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 Pok√©mon 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.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Fifty Years of Marvel Comics


What were some of you doing five decades ago? It's funny when you reach certain points where you find yourself recalling the world as it was then, and the realization hits that you lived during that period of time and lived through many of the events and changes which took place. For those of you in high school right now, you'll experience your own reflections of today's world in the year two-thousand seventy-two (!) -- and if you're like the rest of us, you're understandably not looking that far down the road, nor can you have a true conception of how your world, its people, its advances, and your own way of life will change.

Regrettably, it's safe to assume that by 2072 the price of a comic book will probably be around the cost of a monthly house payment, so be sure to factor that into your budget.

Fifty years ago, my own calendar would have put me at the year 1972, fourteen years old and looking forward to starting high school the next year. Here's a little of what my world looked like at the time:

  • NASA was one flight away from closing out its Apollo moon mission, where America established itself as a pioneer of a sort but eventually realized it was spending a lot of money just to collect moon rocks;
  • The SX-70 Polaroid camera was introduced, giving us film prints which developed themselves "right before your eyes"--an alternative to dropping your film off at "photo marts," but still too slow for those who reasoned that shaking the print feverishly would speed up the process (a reminder to think twice before following a wacky trend);
  • Born in April of that year: actresses Jennifer Garner, Jenni Garth and Carmen Electra;
  • The United States was nine months away from withdrawing its forces from Vietnam;
  • The world's first law to officially recognize change of gender passed in Sweden;
  • Winners of the 44th Academy Awards included The French Connection, Jane Fonda, Cloris Leachman, and Gene Hackman;
  • The price of gas was at $0.55/gallon; the cost of a new home was around $30,000; a new car, $3,800; average rent, $165/mo.
  • The home videogame industry took its first baby step with inventor Ralph Baer's patent for "A Television Gaming Apparatus and Method" (i.e., the home video game console).

But if you were a Marvel Comics reader in April, 1972, your focus away from school was probably on the comics stand at your local drugstore, shopping mart or whatever distributor carried comic books in your town, thanks to the Bullpen Bulletins page which often included the Marvel Checklist. If your comics collecting was in full swing, here's a "snapshot" of what Marvel Comics readers were plunking down their 20¢ for.

(WARNING: Please don't try shaking this image in the air for faster loading.)