Thursday, September 30, 2021

Giant-Man In The 25th Century!


Where YOU Weigh In on the Pros and Cons of a Character's New Attire



There are few Avengers--or few costumed characters in general, for that matter--who have been overhauled and refitted more than Henry Pym, whose attire as Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, etc., etc., etc. has changed so often over the years, depending on what breakthrough or what handicap he was dealing with at any given time. And that pattern was beginning even in late 1963, when he decided to spend most of his time in costume as Giant-Man rather than Ant-Man, and almost immediately changed his costume's design accordingly.

In March of 1965, however, when he felt the need to add to his abilities in order to have a (pardon the pun) higher profile as an Avenger, a more extensive costume (and equipment) adjustment was required.

This new power was to cybernetically change the size of other organic forms--something he'd already accomplished with the Wasp, using the circuitry in his old cybernetic hood-mask. As it turned out, readers would rarely if ever see this helmet's power employed during Pym's remaining time with the Avengers.

Nevertheless, the Wasp decided to take this development one step further.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

But let's not "buck" tradition--what's your decision on the look of the new Giant-Man?

OR: ?

Monday, September 27, 2021

Exit: The Masters Of Evil! Exit: The Avengers!


If you were an Avengers reader in April of 1965, you might not have thought that anything was amiss with the team, judging by the optimism and normalcy exuded in their fifteenth issue. The Wasp had recovered following a near-fatal injury; Thor, during the time when the team was rotating its Avengers chairmanship on a monthly basis, was wrapping up an Avengers meeting that from all appearances had proceeded routinely and smoothly with nothing pressing; and afterward, everyone went back to resuming their normal lives, their only reason for getting together in those days being those times when they had such business to conduct or cause to assemble.

(Well, Jan, that coat would be coming off once you two were seated at your restaurant--but who am I to spoil your mood?)

Yet we wouldn't know until the cryptic final panel of this issue that what we were seeing were the last hours of the (remaining) original Avengers on active duty, the preparations for their exit already in the works by the time the issue went to press--with their "high note" being a final all-out battle with the Masters of Evil, the group of super-villains gathered by a wartime enemy of Captain America's, Baron Zemo. From the beginning, Zemo's super-powered associates knew that they were only a means to an end for their leader, who craved revenge against Cap--the same motivation which preoccupied Zemo's son, the erstwhile Phoenix, who would form his own band of Masters against the Avengers. But in what would be the final appearance as well for the group that had added the Executioner and the Enchantress to its ranks, the original Zemo would at last meet his fate at the hands of his mortal enemy--in the shadow of a banner which appeared to be watered down slightly* to perhaps appease the Comics Code Authority.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

This Way Toward... Doom!


Perhaps eyeing the success of the DC horror/fantasy anthology titles House Of Secrets and House Of Mystery, Marvel launched two similarly themed books in late 1969: Tower Of Shadows and, one month later, Chamber Of Darkness. Like their DC counterparts which were published on a bimonthly basis (off and on), both Tower and Chamber hit the stands every other month--but it seems the similarity ends there in terms of sales, as Marvel's offerings sold poorly and were discontinued after ten and eight issues, respectively. Tower, premiering first, seemed somewhat better received by readers, judging by letters page response, though the ratio of raves to more critical assessments appeared to be about 30/70. There was also the question of sustainability, as both series began pulling in reprinted material from their earlier anthology titles from the '50s-'60s (Strange Tales and Tales Of Suspense) with their sixth issue.

Suffice to say that DC's House titles were in no danger of readers jumping ship for Marvel's offerings--though it wasn't for lack of trying on Marvel's part, at least initially, as some of the company's most notable talent were tapped to contribute stories. Roy Thomas, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, John Buscema, Gene Colan, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Jim Steranko, et al. (including John Romita Sr., who mostly did cover work) were seemingly able to accommodate seven-page assignments (or less) within a two-month window (though I believe Steranko withdrew after only one story, reportedly due to a disagreement with Lee)--with some artists even pulling double duty and contributing scripts as well as art, in addition to inkers providing readers with examples of their own pencils.

After their all-too-brief runs, each title shifted to formats made up of almost entirely reprinted material, in addition to adopting new mastheads. Tower became Creatures On The Loose, which mixed its reprints with sword and sorcery tales as well as a regular feature on Man-Wolf, while Chamber morphed to Monsters On The Prowl--each book having a run of 30 to 37 bimonthly issues (the creatures pulling ahead of the monsters--make of that what you will). But since there's a little more ground to cover with both Tower and Chamber, and having already examined Jack Kirby's stories in the latter, let's turn to a few samples from some of the other names we've mentioned who made their mark in the macabre during the brief time when these two titles were being published.

Monday, September 20, 2021

"...And Fear Shall Follow!"

I would have to credit artist Berni Wrightson for selling me on Marvel's 1969 horror-fantasy anthology title, Chamber Of Darkness, which ran bimonthly with (mostly) new material from the likes of Wrightson, Tom Palmer, John and Sal Buscema, Barry Smith, Don Heck, and even Jack Kirby, whose departure from the company was imminent by the time his Chamber stories were published. I didn't happen upon the series until its penultimate issue in 1970 featuring Wrightson's cover, at which point I took advantage of older issues still being available (if slightly buried) in store "spinner" racks to work my way backward.

A full look at the Chamber series will be forthcoming in the PPC (and high time, too)--but for now, the mention serves to bring to light the rare instances where Kirby was given scripting assignments for Marvel stories. Having already covered his 1970 work on Amazing Adventures where he wrote and pencilled tales featuring the uncanny Inhumans, we turn back the clock a bit to as early as 1966 where Kirby fills in for the vacationing Stan Lee (who still manages a credit on the story as Editor), and see how Kirby's writing would suit the hard-nosed Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Though with Dr. Strange monopolizing that issue's cover, we'd have to turn to the previous issue's cover to get an idea of the circumstances which Fury faces, an image which isn't far off the mark.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Beware The Heroes Of... The Dream Dome!


It's September of 1976, and here's how things were shaping up in the Marvel Universe:
  • The incredible Hulk, once again on the sub-atomic world of Jarella, was finally dishing out some hurt on Psyklop when this agent of the Dark Gods faced the brute mano a... uh, whatever you'd call Psyklop;
  • The Fantastic Four, along with the High Evolutionary, were compelled to search the galaxy for a world which would willingly give itself over to the hunger of Galactus in place of the devourer's first choice, Counter-Earth (and if you were among those readers anticipating a battle between the Evolutionary and Galactus, well...);
  • Iron Man is trying to get the Controller under control;
  • Thor investigates the possibility that the missing Odin is in the dimension of Death;
  • The Avengers finally settle on their new lineup, only to have the walking-dead Wonder Man crash the public announcement;
  • The new X-Men, their title still being published bimonthly, are in the midst of battling their way out of Steven Lang's Project Armageddon;
  • The amazing Spider-Man is running for his life from his more amazing Spider-mobile, which has no driver at the wheel (a fate that probably awaits some of us from today's self-driving cars, folks);
  • Captain America and the Falcon are trying to solve the mystery of Jack Kirby's Night People; and, last but not least...
  • Dr. Strange faces a new enemy in Stygyro, while his disciple Clea is seduced by Ben Franklin. (Come on, you may say "ewwww!" and insist you won't click that link, but we both know otherwise.)

Meanwhile, Amazing Adventures, with its "War Of The Worlds" adaptation, is one issue away from cancellation--which is usually the time when Marvel pulls out all the stops in an effort to benefit from a sales spike before the axe falls.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Inhumans! Mandarin! Kirby!


In August of 1970, Marvel Comics launched both Amazing Adventures and Astonishing Tales, two bimonthly books with split-story formats that recalled the success of the company's earlier trio of titles from 1964 which eventually adopted the same double-feature presentations--Tales To Astonish, Tales Of Suspense, and Strange Tales, all of which shifted their focus from monster/mystery/macabre tales to super-hero adventures in 1962-63.

In some of his last work for the company before his departure, artist Jack Kirby would be assigned work on each book's premiere issues. Having already seen Kirby's work with writer Stan Lee on the Ka-Zar feature of Astonishing Tales, we turn to his contribution to the first four issues of Amazing Adventures, a title where the uncanny Inhumans would be featured until the beginning of 1972 (on a bimonthly publication schedule). In this assignment, Kirby would not only provide artwork but also write both stories--to my knowledge, the last of only four scripting jobs he would turn in during his nine years with the company (apart from his earlier work with Timely/Atlas comics), a rare opportunity to see a Marvel story executed exactly as Kirby conceived it.

Since the Inhumans (like the issue's other featured star, the Black Widow) would only be allotted one-half of each issue due to the split-feature format, Kirby's work for these four issues would essentially comprise two regular-sized stories. And we have quite a lineup of guest-stars, with the Inhumans coming into conflict with the villainous Mandarin as well as none other than Kirby's signature characters at Marvel, the Fantastic Four.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

A Fearsome Forgathering of Frivolous, Far Out Frenzy!


Aside from mental institutions and Congressional debates (which may sound redundant), you and I are generally not exposed to much if any sort of frenzy in our lives. Yet on planet Earth as seen through the eyes of comic book creators, incidences of large-scale mania, madness, insanity, or sheer frenzy can be found across the globe--any year, every year, whether due to invasions, or the plans of a super-villain brought to fruition, or world-ending disasters brought on by a malevolent power, or attack-induced panic, or any of a dozen other threats which the human race has proven ill-equipped to deal with. The word can also be applied to the unpredictable and seemingly unstoppable circumstances occurring within a particular story, as the characters involved struggle to deal with the situation.

So, fair warning:  If you're easily affected by such heightened states of hysteria, reach for that mouse or touchpad and click over to a less alarming site! (Like the news.  Ha! Kidding!) Because the PPC is about to do a frenzied roundup of those incidences, and try to figure out just why they're in such a state of:

Come on, shriek it with me...

AAAAAH! Stop it! Can't... STAND IT!

Monday, September 6, 2021

The Past Gives Way To The Future


Among the number of other surprises present in the 1998 Fantastic Four Annual, writer Karl Kesel broached a subject which Marvel had always taken care to skirt by in charting the adventures of its many heroes over the decades:  the fact that nearly forty years had passed since the launch of Fantastic Four #1, even as the FF as well as the company's other mortal characters have remained in fighting shape and have persevered through the decades with nary a wrinkle or gray hair present, regardless of prior stories which have rooted them in the past. And as the FF title neared the close of the 20th century, the annual's opening fold-out sported a bio which primed the team to keep themselves viable for the 21st.

Marvel would later apply such revisions across the board for those characters who required a more generic origin that severed them from past events in real life. But as far as a more direct approach in an actual story, the '98 annual appears to fire an opening salvo on the subject where Kesel takes an almost tongue-in-cheek, all-in-good-fun approach toward distancing the FF from their 1960s beginnings while conforming to Marvel's dictum going forward.

Regardless of this cover's dramatic captions, it's fair to tell you that this story does not, in even the slightest, involve the Thing fighting against his three partners, alone or otherwise. He is, however, reckoning with a time, and a place, not his own--a situation which, fortunately, makes allowances for

Thursday, September 2, 2021

"Frenzy On The Fortieth Floor!"


When Marvel's two new double-feature mags, Astonishing Tales and Amazing Adventures, premiered in 1970, artist Jack Kirby received assignments for each. For Astonishing Tales, he would provide art for Stan Lee's two-part Ka-Zar story featuring Kraven the Hunter; and for Amazing Adventures, Kirby would both write and pencil a two-part tale featuring the Fantastic Four and the Inhumans, followed by another two-parter which had the Inhumans going up against the Mandarin. Along with his art on the final issue of Silver Surfer, and his lead-in to the Sub-Mariner/Magneto story in Fantastic Four (and we should also include some of his work salvaged for issue 109 of that title), this would be Kirby's closing work for the company before resigning his position.

This being my first read of the Ka-Zar story, over fifty years after it was published, I was still amazed at how well Lee and Kirby could mesh their talents in a clash between opponents who were fairly well-matched in their abilities, particularly when Lee didn't skimp on his dialog and took an active interest in the characters' interaction. That might be understandably hard to pull off when it came to Ka-Zar, who in 1970 was still a character who conversed in only the most basic manner and generally reacted to hostilities by lashing out without much verbal elaboration. (Contrast that with Ka-Zar's follow-up meeting with Kraven in Ka-Zar The Savage in late 1982, where Ka-Zar's thoughts and speech were indistinguishable from practically any American man-on-the-street from the '80s.) Lee received some help from Kraven's ego in that regard, however, as both characters tended to refer to themselves in the third person.

Yet it bears mentioning that Kraven has the edge in this matchup, even without taking into account his steadfast belief in his own fighting prowess. Aside from the fact that he will first spend time researching his prey's habits and potential weaknesses, while his unsuspecting target has no such advantage, he will usually have prepared the means to incapacitate and/or capture his intended victim rather than rely solely on a hand-to-hand struggle. (When was the last time you saw a hunter who didn't pack gear against which their prey would be defenseless? Only Wolverine has a blunt but rational assessment concerning the so-called "skill" needed to kill.) That said, Kraven, unlike Ka-Zar, pairs his instincts with a knowledge of strategy, tactics, and physical vulnerabilities--and, yes, belief in a superiority over your foe probably doesn't hurt, either.

The twist in this story, however, is the fact that Ka-Zar is only a means to an end when it comes to Kraven's true target.