Monday, February 27, 2023

The Next Chapter of Hercules, Hero of the Ages


There have been so many attempts at providing a solo series to Hercules, the self-designated Prince of Power, that it's easy to discount them, often on sight alone. What will this one bring to the table, we wonder, that could possibly provide some measure of depth to this character that goes beyond his preoccupation with seeking out forms of amusement, a tavern, or, failing that, a challenging opponent? Admittedly, I'm as guilty as the next person, having formed a bare-bones impression of Hercules during the '70s and '80s as an egocentric, brazen god who is easily provoked and revels in battle, wine and song (not necessarily in that order). Yet I took note of artist/writer Bob Layton's attempt to temper him to an extent in no less than four projects--three of them being four-issue "limited series" (the term no longer being used in banner form by that point), and, in 1988, a graphic novel--all written in the spirit of good, obstreperous fun and not to be taken too seriously, a description that might suit Hercules himself when not in the heat of battle.

In 2015, however, I ran across another brief series which sought to turn things around for the character, this time by writer Dan Abnett, and with an ambitious premise that appears to acknowledge that he has his work cut out for him. (A statement that we could apply to both Abnett and his subject.)

And so, having touched on this series previously, let's now backtrack to its first issue in order to see Abnett begin to put in place the pieces that would help to redefine the character for a readership which by this point might have collectively felt certain they knew what they could expect from a Hercules story--expectations that Hercules himself appears mindful of in his approach to dealing with a looming threat older than himself.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

"A Monster Called... Morbius!"


On the heels of the 100th issue of Amazing Spider-Man came the introduction of Morbius, the "Living Vampire" who became one of the living dead through scientific means, rather than through sorcery or as a victim of a vampire's attack. (Though if you think about it, "living vampire" and "living dead" are synonymous with each other, no?) It could also be said that Morbius, technically a vampire but not exactly the real thing, came on the heels of revisions to the Comics Code Authority being made during 1971 that eventually eased the restrictions regarding vampires, though such restrictions would have likely proven inapplicable to Morbius given the circumstances of his origin.

As for why we aren't seeing Dracula or some other traditional vampire appear on the issue's cover rather than Morbius, we have Stan Lee to thank for mentioning his preference to writer Roy Thomas* for this new Spider-Man villain to be costumed, with Thomas getting around a scientist having such garish attire by having the costume be worn "as secondary insulation against the shock" of the experiment meant to electrically create replacement blood cells in order to save his life. (Baloney. Why outfit such a suit with a red cape, or any cape?)

*This would be the first ASM issue that Lee had not scripted, though Thomas is only "standing in" for the time being, as the credits indicate. Lee would return with issue #105, before handing the reins to the book's new regular writer Gerry Conway with issue #111.

Still, it's an impressive new character that faces an equally-startling new version of Spider-Man. As for those extra arms that Spider-Man is sporting, what gives? It just so happens that Peter Parker has been doing a little experimenting of his own.

Presumably this would make Spider-Man a mutant--or does that strictly apply to characters whose mutations resulted from radiation or atomic-based exposure? Wait... that would make the Hulk a mutant, wouldn't it?? Let's leave this tangled subject to others to wrestle with, while you and I take a look at "A Monster Called... Morbius!"

Monday, February 20, 2023

Target: Magneto!


The 1980s were a seesaw of change in regard to the man known as Magneto, the mutant master of magnetism, whose cruel and brutal brand of villainy reaches back almost sixty years. Beginning in 1981, Uncanny X-Men writer Chris Claremont set Magneto on a course for redemption following a fierce battle with his longtime foes after yet another attempt on his part to claim world dominance. In 1983, he made overtures toward peace with Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who were celebrating the birth of Pietro's daughter, Luna, and learned to their shock that Magneto is their father. Nearly a year later, he and Charles Xavier agreed to an uneasy alliance when they and the X-Men were transported by the Beyonder to another world (along with other super-beings), a truce that continued three months later when Magneto answered a call from a critically injured Xavier to lead the X-Men to investigate the Beyonder's appearance on Earth. Later that year, after a foiled attempt by Freedom Force to capture him, Magneto agreed to be placed under arrest and subsequently appeared before an international tribunal convened to hold him accountable for past crimes, a judgment he avoided when terrorists led by Fenris assailed him. Three months later in 1986, he again reached out to his children when Wanda gave birth to his two new grandchildren.

Just over a year later, the X-Men, who had acclimated to Magneto's presence among them, clashed with the Avengers as well as the Soviet Super-Soldiers when Magneto investigated the fall to Earth of his former asteroid base--culminating in his reappearance before the world court where judgment was finally rendered in his delayed trial. Yet in mid-1989, we began to see signs of the man he was, when he seized control of the Hellfire Club and chose a new, less passive course in preparing for a mutant/human war he saw as inevitable.

Stepping back three years prior, however, we find him still very much Magneto the reformed, as he attempts to ascertain the status of Xavier's--that is, his--students, the New Mutants, currently boarding at the Massachusetts Academy prep school run by Emma Frost of the Hellfire Club. Yet unknown to him, plans have been put in motion to avert his possible interference--and as a result, local law enforcement, while lacking concrete details*, feels it prudent to reach out to the Avengers for assistance in dealing with the threat potential associated with Magneto.

*The details being sparse, to say the least--in particular, the Snow Valley Sheriff makes no inquiry whatsoever as to the identity of Frost's informant. Was it someone known to her whom the Sheriff could follow up with? Or was the caller anonymous? Regardless, the Avengers scramble as if they've been supplied with all the information they need to bring Magneto back in chains.

There's no end to the Avengers' speculation on the matter of Magneto's motivation--though given their experience with Magneto, it's little wonder that they're ready to assume the worst, his voluntary appearance at the world court notwithstanding.

(Having also been deceived and used by Dr. Doom, and more than once, Namor elevating Magneto to such a classification rather than simply emphasizing him as being of the same calibre as Doom is curious, though just an observation on my part.)

And so, in accordance with longstanding Marvel tradition, battle lines are being drawn which play into the hands of whoever has instigated this plot (assuming that's the case--even we don't know their identity, at this point)--and from the looks of things, Cap is on board with his team in acting first and asking questions later. Yet the question to ask now is: Are the Avengers prepared to believe anything but the worst of Magneto?

Monday, February 13, 2023

No Rest For The Weary at Greymoor Castle


In 1941, Greymoor Castle, located in (at that point in time) the most desolate part of northern Britain, became the site of "one of Captain America and Bucky's greatest battles," as Cap himself would put it forty years later. And though this particular castle doesn't technically meet the definition of having a storied past, it may fit Cap's description given that the 1965 story of that conflict by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers offered a plot that a reader of Cap's wartime adventures would find appealing: a German officer who receives his orders directly from the Red Skull... a plot to kill British Prime Minister Winston Churchill... a scientific breakthrough from the castle's lord, himself a German collaborator... Captain America's young partner, Bucky, captured and used to lure Cap into a trap (if I had a nickel...) ... and the likely charge of treason awaiting Steve Rogers, suspected of deserting his unit when it's caught in a Nazi pincer movement on the battlefield.

Yet it's also a story which bears a second look, as Cap decides over fifteen years later (our time), courtesy of writer Bill Mantlo and artist Gene Colan, as a figure from the castle's past roams its ruined halls wary of the ghosts which haunt him--and wary as well of the costumed intruder who arrives to find more than memories awaiting him in this ancient edifice.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Death(urge), and Rebirth!


As a companion piece to the PPC's recent profile on Quasar--the 1989 hero patterned after Bob Grayson, the early 1950s adventurer known as Marvel Boy--we now circle back to take a closer look at those on the seventh planet whose existence paved the way for both characters: the doomed inhabitants of the Uranus colony, who welcomed Prof. Matthew Grayson and his infant son following their desertion of Earth in 1934. It was Prof. Grayson who would later renege on his decision to leave Earth to the mercies of tyrants and warmongers, outfitting his son to undertake missions on the world of his birth in order to help man "see his way to peace and righteousness." Until Quasar began appearing in his own series, the Uranians served as little more than supportive backdrop for the Graysons, the mystery of their existence on Uranus seemingly dying with them when their story is resurrected in late 1975 by writer Roy Thomas*, who returns a vengeful Marvel Boy to Earth as the Crusader.

*The details of Prof. Grayson's backstory have been modified several times in retellings, which added a middle name for the character as well as a previous surname. Thomas has chosen to use "Horace" as Prof. Grayson's given name.

With Bob Grayson's wrist bands coming into the possession of Wendell Vaughn, who fell into depression following his resignation as head of security for Project Pegasus, his father sees an opportunity to alleviate that state by suggesting Wendell undertake a mission to Uranus in order to gather more information about the bands' operation and capabilities. It's a mission, however, where Quasar will also discover his destiny, as well as the truth behind the destruction of the Uranian colony.

Monday, February 6, 2023

The Erstwhile Marvel Man


During the early 1990s, there were a number of stories in The Avengers which featured the man we eventually came to know as Quasar, who as Wendell Vaughn actually dates back to the late '70s but who had gone through a refit or two by the time he joined the Assemblers. I was admittedly on auto-pilot when reading the book during that period--its 300th issue having not quite capped a sudden spiral downward in quality and direction following the departure of writer Roger Stern, while its story, despite its forced appearance of affirmation, conveyed an impression of the book and its team as being rudderless. And so I could be forgiven for accepting Quasar in the Avengers lineup at face value, as new Avengers stories from that point on were rifled through fairly quickly, rather than being read with interest and anticipation on my part. (Remember the times when we were eager to sit down with a new comics story?)

That being the case, it's not surprising that I've found myself going over in my mind Quasar's beginnings as the informal successor (if that's even the right word) to Marvel Boy, and wondering: When exactly did this man join the Avengers? Yet as we'll see, "joined" may be a misnomer in the sense of how we've come to regard new members being inducted into and being presented as part of the Avengers lineup.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

The Legacy of the Black Widow


Recently we've been tracking the involvement of Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, in the ranks of the mighty Avengers: First, her long road to formal membership on the team, only to then reconsider and decline active participation in the group... and then, taking a look at her sparse appearances in the book until 1991, when she accepted a spot in their primary lineup which coincided with the team's new charter under the United Nations. Eventually, she rose to the position of team leader, which took her to the end of the book's run in 1996 and the fateful encounter with Onslaught, the evil amalgam of Charles Xavier and Magneto--a battle which would effectively bring Natasha's tenure as Chairwoman, and the Avengers, to an end.

Yet it wasn't until the 1999 Avengers Annual that we discovered the mystery surrounding Natasha's rather lackluster state of mind following the announcement of the Avengers not only being discovered alive but intending to resume their team's activities and sift through a cattle call of 39 prospects in settling on a new lineup--a gathering that she departed rather than put herself into contention. As team leader at the time of the Onslaught attack, how did she move forward following the "deaths" of her comrades? And what became of her own team of Avengers--or, more to the point, the few who remained?