Thursday, January 28, 2021

Crisis From The Stars!


Having remembered writer Mark Waid's Fantastic Four run from the early 2000s, I was not only intrigued at seeing him take up work on the title again fifteen years later, but also surprised to learn that distinguished artist Neal Adams would also be aboard for Waid's four-issue series, which debuted in October of 2020.

I believe the last pages I remember seeing from Adams during his time at Marvel was his War Of The Worlds work from Amazing Adventures #18 in 1973. If I'm not mistaken, Adams' only work depicting the FF (three of them, at any rate) took place in Avengers #93, when a trio of Skrulls took their form to attack the assemblers (with Adams doing a few cutaway panels of the real McCoys in a subsequent issue). Having plied his craft with the Avengers, the X-Men, and the Inhumans, the FF would elude Adams for forty-nine years before finally landing on his drawing board as a full-fledged project--which was bound to make even those like myself, who had all but ceased reading new Marvel work, more than curious about the finished product.

This first installment of Waid's story is geared to build momentum for whatever challenge the FF will face, with much of it featuring the group in action against not one but two more immediate threats, the latter of which will be related to what is to come. The story's overriding theme, "antithesis"--literally, the opposite or contrast of one thing in relation to another--could mean anything at this point; the only thing we know for now, thanks to the cover, is that it will involve the Silver Surfer, who has returned to the service of Galactus. Obviously the Surfer is in bad shape, and the FF don't seem to be responsible for his condition--but we'll have to wait and see what we learn as things take shape.

As for that first threat, a character which fits that bill is surely Annihilus, the fiend from the Negative Zone who has once more broken through to our world with intentions toward conquest and death.


Monday, January 25, 2021

Don't Miss These Fabulous First Issues!


It's naturally very eye-catching when an iconic comics cover is paid homage by other artists or is otherwise recreated for a specific purpose. To date, the PPC has thrown the spotlight on Avengers #4, where Captain America makes his first post-war appearance and joins the team (while retroactively becoming an "original" Avenger in the process); 1962's Incredible Hulk #1, with its recreations restricted to the series itself; Fantastic Four #249, featuring a memorable pose which inspired similar drama elsewhere; June, 1938's Action Comics #1, which surely received more play than the few covers we featured; and of course Fantastic Four #1, which may hold the record for the sheer number of homage covers created for a single issue (and a diverse lot it is).

So it may come as a surprise to find 1963's X-Men #1 added to the list--a cover by artist Jack Kirby which, like the original lineup itself, I didn't find to be especially compelling.

Taking into account that Kirby's work here (like that found on just about any comics cover) is designed to grab the interest of the buyer, it could still reasonably be judged as if it were an accurate representation of what happens in the story, a balance which ideally should be struck if at all possible. For the most part, the cover's simple premise of the X-Men going up against Magneto provides just that--but how well do the abilities of these new heroes against this villain draw us into the story? Well, the guy with the eye-beam is certainly impressive, and it looks like we've got a barefoot acrobat--plus there's a snowman whose aim appears to be way off. There's also a female who appears to be little more than eye candy--though for Stan Lee's Son Of Origins of Marvel Comics from 1975, as well as the Marvel Milestone edition from 1993, the decision has been made to give her an action pose rather than have her appear to be simply hanging back without joining the battle.

As for the winged character, he has little choice but to pick up a makeshift weapon to use, since his power of flight offers no recourse against Magneto--but it's unclear how he expects to make any headway against this villain with a pole when his partner's force beam isn't doing the trick. In the story, however, he's not even doing that--so what can he do to add to the team? Other than force his teammates to come to his rescue, not much.

So what approach can other artists take to bring new life to this sort of cover? In the series itself, Dave Cockrum takes a stab at giving the new X-Men their shot:

And in another offering, John Byrne returns to the original lineup, though obviously we're catching the members at different points in their lives.

It looks like our acrobat is fated to swing to the attack and little else, no matter who's rendering him. Both covers, however, avoid Kirby's choice of having the villain's back turned to us and instead show us the full menace of what this team is up against, a noticeable improvement. (And in the process, giving Iceman a better target!)

If it's possible to make this issue's cover far more dynamic, however, Alex Ross shows us the way:

Our villain may be taking up more cover space, but there's visibly less of Magneto than before, though Ross follows Kirby's presentation which makes the X-Men, after all, this first issue's focus. I'd be curious as to who the colorist is on this work (assuming it isn't Ross), since the choices of colors here add so much to what we see. In addition, Ross's approach touches on the notion that the effect of Iceman's power need not be limited to tossing snowballs (or anything else, for that matter)--instead, he could choose to substantially reduce the temperature inside Magneto's field to the point of weakening or even incapacitating him.

In other efforts, when Hasbro's action figures of the X-Men arrived in 2014, a new cover of this issue wasn't far behind:

Artist Gerald Parel gives us another idea of how Kirby's original concept could be further enhanced, in this variant cover for the Facsimile issue--while DeviantArt artist Mikeyzou adds a contemporary polish.

And to inject a bit of artistic "wizardry," artist Blair Campbell shows us Hogwarts' version of our heroes:

Finally, Byrne presents this battle in a way that could have given Marvel its first wraparound cover, had the masthead and captions been included. (And believe me, I gave it a try--anyone else care to take a crack at it?)

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Provisionally Yours, The Paragon Collection


And speaking of Chris Claremont...

A curious, but potentially profitable, product offer began making its way into advertising outlets (including Marvel's digital line of comics and, needless to say, websites) in late 2020:

The Paragon Collection, bound collector's volumes containing selected stories of a featured Marvel writer. I'd be interested to know if any of you alert PPC readers took the Hou$e of Idea$ up on this series--and apparently, that information was crucial to whether or not Marvel would proceed with this project at all. The premier offering, a 448-page hardcover book which celebrates the legacy of Claremont, was packaged with a bundle of enticements and made available in a special pre-order sale, which included some eyebrow-raising fine print: If the "minimum threshold" of 1,200 pre-orders wasn't met by the deadline (in this case, December 4), the product wouldn't be moved into production, and all pre-orders would be refunded. If, however, that threshold was met, the product would be shipped in March of the following year. Translation: What level of interest can be expected with this sort of product in the long run--and would this method of marketing produce a favorable return in perpetuity?

Offhand, I suppose the level of interest would be determined by whatever talent is chosen for a particular volume, which makes it improbable that each of these volumes is going to appeal to every comics reader who takes an interest in the Paragon series. And not to be morbid, but if the pre-orders continue to be signed by the featured writer, that person will still have to be among the living. The upside for the talent is that, presumably, they'll be offered remuneration for the use of their name and whatever new material they contribute. (In addition to signings, script notes, etc., Claremont and artist Salvador Larroca will produce a new 20-page story as well as a new Wolverine comic.)

As of December 5, the pre-order threshold was reached and exceeded, with 2,105 orders placed. At $199.00 per bundle (heaven forbid they just slap on $1.00 and round off that number), that works out to nearly $419,000.00 for Marvel (with the buyer responsible for tax and shipping costs)--a nice jumping-off point to general sales, since it's fair to assume "pre-order" implies later retail sales at some point. Whether or not retail outlets will be marking up the price when the product reaches stores (local or Internet) is anyone's guess; Marvel may even consider the $199 amount a special pre-order price and bump up the retail price to take into account their own distribution costs, though outlets such as Amazon might offer special opening deals of their own.

As for the content, the lithographs and other enticements are the real draw here, since quality reprint collections such as Marvel Masterworks and the Omnibus books cover most of the bases being addressed in the Paragon Collection, the difference being the subjective nature in the Paragon inclusions of what constitutes "the most iconic" stories of the writer. For those of you who have dedicated shelving to your comics memorabilia, there's also the lure of a leather-bound series of volumes to tempt you, depending on how many volumes this series produces as well as how completist you are in terms of springing for each and every one of them (though the slipcase each set arrives in will probably be what you end up shelving, à la the Lord of the Rings DVD set). Consider, however, that the leather of these volumes will be different from, say, your leather-bound Gutenberg Bible or your leather-bound collection of the works of Mark Twain, in that it will be "faux-leather" and not genuine; but for the conservationists among you, that may be more of a draw for you instead of a deal-breaker.

I can't help but be curious as to whether this series will be solely focused on writers or will at some point include artists. (Maybe a Volume II series devoted to different artists.) If the profits are encouraging, I suppose it's an option--but a series such as this is perhaps more attractive as a limited series, and with the thought in mind that a $200 price tag isn't going to be sustainable for buyers. But please, what do I know--one glance at the price of an individual comic book and you have to wonder if there's any reticence from comics buyers in emptying their pockets for packaged collections such as this.

With my collecting days behind me, I'll be giving the Paragon Collection a pass, but if you're sufficiently intrigued there's more information on its offerings and content, as well as a few YouTube vids on the subject.


Monday, January 18, 2021

Presenting: The X-Men, 2.1


The death of Jean Grey, as well as the exit of Cyclops from their ranks, brought about significant change in the lives of the X-Men--changes which were introduced, one after another, in a late-1980 issue where we find the team having picked up the pieces and moved on from their loss, and their grief. In a sense, it's a reintroduction of the "new" X-Men who premiered 5½ years earlier, who by this time have had a number of baptisms of fire as far as honing their teamwork and committing themselves to the new life which Charles Xavier offered them. Now, as we look in on them, it's clear that these people are the X-Men, and readership of their title has become solid and still growing.

And so writer Chris Claremont takes the opportunity to throttle back a bit and let everyone, readers and X-Men alike, take a breath and pivot to looking toward the future. For readers, it was a welcome pause to get one's bearings, after riding the virtual roller coaster of struggles which had the team dealing with (to name a few):

  • The forces of the Shi'ar;
  • A life-or-death battle with Magneto;
  • The return of Sauron;
  • The threat of Moses Magnum;
  • The challenge of Alpha Flight;
  • The unhinged, deathly "fun" of Arcade;
  • The attack of the reality-altering Proteus;
  • The designs of the Hellfire Club; and, finally and most tragically,
  • The loss of one of their own, the second this new team of X-Men would mourn.

But now, it's forward we look--and it seems fitting we begin inside a certain training room, the very name of which gives fair warning to anyone just starting out on the team of what they can expect their life to entail from this point on.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

...Divided We Fall!


Judging by his most recent appearance in the PPC, you have to hand it to Paul Duval, the super-villain known as the Grey Gargoyle. Having already fought separately the big guns of the mighty Avengers--Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America--during his nefarious career, it's understandable that as he faces the assembled Avengers in this issue, he does so with not only an air of confidence and arrogance, but also with the expectation of their defeat at his stone hands. Even cover artist George Perez seems to know which way the wind is blowing on this one:

As we can see, both Iron Man and Daredevil (a timely-arrived ally in this struggle) have been early victims of the Gargoyle's stone touch and, unfortunately, will be out of this fight for the duration. But with the Falcon clobbered while the rest of his team are frozen in place gaping, it's clear that the Gargoyle is just getting warmed up!

Monday, January 11, 2021

Something Evil Falls To Earth!


Heading into 1980, artist John Byrne's brief eleven-issue run on The Avengers reached its end with a two-part story plotted by Roger Stern and almost seamlessly split between scripters Steven Grant and David Michelinie, while featuring the return of an old "foe"--Henry Peter Gyrich. Actually, Gyrich is not the principle foe of the story, though to the Avengers he might as well be. Acting as the watchdog of the National Security Council, the agency which is responsible for granting the Avengers their priority clearance, Gyrich has been on the Avengers' case for their lax security standards which not only have failed to prevent unauthorized access to their mansion and its computers' cache of federal government data, but also extend to their constantly shifting membership lineup changes that take place at the drop of a hat while at times failing to keep their total of active members down to a reasonable number.  For their part, the Avengers maintain that Gyrich has saddled them with too many restrictions which hamper their ability to carry out their operations.

And so the assemblers have requested a federal hearing before a three-person senatorial committee to finally settle this matter once and for all.

Meanwhile, in space, a meteor has plummeted toward Earth--only to change course and crash into Brooklyn's Jamaica Bay, where it then "hatches" into something more mobile and rises from the marsh. And so, ponderously but determinedly, the Avengers' more deadly foe in this issue is now on the move toward Manhattan. But what is the nature of this... creature? And why is it attacking Earth's mightiest heroes?


Thursday, January 7, 2021

Universal Conflagration!


Following Captain Marvel's defeat of Thanos made possible by the destruction of the Cosmic Cube, the mad Titan eventually returned, though his failure led to him being abandoned by his "consort," the personification of Death. In an effort to regain her favor, Thanos then conceived a new scheme in the 1977 Avengers Annual #7, discovering the existence of the "soul gems" (which you and I and a heap of moviegoers now recognize as the Infinity Gems) and siphoned their elements to create a large synthetic gem which had a single, deadly purpose.

Fortunately, Mar-vell and Adam Warlock had combined forces with the Avengers to halt this "stellar genocide" that Thanos had set in motion--and just in time, since Thanos's next target was our own star. Warlock would lose his life in that battle--but Mar-vell's strike against the gem would leave it vulnerable to the attack of Thor and Iron Man in which it was finally destroyed.

A few months later, however, a follow-up story finds Mar-vell showing up on Earth, frantic to find his friend Rick Jones and subsequently being taken to the office of Dr. Donald Blake in a deranged state. How deranged, you may ask? It looks like Thor, the God of Thunder, is about to find that out for himself!

What's this? Mar-vell wants death? Take a number, pal--Thanos has dibs on her!

(Ha ha. Just a little morbid humor there.)

Monday, January 4, 2021

The Bargain... and the Betrayal!

With present-day Marvel super-teams having gone through a flurry of intermixing with each other in both conflict and do-si-do membership shuffles to a head-shaking degree, it stands to reason that readers of those titles might regard the 1987 limited series Fantastic Four versus the X-Men with little fanfare or even interest, since by their reckoning those bridges have long since been trampled on crossed. Yet for the most part, even today's readers may be drawn to the more traditional fare of this four-issue series with over thirty years of dust on it, yet remains an engaging read from start to finish--with a solid plot by writer Chris Claremont, and surprisingly engaging art by penciler Jon Bogdanove.

The lineup of characters, at least, should be extensive enough to hold an interest for practically everyone:

  • The Fantastic Four, whose close-knit bond has been weakened by a recent discovery which points the finger of betrayal;
  • Jennifer Walters, aka She-Hulk, former FF member who is present when the team is approached by:
  • Magneto--respectively, former enemy and arch-enemy of each team, and current Headmaster of the school for mutants founded by Charles Xavier;
  • The X-Men, having barely survived a recent crisis that has left several members severely injured, and one who may not survive;
  • Reed and Sue Richards' young son, Franklin, a central figure of this story whose premonition-based dreams are likely intended to build the story's momentum toward this situation's resolution; and, finally,
  • Doctor Doom, who insinuates himself into Reed's intention to help one of the X-Men but also holds another card waiting to be revealed.

In a way, it's Franklin who is the driving force of Claremont's plot, given that just about everything that occurs happens under his "watch." (Franklin here has an astral self that manifests whenever he's asleep. I probably won't be devoting a post to that anytime soon.) All four covers of this series are symbolic representations of the dreams haunting Franklin's mind, representations of a conflict that will apparently take place between the FF and the X-Men.  Yet that development will be preceded by Sue's discovery of a seemingly-forgotten journal while unpacking storage crates that date back to a time before her marriage to Reed--an item which will trigger a schism to come.