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.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

This Way for Action! Action! Action!


For those of us who enjoyed the work of Jack Kirby during Marvel's Silver Age, it was certainly perplexing to see him return to Marvel in 1976 only to disavow most of the heroes in the Marvel "universe" and instead strike a deal to create, write, and pencil his own projects--though something we can hardly blame the man for, considering the circumstances of his earlier departure. Yet he would make an exception for two of Marvel's mainstream characters, Captain America and the Black Panther, each of which he apparently had his own ideas on how their worlds and their personalities would be structured.

For Captain America in particular, who under Stan Lee and other writers had become ingrained in stories in both Tales Of Suspense and The Avengers since the '60s, the transition to Kirby's handling of the character took some getting used to, assuming there were any readers who managed to do so. That would hold true for other characters, as well, in certain respects.  Kirby had decided to retain Sam Wilson, the Falcon, though inexplicably choosing to sever any ties the Falcon had to his own falcon, Redwing--and Leila Taylor was kept on as well, yet a shadow of her former radical leanings and forthrightness whose time with Sam had apparently tempered her. The only other mainstay Marvel figures to be featured in the book (aside from villains such as Magneto, the Red Skull, et al.) were agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., though with no mention of Nick Fury, the helicarrier, or any other recognizable facets of the organization aside from special weaponry.

As an example of the dichotomy here, let's take a pair of issues from both The Avengers and Captain America which were published in December of 1976 to January of 1977. Captain America continues to thrive in the Avengers, who at this point in time are not only dealing with the return of Wonder Man from the dead, but also fighting with Attuma and Tyrak--allies involved in a two-pronged attack to conscript the Avengers into battling the Sub-Mariner, which forces the team to mount an assault on Hydrobase but instead brings them into conflict with Dr. Doom. Both issues feature cover art by Jack Kirby (who, curiously enough, provided a number of covers for Marvel characters across the board) and indicate a familiarity with the plots and the characters involved.

But over in the Captain America title, where Cap's status as an Avenger has never to my knowledge been alluded to, Cap and the Falcon are isolated in their own world of the bizarre and the monstrous, and any heavy lifting is handled by either SHIELD or the military--with Steve Rogers still acting much like a man from the 1940s, having apparently experienced no personal growth in character which would have resulted from the many adventures he's been through since being revived by the Avengers. The story's threat? Why, a cadaver infused with an energy form which has travelled back from the distant future, of course.

Monday, November 8, 2021

The Doom That Awaits... Allandra!


It wasn't until February of 1977* that the first Dr. Strange annual would appear in stores. Such a delay may sound surprising, given the character's long-term success over the years--yet back in the day, his first series in 1968 fizzled, and he depended largely on being one of the headliners of The Defenders to become more established and consequently be given a second series in 1974. Even so, Doctor Strange went back and forth between monthly and bi-monthly publication, unable to sustain adequate sales to justify a monthly status--nor were the comings and goings of creative talent behind the scenes helping matters.

*The issue itself was publicized as the annual for 1976.

Things became equally unstable for Dr. Strange himself, whose status as Sorcerer Supreme had been stripped from him by his former teacher, the Ancient One--himself a victim of deception on the part of the Creators, a trio of sorcerers who were attempting to alter the cosmos to their will. It's during this time that we find Strange in his first annual, a port of calm in the storm of his regular mag in a story co-plotted and drawn by Craig Russell, where Strange's status as a mere Master of the Mystic Arts happens to fit in with the motivation of the story's villainess, Lectra--a sorceress who has her own deceit in play and the power to compel Strange's cooperation.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Jack Of Hearts, Avenger


Meetings held by the Avengers have seldom failed to disappoint as a means of pivoting the story in one direction or another, while the topics of discussions themselves are at times riveting given the diverse backgrounds of those seated at the meeting table who might have input to add to a course of action or points they wish to address. Such a discussion occurs following two recent incidents--one, taking place in South Dakota, as a deadly toxic cloud released by the Red Skull swept through the area and resulted in the deaths of nearly two-thousand people... and the second in Idaho, where the She-Hulk raged out of control after being inadvertently affected by the radiation-based power of fellow Avenger the Jack of Hearts.

And so the subject now turns to Jack (as well as the She-Hulk), and the risk to She-Hulk with both of them being present on the team. All too quickly, however, it's Jack who becomes the focus of the discussion--and his disposition, the conundrum.

As Hawkeye has indicated in so many words, there really is no problem here that requires extended debate: Since Jack continues to require treatment for his current condition, and his proximity to the She-Hulk is an issue, the transfer to Stark Labs is a sensible solution while that treatment continues, after which he would be welcome to return to the Avengers. But as we see, his status as an Avenger is called into question by Scott Lang, the Ant-Man, who has butted heads with Jack every now and then. On the surface, Scott appears to simply want to make this an easier decision on everyone's part, based on his own concerns about Jack--but the possibility that this has become personal for Scott can't be overlooked.

After realizing that Captain America is strongly in Jack's corner in terms of being given every chance to excel in the Avengers, Scott subsequently attempts to smooth things over between them; but in the middle of their conversation, he's interrupted by a call alerting him that his daughter, Cassie, has become involved in a hostage situation at her school, and he rushes to the location with a virtual horde of flying insects at his side.

As for Jack, who fully realizes that he's due soon to begin his treatment in the Zero Room, he decides to follow. At the scene, Cassie's step-father, a police officer, has also arrived with her mother, and we learn more of Cooley, the deeply disturbed man that is holding Cassie. Ant-Man, of course, has a way of bypassing red tape and going straight to the source--but Cooley will prove to be more dangerous than Ant-Man, or the reader, realizes.

It's a niggling distraction to this scene to keep seeing Cooley somehow repeatedly getting his hands on his gun, apparently even managing to pack a second gun in his casual attire (seemingly for the sole purpose of allowing him to get the drop on Ant-Man)--while the Jack of Hearts, with an elevated vantage point ideal for anyone to keep tabs on a situation like this, nevertheless has the impression that he can safely leave things in Scott's hands even with a gun within this consumed man's reach.

Fortunately, Jack's hearing works better than his peripheral vision. But in running out of time, Jack faces his moment of reckoning with Scott--with himself--and with fulfilling his role as an Avenger in the moments of life he has left.

Whatever Scott may have felt about Jack's solution to this problem, it's clear that he means to remember him well--and as an Avenger, a sentiment that Scott would have disagreed with not so long ago. Yet Cooley's forced-upon fate also calls into question what has always been the problem with the name "Avenger," which by definition implies the intent to inflict harm in return for harm done to another. With few exceptions, the Avengers' interpretation of the name has always translated to bringing the perpetrator(s) to justice (i.e., the law); but there have been exceptions--team members breaking ranks and deciding to slay the Kree Supreme Intelligence, for example... and now, the Jack of Hearts acting as judge, jury, and executioner in the case of Cooley, actions which are in direct conflict with Section Four of the team's charter. One could argue that Jack's inability to fully integrate himself into the team could explain his literal adoption of the team name in Cooley's case and why he felt it his responsibility to (pardon the word) execute the man's punishment--and while Scott certainly seems willing to look the other way in that regard, I for one would like to be in that meeting room when he makes his report and the others attempt to reconcile themselves with Jack's actions.

Though in regard to Jack's fate, there are likely those Avengers readers who remember him being not so dead just a few issues later--but he was the next best thing as far as the Scarlet Witch was concerned, as we've seen in that story's separate post.

Monday, November 1, 2021

The Rage Of The She-Hulk!


The year was 1976... and the magazine, The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, where writer Bill Mantlo and artist Keith Giffen introduced a new super-being whose mission was to avenge the death of his father--the inventor of a new form of liquid fuel that would circumvent having to resort to other means to acquire energy such as fossil, nuclear, or solar. Seeing his father murdered in cold blood by those who saw his work as a danger to their own fortunes, Jack Hart then fell victim to accidental exposure to that liquid when an errant laser blast caused the vat of "zero fluid" to inundate him--but instead of killing him, he gained a glowing, seething form of power that allowed him to destroy his would-be murderers and, later, take advantage of information which would lead him to the White Tiger, whom he believed ordered his father's death.

As the young man who named himself the Jack of Hearts later learned, the Tiger was innocent--and in time, Jack begins to carve his own history as one of the many heroes in Marvel's stable of characters.

Eventually, Jack would join the mighty Avengers, in whose company he would face the threat of a crimson cloud of death unleashed in the United States by the Red Skull--a mission where his power had an adverse effect on his fellow Avenger, the She-Hulk.

Having dealt with the rest of her team at least for the short term, the She-Hulk quickly manages to disappear from the scene, as the Avengers are forced to deal with the crisis at hand--and deal with the Skull and his plan they do, though not before the death toll of those who had lost their lives within the "red zone" had been brought to 1,875 people.

Meanwhile, AWOL from the Avengers and searching for her cousin, Bruce Banner, a potential lifeline in the situation she's found herself in, Jennifer Walters reaches the town of Bone, Idaho, where the Avengers at last locate her. But the Scarlet Witch, who attempts to speak to her alone in an effort to convince her to accept the Avengers' help, is shocked at the extent to which her teammate's disposition has... changed.

It's a development which will soon bring the original Hulk into the mix.
But it will also pave the way to another Avenger's last moments on Earth.