Thursday, September 1, 2022

IT Lives!


It!, the 1973-74 short-lived feature by Tony Isabella from Astonishing Tales, wasn't exactly the first to break ground in a Marvel story as a character named by that particular pronoun:

But while characters with pronouns for names have met with some success over the years, it wasn't long before the '70s It! found its masthead joined by the more descriptive wording, "the Living Colossus." And that's understandable, since you'd presumably want your cover character to deliver more punch on the sales stand with wording that conveyed more than the shock value of the unknown.

For our purposes, however, and to avoid confusion in just about every sentence constructed with the word "it," we'll refer to this 100-foot-tall creature by the more striking noun that was applied to it with its first appearance in 1961, as we examine just how much mileage it's unexpectedly received as a character whose purpose was to be either a gigantic threat or, oddly enough, a literally larger than life hero.

As with a number of concepts produced in comics at the time, the Colossus was spawned behind the "iron curtain"*--specifically, by way of a directive from Ivan Petrovski, the government's hardline security police head, to construct a huge statue to be a symbol of the power and invincibility of the government (and, in so many words, cow the masses). Ivan assigns the job to his sculptor brother, Boris, a man who has strong reservations about the project but is pretty much bullied by Boris into compliance.

*The term representing a purely conceptual barrier separating the Soviet communist bloc from the West, just as the "bamboo curtain" did for "Red China."

What no one counts on, however, is the crash landing of an alien ship, and its sole occupant seeking refuge within the completed statue. The timing couldn't be worse, as Ivan and his men arrive the next day to inspect the finished work, only to see it come to life--and their shouting, as well as the subsequent gunfire, serve to send the Colossus (under the control of the alien) into an unstoppable rampage. (We'll have to fill in the gaps as to why; the alien knew it would be safe and protected within the construct, though I guess we wouldn't have much of a rampaging monster story if the Colossus just stood there.)

Things quickly go from bad to worse, and it isn't long before Ivan holds his brother at gunpoint and demands answers; but Boris instead sees an opportunity to lay the foundation for turning the tide against the dictatorship, a conversation that will bear fruit at story's end...

...but for now, Ivan defiantly escalates the situation, until the point is reached when an H-bomb strike is ordered. It's then we see the Colossus demonstrate an ability that would be consistent in future appearances, a feat which likely proved to be as unbelievable to readers as it does to the creature's opposition.

Yet just as it becomes clear that there was no stopping the Colossus, hostilities cease with the unseen arrival of the alien's rescue ship and the alien's exit from the hulking creature, rendering it inanimate and a "statue" once more--giving Boris the opportunity to take advantage of the seed he planted earlier and drive home the impression that only a radical change in the government's dealings with its people will assure that the Colossus remains motionless.

Five months later, our aliens become the heavies in the story of the Colossus--just as arrangements are made to deliver it to the United States, where it will "live" again to attack anew.

In America, we're introduced to Bob O'Bryan, who is a scenery/backdrops designer for a Hollywood studio and who has it bad for actress Diane Cummings, who won't give him the time of day due to her infatuation with a full-of-himself actor. But when the aliens make their move and the Colossus repeats its trek of destruction, O'Bryan utilizes his experience and devises a way to counter the threat. (Assuming the aliens don't call his bluff.)

Give it up for the set workers--that's a lot of hammering and nailing to get done in record time to complete a convincing "creature" that's even larger than a 100-foot Colossus. But the deception works--and come on, you just know Bob is going to get the girl.

Over 3½ years later and completely out of left field, the Wasp introduces a fictional story she plans to tell a group of hospitalized veterans concerning an alien world where a warlord, Mingo, conquers others on his world by playing upon their fears and superstitions. In this case, we see a refit of the first Colossus story, as Mingo pulls a Petrovski and orders a 200-ft statue built which will remain in "slumber" as long as he gets what he wants from those he conquers.

Yet there are still some things to iron out in Mingo's plan, since the people take the risk and rise up in revolt; but when the Colossus indeed awakens in response, all bets are off as to which side is the most surprised by the action it takes in reprisal.

(I think our friend Vikor could benefit from a conversation with Dr. Strange as to how lacking in evil supernatural powers are.)

In what could be a curious addendum to this retrospective of the Colossus, writer Len Wein adapts the concept** for a 1971 story that involves two alien factions settling their differences by having their champions battle on a neutral site (i.e., Earth)--where the name of the giant, stone figure who emerges to fight can only ring familiar to the rest of us.

**Whether intentionally or not--your guess is as good as mine, though it seemed remiss not to include.

Be that as it may, color the Hulk unimpressed.

Almost three years later to the month, the Astonishing Tales feature is launched--where we again find Bob O'Bryan, now working in special effects but crippled by an "accident" caused by vindictive actor Grant Marshall who continues to pursue Diane. Bob has discovered an ability to telepathically take control of the Colossus, which comes in handy when a new antagonist, Dr. Vault, slowly dying from a rare disease, steals the Colossus with the intention of transferring his mind into its body.

With O'Bryan failing to stop the theft, Vault proceeds to reduce the Colossus significantly in height, but only manages to shrink it to a maximum of thirty feet before O'Bryan succeeds in reestablishing control of the Colossus--even as the story struggles to *ahem* set in stone the awkward pronoun arranged for the character.

Nearly eight years later, Vault again makes an attempt to seize the form of the Colossus for himself. But first, O'Bryan must go a few rounds with an adversary who will test the dense stone form of the Colossus to its limit--while the timing presents Vault with the opportunity he's been waiting for.

With Vault now having forced O'Bryan to vacate the statue, he reluctantly turns his attention to the Hulk, still convinced that the form of the Colossus is impervious to attack. It's a misconception that Vault will be forced to take to his grave.

That really should have been the last we would see of the Colossus--and so it was, until 1993 and the Wonder Man Annual (three words you probably never imagined you'd see or hear in conjunction--and the second annual, at that), where we catch up with O'Bryan as he describes to Simon Williams the new "It," rebuilt from scratch to the tune of $50M and composed of steel rather than stone. But O'Bryan also finds himself having to deal with a disreputable rival who can override our hero's control of It with his own, in an effort to discredit O'Bryan's company and profit from gaining the contract to handle the effects on a documentary film of It.

To make matters worse, Simon finds his hands are tied when stepping in to deal with the threat:

In a year's time, we again discover that in Hollywood there is no shortage of aggrieved people who are willing to steal O'Bryan's designs and sic their own robot on his--only this time, he's forced to take a look at his own lack of scruples in his rise up the ladder, and respond accordingly.

Finally, to close out almost forty years of the Colossus in comics, we arrive at mid-2000 and the final two issues of Avengers Two featuring Wonder Man and the Beast, who tackle independent Producer (to say nothing of her criminal holdings) Lotus Newmark when she takes over the mind of O'Bryan and thereby brings the Colossus under her own control. Yet our heroes face no recreation this time, but the real stone-made deal, brought back through the power of O'Bryan's captive mind in order to provide "muscle" for Newmark's extortion ring.

With the Colossus back in circulation (and its pronoun seemingly here to stay), IT seems assured of having further adventures in the 21st century.


Remember when a Fantastic Four story presented the only IT we had to worry about?


Colin Jones said...

Gosh, thanks for explaining the term "iron curtain" to us, Comicsfan - I'd been TOTALLY UNAWARE of what it meant ;)

Anonymous said...

I like this guy, but that message about stealing was awful!

Anonymous said...

I'll be darned, but there was a lotta humor in those old horror mags! That frame where that "crab-creature" is just staring at that poor guy with those huge eye-balls made me laugh out loud.
Same with the humans being menaced by the Colossus's giant feet. Between this, the Hulk, and the early Beast, I think Kirby thought giant feet were inherently funny.
And they are!
I had no idea that the Colossus had made any (relatively) recent appearances, but I'm glad he's still out there somewhere, tramplin' stuff.


Comicsfan said...

I'm not sure you and I would find those trampling feet particularly funny from a ground perspective, M.P.! :)