Friday, March 29, 2019

Help Is Just A *KTANG* Away!

After its last defeat at the hands of Iron Man, one could almost have come away thinking that the Super-Adaptoid had reached the end of its road at Marvel--particularly following its "encore" appearance as the Cyborg Sinister, the result of the Adaptoid being evolved against its will by two alien scientists into a horrid form that would be used to conduct power to their sub-atomic world. Aside from the Cyborg having met its apparent end after being exposed to a vat of acid, the fact that the Adaptoid was recycled into something so changed in appearance and manner gave the impression that the novelty of this creation of A.I.M. having the combined abilities of four Avengers had worn off--perhaps a hasty conclusion to make, considering that the Adaptoid's power allows it to become a completely different threat with each appearance, thereby a perpetually fresh character to be used in stories for as long as Marvel was in the business of comics. The mad Thinker has used adaptive technology to some extent with his various androids, and look how far it's taken him.

But with the Adaptoid's next appearance nearly five years later, Marvel appears to have had adequate time to figure out the Adaptoid's advantages on its own, as it ditches the Cyborg Sinister and gives the Super-Adaptoid another shot at giving grief to Captain America and his comrades in the Avengers. And with Goliath and Hawkeye no longer on the active duty roster, the Adaptoid brings an interesting new combination of powers to the party--which may end up including those of Captain Marvel, as well!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Once More--The Fantastic Four!

Given the grim subject matter, it's probably best if we do a brief visual recap of where we left things last time. And what a visual:

Having witnessed the death of Reed Richards at (literally) the hand of Doctor Doom, as well as having heard the reading of Reed's last will and testament, it seemed certain that the leader of the Fantastic Four had met his end--to say nothing of the equally shocking news that Doom had perished in the same stroke. What wasn't certain was, how would the FF go on without Reed? How would the book?

We would see that for ourselves in the following months, as writer Tom DeFalco and artist Paul Ryan did their level best to assure readers that Reed was gone for good, and that the Fantastic Four would have to continue without him. The only member of the team who didn't fully accept Reed's death was his wife, Sue, though she stepped up to lead the FF and grew into the role--while membership in the FF fluctuated, with Johnny Storm leaving to oversee the new Fantastic Force, leaving Sue and the Thing to go into battle with characters like Ant-Man, the Sub-Mariner, Doom's young protégé Kristoff Vernard, and the Torch's ex-wife, the Skrull named Lyja.

Yet still readers waited, drumming our collective fingers until Reed would surely reappear from wherever he'd been. Because with apologies to Ben Franklin et al., in comic books only taxes are truly certain, while death can be overridden with the klackety-klack of a typewriter. And though we would see twenty-five issues and two years go by before learning the truth, eventually we would be greeted with back-to-back issues which revealed all--emphasis on the word "back."

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Day Reed Richards Died!

It was something of an eye-opener being witness to the reading of the last will and testament of Reed Richards--but what were the circumstances that led to such an extraordinary gathering?

Please take your seats, as we unlock the seal to yet another

Marvel Trivia Question

How did the leader of the Fantastic Four meet his end?

Friday, March 22, 2019

"War!" Cries The Raven!

Having just recently taken a glimpse at the original Red Raven, it's almost regrettable that we must follow up with the character by witnessing the finish of his all-too-brief career in a Sub-Mariner story which took place in mid-1970. Written by Roy Thomas, who brought the character forward from comics' Golden Age and returned him to action in an issue of X-Men (which in hindsight isn't surprising, given the writer's fondness for revisiting 1940s characters), the Raven and his people meet a tragic end, leaving their story to be picked up here and there in other books by other writers (the introduction of the Bi-Beast perhaps being the most prominent example).

In his earlier encounter with the Angel, the Red Raven was presented as a sympathetic character, having been forced to betray his adoptive avian race in order to prevent them from attempting to conquer humanity. Now, however, Thomas switches gears and paints the Raven a different way, when his discovery at sea theatens to unleash the very war that the Raven once swore to prevent.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

"I, Reed Richards, Being Of Sound Mind And Body..."

Back when MTV was having a heyday with its successful "Unplugged" series of performances, Marvel Editor-In-Chief Mark Gruenwald threw his weight behind producing two 6-issue titles in the mid-1990s that capitalized on the "unplugged" label but otherwise carried no relevance in regard to the word itself.  One series was published featuring the Avengers--and one with the Fantastic Four, its masthead revised accordingly. (Though the additional lettering left something to be desired.)

Looking back at my own copies of this series, I noticed that I stopped well short of collecting the entire run (I never did start on the Avengers book), perhaps not wanting to reward what seemed to be a poorly-conceived marketing ploy; but the issue being profiled here today may surprise you as much as it did myself after pulling it off the shelf to give it a second read.  Its story follows up on what appeared to be the death of Reed Richards at the hand of Doctor Doom--details that were conspicuously absent in the regular FF title, where things were happening at a breakneck pace and the remainder of the team as well as their allies being given no time to fully process Reed's death, much less mourn the man. Nor was there a formal service for Reed (if I'm remembering correctly)--perhaps in part because, for a time, Sue was convinced that Reed was still alive, even though Ben and Johnny were sure and weren't hesitant to voice their feelings on the matter to Sue.

Inevitably, however, Sue had to accept Reed's death and move on--and she does so by observing the formality of arranging for the reading of Reed's last will and testament, a more personal drama which would have been almost inappropriate to wedge into the back-to-back crises occurring in the main title but which can be given its full due in the limited series without interruption. But while Sue may now be prepared to see this through, the twist to this story is in finding that Ben Grimm, the Thing and Reed's best friend, is visibly on edge and short-tempered at the thought of a legal proceeding that would effectively make Reed's passing a reality to be acknowledged and, in his own case, admitted.

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Most Important Choice Of All

Aside from their obvious differences in character and background, Thor and the Silver Surfer have one distinctive feature in common: they are both reviled by the demon, Mephisto, for their nobility and virtue. Yet for Mephisto, the difference between the two goes a bit deeper when it comes to the Thunder God, which can be best described by something Mephisto once pointed out to the Surfer: "Yours is the quintessential soul of humanity, not divinity." By that, he likely means that, unlike the Surfer, who has often been mistrusted and even feared by humans, Thor is the one who can inspire humanity to greatness and serve as a symbol of altruism and even glory. The Surfer, of course, embodies those qualities, as well--but only Thor is looked to by the humans he protects as an example that they can aspire to.

It's that aspect to Thor which is the central theme of a 1981 story where Mephisto is once more targeting Thor--not for enslavement, as was the case in their previous encounters, but to bring an end to his immortal life altogether. And it all begins on Earth, where Thor intervenes in a mugging taking place in Manhattan--an altercation, however, that is destined to have a profound effect on one of the guilty youths who is faced with a simple choice between right and wrong.

Before the discussion can go further, however, the meeting is interrupted by a police chase where lives are endangered, and gasping New Yorkers are witness to a sight not many of them see every day--a daring rescue, Thor-style.

But Thor's business here is still unresolved--and he awaits a decision.

(If you watched closely, you perhaps noticed that artist Keith Pollard has provided our rather indignant lady victim with plenty of opportunity to speak her mind, yet writer Doug Moench isn't taking the bait. She doesn't seem very confident that this leopard is going to be able to change his spots, does she?)

But far below the scene, in an environment that reeks of brimstone and, most certainly, suffering, there is one who reacts alarmingly at Thor's ability to reach and heal the human spirit--a demon who sees his role diminished and his domain of the damned threatened if the God of Thunder continues to walk the Earth as a guiding example for those mortals who might, left to their own devices, have otherwise followed Mephisto's temptations to their doom. In Mephisto's eyes, Thor has crossed the line--and his interference can no longer be tolerated.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Clothes Make The Angel

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


The High-Flying Angel   

Many early readers of Marvel books met Warren Worthington III while he was a card-carrying member of the original X-Men, attending the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters with four other "students" whose extra-curricular activities included risking their lives in battle with everything from evil mutants to mutant-hunting Sentinels. United in purpose under the guidance of Charles Xavier, they were also united in uniform design, adapted to their powers accordingly.

But we have Jean Grey to thank for the somewhat garish alterations in Warren's new outfit, with Xavier's agreement that the X-Men had finally grown into a group of individuals and should no longer look like "products of an assembly line."

Warren's curious view of what angels look like aside, we can probably more directly thank the issue's colorist for the costume's, uh, color coordination. Unfortunately, Marvel colorists weren't routinely listed in story credits until circa 1973, so our colorist here remains anonymous. (Count your blessings, pal.)

Thanks to a backup story in the book in April of 1969, we get a look at the Angel in action prior to his association with the X-Men, when he was just starting his solo career as "the Avenging Angel." Presumably designing his own costume at the time, Warren has the chance to show what he believes an angel should look like. Apart from the addition of a halo symbol (and of course the wings), it's obvious why Jean's outfit was a hit with him.

Regrettably, due to a misunderstanding, Warren and the fledgling X-Men don't hit it off, unless you count the actual "hitting" part:

But when Xavier helps him to save the city, a bond of trust is formed, and the rest is history.

Aside from the color choices, Warren in his early days is a reminder of the crimefighter from 1939 and the early '40s--though our Golden Age hero wore a cape rather than sporting wings, which were instead adapted for his own chest emblem.

(Nice touch with the halo cape clasp.)

As for the refitted Angel, it became almost blindingly apparent that care had to be taken when mixing him in with characters whose own outfits tended to clash with his duds.

Having him suit up again briefly as the Avenging Angel helped to alleviate the situation--but would it ever be possible to see the Angel for the costume?

Imagine having to pat Magneto on the back for bringing the Angel much closer to a representation of his namesake. But we really owe our thanks to artist (and, reportedly, colorist) Neal Adams for the costume redesign:

(art by John Byrne, from X-Men: The Hidden Years)

Later, however, it would seem that Warren remains partial to red and yellow--in this case, thankfully, only partial, since his P.R. person from his days in the Champions "got the colors wrong" when replacing Angel's tattered costume with the Adams design for the team's debut with the press.  At any rate, the swath of white in the design provides a nice contrast and draws more attention to his wings.

Of course, during his days in X-Factor, Warren had to coordinate with the rest of his team (that is, those who were in costume).

At any rate, given my comments on the subject, you probably know where I stand on Jean's costume choice for Warren--but let's have your verdict!

OR: ?

Monday, March 11, 2019

"I Fall To Pieces... Each Time I See You Again..."

The combination of being the daughter of General "Thunderbolt" Ross and watching the one you love endure a hunted existence as the Hulk would probably drive anyone over the edge sooner or later--but what really tipped the scale for Betty Ross was learning that her new husband, Glenn Talbot, had been killed while on a mission to rescue her father, news that turned what should have been a joyous reunion into a fit of rage at realizing that the happiness she'd sought for so long had been ripped away from her.

This time, tears wouldn't help to ease Betty's pain, having shed more than her fair share of them during the many instances she feared Bruce Banner was lost to her. Instead, following the confrontation with her father, she descended into a catatonic state, one which even Banner's presence couldn't fully calm. Quite the contrary:

Betty's fragile state of mind led to her being manipulated into becoming the winged, gamma-irradiated fury called the Harpy, her memories having become so twisted that she had intense hatred for anyone and anything that caused her pain in the past--particularly for the Hulk, who was at the root of it all and who became her primary target for death. Yet that path to vengeance resulted in both of them becoming captives of the Bi-Beast and taken to a city floating eight miles above the Earth, where Betty was later returned to normal (physically, at least) by Banner but both became caught in the conflict between the Bi-Beast and M.O.D.O.K., who was intent on claiming the cloud-city for the forces of A.I.M.

In the ensuing battle, the cloud-city was destroyed--leaving Banner and Betty to plummet to Earth, though not without a bit of controversy caused by the fact that Betty, who had been naked up to that point, suddenly found herself wrapped in a garment that let her avoid shocking readers of the next issue when she greeted that issue's splash page in the midst of freefall. As for Banner (who's worn the same shredded purple pants for heaven knows how long), you would think that those first few seconds of their fall would have his pulse quickening to the point of triggering his change to the Hulk; yet regardless of all the times, all the times* he's failed to control the change in far less harrowing circumstances, this time he manages to resist the transformation until shortly before impact. But aside from how he accomplished that, the real question is why? It's been established that the Hulk doesn't reach his full strength until a few minutes following the change from Banner (which seems an absurd condition to hamper him with, but I don't write the stories)--so why would he be okay with slamming into the ground in a weaker state that would leave him more vulnerable to serious injury and even death?

At any rate, the story's narrative establishes that the Hulk's velocity will be roughly 11,000 m.p.h. at the time of impact--and from the wording of the narrative, we're witnessing the first instance where the Hulk has fallen from such a distance and smashes into the ground**. Let's hope it doesn't turn out to be the last!

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Vengeance of the Devil Incarnate!

It's been almost six years since our PPC profile on Cyrus Black, the so-called "Devil Incarnate" who had so desperately sought to prove his mettle as a sorcerer by defeating Stephen Strange. Black's vendetta against Strange was originally set in motion by a contest which was held by the mystic known as Watoomb, who was retiring and wished to pass on his wand (i.e., the Wand of Watoomb) to a deserving adept. Both Strange and Black were contenders for the object, with each taking one-half of the wand and using it in battle against the other; yet while Strange prevailed that day, Black's half of the wand was later stolen by the sorcerer Xandu, leaving Strange with only his own half of it.

Demoralized but furious, Black sought to avenge his loss against Strange--a plan facilitated by Nightmare, who granted Black the power to make his dreams a reality. But when Black launched his attack, Strange's friends, the Defenders, were there to aid him, and Black once more met defeat when he realized his invincibility was only imagined.

So what's Black been up to since then? Simmering, for sure--still hungering for revenge, almost certainly. Retreating to Nightmare's dimension of dreams, Black was mentored by his host and, under his tutelage, increased his sorcerous knowledge and power until he progressed to the point when, finally, he was ready to carry out Strange's demise. Which brings us to April of 1979, and a story dedicated to Cyrus Black's long-awaited triumph (or so he expects).

To take Strange by surprise and arrange for his transport to Nightmare's dimension, Black once more made use of his rodent familiar, Nebuchadnezzar, to slip past Strange's defenses and abduct the magician. Obviously, Strange could stand to review the spells protecting his sanctum, if demon-rodents can just scurry in and out at will--but perhaps equally alarming from a typical home-dweller standpoint is that, for such a large structure in New York City, Strange's pest control appears to be nonexistent.

Or, put another way in light of Strange's predicament--"Rats!"

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

You Will Become One With The Brood

Even your humble host here at the PPC isn't audacious enough to catalog all of the instances where the crippled founder of the X-Men, Charles Xavier, has regained the use of his legs only to eventually find himself once more confined to his wheelchair... then at some point, back on his feet again... then having to dust off the wheelchair again... etc., etc.  To say nothing of actually dying, only to somehow return hale and hearty, which would then start a cycle of its own. (I frankly have no idea of Xavier's current status in comics--he may have bitten the dust around the same time as his film counterpart kicked the bucket, which probably made sense for as long as the movie franchise was sustained.)

As far as his legs being "healed," that particular ball began rolling fairly early in the book, thanks to Xavier indulging his own brand of inventive genius when the situation called for it (courtesy of writer Roy Thomas).

I always felt that having Xavier confined to a wheelchair provided him with a distinctive profile that made him stand out among the pack and drew more attention to his mental abilities (i.e., I don't have to fight you on your terms, Mr. Villain). It's possible that Stan Lee may have felt the same, given that, just two issues later, Thomas sees to it that Xavier is forced to shelve his leg braces indefinitely until he could work the bugs out.

Since Xavier could have fallen anywhere in the building, at any time, I shudder to think just how many sets of metal tentacles he ended up installing throughout his school, and right under the noses of the X-Men.

Yet what appears to be the first instance where Prof. Xavier was able to ditch the wheelchair for good (at least that was the idea) occurred following the X-Men's life-or-death conflict with the alien hunter race known as the Brood, and the team had raced back to Earth fearing that their mentor had also been targeted as they had been: by being forced to carry inside them a Brood egg, which, when hatched, would absorb both the host body as well as its genetic potential and abilities. The X-Men escaped that gruesome fate--but would Charles Xavier?

Monday, March 4, 2019

A Star Is Shorn

We can probably all agree that, aside from her status as one of Captain Marvel's first Earth contacts in the Kree soldier's premiere appearances from the late 1960s (and continuing into his first series), the woman known as Carol Danvers is primarily known for becoming the '70s heroine named Ms. Marvel, as well as for her conflict with the mutant named Rogue, whom she fell victim to shortly after her return to Earth from the dimension of Limbo.

Given the circumstances of her "decision" to leave Earth in the first place, Carol parted company with the Avengers and began spending time with the X-Men, due in part to Spider-Woman's involvement in her rescue from Rogue's attack.  Eventually, she would cross paths once more with Rogue, a meeting that naturally reopened old wounds but also proved to be life-affirming for her in terms of moving on from the past and charting a new future course for herself.

And it's indeed Carol's future we address today--specifically, an identity she adopts which would be explored in comics stories for roughly fifteen years but seems barely mentioned in comparison to her history as Ms. Marvel.

And that calls for exploring yet another

Marvel Trivia Question

When did Carol's identity as Binary cease to exist--and why?

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Man And The Monarch!

The Stan Lee Meets... series from 2006 was, in Marvel's promotional words, "a series of stand-alone specials celebrating the 65th Anniversary of Stan Lee's employment at Marvel!" Perhaps "association with" should be substituted for "employment at," since I'm not sure if Stan was actually drawing a paycheck from Marvel Comics for 65 years (though feel free to fact-check me on that); nevertheless, the series was a nice set of stories that gave readers one of their last looks at Stan's wise-cracking style of relating to (and, in this case, interacting with) Marvel's characters. We've already seen that style on display to some degree in the Doctor Strange and Silver Surfer installments of the series--yet with Doctor Doom having been featured prominently in the PPC as of late, it seemed appropriate* to give the man his due with "The Man."

*In fact I'd almost use the word "urgent." I can't explain this sudden anxiety I feel on the matter--but, judging by the limo with Latverian plates that's been passing in front of my home recently, I can't shake the feeling that a certain doctor feels that I've waited too long as it is.

These "meet and greet" stories are really more like brief chats between Lee and his host, which seems to be intentional in order to avoid saddling him with a full issue of scripting in what amounts to a six-issue commitment; consequently, there are other segments in these issues scripted by other writers, but which still provide the full flavor of Lee's presence as he takes us through different avenues of Marvel and its characters. In this particular issue, for instance, Lee is there as a character in his own right, as he defends his treatment of Doom in past stories; yet in the story that follows, Lee is still present (in a manner of speaking) as writer Jeph Loeb follows up on Doom in the aftermath of his battle with the Thing during the time that he'd seized the Baxter Building.

But we begin, of course, with Lee's personal meeting with Doom, at the, uh, request of a representative from Doom's court who shows up on Lee's doorstep and doesn't take no for an answer. The next thing Lee knows, he's halfway across the world standing in front of a most imposing edifice, and its even more imposing master.