Monday, January 31, 2022

Ben Grimm Presents His Fantastic Four!


It might seem almost preposterous to consider a Fantastic Four team without one-half of it being Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, yet there have been instances when even Reed and Sue needed to exit the team for awhile--a gap that wasn't filled when Reed took it upon himself to remove the two of them in order to keep Sue out of harm's way when she became pregnant, but was addressed when the pair left the team after the events of Civil War to patch up their relationship. On that occasion, it was no less than royalty who filled in for them.

But much earlier, Steve Englehart, during his time as the book's writer, decided to shake up the team while Reed and Sue left to devote more time to their son, Franklin--moving up Ben Grimm, the Thing, to the leadership position, while returning to the fold former team member Crystal, who had proposed to fill in for Sue when she was sidelined during her pregnancy. That left a fourth position to be filled, by a virtual stranger to not only readers but also to the super-human community--an old friend of Ben's while he was on the wrestling circuit, someone who had gone through her own personal hell when she was held prisoner by Curtiss Jackson, known as the "Power Broker," and was so traumatized by the experience that she carries with her both rage against and fear of men. Unfortunately for the alchemist-villain known as Diablo, it's the "rage" part that she brings to the Fantastic Four's battle against him when showing up at the Baxter Building to visit Ben.

Though she's beaten Diablo to within an inch of his life, Sharon Ventura, the new Ms. Marvel, managed to save all four members of the original FF from certain death--and Ben believes that the place for her to recover from her past ordeal, while also bringing her focus and a sense of self, is the fourth slot on the team roster.

And it's looking like this new team's baptism of fire might be Round Two with Diablo.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

When Firemen Fear The Man Without Fear


With crowds of civilians often playing a major role in comics stories, you'd think that comics covers would be just as generous in featuring spectators witnessing a battle, or a face-off, or even engaging in an occasional "Look! Up in the sky!" sighting. But as we found in the PPC's initial exploration of this subject, covers all too often have elbowed crowds out of the picture, given a cover's emphasis on sales and the presumption that the casual comics browser isn't going to be particularly interested in anyone on an issue cover but the story's main characters. In Part 2 of this impromptu series, we search out more of those covers where crowds were injected into the scene presented--and why not start out with two heroes who were often forced to confront a threat during what appeared to be a busy workday for the average New Yorker?

Monday, January 24, 2022

Only Myself Left To Conquer


With no shortage in the PPC of posts which have highlighted the schemes of Kang the Conqueror, a character who continues to hold my interest to this day, it's probably no surprise that I felt drawn to a limited series launched in the fall of 2021 featuring this man whose mindset and history have been explored so many times but who still manages to reveal facets that bring something new to his story and would be worthy of publication. Yet for the self-titled Kang The Conqueror, co-writers Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly have taken several elements that have had their day in prior stories (e.g., Ravonna, Rama-Tut, Dr. Doom, Immortus, et al.), and have chosen to re-present them from the perspective of the young man who had just taken on the mantle of Kang and set out on his road of conquest (as opposed to Steve Englehart's "reflections of the pharaoh" approach where Rama-Tut, at 60, had come to regret the path he'd chosen as Kang). That being the case, I had to bear in mind in reading this first issue that, while the Marvel of today continued to rely on its past characters' motivations and ambitions up to a point, it had long since cut the cord to being bound by how their past writers had laboriously shaped and molded the character of Kang.

Nevertheless, Lanzing and Kelly's first page does a fair job by analogy of presenting Kang's legacy as we have come to know it, setting the mood for what is to come--and in so doing, aptly summarizes the often frustrating and, at times, self-defeating schemes that Kang has embarked on to no apparent avail.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Crowd Control


Comics stories derive a good deal of their drama from groups or crowds of ordinary people being present while heroes go about their business in major cities or other populated locales, whether interacting with those on the street or in offices or being mindful of those caught up in battles with foes which tend to endanger innocents who are unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet on issue covers, which having the opportunity to convey a powerful image with large crowds who find themselves in the midst of a situation involving the title character(s), crowds are often elbowed out of the picture in order to present the story's main characters, including of course whatever individuals are responsible for selling the book.

But while rare, those cover images are noteworthy, and in some cases memorable depending on the circumstances of the story and the creative talent of the cover artist--and today you'll see a collection of such covers from the first volume of various titles where ordinary people do their part to help establish whatever crisis our heroes must face in the pages of the issue's story. As for a starting point, there's only one cover which stands above the rest in capturing this post's theme perfectly--pictured here with its homage cover rendered nearly twenty-eight years later.

Monday, January 17, 2022

My Mind To Your Brawn...



The astonishing Ant-Man and the incredible Hulk have joined forces to battle a base full of Hydra agents (and no shortage of rats) who have developed a biological weapon they've named Virus Nine--and in their employ (Hydra's, not the rats'), the villain known as the Chameleon. The end of that melee sees the Hulk having changed to Bruce Banner--and with the Chameleon bearing down on them, the timing couldn't be worse.

Later, Ant-Man is interviewed on the news and conveys what he believes to be true, a report which stuns those who have been most involved with the Hulk--including Betty Ross, the woman who loved Bruce Banner, and who must now deal with his loss.

If you have the impression that Maj. Talbot has pounced like a panther to capitalize on the moment when Betty is most vulnerable, well, even a dedicated army officer like himself can apparently have tunnel vision where Betty is concerned.

With Banner presumed dead, Betty and Talbot grow much closer, and eventually become engaged. Meanwhile, following the ingestion of an experimental serum developed by Henry Pym, the shrinking that the Hulk had undergone proceeds even further out of control (and just in time where the Chameleon's heel was concerned), sending Banner to the sub-atomic level and on to a microscopic world he had visited once before--the world of Jarella, whom both the Hulk and Banner had loved. In time, the shrinking serum, unstable to begin with, wore off without warning, and the Hulk returned to his normal size; but elsewhere, one of his oldest foes was laying the foundation for a scheme of revenge against him, a plan that might put the Hulk's closest friend in harm's (and horn's) way.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Don't Touch That Phone!


OR: "Hi-yo, Silllver...!"

After spending I don't know how much time configuring my new phone recently (remember when we only had to buy a phone off the shelf, take it home, and plug in the phone line?), I later began to think back to how often in the comics world phones had frustrated our favorite characters or otherwise been the bearer of bad news. It's the type of bits-and-pieces post that can wrack your brain in trying to recall from memory the scenes that would fall into such a category--but the diversion made for good fun, and part of the enjoyment of a scavenger hunt is the hunting, after all.

Here, then, are a few scenes where "Ma Bell" reigned supreme, and whoever was on the other end of the line wasn't very happy about it. In short, compared to spending a little time adjusting our phone settings, you and I are getting off easy.  (Unlike our friend, the Wizard.)

Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Old Order Changeth, Part 2--1982-1991

OR: "Rage Meets His Match" (and then some)


This week, the PPC has taken a look at the progression of Avengers lineup changes as seen through the eyes of not only news reporters but also the average Joe on the street, as the announcement of new Avengers steadily grew into a media event that was highly anticipated by anxious viewers and crowds (to say nothing of villains who still had the Avengers in their sights). We also learned that not every lineup change resulted in a public announcement and/or media coverage, as, in many cases, a number of shifts in membership took place behind closed doors, skipping the media frenzy entirely.

Having covered these new lineup debuts during the period of Avengers history from 1963-1981, we now pick things up nearly a year later, as the team attempts to pull itself together following some disturbing episodes that involved two of their own. First, Henry Pym, aka Yellowjacket, has badly damaged both his professional and personal standing with the Avengers by taking rash action toward an aggressor during a heated battle, prompting a court-martial during which he completely disgraced himself--compounded by the revelation that he struck his wife, Janet van Dyne, while preparing for the proceedings. With Pym subsequently expelled from the Avengers, the team turned its attention to the errant Moondragon, who used her mental powers to take over an alien world and, later, kill her own father.

Pym's troubles were certainly fair game for the media, particularly when he later went on trial over a charge of treason for committing a federal crime. Moondragon proved to be another matter, however, as Thor saw to her punishment by having her answer for her behavior to the lord of Asgard, Odin, rather than any authorities on Earth. Yet now, the team resolves to put their house in order and move on--which fortunately means sweeping the book's readers into what will hopefully be a pivot toward better days ahead.

Monday, January 3, 2022

The Old Order Changeth, Part 1--1963-1981


With all the fanfare and media frenzy that typically takes place before the announcement of a new Avengers lineup, it's a wonder that we didn't see more of that sort of story during the twenty-three years of the book's first run, particularly since such an "event" does a fair job of sweeping readers up in the anticipation. Yet there's something to be said for "less is more," a phrase which applies to so many things but can be especially true in this case since not all lineup changes merited news crews and rampant fans descending on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 71st Street. I don't recall the Fantastic Four making news with their own lineup shifts, whether temporary or long-term, though they didn't exactly lack for news coverage given the public's continuing fascination with their lives (and certainly their headline-worthy exploits); while the Champions, with a PR person on their payroll, depended heavily on news conferences to establish themselves (for all the good it did them).

As for the Avengers, in researching this subject it was interesting to compare the times when a lineup change resulted in new members being formally introduced to the public, vs. the situations where it would have been unwarranted for the writer to craft a story where the Avengers felt they should send out press announcements that a lineup change was being deliberated. If you're a longtime Avengers reader, you know precisely which story started the ball rolling where Option 1 was concerned.