Friday, September 13, 2019

The Fury of Satan's Son!

During the early 1970s, both the Ghost Rider and the Son of Satan would benefit from extensive (albeit bimonthly) exposure in Marvel Spotlight before being given their own titles. In the case of the latter, the Satan-son would actually make his first appearance in the nascent Ghost Rider title--though it wasn't the fiery, trident-wielding character we would first lay eyes on, but rather exorcist Daimon Hellstrom, who had been contacted by two residents of an Apache reservation to treat a woman feared to be possessed. Hellstrom is obviously a man with a secret, who is wrestling internally with something that he strives to keep in check during the hours that span dusk to dawn--but is his resolve strong enough to resist the force inside him that demands to be released?

The answer is forthcoming, as the Ghost Rider segues to his own title, while Hellstrom (along with the curse he lives with) takes the Rider's place in Marvel Spotlight, where his readers would explore his tempestuous character for the next two years.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Like Unstable Father, Like Certifiable Son

After the death of the original Green Goblin, it took some time for the powers that be at Marvel to admit that, for sheer, cackling, calculated villainy, only Norman Osborn was capable of filling his own shoes. There have been a few others who tried, including but not limited to a psychologist (who by definition should have known better), the nephew of a "Daily Bugle" reporter, and, most notably, Norman's son, Harry, who first took over the identity of the Goblin following his father's death, which had involved Spider-Man--a/k/a Harry's friend and roommate, Peter Parker.

With Harry discovering Peter's identity as Spider-Man, as well as being convinced that Spider-Man murdered his father, we only have to add Harry's poor mental state to the mix to have all the ingredients necessary for Harry to pursue a mission of vengeance against his former friend. And since Harry had also become aware of his father's double life as the Green Goblin, it seemed inevitable that Harry would be the one to whom the torch would be passed, and pick up where his father left off with Spider-Man, and with Peter.

This two-part tale from the fall of 1974, written by Gerry Conway and pencilled by Ross Andru, doesn't have the scope of a typical story which features the threat of the Green Goblin, though that threat is certainly apparent given Harry's actions and the danger to Peter's loved ones; but with Conway virtually capsulizing this story and ending it so tidily, with Harry handily dealt with and Peter et al. none the worse for wear, you may tend to discount the danger inherent in a title such as "The Green Goblin Lives Again!" Had it been Norman we were talking about here, there's little question the story would have been a tension-filled page-turner.

Yet because it is a Spider-Man tale, which often includes the book's cast of supporting characters as part and parcel of Peter's life, well-handled by Conway, it's a fine return for your 50¢; and while to this day I wince at Andru's stiff handling of Spider-Man in action, I can appreciate the fact that his run on the title was obviously backed by Conway, editor Roy Thomas, and likely a considerable number of readers, with those issues putting on display Andru's extraordinary talent as a storyteller as well as his skill at depicting characterizations--two constants that were evident throughout his tenure.* By all indications, they were elements Conway appeared to enjoy quite a bit, fitting so well with his own style of storytelling.

*Notable in Andru's work on ASM is the presence of not one but two inkers for those issues where he's credited with doing full pencils rather than breakdowns--mostly with Dave Hunt partnering with Frank Giacoia, which we're treated to in this particular story. Occasionally we'll come across a story with two or three (or even more) finishers contributing to a story--but it's remarkable to see it occur on a regular basis.

As for the story itself, it begins innocently enough. At this point in time, Peter and Mary Jane Watson are dating (and apparently oblivious to the fact that they're both casually walking in traffic), and Peter and Harry are still roommates in their Manhattan apartment--though Peter has noticed that Harry has been intentionally putting distance between them, perhaps chalking it up to his dating Harry's former girlfriend. But both Peter's living situation and his relationship with Harry are about to take an abrupt (and nearly deadly) turn for the worse.

Monday, September 9, 2019

"This Beachhead Earth!"

For a fleeting moment in time in late 1971, Marvel readers looked forward to their favorite comics being published with a larger page count each month, coinciding with a price increase of 10¢--which meant that all Marvel stories from that point on would no longer be limited to 20 pages, but would extend to 34-36 pages, with all books being bound on the spine rather than stapled. That change in course, as we know, vanished faster than you can say "after further consideration"... but for those few weeks, we were treated to a collection of titles which made anticipation of the following months' books practically register on the Richter scale for some of us, a spike in interest that the first Silver Surfer series would surely have coveted.

Having already covered the pertinent issues for Fantastic Four, Mighty Thor, and Invincible Iron Man, we turn now to the expanded Avengers story for that month, which moves the team closer to direct involvement in the Kree-Skrull War when they come into conflict with Skrull agents (including the Super-Skrull) who have plans not only for two Avengers (Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch) but also for Captain Marvel. The Skrulls have already taken measures to gain their objectives by setting a trap for Mar-vell as well as disbanding the current active roster of the Avengers; but unknown even to the Skrulls, their actions have drawn the attention of four of the original Avengers, who have gathered at their headquarters to investigate.

And so, with the return of the Vision, the door is opened (with a THOOOM, at that) to a power-packed issue by Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, and Tom Palmer which will make inroads toward drawing the Earth into an interstellar conflict that will see two star-spanning empires at each others' throats, while also eventually forcing Rick Jones to play a pivotal role in their fate.

(Say, Mr. Adams--did you not get that memo on Iron Man's boot jets?)

Friday, September 6, 2019

"Deliver Us From Evil!"

Earlier, we witnessed a desperate struggle between the forces of Dracula and a group led by Dr. Strange to take possession of the Darkhold, a bound book of writings that originated with the demon Chthon millennia ago--including the so-called Montesi formula, which details spells that would allow one to eradicate the specter of vampirism from the entire world. In a crucial moment, Strange was able to relocate the Darkhold to Castle Mordo in Transylvania, where he and his group of friends have finally reached it; but Dracula has followed, and is prepared to take any steps he must to retrieve it!

The stakes are high for each side of this conflict. If Strange succeeds, Dracula and his ilk across the entire planet will be destroyed--but should Dracula prevail, the lives of Strange and the others will be forfeit, and Dracula will reign supreme.

Come the dawn--who will hold the Darkhold?

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Rise Of The Vampire!

It would be five years to the month (by our calendars) before Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, would meet again with Dracula, Lord of Vampires, after having narrowly avoided a living death at the hands (er, fangs) of Dracula in their first encounter. But just as Strange then had need of Dracula in order to save his servant, Wong, from the curse of the undead, their next meeting has their roles reversed, as this time it is Dracula who will need the skills of the Sorcerer Supreme as well as the might of his associates, the Defenders, in order to defeat the plans of the Six-Fingered Hand--a collective demonic entity whose goal is ultimately to merge Earth and Hell.

To that end, in order to remove the Defenders from possible interference, one of those demons, Puishannt, has empowered Gordski, one of Dracula's minor vampires, to be the new Lord of Vampires--even as no less than a dozen demons take possession of Dracula and drive him to physically attack Strange and the Defenders in the sorcerer's sanctum with the intent of slaying them. With the assistance of the Son of Satan in deciphering the truth, the attack fails--and Dracula is forced to depend on Strange to clear up the mystery of who had taken control of him, and why.

Having "eavesdropped" on the conversation between Gordski and Puishannt which reveals their complicity, Dracula and Strange realize that foiling this scheme is in all of their best interests, and reluctantly form a temporary alliance--though clearly, none of the Defenders are any happier with the decision than Dracula, an alliance made for the sake of expediency and, as Strange notes, common cause.

Clearly, Strange has brushed aside any surprise he might have felt at seeing Dracula among the living again (so to speak)--as well as, in light of the present danger from the Hand, any sense of responsibility he might have otherwise felt for finishing the task of dealing with Dracula's threat. It could be argued that the Defenders have no need to strike up an agreement with Dracula in order to battle one of the Hand (a point which, indeed, would be validated in the story's conclusion); but Dracula means to act no matter which way the pendulum swings here, and Strange and Hellstrom perhaps feel that choosing to meet one threat would allow the other to act unchecked.

In the end, the conflict demands that Hellstrom uphold his end of their agreement by conveying to Dracula valuable information that saves him from perishing with the rest of their foes. Yet, a little over two years later, Dracula and Strange would cross paths again, when Dracula's plans for ultimate power lead him on a quest to locate the Darkhold, a bound collection of parchments left on Earth by the demon Chthon--a demon the Avengers would encounter through the demon's possession of the Scarlet Witch, a woman who Strange now seeks out to help him reach the book first and thereby keep it out of Dracula's hands.

But how did Dracula learn of the Darkhold--and what's his interest in it?

For the answer, we'll have to flip the pages to yet another

Marvel Trivia Question

What's the official explanation for how vampires came to inhabit the Marvel universe?

Monday, September 2, 2019

You Never Know When You'll Face... The Mandroids!

At whatever time you were a Marvel reader during the industry's Bronze Age and beyond, you probably at one time or another tripped over one of the many appearances of the Mandroids, agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. who donned titanium weapon-suits in order to battle super-powered foes that conventional forces presumably couldn't handle. Designed by Tony Stark, who trained the men to deal with even the Avengers, they were sent into action as part of a task force put together by H. Warren Craddock, who headed the government's Alien Activities Commission which had been formed to uncover possible alien threats such as the recent Kree incursion. Their mission: to enforce a court order which authorized Craddock to bring in the Avengers for questioning.

Given that Craddock had a valid court order to compel the Avengers' cooperation (rather than meting out a "death sentence" as dramatically depicted on the issue's cover), it's not clear why Captain America, of all people, didn't advise the team to simply comply, instead of escalating the situation by joining with them to take on the Mandroids. Half the blame is Craddock's, certainly, since the man and his aides could have just walked up to the front door and made their intentions known to Jarvis, rather than making such a show of it with tanks and a loudspeaker as if he were approaching fugitives--but Cap? Not only refusing a lawfully executed government order, but hurling his shield into the fray? If you were watching the scene play out on the tube, you might have found yourself wondering what information the Avengers could be hiding, and why.

Of course, having been witness to Craddock's tenacity in pursuing his McCarthy-style investigation, it's difficult to sympathize with the man, whatever his mandate--which helps to sway the reader, at least, to sympathize with the Avengers, rather than the heavily-armed Mandroids who are actually doing pretty well against them so far. Though it's fair to wonder if Stark advised them that, to deal with Iron Man, all you have to do is to send him tumbling onto his backside, which his armor isn't strong enough to protect him against.

The Inhuman called Triton has definitely picked a tense day to approach the Avengers in order to ask for their help. Luckily for him, Iron Man--who can barely find the strength to function after simply falling down--knows enough about the Mandroids to incapacitate them, or, rather, the men inside the suits. But wouldn't you know that SHIELD has a back-up plan even for that.

The Mandroids' debut nevertheless comes to an unceremonious end almost immediately afterward, as Iron Man again makes use of his knowledge of the suits to disable them.

Regrettably, Craddock wasn't the only government operative* to make use of the Mandroids against the Avengers, when, in a later story, the State Department issues orders to prevent the team from going after Stark.  It's also apparent that, in the interim, the Mandroid production line has been busy.

*Craddock, as we'd see during the closing scenes of the Kree-Skrull War, was later revealed to be a Skrull.

On another occasion, our heroes were forced to face the Mandroids when Thunderstrike and Spider-Man board the SHIELD helicarrier to confront the agency about their apprehension of the members of Code: Blue.

What's odd about the Mandroids, however, is that they seem to be for sale available to just about anyone who wants to acquire them--and that includes criminals like Justin Hammer (for all the good they do him against War Machine):

... and Mose Magnum, who uses them in an operation to seize control of Japan.

Magnum also had the clout to obtain a cadre of Mark II Mandroids, who turned out to be little more than tinker toys against the rage of Colossus.

The incredible Hulk has also faced a model of Mandroid, this one donned by Col. Glenn Talbot as part of his angry vendetta against the man-monster:

During the Armor Wars, however, Iron Man had cause to take on the Mandroids for a different reason--as part of his mission to keep his technology from falling into the hands of enemies like Justin Hammer. (Gee, we've already seen how well that worked out.) To accomplish the goal while avoiding an actual attack on SHIELD, Stark dupes Nick Fury into virtually dropping the Mandroids into his lap by convincing him that Iron Man has gone rogue and offering his help to track down his former bodyguard.

And though he crosses a line that forces him to deceive a longtime ally, the plan succeeds.

For future writers, the lure of using the Mandroids in their stories would mainly take the form of designing different prototypes and models of the Mandroid armor, which at times tended to make one forget that they were indeed man-operated and instead resembled hulking robots of some kind. But this creation of Roy Thomas and Neal Adams nevertheless went on to enjoy many appearances in a number of Marvel titles through the years--and, needless to say, remained popular with those SHIELD agents who hoped to one day make the grade as a Mandroid.

Friday, August 30, 2019


Oh, Peter Parker. These little deceptions used to be so easy for you to pull off, didn't they.

Well, kiss those days goodbye, sport, because that was 1965--and these days, May Parker is going to want some answers from you, young man!

While it's true that Peter has had a number of narrow escapes from situations where his secret identity was at risk, he finally had to face the music in the 1990s (and even into the 2000s) when no less than three writers in five separate spider-titles decided to play a part in at last opening the eyes of Peter's Aunt May, the one person he strove to keep in the dark above all others about his double identity.

But, wait--three writers? Five different Spider-Man books? And this wasn't a crossover story? To that, we'd have to answer both yes and no--"yes," in that one of the stories was explained in more detail in another spider-title that crossed over to yet another, but "no" in regard to Aunt May discovering Peter's secret. Which means that, as odd as it sounds, May learned the truth about Peter, from Peter, on three separate occasions. That either adds up to a lot of confessing on Peter's part, or there's more to the situation than is evident.

To clear it all up, let's take each of these stories in sequence and try to bring some context to all of it. (A tall order when dealing with the chaotic nature of Marvel comics published in the decades bookending the turn of the century.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Men Who Would Be Captain America

We've previously seen how the A.I.M. creation known as the Adaptoid attempted to duplicate Captain America's form and skills in order to effectively replace him (and failed); yet there were also ordinary humans who tried to fill the void when Cap, who had become disillusioned with his own government, decided to abandon his star-spangled identity and return to a normal life as Steve Rogers. Unfortunately, those stand-ins would almost immediately learn that no ordinary individual could easily step into the boots of someone so extraordinary.

And brother, they learned it the hard way.

Bob Russo:

Russo believes that changing uniforms from an idolized ball player to an idolized American hero will be an easy transition for him. But this time the field he looks to play in has no rules, little to no margin for error... and one hell of a learning curve.

Scar Turpin:

Like Russo, Turpin makes his announcement with an audience present in order to benefit from the immediate gratification of those who look up to him--though it looks like he already has a rival for the position he seeks to claim.

But poor Scar may regret going out on patrol and not bringing along the rest of his little cycle club for backup--because it turns out his opponents weren't as short-sighted in that regard.

Roscoe Simmons:

As Steve Rogers' young gym partner, Roscoe has received his inspiration from watching Rogers go through his above-average workout regimen--so when he's ready to take the next step, it stands to reason that Rogers would be the man he'd ask for help in training him to be the next C.A. But he runs into the Falcon instead, who isn't supportive of the idea--a flippant reaction, coming from one who learned the ropes from Cap, himself.

Unlike our other would-be Caps, Roscoe wasn't lucky enough to walk away with a few bruises, as he's captured and brutally slain by the Red Skull.

As for the real Cap, things worked out pretty well for himself and his lover, Sharon Carter--at least in his brief time as a civilian, before he would later resume the life of a costumed adventurer as the Nomad.

Yet... does all of this give you a sense of déjà vu?

To find the answer, we have to turn the pages back by posing yet another

Marvel Trivia Question

What prior Captain America story were these events presumably recycled from?

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