Thursday, April 27, 2023

Spider-Man: Marked For Death!


Twenty years to the month from the first appearance of the vigilante criminal nemesis named the Punisher comes a tale which at first glance has history repeating itself. Except with one important difference:

This time, the Punisher would hit his mark.

In this 1994 What If story, writer Chuck Dixon provides a rather gruesome outcome for Peter Parker by the hand of the Punisher, cutting short the hero's life and accomplishing what a host of villains (and the Punisher himself, in our reality) failed to achieve--his attack instigated at the behest of the Jackal, a character who has his own agenda against the wall-crawler. Here, there will be no meeting of the minds between Spider-Man and Frank Castle as we witnessed in their original encounter--only a cold, and fatal, encounter with an assassin.

Monday, April 24, 2023

...Where The Hero Doesn't Get The Girl


In the fifty+ years since the shock-value 100th issue of Amazing Spider-Man hit the stands, Marvel appears to have been content to avoid bringing back Peter Parker's extra four arms which resulted from an experiment gone wrong--seemingly a closed subject* in the House of Ideas following the three-part story which did away with them for good, barring some new twist that would make such a development feasible. The one exception to be found occurred in an imaginary story the 1992 What If tale profiled today, produced by writer Michael Gallagher and artists Kevin West and Ian Akin, which introduces a radical change to the web-spinner of 1971 that gives us an idea of how a true "Spider-Man" might have looked at the time--a six-armed character that, had the company decided to retain that change, would have taken Amazing Spider-Man, and Peter Parker, through the Bronze Age of comics and beyond.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Beware, The Pit Of Doom!


OR: "How To Bag A Spider-Man"

Comics superhero stories played strictly for laughs have for the most part proven to be hit-and-miss with me. On the one hand, I prefer to sit down with a comic that provides a level of tension and drama for the hero(es) of the book and draws me into an involved story that's successfully piqued my interest; and on the other, a story that's produced all in good fun comes as a complete surprise to me and can read like page after page of slapstick, and panel after panel of witticisms and one-liners.  Following a thirty- or sixty-day wait for a new story, something done in farce can be a letdown.

One character who has arguably become the poster child for such a story is the White Rabbit, the "Alice In Wonderland"-inspired criminal with delusions of grandeur who indulges in a life of crime as a lark in heists ranging from petty theft to grand extortion, and whose wealth (that's putting it mildly) affords her whatever resources she needs to avail herself of, whether it's weaponry, manpower, or equipment. Her first two outings drew the involvement of the Fabulous Frog-Man (descriptive nomenclature his own), offspring of the original Leap-Frog, who joined with Spider-Man to put an end to her plans; but when she captures and holds for ransom the Grizzly and the Gibbon, two costumed former criminals gone straight, she still finds it a struggle to be taken seriously, either by the Mayor of New York, or by this book's title character...

...who appears to be fighting incognito in this issue. What's the story on that?

Monday, April 17, 2023

The Sorcerer, the Spider, and the Sacrifice!


Despite his limited exposure to date, one evil character who seemed to be headed for a bright, or, in his case, dark future as a comics villain was the deformed Necrodamus, who schemed to be free of his detested form by becoming a willing servant of the Undying Ones and acting in their name to open a way for them to our world, reaping the benefits of a powerful new form for himself when the stars were in proper alignment. Since his introduction in 1972 within the pages of the newly-launched Defenders series, however, his potential victims have managed to prevail, resulting in his return to the diminutive, misshapen form that he abhors; in fact, when he faced both Agatha Harkness and the Scarlet Witch, it seemed we'd surely seen the last of him when he was swept up in the maelstrom of escaping souls he'd held captive.

Nearly nine years later, however, the tenacious Necrodamus returned to take his vengeance against Wanda, breaking from the Undying Ones and striking to seize a new body for himself directly, rather than depend on a ritual that benefits his former masters. And guess which synthezoid he's set his sights on?

If successful, Necrodamus would take on a powerful form that would last indefinitely and allow him to unleash his hatred and destruction at will--a rampage that the Scarlet Witch and Spider-Man may find themselves helpless to prevent!

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Honeymoon Of Vengeance!


Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

-- Dylan Thomas

Having seen two attempts by the powerful sorcerer known as Xandu the Unspeakable to use the even more powerful Wand of Watoomb against Dr. Strange, the Master of the Mystic Arts--only to see those attempts fail due to the intervention of the amazing Spider-Man--you would think Xandu would cease this waste of his life in futile power plays, particularly in light of the tragic revelation involving his former love, Melinda, whom he believed to be in a state similar to death due to unintentional exposure to the arcane energies released by one of his experiments. It was for her sake that he strove to obtain the wand in order to (apart from being drunk with power) use it to revive her--yet upon examining her mystically, Strange had the sad task of informing Xandu that she had been dead all along.

The resulting guilt hit Xandu hard at the time, with Strange and Spider-Man leaving him in a state of profound grief--but while grief can be a crucial factor in the healing process, it seems that Xandu has instead chosen to pursue a course of madness when we catch up to him nearly nine years later.

We've learned two important developments here right away: First, that Xandu has apparently recovered the wand once more (mostly due to Strange's carelessness in disposing of it, but I've already made my thoughts clear on that), and secondly, it's the Scarlet Witch he's set his sights on this time, rather than Strange. But rather than just holding guest-star status, we'll see that Wanda's role in Xandu's plan is crucial in terms of both seeking his revenge, and recovering from his loss.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Symbolic Splash Pages: The Early Years, Part Two


A few stragglers to the PPC's previous segment on symbolic splash pages of Marvel's early years now come to light, again focusing on those "double/triple feature" books published from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s but this time taking a look at the work of artists Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Don Heck, Chic Stone, and Joe Sinnott, in pages from Journey Into Mystery, Tales To Astonish, and those issues of Strange Tales before Nick Fury and Doctor Strange elbowed out the book's previous headliner, the Human Torch.

Such splash pages in the Mighty Thor series, which picked up where Journey Into Mystery left off, were practically nonexistent, with Kirby veering away from symbolic association and instead using the title page to lead directly into the main story--which makes these pages something of a rarity where the God of Thunder is concerned. One thing that wasn't rare in either title, however, was the presence of Loki, Thor's evil half-brother, who shared Page One with the Thunder God so often that it's no wonder he practically received billing of his own.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

"The Spider And The Sorcerer(s)!"


Given the circumstances in which we left the former sorcerer known as Xandu the Unspeakable, it appeared that he was never going to trouble the world again in his mad quest to achieve the ultimate power to be gained by possession of the mystic Wand of Watoomb, his efforts foiled by both Spider-Man and the Master of the Mystic Arts, Dr. Strange. In that encounter's denouement, Strange not only drained the wand's power, but also removed Xandu's memories of it as well as absolved his evil nature, essentially giving him a second chance at life.

Yet, almost nine years later, it appears that Xandu's "reset" didn't take--appearing none the worse for wear when he sets his sights again on the wand, as well as the two who came between him and his goal. What that goal was and is will be revealed in short order; for now, however, we join him just after he's ambushed Spider-Man at the scene where the wall-crawler had just saved a lone figure from a mugging, only to find himself to be the victim.

As for the wand, what's the point of Xandu seeking it out again? With its power vanished, isn't it just an ornate paperweight at present? We'll have to wait a bit to find that out, as well, since the story's symbolic splash page is also posing questions to be answered--and from the look of things, Xandu intends to be holding all the cards as well as the wand.

(It seems Xandu's assertion that Strange is Spider-Man's enemy is true--he's made sure his cover "spotlight" figure is large enough to shove even the book's masthead aside!)

Monday, April 3, 2023

The Purloined Power of... Xandu!


While the story content of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2 consists mostly of reprints of prior ASM tales by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko (along with additional rogues gallery profiles), the issue's lead story is impressive original material by the same writer/artist team and offers the first meeting between Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, as well as the first appearance by the sorcerer who calls himself Xandu the Unspeakable, or Xandu the All Powerful, or whatever adjective suits his whimsy when announcing himself to others. But to clear up one thing right away, Xandu is not to be confused with Shangdu, one of three capital cities of Kublai Khan's Yuan Dynasty--a city otherwise known by a name which became attached to one of the biggest box office disappointments of 1980.

Too bad, Xandu--one more letter and your name would have been up in lights. Briefly.

As it happened, this 1965 story also came in handy about 3½ years later during the short run of the first Doctor Strange series, presumably as a way to entice readers to try the book. It was something of a red flag to see a reprint appearing so soon in a still-nascent series--in this case, just four issues prior to the title's cancellation.

(Trivia note: Ditko's standing image of Spider-Man just took a bit of mirroring to become a classic corner box.)

As for what Xandu has in mind, he'll first need a little hired muscle to pull it off--that is to say, enslaved muscle, in the form of two bar room bruisers who were accustomed to throwing their weight around.

And just in case you were wondering who had custody of the other half of the mystic wand Xandu covets, it indeed happens to be Dr. Strange--though not for long, as his attackers are not susceptible to a mystic defense given their current state.

All of which paves the way to a fine original story with what seems to be a very off-brand title for a Spider-Man issue. (More than likely another pitch to Spidey readers to check out a character still playing second fiddle to Nick Fury at this point in time. Sheesh!  Can the hard sell already, Stan!)