor appears to believe the prophecy has been fulfilled, though in reality he's merely cherry-picked the words which Neptune spoke to him--focusing on Atlantis rising from its near-destruction while ignoring the other aspects ot the prophecy which have yet to come to pass. He has yet to even begin the work which will see to the fulfillment of his destiny, or that of his people; in fact, consider how he reacted not long after the disaster, when he fled to the surface and all but abandoned his people. It's behavior he's exhibited before, either on his own initiative or due to his own neglect:

All disturbing portents of both his resolve as well as his ability to go the distance as the one responsible for the grand destiny envisioned for Atlantis.