Thursday, March 30, 2023

The Price Is... Death!


A little over a year following his debut in Amazing Spider-Man, the Punisher makes his way over to a high-profile appearance in the fourth issue of Giant-Size Spider-Man, fighting beside the wall-crawler in a 36-page story (which, excluding ads, works out to 27 pages--still a nice 9 extra pages for your extra 25¢ than what the monthly Spidey series offered). Coming along for the ride is the regular book's creative team of Gerry Conway and Ross Andru (with Mike Esposito stepping in on inks) in a story of greed vs. human lives, an equation which rarely works out in favor of the latter.

We're introduced to at least one of those lives when Spider-Man foils an attempted kidnapping of a young woman, and receives some unexpected assistance from a nearby sniper.

(I don't know about you, but there have been enough instances of Spider-Man's spider-sense being "set aside" when the story calls for someone to take him unawares that I've conditioned myself to sigh and let it slide. That said, two such instances in one scene may tax my resolve.)

As for Spider-Man's resolve to be more understanding of first responders, that lasts for all of sixty seconds, tops (in a very odd scene on Conway's part).

Let's hear from our judges on this about-face, folks:

Police: 9.8. Suddenly can't-be-bothered jerk in the costume: 1.5.
(Five-tenths added only because he saved the girl.)

So what's this plot that Spider-Man has stumbled into all about? Why was this girl targeted for kidnapping? What's the extent of the Punisher's involvement (aside from having some interest in the kidnappers that may extend beyond simply picking them off)? Thanks to his journal entry, we can make a fair guess by now that the Punisher is conducting some sort of investigation--but judging by the issue's shocking (if symbolic) cover, the "enemy" that the Punisher speaks of is going to mete out some punishing of his own.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Woe To The Unpunished!


Of all the scenes the Punisher has to his credit over the years, one that often comes to mind for me comes courtesy of the character's creators, Gerry Conway and Ross Andru, during his second appearance in the early '70s:

The context of the panel consists of his reaction to his foe, the Tarantula, making a fool of him and giving him the slip (and, perhaps most frustrating of all, escaping punishment). The Punisher, after all, is conducting a one-man war against criminals--and while his motivation at this point in time is unclear, what does seem evident is that his obsession with that mission is driven by a mixture of rage and vengeance. Simply put, he cannot tolerate this low-life remaining free--or alive.

But there are more curious circumstances occurring in the Punisher's first appearance, taking place in Amazing Spider-Man in 1974, where we find him in an alliance with the bizarre interloper known as the Jackal, who has his own obsessive agenda in regard to the wall-crawler--a twisted mindset that the Punisher is apparently unaware of, or the Jackal might also find himself in his partner's crosshairs. Here, the Jackal takes advantage of his knowledge of Spider-Man's role in the death of Norman Osborn in combination with our hero's history of evasion of law enforcement, to make sure the Punisher's sights are now turned on a target that both men are convinced is deserving of death.

And so Frank Castle breaks into the comics world as...

Thursday, March 23, 2023

...Only A God May Prevail!


It takes roughly nine years since they were incarcerated following a battle with Iron Man and Daredevil, but we now come full circle with the alien duo known as the Blood Brothers--introduced in 1973 as enforcers of Thanos when the Titan first appeared on Earth and established a base for himself in the Arizona desert, and having subsequently battled Iron Man when the Avenger fought beside Drax the Destroyer as well as the Thing. Yet it was during their clash with Iron Man and DD that we learned the secret of the Blood Brothers' overwhelming strength, a benefit of battling as a team in close proximity to one another. Consequently, they were imprisoned in separate facilities in order to keep their might in check.

Fortunately, the Blood Brothers are still in custody when the Avengers learn that the Army Corps of Engineers have unearthed that secret Arizona base and practically pounced on its cache of advanced equipment--news which alarms the Avengers and prompts the Vision to take measures to safeguard that equipment from tampering.

Colonel Farnam's assurances aside, we wouldn't be here unless writer Roger Stern and artists Bob Hall and Joe Sinnott didn't have something planned that would justify the Avengers' presence beyond that of a simple matter of precaution--a fact that the issue's cover would appear to bear out!

For the Avengers as well as the base's army contingent, this issue would present a deadly footnote to the saga of the Blood Brothers, who continue to serve the will of Thanos even after their master's demise.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Feast Your Eyes Again on... The Blood Brothers!


It's a disturbing trend that we've seen developing in regard to the bruising, bloody threat of the Blood Brothers, who first appeared in 1973 as enforcers of the will of Thanos of Titan--but even more disturbing concerning the invincible Iron Man, who in consecutive battles has needed to be paired up with additional muscle from a second party in order to hold his own against these brutes. First, in responding to a telepathic distress call, he joined forces with Drax the Destroyer against their mutual foes; and in a second encounter with the pair later that year, he and the Thing successfully derailed their threat, after which a wrathful Thanos used the Cosmic Cube to (presumably) eliminate his thralls.

But in mid-1976, the Blood Brothers resurface, having escaped whatever fate Thanos had consigned them to when he met defeat himself at the hand of Captain Marvel--only to now find themselves acting in accordance with the commands of the Controller, who needs their assistance in freeing his trapped form from tons of rubble he found himself beneath at the site of his own clash with Mar-vell. Fortunately for the Blood Brothers, securing transportation isn't much of a problem, after stopping for a quick bite.

And so these two head for New York, and a third encounter with Iron Man (who, coincidentally, goes way back with the Controller), crashing their way through police blockades en route. The prospect of Iron Man finally heading into a battle with the Blood Brothers on his own could certainly be a clash that we readers would be down with--after all, writer Archie Goodwin wouldn't have him being forced to enlist the help of another hero, right? Right?


Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Search for the Silver Surfer!


OR: "The Incredible Shrinking Sky-Rider!"

In mid-1968, Galactus would make his return to Earth, intent on re-enlisting the services of his former herald, the Silver Surfer, whom he confined to our world as penance for his betrayal--but also apparently done as a measure for the eventuality that the Surfer might be needed, for Galactus's return comes at a time when his hunger for the life-force of a planetary body rages within him due to his failure to locate a suitable world on his own. In a word: Galactus is starving.

For his part, the Surfer is reluctant to return to a life where he is responsible for choosing a world that must pay the ultimate price for sustaining Galactus--and so the Fantastic Four have decided to side with him, even as he searches for and finally locates a place of concealment where even the eyes of Galactus cannot detect him.

The fact that the Surfer can so casually alter his size (and to such an incredible degree) shouldn't really have come as a surprise to me considering the nature of his power (albeit at a reduced state, at this point in time); but this ability still came across as if it were pulled out of a hat. Given time, the Surfer might have even used the Micro-World (aka Sub-Atomica) to traverse the barrier of Galactus, as he attempted in the company of the Defenders (though as then, the attempt might have proven futile).

In the meantime, under duress, the FF have agreed to locate the Surfer for Galactus after fending off the merest sample of the reprisal that he can deliver to Earth and its population should he be defied. And so, after returning to their Baxter Building headquarters, Reed deduces from the last place the Surfer was seen the sky-rider's probable destination, a trail the FF intend to follow.

And yet the clock is ticking, with the mother of all timetables in effect--and every second the FF spend on their hunt within Sub-Atomica weighs against the self-restraint of a being who will not countenance delay, or, worse, failure.

Monday, March 13, 2023

The Deadly Hunger of... The Blood Brothers!


Two Hulk-sized, super-strong alien bruisers whose name is partially derived from the fact that they feast on blood--wouldn't you have liked to have been a fly on the wall when Jim Starlin pieced together that character concept, which saw print in 1973 in the form of the Blood Brothers, enforcers of the will of Thanos during the time the villain held Drax the Destroyer prisoner in his base located in the Arizona desert.

It was Drax who would reach out to Iron Man and provide him with knowledge of the rise of Thanos of Titan--as well as a hurried warning about the Blood Brothers, who were sent to retrieve the golden Avenger when Drax's telepathic contact had been detected, and return with him to Thanos's base. As we'll see, despite his confidence, Iron Man's resistance to the unexpected might of the Blood Brothers comes to naught (which is putting it mildly)--but at his destination, he successfully breaks away in order to conduct his search for Drax.

It's at the point when Iron Man attempts to free Drax that we're present for Starlin's introduction of... well, let's just say a character whose name came to be known in years to come by thousands of readers and moviegoers alike and who helped to make Marvel Studios and the folks at Disney a lot of money. Kudos to you, Mr. Starlin.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

"The Day The Earth New York Turned Green!"


The 1982 Incredible Hulk Annual is essentially an exercise in pure adventure, one that sees the mighty Avengers struggle to uncover a scheme which threatens to destroy or enslave the population of the entire world. And as we can assume from the book's masthead, there's one Avenger in particular who appears to be the key to the crisis--though it's his alter ego, Bruce Banner, whom we find is taking the first, desperate steps toward stopping a plan which has already been put in motion.

Producing this story is writer Bill Mantlo (who also scripted the monthly Hulk series) and artists Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott, with letterer Jim Novak and colorist Bob Sharen (whom we gather is going to have one particular color on hand, to be sure)--an ideal grouping of talent for a 32-page Hulk story which ends up featuring not only Earth's mightiest heroes but also guest appearances by other mainstream Marvel characters.

As we've learned from Page One, Mantlo is just about to initiate the period in the regular book where Bruce Banner finally succeeds in suppressing the Hulk's brutish mind and placing himself in control of not only his transformations but also the Hulk himself--a development which, among other things, will see him once more fighting alongside the Avengers (which Mantlo milks for all it's worth).  But it's the savage, uncontrollable Hulk who appears here and in one way or another ties together the various scenes playing out before us. As for the nature of the danger, the news media have the 411 for us, though it looks like they're in the same boat as the rest of New York City.

Which brings us to this tale's villain--none other than the Leader, who plans to make sure that this "green flu" epidemic that Mr. "Ratner" reports on will soon enough spread throughout the world. But even now, Bruce Banner, the Leader's prisoner, seeks to fight his foe with the only weapon he has available to him--none other than the Hulk, whom Banner hopes to subliminally influence with thoughts and images which his green-skinned raging persona can interpret and act on.

Yet Banner's presence is actually a crucial step in the Leader's plan--which brings us to Dr. Rikky Keegan, an unwitting accomplice who had only wished to cure Banner of his affliction but falls victim to the duplicity of her host and gives the Leader precisely what he needs in order to infect others to either do his bidding, or die in the process.

Yet when Banner's dreaded transformation takes place, the Hulk must first battle for his freedom against the forces under the control of one of his oldest enemies--even as Banner's plan for the Hulk begins to kick in, if only it isn't too late.

Monday, March 6, 2023

In The Night Comes... Nighthawk!


The story of Nighthawk--erstwhile member of the Squadron Sinister and, later, would join the dynamic Defenders--really begins at the point when he's conscripted to take part in a deadly game of life and death engaged between the alien Grandmaster and Kang the Conqueror which would decide the fate of the Earth. It was the Grandmaster who formed the Squadron to serve as his own "players" who would individually face Kang's chosen team of Avengers in battle--and while the latter team fought for the survival of their world, Nighthawk and his partners had more self-serving ends in mind.

As we'll learn, the Grandmaster had a direct hand in bringing Kyle Richmond's identity as Nighthawk to life--and while it may seem odd that the Grandmaster would bother with providing Nighthawk's mode of transportation, it appears to be the key to Nighthawk proving victorious against his opponent, despite what we may have assumed in regard to victory being achieved by the defeat of the player.

We'd have to look at the fine print of this game's terms to be certain, but here it seems that Nighthawk would win his match against Cap if his plan to destroy the Statue of Liberty had succeeded, rather than defeating Cap personally; otherwise, the Grandmaster would have declared Nighthawk the winner when Cap was caught by the villain's rope and slammed into unconsciousness against the statue's stone base. Regardless, since Cap came out on top by defeating both plan and opponent, the point is rendered moot.

In the end, the Grandmaster would ultimately be the losing party in the game and depart, leaving the members of the Squadron Sinister free to chart their own course. Hyperion's fate at the hands of Thor would be more problematic in that regard; and while we were left to assume that the Whizzer and Dr. Spectrum would have been turned over to the authorities, that doesn't seem to have been the case for Nighthawk*, who turns up roughly four months later to use his criminal talents to con his way into Daredevil's territory.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Earth's Mightiest Floating Heads!


"I like to goof off now and then, too, you know." - (Mrs.) Young-Ja Kim

Always one to take the sentiments of the redoubtable Mrs. Kim to heart (if I know what's good for me), I've finally gotten around to a little goofing off of my own by exploring a subject we readers of silver- and bronze-age comics are all too familiar with: Those aghast, worried, concerned, taken aback, consternated, and certainly conspicuous floating heads on issue covers which appeared out of nowhere to draw attention to whatever and whoever they were casting their piercing gaze(s) on.

It seemed a rare day when we saw such bodyless faces appear in titles featuring a solo character, since both hero and villain(s) were occupied in full-size poses slugging it out on a given issue's cover--but in group books, they were all the rage, carefully placed on valuable cover space to provoke a reaction in the comics browser that what awaited within was momentous enough to merit spending their hard-earned change on. It also goes without saying that they were also useful in a marketing sense when other characters in the group didn't make it on the cover but rated a head shot in order to let the prospective reader know that whoever they might have been most interested in still showed up in the story.

Both Fantastic Four and The Avengers featured a prodigious amount of floating heads in their first volumes, but it's the latter title which offered more variety when it came to its characters given the sheer amount of different Avengers to choose from. As for the approach we'll take with this, it became more interesting for me to present these "floaters" on their own and out of context rather than blending in with whatever else was on the cover. It turns out that, in just over 400 issues, there were only a mere twenty-five instances where these heads appeared before tapering off around 1990. Nevertheless, they made their mark, and are not to be confused with groupings of other, equally familiar floating heads:

And so let's get to it--though it seems that three of the Avengers have already taken a glance at this collection and are less than pleased with the direction we're headed in. You'll have to take up your grievances with Production, gentlemen!

Artwork by Gil Kane and John Romita
(Prior framing art by John Buscema and George Klein)