Thursday, July 15, 2021

If It's Thursday, The Titles Are Fine!


Having adapted a particular title or well-known phrase for a post every now and then, it seems appropriate to tip my hat to the Marvel writer who indulged in the practice more than any other during his time with the company--Roy Thomas, whose stories were replete with titles which often recycled popular sayings or famous works of literature to suit whatever crisis was brewing for the Avengers, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the mighty Thor, or the uncanny X-Men.

Thomas was by no means unique in this respect; over seven years ago, there were a few other titles which the PPC featured in a similar roundup, though this time I wanted to shift the focus to a less critical review and just have a little fun with the results. ;)  Yet it bears mentioning that this grouping is much like the prior in that the titles which grace the splash pages you'll see mainly amount to elaborate puns and don't necessarily have anything to do with the content of the stories, even though our first instinct in most other works of fiction would be to be on the lookout for what sort of connection is being made between title and story. Here, where possible, we'll simply make reference to where the revised wording may be getting its inspiration from, and offer only mild speculation as to what it might mean for the issue's story and/or characters.

Starting off, however, how about the title which Thomas chose for a story from 1969--fifty years before the premier of Avengers: Endgame on the big screen, yet it happens to be the first use of the word "Endgame" in a Marvel comic and it just happens to appear in (you guessed it)... The Avengers.

Presumed reference: A chess term, dating back to the 1800s--denotes the stage of a game when most of the pieces have been removed from the board, and the final stage of the game begins.

The fact that Kang and the Grandmaster are using human "chessmen" to play out their game of "life or death," and that this issue is the final installment of a three-part story, of course makes this story's title completely apropos.

Assuming Thomas saw a re-run of a classic 1946 film, this next title was certainly a curious choice:

Presumed reference: "The Postman Always Rings Twice," starring Lana Turner and John Garfield (based on the 1934 crime novel by James Cain). Plot: A drifter begins a torrid affair with a diner owner's beautiful young wife, and the two conspire to kill the owner and seize his assets.

There's no conspiracy between lovers in this story, so we'll have to assume the title refers to the Man-Ape's two attempts to capture an Avenger in order to increase his odds of winning the prize offered as part of a contest hosted by the Grim Reaper.

But our next collection of evil-doers have an inside man to help them:

Presumed reference: Matthew 6:13, The Lord's Prayer: "...lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

It's the Avengers' butler, Jarvis, who essentially delivers the Avengers to the Masters of Evil, by disclosing their new security setup to the group in exchange for a payoff. But thanks to one of the Masters' members actually being one of the good guys, the Avengers turn the tables on their captors and, all things considered, accept Jarvis back into their confidence.

Presumed reference: The first stanza of a poem by Jane Taylor featured in Rhymes for the Nursery (1806), which later became a popular lullaby.

We'll just assume for sanity's sake that no parent in this midwestern town was lulling their child to sleep with Taylor's innocent rhyme when annihilation rained down on them after reciting the last verse. Needless to say, the twinkling "little star" in this case was Egghead's space station preparing to fire, the prelude to an ultimatum he issued of more such blasts unless his terms were met. Trivia tidbit: The story features Hawkeye's brother, who dies saving the Avengers from Egghead.

Presumed reference: An idiom, "Come on in, the water's fine." (I.e., encouragement along with an assurance to a reluctant or fearful swimmer that the water is at a pleasing temperature for swimming.)

In this case it's the Valkyrie (the Enchantress in disguise) who's encouraging the other females in the room to join her in tackling the male Avengers so that she could deceptively gain access to a device which would help her in returning to Asgard and regaining her full power.

Presumed reference: A 1957 cartoon by Leonard Dove that was meant to poke fun at the whirlwind nature of European tour schedules.

The only link that I can see between Dove's cartoon and Thomas's two-part story is that the FF decide to fly commercially to Nebraska to meet with the military regarding the activities of the Hulk in the area.

And speaking of the Hulk:

Presumed reference: Seems to be nothing more than alliteration at work here. (But, man, that Herb Trimpe artwork--what's not to like?)

As for the connection to the story, the Sandman is certainly sincere in his threat to open fire on the late-night staff of a hospital--or Betty Ross--if his demand for a medical procedure isn't met.

Presumed reference: The 1971 book What To Do Till The Messiah Comes by Bernard Gunther. The book describes Gunther thus: "BERNARD GUNTHER is one of the pioneers in the use of touch relaxation body awareness and nonverbal communication in the total growth process. For the past seven years he has been a resident staff member at ESALEN INSTITUTE where he has developed his own approach to massage meditation and mind body environment integration known as sensory awakening. He is the author of the best-selling books SENSE RELAXATION and LOVE VIEW." One reviewer notes: "...the finest hippie book I have ever read. It is chock-full of terrible terrible poetry and photos of some very stoned looking people."

Thomas's revision of Gunther's title may be a loose reference to Quicksilver's separate mission to hunt down clues as to how to locate the Sentinels following his sister Wanda's abduction by one of their number, while the other Avengers work toward the same goal. Or he may simply be giving a nod to Gunther's book, published just 14 months before the Avengers issue (a story which would also mark the end of Thomas's long run on the title).

Presumed reference: The standard lead-in to a punchline?

If there's any meaning connected to this story's off-the-cuff title, I can only guess that it has something to do with the mystery of Scorpio's identity as well as Nick Fury's impersonation of him during the Avengers' first clash with the Zodiac crime cartel.

Presumed reference: "Where Have All The Flowers Gone," a 1955 folk song by Pete Seeger (with additional verses in 1960 by Joe Hickerson). The record went on to be listed as one of the Top 20 Political Songs.

In this case, "all the powers" probably refers to half of the Fantastic Four being out of action, at least for the time being: the Thing, exposed overlong to the Hulk's gamma radiation, is back to his human form of Ben Grimm, while the Human Torch has announced his intention to take a leave of absence. A further handicap would also be Reed Richards' developing condition of steadily losing his stretching power.

Which leads us right into:

Presumed reference: "Five Characters In Search Of An Exit"--A 1961 episode of "The Twilight Zone." Rod Serling's opening narration: "Clown, hobo, ballet dancer, bagpiper, and an army major--a collection of question marks. Five improbable entities stuck together into a pit of darkness. No logic, no reason, no explanation; just a prolonged nightmare in which fear, loneliness, and the unexplainable walk hand in hand through the shadows. In a moment, we'll start collecting clues as to the whys, the whats, and the wheres. We will not end the nightmare, we'll only explain it--because this is the Twilight Zone." (You can just hear Serling's voiceover giving the intro, can't you?)

The "five characters" would appear to be the FF and their replacement for the Thing--Luke Cage, Power Man, who fell under the control of "the madman," the Puppet Master. As for the "in search of an exit" part, perhaps that's due to Reed's earlier offhand comment that he, Sue and Ben should all follow Johnny's lead and take some time away from the FF for awhile. (These four never seem to get that part down, do they?) As for Ben's bender (heh, get it?), he and his fellow patrons find that he hasn't quite gotten the Thing out of his system.

Presumed reference: "Jabberwocky," a so-called "nonsense poem" by Lewis Carroll featured in his 1871 novel Through The Looking Glass: "Beware the Jabberwock, my son! - The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! - Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun - The frumious Bandersnatch!"

Carroll didn't have the Juggernaut in mind when he penned "Jabberwocky" in the 17th century, but he likely would have agreed that the approach of this X-Men foe was well-deserving of the warning, Beware!

Presumed Come on! Reference: "Over The Rainbow" by E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen--recorded by Judy Garland and first performed in The Wizard of Oz, 1939.

The title's sentiment is likely attributed to reporter Harris Hobbs, who strikes a bargain with Thor to give himself and a technical crew access to Asgard to film a documentary. By Thor's expression, you can assume that he turns Hobbs down--but never underestimate the resourcefulness of a good reporter.

Presumed reference: "The only good Indian is a dead Indian," a statement attributed to Gen. Philip Sheridan in 1869 during his introduction to Comanche chief Toch-a-way, where the Chief said, "Me Toch-a-way, me good Indian." Sheridan reportedly smirked and replied, "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead." Later on, the remark evolved into the phrase we know today.

As far as the story goes, no one is looking to see Captain Marvel killed; on the contrary, the Avengers and Rick Jones are doing what they can to save him from a deadly radiation overdose picked up from his extended length of time being trapped in the Negative Zone. Perhaps the hunting-him-down posture of the Avengers on the story's splash page, however--complete with menacing-looking eyes in the shadows--is meant to have us believe otherwise. (Mar-vell should probably be thankful that Gen. Sheridan didn't tag along on this mission.)

Presumed reference: "In one ear and out the other"--the act of not heeding or remembering someone's words. The wording goes back to the first century A.D. and ancient Rome, where educator and orator Quintilian stated "The things he says flow straight through the ears"--a sentence which would later be found in its revised form in Geoffrey Chaucer's 1385 poem, Troilus and Criseyde.

Regarding the current predicament of "the Thing," who is actually the Reed Richards from another Earth, he's actually escaped confinement and fled to our Earth, only to be retrieved by Arkon and returned. By the time members of the FF begin to discover answers, three worlds will be at risk of all-out war with each other.

Reference: "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came," a narrative poem by English author Robert Browning, written in 1852 and first published in 1855. It was reportedly inspired by the song sung by Edgar in Shakespeare’s King Lear, when he pretends to be a madman.

The closest thing to a madman present in this story would be Brain-Child, who exists on the alternate-Earth world of the Squadron Supreme and who comes close to destroying it. (Brain-Child was, in a way, the Mole Man of his Earth, his bitterness at being mocked because of his appearance driving him to lash out at the world.)

And then there's Thomas's trifecta of adapted titles:

Presumed references: Something wicked this way comes, a line from Act IV of Shakespeare's Macbeth; "The Andromeda Strain," the 1969 book by Michael Crichton (or the 1971 film of the same name); and "Childhood's End," a 1953 novel by Arthur C. Clarke.

All of Thomas's revisions make sense insofar as their respective Avengers stories, though there's not much hope of establishing any connections to the listed references. Maximus would be the "wicked" Inhuman the title alludes to, though he's not on his way to anywhere but rather is deposed when Black Bolt reassumes rule of the Great Refuge, so Triton replaces him as the Inhuman coming our way; the Skrull fleet from the Andromeda galaxy, which the Avengers encounter in space, would be the "swarm"; and we could assume the sudden manifestation of Rick Jones' power brings an end to his "childhood," while the subsequent cessation of hostilities (which isn't long in coming by that point) effectively ends his brief period of "godhood."

One particular title variation would receive some extra mileage when it's applied to two stories which were published over 8½ years apart:

Presumed reference: "Look Homeward, Angel" by Thomas Wolfe (his first novel, published in 1929). Regarded as autobiographical, it tells of a young man's desire to leave his small town and tumultuous family in search of a better life. (Trivia tidbit: Thomas would feature a different real-life Tom Wolfe in a Dr. Strange story as well as Incredible Hulk #142 ("They Shoot Hulks, Don't They?").)

The premise of Wolfe's novel and the story the Black Panther recounts to the Avengers of his origin, which led to his coming to America to join the Avengers, share similarities in regard to the Panther's stated wish to give up his throne "that he may serve a greater kingdom... the whole of mankind itself!" As for Thor, it's a very brief look homeward indeed, as he is repulsed from Asgard by his own people when attempting to return and confront Odin for answers as to his involvement with the Celestials.

Finally, a title from a story we've recently covered:

Presumed reference: Beats me, but I know I've heard this saying before (with another word substituted for "Asgards"). Anyone have an idea?

Thomas's title adequately sums up the events of his tale of an older race of Asgardian gods being swept away by their own Ragnarok, only for Odin to have survived and gone on to create a new pantheon of Asgardians whose realm our own Thor hails from.

If you can recall other "Thomas titles" (I like the sound of that) which would have been right at home with this collection, do comment with them, since we may all be feeling a little rascally about now.


Mark said...

"Five Characters In Search Of A Madman": Serling in turn based his Twilight Zone story on Italian writer Luigi Pirandell's 1929 play "Six Characters In Search Of An Author"; being well read, Thomas may have been familiar with the play, though the episode would definitely be better known to the comics-reading public when that FF story was published.
I love PPC, always look forward to every now one!
Keep up the great work!

Comicsfan said...

Mark, that is a fine addendum to the paper trail for that particular title--thanks for mentioning it! :)

Colin Jones said...

Wasn't there an Avengers story called 'Some Say The World Will End In Fire, Some Say In Ice' which is from a poem by Robert Frost - I don't know what the title was referring to in the Avengers story (and I'm not sure if Roy Thomas wrote it) but those lines stuck in my mind when I first read them!

In 'Beneath The Planet Of The Apes' General Ursus says "The only good human is a dead human" - I was nine years old when I first saw that film and read the Marvel adaptation but I was unaware of the original quote concerning American Indians till many years later.

Anonymous said...

Yeah there was, Colin. The Avengers were fighting Ymir and Surtur. They'd been brought to Earth by some evil cult, or something. And Doc Strange was in it too, I think. I think he hadda send 'em back, to...whereever.

Rather shabby treatment for two primal entities of their stature. They're supposed to be Odin-level threats, for cryin' out loud.


Anonymous said...

...and Thor wasn't even in that one!

Anonymous said...

Y'know, C.F., you didn't mention that phrase which puzzled so many of us Marvel fans, "Trapped in a World He Never Made!"
According to the Internet (Yeah, I hadda look it up, I dunno everything) it might come from a line in a poem by a guy named A.E. Housman:
"I'm a stranger and afraid
in a world I never made."
I've noticed you've avoided mentioning the Duck, C.F. Or did I miss a post?
I'm not sure how he fits into continuity, but if they got a talking space racoon with a sci-fi type pop-gun...


Anonymous said...

New lamps for old' - from Aladdin?

Comicsfan said...

Colin, the fire and ice title from Thomas's Avengers story would have been an excellent addition--we'll have to save it for this post's sequel! ;)

M.P., the world he never made title has made the rounds--one came from Stan Lee's Silver Surfer #10, while Lee had also used it previously in a Tales To Astonish story featuring the Hulk. (Who knows, Thomas may have borrowed it himself at some point!) As for Howard the Duck--gosh, never was a fan, I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

Great post Comicsfan.
As for other Roy Thomas story titles, the one that most obviously springs to mind - well, it does mine - is Captain Marvel #17, "And A Child Shall Lead You", a biblical reference.
With Roy, if its not biblical its poetic, and I was reminded of his use of Shelley's "Ozymandias" as an epigraph in Avengers #57 (that wasn't a title of course, but maybe "Behold The Vision" was another biblical allusion, to "behold the man"...?)

That last Asgardian one - and I'm sure I've seen "New Gods For Old" at DC - does sound familiar but I can't place it either.
Possibly "new for old" is just a common construction? Roy - and Stan - had a knack for writing titles that feel like they could be references, but probably aren't. Like, is "Lo, There Shall Be An Ending" a quote? I don't think so.
Same goes for "And Men Shall Call Him... Warlock! [or whoever, as its been used a few times]" and that old chestnut "If This Be My Destiny..."


Comicsfan said...

sean, those are excellent points about the lofty titles which Lee and others slapped onto those splash pages (and covers) to open their stories. One of my favorites that received its own post was "O, Bitter Victory!", though it, too, could be traced back to past usage.

JDMeans said...

Amazing Spder-Man #248: The first story was called "And he Strikes Like a Thunderball" (the book also contained the classic "The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man"). Title source: the title theme of the James Bond movie "Thunderball", performed by Englebert Humperdink.

Comicsfan said...

JDMeans, while not a Roy Thomas title, that one definitely qualifies for a similarly themed post sometime in the future, thanks! (And I obviously liked the story. :) )