Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Live Your Dreams

Seldom has both a comic's cover and its splash page evoked such puzzlement as this issue of Amazing Spider-Man from late 1983:

On the one hand, we have J. Jonah Jameson punching Spider-Man's lights out, this time without the benefit of being at the controls of a Spider-Slayer--while on the other, the Watcher, whose duty is to observe significant events involving a living being, a world, or even a galaxy, whether they occur in our own universe or another, now peers into the imaginations of four random people from Earth, a shift in his modus operandi which would normally be quite a departure for this character.

But rather than scrutinize that shift to any degree, let's assume instead that this is the Watcher version of donning a virtual reality headset and enjoying some down time; in fact, writer Roger Stern's only use for the Watcher is to smooth the path for us as to what we'll be seeing in this unusual issue, making both his entrance and exit on page one and offering no narrative or closing scene. It's quite a diversion for the Watcher to make, simply to pull back the curtain for us, proving that even a Watcher knows how to let his hair down occasionally. (Figuratively speaking, of course.)

With the exception of Felicia Hardy (a/k/a the Black Cat), the Watcher has settled on an assortment of the book's longtime supporting characters--and as imagination is the issue's theme, we'll be taking a peek inside their thoughts and getting an idea of not only what's on their minds but, as the title implies, find them doing a little daydreaming as to how the ideal circumstances for those thoughts might play out. In Felicia's case, she's growing restive in the hospital, where she's recovering from injuries sustained from weapons fire by Dr. Octopus' hirelings--and she knows just the man to "take her away from all of this."

Despite appearances, however, that man may not necessarily be Spider-Man.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Cry Monster!

For its brief, bi-monthly run, Marvel Feature gave the company its money's worth, with its first "feature"--the Defenders--spinning off to a successful series after a trial run of just three stories. By contrast, its next series, starring the astonishing Ant-Man, extended to a seven-issue story arc but was the only feature that failed to segue to its own title; though when Red Sonja was featured with an equal number of stories (following MF's return from a three-year hiatus), the character went on to her own mag, albeit briefly (15 issues in 1977, and relaunched in '83 with 13 issues). We needn't bemoan Sonja's handling fate at Marvel; she's done quite well since being picked up by Dynamic Entertainment, with her 2005 series lasting 81 issues followed by more limited runs still published to this day.

But what truly surprised me was the success that Marvel Feature brought to the Thing, who was green-lit for his own team-up mag after appearing in two stories that paired him with another Marvel character--a decision which we can presume was expedited after the sales figures for those two issues landed on the right desk(s). The Thing's debut story in MF, co-starring the incredible Hulk--their first meeting since their knock-down drag-out in Fantastic Four--still reads well even forty+ years later, its story featuring a near-ideal array of creative talent combined with a diverting story that offers not one but two villains: the Leader, rendered a cripple when the Rhino turned on him following an attack on the Hulk, and Kurrgo, the former Master of Planet X, whose lust for power had apparently doomed him to die with his world.

But in a story titled "Cry: Monster!", we can take a good guess as to who the Thing will have to deal with first!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Mission: Draft The Hulk!

Before the end of 1965, the incredible Hulk would battle a nameless enemy for possession of an astonishing machine which was in the custody of the Watcher--an ultimate machine, in fact, so named because it contained all the knowledge of the universe. The existence of such a device would have been like catnip to a man like the Leader, whose gamma-ray-spawned mind had been enhanced to be far superior to those of most humans; and so, in exchange for his removing a bullet that had been lodged in the Hulk's brain, the Hulk agreed to retrieve the "ultimate machine" for him from the Watcher's homeworld.

Yet unknown to the Hulk, another world had sent its own champion to claim the device--and the newcomer wasn't exactly interested in drawing straws for it.

In this instance, the Watcher's credo has worked against him, with word apparently having gotten out that his homeworld is a virtual flea market containing a treasure trove of advanced scientific wonders collected from across the universe--the difference being that nothing is tagged for sale, and all of the devices are ripe for the picking since the Watcher is prohibited from interfering with those who arrive to help themselves to them. (Seems quite an oversight on the Watcher's part. I don't see anything stopping him from shielding the storage chamber from unauthorized access, but what do I know about his thinking on this.)

Yet our amphibious friend's vaunted reputation hasn't taken into account any foe like the Hulk. Currently, Bruce Banner's mind has risen to a conscious level and controls the Hulk to some degree; but unlike other times where that's been the case, there still remains a great deal of the Hulk's raging persona, enough for Banner to almost relish the power he now commands.

The Watcher's words are rather curious, aren't they? We've observed the power of the Watcher through the years, which he describes as "the power to shatter planets--to make galaxies tremble" (rather standard fare as descriptions go, for such characters as scripted by Stan Lee); but as we've seen evidence of in his race's origin tale, it turns out that the Watcher's power is far more dependent on technology than revealed:

Returning to the matter at hand, the brute the Hulk battles gains something of an advantage when their fight is taken to a nearby lake; even so, the amphibious champion is eventually dealt another setback, enough for the fight's "referee" to call the match.

But over sixteen years later, our amphibian would return--along with a little backup.

Which is our cue to return with another

Marvel Trivia Question

What was the name of this "team" that came for our green goliath?

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Before The Kree-Skrull War, There Came... Plan Atavus!

Even before hostilities would break out, it's interesting to follow the paper trail that led to the now-classic Kree-Skrull War which took place in the Avengers book from 1971-72--a conflict which broke ground in expanding the Avengers' adventures to outer space (though an earlier story tested those waters) as well as raising the profiles of both the Kree and the Skrulls considerably, following their exposure in both Fantastic Four and Captain Marvel. The first sign of what was to come could be found in the issue where Quicksilver returns to the team--just as Henry Pym and his wife, Janet, are departing for Alaska to participate in a Washington study on the effects of oil drilling on the area's wildlife. But writer Roy Thomas has the book take more concrete steps toward the storyline while Mar-vell is recovering from a procedure designed to siphon off an overdose of radiation he'd absorbed from his stay in the Negative Zone--even as a coup is taking place on the Kree homeworld, where Ronan the Accuser seizes power and moves to eliminate any possible threat to his plans.

With the appearance of the Kree sentry, both Mar-vell and the Avengers face imminent death. But before the day is out, Ronan will have extended his reach to grip Earth itself, on this, its...

Monday, July 22, 2019

By Order Of Atlantis--Keep Out!

Whenever the Sub-Mariner has been a topic for discussion in the PPC, oftentimes I've been known to remark that it seems as if Marvel has never known what to do with the character. Treatment of Namor tends to see-saw between efforts to make him a sympathetic figure, only to then turn around and have him lash out without warning. It's fair to say that the Atlanteans could have been guided by a wiser and more judicious ruler--retaining Namor as an asset, surely, but keeping him on a tight rein and creating a suitable position for him in, say, the Warlord's ranks or a position on a council (where his experiences with surface dwellers would prove invaluable). But Namor, son of the kingdom's princess, was in line for succession, so in a series of his own there was little to do but to produce stories for him that took place in or revolved around his role as that kingdom's Prince and, someday, its King. As we've seen over the decades, that's been a constant off and on relationship--either being embraced by his subjects for his undeniable power, or rejected for poor leadership.

Even Roy Thomas, who scripted the first Sub-Mariner series since its inception, seemed at odds with how to handle him--struggling to keep Namor's temper in check to the point where even Namor seemed to be rebelling against it, while making several attempts to shift his role and that of Atlantis to something other than adversaries for Attuma or the human race. Finally, as if admitting defeat, Thomas had the character at last hold himself accountable for his missteps and abdicate his throne--leaving Atlantis behind altogether, with Thomas's departure from the book almost immediately afterward leaving the character once again at loose ends and serving as a telling indication of the company's inability to find a successful formula for Sub-Mariner.

But let's go back a bit to a story that once more demonstrates why it's so difficult to root for Namor as a lead character in a series, as Thomas shifts gears from his undersea encounters and prepares to pivot the Sub-Mariner to taking a more active role in pro-environmental concerns--a course that would by definition lead him into conflict with humans. But as we'll see, Namor's presentation leaves much to be desired--while the issue's cover conveys the impression that the character is apparently back to square one in regard to his dealings with the human race.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Let It Be War!

The trivia question coming your way today is short on introduction but long on explanation. Of course, if you can successfully answer it before getting to the explanation, you'll rate a first-class No-Prize that will be delivered right to your doorstep via an Amazon drone! (Which was, ah, intercepted and modified for PPC use by the Fixer, though I won't tell if you won't.) But be warned--it might take the collective brain power of the populations of three galaxies to answer this

Marvel Trivia Question

What can you remember about a little event called

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Tomb of Dr. Strange

Welcome to Part 2 of a gripping story where Dr. Strange, the Master of the Mystic Arts, sought out none other than Dracula, the Lord of Vampires, for retribution in bringing the curse of the undead to Strange's faithful manservant, Wong.

Clearly, the battle didn't go as the Sorcerer Supreme had hoped.

With Strange now dead--yet more than dead, his corpse waiting to return to "life" as a vampire--it would seem to be game, set and match for the character, unless Marvel plans to continue with him as a vampire/sorcerer (with obvious vulnerabilities that his foes can exploit). But the situation is even worse for him, since Dracula plans to enslave Strange when he rises in three days' time.

But there is a part of the human Dr. Strange which still survives--though that fact will do the survivor precious little good, under the circumstances.

This isn't exactly the time to pile on and add to Strange's problems... but with his body dead and drained of blood, and his heart and other organs no longer functioning, what was he planning to accomplish in merging his astral form with it? (Then again, Strange started out as "the master of Black Magic," so I wouldn't put it past him to be able to reanimate a corpse. Though that's bound to throw a damper on his love life.)

With this new setback, Strange's options are practically exhausted--but he presses on, nonetheless.

Can Strange pull a rabbit out of his amulet? Or will the time come when he must resign himself to his fate?

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Hunt And The Horror!

In May of 1976, there was no shortage of decent Marvel comics in the spinner rack to choose from:

  • Luke Cage, controlled by the Puppet Master, was battling it out with Ben Grimm, who had just started "suiting up" as the Thing;
  • Jane Foster fought to free Thor from a Gypsy spell that had also enthralled Firelord;
  • Spider-Man faced the strange threat of Mirage;
  • The Hulk was fighting off both Doc Samson and SHIELD;
  • Over in The Defenders, Chondu of the Headmen, horrified to see the new body which his associates had transferred his mind into, took his anger out on the Valkyrie;
  • The new X-Men were having their first meeting with the Sentinels and closing in on their 100th issue;
  • Iron Man was taking on Blizzard;
  • Captain America was fighting his way through the Elite's "kill-derby";
  • And the Avengers were trapped on a parallel Earth and fighting the Squadron Supreme over the Serpent Crown.

But hopefully some of you also set aside four bits for a compelling crossover story taking place in two separate titles distributed for sale in the same month, featuring the first meeting between Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, and Dracula, Lord of Vampires--both tales drawn and embellished by artists Gene Colan and Tom Palmer, a welcome touch not only because both were highly acclaimed veterans of these characters but also because in a way you were reading a single 34-page comic (er, split into two, but you catch my drift). The fateful story begins in the Tomb Of Dracula title, where readers not yet realizing this was a crossover story couldn't have been happy to turn the final page to find a nail-biting ending that would be resolved in a book they'd failed to notice earlier.

For Dracula, this marks his first encounter with a mainstream Marvel character*, with the circumstances of their meeting proving to be shocking enough on their own--specifically, the death of Strange's manservant, Wong, attacked and drained of blood by Dracula. With Dracula located in Boston at this point in time, it's anyone's guess why Wong was such a distance from New York, roughly 200 miles away from Strange's sanctum. Yet it's admittedly a trivial matter with any number of available explanations, and certainly of no consequence in comparison to Wong meeting his death at the hands of a vampire; and while it seems certain that the only way we're going to be seeing Wong again is in an undead state, his master yet holds out hope for an alternative as he delves into the mystery of his disappearance.

*Unless you're counting his encounter with Werewolf By Night Jack Russell--or his non-meeting with Spider-Man, where the two only crossed paths but never dealt with each other directly.

And so the foundation is laid for Strange's hunt for his friend's murderer--but is it retribution he seeks, or something much more?

Friday, July 12, 2019

Who Watches The Watcher

Longtime Marvel readers who happened to take a look at the recent PPC post on the Trial of the Watcher may have recognized the names of both Emnu, who presided over those proceedings, and Ikor, who was mentioned in exclamation following the return of Uatu, our solar system's Watcher, to their world to account for his recent behavior against Captain Marvel. While obviously more alarmed at Uatu's outright aggression toward Mar-vell, Emnu had also presented a brief history of Uatu's many infractions regarding their race's solemn vow never to interfere in the affairs of those they observe--a promise that Emnu is all too familiar with, given that he was present at the time it was made (along with Uatu himself and Uatu's father, Ikor).

Much has been made of the Watchers' universal task over the course of Marvel's countless tales throughout its publication history--and how ironic it must be that their "spokesman" (as long ago appointed by Stan Lee) has been the one Watcher who has made a habit of side-stepping that vow, considering that it was he and his father who had seen first-hand the folly of such interference. And so it seems appropriate to retrace their steps and bring to light Lee's origin for the character, a backup feature to the 1968 Silver Surfer #1 which reveals why those who became "Watchers" took up that role, and where we learn that the race of Watchers is not only from another galaxy, but also incredibly old--arguably old enough to know better.

And yet our first stop is present-day Earth, where Uatu (a name that wouldn't see print for some time) is observing the drama of life and death that all too often transpires in a mortal operating room, while fully admitting that it's within his power to preserve the life of the patient whose doctors are helpless to save.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Better Luck Next Time, Mister Fisk

By the 21st century, what started out as a casual get-together of super-heroes for a friendly if competitive game of poker was now in full swing and a fairly regular occurrence, with word of mouth (and different writers) bringing in a rotation of new heroes who kept the game lively for readers. And while it was often Ben Grimm who organized these gatherings, from time to time (depending on whose book you were reading) there might be other characters whose chips would be getting a bigger share of the action.

In a 2005 story, the game itself has a new twist to it, with our players anteing up for an annual charity game with the proceeds going to the winning player's favorite charitable organization. And at this year's game, the table has some flush players in attendance--with the exception of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, which might explain the $20 limit.

The fact that Dr. Strange is clueless (if enthusiastic) when it comes to poker is a true delight to watch in this game, with our Sorcerer Supreme having no familiarity at all with the phrase "know when to fold 'em" and thus staying in until the showdown--at which time he triumphantly lays down his cards only to be told he has basically nothing. Of all the things for the Ancient One to have neglected in his instruction.

Inevitably, however, it will be Spider-Man whom our attention will focus on. We don't know when Peter Parker became so adept at poker, as strapped for funds as he usually is; things don't generally end well for people living from paycheck to paycheck (if that) who turn to gambling. Regardless, his perspective in sizing up tonight's players is welcome, though he tips his own hand in an admission of just how he manages to stay in the game.

With a $20 limit, these players might have a long way to go tonight if they want to end up making a sizable donation to charity. But a surprise guest will change the stakes of this game considerably--win, or lose.

Oh, now it's a party.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Trial Of The Watcher!

OR: "Better Late Than Never..."

There were probably a good number of us back in the day who wondered how the Watcher--one of a race of beings who took it upon themselves to observe significant events and noteworthy races throughout the universe while adopting a posture of non-interference with those they surveyed and contemplated--nevertheless tended to indeed make something of a habit of interfering and interacting in those affairs, while also managing to keep his activities on the down low as far as his fellow Watchers were concerned.

Inevitably, however, the Watcher's past was bound to catch up with him--and that time comes when Captain Marvel travels to the moon to investigate the activities of the Lunatic Legion. But Mar-vell's real surprise--and ours--comes when he heads to the Watcher's dwelling to gain information on the Legion's whereabouts, only to receive quite a different welcome than he expected.

Naturally, our first instinct would be to suspect that the Watcher is under some form of control, since he should have no clear reason to wish harm to Mar-vell, much less wish his death; but more importantly, given his role, he really shouldn't have even the inclination. Yet we'll find that the Watcher is indeed acting of his own free will. What's going on?

Unfortunately, Mar-vell meets the Watcher at a disadvantage, suffering from the effects of a drug-induced "trip" unknowingly inflicted on him by Rick Jones, the human who has been merged with him and who also suffers the drug's effects at his location in the Negative Zone. And so Mar-vell's resistance to the power of the Watcher is hampered, and short-lived.

Shock follows shock, as we see that the Watcher, however remorsefully, has apparently done the bidding of the Legion--a group of renegade Kree who wish nothing less than Mar-vell's death. What's the story here? Had Mar-vell not been debilitated, would the Watcher have slain him? And why? Whatever the Watcher's motivations, we can all agree that he crosses the line here with malice prépensée--and so this being who has often defied the strict code of his race will finally be called to task, when he at last stands before his fellow Watchers in judgment.

And frankly, it's about time!

Friday, July 5, 2019

When Came The Betrayal

The year is 2020, as Thor, the Lord of Asgard and Midgard, continues to solidify the Asgardian presence on Earth while suppressing resistance by force and the use of "reconditioning centers." But a group of heroes have managed to survive and remain free as part of a struggle for Earth's independence--and with the help of one Asgardian, who is close to the throne and closer still to Thor as a brother-in-arms, they hope to end the reign of Asgard on Earth by stopping the one who brought it about. By whatever means necessary.

By now we've been witness to the beginning and end of the saga which saw the implementation and consequences of Thor's decision to bring Asgard and the guidance of the gods to Earth's mortals, where Thor's good intentions fell victim to his own misjudgment and the situation took a steady path from questionable to bad to worse. We also learned that there have been a number of attempts to remove Thor--among them an initial strike made by the Avengers and Tony Stark in particular, a fierce contest which was eventually quashed. And in time we discovered what became of the hammer Mjolnir, as well as the banished Lady Sif who vehemently opposed Thor's decision for the Asgardians to remain a presence on Earth following the destruction of Asgard and New York City. But the fate of Balder the Brave would be settled in a separate story, where Thor, 150 years after the fact, is having a recurring dream of the events in question--a dream which will replay for us, in graphic detail, how the story of Thor's former mortal comrades, as well as the traitor, Balder, came to an end.

As we've just seen, Captain America's plan to infiltrate the royal castle has been uncovered--as Loki, the head of "world security," moves to crush this group with extreme prejudice.

We can pick up a few character tidbits from this skirmish; for instance, either Captain America's group represents a resistance "cell," or the number of super-powered characters still able to band together and fight has been whittled down by Loki and his forces substantially, no doubt with a great deal of pleasure on his part--so what we're seeing here may well be a last stand, and possibly a suicide mission. Also, given his apparent dependence on others to get around, Dr. Strange appears to be blind--and judging by the accessories that Loki now sports, the god of evil is the likely cause. On a related note, Loki's Asgardian power combined with his knowledge of sorcery makes him a formidable enough foe against mortals--but having stolen and mastered the Eye of Agamotto, he arguably outclasses any mortal or group of mortals he comes up against.

As for Thor, Balder raises a good point in how these mortals expect to pose a challenge to the Odin-power--though frankly, this group would need Iron Man and another heavy hitter with them for good measure if they were just going up against Thor alone. But at least part of their gambit succeeds--though given the outcome, it's a moot point.

Quite honestly, I have never been more shocked by a comics scene as I was by the image of Balder holding the life of a toddler hostage at sword point, and a prince of Asgard at that--especially in light of his reticence in agreeing to help these men ambush Thor in the first place, to say nothing of his refusal to fatally injure any of the attacking warriors. Would he have actually carried out his threat if Thor refused to stand down? I'm actually not confident in answering "no."

Soon after Thor began insinuating himself in world affairs, both Cap and Iron Man stepped in when he decided to overthrow the government of Slokovia*. That situation was somewhat defused at its conclusion; but here, Cap has come full circle with Thor's overreach, and feels he has run out of options in dealing with him. Since this is Captain America we're watching, the final scene does a good job of conveying the impression that, despite the odds, he may actually prevail against Thor; but with Loki arriving to tip the scales and provide a jolting distraction, he falls in perhaps the worst way possible--at the hand of a former ally and friend, who once embodied the spirit of honor and righteousness.

*If you think that sounds slightly like "Sokovia," help yourself to a no-prize.

It's at this point that we return to Thor in 2170, bolting awake and visibly disturbed by his memories of that night--the Odin-power turning his "dream" into a second-by-second remembrance of the event. Whether it's his conscience at work, or something he regards as an omen of further dissent yet to come, is something the story leaves to the reader to decide; but if Captain America were in a position to give an opinion, chances are he would still be holding out hope for the former.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

"If He Be Worthy..."

The year is 2170, and the Midgardian city known as New Asgard is under siege--with the Asgardians themselves in danger of being slaughtered to a man by Desak, whose life's mission is to purge the universe of those who think of themselves as gods and liberate their helpless mortal subjects who toil on their behalf and struggle to fulfill their whims and perform their will. Since establishing their presence permanently on Earth, Thor and the Asgardians have given the world's mortal population the illusion of freedom and self-determination, yet forcing the guidance of the gods upon them--prohibiting religious worship, certain vocations, and any activity which Thor feels would lead them down the path once again to irresponsibility, violence, poverty, and oppression. In the process, Thor has lost sight of the good intentions which he began with, becoming convinced over time that mankind would not survive as a race without acting as their arbitrator regarding their choices and decisions.

In other words, the Asgardians have become textbook examples of the sort of gods that Desak has sworn to destroy. And on this day--perhaps the last day of their existence--it's become clear that, for all his power, Thor and those who fight by his side may be incapable of stopping the onslaught of this god destroyer.