Thursday, March 31, 2022

Tempests In Time!


In 1974, Marvel's House of Ideas was brimming with them. The company's fan magazine, FOOM, remained a hit, reaching 25,000 members; the first issue of Spidey Super-Stories went on sale; Stan Lee would announce the publication of The Origin of Marvel Comics (a working title which would be tightened up to Origins of Marvel Comics), as well as the release of the first Marvel Superhero Calendar (another working title, becoming The Mighty Marvel Calendar); and perhaps most notably, its ambitious Giant-Size line of books launched, which supplemented a number of regular monthly titles on the stands but with a higher page count and, it goes without saying, a higher price tag.

The Giant-Size books have already received their due in a separate PPC post; but in thumbing through my copy of Giant-Size Fantastic Four #2 recently, I was reminded of how the company's handling of these books see-sawed throughout their production, with ideas being tossed into the air like confetti but lacking in execution, as typified by a full-page notice/advertisement by Editor Roy Thomas:

Unless they saw a very limited release that never hit my town, the SUPER-GIANT 100-page books never saw print (that I know of). Neither did the title which Thomas previewed following his announcement:

Personally I thought a book named Giant-Size Super-Teams had "winner" written all over it, since it would have at least four teams to rotate in addition to having the option to preview a new team idea should anyone come up with one. (Though the ad appears to imply that the new book would exclusively feature the Defenders, instead.)  But all of these fruits died on the vine, as did, eventually, the entire line, engulfed by reprinted material when fresh new stories could no longer be supplied.

The second issue of Giant-Size Fantastic Four was already signalling the title's future fate--its "68 Big Pages" amounting to less than half that amount with original material, while ads and a reprint FF story were used to fill the page count. Still, there is the Fantastic Four (with Medusa instead of the Invisible Girl); and there's writer Gerry Conway with artists John Buscema and Chic Stone; and there's the Watcher; and there's time travel; and there's Willie Lumpkin; and there's a brand new foe to contend with.

Though we're not talking about just gangsters giving the FF a hard time.

Monday, March 28, 2022

You'd Better Shape Up At Camp Hammond, Ladies


As my interest in collecting comic books started to wane sometime around the mid-1990s, I found myself beginning to "taper off" the habit of steadfastly sticking with a complete run of a series and instead shifting to a more selective posture in reading new comics, giving a new series a fair chance to hold my attention before cutting it loose when that threshold was reached. No regrets since; in fact, I sometimes wonder if that should have been the way to enjoy a comics habit all along. :) Twenty-five years later, however, I've surprisingly found myself giving a second glance to those books that were dropped from my reading list, a number of them having long since been forgotten but are now proving to be interesting to revisit after unbagging and turning their pages once more. It's something of a mixed bag (heh) laying eyes on them again, since I was hardly expecting them to have any more staying power with me than they did before; yet having diverted from collecting to reminiscing in written form via the PPC, I've found that my perspective has changed quite a lot in the decades since, which makes these old issues virtually new again to the eye. Consequently, for at least a few of these series I've found myself more appreciative of both story and art in certain respects--something which became more apparent as this Easter egg hunt took me from the late 1990s and into the 2000s when Marvel would get its second wind.

Here, then, is a brief rundown of a selection of those books which had a limited run (for Marvel and even more so for myself) as opposed to their mainstream series--and since the notion for this retrospective occurred alphabetically as I was thumbing through the top of my comics shelves, we start with those books which spun off from one of Marvel's most successful franchises. (Synopses are edited from various sources.)

Avengers: The Terminatrix Objective - September 1993 (4-issue series, monthly)
Writer: Mark Gruenwald
Issue(s) Collected: #s 1-4

Synopsis: The sequel to "Citizen Kang" guest-stars Thunderstrike, US Agent, and War Machine (with other Avengers dealt in as needed). Terminatrix, who deposed Kang, attempts to expand Chronopolis beyond Kang's seven-millennium boundaries, and discovers a shocking secret about time.

"Citizen Kang" was a crossover event taking place in a number of annuals prior to this series, an event I also collected mostly because I was collecting annuals at the time but otherwise failed to make an impression on me beyond its loose reference to the Orson Welles film. I was intrigued by the fact that Terminatrix is portrayed as both a more-than-a capable adversary while also written as someone who may have bitten off more than she can chew in assuming the role of Kang for all intents and purposes.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

"Come Into My Sanctum, Said The Sorcerer..."


OR: "Second Time's The Harm"

Previously we were witness to a Stan Lee/Steve Ditko tale from 1966 which featured a life-and-death struggle between the Master of the Mystic Arts, Dr. Strange, and the minions of Baron Mordo--a trio of sorcerers who assumed the worst when they could no longer contact their master and set out to assassinate Strange by use of a conventional explosive device hidden in his own sanctum. The attempt failed, but led to Strange's captivity, and a lopsided battle where Strange was limited to the use of his astral form against three powerful foes who were determined to prevent his escape. As villains go, these nameless minions--consisting of a sorceress who acted as Mordo's deputy, a one-time foe of Strange's who called himself the Demon, and Mordo's disciple--were a surprisingly viable and well-coordinated threat who also had the manpower available to hunt down Strange, with the ambitious deputy assuming the role of their ringleader. But through resourcefulness and perseverance, Strange was able to turn the tables on them and reclaim his physical form, finally casting a spell of forgetfulness upon them which would deal with them indefinitely.

Which serves as our segue to December of 1982, where Strange now holds the distinction of Sorcerer Supreme and is currently scheduled for, of all things, a television interview to be conducted by his good friend and love interest, writer Morgana Blessing. The appointment has come as something of a surprise to Strange's manservant, Wong, who never imagined his master would be so forthcoming with the news media; but to look at Strange's calm demeanor, it's obvious he's not only comfortable with the idea but also eager to begin. That is, if we don't think to read between the lines of his greeting to Morgana which assures her of his readiness.

And if we do so read, we must ask:  Just what is it he's ready for?

Monday, March 21, 2022

The Minions of Mordo!


Following his hard-fought and almost unbelievable victory over the dread Dormammu (and on his foe's home ground, at that), a weary Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, returns to his sanctum sanctorum for some much-needed rest--while Baron Mordo, who had allied himself with Dormammu but fell out of favor during the battle, has been banished by the Dread One. Yet unknown at present to Strange, three of those who had served Mordo in the villain's hunt for his rival have resolved to carry out their master's vengeance--and they now strike in secret at the place where Strange would least suspect a trap.

Unfortunately for our assassins, however, they haven't covered their tracks as thoroughly as they believe--but while Strange escapes death from their explosive device, he is left too vulnerable to escape capture, leaving those who lie in wait to act on their master's behalf and render him completely helpless. And to the victors go the spoils.

(We'll have to assume that Strange took a moment to mystically protect his hands and wrists from the searing fire, as well as the bomb's by this time red-hot casing.)

And so with Strange at their mercy, the minions of Mordo have achieved victory where Dormammu and their master had failed! Who is there now to help Dr. Strange except... himself?

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Mayhem on Monster Isle!


At the end of 1982, when Fantastic Four artist/writer John Byrne had hit his stride with the book and introduced the team to the might of the Shi'ar warrior named Gladiator, another Byrne-produced story was published which presented the team in a new light*--one that saw their history develop very differently from what we know, and instead brought them together as a team which approached a crisis without the benefit of their fantastic abilities. A pity we can't say the same for the all-too-familiar threat which emerges from the depths of the Earth to menace them anew, for the first time.

*In case the FF masthead isn't enough to catch the eye of the comics browser, Byrne stacks the deck a bit by including an additional corner box so that the full super-powered team in all its glory stands out--and, while he's at it, also ensuring that the Nova blurb takes advantage of the double-feature aspect of the issue.

At the size of a regular (at the time) 20-page story which obviously focuses on the incursion of the Mole Man, the beginning of this new FF "origin" must of course first deal with why and how our four principals apparently avoided the chain of events which led to their exposure to cosmic rays--and while the segment perhaps spends too little time on this portion of the story which details the success of their rocket flight, it covers the bases well enough, while expanding the flight's mission substantially.

In the original story, it was clear that time was of the essence given the urgency that both the United States and an unnamed communist country felt to win the "space race"--so much so that Sue Storm, of all people, would stress the need for launching as soon as possible and ignoring what all of them appeared to acknowledge to be true about their ship's inability to protect them against cosmic ray exposure. Here, however, the concern is fiscal rather than foreign; their project has stalled, and there is worry about losing their funding if they aren't able to justify its continuation. Perhaps they finally realized that taking a little extra time to successfully bring this project to fruition was preferable to it all ending in disaster.

And so in the here and now, Reed's company continues to benefit from the generosity of the goverment, while Reed himself has become a trusted and valued consultant whose expertise is sought when nuclear plants across the world are disappearing beneath the surface without explanation. But even Reed is surprised to see which research installation has now been added to the list.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Evil-Doers, Beware... The Sign of the Spider!


As often as it came to be used in stories, it still took some time before the name of the miniaturized belt-light which announced the presence of Spider-Man at a crime scene would be settled on, or even if it would have a name. In its debut, even Spider-Man didn't bother calling it anything:

Which isn't really noteworthy, since it likely never occurs to anyone who carries a flashlight to name it. "Rats, the power's out! Where did I leave George? Honey, have you seen George?" But as the fledgling Amazing Spider-Man title progressed, the mask insignia used by the light, which appeared to take its cue from the emblem used by artist Steve Ditko to accompany each story title, began to gain recognition by those who saw it--and it seemed like different handles for it were being tried out by writer Stan Lee as well as the character himself.

(Did any of you spot the calling card that Spidey left in the early days? They seemed to be fleeting, didn't they?)

But shortly after the device appeared in the first Spider-Man Annual from 1964, where it didn't even rate a description, it looks like we have a winner--thanks to a random, off-panel audience member.

Hmm--a "spider-signal"... a "utility belt"... Now where have I...? (Let's just call the similarities a coincidence and leave it at that, shall we?)

From that point, the Spider-Signal begins to gather steam, as Ditko would use it frequently depending on the circumstances.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

It's All In the Wrist: Gladiator vs. Iron Man!


If you weren't impressed by the debut of the bruiser named Gladiator in the pages of Daredevil, including his performance as part of Electro's Emissaries of Evil, you might have shrugged when you spotted him on the covers of a two-part Iron Man story published at the end of 1968:

Yet other aspects of this story help to bring it alive for Iron Man fans and make it a good all-around read, with the Gladiator also managing to stand out in an ambitious bid to wrest control of the criminal organization known as the Maggia for himself. For instance, we're seeing some early work on the title by artist George Tuska, who is now the book's regular artist (off and on) after previous penciller/inker Johnny Craig shifted over to handling inks exclusively. We also learn of the origin of Whitney Frost, the Maggia's current "Big M," who is putting together a raid on Stark Industries to seize Stark's secret weapons reserve even as she seeks to protect her lover, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Jasper Sitwell, who acts as Stark's head of security--an origin which includes the revelation that her real father is the notorious Count Nefaria. In addition, Archie Goodwin continues as the book's writer to chart a course for Tony Stark and Iron Man in this new title.

At this point in time, Stark is beginning to have romantic feelings toward Janice Cord, who took over her father's plant but on the advice of her attorney, Vincent Sandhurst, is considering selling it to Stark. We would eventually learn that the days of both Cord and the shifty Sandhurst are numbered in this book, with Iron Man being involved in each case--but for now, he'll have his hands full with Gladiator, when the villain decides to take Sandhurst, Cord, and Stark hostage in an effort to force Iron Man to come to their defense and thereby leave Stark's factory vulnerable to the Maggia's raid. (Not to mention giving Gladiator a chance to wipe away the stigma of past defeats at Daredevil's hands and thus raise his profile to gain the support he needs to become Big M.)

As for Stark, he improvises a desperate escape in order to gain an opportunity to become Iron Man; but in the meantime, the furious Gladiator places Sandhurst and Cord under heavy machinery and begins to slice away at its support while demanding Stark surrender in order to save their lives. Luckily, Iron Man returns in the nick of time, though it may cost him when he must turn to face Gladiator.

Monday, March 7, 2022

The Rise and Fall of Sam Bullit


An issue where a major, long-standing character unexpectedly meets their end, either tragically or through an act of malice, has more often than not made for high drama in a comics story--particularly for someone like Peter Parker, who depending on the circumstances would likely feel a mixture of guilt and rage over the loss of the person. In the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, it was the Stacy family who were victims of both tragedy and malevolence, as, first, Capt. George Stacy unhesitatingly sacrificed his life to save another, followed later by his daughter, Gwendolyn, meeting her end as the victim of the deranged Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin. Both deaths occurred just 2½ years apart, at least on our calendar; in "comics" time, we can probably assume that the loss of Gwen's father, a death occurring on Spider-Man's watch, resonated in his mind when Gwen was lost to him.

Each story, written respectively by Stan Lee and Gerry Conway, would share similarities in the issues which followed up, stories packed with their own high levels of drama yet tasked with moving on from the character's death. For example, thanks to his involvement, Spider-Man ends up being reviled--a man on whom, as far as certain parties are concerned, at least part of the blame falls if not all. Also, not surprisingly, each incident sees J. Jonah Jameson resolving to redouble his efforts to turn public opinion against Spider-Man (though it would take Osborn's death, taking place soon after Gwen's, to push him over the edge). In addition, Spider-Man becomes a wanted man, as a new figure would enter the picture to bring him to justice. In Conway's story, that would be Luke Cage (at Jameson's behest)--while in the earlier tale, Lee would turn to Sam Bullit, an opportunistic, morally bankrupt ex-cop who has his eye on the office of District Attorney and runs on a "law and order" ticket as a smokescreen to incite public support.

And, notably, each would be preceded by a crushing funeral scene--which, in Gwen's case, would unfortunately lead to Peter (if indirectly) being put in the position of becoming the most despised person in her life.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Clip 'Em and Collect 'Em--Marvel Value Stamps!


In 1974, you may recall seeing the beginnings of a curious promotional concept popping up in the letters pages of Marvel's line of comics:

Thus began the push to "clip and collect" Series A of the new Marvel Value Stamps, consisting of numbered, recycled images of Marvel characters in postage stamp form. I imagine that people might have been hesitant to immediately begin clipping the first stamps which were spotted, since Marvel had yet made no announcement as to their purpose, much less why one might want to collect them; in addition, naturally you might have been reluctant to take a pair of scissors to the comics you'd just bought, particularly since in some cases you might have inadvertently clipped out part of that issue's story on the page's other side.

Nevertheless, the stamp of approval is given to yet another

Marvel Trivia Question

What were the benefits of clipping and collecting Marvel Value Stamps?