Thursday, December 15, 2022

Judgment Day (Or Not)


As an unofficial encore to Captain Marvel's role as chairwoman of the Avengers during writer Roger Stern's run on the title, those of you who have followed Stern's Marvel work and were fans as well of either The Avengers or X-Men might have caught the four-issue limited series The X-Men vs. the Avengers from mid-1987, which Stern would write ¾ of (at which time a different writer/artist team would take the reins of the story for its conclusion). The series takes place roughly between the time Captain Marvel accepts Captain America's nomination for the team's leadership position, and the Avengers' mission to Olympus which would conclude Stern's work on the book. The true focus of the series, however, would prove to be Magneto, the Master of Magnetism--and, more specifically, the resolution of the Paris trial which had been convened to hold him accountable for past crimes against the human race.

Yet the prelude to this story occurs years earlier, with the explosive arrival of an alien we would come to know in the New Mutants as Warlock.

Magneto survives the impact, thanks to the ministrations of Lee Forrester, who fishes him out of the ocean and brings him to the island where he once fought a pitched battle with the X-Men--the repercussions of which led, in part, to his trial. As for his asteroid, two sizable parts of it survive their fall to Earth a few years later, and draw the interest of not only Magneto but three super-teams which would vie to decide his ultimate fate.

Monday, December 12, 2022

In Defense of... Magneto!


No doubt "The Trial of Magneto" from late 1985 was anticipated on a number of levels by those of us who were following recent issues of Uncanny X-Men, where readers had lately been seeing the Master of Magnetism turn over a new leaf and acclimate himself to members of a team who for much of the book's history had been his most tenacious foes.  Indeed, it's his own history that remains the elephant in the room for some of the X-Men--as well as for those in government circles, foreign and domestic, who see him as nothing less than a deadly threat to humanity.

Magneto's gradual development of a conscience, as chronicled by writer Chris Claremont, has been fascinating to watch--but for the book's double-sized 200th issue, a long-awaited reckoning for Magneto finally looked to be on the horizon when Mystique, leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, decided that it was in the best interests of herself and her team members to make a deal with the Feds for amnesty in exchange for their services as super-powered operatives who report directly to the government. To that end, she approaches Valerie Cooper, Special Assistant to the President's National Security Advisor, who has taken up an aggressive posture against mutant activities and certain mutants in particular but finds Mystique's offer convincing, as well as the perfect means to remove Magneto's threat.

Against the X-Men, however, "Freedom Force," though clearly having become a tight-knit fighting unit under Mystique's leadership, proves less than equal to the task. Instead it's Magneto himself who acquiesces to his arrest in order to put the matter of his crimes to rest once and for all.

Which paves the way for a riveting anniversary issue that, when all is said and done, will have provided anything but closure on the issue of Magneto's guilt or innocence.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

And The Award of "Most Rejected" Goes To....


In 1984, not long after I'd turned 27, the second Ka-Zar solo series folded with its 34th issue--lasting fourteen issues longer than its previous bimonthly title published from 1974-77, whatever that statistic is worth. (I'll assume we're not counting the three issues published between 1970-71 as an official volume, given that they comprised reprinted material drawn from other titles where Ka-Zar was a guest-star.) If my count is correct, Ka-Zar has had five volumes of his own series to date. Volume Three, published monthly from 1997-98, lasted a whopping nineteen issues; while I leave it to you as to whether Volumes Four and Five qualify as bona fide volumes, since at the time Marvel was publishing a number of its regular series as "numbered arcs" (at least that's what I'm calling them), each numbering five issues and resetting back to issue 1 to presumably whet the interest of readers who were on the lookout for a title's First Issue. I don't know how many first issues Marvel released between 2011-2021, but heaven only knows.

My overall point being this:

The character of Ka-Zar is not, nor has he ever been, a bankable enough draw to sustain his own series.

And I single out issue #34 from '84 because its story is bookended by two virtual admissions of the fact--each written by Mike Carlin, who scripted the series' last seven issues and who will in the end arrange to present Ka-Zar himself with a dubious award that puts the character above all others in such a self-deprecating category.

First up, in "The Last Ka-Zar Picture Show," we catch Carlin in his office, commiserating with others in the Bullpen--the only problem being that he's a party of one in that respect, since it's clear everyone else at this shindig is of one mind in practically advising Ka-Zar not to let the door hit him on the way out.

Obviously Ka-Zar has become the furthest thing from Carlin's mind at this heady moment. Now why don't you pour yourself some punch, buddy?

As for Ka-Zar himself, his issue has ended with the splendid news that his wife, Shanna, is pregnant. But with his book's cancellation, Carlin has an epilogue to write--and Ka-Zar a journey to make before keeping his promise to his family, a destination that by now he's become all too familiar with.

Upon arrival, however, he must run the gamut of others who have faced the same humiliation he finds himself revisiting--but finally, he arrives to find himself Guest of Honor, in light of this land's raison d'ĂȘtre.

Pfah, Mr. Carlin. Mark Gruenwald would have provided a comprehensive "guest list" to us.

Ka-Zar's undaunted closing words may not have his readers (what's left of them) doing cartwheels, but there is a positive note to them: he'll end up boomeranging back to this place so often that he'll likely never be in danger of being demoted.

Monday, December 5, 2022

"Doom Must Fall!"


At long last, it's a pleasure for me to revisit an issue of Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. that had first caught my eye in an old house ad (most likely a reprint issue from the early 1970s) but had regrettably been long gone from the stands well after its 1968 release. (Those of you in the UK perhaps found it reprinted in the 1977 Captain Britain publication, issues 38-39.) What helped to embed the issue in my mind was of course its stunning cover by Jim Steranko.

I was reminded of this issue thanks to an upcoming PPC post regarding the final issue of Ka-Zar The Savage--specifically, its homage cover by artist Paul Neary, where our Lord of the Savage Land is doing his best to fill the boots of Nick Fury:

"Collectors' Item Last Issue!" The 34th issue of a cancelled title isn't likely to be something a reader would covet, gentlemen.

Steranko's cover is for the most part symbolic of the crisis in the issue's story, with the exception that within the pages Fury doesn't suit up for a mission in outer space (though not for lack of trying, as we'll see); and yet, taking into account the fact that Steranko had just departed the book as its writer/artist with the prior issue, he might well have had the entire cover scenario in mind for this issue had he continued. It's an eye-catching image that I would have liked to have seen to completion.

Yet the plot we have is from Roy Thomas, with the story scripted by Archie Goodwin. And the essential gist of Steranko's cover layout would appear to be intact when the crisis presents itself:

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Killraven, Warrior Of The Worlds!  (Featuring: the Martians!)


The "War Of The Worlds" feature in Amazing Adventures began in the title's eighteenth issue in May of 1973 and was published bimonthly for the entirety of its run, finally having its plug pulled near the end of 1976 after twenty-two issues--nineteen of which were scripted by writer Don McGregor, who worked with a number of artists before pairing with Craig Russell and putting their joint stamp on the book and the principal character of Killraven.

With Killraven and his band of Freemen leading the charge against the invaders and their human and once-human collaborators, it became clear almost immediately how the series was being crafted to appeal to its readers. For instance, when the guns of Killraven and his compatriot, M'Shulla, are depleted of energy (simultaneously, mind you), both men shift to a more daring approach and reach for swords and other such weapons (scooped up in a convenient museum they find themselves in) that must be wielded with a strong arm, and never look back--tools and methods reminiscent of their days in the gladiatorial pens of their youth. "Sword vs. Science Gone Mad!" declares one cover caption on its second issue (and repeated almost word for word nine issues later). It was also at that point I began seeing the Earth's Martian conquerors being pushed to the background, with the bulk of Killraven's vengeance spent on those who were imprisoning and/or experimenting on human survivors located in this complex or that.

As a result, the Martians become collectively relegated to the two-dimensional role of evil conquerors--known to feed off of humans while enjoying the spoils of conquest as they rule in tyranny. It's a rather black-and-white view of this invasion, and the invaders, that even McGregor seems to be on board with, judging by the opening page of his initial issue:

There is only a single issue in the series where McGregor and Russell would explore the Martians (or two of them, at least) in greater depth (more on that shortly); but in an effort to briefly shift the focus back to the beings who started this "war" (though at this stage it could more accurately be referred to as an "occupation"), let's collate what limited scenes are available in regard to their direct involvement, while taking a look as well at those chosen few who are unswerving loyalists to their demands.