Monday, May 16, 2022

The Incursions of... Strange!

 

Following the run of Roy (and Dann) Thomas on Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme, writer David Quinn began a sixteen-month story arc that introduced a new, enigmatic character which appeared during Strange's involvement with the Midnight Sons, a group of nine men and women with ties to the occult. All well and good for the "Siege Of Darkness" crossover event taking place in no less than seven separate horror/occult books, where Quinn's eerie character would fit right in--but in Strange's own book, he would have greater problems when Salomé, a Sorceress Supreme from ancient times, announces her intent to eliminate him and reclaim her rightful title.


Thanks to Caretaker, one of the Sons, a memory seems to resurface in Strange which indicates a way to deal with Salomé--but given what happens next, his future is in doubt, following what appears to be a massive, mystic conflagration of self-sacrifice.




In her rage, however, neither Salomé nor anyone else on the scene is prepared for the stark sight which then swoops in to savagely attack her--something that mimics her own power and who, despite appearances, she rules out as being the corpse of a dead man.




Which is our cue to swoop in with another


Marvel Trivia Question


Who--or what--was the aetheric entity who called himself... Strange?


Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Sub-Mariner For The 1990s

 

The year 1990 brought a new series to the comics racks that I'm surprised I passed on:


Shaped and handled by artist/writer John Byrne, Namor the Sub-Mariner provides the title character with a new direction that takes advantage of his past dalliances as a figure with corporate holdings while also seeking to recast him as less of a man who is prone to fits of rage over perceived misdeeds or affronts. Given Byrne's proven record on Fantastic Four, this new series should have piqued my interest--so why wouldn't I have even picked up an issue to thumb through? There were a number of things that might have come to mind for me at the time--one being a sense of wariness, given that Byrne had more than once set up shop on an existing book only to subsequently exit not long thereafter. But more pertinent to me was the character of the Sub-Mariner himself, whom I came to believe would have difficulty sustaining another series of his own, in light of so many new directions attempted for him (either in his first series or afterward) not panning out. (I was surprised as anyone to see Namor as an Avenger; then again, sooner or later, everyone becomes an Avenger. ... Maybe not Mr. Hyde. Or Terrax. But I'm not ruling out Galactus.)

In this first issue, that trademark volatility of the Sub-Mariner is on full display when he emerges from the sea in view of two marine biologists and lands on a nearby island--where Byrne, in a nod to a classic scene from The Avengers, demonstrates that whatever the time or place, Namor has little regard or patience for native dwellers.




Soon afterward, our two biologists, Caleb Alexander and his daughter, Carrie, locate Namor in a dazed, hallucinatory state and convince him to return with him to their boat, the "Oracle," where a new twist is introduced to the story of the Sub-Mariner that serves to retcon the instances of violent behavior occurring in his past--once that behavior is, for want of a better word, diagnosed.




(No, I don't know how a tribal spear, like bullets, failed to make a dent in Namor's skin, and yet I.V. needles are inserted with no problem--though Namor isn't likely to look a gift horse in the mouth here.)

Now "out of the woods" for the time being, Namor has an opportunity to learn more of the Alexanders, characters which Byrne will deal into the book's stories for some time.


Later, in an issue which attempts to put to rest Namor's past crimes against humanity, it becomes apparent that Byrne intends to treat this new factor in Namor's behavior as a chronic condition to be managed.


As we can see, by this time Byrne has assumed inking duties on the book as well (and, for a time, lettering)--a nice show of his commitment to the series while demonstrating a level of talent that arguably surpasses his FF work from the '80s. Along the way, he deals in a number of characters that keep Namor and his book busy and an intriguing read from issue to issue, either affiliated with his company, the Oracle Corporation (named after Caleb's boat), or of a more super-powered nature, while also keeping ties to Namor's Atlantean heritage.


But "All good things...", as they say*, as Byrne began to taper off from the series with its 26th issue, removing himself from art for the book until finally exiting the series at the end of 1992--the Sub-Mariner by that time hip-deep in a savage conflict with Master Khan, a mystic threat who goes all the way back to a 1960 issue of Strange Tales and who began a vendetta against Namor when he freed Iron Fist from the fate that Khan had arranged for him. Issue 62 in 1995 would finally mark the end of the series, its current storyline to be continued in another title the following month.

*With apologies to Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde.


BONUS!

Namor in his classic glory days, as depicted by Mr. Byrne.




Monday, May 9, 2022

In Our Midst... Two Immortals!

 

After squaring off on Earth with two of Marvel's heaviest hitters--the mighty Thor in March of 1966 and, two months later, the Incredible Hulk--Hercules, the Prince of Power, apparently decided to ditch his self-appointed publicity agent and the world of mortals altogether and return to the spires of Olympus, where we find him sparring with Ares--not realizing that the Olympian war god has made an arrangement with the exiled Asgardian known as the Enchantress to seal not only the fate of Hercules but also that of the mighty Avengers.



It will become clear soon enough that the Enchantress has only enlisted the might of Hercules as a tool of revenge against the Avengers, a team of mortal heroes that she persists in maintaining a vendetta against. Though if she were privy to their current state of affairs, she might be delighted to see that their internal strife over a proposed new member could be doing some of her work for her.

(Gee, Cap--you really can't tell the difference between the voices of Pietro and Wanda?)


It's not particularly clear why writer Roy Thomas has Henry Pym, in his guise as Goliath, virtually (and verbally) beating his chest here, ready to take on any and all who might go up against him--while it's equally curious that it's the Black Widow's proposed membership that has set him off, considering he doesn't even have good reason to raise an objection. Concerning the latter point, mostly it seems Thomas's way of continuing to take advantage of the seed he planted in the previous issue, where the Widow was prepared to act against their foe, Ixar, in a way that no Avenger would consider:


We might also assume that Hawkeye's blowup at the membership meeting has something to do with the fact that, as the only Avenger to witness the scene, he realizes that disclosing the Widow's behavior would likely sink her chances of being granted membership.

Also interesting to note (though not a deal-breaker) is that, with their current six-member lineup here, the Avengers are at what both Captain America and the N.S.C. have generally considered to be the team's ideal number--something brought to light perhaps for the first time here in so many words, though not surprisingly it's a point that Hawkeye is quick to brush aside.


At any rate, the point is a moot one, since, unknown to the Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D. has swooped in and recruited the Widow for a mission in the far east--a task which she can't discuss with the Avengers or even Hawkeye but gives the impression that she is returning to her roots as an enemy agent, which serves to remove her from consideration. And with Cap being called away to battle a threat from Power Man and the Swordsman (not to mention the Red Skull), and Hawkeye and the Wasp deciding to ditch the meeting in protest of Goliath (who's acting like "a stuffed shirt" on this issue as far as the Wasp is concerned) casually moving on with Avengers business as if nothing had happened, there arguably couldn't be a better time for the Enchantress to arrive with an ally who now resurfaces in the book's 38th issue from 1967--including prominent exposure on that issue's cover by Gil Kane, though a rare instance of the work of this artist perhaps falling short of expectations.


Thursday, May 5, 2022

Intimate Enemies

 

As an epilogue to the 1988 Armor Wars storyline in Invincible Iron Man, the sole purpose of "Intimate Enemies" by David Michelinie, Barry Windsor-Smith and Bob Layton appears to be to provide closure to an ugly chapter in the life of Tony Stark, after undertaking a mission that ran roughshod over ethics and the rule of law in favor of doing what he believed to be right. A fair recap of the situation is presented when Stark is called on by his teammates in the West Coast Avengers to explain his recent actions that have seen him waging a series of unprovoked attacks--including a refusal of a call to stand down, made by one of his oldest comrades.



The "wars" end with Iron Man being hunted down by a government-sponsored bruiser named Firepower, resulting in a deception which made it appear that the rogue Iron Man had been eliminated, along with his threat--a very tidy arrangement for Stark, since he's held blameless for his former bodyguard's illegal actions and is free to design a new suit of armor for a "replacement" who will hopefully once again inspire trust in Iron Man.

As for Stark, he certainly seems to be at ease with the situation--putting the entire episode behind him and resolving to press on as Iron Man (or, as far as the public is concerned, the all-new, all-different Iron Man):



But if the following issue's cover is any indication, Stark's sleep will be anything but restful, as his subconscious mind apparently still has unresolved issues where the former Iron Man is concerned.


Monday, May 2, 2022

Silver Surfer: Judgment Day!

 

One project from Marvel which completely slipped under my radar in 1988 was the Silver Surfer: Judgment Day graphic novel--plotted by artist John Buscema and Marvel Editor-In-Chief Tom DeFalco, scripted by Stan Lee, and clocking in at sixty-two pages. The story's climax features a confrontation between the Surfer's perpetual menace, the demon Mephisto, and his former master, Galactus--with Nova, the current herald of the planet devourer, playing the role of unwitting accomplice caught up in Mephisto's web of deceit.

In addition, as will become quickly evident, Buscema has decided to contribute full-page art for the entire story--perhaps a complication as far as tying together the visuals in a meaningful way while awaiting sufficient captions and dialog to hopefully provide a riveting and engrossing experience for the reader. This work would be years removed from the books of the Silver Age where Lee hit his peak in doing just that, for the most part--but while Lee would prove to be more than adequate in handling the Surfer's 1978 graphic novel delineated by Jack Kirby, a story where a writer had the luxury of dealing with more conventional panels which offered the opportunity for details and subtleties that would do a great deal to invest the reader in the story, here there is instead mostly grandiosity to account for, along with Mephisto's trademark guile and relentlessness which tend to transfer easily from story to story without much variation. Given the format which Buscema has settled on, is Lee up to what's being asked of him?

This excerpt from the story's Foreword almost gives the matter a sense of mitigation after the fact, though that may be reading too much into it:


All of that being said, it was an interesting venture for Buscema and Lee to undertake, and, I don't doubt, a successful one. John Byrne took his own steps with such a format two years earlier with a 22-page story for Marvel Fanfare--the difference of course being that it played out on a third of the scale, but also having the advantage of the artist and writer being on the same page, as it were, in terms of a tighter meshing of story and art (at least to the extent that such a format would allow). The same could be said for Walt Simonson's similar effort in a story published toward the end of his run on Mighty Thor just a few months later.  Here, the bar is raised a bit for Lee, who fared well with his collaboration with Kirby as well as his one-shot story with Byrne (the latter also having involved Mephisto) but must now go beyond DeFalco's and Buscema's outline to craft a compelling and engaging tale, with virtually each page holding a measure of responsibility for its success.

The story begins with another failed attempt by Mephisto to entrap the Surfer and thus seize his soul. And as the demon ponders his latest setback, it's clear that his resolve to achieve his goal is as steadfast as ever.


"Again the deadly plan of Mephisto has been put to rout! But what does it matter?" A refrain that has become as worn as a doormat by now where the Surfer is concerned.


Thursday, April 28, 2022

Invoke The Planes of Pohldahk At Your Own Risk

 

Mid-1984 saw the first volume of Doctor Strange arguably at the height of its acclaim and pivoting toward a new chapter in its run, with writer Roger Stern continuing in the series after taking a two-issue break (which, for a bimonthly comic, worked out to four months) following an ambitious storyline which saw the eradication of all vampires from the Earth. Joining Stern again would be artist Paul Smith, who contributed a one-shot issue previously profiled in the PPC and who would remain with the writer (with the exception of a single issue in October) until they would both depart the book near the end of '85. Leading off their collaboration was what appeared to be an understated story involving a man who wanted to stake his own claim as a practitioner of the mystic arts--but as we'll see, the danger he posed went beyond the threat he represented to the Sorcerer Supreme.


Monday, April 25, 2022

Favorite Scenes: The Vision!

 

Today's rundown of favorite scenes could just as easily have been expanded to the Avengers themselves, and may indeed be the case at some future point; but for whatever reason, the Vision took precedence in my mind and must be served first, as one of their oldest and most unique members who was with the team in some of their most noteworthy and memorable stories. My own recollections of this character will likely omit certain scenes which for some of you come to mind just as meaningfully; for myself, I chose to focus more on scenes featuring the character in the classic sense, the time when he still struck a chord for readers of the book and seemed to be at his most prevalent within their ranks.

In this brief collection, you'll find my choices see-sawing between displays of the Vision's amazing abilities, and snapshots of his developing character. Fortunately, a good deal of attention was paid to each by his writers of the time, while his artists obviously enjoyed featuring him either in action or in interaction. As an example of the former, we start with a crisis which has a Wakandan ship in a nosedive toward Avengers Mansion, and an attempt by Hawkeye to halt their plunge brought to near-disaster by, of all things, a broken bowstring.


Thursday, April 21, 2022

Heroes Recycled

 

Having flipped through the pages of a crossover story from the "Heroes Reborn" books of 1996-97, we left the mighty Avengers at a crucial point in their brief history--albeit a history more brief than even they realized, since this alternate world would turn out to be a figment of the imagination, a haven of sorts where the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America, and the Avengers arrived after facing the attack of Onslaught. Here, these heroes, with no knowledge of their former lives, pulled together to avert a near-disaster--after which the Avengers, who were constrained to operate as an extended arm of S.H.I.E.L.D. under the command of Nick Fury, saw an opportunity to sever their formal ties to Fury and strike out on their own.


Halfway through their respective thirteen-issue runs, enough time had passed sales-wise to form a likely assessment that the Heroes Reborn books had not caught on as well as the financially floundering Marvel Comics of the mid- to late-1990s might have hoped. To bear that out, already there were signs of the groundwork being laid for an exit, with Loki beginning to voice the belief that this was all a simulation on someone's part. In addition, and as we'll see, new developments were beginning to be thrown in seemingly at random, accompanied by visually striking full-page art but with little to no scripting to engage the reader with whatever story was being laid out--methods which discount the possibility that there had been an exit plan for Heroes Reborn all along.

For the time being, however, the Avengers follow-up to "Industrial Revolution" offers a sample of the potential for this book had the "reborn" heroes become a permanent fixture on the comics racks--starting with Iron Man (exhaust pipes and all) going head-to-head with Fury on the new status quo, even as the man inside the armor, Tony Stark, wonders about the feasibility of this new role he's taking on.




Monday, April 18, 2022

An Eye For An Eyepatch

 

In April of 1987, two months after the second volume of Doctor Strange came to an end, writer Peter Gillis, who had succeeded Roger Stern to script the final eight issues of the series, would continue with the Sorcerer Supreme in a new incarnation of Strange Tales--the book returning to its split format from the Silver Age with its double bill now featuring Strange and the duo of Cloak and Dagger. Published monthly, Gillis would have roughly eleven pages per issue to begin an extended arc for Strange that built on the sorcerer's confrontation of and battle with Urthona, the alien sorcerer who raided Strange's sanctum of its mystic tomes and powerful artifacts (along with capturing the sanctum itself) and attempted to establish himself as our dimension's new supreme mystic. That battle ended at great sacrifice for Strange--watching helplessly as his manservant Wong was horribly mutilated, and then having no recourse but to destroy the book of the Vishanti, the Orb of Agamotto, and other valuable, irreplaceable tools of his trade so as to deny them to Urthona.


The powerful empath, Topaz, is fortunately able to heal Wong's grievous wounds; yet as Strange surmises, the mystic sources of danger to Earth are even now manifesting around the world, while Stephen Strange himself, now bereft of the tools and resources he would normally call upon to confront them, will be forced to make difficult and even unconscionable choices. And to make matters worse, he also suffers from an affliction of the spirit, as Topaz realizes when she urges him to resolve his feelings for his former disciple and love, Clea, whose departure had left him a shattered man.



With the issue "settled" (at least as far as Clea is concerned), Gillis is free to put his story arc in motion, which is already beginning to have an effect on this mystic master who has weathered much heartbreak and inner conflict in a relatively short time. And there is still more to come, when this series introduces a more visible sign of Strange's turmoil.

And so we train our eye on yet another

Marvel Trivia Question


How and why did Dr. Strange suffer the loss of an eye?

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Marvel Comics: The End Of The Century, Part 2

 

In Part 1 of our look at Marvel's line of books published prior to the close of the 20th century--specifically, April of 1997, twenty-five years ago this month--we covered a number of titles which still had running series at the time, with the exception of four mainstream books that came to the end of their run following the onslaught of... well, Onslaught, the malevolent psychic entity composed of the consciousness of both Charles Xavier and the master of magnetism, Magneto. Those four titles--Invincible Iron Man, Fantastic Four, The Avengers, and Captain America--all ceased publication in August-September of 1996 and were relaunched in November for a limited, year-long stint that fell under a single promotional banner*:


*Unrelated to the 2021 series of the same name (though the concepts share similarities).

"Reborn" as in all of the characters suddenly leading different lives and having different histories and memories than those individuals who preceded them. For the duration, readers would be kept in the dark on the underlying questions: How, and why?

April finds each of these titles in its sixth issue, where, alternate world or not, all have discovered the time-tested and lucrative advantage of a crossover story--namely, "Industrial Revolution" (don't forget to invert the letter "n"), where the reactor core of the now-in-ruins Avengers Island is in danger of a meltdown which would irradiate most of the United States. Aside from the obvious historical context, it might seem at first perplexing as to where the "revolution" part comes into play; but while the crisis acts to draw the heroes of all titles together, the story also flashes back to the formation of a group of "eggheads" (as Ben Grimm would refer to them--Bruce Banner, Victor Von Doom, Connor "Rebel" O'Reilly, Anthony Stark, and Reed Richards) who would work to "protect the world from its own basest instincts" and "wield power for the benefit of all mankind," baseline goals which Henry Pym jokingly refers to as the group's "industrial revolution." (Pym seems to be omitted from this group--maybe that's a good idea, though it feels like a better fit overall with just the five of them.)

At the time, the rundown of partly outsourced talent for each book is listed as follows:

Fantastic Four
Script: Brandon Choi
Art and Plot: Jim Lee

Invincible Iron Man
Script: Scott Lobdell
Art: Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, Ryan Benjamin

The Avengers
Plot: Rob Liefeld and Jeph Loeb Script: Jeph Loeb
Art: Ian Churchill

Captain America
Script: Jeph Loeb
Art and Plot: Rob Liefeld

In a relatively small dose of thirteen issues each, the "Heroes Reborn" collection of books makes for an interesting diversion, though eventually the characters' main titles would undergo an informal, er, "Heroes Rebooted" refit in preparation for their new 1998 runs (which would reset each of them to issue #1). For roughly the first half of the '96-'97 books, you'll find the writing crisp and engaging while retaining the "flavor" of the characters, along with an influx of other mainstream characters that were not spirited away during the Onslaught crisis and are still handling matters in their regular series. (E.g., Cable figures prominently in the "reborn" Captain America book.)

In order, then, here are a few sample pages from each title's sixth issue detailing key scenes from the Industrial Revolution crossover--starting with its prologue in Fantastic Four, where we pick things up during a crisis already in progress involving the FF, the Silver Surfer, the Black Panther, Doom, Wyatt Wingfoot... and the Super Skrull, whom Lee appears to have turned into a dead ringer for the Abomination.



Monday, April 11, 2022

Marvel Comics: The End Of The Century, Part 1

 

Having traveled back fifty years to get a look at the comics which were showing up on Marvel's checklist in April of 1972, let's now be drawn forward again until we arrive just twenty-five years in the past. The calendar date is now April, 1997--and though some of us realize that perhaps the most significant day from that year is six months away on October 16 (the launch date of the space ship Jupiter 2 on its tragic flight toward Alpha Centauri), the fate of Marvel Comics was equally unknown, having gone through some financial difficulties and now in the midst of pulling itself together in terms of stability and direction.

If you were born in 1997, you would of course be 25 this year, another reason to note the twenty-five-year mark. Let's take a peek at what else was happening in April of that year:

  • The launch of the pay-per-view Extreme Championship Wrestling event Barely Legal (I take "extreme" to mean that all the body blows and elbows to the face seen in the regular wrestling ring aren't staged in ECW--someone will have to educate me);
  • Two environmental anomalies: the April Fool's Day blizzard which dumped rain, sleet and as much as 3 feet of snow from Maryland to Maine, as well as the Red River of the north breaking through dikes and flooding Grand Forks, ND and East Grand Forks, MN, to the tune of $2B in damages;
  • Celebrities' births include actors Asa Butterfield, Maddison Brown, and Maisie Williams; YouTuber Crawford Collins; model Molly Bair; south Korean rapper Kim Min-gyu; football players Donny van de Beek, Matteo Pessina, and Oliver Burke;
  • The first space burial: a Pegasus rocket carries the remains of 24 people into Earth orbit (this one threw me--not exactly a "burial," is it?);
  • The TV series Pokémon premieres on TV Tokyo;
  • Michael Chang (who turned 49 this year) defeated Grant Stafford in the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships singles final;
  • The comet Hale-Bopp meets or exceeds predictions when it passes perihelion (the point when Earth is nearest the sun), visible to the naked eye for a record 18 months.

Over at Marvel, the Bullpen Bulletins page has been expanded to two pages, which now include an editor profile, a February (?) Marvel checklist for books sold in April... and, well, a grand total of two bulletins, where the "Items" of yore have made the journey to what you and I might refer to as full-blown "ads."


As for the February April checklist, the PPC is going to do a little expanding of its own and run down a few more of the 1997 books sold that month.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

All Hail Attuma--Ruler of Atlantis!

 

One villain whom we can always count on to remain a villain and never be reformed is surely the undersea barbarian known as Attuma, who goes as far back in Marvel history as late 1964 when he made his first appearance in Fantastic Four--and claiming a spot in their rogues gallery as one of their "most famous foes" for his trouble.


I don't know if Attuma would even rate an appearance on the FF's top 10 list of foes, much less as one of their "most famous." Yet he made the rounds often enough over time to cement his status as a viable threat for not only the Sub-Mariner but for other team books such as the Avengers and the Defenders, an aggressor which would add scope to a conflict as well as, it goes without saying, hordes of barbarians for our heroes to somehow fight their way through.



That would also be the case in a 1986 series of stories which pits Attuma against Namor, the Avengers, and Alpha Flight--a two-title/two-team crossover which centers on Marrina, the amphibious member of Alpha Flight whose future, sadly, is a tragic one, especially when taking into account Namor's proposal of marriage to her. For now, however, all we need to know are a few facts going in: Following Namor's second abdication of the throne of Atlantis, a triumvirate of Atlanteans acted to assume control and rule in his stead. But as Namor learns from his cousin, Byrrah, who has approached Namor in earnest while on the surface as a member of the Avengers, Atlantis then erupted in civil war when one of the triumvirate turned against the others--a vulnerability which drew the attention of Attuma, who then tried a different approach to conquering the realm.



Namor's pride and rage are a familiar sight to many of us who have followed his adventures through the years--yet Byrrah proves to be correct, when both lead to near-disaster for him when he arrives in Atlantis to free Marrina only to find that Attuma's propaganda strategy has successfully turned his former subjects against him. And despite his undeniable power when in his element, Namor is left with only one choice.




As Byrrah observes, it's evident that despite Namor's clarion call to his people to join with him in opposing Attuma, he is adamant in his desire to distance himself from the throne of Atlantis, his only concern now being to rescue his lost love.

And so to the Avengers he returns to petition for their aid, while Byrrah seeks out Alpha Flight to join in the effort--developments which will eventually lead to Vashti's prediction of Namor not letting this matter drop, and, consequently, another Attuma cover to add to the barbarian's credentials.