Monday, December 21, 2020

'Tis The Season To Be A Secret Invader...


Happy holidays, everyone!

But not everyone is feeling the holiday cheer. For instance, meet dismayed Daily Bugle reporter Lester (we're never told the poor man's last name), who on Christmas Eve finds himself sitting across the desk from his editor, Irving Griffen, and receiving some very jarring news under the circumstances. Nevertheless, he also receives a deadline--and to comply with Griffen's ultimatum magnanimous offer of continued employment, he ends up tapping a very special source who could be his best chance for meeting that deadline before the axe falls.

The year is 2007, just when Marvel's books are beginning to display signs of the company's Secret Invasion crossover event. From what we'll see of Lester's, er, canvassing, you would think the Skrulls would certainly make seizing this galaxy-spanning teleportation device (!!) which Reed has whipped up (under his own deadline from S.H.I.E.L.D.) a priority over their infiltration plans; but fortunately for Lester, he's left unhindered to research his story and report what meaning Christmas holds for other individuals, races, and, in some cases, species.

(Not to take this frolic by writer Mike Carey too seriously, but no, I don't know why Reed would object to his comment about reaching out to people during Christmas being on the record. Anyone care to hazard a guess?)

Finally, Lester has what he needs and (presumably) meets his deadline with Griffen. No doubt Lester's elation at pleasing his boss (and keeping his job) kept him from noticing the curious change in Griffen's desk name plate--evidence of a still-developing story that would have ramifications for future Christmases as well as any other traditions which the human race held dear.

Looks like we can't count on the Bugle worker with spider-sense to blow the lid on this.

Today the PPC takes the rest of the year off to enjoy the holidays--
we'll see you back here in 2021!


Don't forget to have some A.I.M. gingerbread cookies to satisfy your sweet tooth!


Thursday, December 17, 2020

Target: The Vision!


OR: "Attack of the Living Pinheads!"

Following the Avengers' battle with the Grim Reaper and the Space Phantom, there came a moment when the cat was finally let out of the bag regarding two Avengers in particular, as the Vision and the Scarlet Witch took a moment for themselves and openly displayed their deep affection for one another at last. And while most of their teammates were supportive and no doubt extended their congratulations, there were reservations as far as sharing the news with the general public.

Since then, the team has been busy with both internal and external concerns. Hawkeye has left the team to strike out on his own; threats from both Magneto and the Lion God have been dealt with; and the Black Widow briefly accepted Avengers membership, only to return to her relationship with Daredevil on the west coast. Now, the relationship between Wanda and the Vision has been brought out into the open--which, in turn, has prompted public reaction, not all of it positive.

But in matters of hate, there are often extreme elements which can go well beyond expressing ignorant judgments or verbal outrage, dangerous individuals who normally wouldn't pose a threat to a group like the Avengers--but when banded together, and able to deploy explosive force, their threat becomes very real, especially when their method of deployment makes it clear that they are literally willing to die for their cause.

Monday, December 14, 2020

"The Birth of... The Gibbon!"


The July 1972 issue of Amazing Spider-Man would be the curtain call* for longtime writer Stan Lee on the series, having scripted Spidey's book since 1963 in addition to the character's introduction in Amazing Fantasy the previous year. Although a two-part story, the August issue would serve to usher in the book's new regular writer, Gerry Conway, beginning a distinguished run himself of over three years. There was little notice of Lee's departure from ASM, aside from words mentioned via a letters page response in Part Two (though frankly I was more delighted while looking back at these issues to spot a letter in Part One from future Marvel writer David Michelinie, all of 24 years old at the time)--as well as a more generalized Stan's Soapbox column in a subsequent issue where Lee would formally pass the torch to new editor Roy Thomas and the company's other writers.

It seemed that Lee had opted for more of a smooth transition for Marvel readers than any thoughts of fanfare. And that being the case, how appropriate it seemed that in his final issue he would introduce a rather unremarkable character--a young man hoping for a chance at better things for himself as well as a life without despondency and, worst of all, ridicule. It seemed equally appropriate that, of all the people in New York City, Martin Blank would cross paths with Peter Parker, whose own life during this time had its share of turmoil and whose run of bad luck causes him to hurl his customized camera away in a flash of anger.

*Lee would again be spotlighted in an informal encore the following year, when his story from the 1968 issue of the Spectacular Spider-Man magazine was recycled into a three-part tale for which Conway provided additional dialog.

Martin's acrobatic skill is our tip-off to the character on the issue's cover--but why would this orphaned young man adopt a costumed identity as an ape-man? We would find the answer as he sought employment--and acceptance--in an environment which would unfortunately echo the deriding laughter that followed him all through his childhood.

Martin apparently has chosen to view his chance meeting with Spider-Man as a door opening for himself at last. Yet he's chosen not to hear the words of someone who knows first-hand that being a costumed hero is no guarantee of a life free of rejection or personal burden--and what happens next will not only bring Martin to arguably the lowest point in his life, but also leave him vulnerable to the influence of someone who won't hesitate to take advantage of his circumstances in order to put an end to a despised enemy.

On a better day, Spider-Man might have been more sympathetic to Martin--but his aunt's recent disappearance has added to a sea of troubles he's been experiencing lately, sapping him of his patience and having him regarding Martin as a distraction that he doesn't have time for. With his departure from the scene, however, the time is ripe for this story's principal antagonist to salvage what's left of Martin's fragile self-respect, and direct him to do what he himself cannot, at present.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

To Save The Future, The Thunder God Must Die!


As we've already seen to a certain extent, the circumstances in which the mighty Thor and the Shi'ar warrior known as Gladiator have met in battle are somewhat tricky to navigate through, given that in two of those instances, one of these warriors happens to exist in another time. In their first meeting, Thor (along with Iron Man and the Fantastic Four) has travelled to the year 2020, thirty years into the future; in another, it's Gladiator who is sent back several centuries to Thor's present (in 2001). Only in 1992 did Thor and Gladiator meet in the same time period (i.e., our own), during the events of Operation: Galactic Storm; yet Thor's identity during that time had been assumed by the mortal Eric Masterson, which technically made this clash their first.

Still with me so far? Well, we'll fix that:

And so, when Thor and Gladiator meet for a third time, in 2001, this would actually be only their second meeting, since this time it would be the genuine Thor showing up and not Masterson; and because Gladiator is traveling back from what would become an alternate time period (the storyline in Thor's book known as the Reigning), you could say that they're meeting for the first time in 2001, even though this Gladiator almost certainly recalls their meeting from 2020 (just as Thor does).

How we all kept sane during our years of comic book reading is beyond me.

Regardless, we now come to the third second! aw heck, third battle between Thor and Gladiator--and just for kicks, why don't we add Thor Girl to the mix while we're at it?

Monday, December 7, 2020

The War, And The Warriors!


What do we know about the man named Gladiator?

Well, we know he's not the only Gladiator in Marvel's stable:

But unlike these others, Kallark--the Gladiator who's fiercely loyal to the Shi'ar Empire--is not of Earth (and really has no interest in Daredevil or the Russians, unless they attack the Shi'ar--in which case it's their funeral). His primary role is as the point man for his Emperor or Empress, a warrior who also takes his place when necessary as the powerful praetor of the Shi'ar Imperial Guard.

As for his powers, you can pretty much see them on display when he swoops in and takes on the Fantastic Four while in pursuit of a group of Skrulls, an attack which has the famous team scrambling for a defense--until Reed Richards figures out exactly what makes Gladiator tick as a super-foe.

No doubt Gladiator has seen his share of battle in the service of his empire--but ever since he appeared on the Marvel scene, readers were likely anticipating when Gladiator's might would be tested against another warrior who shows loyalty to his realm and who stands resolute against those who would endanger the lives he protects. That moment finally arrives some thirty years in the future (which if we're going by publication date would make it around 2020, coincidentally enough), when the mighty Thor and the invincible Iron Man join the Fantastic Four on a mission--and the decision is made to surreptitiously drop in on a Shi'ar weapons depot in order to make off with the equipment they need to stop the threat of Galactus. Little do they know, however, that their activities have been detected by the telescopic vision of one who sees their incursion as a threat--a man who races to the scene to see that the infiltrators pay the ultimate penalty for their actions.  (In other words, Gladiator will be the first to tell you that he's empowered to act as both judge and executioner.)

And yet, were Gladiator not possessed of off-the-scale self-confidence, perhaps even he would have hesitated before charging in and taking down the God of Thunder--the one being who would interpret his attack as an affront which cannot stand.

With the lines now clearly drawn as far as Thor is concerned, just what do you think will happen next between these two? Well, Thor could rationally but firmly demand an explanation from his sudden attacker... or...

Right you are.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Turmoil on War World!


OR: "This Isn't The Wife You're Looking For"

With the 20th anniversary issue of Fantastic Four in our rear-view mirror, let's jump ahead ten years to 1991, and the book's 30th anniversary--the last anniversary acclamation to appear before Volume 1 of the series came to an end. Billed as a triple-sized issue, and clocking in at nearly 80 pages, issue #358 would include only seven pages of ads, while buffering the forty pages of story with 29 pages of FF memorabilia that included pinups, a look back at the series by writer Peter Sanderson, a brief Dr. Doom tale by Tom DeFalco and Arthur Adams, as well as a reprint of Stan Lee's original working synopsis for Fantastic Four #1.

Unlike issue #236's stand-alone story by writer/artist John Byrne, #358 didn't have the luxury of presenting a special FF tale that subtly but effectively evoked a sense of nostalgia for the FF's beginnings even as those elements were woven into a contemporary story; but DeFalco, along with artists Paul Ryan and Danny Bulanadi, do alright with bringing to a head a continuing story involving Johnny Storm and his wife, Alicia Masters, which reaches its climax with a shocking scene that cliffhanged the previous issue, thanks to information delivered to Ben Grimm by Alicia's stepfather, the Puppet Master.

To add fuel to the fire, Lyja, the Skrull spy who has been masquerading as Alicia since before Johnny and "Alicia" began their relationship, announces to Johnny that she is pregnant with his child--a development which, with the exception of the Skrull twist, you could no doubt find in one form or another on any number of daytime dramas when they still saturated network television. There is also the added complication that Lyja truly loves Johnny, with Johnny, despite his anger and frustration toward this situation and toward Lyja, feeling the same.

And so this issue proceeds to wrap up this storyline, one way or another, as the FF take off for the Andromeda galaxy with the intention of rescuing the real Alicia from Skrull captivity, with Lyja volunteering to help as their guide. But considering the level of danger involved, and that this team's visits to the Skrull galaxy often has them barely escaping with their lives, will this issue truly be a cause for celebration?

Monday, November 30, 2020

Terror In A Tiny Town!


While there have been a number of Fantastic Four issues that have celebrated the book's publication in terms of the issue number itself, whether it was the 50th issue, 100th, 150th, etc., celebrations of the book's years in publication have been fewer and further between by necessity, the longer intervals being due in part to having to wait to actually reach the 20th or 30th year of publishing. Various factors would make it difficult to depend on those issue numbers as a countdown to x number of years of publication; for example, the 100th issue didn't coincide with the book's ten-year anniversary (that would have been issue #116), thanks in part to the title's first six issues being published bi-monthly.

The PPC has to date presented posts on two of Fantastic Four's anniversary-related issues--its 17th (issue #200), as well as the Fantastic Four Roast--an encore to its 20th anniversary celebration, published six months earlier. That forty-page story from 1981 was scripted and drawn by John Byrne, who had just four issues under his belt at that point and was just getting started with what would turn out to be a run of over sixty issues. Byrne's story would feature two classic FF villains, in a joint scheme that would neutralize Reed Richards, Sue Richards, Johnny Storm, and Ben Grimm, for as long as they lived--but it's the issue's parade-style cover and the story's nostalgic splash page which serve to grab the reader's attention even before our villains would make their entrance.

But by the time you've flipped open that cover, the FF have already succumbed to this master plan. And neither they nor you, dear reader, are yet aware of it.

Monday, November 23, 2020

When Come The Slavers of Golden Star!


OR: "Our Next God Up For Bid..."

In mid-1973, we found the Mighty Thor comic about to wrap up an eight-month stretch of issues that saw the Thunder God and his fellow Asgardians--the Warriors Three, the lady Sif, Hildegarde, and Balder the Brave--exiled on Earth by Odin, and joined by Tana Nile and Silas Grant, two individuals from their conflict with Ego-Prime and now marooned on Earth. To complicate matters for the Earth-bound Asgardians, Sif, in exchange for saving Thor's life in a battle against Loki, would be compelled to serve Karnilla, the Norn Queen, in her quest to locate the now-missing Balder*; and as for Balder himself, he later turns up in a shocking state, apparently having been to Asgard despite Odin's edict and returned with his mind shattered by whatever he endured there.

*Presumably Sif was conscripted by Karnilla because of her power to travel by bypassing space and time--otherwise, Sif's ability to locate missing persons would be on par with any other Asgardian's, and certainly wouldn't begin to approach Karnilla's own mystic resources.

And so we've come to where writer Gerry Conway would pivot sharply to a new and wholly different story arc, beginning a nine-issue series of Asgardian adventures in outer space that kicks off with all of Asgard's warriors being captured by aliens and sold on the auction block!

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Part Two of Jack Kirby's Supplemental Covers, Circa 1976-1977


Having seen a few of Jack Kirby's supplemental covers for Marvel books, drawn during his own "supplemental" stay at the company during the years 1976-77, let's round out that post by taking the opportunity to "cover" a little more ground and moving on to some of the other titles which received Mr. Kirby's attention under their mastheads.

As was the case before, the books we'll see here might be surprising not only in terms of those titles that Kirby took an interest in, but also those that he opted not to contribute to (all of which is assuming these were Mr. Kirby's choices to make, rather than assignments from whoever was handling production matters). Frankly, with his workload as both writer and scripter of those books he produced on a monthly basis, the fact that Kirby managed to make room for the number of additional covers he turned in is something of a surprise in itself, to say nothing of not having lost his touch at making practically each of these cover images salesworthy as far as being able to stand out on the rack and entice the comics browser with the promise of adventure within. How regrettable that Marvel and Kirby were not able to work out a mutually beneficial way to coexist, though that's not to imply the dispute between them was one-sided. As we've seen in source material such as Marvel Comics The Untold Story, The Comics Journal, Wizard, and other forums that offered an outlet for frank opinion, the business side of the comics industry is at times an eye-opener for readers whose exposure to that industry is limited to the consumption of the wondrous, fantasy-based stories produced therefrom.

With each grouping of covers featured here, I'll again be including some comments and observations that came to mind (and of course looking forward to reading your own).

Let's begin with some of Kirby's lesser-known work in this area: