Thursday, July 30, 2020

War Between The Realms!

If you were Pluto, permanent custodian and virtual prisoner of the Grecian netherworld, it's not clear what inciting war between Olympus and Asgard would get you as far as freedom from your assigned station. We obviously know what it would get someone like Ares, the god of war, who's been known to stoke such fires in the past between those realms (while making sure Earth became collateral damage in the process)--so an alliance between Pluto and Ares seemed the likely next step for these two, in a scheme which appeared tailor-made to provoke conflict between two pantheons of gods which maintained no formal relations between each other and thus might be quick to jump to conclusions if provided evidence of an act of aggression.

For instance, say, the lord of Asgard, Odin, learning of Krista, an Asgardian girl kidnapped and held captive by both Pluto and the son of Zeus.

(With Ares making a convincing Hercules, if only in striking an arrogant pose.)

As for what Pluto gets from hatching such a scheme, it still remains to be seen. To continue connecting the dots, we know what Hercules gets (the real Hercules), when Thor learns of Krista's fate: a good trouncing by the god of thunder, after which Thor is convinced by Zeus that Hercules is innocent, and that it's Pluto who's deserving of his wrath.

You'd think Thor's first thought would be to get word to Odin that Hercules and Olympus are in the clear as far as any warmongering; instead, he and Hercules engage in a contest to determine who gets to face Pluto in battle, a course of action which Zeus feels obliged to step in and correct with a few words of what we mortals might call "common sense."

But neither Ares nor Pluto are content to watch their carefully laid plans wither on the vine--and both know that it would only take the death of Thor to trigger a war of the gods!

Monday, July 27, 2020

Countdown to Operation: Purge!

Having followed the trail through time of the cyborg known as Deathlok the Demolisher, who unwillingly vanished from the year 1990 to appear in our own time only to be rendered mindless and subsequently battle to his own destruction, what more is there to say about the character, after having met such a pointless end that for all intents and purposes swept what amounted to a loose end under the rug? Well, putting aside for a moment the efforts of artist Rich Buckler and writer Doug Moench in taking such care and effort to build this character from the ground up, there is still his apocalyptic world of the future to consider--just over a decade away from the point where he met his end at Project: Pegasus, a date on the calendar that can't be as easily dismissed. And so we turn now to the year 1983, as writer J.M. DeMatteis and penciller Mike Zeck craft a story from the bits and pieces they've pieced together from Deathlok's prior appearances and seek to resolve his fate, and the fate of his future, once and for all.

But as surprising as it is to come across another Deathlok story when Marvel had put the character out of his misery over four years prior, we must first add another piece to the puzzle, in the form of Luther Manning--Deathlok's human identity before being turned into a cyborg assassin. In this case, however, the Luther Manning crucial to DeMatteis's story is actually the man's clone, created by the C.I.A. and housing the cerebral imprints of the brain of the real Manning as part of an effort to return his humanity to him. Yet Manning soon discovered that he felt no more human than his inhuman counterpart; and so, compelled to find Deathlok no matter where in time the mysterious Godwulf sent him, Manning is transported to 1983, outside of the Brand Corporation, where he is spotted by Steve Rogers--the one and only Captain America.

The Brand edifice has been abandoned since being shut down; but once introductions are made, and Manning relates his story culminating in his tracking Deathlok to the Brand complex, Cap joins forces with him to explore further, and finds the facility not so abandoned after all. Worse yet, it appears to have one hell of a security enforcer.

Thursday, July 23, 2020


When you take into consideration the fact that the story of the character known as Deathlok--the cyborg assassin/military operative tracking his targets in a not-too-distant post-apocalyptic future--took place not in his own series, but as a mid-1970s feature in the Astonishing Tales title, you would have to consider him something of a success story at the time, having managed to establish a steady readership even on a bi-monthly publication schedule that would delay each story installment for an interminable sixty days. Reader loyalty appeared far from the mind of Editor Marv Wolfman, however, when the final Deathlok story hit the stands in 1976*, without warning or acknowledgment of its cessation--its cover giving every indication of continuation for the series.

*As it happened, the last issue also coincided with the end of the Astonishing Tales book itself.

Certainly not the first issue to end a publication run abruptly and leave a big question mark hanging over its place on the spinner rack as to the resolution of its current storyline. (Silver Surfer #18 being one such example that comes to mind.)

Yet Deathlok's sudden disappearance following his encounter with the mysterious individual called Godwulf would be followed up with several spotty appearances that would have him interacting with individuals and timelines which existed nearly a decade before his own dismal future--appearances taking place in three separate titles in a span of over six years, though given that length of time it perhaps comes as no surprise that there seemed to be no story plot in effect that would tie these instances together coherently. Still, thanks in part to the covers being produced for those appearances, it's to Deathlok's credit that his character was still capable of attracting reader interest.

In essence, each story would make use of Deathlok as both a deadly threat and a victim of the circumstances he'd found himself in, as seen through the eyes of the respective books' writers at the time: David Kraft, Marv Wolfman, Mark Gruenwald (with Ralph Macchio), and J.M. DeMatteis. It was DeMatteis who would finally break the cycle of Deathlok "guest-starring" in Marvel continuity and make an effort to resolve his situation in his own timeline--but stringing together his prior appearances in the past to get to that point would take some doing.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Turmoils In Time!

The world of fiction is replete with the concept of time travel, though that particular method of travel is especially epitomized in the more visual fiction of comic books where fantasy and adventure reign and provide it with ample conditions in which to take place, depending on the pooling of imagination between writer and artist. We've seen it grow more complicated over the years, to where one never knows if the future a time traveler may witness is set in stone, whereas the past is generally immutable; in fact the biggest concern used to be in taking care not to change the past, for fear of changing the future. In comics, however, more adventures in time are feasible because the traveler is often given the option of seeing a horrid future as one possible future, depending on the choices made in the past; and if such choices are made, one theory pulled out of a hat proposed that those choices resulted in the creation of a separate future parallel to our own. Consequently, characters tend to travel through time without any repercussions to speak of, with the dismay and anguish one may have experienced at witnessing the tragic panorama of another time vanishing with their return to the present.

The amazing Spider-Man, like many of his fellow heroes, has done his share of time traveling--though I couldn't begin to tell you how often, much less recall the circumstances of those jaunts. Three instances stand out for me, however: One, where he traveled to the past (to meet up with the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, Dr. Doom, and Moondragon--there might as well be a turnstile installed for time travelers)... and on the heels of that trip, Spidey returns to the present by way of misarrivals in two decidedly different futures, first in the year 2019, and then backward nearly twenty years to 1990. And there are two decidedly different individuals in each setting to give him the lay of the land--or what's left of it.

Monday, July 13, 2020

(Almost) All You Ever Wanted To Know About Phoenix...

If you were one of those Marvel readers who went as far as you could in trying to make some sort of sense of all the subsequent appearances of Phoenix after the "death" of Jean Grey, let me just say that I'm awed by your tenacity--you've actually tried to bring order to chaos, and unfortunately may have come up empty like the rest of us. If Dark Phoenix were here right now, she would likely be amused at our effrontery and chide us for our hopelessness; nevertheless, we've likely at one time or another been part of a loose-knit circle of ardent and dogged "Phoenix-chasers" who occasionally attempt to connect the dots in the hope of justifying the many, many appearances of Phoenix though the decades that tried to build on what came before.

As your humble host at the PPC, I believe I threw in the towel on the subject at some point, though it's still enjoyable to come across a Phoenix story from the past and pull on its thread a bit to see how well it adds to--or how much it detracts from--the character's mystique (though referring to the Phoenix force as a "character" feels a little like reaching the point of no return). One such story involves Rachel Summers, herself one of those threads which was woven into the story of Phoenix simply by virtue of the fact that she is the daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey from another timeline. Rachel has the dubious distinction of being the character who started the ball rolling again on Phoenix following the end of the original storyline; and after she made a number of appearances in X-Men adventures, she was plugged in as a charter member of Excalibur, a new super-group based in Great Britain, as a sort of "Phoenix-lite" whose own connection to the Phoenix force unfolded as the book progressed.

In terms of becoming a full-blown Phoenix in her own right, however, we'll discover that Rachel finally gets to have her cake and eat it too following the events of a battle which leaves her fate uncertain--until the Phoenix itself intervenes with its own solution.

The scene where Phoenix returns to the stars (with Rachel "in tow," as it were) takes place in a story written by Alan Davis bearing a title which Phoenix-chasers no doubt applauded for its audacity, if not its accuracy: "All You Ever Wanted To Know About Phoenix... But Were Afraid To Ask," a truly laudable attempt to tie together the many appearances of Phoenix to date (in this case, July of 1992), though the story narrows its focus to those instances leading up to and involving the power's manifestation in Rachel (i.e., "All You Ever Wanted To Know About Excalibur's Phoenix..."). Davis would have probably needed an Omnibus, along with a few gallons of espresso, to tackle and bring coherence to the entire saga of Phoenix--even Mark Gruenwald would likely have balked at the task, and that's saying something.

At any rate, it's the Phoenix itself that now takes center stage in its ongoing story, sharing Rachel's body but suppressing her consciousness as Rachel continues to heal. The question is: What does it plan to do, while still tied to the mortal plane?

Thursday, July 9, 2020

My Daughter... My Victim!

"Where's the fun in having power... if you can't go out and abuse it now and again?"
- Lilith, daughter of Dracula

With their contentious relationship a never-ending one, it's usually a pleasant surprise to come across another tale featuring the dysfunctional father-daughter duo of Dracula and his despised and despising offspring, Lilith--which, due to their nature as immortal vampires, can take place practically anywhere and at anytime. In 2007, we discover that they maintain their antipathy for each other even in the 21st century, courtesy of a story featuring Morbius (the "living vampire") that takes the spotlight but makes room for a fourteen-page backup feature which once again has Lilith and her father crossing paths.

Though what kind of a father would Dracula be if he didn't impart a lesson in humility when seeing his daughter once more--and in the process, shall we say, drawing first blood?

Monday, July 6, 2020

Beware The Power Of... The Ultimate Ultron!


  • The Vision goes missing (apparently)!
  • A cylinder of the new, impenetrable metal called adamantium has been stolen (definitely)!
  • Iron Man is injured when an Avengers training session is sabotaged (shockingly)!
  • The Vision returns and admits to the theft, the sabotage, and attacking the Wasp (collectively)!
  • Ultron-6, returned to inhuman life by the Vision, crashes into Avengers Mansion and attacks (destructively)!
  • Because Ultron is now made of adamantium, the Avengers are helpless to stop him (regrettably)!
  • The Vision discovers his actions are the result of a mental command infused by Ultron at the time of his creation (surprisingly)!
  • At his former base on the lower east side of Manhattan, Ultron prepares to detonate nuclear devices which will destroy New York City (horrifically)!

But now, as the power of the metal monster's equipment builds to deadly release, there is one Avenger who may yet turn the tide against him--his own creation, who seeks to atone for the horror he has unleashed this day.

Yet as we wrap up Part 2 of this story and segue to Part 3, it's fair to wonder: Will the Vision and the rest of the Avengers, not to mention the population of an entire city, survive the mad revenge of Ultron-6?

Thursday, July 2, 2020

By The Vision Betrayed!

OR: "Mr. Smith Goes To Outer Space!"

Sandwiched between the new Goliath's conflict with the Swordsman and a looming threat from Kang the Conqueror was a three-part Avengers tale from 1969 which would bring two of Marvel's newest pencillers to the pages of the book--UK artist Barry Smith and Sal Buscema, each of whom would make their mark on The Avengers and would go on to establish distinguished careers for themselves. The story by Roy Thomas would also feature the first appearance of the impenetrable metal named adamantium, as well as the reappearance of a mad automaton that would be one's worst nightmare as far as being cast in such a metal--Ultron-6, who becomes so invincible from this point on that he decides to discard his numerical designation (at least this time around).

And as for proof of the potential threat of adamantium as a weapon, we need only step aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, where the most powerful Avengers have been requested to test its resistance.

Strange words coming from Henry Pym, who was one of the Vision's most vocal advocates when the android petitioned to join the Avengers; in addition to that offhand comment, we'd see in later scenes that he now feels the Vision was accepted into the team too quickly, even going so far as to worry about the threat he would pose should he turn against them. It's all presumably Thomas's way of setting the stage for what's to come, though it seems an odd leap for Pym not to give the Vision the benefit of the doubt. (You can be concerned about the behavior of someone without suspecting the worst of them.) Also seemingly intentional was Thor's throwaway remark here that the adamantium cylinder would never be anything but a cylinder--even when we're presented with a device which is capable of altering its shape and form, a statement which would otherwise prompt a concern of that device becoming an invaluable piece of equipment in the wrong hands.

On another note, Smith's first job on The Avengers (inked by Syd Shores) looks to be first-rate thus far, and there's more to come--but it's artist John Buscema's dramatic cover for this issue which lets us know that, where the Vision is concerned, the situation concerning his behavior, and perhaps his loyalty, is about to escalate.

(So one of the floors of Avengers Mansion stops short and looks out over--what, a pit? And deep enough to hold Goliath? What kind of parties did the Starks throw in this place before the Avengers moved in?)