Monday, March 30, 2020

Blood And Thunder!

From a period of eleven months during 1993-94, you may remember a crossover event which took its lead from the pages of Mighty Thor and essentially had the Thunder God decimating a number of high-profile opponents in a fit of madness and rage which, if unchecked, would have him seeking the destruction of the entire universe, including his homeland of Asgard. Aptly named "Blood and Thunder," the storyline would also serve the purpose of drawing readers' attention to five other titles to which it had a connection, specifically:

  • Silver Surfer #s 86-88
  • The Warlock Chronicles #s 6-8
  • Warlock and the Infinity Watch #s 23-25
  • The Infinity Crusade
    As well as, for the sake of accuracy,
  • Thunderstrike

The Infinity Crusade, of course, being a crossover event in itself, capitalizing on its 1991-92 predecessors The Infinity Gauntlet and The Infinity War, with this new series perhaps being the first (and only?) time two crossover events have *ahem* "crossed" paths at the same point in time. In this case, "Blood and Thunder" gave a plug to The Infinity Crusade by dealing in its protagonist, the Goddess, who merely conscripted Thor in the same way she did other characters in her story--temporarily derailing the influence of the female figure named Valkyrie (more on her in a moment) until The Infinity Crusade ran its course, after which Thor would again fall under Valkyrie's sway.

Yet "Blood and Thunder" informally has its beginnings in Mighty Thor #s 460-467, several issues before the "Blood and Thunder" banner begins appearing above the masthead--installments which take us back to where Odin is concerned about Thor starting unprovoked brawls and consequently sends him on vacation among the stars to sort himself out. Though if we cut to the chase of "Blood and Thunder," we find that the violent madness which afflicts Thor thereafter is rooted in actions Odin himself has taken over time:

Aside from Blake, Dr. Strange alludes to other instances which in one way or another affected Thor's spirit, including Thor having to surrender his identity to Eric Masterson, as well as the period during which Thor saw his power and hammer duplicated in the form of Beta Ray Bill. (The latter of which I'm not buying, since Thor was totally on board with Odin's decision regarding Bill and displayed no misgivings about it or signs of trauma in the slightest--in fact, quite the contrary, given the deep friendship and trust he and Bill established between themselves.) Still, during his madness, Thor often despairs that he's lost "bits and pieces" of himself, which would seem to validate the overall diagnosis.

But on his "vacation" in space, seeking solace instead causes a manifestation of Thor's anguished mental state to take shape as a woman known only as "Valkyrie," a hallucination that he nevertheless believes is real and which naturally sympathizes and encourages his most deep-seated doubts about his father's treatment of him.

And armed with the affirmation he has long sought, Thor embraces a path of anger which will have him lashing out at friend and foe alike.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Six Against The Skrulls!

Since the Kree-Skrull War has recently been a focus of the PPC, we'd be remiss if we failed to note a group of individuals who formed a coterie as a result of that event:

Yes, the Illuminati, who met at the request of Iron Man following the Avengers' confrontation of the Skrulls in space during that race's hostilities with the Kree (and vice versa). War was averted during that encounter, thanks in part to the machinations of the Kree Supreme Intelligence which unleashed the power of none other than Rick Jones--but soon after his return to Earth, Stark initiated a meeting in Wakanda and proposed to Reed Richards, Stephen Strange and the others that the six of them meet on a regular basis to keep each other apprised of anything and/or anyone that might pose a threat at some point to Earth--"warning signs," if you will, that would allow them to pool their resources and avert disaster.

And yet, the group resolved to keep their meetings and even their existence secret, perhaps so as not to alert those who aroused their suspicions--even failing to notify the National Security Council of their activities, the very agency which shares vital and classified information with the Avengers as part of a special arrangement with the team and which would likely take issue with the covert nature of this group in acting outside of its auspices.

And act they do--nor does it comes as much of a surprise, then, when we discover what threat (if dormant for the time being) they've decided to proactively deal with first.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

War, and Remembrance

"On occasion, my duties include examination of the histories of alternate universes.

"I have shown you a portion of the events which occurred in one such reality, in which the star-spanning Kree Empire emerged victorious from a galactic war. But that was only the first half of the answer to the question: What If... The Avengers Lost Operation: Galactic Storm?

"This is Part Two."

-- The Watcher, who insisted on offering the PPC's recap to Part One of this story. (Like I had a choice of refusing a being who can traverse entire universes at will.)

To expand on the Watcher's summary a bit: A year and a half following the Operation: Galactic Storm crossover event, writer Len Kaminski crafted a much different outcome of the Kree-Shi'ar War--and a more grim one for the human race, in which the Earth was destroyed by the Kree and the Avengers (at least those who survived the Kree's retribution) became fugitives mounting a resistance movement with the goal of bringing down the Kree Empire.

CAUTION: Assuming you're a Gladiator fan and are even now putting in an online order for this story on that basis, you should know that Gladiator's presence on the cover of issue #56 is a tad misleading (sarcasm implied), considering that the character does not make an appearance in this story in any capacity. You might rightly think that he would, given that the Kree also destroyed Chandilar (the Shi'ar throneworld) on the heels of destroying Earth--and if there's a member of the Imperial Guard who would charge in to exact vengeance against the Kree, it would be Gladiator. Alas, we're left to assume instead that Gladiator was present on Chandilar at the time of its destruction by the Kree Omni-Wave device.


What's that, Watcher?


Yes, good point. Moving on, the Watcher wishes to elaborate on his opening by offering a two-page digest describing the dire straits that have befallen countless other worlds in the years that have passed since the Avengers and the Guard (along with members of the Kree Underground Resistance) began working toward the defeat of the Kree. It seems they have a long way to go, against an intractable enemy that is obsessed with its own mission: to pursue an insane agenda of star-spanning genocide.

After which Kaminski takes the reins of the story, attaching an addendum to the Watcher's presentation which lets us know the dismal state of Kree society due to the diversion of resources to the military--and that, as a result, not all the Kree are aligned with the propaganda rallies of Ael-Dan, who has become even more of a dictator over the years.

Since Part 2 will wind up this story, Kaminski immediately moves to the execution of a plan by Cap's forces which will hopefully turn the situation around for them--though whether it will succeed is admittedly a gamble, depending as it does on not only penetrating one of the most secure installations of the Kree homeworld but also on the actions of the entity that is the target of their raid.

And that scheme is put in motion on a remote Kree moon, which is where the Kree maintain one of their intergalactic communications nodes, as well as an archive of sensitive data which will facilitate the Avengers' plan. But the offensive is not without cost. After the raiding party is discovered by a contingent of Kree soldiers, the ensuing battle mortally wounds the Black Knight and compels one of the Guard, Smasher, to remain behind to cover their ship's escape. And there is another complication which may render the entire mission moot.

Unfortunately, the news is grim upon the strike team's return to base. We come to learn that the mission has been a success--though given the sacrifices which were made to ensure it, few if any are willing to use that word to describe its outcome.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Legacy Of Loss!

At the end of the 1972 Kree-Skrull War, it's possible you may have found yourself thinking that you hadn't really seen much of a "war" by the time of the conflict's inexplicable cease-fire (a feeling perhaps shared by the Avengers, as well--along with the Kree and the Skrulls, for that matter). In that case, you may have been more satisfied by Operation: Galactic Storm, a multi-part story published twenty years later--substituting the Shi'ar Empire for the Skrulls and this time putting the Avengers in the thick of things, while having plenty of room to run its course as part of a 19-issue crossover spanning seven separate titles. This time, we would see in the eyes of Earth's mightiest heroes a more realistic involvement in and portrayal of intergalactic war, as opposed to the handful of Avengers who set out in '72 declaring they were "coming for" the Kree and the Skrulls--a contingent which arguably just wouldn't have been able to cut it in the face of such numbers and armed might. In addition, we would discover in the Kree-Shi'ar war that the Kree Supreme Intelligence wouldn't be given a pass in this new struggle in terms of his enigmatic manipulations of individuals and events; indeed, this conglomeration of Kree minds would demonstrate that the stagnant state of Kree evolution was still foremost on its mind (er, minds).

Yet while it's true that the Avengers suffer no casualties during Operation: Galactic Storm--despite the scope of the war and the stakes involved, as well as having their disagreements and facing difficult choices--the story nevertheless remains engaging, instead letting the horrors of war become evident by the near-genocide of the Kree due to the machinations of the Intelligence. But over a year and a half later, in a two-part What If tale, writer Len Kaminski evidently wasn't content with letting the Avengers off the hook so easily--and in a startling turnaround with serious consequences for all involved, his version of events sees the Kree prevail, with its military arm seizing the reins of power and demonstrating the Kree empire's utter ruthlessness in achieving supremacy.

While for the Avengers, the lesson is driven home on a more personal level, particularly for the one Avenger whom Ael-Dan decides must learn it above all others. The means by which Ael-Dan imparts that lesson might be considered rash, but the example he looks to make for others who might wish to challenge the Kree is priceless in terms of not only inspiring his people but in demonstrating how far the Kree will go to enforce their collective will. Simply put, with the Kree Empire's galactic opposition crushed, the Earth's value in a strategic sense is no longer of import--but Ael-Dan's other point is well-taken in that Earth's interference in its affairs must be brought to an end once and for all, in a definitive way that goes beyond mere conquest. And for Captain America, the sight he is about to witness would make the losses he has seen in war pale by comparison.

Game, set and match to the Kree.

But for the Avengers, the war, and its toll, would go on.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Height And The Hammer!

(It was either that or "This Height--This Hammer!")

Having seen the schemes of Wilbur Day, a.k.a. the villain known as the Stilt-Man, when he was just starting out in crime, why don't we leap ahead nearly thirteen years later, where Day finds himself broken out of prison and hauled before a mysterious benefactor who offers to put him back on top (so to speak)--complete with a near-invincible new suit of armor, and no questions asked.

Clearly our hidden voice has some dangerous hired muscle at his disposal to ensure the compliance of their wishes; but Day isn't about to look a gift voice in the mouth, and given what he learns of the job he realizes that the work involved is the sort of thing he's been doing since Day One. And just as was the case then, to the Stilt-Man it will be like taking candy from a baby (if an armed, whirling baby).

Yet as callously as the Stilt-Man has left our hapless pilots to their fate, another reacts more valiantly--first, as a mortal doctor, and then, as the immortal God of Thunder.

Needless to say, the new, improved Stilt-Man is about to learn if his recent upgrade is able to stand up to the most rigorous testing one can obtain outside a controlled environment--as well as keep him from being taken into custody and going back to prison. That particular outcome is information another figure will be watching closely for.

As for the reader, they're getting a pretty decent return so far for their hard-earned 35¢.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Too Tall... Too Small

In the beginning of his career, there's little dissent that the crime-fighting Daredevil had a bizarre array of foes to pit his talents against, including but not limited to: a criminal who fashioned himself a human owl... a stunt-cyclist... a jester (no, really)... a group of animal-men... a matador (no, really)... a man outfitted as a frog (with springs on his feet, it goes without saying)... and how about a man-bull, complete with antlers. In such a mix, you may think that a man pulling off heists wearing a pair of stilts ranks low in such a gathering--but not low enough, as far as Daredevil is concerned.

Yikes! The "Daily Press" is breaking this story?? J. Jonah Jameson must be fuming!

Monday, March 16, 2020

War, Interrupted

Gosh, has anyone heard of this little story?

I jest, of course. Even after nearly fifty years, the early 1972 story of the Kree-Skrull War by Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, John Buscema, and Tom Palmer continues to resonate on some level in the minds of comics readers, having reached beyond its initial publication to manifest in a number of subsequent plots in print as well as on the big screen. Often described with words like "saga" and "epic," its popularity is astonishing for a "war" which was confined to two issues and didn't play out in the conventional sense (at least not for the reader--more on that in a moment); yet all things considered, this two-part tale leaves a trail which reaches back to stories which took place over nearly a five-year period.

Briefly, the events break down as follows*:

  • July, 1967 - On a remote Pacific island, a Kree Sentry is discovered by two unfortunate explorers and later battles the Fantastic Four, which leads to its (presumed) destruction.
  • August, 1967 - The Kree official known as Ronan the Accuser confronts the FF for their presumption and sentences them to "the extreme penalty" (which in late '67 is probably a dramatic way of indicating a death sentence, but who knows with the Kree), yet fails.
  • December, 1967 - On ancient Earth, the Sentry discovers and takes a meeting with the Inhumans, where the Kree's role in their creation is revealed to them. (The details of which can be found at the conclusion of the Sentry post.)
  • July, 1971 - Ronan returns to Earth to launch "Plan Atavus," designed to devolve all life on Earth to the state it existed 1 million years ago, thus effectively eliminating the potential threat of the human race to the Kree empire. As the plan begins to crumble, the Kree-Skrull War formally breaks out.

    We're not privy to whatever other engagements take place between the Skrulls and the Kree from this point, prior to the Avengers' later involvement.
  • September, 1971 - The Super-Skrull arrives to coordinate with other Skrulls already on the planet to capture Captain Marvel as well as eliminate the Inhumans to prevent their Kree creators from recruiting them for war efforts. Meanwhile, the Kree Supreme Intelligence, forcefully deposed by Ronan, begins to influence minds on Earth (including the Skrulls) to draw the Avengers into the conflict, events which initially lead to the team's disbandment.
  • November, 1971 - The original Avengers convene to investigate what the hell is going on, leading to a conflict at an upstate farm where the Super-Skrull captures Captain Marvel, along with the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver.
  • January, 1972 - While attempting to learn more of the Skrulls' activities on Earth, the Avengers are urged by Triton and Black Bolt to accompany them to the Great Refuge, where Maximus is collaborating with the Kree to conscript Inhumans as soldiers in the war. At the battle's conclusion, a Kree soldier (under the influence of the Intelligence) captures Rick Jones.

*Various other storylines from issues of both Fantastic Four and Captain Marvel have been omitted from this rundown.

At that point, the Avengers are poised to intervene in this conflict--for the sake of their captured comrades, and for the Earth.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Symbolic Splash Pages: The Early Years

As an encore to our series on symbolic splash pages, the PPC wraps up this nostalgic look at the opening pages to a number of classic issues from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s by rounding up some of the earliest stories of Iron Man, Captain America, Dr. Strange, and the Hulk, at the time when they were building their reading audiences within the pages of Tales Of Suspense, Strange Tales, and Tales To Astonish--appearances which only numbered around twelve pages per issue, but served as stepping stones to hopefully something more. All of these characters went on to star in their own solo series--the Hulk having already been given his shot in 1962 only to disappear after just six issues, while Captain America was attempting to segue into the budding world of Marvel super-heroes after having helmed a successful series of his own during the 1940s.

Here you'll find on display the talents of Steve Ditko, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby, along with early appearances of the Black Widow, the Melter, the Red Skull...

...and, in November of 1964, Captain America, a hero Jack Kirby unleashes accordingly.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

My Son... The Sub-Mariner!

Following the death of the Lady Dorma and the abdication of Namor The First and his subsequent departure from Atlantis, the grief-stricken Sub-Mariner turned to the surface world in an attempt to establish a life for himself there and explore his human heritage; yet, in failing, he discovers evidence that Capt. Leonard McKenzie, the human who long ago had wed Princess Fen, his mother, may still be alive. It would be the last course that longtime Sub-Mariner writer Roy Thomas would chart for the character before departing the book, a loose end which Gerry Conway would resolve in early 1972. In so doing, Conway would also demonstrate that he had in mind a different approach for Namor by severing Thomas's subplot of a Washington senator's campaign to secure amnesty for Namor by representing him as a champion of the environment.

The other loose end to be dealt with, of course, was the villainess Llyra, who had murdered Dorma yet escaped Namor's vengeance. And as Namor roams the streets of Boston for clues of his father's whereabouts, we find that Llyra has formed an alliance with one of Namor's oldest foes--Todd Arliss, Tiger Shark, who has his own plans for Namor.

Meanwhile, as marine biologist Walter Newell does some legwork of his own in investigating the whereabouts of McKenzie, we discover the 74-year-old captain spending the remaining years of his life in isolation in a Boston boarding house where he is looked after by a woman named Sara (presumably his landlady) and beset by memories of the loss he suffered fifty years ago. To understand the depth of that loss, we turn to a flashback narrated by Namor himself (via Thomas), in an exquisite origin sequence rendered by artist Ross Andru.

Events which Conway picks up on as we return to MacKenzie* again in late 1971, when we find his memories of that time are in the tortured form of bits and pieces which make clear that Fen's loss is something he has never healed from.

*Conway has changed the spelling of the last name, a trifling adjustment that could have been intentional or simply an oversight.

And so we finally rejoin Namor, who has crossed paths with MacKenzie without realizing it and now is lost in his own thoughts while walking the streets of Boston (seen here in scenes penciled by noted Sub-Mariner artist Marie Severin, with Jim Mooney).

What serves as the catalyst for finally drawing together the principal characters in this plot is the capture by Llyra and Tiger Shark of reporter Diane Arliss (Todd's sister), a woman hopelessly smitten with Namor and whose unwilling cooperation provides them with a powerful means by which they can bring Namor to them, and place him under their power.

A scene which at last opens the door to this saga's climax--for better or for worse.

Monday, March 9, 2020

When A Star Dies!

Or: "When Worlds... er, Stories Collide!"

Two similar plots, playing out just nine months apart in the pages of Strange Tales and Tales Of Suspense, would have a single and similar catalyst: Our sun, the star which nurtures and sustains the planet Earth, was suddenly and inexplicably dying, leaving the planet's population to quickly devise a solution for the survival of all mankind. And it's the former title which produces a cover to give us a dramatic sense of this sort of premise.

While inside, each story offers a symbolic splash page which gives a hint of how their plots will play out:

While both stories will focus on the human race attempting to escape its fate, these opening pages already provide contrast as to what approach each story will take toward that end. "The Last Rocket!", from Tales Of Suspense, clearly indicates that Earth's population is leaving Earth, presumably to hopefully locate a suitable world orbiting a healthy star--while the page from the earlier "When A Planet Dies!" story in Strange Tales tells us that the human race either could not or would not leave, instead resigned to seemingly face certain death. (The cover caption goes further in conveying the impression that most of the population had left the Earth and abandoned the rest, though we would learn otherwise).