Monday, December 20, 2021

A Christmas Skinflint


Having Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson play the character of Ebenezer Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" is such a natural fit that I'm surprised no one thought of it until 2004. That turned out to be writer Tom DeFalco, who with artist Takeshi Miyazawa fashioned a (what else?) Christmas tale for inclusion in that year's Holiday Special, where the day of Jameson's office Christmas party coincides with a battle taking place on the docks between the Avengers and a grouping of multiple villains (among them the Wrecking Crew and the Absorbing Man), the repercussions of which could prove devastating if it should go against the heroes who have assembled to deal with the threat. And Jameson? While the Bugle's staff is on the job, and reporter Ben Urich and freelance photog Peter Parker will be on their way to the docks to cover the story, Jameson will find himself preoccupied on the sidelines of his office.

For now, however, Jameson is focusing his attention on his workers' party preparations--and, as we saw in another gathering which Jameson hosted, it's clear that this man is just as magnanimous as ever when it comes to the spirit of giving and his ability to think of others.

It seems that Jameson's reputation as a "skinflint" remains intact.

When news breaks of the dockside battle, and his people pivot from their holiday cheer to putting together coverage of the developing story, Jameson slips away to his office for a nap--only to soon discover that a former acquaintance, like Jacob Marley, isn't quite as "dead as a door-nail."*

*"Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail."

Since that first messenger that "Osborn" spoke of will be the Ghost of Christmas Past, how fitting that the ghost taking Jameson on a tour of his earlier days is represented by Captain America, a man who at one point or another has been haunted by his own past. Here, we cover ground that I don't recall any readers being privy to--for while we're aware of Jameson's son, John, we've never learned of the man's first marriage, his childhood, or, if we're to believe DeFalco, the circumstances which led Jameson to despise the heroes that he once idolized as a boy.

("Cap" also presents to Jameson a rather awkward cameo by the X-Men, which has little of substance to add to this story except a repetition of the distrust which Jameson holds for those in costume.)

From that sad and telling point in Jameson's life, we segue to the Ghost of Christmas Present, given form by the Thing. It's a curious choice; though while there's no reason to indicate why he makes an appropriate guide for Jameson when viewing present events, there's also no reason why not to pick Ben Grimm from whatever choices were available. On this jaunt, following a stop at the Parker home, Jameson, as before, will become similarly disturbed by what he's shown--perhaps because what he's seeing is occurring in real time.

And finally, the Ghost of Christmas Future. Take a guess as to who that will be:

Grimly, we learn with Jameson the series of events which took place after the Avengers' battle--one that didn't go at all well for them, or for those who lived in the times which followed.

As is evident, Jameson has literally had a wake-up call--and if someone as cynical as J. Jonah Jameson can have an epiphany during the holidays, there's hope for every one of us. As for the employees of the Daily Bugle, their party has even more cause for celebration this year.

Don't worry, Jameson will get over his sticker shock at this shindig's price tag--and just in time for a group shot which delivers a sentiment meant for every one of you.

Today the PPC takes the rest of the year off to enjoy the holidays--
we'll see you back here in 2022!

Thursday, December 16, 2021

"The Doom That Went On Forever!"


The enigmatic and often hostile being known only as the Stranger has had run-ins or otherwise crossed paths with a number of notable and powerful Marvel characters and super-groups and, for the most part, had little difficulty dealing with them despite their laudable efforts to confront him. A few such instances which the PPC has featured include:

Almost always, these conflicts occur in the course of the Stranger conducting his own affairs--which also happens to be the case when he returns to Earth to deal with the threat of a null-life bomb he once introduced to destroy the human race but has since been re-armed and fallen into the hands of a thief whose girlfriend is being pursued by...

...well, gosh, we'll let Black Goliath give us the 411 on the situation:

The woman in question is Reggie Clayborne, who has absconded with the box her boyfriend Jerry made off with from Bill Foster's lab and headed to the H.Q. of the Champions to ask for their help. But as Foster has mentioned, they're all going to have bigger things to worry about, when the Stranger crashes this party!

Monday, December 13, 2021

One Foe To Create Them All


Getting in under the wire before reaching the end of Avengers Vol. 1 was the release of the book's 400th issue, a last hurrah of Earth's Mightiest Heroes before the team becomes engulfed in the coming of Onslaught. (Perhaps the less said about Onslaught, the better.) Written by Mark Waid with art by Mike Wieringo and Tom Palmer, this mid-1996 tale's wraparound cover by Mike Deodato might give you the impression that you're in for another villains! villains! villains! anniversary issue--yet the story provides a clever twist which, as the Avengers series reaches its end, would fittingly bring the book and the team full circle.

On the streets of New York, the Avengers are facing the first foray of this new danger in the form of the original Masters of Evil; but to begin to understand the nature of it, we must return to Avengers Mansion where the residence/headquarters' butler, Jarvis, encounters a traveler who brings dire warnings from the future of not only the coming deaths of the Avengers, but also the end of the world.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Will Of The Serpent!


We've come to Part Two of the PPC's review of the seven-issue Avengers tale which preceded the closing months of writer Steve Englehart's 1972-76 run on the book. Here, with artist George Perez, he brings back the Squadron Supreme, heroes of a parallel Earth who are now hired guns of not only the Federal government but corporate figures who at one time or another have all fallen under the sway of their world's Serpent Crown. Currently, the Avengers remain trapped on the Squadron's Earth which is under the insidious control of a cadre of industry executives who, under the Crown's guidance and in tandem with the U.S. President, are all on the same page, even as the Crown begins the same takeover plan for us!

As is apparent, the members of the Squadron are oblivious to what's been happening right under their noses, as they once again begin to track down the Avengers who have become separated on the streets of the capital city. And if we're to believe the symbolic penultimate issue cover of this issue as well as the symbolic splash page, their moments of freedom are numbered!

Monday, December 6, 2021

Earth's Mightiest Heroes vs. Earth's Mightiest Heroes!


Towards the end of his distinguished four-year run on The Avengers, writer Steve Englehart put together a plot which spanned seven issues and somehow manages to include and involve a virtual grab bag of story elements.  To name a few:  the Roxxon Oil conglomerate... Kang the Conqueror... a new super-heroine... a parallel Earth last seen in the book in 1971... two new prospective Avengers... the Serpent Crown... the heroic gunslingers of the old West... the return of Hawkeye, the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, and Immortus... and a former Sub-Mariner foe that takes out the Avengers with a single swing of his mammoth fist. (There's a free comic book for anyone who correctly guesses who it is! Not really!)

Oh yes, there's also the Squadron Sinister... CORRECTION, there's the Squadron Supreme, despite two of this story's covers trying like hell to convince us otherwise!

(The same bait-and-switch was resorted to for the cover of Avengers #85.)

Even the heroes themselves have to put their collective foot down and spell it out for us!

What is the big deal, Mr. Cover Captioner? Did you run the numbers and somehow conclude that "Sinister" would sell tons more comics than "Supreme"? Aren't the Avengers supposed to be selling this book?

There are more cover shenanigans at work here, but try this one on for size: A giant coyote-monster sicced on Cap's team by Roxxon, even though in the story our monster is really turned loose on Thor's team by Kang in the year 1873.

Slapping the word "Kang" on the cover in order to render it, in some twisted sense, symbolic. Smoothly played, Mr. Cover Captioner.

We know from a previous post how this story got rolling. The Beast is attacked in broad daylight by goons from the Brand Corporation (a Roxxon subsidiary) out to kill him, when Captain America shows up (while investigating Roxxon). When the two send their attackers packing, they return to Avengers Mansion to gather teammates to confront whatever is going on at Brand, while Thor and Moondragon investigate Kang's scheming in the past with the aid of Immortus.

The latter story, as well, has been covered previously in the PPC, and so we pick things up at Brand just after Roxxon President Hugh Jones has unleashed on the Avengers the Squadron Sinister Supreme (in their second story appearance, taking place nearly three years after their introduction). Sharing the danger with the Avengers is Patsy Walker, who has accompanied the Beast--their association going back to when Hank McCoy worked at Brand, but Patsy herself going back much further as a former devil-may-care teen romance character who had her own bimonthly comic series from 1945-65.  Patsy's ex-husband, Buzz Baxter, happens to be Jones's partner in crime--but more pertinent to the story, it's Patsy who inadvertently makes it possible for the Squadron to capture the Avengers.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Virus Of The Spirit


"But I thought freezing kills any virus." -- Will Robinson
"You thought. It's a good thing I'm the doctor and not you." -- Zachary Smith

The end of 1989 also marked the end of writer Steve Englehart's noteworthy run on the second volume of Silver Surfer, making way for new Surfer scripter Jim Starlin to come aboard (with Thanos in tow, it goes without saying). Sandwiched between the two points, however, was a stand-alone issue put together by Jim Valentino with artists Ron Frenz and Joe Sinnott that is suitably entertaining in its own right as well as possibly a breath of fresh air for readers who may have had their fill of the cast of characters Englehart had introduced which tended to steal the book's thunder. Yet while its cover gives the impression that this will be an album issue, the images are instead indicative of a dangerous threat to the Surfer which will make him a foe to all who live should he fail to perceive its true nature in time.

As an interesting twist to such stories, we're tipped off from the beginning as to what we're dealing with, if not yet who--"A disembodied intelligence attempts to convince a sentient virus... to do its bidding." From their discussion, and in light of the title of this book, it's not difficult to guess which sky-rider of the spaceways these two are targeting--but the answer as to why will take some time to become clear.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Beware The Rising Of... The Kaptroids!


Before writer Doug Moench rolled up his sleeves to tackle the first Inhumans mainstream series in 1975, there had been other attempts to explore this unique race in depth. The island of Attilan as well as the Inhumans' connection to the Kree were touched on in a backup feature written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby to supplement the pages of Mighty Thor while also providing focus to Black Bolt and his family. The feature lasted for seven installments, and ended with the decision of Black Bolt (at the advice of Triton) to seek a new home for their Great Refuge.*

*The story was left to be continued indefinitely, and wouldn't be picked up again until thirteen years later by Peter Gillis and Ron Wilson (with Joe Sinnott) in the pages of What If, of all places (the Watcher would smooth things over in that regard), where the Eternals would offer their help in finding a suitable new site for the Refuge.

Just a little over two years later, the Inhumans would take up bi-monthly residence in Amazing Adventures (splitting the book with the Black Widow), their adventures helmed by scripters Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas, and Gerry Conway for ten issues before the book shifted gears to introduce and feature the new Beast.

Which takes us forward over three years to October of 1975 and The Inhumans, another bimonthly run for the group which lasted only twelve issues (eleven if you're not counting a reprint issue consisting of Kirby's initial Amazing Adventures story).

Scripted by Moench (and sporting a cover masthead style that's almost a dead ringer for that of the new Champions book launched the very same month), the series offered some noteworthy talent in artists George Perez, Gil Kane, and Keith Pollard, as Moench took a two-prong approach to the book--giving us glimpses of the Great Refuge and the ways of its people as well as the Royal Family, but spending the bulk of its time focusing on the Kree as they sought to re-establish their leash on this race which, on a whim, they had created during an experiment to evolve a tribe of primitive humans when landing on Earth millennia ago.

And guess which villain they picked to begin their plan to enslave the Inhumans?

Thursday, November 25, 2021

The Surfer, The Skrull-Deviant, and the Eternals!


It wasn't until 1988 and around fifteen issues into his second series that the Silver Surfer received his first annual, written by Steve Englehart with art by Joe Staton and Joe Rubinstein--an issue which shares a cover distinction similar to the four annuals which followed, indicating their reliance on promotion-fueled crossover events which typified Marvel's line of comics going into the early 1990s. In this annual's case, that would be the eleven-issue Evolutionary War, where the High Evolutionary sought to accelerate human evolution worldwide in separate, piecemeal efforts as well as through the use of a genetic bomb.

Titled "Adam" (for a reason I've failed to grasp), the main story obviously involves the Eternals, led now by Ikaris following the final conflict with the Celestials which their Uni-Mind barely survived due to the sacrifice of their former sire, Zuras. In his globetrotting to assemble allies and put the pieces of his plan in motion, the Evolutionary appears in Olympia, the city of the Eternals, and secures their aid in regard to what he requires from the Surfer.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Island That Walks Like A Man!


It was hard to imagine in 1975 that Krakoa--the evil mutant island mass created by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum which inadvertently paved the way for the creation of the new X-Men--would have such staying power, especially when taking into account the circumstances of (what we thought was) its final fate. Yet in one form or another, Krakoa continues to endure to this day, as Marvel's writers find means of providing it with new life and direction; for our purpose, however, we'll spotlight Krakoa's existence in the twentieth century, when his future was still uncertain, if even considered.

Krakoa's sheer size, of course, enabled it to overwhelm the original X-Men, as they investigated readings of a new mutant detected by their Cerebro unit:

But the horror of their situation wouldn't be realized until the lone person to "escape" the fate of his friends, Cyclops, returned with an all-new team of X-Men formed by Charles Xavier and discovered that he and Xavier were little more than pawns, following the commands of a community intelligence that took its shape from the very ground they stood on.

All of that directed power, and no one thinks to target this thing's "eyes." Then again, does an intelligent, mobile island need vision in the conventional sense?

Finally, following a plan devised by Xavier, the X-Men shift tactics, pooling the talents of team members both current and new to remove the threat of Krakoa from the world, in the fullest sense of the word.

Fifteen years later, we would discover that the Stranger had at some point intercepted and secured Krakoa for study on his laboratory world where other beings whose paths crossed with Earth at one time or another had also been sequestered. In the meantime, Krakoa would find new life in Marvel's imaginary stories excuse me, parallel-world book, What If--in not one, not two, but three tales, where you can be sure that the X-Men, in one way or another, pay the price for their encounter with the Island That Walks Like A Man.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Whatever Happened To The 3·D Man?


The colorful hero known as the 3·D Man premiered in a *ahem* three-issue trial run in the pages of (it stands to reason) Marvel Premiere in 1977, created by Roy Thomas and artist Jim Craig during the time when Thomas was mining the 1950s for comics characters who would be viable for new stories in Marvel's present-day comics line. Reportedly, the 3·D Man was based on Captain 3·D from his first and only self-titled issue, published in December of 1953 and created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby--though, curiously, Thomas omits that information from his foreword on the character who was debuted in '77.

The adventures of the 3·D Man (aka Chuck Chandler, a test pilot who is presumed dead when his experimental jet crashes), like those of the Invaders, are set in and restricted to the past (in his case, 1958). Yet Thomas has also set out to use the stories and situations which the hero deals with in that time period to, in part, address the social ills of the '70s--and his means to do so is the insertion of Skrulls as the 3·D Man's main antagonists, their mission two-fold: to impede human technological and sociological advancement, and to subvert our society by taking behind-the-scenes steps to turn humans against one another, all of which place the Skrulls' infiltration of the human race thirty years ahead of the events of Secret Invasion (and four years before their first appearance in the pages of Fantastic Four, for that matter).

But since you can rightly presume that Chandler didn't die in the conventional sense following his crash, just how does the "3·D Man" come into being? The first we see of him, he's used to make a hopefully favorable first impression on the reader by coming on like gangbusters--which is precisely what he does with a gang of spies, led by the shape-changing Skrull who was present during the capture of Chuck's XF-13 during its first test flight.