Monday, July 31, 2023

The Cure, Or The Cost?

On the heels of a procedure conducted by Leonard "Doc" Samson which made use of a nutrient bath vat to physically separate Bruce Banner from the Hulk, which led to the re-emergence of the gray Hulk, writer Danny Fingeroth and artist Sal Buscema joined their talents to bring us the 1986 Hulk Annual which served as a coda to the whole affair, as Banner returns to the abandoned (and locked down by S.H.I.E.L.D.) Gamma Base to reconsider and perhaps salvage the hope he briefly realized for a time as a separate being from his raging alter-ego. But, judging by Banner's hesitancy and doubts, the procedure seems no less fraught with risk and uncertainty, even with his own expertise at the helm this time.

Joining Banner in this endeavor are the two people closest to him--his wife, the former Betty Ross, and Rick Jones, who shares responsibility in the tragic event which created the Hulk. Betty and Rick are of two minds as to whether Banner should go forward with what he plans. But there is another who will play a part in this drama, whose arrival coincides with what is at first believed to be a meteorite impacting in the New Mexico desert; however, upon learning that the object is emitting gamma radiation, SHIELD approaches the area fearing the worst. For Clay Quartermain and his forces, what emerges from the impact crater will surpass that assessment by far.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

The Man Without Super-Senses


At first glance, you'd think the question that this 1978 cover of What If poses was dealt with on that very cover, asked and answered:

We could also presume that the world wouldn't necessarily care one way or the other about Daredevil's sight or lack thereof--it's really a matter of anyone going up against him knowing that he's sightless, and coming to the conclusion that some other form of perception is at work that makes him such an effective fighter. A well-laid trap sprung later by an enemy, and that's that.

But how did such a secret ever get out, and when? We find the answer in Daredevil's second issue, just as the nascent crime-fighter is getting out of the gate in his red and yellow togs, and facing Electro in the Fantastic Four's deserted Baxter Building headquarters. This time, however, Spider-Man's unexpected entrance into the fray prevents Electro from taking Daredevil by surprise--and when Electro is consequently forced to defend himself from the charging DD, he takes note of something he otherwise would not have picked up on.

The conclusion that Electro jumps to is very selective on writer Don Glut's part, considering that Electro doesn't make the same observation when Spider-Man would later dodge a hurled electric bolt in similar fashion and, like Daredevil, is also unaffected by its blinding brightness. Regardless, a little quick thinking on DD's part, where he could mention, say, special eye slit lenses which shield him from such attacks, is all that would be needed to head off Electro's train of thought. (Artist Alan Kupperberg even has DD pointing to his mask as if to accommodate Glut heading in that direction, though for the sake of the story Electro isn't deterred from making his point.)

And so we return to the world now knowing of Daredevil's condition--and with the exception of the news media capitalizing on such a surprising development, it appears the man on the street is hardly fazed.

The Owl, on the other hand, is another matter.

Monday, July 24, 2023

The Alternate Fantastic Four


Slipping by the PPC's roundup of other incarnations of the Fantastic Four was a late-1977 story by writer Roy Thomas which started the ball rolling after an earlier tale from 1972 successfully piqued reader interest on the subject. This time, the Watcher steps in for Lockjaw and guides us through the events of an alternate world in which Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Johnny Storm, and Sue Storm returned from a disastrous flight into space and experienced different transformations than the members of our own famous quartet.

The appearance in this story of the FF we know is limited to the (appropriately enough) opening four pages of the issue (if you're not counting the slightly misleading cover which offers the impression that the two groups somehow come into conflict). Once the introduction has run its course, Thomas has made it clear he intends to further cement the premise he began exploring when he was scripting the main title, which floated the probability possibility that the FF's individual powers were the result of their personality traits*--even roping in the Watcher to validate what at this point is now formalized as canon rather than supposition.

*How we could possibly apply this theory to the powers of the Red Ghost and his three super-apes, all of whom underwent the same cosmic ray exposure which created the FF, is a fair point to raise. Kragoff himself, for instance, gains the ability to become "unsolid," while the baboon of the trio of apes becomes a shape-shifter and the orangutan gains magnetic abilities.

Which begs the question as to how the four individuals from an alternate Earth take on powers and forms so radically different from their counterparts.

Curiously enough, this world's "Fantastic Four" have somehow managed to successfully establish their heroic reputation in the public eye as a group of three, given that their fourth member, "Big Brain," cannot operate in the field for obvious reasons and instead appears content to remain within the confines of the Baxter Building. (His counterpart in the Fantastic Five from 1999 was obliged to find a way around the problem.) But when the three foil a museum robbery attempt, their fourth member cannot escape the scrutiny of the one who set that plan in motion.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

In Defeat, We Stand!


Holy Hannah! The Avengers sure look peeved at somebody!
What's going ON here?

If you had caught the PPC's review of the 2000 Avengers/Thunderbolts crossover story, you'd have a good idea which poor slob is on the receiving end of all those fists/bolts/arrows and whatever else is being hurled in his direction. And more to the point, you'd know why the reaction this individual is experiencing right now is probably nothing more than... boredom.

But to answer the who and the what, we can give you the rundown that readers received of events leading up to this melee, before all hell breaks loose:

Of course, "all hell" goes by another name, a gent who most of you no doubt recall:

That's right, Count Nefaria, who stars with the Avengers and the Thunderbolts in a blockbuster battle issue clocking in at thirty-eight pages and featuring the closing work of artist George Pérez, sticking with this new volume of The Avengers from the start for nearly three years. So it's a sad day all around--particularly for our heroes, who are in for the fight of their lives!

Monday, July 17, 2023

When Nefaria Commands...!


It's the fall of 2000, and Marvel has pulled itself out of its nose dive from the late '90s and making great stories again. And it doesn't get better than artist George Pérez closing out a nearly three-year run on The Avengers in a story scripted by Kurt Busiek. The story's centerpiece turns out to be Whitney Frost, the former Maggia leader who came to be known as Madame Masque when her face was disfigured in a plane crash (where she was rescued by the wealth-obsessed man we know as Midas). Whitney would go on to be involved romantically with Tony Stark, only to break with him following an incident involving her father--and now, the Avengers find that she has resurfaced following reports of her death. Numerous reports, as it turns out, considering that on four separate occasions, four bodies were each identified as the deceased Madame Masque. We readers, however, learn that the bona fide Whitney has been holing up in a hollowed-out butte in the Nevada desert all this time, and gripped in a state of uncharacteristic paranoia.

But then, what accounts for the four "duplicate" Madame Masques? A good word to use, as they were "bio-duplicates" created by the real Whitney so that she could sequester herself in safety and still conduct her operations--the latest of which, "Masque," is even now making an attempt to pierce Whitney's distrust and fear with perceptions and feelings which Whitney herself has repressed.

Ordinarily, we might view Whitney's anxiety and fear here as yet another manifestation of her paranoia. But in this case she happens to be right, as the Grim Reaper, also one of those after Madame Masque, arrives with a strike force to personify her worst fear--an enemy discovering her whereabouts and intending to presumably kill her on sight. Fortunately for Masque, there are others who have been able to track her whereabouts, though their presence wouldn't necessarily put her mind at ease.

As we'd expect, the Avengers do well enough against the Reaper and his goons. But their headway is blunted by the unexpected arrival of another who has unfinished business with Whitney, someone far more dangerous and undeniably powerful--Whitney's not-so-dead father, who has apparently conscripted two powerful heroes who share his goals as well as his own ionic-infused body chemistry.

All of which sets up a crossover with the Thunderbolts title, as both teams are confronted by one of the Avengers' most deadly, near-invincible foes who nearly destroyed them once before and who now schemes to inflict death on a massive scale on the entire planet!

Thursday, July 13, 2023

The Tragic Life of Shiela Whittier


It was in the first (and only) issue of Giant-Size Chillers where we saw the introduction of Lilith, the daughter of Dracula, slain by Quincy Harker three decades past but whose essence rises from the grave to possess the form of any woman who had suffered abuse from their father. But when meeting with her estranged father and proposing that joining together in future endeavors is in both their best interests, Lilith suffers abuse of a different kind--rejection and disdain.

From that point, we follow Dracula to Castle Dunwick, where he meets with its resident owner, Shiela Whittier, a distraught young woman who is being tormented by forces unknown.

Once Dracula returns from slaking his thirst for blood, he's confronted by one of his slaves, Lord Henry from Parliament, who has miraculously broken free of Dracula's control and makes a failed attempt to kill him, after which he ends up taking his own life. At first, Dracula, believing it was Lord Henry who was behind Shiela's harassment, seeks to reassure her that her nightmare is over--but the laughter that surrounds the pair afterward tells them, and ourselves, that the torment that Shiela has been experiencing is far from over.

You would think that the fact that Shiela has only now suffered a vicious attack--within arm's reach of Dracula, who was virtually helpless to prevent it--would make it impossible for Shiela to even consider sleeping, despite Dracula's consoling words. Mostly, however, the scene opens the door to Dracula himself facing this bizarre threat from whatever is stalking the halls of this castle.

Monday, July 10, 2023

"The Curse Of Dracula!"


OR: "London Victims Are Falling Down"

Though there was a surprising lack of special annual issues for the Tomb Of Dracula series, even with over sixty issues to its credit, readers were able to turn to no less than five such efforts in the Giant-Size books which were hitting the stands in droves during the mid-1970s--beginning with Giant-Size Chillers, which, as was the case with the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, would adjust its masthead to headline its principal character with succeeding issues.

Padded with reprinted material (which was often the case even with genuine annuals), the mid-1974 issue still featured a new 24-page story (officially numbering 32 when factoring in ad pages, a little sleight-of-hand which I never appreciated in the sales game) as well as an intriguing new character--Lilith, Dracula's estranged daughter, who has received generous exposure in the PPC (along with her hated father, it goes without saying). Produced by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, the same writer/artist team who headed the main book (currently at its 21st issue at this point in time), it would instead be inker Frank Chiaramonte's work we'll be seeing here rather than that of Tom Palmer, turning in splendid pages and meshing quite well with Colan's style.

There are essentially two separate stories in play throughout the issue--but the stunning splash page we're greeted with (seen here to include its original published copy) leaves little doubt that the character who will take center stage is Dracula, who while having had dealings in London since his revival now moves to insert himself in the lives of those in government who are positioned to better help him safeguard his continued existence.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Finders, Keepers


Slipping by the wave of issues which were branded with the Assistant Editors' Month stamp in January of 1984 was the 1983 X-Men Annual #7 (which also happened to slip by the PPC's roundup of 1983 annuals in the fall of '22). Written by Chris Claremont with art by Michael Golden (with an assist by Bret Blevins) along with inkers galore, the story makes a fine addition to the who's-running-the-asylum theme of the other AEM books whose editors were attending the San Diego Comic Con, leaving their underlings free to publish their own stories in their own way. Unfortunately for them, they become collateral damage as they're swept up with others in the X-Men's pursuit of a powerful "foe" who is engaged in a series of thefts for reasons unknown.

As we can see, however, the jig is up almost immediately, since it appears that no one thought to advise cover artist John Romita Jr. not to spill the beans on the identity of the perpetrator first thing. (Also, Mr. Romita, Cyclops doesn't appear in this story at all, but Professor X certainly does. Those asst. editors pranked you but good, didn't they?) But mum's the word, since everyone else in the issue will remain in the dark for the duration of this crazy roller coaster ride we're about to embark on.

Taking a leaf from Asst. Editor Eliot Brown, whose clever title/credits page appears at the very end of the story (which coincides with his detonation of same), we're placing it instead alongside the issue's cover, just to give you a taste of the ride you're in for in this forty-page tale. Because while the X-Men treat this "threat" with all due seriousness, you can bet that with the Impossible Man at the center of it all, the situation has the potential of spiraling beyond the control of anyone and everyone involved.

Monday, July 3, 2023

The Coming Of... The Avengers!


I was just shy of six years old and still a few years off from buying and reading comics on a regular basis when the first issue of The Avengers hit the stands alongside that of The X-Men in the fall of 1963. Eventually I would backtrack and read both stories in reprinted form--but for The Avengers in particular, I've often been curious as to how those comics readers who were becoming more familiar by the month with Marvel's characters reacted to the premiere of this new series. After all, in terms of its burgeoning super-hero line, the company was still in its infancy, with Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man as its only full-fledged title series; Thor, Iron Man, and Ant-Man and the Wasp, on the other hand, were still being handled in the company's "feature" books (respectively, Journey Into Mystery, Tales Of Suspense, and Tales To Astonish), with Thor and Iron Man still being nascent characters fresh out of the gate. With the Sub-Mariner relegated to being an FF foe, that left the Hulk (whose own series bit the dust a few months earlier) as the only remaining recognizable Marvel character of note (thanks to his high-profile appearance in Fantastic Four) available for inclusion in a new team book, which in hindsight seems an absurd choice in light of the character's questionable past and unresolved state of affairs.

A situation glossed over in a deftly worded caption appearing on the issue's splash page:

Which practically begs us to scribble out some of Earth's Greatest Super-Heroes! and replace with new wording: "...The Only Super-Heroes We Have Left To Offer At This Time!" (Which helps to explain why I've never been approached by Marvel to write copy.)

Regardless, the characters who have been selected are the characters we've got--and the result remains nevertheless an intriguing first issue crafted by writer Stan Lee with artists Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers, a story which expertly did its job of making us curious to see more of...