Monday, June 28, 2021

The Coming(s) of... Dr. Strange!


As he did in Sub-Mariner, Fantastic Four, and Invincible Iron Man, writer Roy Thomas came aboard Doctor Strange in mid-1968 (the first issue of Strange's first solo series) and provided an expanded version of the title character's origin--perhaps partly as a way to pivot to a new direction, but also to use a different "lens" of sorts to offer new perspective to Stephen Strange the man, characterization which was skirted by in the original telling by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko but which artist Dan Adkins appears eager to offer.

Thomas's updated version, which appears 4½ years after the original origin story, offers an interesting comparison of storytelling styles between the new material and Strange's origin as depicted by Lee and Ditko. For one thing, Adkins had the luxury of presenting his work within a full issue of twenty pages--and though Ditko included the essential scenes in his story, he had only eight pages in which to frame it, given that the character of Dr. Strange at the time was a feature of Strange Tales which shared its issue space with a second Marvel character in a separate story (while also making room for a fictional "strange tale" insert). Thanks to the additional leeway, Thomas and Adkins can take a more presentational approach with Strange in his new series, while taking advantage of his brief history in battling occult threats to have him wondering if he's the right person for the challenges he faces.  (Thomas would later take a similar approach with Iron Man.)

While in Lee's version, the introduction comes in the form of a narrative splash page which immediately lets us know we're about to read Strange's origin; yet from there, we jump directly to Strange's arrival at the Ancient One's abode in India*, and work our way backwards.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Panic In The Prisons!


While writer Stan Lee certainly kept the amazing Spider-Man busy in sending super-criminals to prison, he also found reason to send the web-spinner himself to the big house on two separate occasions during his nine years of chronicling his adventures--once in 1968, and again in 1971, both instances involving Spider-Man attempting to rein in convicts who seized an opportunity to become unruly and threaten innocents. But given the three-year difference in time between the two, each story will differ in the circumstances of how Spider-Man finds himself in the midst of such potentially volatile situations.

In the earlier story, the circumstances are more dramatic for Spider-Man on a personal level, as he lies injured and unconscious on the street following a life-or-death battle with the Vulture. And with the crowd clamoring for the authorities to seize the chance to remove his mask, he appears helpless to prevent whatever action is taken with him from this point.

(Lee may make a great show of the perceived danger to Spider-Man, not only with the cover caption "Escape Impossible!" but the story's title, "The Impossible Escape!"--but you may as well know going in that both end up applying more to our convicts than our hero, whose departure from the barred facility in the end was never hindered in the slightest.)

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Day Atlantis Died!


As the original Sub-Mariner series closed in on its final issue, writer Steve Gerber began including within the book a five-part origin tale for Atlantis itself which would not only establish the roots of the rise of Namor's own kingdom but also be a strong contender* for how the legendary surface continent of Atlantis met its end. Taking place in 1973 from June-October, the story also offers fine artwork by Howard Chaykin (who was also this project's plotter) and Joe Sinnott, though Chaykin is replaced by Jim Mooney in the last two installments. Regrettably, Tales Of Atlantis, limited to only six pages per issue, would only be able to offer a digest version of what might have been possible in a dedicated series--covering all the important aspects but with little opportunity for meaningful character development, in addition to the blink-and-you-missed-it existence of Atlantis itself, which we learn more of through Gerber's narrative than from its dwellers.

*A collection of the various mentions in Marvel stories regarding the fate of Atlantis probably rates a post of its own, but the PPC has referenced one such version, which gives a much different account of the city's destruction than Gerber's effort. As for the history of Namor's Atlantis, the story is given more in-depth treatment (heh, get it?) in a separate post in terms of the devastation it suffered during the reign of Thakorr and, later, Namor.

For instance, we're told that the ancient city of Atlantis is located on an "island continent," which one might consider to be a contradiction in terms given the size differential between a continent and an island. In the writings of Plato around 360 B.C.--the only known records of its existence--the Atlantis we know was made up of several concentric islands separated by wide moats and linked by a canal that ran to a central island where sat the capital city. In Gerber's story, Atlantis the city was the ruling seat of an empire, which implies that Atlantis the empire was more like Rome in that its reach extended to broad expanses of other lands. Otherwise, you could liken it to, say, Australia, with the jury still out as far as that country being an island or a continent but usually referred to as the latter since it has its own tectonic plate (though it extends to other islands such as Tasmania).

At any rate, the takeaway is that in this story the original Atlantis was an ancient surface empire, which we come across in its last days as a world power and the city itself besieged by two foreign armies--one of which, the Lemurians (also apparently air-breathers, like the Atlanteans), is intent on destroying the city's protective dome in order to allow its forces and a naval assault by another kingdom to breach the city itself. The waters here are muddied a bit by the Atlanteans being portrayed as blue-skinned, which Marvel later clarified was attributed to a colorist error (Petra Goldberg is the credited colorist in the issue) which wasn't discovered until the proofs of the first Tales Of Atlantis story were seen (which also clears up the discrepancy of Kull being flesh-colored, despite being born in Atlantis). At the behest of Asst. Editor Marv Wolfman, the blue coloring was retained in further installments for consistency's sake.

Atlantis is ruled by Kamuu and the Lemurian-born Zartra, who like any warriors at the time are defiant to the end. Yet a fatal miscalculation meant to destroy the invaders at a stroke seals their own doom.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

There's Never Been A Hero Like Spider-Man


A few months after his introduction as a feature in Amazing Fantasy, the character of Spider-Man received his own series in March of 1963 and went on to become one of Marvel's most successful flagship super-heroes. Very different from the other heroes who had appeared on the scene, Peter Parker epitomized writer Stan Lee's efforts to establish the characters of Marvel Comics' titles as "the kind of characters I could personally relate to; they'd be flesh and blood, they'd have their faults and foibles, they'd be fallible and feisty, and--most important of all--...they'd still have feet of clay."

For Peter Parker in particular, the character was doubly hampered by real-life concerns and problems, as Lee explains in his conception of the character from his 1974 book Origins of Marvel Comics:

"...[H]e was probably the first superhero to wear his neuroses on his sleeve. The poor guy is far more troubled than most of the characters he has to battle. And how many other superheroes are there who have to worry about their dear old Aunt May dying of a heart attack? Come to think of it, have you ever heard of a superhero with continuing problems with his love life? ... We structured the series in the pattern of any daytime radio soap opera, and miraculously we seem to have made it stick."

The Amazing Fantasy story certainly gave readers a fair idea of what they were in for with this character, even if at the time the Spider-Man tale was only a one-shot in a mag which was scheduled to be cancelled with that issue. In high school, Peter was an honor student who excelled in aptitude and studying, yet always miserable at being excluded from get-togethers with his classmates, a "bookworm" labelled as the school's "only professional wallflower" and a washout when trying to score a date. The accident which gave him his amazing spider abilities offered him an exciting new direction for his life--eventually turning to show business to capitalize on his powers, while resolving to take care of his beloved aunt and uncle but turning his back on those in school who always mocked him.

Yet fate deals a tragic blow to his life when he doesn't lift a finger to stop a fleeing criminal, only to later discover the fugitive had broken into his family's home and killed his uncle. Fortunately, fate also smiled down on Lee and Marvel, as reader reaction indicated they had a hit on their hands--and so with Steve Ditko continuing as the character's artist, The Amazing Spider-Man is launched, which picks up on Peter's life sometime after his uncle has been laid to rest and Peter and his aunt must now fend for themselves. As for the fame and fortune which appeared to be coming Peter's way as Spider-Man, Page One of that first issue tells us that the rave headlines which Spider-Man had enjoyed as a new media sensation have become a thing of the past.

(And the pain Peter must be in from those bizarre leg contortions can't be helping, Mr. Ditko!)

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Truth Will Out


"I think I know the real reasons behind the Civil War." -- Ben Urich

The final issue of the 2006-07 series Civil War: Front Line brings reporters Ben Urich of the Daily Bugle and Sally Floyd of the Alternative full circle in their coverage of the Civil War conflict--and in particular, the ramifications of the Super-Human Registration Act, which required federal registration of the country's super-beings and redirected or otherwise held sway over their activities. By this time, the series' other storyline involving Robbie Baldwin, a.k.a. Speedball, has been concluded, as he makes a deal with the government but also decides to adopt a painful new suit of spikes for himself which causes him injury and extreme pain with every movement he makes offensively. Designed with the deaths he indirectly caused in Stamford, Connecticut in mind, the new suit comes with a new name he has chosen for himself: "Penance."

Eventually, Penance, in his self-loathing and rage, goes looking for Nitro, the true murderer at Stamford's Ground Zero, for reasons which should be obvious--and part of his search points him in the direction of Latveria, where Dr. Doom has granted him asylum. The Thunderbolts' attempt to capture Penance fails at the not-so-abandoned site of Penance's incursion to gain the information he needs (where he runs into Doom's old lackeys, the Terrible Trio); but the story of Penance is unrelated to the evidence which Ben and Sally have recently uncovered for their story, which has led to Ben's resignation from his job at the Daily Bugle because he believes the paper would never choose to publish it. But in this final issue, we will learn what Ben and Sally have learned--a story told within the framework of two interviews the pair conduct which bring closure to the Civil War conflict in a way that the moment of surrender of Captain America could not.

Monday, June 7, 2021

...To Anger A God!


In November of 2007, there are a few things worth noting by the time the third issue of the brand new Thor series reaches stores:

  • The city of New Orleans continues to reel from the severe flooding inflicted on it by Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 storm which made its third and final landfall near Buras-Triumph, Louisiana as a Category 3 hurricane--its storm surge submerging eighty percent of the city and wiping out the housing, infrastructure, and employment base of the region. Two years later, many areas of the city continue to show outward signs of the devastation, as their residents continue to live under the impoverished circumstances thrust upon them.
  • With the events of Civil War now behind him, Tony Stark, having been appointed as the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., is in the process of putting together the Initiative, a plan for training and policing super-heroes in the conflict's aftermath, as well as positioning a local super hero team in each of America's fifty states. The Super-Human Registration Act is the law of the land, and Stark is fully committed to enforcing its jurisdiction.
  • Meanwhile, one character who was conspicuously absent during the less-than-civil conflict between warring heroes has at long last reappeared: Thor, God of Thunder, who met his fate along with his fellow Asgardians in the destructive conflagration known as Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods. All Asgardians but Thor have disappeared, displaced on Earth and unknowingly living out their lives as mortals--and so Thor, and Asgard itself, have relocated to an area of land outside of Broxton, Oklahoma, as Thor begins a quest to find the missing gods of Asgard and bring them home.*

*Think of it as a recycling of the 1996-97 series, Journey Into Mystery: The Lost Gods, which ran on a similar theme and used "Red" Norvell (the "new" Thor) to find the lost gods of Asgard, displaced on Earth in mortal form following the upheaval of the events of Onslaught.

Yet the presence of Asgard floating above-ground in Oklahoma has been noticed--its deserted status ascertained--and its sole occupant tracked to New Orleans, where Thor believes his quest may bear fruit. But lost in thought, he turns to find none other than Iron Man--and whatever matters Stark is seeking to discuss with Thor this day, he is unaware as yet that, to Thor, he has much to answer for.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Where Looms The Juggernaut!


In 1970, when The X-Men title finally folded its tent and ceased publication of new stories with issue #66, there followed a gap of nine months before the book began appearing on store racks once more--this time recycling itself as a reprint title, reaching back to the fall of '65 to begin its "new" run and sporting a 25¢* price tag which suggested the issue would contain more than one previously published story. That format would continue for six issues before the book's length and price fell into line with Marvel's other books being published--with the exception of its bimonthly publication schedule, which lasted for the next eight years until 1978 when by that time the next X-Men team was firmly established (and, at that point in time, battling Magneto at the heart of a volcano).

*10¢ more than standard-length 20-page comics, though 36 pages in total if you included the staggering 16 additional pages of ads (third-party and Marvel-related), letters pages, Bullpen bulletins, and of course the Marvel checklist (which technically would have to fall under "ads").

For its first issue out of the gate after its period of dormancy, X-Men featured a foe who first appeared in 1965 and would go on to become the X-Men's mortal enemy, the Juggernaut--along with a blazing guest-star whose power and abilities were sorely needed in the team's dire hour of need. And for the occasion, artists Marie Severin and Joe Sinnott were tapped to recreate Jack Kirby's original cover--bringing Sinnott, who also had inked Kirby's cover, full circle.

Kirby and Severin obviously have a different approach in presenting the threat, with Severin cutting to the chase and showing Juggernaut having advanced through the team's defensive measures and now poised to destroy the lot of them; yet as the cover also meant to grab the attention of anyone browsing comics for sale, it presents a more visual, more animated appeal than the looming threat which Kirby depicts, while also prodding any former X-Men readers who might have been hoping for the title's resurgence.

Within, however, as the original story is again presented, whatever prospects of excitement that Severin's cover might have indicated for the issue's story dim somewhat, with Kirby by then having shifted to doing layouts for the book while artist Jay Gavin (a.k.a. Werner Roth) was being groomed as the book's new regular artist. Gavin had yet to find his groove with these characters (as he would), and he was a marked improvement over Alex Toth from the prior issue where Juggernaut made his debut--but even with Sinnott, as well as the addition of the Torch, the action here comes off as stiff. (Granted, the Juggernaut himself doesn't help in that regard, as the story has him mostly threatening and steadily advancing while everyone tries to halt him.)

As for what brings the Torch to Xavier's school, he happens to catch a bit of Xavier's mental waves which have swept over New York (it's a little more convoluted than that, but you catch my mental drift)--and Xavier, with the Juggernaut at his doorstep and in no position to turn down aid, entreats him to help. And no doubt that help would more than tip the scales against this foe, were it not for a handy dandy force field which you'd think a human juggernaut by definition wouldn't need.

Finally, though, a little teamwork saves the day--nor, does it seem, is the Juggernaut's force field much use against a winged opponent when the man himself is too unfocused to invoke it. (For some reason I thought the field was always present no matter what, but what do I know.)

With the threat dealt with, Xavier wipes the Torch's memory and sends him flying back to New York none the wiser--the reason being that, during this time, Xavier still wishes to keep his association with the X-Men a secret. If memory serves (heh, get it?), that association as well as Xavier's mental abilities are known to a confidant in the F.B.I.--yet at some point, that information becomes known to super-beings and perhaps even the N.S.C. and the White House.  And despite the strange mental waves which seem to be prodding your humble host to put these thoughts aside, the PPC will be exploring that subject in the near future.

Wait... I was going  to... what's happening...