Monday, May 30, 2022

The Doomed Life of Donald Blake


It was only when I began giving some thought to looking into the final appearance of Dr. Donald Blake in the 1966-96 Mighty Thor title that I came to realize the can of worms I was prying open. To fully understand the situation, let's look back to November of 1968, where Blake, plagued with doubts of his own identity, wonders aloud about whether or not he's truly real; and if so, if his transformation into the manifestation of Thor meant that there was another God of Thunder who is unaccounted for.

In answer, Odin appeared to Blake and explained that, in order to teach his prideful son Thor the lesson of humility, Thor was sent to Earth in the guise of a mortal man, bereft of any memory of himself as Thor and, upon arrival, believing himself instead to be a student at a medical college and introducing himself as "Donald Blake." ("The name sounded so right... so proper... I was strangely unaware that I had never known of it before!") Meanwhile, Odin placed Thor's hammer (in cane form) in a cave in Norway, where Blake would discover it when he had fully learned the lesson Odin wished to impart.

In reality, then, Blake had always been Thor, while it was Blake who was, as he posited, "a myth...a casual creation of all-wise Odin," an enchantment which remained in effect even after its original purpose had been fulfilled. And yet... the same scene today has disturbing undertones. As we would learn much later, what Blake didn't realize was that he was operating under a misconception, unaware that Odin was carrying out a plan within the plan he disclosed.

As we explore the whys and wherefores of this story, there are three things you should know going in:

  1. The Donald Blake who attended State College was no facade but, in actuality, the true, mortal-born Donald Blake.
  2. The Donald Blake pictured in the above scene was a creation not of Odin, but of Thor.
  3. Shortly after Thor reappeared and routed the Stone Men, the real Blake's life was abruptly ended by involuntary manslaughter at the hand of an Asgardian.

I'll give you a moment to collect yourself.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Vengeance of Salomé--Sorceress Supreme!


Having dealt with the mysteries of two body-and-soul analogs of Dr. Strange which were created to carry out specific earthly tasks for him during his self-exile from our dimension--"Vincent Stevens," the body, designed to impersonate Strange and handle his personal and business affairs... and "Strange," the soul, tasked with continuing to gather Earth-based mystical artifacts and deliver them to the doctor for use in his ongoing work--the true Dr. Strange prepares to face the ancient Sorceress Supreme named Salomé, whose ambush left Strange no choice but to retreat in order to forge a new source of magic for himself, having abandoned his reliance on other-dimensional mystical beings after being forced to reject the Vishanti's demand for aid in the imminent, cosmic War of the Seven Spheres.

As for Salomé, she's been doing a little forging of her own--in this case, an alliance with the Vishanti in order to penetrate Strange's new sanctum, where Sister Nil, a former threat but now Strange's "ward" and scribe, delays her while Strange is engaged with his two doppelgangers. Even so, Strange keeps tabs on her progress, even as his taunts and those of Nil chafe at her frustration and incense her to no end.

Yet Salomé's luck changes when she gains entry to a crucial part of Strange's work with Gaian-based magick--and though Strange has not been able to recover the power he expected to gain from the dissolution of Stevens and "Strange," he nevertheless intends to meet the challenge of this sorceress head-on.

Monday, May 23, 2022

The Thing No More!


There's little doubt that the saga of Ben Grimm's existence as the tragic Thing added a great deal of character development to the Fantastic Four book--a recurring plotline that by necessity of its continuance could not depend on the brilliance of Reed Richards to free his best friend from his misshapen fate of being trapped in the craggy, rock-hued form that was both the bane of his existence and an asset to his teammates. Nevertheless, the book's early issues would become replete with Reed's attempts to return Ben to his human form, efforts which seemed appropriate given Ben's penchant for shifting into a depressive mood without warning that may have served as a reminder to Reed and the others that he alone was the victim of their aborted space flight--a moping state where he would bemoan his condition, in addition to having feelings of guilt about his relationship with the blind Alicia Masters who, in a curious twist, maintained a deep and growing affection for Ben Grimm (or, perhaps more to the point, the Thing).

As for Reed, his failures to cure Ben are a matter of record; yet in looking back at these past instances as the PPC does today, it's astonishing to see how many missteps were made, how often his trial-and-error approach would result in unforeseen developments, some of which at times almost cost his teammates their lives while also causing Ben unnecessary trauma. Naturally, Reed had the best of intentions, while perhaps also carrying some guilt himself regarding his choosing to go forward with their rocket flight in spite of Ben's warning that their ship had not been adequately prepared against radiation exposure. Yet as meticulous as he's been seen in working on other projects, the "test runs" and procedures he conducted on a live subject--on his friend--reflected undue haste on the part of a scientist whose modus operandi might otherwise have been methodical, and cautious.

Observations which perhaps deserve further debate, given the subject at hand. At any rate, what you'll be seeing here is a little bit of history involving scenes which for two or three decades provided the Thing with a great deal of depth that quickly took him from a state of bitterness and anger to that of a vivid, complicated character which some (including myself) came to consider to be the heart and soul of the Fantastic Four. Which seems fitting, considering that the dramatic words from which this post takes its title, and which might otherwise have indicated hope for restoring to Ben Grimm his humanity, were sentiments which would invariably prove to be premature:

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.


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.