Friday, February 28, 2020

Up Close And Personal!

Over the years of working on the PPC, I've come to recognize the advantages of indulging one's creative process by use of the personal computer--a handy and, at times, daunting piece of equipment that I cut my teeth on as it entered the working world around the mid-1980s. For the blogger, or the tweeter, or whatever digital world you contribute to, working on a computer is like having a file cabinet at your fingertips, in that it makes organizing your work (past, present, and future) a snap, while putting tools at your disposal for creating and presenting the ideas that spring from your mind, software which accommodates your vision as well as your schedule.

I say all of that by way of introduction to the assembled content of today's merry post. At times, I'll start a folder of material for a blog post just on the basis of no more than a glimmer of an idea occurring to me but not really having taken root yet--choosing instead to let it percolate in increments over the weeks and even months that follow, and then somewhere down the road remembering to glance at what I've accumulated in that folder and see if there's something usable. That's happened a handful of times before (see this earlier post, for example), and today's subject falls along those lines.

Perhaps this cover will give you an idea of where I'm heading with this:

Now you could infer that this post will be about suggestive poses of Marvel's female characters, which I'm not ruling out some day but which I'd be surprised isn't ground that's already been covered in some forum somewhere (this is the Internet, after all); or the PPC could be tackling the subject of sleazy characters in comics, which would certainly suit the "time capsule" approach I mentioned since we're probably talking about a lot of characters who fit that profile. But while neither of these applies today, there is a central theme at work here--have a look at a second cover to see if it dawns on you.

*ding ding ding* Yes, you've nailed it, as always:  covers which break the fourth wall and address the reader directly (or appear to do so). It was fun assembling them for a brief Friday post that hopefully ushers in a splendid weekend for you.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

"To Tame A Titan!"

It wasn't until the early 1970s when a few of Marvel's line of books began to call attention to a title's fiftieth issue with a well-placed cover caption--the implication being that the issue was something which bore notice for the character(s) involved, whether it was an affirmation, a turning point, or simply a well-written "special issue" to mark the occasion. Needless to say, it could also serve as a sales boost, a way to bring aboard new readers as well as any who might have previously passed on the title but might now be tempted to give it another look.

Heralding a book's 50th issue wasn't a practice that Marvel indulged in across the board; in the '60s, to my knowledge, it didn't appear to be a concept that was even conceived, much less considered, even for issues that might have deserved the accolade. Among them: Fantastic Four #50, the issue that concludes the saga of the Silver Surfer and sees Galactus driven off the Earth; and certainly Amazing Spider-Man #50, where Peter Parker, realizing that being Spider-Man has brought him nothing but unhappiness, and with Jameson's scathing denouncement of the wall-crawler ringing in his ears, hangs up his webs and literally trashes his costume, turning his back on his crime-fighting identity--until he saves the life of a man who reminds him of his Uncle Ben, and is reminded of the reason why he swore that day never to stand by and let another innocent come to harm.  Neither cover gave any indication that the issue had reached a pinnacle that we should be aware of (though the Spider-Man story would have done a 50th issue notation proud).

From a more marketing perspective, X-Men's 50th issue surely was in need of and could have benefited from such a cover caption, though its story was nothing to write home about: Mesmero bathes Lorna Dane in the rays of a machine that will help her realize her mutant potential, while Magneto returns to reveal himself to be her father. (It's one of the rare Jim Steranko stories that fell flat for me.) In the '70s, there were other titles that didn't acknowledge their own 50th milestone: Doctor Strange #50, where Strange pursues his lady friend, Morgana Blessing, who is shanghaied into the past by Baron Mordo (Strange's pub encounter with Nick Fury being the amusing highlight of the issue)... and as for Invincible Iron Man, who's 50th issue had him battling Princess Python, I might have instead rescheduled issue #47 for that honor, where Iron Man takes stock of his existence to date and wonders if the harm he's done in his armored identity justifies his continuing in the role.

As for books which were singled out, and perhaps deservedly so:

  • Marvel Two-In-One #50: The Thing battles a version of himself from the earliest days of the FF, armed with a serum from Reed Richards which would have cured that time's Ben Grimm of the monstrous transformation he never wanted;
  • Sub-Mariner #50: Namor, bereft of memory, is drawn to his ancestral home in the Antarctic where he's forced to confront elements of his past (as well as a new cousin);
  • The Defenders #50: The climax of a three-part story involving Scorpio, the new Zodiac, Nick Fury, and Moon Knight; and
  • Captain Marvel #50: Mar-vell joins forces with the Avengers to take down a more deadly version of the Super-Adaptoid.

And then, still in a decade void of any such promotion, we had the fiftieth issue of another notable title--a book which by that time had indeed reached its own turning point, culminating in a struggle which threatened to destroy a super-team. Or what was left of it.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Return Of... Captain America!?

By the fall of 1964, Captain America was well on his way to becoming a legend with a new generation of comics readers, just as he had been twenty years earlier during the Golden Age of comics--resurfacing in March of that year in the pages of The Avengers, and going on to "test the waters" in Tales Of Suspense as a co-feature of that title with Iron Man. As you might imagine, his rollout in that mag was designed to garner the most attention possible for what would subsequently become Cap's first series of stories for Marvel Comics:

And as was the case a little over a year earlier in Amazing Spider-Man, the master of disguise known as the Chameleon would be the villain to usher in Cap's first appearance in a new title. I must admit to always finding it curious how an under-the-radar character like the Chameleon nevertheless received such high-profile exposure from writers, and whose duplicity could end up causing so much trouble; but that said, he can, after all, convincingly become just about anybody, even though he's far more old-school than a character like Mystique who doesn't have to rely on prosthetics and wardrobe changes.

In this case, all he needs to do is to lay his hands on a Captain America costume (presumably right down to the uniform's chain-mail) to pull one over on Cap's fellow Avenger, Iron Man, and send him after the real Cap under the belief that he would be instead facing the Chameleon who's up to no good--and voilĂ , you have hero vs. hero.

And yet, a reprint of a story from late 1963 suggests that Cap's first appearance in the '60s predated even the Avengers tale:

...if you don't read between the lines, that is.

Friday, February 21, 2020

In Search Of The Perfect Head

Or: "It's My Body And I'll Rage If I Want To..."

Following the dynamic Defenders' defeat of the economic and political aspirations of the evil Headmen, it would be roughly thirteen years before we would see these bizarre villains resurface. And while they're clearly still up to their old tricks in ruthless experimentation, this time they seem to be working toward an entirely different goal than world domination.

Put simply, the Headmen are interested in helping their fellow member and friend, Chondu, regain some semblance of a normal body--his current one not of his choosing, but the result of surgery conducted by Dr. Nagan. To that end, they begin conducting research on and surveillance of the She-Hulk in order to eventually capture her, for reasons which for the time being remain a mystery (aside from the obvious, which you'd think would be out of the question even for Nagan); but having failed to secure her through their proxies, the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime, they've now turned to Mysterio, who has had better luck with the use of gas to subdue her.

Suffice to say, Mysterio insisted on certain terms being met following the successful completion of his assignment, in accordance with his expertise as a master of illusion.

Mysterio would later learn to his outrage that the Headmen have double-crossed him, and not only by stuffing his case with counterfeit bills covering newsprint and play money: Nagan has covered their bases by also including a device that would trigger Spider-Man's spider-sense and draw him into battling Mysterio, as a way to prevent him from seeking revenge against the Headmen.

It's only when the Headmen are alone with their subject that we learn the extent of the horror they've planned for her.

Mind you, this is occurring in the debut issues of writer/artist John Byrne's new series from 1989, The Sensational She-Hulk--which means that it's going to be a very limited series if the title character is going to be decapitated. Since Mysterio has already made an appearance, then, we have to assume that what we're seeing is either one whopper of an illusion on the part of the Headmen--or, barring that, it's Spider-Man to the rescue in the nick of time! Right?

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Coming Of... Apocalypse!

It's mid-1986, and Mike Nowlan is a mutant striving to keep himself under the radar--even more than the average mutant who fears discovery. A junkie by choice, Mike shoots up with heroin to keep in check his mutant ability to augment the power of other mutants, as a way to keep those mutants from getting hooked on him.

As difficult a time as Mike is having as is, his problems escalate when, on the run, he attempts to convince his ex-wife, Susan, a former drug dealer, to resupply him--a plea which leads to a veiled threat on his part. That leads to Susan getting in touch with the members of X-Factor, in their civilian guises as "mutant hunters"--and soon they locate Mike in a motor lodge in San Diego, where they try to convince him that they want to help (after getting first-hand exposure to his power). But there are others who have a vested interest in keeping Mike just as he is--specifically, the Alliance of Evil (mutants who are addicted to Mike's power jolts), and the one in shadows who commands them. Kidnapping Susan, the Alliance arrives and gives Mike an ultimatum--provide them another power "fix," or his ex-wife dies. But while X-Factor urges Mike not to submit, he knows he has no choice--and once their power is boosted, the Alliance overwhelms X-Factor and escapes with both Mike and Susan.

Yet who is the central figure Mike is fleeing? Someone whose agenda will benefit from Mike's power, and who makes his debut appearance in this tale.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Howl Of The Werewolf! Rage Of The Vampire!

During 1944-45, Universal Pictures sated demand for the Wolfman, Dracula, and the Frankenstein monster by giving us The House of Frankenstein and, just a week short of one year later, House of Dracula, the only two films up to that point where all three horror figures appear together--though, astonishingly, never on screen in the same scene at the same time. That honor was reserved for the 1948 film Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein--and while it was only a momentary glimpse, one of my favorite still shots at least gives us an idea of how things might look had our three horror figures actually joined forces (if only against two hapless comedians).

Interestingly enough, if you take Bud Abbott and Lou Costello out of the mix, that film would have made for compelling viewing--well directed by Charles Barton, and excellent acting by Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. (who both played it wonderfully straight despite the antics of Abbott and Costello).

In the comics world, these monsters of old would also meet on occasion, often with no love lost between them. We've seen such an example with a clash in 1973 between Dracula and the Frankenstein monster--and in the following year, a crossover story with double the fangs (and hopefully double the fun) would be presented featuring the very pairing of monsters which in the A&C film engaged in a battle that led to their mutual end. Neither of these fearsome characters is likely to perish here, with each having their own title--nevertheless, there will be enough bloodshed to go around.

Once again, artist Gene Colan delivers on a symbolic splash page, eh?

Friday, February 14, 2020

"Your Serve... er, Move, Daredevil!"

Having put together a special series on symbolic splash pages featured in Marvel's major team books as well as in Amazing Spider-Man, the PPC now moves briefly to highlighting some noteworthy efforts made in a random sampling of other titles from over the years which came to mind, some of which may ring a bell for you.

Leading us off are a number of pages from Daredevil, which I lingered on for some time considering their diversity in both style and artists and spanned a range of years from 1964 to 1971. (Perhaps even longer, but DD is monopolizing this subject as it is!) Bill Everett Jack Kirby is who we have to thank for paving the way for us (correction courtesy of Dave Plunkert--thanks, Dave!):

Joe Orlando, whose work began appearing in the industry in 1949, would follow up on the title with the next three issues (though you'll find much of his work for Marvel appearing in titles published in the mid- to late-'50s, in categories ranging from westerns, romance, war stories, sci-fi and mystery). His final work was published in 1997, a year before his death at 71.

Wally Wood, whose work Stan Lee made efforts to spotlight, makes his own SSP contribution (working off artist Bob Powell's layout) in a story from 1965 which he also scripted:

Ross Andru and Herb Trimpe unintentionally provide dueling SSPs featuring Ant-Man, with Andru providing more variety in terms of what awaits us within the story:

While John Romita and Gene Colan line up their versions of face-offs between DD and Spider-Man.  Writer Gerry Conway's "sports fan" caption turns out to be appropriate, since Mr. Colan seems to have Spidey trying to capture DD with a tennis court net.

(Maybe that second title should start off with "...And So Re-enters"?)

The mask and form of Daredevil lend themselves nicely to the SSP format, as Colan demonstrates in his other efforts with the character.

Over in Amazing Adventures, where the Black Widow is splitting the mag with the Inhumans, John Buscema appeals to the action lover with imagery suggesting that the Widow's new series is the one to watch--while Colan takes a more intriguing approach.

Later in that same title, Craig Russell is well-suited to the characters and concepts we'll find in stories adapted from H.G. Wells' War Of The Worlds.

While Colan, Gil Kane, and Jim Starlin show us what they bring to the table for Captain Marvel, old and new... well as for Warlock (with Steve Leialoha working off of Starlin's layout).

Dr. Strange is also well-represented, both solo and as part of the Defenders. Here we see work by Andru, Colan, Barry Smith, and Sal Buscema.

Howard Purcell, whose work for Marvel was limited to backup stories featuring the Watcher and two Nick Fury stories in Strange Tales, turns in this splendid SSP for the Black Knight's appearance in Marvel Super-Heroes.

Finally, Andru takes us out with the opening page to Marvel Team-Up #1, which features the rare display of Spider-Man in battle while poised on his own spider's web.

(Frankly these two don't seem very interested in fighting the Sandman.)

One more SSP for the road... to Transylvania, that is.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

With Colleagues Like These...!

Or: "Is There A Doctor In The Cult?"

It's probably safe to say that, since his ascendance to the mystic arts, Dr. Strange has no regrets in leaving behind his self-centered life as a surgeon, when he charged top dollar for his services while completely devoid of any bedside manner or other regard for his patients. We could also make the argument that he's made more of a contribution toward the well-being and preservation of mankind than he did in the operating theater. When Strange was first dealing with the repercussions of the car accident which deprived him of the use of his hands in performing delicate surgery, colleagues reached out to him with offers of remaining in the field as a consultant/assistant, though his ego wouldn't permit him to assume a position which he considered demeaning to someone of his stature.

Many of us know what happened from there--Strange quit the medical profession and spent his last cent exploring various medical options which might restore the steadiness and deftness of his hands. Finally, rumors of a healer in the east named "the Ancient One" led him to a temple in the Himalayas, where his host sought some proof that this man's motives were something other than selfish. That proof didn't come easily, with the skeptical Strange attributing the abilities he saw in the Ancient One to parlor tricks and/or hypnosis; but when he saw evidence of the Ancient One's resident pupil, Mordo, plotting to kill his master, Strange sought to defend the Ancient One by offering to become his disciple. From there, Strange fully immersed himself in his new calling--and the rest is history.

But from time to time, Strange's path still crosses with other physicians--and despite Strange's former attitude and reputation as a doctor who never displayed an ounce of humility, there are those who believe his knowledge of surgical techniques shouldn't be lost, and that his most productive role is still that of a surgical consultant.

Which brings us to one such man, and yet another

Marvel Trivia Question

What path did Dr. Charles Benton take which sealed his doom?