Monday, August 29, 2022

The Human Tantrum


Well, there's no sugar-coating this post: I have such mixed feelings about Fantastic Four #99 from mid-1970. It's not one of my favorite issues of the title, by far:  The premise of the story is unbelievable (no, I'll just come out and say it, the premise is unacceptable)... the Human Torch's disappointing, juvenile behavior, charitably spun by Reed Richards as being "sick at heart," virtually throws out 98 issues of growth and maturity for the character (leading to the harsh wording of this post's title)... and there is no way anyone with a shred of rationale can buy into the no one gave anyone the chance to explain justification for things getting out of hand. Yet, with all of that said, I've tried with some difficulty over time to rationalize the events and direction of this story in my head and provide it with some sense of stability overall. (Apparently, I haven't been all that successful.)

The issue also has the dubious distinction of being published shortly before artist Jack Kirby would depart Marvel Comics for reportedly a more conducive work environment--and while you may get a sense that the frayed relationship between Kirby and writer Stan Lee may have played into the story's shaky foundation, it nevertheless reads as business as usual if... if... you can overlook some of its failings. Thanks to the "Marvel method" still being in play, we can take a fair guess as to how the story took shape: Lee provides the bare bones plot (in a nutshell, Johnny Storm is upset at his girlfriend Crystal being ordered back to the Inhumans' Great Refuge and sets out in anger to confront the royal family and retrieve her), and Kirby flushes out and draws the complete story based on his own interpretation, a formula which had worked splendidly for the most part for their nearly 9-year collaboration on the title.

Diving in, then, let's look at the tense meeting that separated Crystal from Johnny which took place four issues earlier, and see how easy it's been made for Johnny to assume the worst.

So much is said... but very little if anything has been disclosed as to why Crystal is agreeing to accompany Medusa back to the Great Refuge, or why she's needed there, though she's obviously aware of what her decision will do to Johnny. Unfortunately, the two of them keeping mum leaves Johnny both upset and anguished because he's under the impression that Crystal is leaving for good. Now wouldn't this be the time for either Crystal or Medusa to elaborate on what's going on, and assuage any worries on Johnny's part as to just why Crystal must leave?

But Crystal fudges when giving her reasons, full of regret but supplying nothing in the way of information--and Medusa, equally unforthcoming, flatly states that "There is no more that may be said," which from Johnny's point of view must sound preposterous. To add insult to injury, the true reason for Crystal's departure isn't shrouded in secrecy, not in the least; and if we skip ahead and disclose that reason now, this scene could see everything cleared up with just a simple conversation between the three of them, leaving everyone at ease and no consternation whatsoever:

J: "Crystal, why are you leaving? This... this isn't for good, is it??"
C: "Oh Johnny, of course not! You see, Black Bolt was stricken during a radiation experiment, and my family needs me to attend to him by transmitting micro-shock waves to keep his heart beating, until Gorgon can return with a vial of serum that will restore his strength."
M: "That is precisely the situation, Johnny Storm. Crystal's powers are specifically suited to this task."
J: "I understand. I'll let Reed and the others know.  Please give our best to Black Bolt--we're all pulling for him." (gives Crystal a kiss on the cheek, a smile, and a "Hurry back, and let me know if you need me" to send her on her way)

(No idea where Gorgon could possibly be returning from--an intra-Refuge apothecary deep in the caverns of the Alpha Primitives? A pharmacy franchise doing business in the middle of the Himalayas?)

So why keep the situation with Black Bolt under wraps? Why give Johnny the impression that the Inhumans have decided that Crystal should return to the Great Refuge permanently, and "no more may be said"? You know why--so we could all fork over 15¢ for this "epic issue" to see the Torch go after Crystal and lash out at the rest of the Inhumans in his "wild" rage. Flame on!

Black Bolt looks pretty spry here for someone in critical condition, eh?

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Cities In Colossal Crises!


When it came to terrorizing  mere mortals, you only had to look as far as Marvel's monster titles of the late 1950s to find a massive creature of some sort stomping its way through a city and sending its population fleeing through the streets.

The planet Earth was definitely not a place you would consider settling down on if you were looking for stability or peace of mind. (Gosh, even in sixty years things haven't changed in that regard, have they?) But did things improve when Marvel pivoted its brand toward the adventures of super-heroes? That's what we're here to find out today, as we discover that there were still titanic threats to cities and civilians to be found--and it becomes clear just why people began moving to the suburbs in droves.

And we can't really pin the blame on just this roaring city-stalker:

Monday, August 22, 2022

Favorite Scenes: The Avengers! (1973-1987)


The PPC's look at some of the finest moments of Earth's Mightiest Assemblers continues, as we pivot from the years 1965-1972 and flip the pages of The Avengers to find some of their most memorable scenes that saw the team through nearly fifteen years of Bronze Age history during the period between 1973-1987. And to get the ball rolling, we first circle back to their tradition of considering applicants with criminal records for Avengers membership, established in 1965 with the induction of Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Yet it wasn't long before that team of Avengers saw their trust abused when another prospective member sought to take advantage of their good will and betrayed them.

And now, eight years later to the month (our time), that man returns to the fold, claiming to be reformed--only this time, Captain America has strong reservations against laying out the welcome mat.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Favorite Scenes: The Avengers! (1965-1972)


With the Vision already having rated his own Favorite Scenes post, we turn our attention now to his long-time partners, the mighty Avengers, who have chalked up a few dramatic and memorable moments over the years and doubtless have many of you recalling your own.

For myself, this journey began with the original Avengers lineup, though not with any adventures they had; rather, I was struck most by the original team's exit, a development which brought more focus to their chemistry and internal deliberations than any crisis involving the Masters of Evil, the Sub-Mariner, the Lava Men, et al. Technically, the Avengers meetings began in their second issue in a rather austere meeting room with the founding members (sans Captain America, as yet) seated at a small table in an effort to get to know each other better; but when, a year and a half later (our time), that team disbanded, we can look back on that changing of the guard scene with a mixture of nostalgia and, of course, history being made.

Three years later, the ranks of the Avengers have been shuffled considerably, with two of the replacement members having departed, Giant-Man (as Goliath) and the Wasp returning to the fold, and the Black Panther filling the gap of Captain America's departure--some of those developments as well as others we'll see from this point on stemming from Roy Thomas, who became the series' regular writer at the end of 1966. As it happened, Thomas had just concluded his run on the X-Men title--and by the time of this classic meeting between the two groups of heroes, he was in the process of making his own distinctive history as a Marvel writer.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Comes To Hel... The Destroyer!


Many of you no doubt recall the sharp change in direction which several of Marvel's titles took in 1986--stories which collectively became unofficially known as the "mutant massacre" plot, where no mutant, Morlock, or even Thunder God was safe. Yet during this time there was another plot forming in Hel, where the death goddess Hela prepared to take her vengeance on Thor for past transgressions--the effects of which became clear when he sustained an injury from Blockbuster of the Marauders which shattered the bones of one of his arms.

Depending on how you felt about the spike in a more graphic portrayal of violence displayed during the mutant massacre events, it's arguably to Marvel's credit that it pushed ahead to mainstream this new direction and cross over to other titles rather than take an isolationist approach and having the affected characters appear elsewhere untouched and unaffected by what these attacks entailed (along with a well-placed editor's note to smooth over the discrepancy). For Thor, those effects became more pronounced with injuries sustained in further battles, to the point of having to don a custom suit of armor which literally held him together as his wounds and injuries became more severe.

In Thor's own title, Hela's curse takes eight issues to play out before a reckoning. By that time, however, he had engaged in a battle to the death with Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, prophesied to be the instrument of his demise--their final clash reducing Thor's body to little more than a bloodied, barely recognizable corpse within his armor (thankfully Marvel established some boundaries as to how much graphic realism to portray), even as Hela's curse kept him alive and, it goes without saying, in unbelievable agony at this point. Yet in the Mephisto vs. limited series, the title character found even a battle with Thor's still-indomitable spirit to be fruitless as far as obtaining the son of Odin's soul.

Still, on a startling cover which preceded Thor's 300th anniversary issue, we would see an indication that Hela should have heeded Mephisto's parting words, as the armored threat known as the Destroyer, garbed in familiar raiment and wielding the hammer of Thor, advances toward a confrontation with the Goddess of Death that will leave no doubt as to the purpose behind his dreaded name.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

In His Hand... The Universe!


At the tail end of 1971, I was still a reader of Amazing Adventures, which had started out in a format that split the mag between the Black Widow and the Inhumans in separate stories but which featured the Inhumans exclusively with its ninth issue--their penultimate appearance in the book, as it turned out, as part of a two-part story which had them going up against none other than the Master of Magnetism himself.

Magneto was still unquestionably a fiend in those days--ambitious, ruthless, cruel, still nearly a decade away from a change in direction which would take the first steps toward reform and offer a more nuanced look at his character and history. Before this story, he'd made a failed attempt to co-opt the Sub-Mariner in a scheme to invade and subjugate New York; and later, another scheme would have him attacking both the X-Men and the Avengers.

Here, we find more of the same power-hungry behavior, as the members of the Inhuman royal family continue their search for their king, Black Bolt, who has fallen victim to a mental attack by his mad brother, Maximus, which has deprived him of his memory. Yet unknown to Medusa, Karnak, and Gorgon, Magneto had launched a two-pronged attack by mutant subordinates to capture them all--and while the attack against their group fails, the amnesia-stricken Black Bolt is ambushed and brought before the man who has further plans for him.

Monday, August 8, 2022

The 1998 Re-Emergence of the Black Panther


From the four titles that premiered in 1998 which bore the new Marvel Knights imprint, the two which most caught my eye were Inhumans, which the PPC has recently reviewed, and the one we come to today: Black Panther, tasked with giving the Wakandan ruler a more distinctive standing in comics as well as expanding his appeal to readers, both aspects part and parcel of the Marvel Knights emblem. The assignment was given to writer Christopher Priest, who eventually took the series to sixty-two issues and established what has been described as the definitive run on the character.

Priest would be joined by artist Mark Texeira for the first few Marvel Knights issues (there were twelve in all), whose chemistry with Priest's intentions for the Panther will be obvious to the eye as both assemble the building blocks of the Panther's new image and the plot threads of this initial story are revealed. Without revealing too much offhand, the elements of this new direction for the Black Panther boil down to the following:

  • The Tomorrow Fund, a community self-help organization established by the Wakandan Consulate's grant program targeting needy children in the New Lots section of Brooklyn;
  • The Panther himself, who chooses to depart his kingdom amid a developing tribal crisis to travel to New York and bring to justice the killer of the poster child for the Fund;
  • Zuri, warrior and lifelong friend of T'Challa's late father, T'Chaka, and who serves both Wakanda and T'Challa with unswerving loyalty and takes issue at the slightest affront to either;
  • State Department employee Everett K. Ross, from the Office of the Chief of Protocol--assigned as T'Challa's attaché and escort, and who provides from-the-hip context to this story as its hapless narrator;
  • Nikki Adams, Ross's girlfriend and boss (not necessarily in that order);
  • The Dora Milaje (translation: "adored ones"), Okoye (chauffeur) and Nakia (personal aide)--potential wives of T'Challa from two Wakanda tribes whose status kept the peace between the city dwellers and the tribal factions of the kingdom;
  • Manuel Ramos, a gang member who, along with other gang members, is forcefully drafted into T'Challa's service in order to gather intelligence on the child's murder.

  • And, oh yes...
  • The surprise appearance of Mephisto. (Yes, that one threw me, as well. Ross, however, remained a model of composure, all things considered.)

Ross spends his time during this first issue running down the chain of events involving the Panther's arrival in the states and his subsequent foray into Brooklyn to begin his investigation. Flanked by the Dora Milaje, T'Challa (or "the Client," as Ross refers to him) strikes an imposing figure in the housing project of New Lots, though the men he approaches will beg to differ.

Avery Brooks, your dream role is calling you, sir.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Inhumans Receive The Marvel Knights Treatment


With Marvel Comics having filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1996, you may have noticed a trade name making its appearance on corner boxes in 1998 which was an indication of the company outsourcing production of a few of its titles to Event Comics (headed by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti):

Around 2006, Marvel Knights would revert to being handled in-house by its now more solvent namesake (joining Quesada himself, who came aboard Marvel six years earlier as its new Editor-In-Chief), and of course went on to see its imprint appear on other series during that decade (and spawning other imprints such as the MAX line and the Ultimate books). But in MK's nascent days in 1998, we would see Event produce a new Inhumans twelve-issue series which, along with Black Panther, Punisher, and Daredevil*, was a pioneer of the story format which Marvel Knights brought to the table.

*Marvel Knights also became a series in its own right--the name of a super-team led by Daredevil and consisting of Shang-Chi, Moon Knight, Black Widow, Dagger, and Luke Cage.

Inhumans, written by Paul Jenkins with art by Jae Lee, was probably quite an eye-opener for readers like myself who had been soured by the quality of comics released by Marvel in the late 1990s. With Marvel Knights' emphasis on higher production values, stories with more of an edge and not necessarily beholden to continuity, and jettisoning long story arcs**, Jenkins and Lee were free to think outside the box and explore aspects to the Inhumans that have often been shuttered behind closed doors. (Roy Thomas's 1973 story highlighting the travails of their worker race, the Alpha Primitives, being one example.)

**That may have looked good on paper, but you can nevertheless expect a MK story to take awhile to play out.

Its first issue, where we find the Inhumans' city of Attilan now located somewhere off the coast of Portugal following developments which took place in the "Atlantis Rising" event, takes an approach of the members of the Royal Family pondering what their king, Black Bolt, might have to say if he were somehow given a chance to speak. For Black Bolt himself, Jenkins' opening narrative combined with Lee's imagery make for a striking first glance of a man soaring toward the refuge of his people--a "silent king" whose voice, if released, could otherwise cause devastation and destruction. "Imagine you could never make another sound. Not for the rest of your life. Not a sigh. Not a yawn. Not a single word. Ever."

Monday, August 1, 2022

Hero Reborn


It you stayed an Amazing Spider-Man reader until the series concluded its first run in late 1998, you may remember an unusual issue by writer Tom DeFalco that saw print shortly before then, which involved two enthusiastic archaeologists in the distant future who felt they had made the most remarkable discovery of their young careers.

Both Zack and Lana consider themselves authorities on the "Age of Heroes," which is not to be confused with this promotional banner that circulated on select titles over a decade later in mid-2010...

...nor is the term related to a four-issue series which coincided with the publication of the Heroic Age titles:

Rather, for Zack and Lana, the "Age of Heroes" is a historic reference to a period of time when super-heroes were alive and active on Earth. From what we can gather from the story, it's been hundreds of years since super-heroes existed in the world--and as we tag along with this pair on their excursion into the ruins of Manhattan, it's apparent that they hold one particular hero in the highest regard:  Spider-Man.

But as we'll see, their history of the wall-crawler's life is incomplete and, in some cases, exaggerated in terms of his standing with the public--factual misinterpretations which will also apply to other heroes from that era, as well as to his wife, Mary Jane Parker.