Thursday, July 28, 2022

Beware The Agents of Kiber, The Cruel!


Having spent some time recently on Kiber Island, a now-nonexistent locale off the coast of Kenya which became the focal point for a dispute between the Sub-Mariner and the Black Panther involving smugglers from their respective kingdoms, we now look back a bit to learn of its former occupants, as well as its sinister purpose--all coming from the mind and pencils of Jack Kirby, who in the fall of 1978 was unfortunately preparing to leave Marvel Comics once more and who was in the process of wrapping up his work on several titles, one of which was Black Panther. With the series published bimonthly for the entirety of its run, this three-part story would see Kirby depart the book prior to its final installment--probably one of the many times a two-month window between issues proved to be a godsend for writers and artists who had to pick up where others left off.

Kirby's story slows the pace a bit from a prior tale which saw Wakanda in crisis from an ambitious member of T'Challa's ruling family having mutated from overexposure to raw vibranium. In dealing with the situation, T'Challa's own exposure has resulted in him developing a sense of clairvoyance as well as telepathy; yet while he recovers, a new situation rears its head with the mysterious kidnapping of Khanata, another of the ruling family whose talent for Grand Prix racing brings him to the natural barrier of the Wakandan border, which no normal intruder should be able to breach.

The harsh encounter serves as Wakanda's, and our, first exposure to the agents of

Monday, July 25, 2022

Atlantis Attacks!


Having begun my reading experience of Fantastic Four in 1970, there are times in thumbing through back issues that I regret missing out on the title's early days in 1963, when those toiling at the typewriters and drawing boards at Marvel Comics must have realized they had a runaway hit on their hands--so much so that the book's first annual, with its presentation reflecting a mixture of spectacle, excitement, and adventure, came across in a way as a celebration of this flagship title that established Marvel's name and new direction with its budding and receptive readership.

I wasn't really enamored with the multi-colored "Christmas tree" aspect of the masthead's lettering, a design which continued in the following year's Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man annuals:

By the time of the first Avengers annual from 1967, the practice appeared to have been discontinued. Otherwise, that annual's cover might have turned out a little too colorfully:

Regardless, if the thought in '63 was to make the FF annual's cover more eye-catching while conveying a "special issue" aspect that would make it stand out on the comics rack, mission accomplished. In addition, writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby were apparently counting on what they might have hoped was the growing appeal of the Sub-Mariner, now making his fifth appearance in this title (tying him with Dr. Doom) and the principal antagonist in a 37-page story. We don't yet know the details or scope of what Namor plans--but with the return at last of his vanished subjects, displaced by an atomic explosion from the surface world (or so he believes), it seems clear that it's the human race he plans to hold accountable.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

"Battle Royal!"


In comics, we've been witness to any number of clashes between characters where one's regal bearing added a level of complication and, in most cases, tension to their conflict. But all bets were off when both adversaries were of royal descent and each demanded obeisance from the other or otherwise claimed the higher ground in the dispute. A few such meetings come to mind: the Black Panther vs. Dr. Doom, for instance (and on more than one occasion); Doom's dealings with the Sub-Mariner (on too many occasions); Asgard's dealings with Olympus (ditto); or even Olympians vs. Olympians. Such clashes of power and ego have often proven to be entertaining glimpses into not only the situation but also the characters involved and their respective territories.

In mid-1980, another such conflict would begin to brew on Kiber Island, part of a chain of islands off the coast of Kenya which was annexed by Wakanda following the Panther's defeat of the so-called Kiber the Cruel--and which now serves as a meeting place for a smuggling operation being conducted by Wakandans and Atlanteans. (Tell me how that arrangement ever came about.)

The Wakandan's fears prove to be realized when all present discover that the Panther and his security forces have moved quickly on the information they've gathered from their captive--an encounter where the Panther learns this operation could well have the official sanction of Atlantis itself.

But if Prince Namor has any knowledge of these events, there's no such indication during a relaxing moment in the realm where he and Dr. Strange converse following the Defenders' battle with the Unnameable, a menace that could have brought about the extinction of Earth and countless other worlds without their intervention. Yet there is one Defender in particular whose life has potentially been impacted by the outcome of that struggle.

Soon enough, however, Namor is called away to be briefed on affairs of state--specifically, the developments on Kiber Island which have resulted in a Wakandan craft and its occupant being captured. At this point, Namor is unaware of the captured party's identity (and no, I have no idea why his officers wouldn't feel it necessary to convey that information beforehand--it seems a certainty that Namor would want that information prior to the captive being brought aboard), but it has no impact on either man's words to the other when the moment arrives.

And so the lines are drawn, with both of these men asserting their authority and stating their respective positions that would normally warrant a conference table for further discussion of the matter. Yet the situation will escalate--especially when another party insists on being heard.

Monday, July 18, 2022

2001: A Jack Kirby Odyssey


   "Less than half the film has dialogue. It attempts to communicate more to the subconscious and to the feelings than it does to the intellect. I think clearly that there's a basic problem with people who are not paying attention with their eyes. They're listening. And they don't get much from listening to this film. Those who won't believe their eyes won't be able to appreciate this film.
   "I tried to work things out so that nothing important was said in the dialogue, and that anything important in the film be translated in terms of action."

    -- Stanley Kubrick

I was just ten years old when I went to see "2001: A Space Odyssey" in the movie theater. By the time it was over, it's probably no surprise to hear that I didn't really know what to make of it. (From what writer David Kraft conveys in an essay on the subject, the same held true for a number of film critics--I imagine their expressions by the end of the film resembled the stills of the stupefied Dave Bowman, shaken to his core, interspersed with the "photographic effects" of the alien monolith.) Containing elements of various short stories by author Arthur C. Clarke (among them "The Sentinel," née "The Sentinel of Eternity"), the 1968 film received its novelization by Clarke that same year, and, in 1976, its comic book adaptation by artist/writer Jack Kirby during his brief return to Marvel Comics.

Yet it took me until this year to sit down with that Marvel Treasury Special (an exclusive banner which Kirby's Captain America's Bicentennial Battles also carried) which, unlike Kubrick's vehicle, was obliged to use an ample amount of dialogue and narrative to tell its story. Without having read the novel, my guess is that Kirby might have turned to it for most of his characterizations for that very reason--for instance, the "dawn of man" character named Moon-Watcher, our man-ape which discerns how to wield a skeletal bone as a club, is not named as such in the film (nor is the actor, Daniel Richter, listed in the film's credits), yet Kirby attaches Clarke's name for the simian (sans hyphen), and it wouldn't surprise me if Clarke, like Kirby, provided Moon-Watcher with some of the backstory that Kirby used for the character (the presence of his dead father, for instance). In addition, the HAL-9000 A.I. computer which so calmly interacts with Bowman and his shipmate, Frank Poole, even when asking Bowman to reconsider deconstructing his memory at the end, becomes panic-stricken and reacts helplessly in Kirby's version when the moment arrives.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

The Avengers Break Up! (Sort of!)

While it's true that the West Coast Avengers didn't have the best of endings to their story as a team within a team (or the most dignified), I admit to having been pretty jazzed about the concept in the fall of 1985 when the new team, after being given a successful trial run in its limited series of '84, was launched with all appropriate fanfare in a regular monthly series.

Other than taking the temperature of readers as far as whether a second Avengers book would fly, the limited series also served to introduce and solidify a new team lineup under the leadership of Hawkeye, as well as to prove their effectiveness as a team in battle (and against Graviton, at that, a heavyweight who would certainly be an ample test of their capabilities and resourcefulness). But aside from a solid core Avengers membership of Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Tigra, Wonder Man, and Iron Man (the role at this point in time being filled by Tony Stark's close friend, James Rhodes), only the Shroud among all the floating, teasing heads on the premiere cover would be approached to be the group's sixth member--and though he declined, the topic remained open allowing a writer to have the option of auditioning try-outs if the WCA concept panned out.

Which indeed proved to be the case. And so, following two other appearances of the WCAs in Avengers #250 and the 1984 Iron Man Annual, writer Steve Englehart and artist Al Milgrom* were tapped for the monthly series which went on for a run of over three years for the creative team, eventually leading to the book's second wind under scripter/artist John Byrne.

And as for that sixth member, this new series does a little teasing of its own, first thing:

That would be a firm "no" on signing up. For now.

Monday, July 11, 2022

The Sorcerer, The Ally, and the Avengers!


Even as early as its Silver Age books, Marvel was discovering the value of story crossovers in regard to not only profit but also as a means to entice readers to pick up a title that they'd passed on or didn't know about. In addition, the practice may have also helped to light the match of the budding collectors of the day, well before the marketing insanity of multiple crossover "events" would make even collectors balk. The early days of crossovers also offered the likelihood that the same writer would be handling scripting for each of the issues, while art buffs benefited from the opportunity of either seeing the same artist pull double duty or a different artist's take on the other book's character(s). Some examples that may come to mind in that respect were the Daredevil/Fantastic Four crossover featuring Dr. Doom (with artists Gene Colan and Jack Kirby), the X-Men/Avengers story involving Magneto (both penciled by John Buscema), and the Avengers/Incredible Hulk tale (featuring the work of both Sal Buscema and Herb Trimpe) which introduced an intriguing new villain, Psyklop.

In 1968-69, Avengers scribe Roy Thomas was also handling the first solo series of Doctor/Dr. Strange (the good doctor's masthead title abbreviated at about the halfway point) and would feature two crossovers during its 15-issue run. Regrettably, the second crossover, depicting the threat of the Undying Ones, would occur posthumously following the book's cancellation, in issues of Sub-Mariner and Incredible Hulk--but the prior crossover would have its conclusion take place in a more high-profile title, as well as bring in a guest-star along with a threat drawn from no less than the realm of the gods.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Thing vs. Torch!


Fantastic Four readers are not only familiar with the team's myriad adventures and battles over the years, but no doubt also with those clashes between the Thing and the Human Torch that erupted on the spur of the moment when a harmless prank got out of hand. You would think that FF history would be replete with examples where the two came to blows in such instances, as cemented in our memories as they've become--but given that such, uh, disagreements between the two resulted in a considerable amount of repair, replacement, and renovation bills in the Baxter Building, those scuffles appear to be few and far between.

Still, the PPC couldn't resist putting together a scrapbook of those classic scenes where fun 'n games between these two at times escalated to the point of having to be broken up by their two partners.  A collection of scenes we could only call...

Monday, July 4, 2022

Redemption, Interrupted


Having covered the 1988 Armor Wars storyline in detail, in addition to its epilogue, we turn our attention now to a scenario where Tony Stark, who instigated the campaign whereby he sought out and neutralized all of his stolen armor technology whether in use by friend or foe, instead sees his mission aborted prematurely and his life brought to ruin by the tenacious enemy who was responsible for putting this drama in motion. And given that the narrator of this new chain of events is the Watcher, you just know we're about to see how bad bad can get for the man whose famous suit of armor proved to be his downfall.

Yet the "Armor Wars" as we knew them is a misnomer in the sense that here, those battles are curtailed for Stark shortly after he sets out on his mission--though we'll see the phrase take on new meaning when this story reaches its turning point.